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REPORT: Indiana has worst water pollution in the country

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MISHAWAKA -- You don't have to drive far to find a beautiful river or lake in Indiana, but according to a new study that beauty may only be skin-deep.

According to an independent research group called Environment America, Indiana has the worst water pollution of any other state.

Industrial facilities dumped 206 million pounds of toxic chemicals into US waterways in 2012 - more than 17 million pounds of that was in Indiana alone, more than any other state in the U.S.

According to Environment America, those numbers are based on publicly available data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency based on industry self-reporting and additional data from the EPA and other government agencies to a report called the Toxics Release Inventory.

But the Indiana Department of Environmental Management disagrees with the study.

"It's an alarming study, but misleading," says Amy Smith, spokesperson for IDEM.

Smith says the Environment America report doesn't paint the whole picture, since the Toxics Release Inventory only accounts for certain industrial plants and factories. It is not an accurate measurement of water quality, since it doesn't include chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers from farmland, or auto-related chemicals from city streets.

IDEM, on the other hand, measures water pollution based on the water samples it takes from rivers, streams and lakes, she says.

The information is nothing new, and the state is constantly monitoring the issue, Smith says.

Still, IDEM admits Indiana has to do better when it comes to water quality.

Rich Howland spends his days on the St. Joseph River.

"Every day, at least a couple hours every day," Howland says. "If the fish are biting, I'll stay down here all day."

He's fishing for his next meal -- Howland says he grew up eating bluegill and catfish out of the St. Joe, and has never had a problem.

"The river's cleaner than it's ever been," he says.

But the Environment America study says differently, pointing to industrial facilities as the source of the state's high level of water pollution.

Just three months ago, BP discharged more than 1,600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan. It took about a week for crews to clean it up.

But industrial dumping isn't the only problem -- it's just the only thing the study reported.

Aquatic biologist Daragh Deegan says stormwater drains all over the state are also contributing, taking chemical runoff from city roads and bringing them straight into the rivers.

"Oils, de-greasers, anti-freeze," lists Deegan.

He says the Elkhart and St. Joseph Rivers have come a long way since the area's industrial era, but as a result, there's still a tiny amount of a carcinogenic called polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB.

It's in the water and in the fish.

"Those PCBs are still in the river, in the sediment, they still get in our fish from 30, 40 years ago," Deegan says.

That means Rich might re-think his dinner plans -- and re-think how clean his river is.

"I don't have to worry about that because I'm too old, but my kids will, and their kids will," he says. "And I'm definitely concerned."

To read Environment America's study, click here.

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