Contaminated waterways should worry everyone
Brooke McGee, Opinions Editor
April 25, 2012
Filed under Opinions
Sometimes I wonder if students around me are aware that 226 million pounds of industrial toxins were dumped into our waterways in the year 2010 alone. I think about the 626,000 pounds (2010) of dumped chemicals that are linked to developmental disorders and I wonder how many people in our public are aware of it, or even care. Perhaps they will pay attention to matters such as 354,000 pounds (again, just in 2010) of dumped poisons that are linked to reproductive problems when they have difficulty starting a family later in life.
I wish people would pay attention now.
As you and your family plan your summer activities, are you aware that 53 percent of American rivers are deemed unsafe for fishing, swimming or other activities? Throw lakes and ponds into that and 69 percent of our waterways have been categorized as too toxic. Considering Madison has had lakes closed down recently due to microbial contaminants, maybe we need to pay attention before it gets too late.
You might be interested to know that recently, a study performed in the Potomac River showed that 80 percent of all male bass were carrying female eggs, a side effect of the reproductive pollutants that have been dumped in the river.
Dead zones are increasing, and it is no longer rare to find a location that cannot sustain even the heartiest of fish. In Indiana, the Calumet River has sediment that is “among the most contaminated and toxic ever reported,” by the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.
Many industrial contaminants cannot be broken down in the body. They accumulate in the tissues of smaller animals and then in larger quantities in the animals who consume them further up the food chain. This accumulation only grows, affecting the animal population in many species. Frequently, scientists find reproduction difficulties due to the contamination animals have acquired, such as those seen in “Environmental Chemicals and Fertility,” by Jon Luoma.
It is not just animals that are affected. Plants absorb metals from the ground. Mercury, cadmium and nickel are some of the most abundant that are leached from the ground via growing vegetation. When consumed by humans, these metals are not digestible, and they accumulate to toxic levels in our system as well.
The Alliant Energy Power Plant in Columbia County, a mere 20 miles from Madison, is the largest source of mercury contamination in the state of Wisconsin. This non-point coal-burning pollution source is one of the contributing reasons why the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a safety advisory for fish consumption on many state lakes, restricting some fish to only one recommended serving to month.
The sources of these contaminants are easily identifiable. Reports are made on behalf of the public annually called the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Unfortunately, agricultural facilities do not need to report contaminants that are used or released into the environment. If that were the case, Wisconsin would likely be much higher than the top half our state is already in.
Nitrates, which are extremely detrimental to babies when in the water which formula is mixed with, was the largest quantity of toxins released according to the Wasting our Waterways 2012 report. Nitrates also cause organ damage in adults and fuel algae blooms when the run off reaches lakes and rivers. These algae blooms are the cause of increasing dead zones, that are now wreaking havoc on our struggling fishing industry.
As for cancer-causing agents, we had 1.5 million pounds released into our waterways in 2010. I hope you recall that many of these contaminants accumulate. I don’t wish to discourage you so I won’t do the simple math from just the last decade to show you the growing damage that we are doing to our environment.
The encouraging side to this seemingly sad report is that Americans now care more than they ever have. With the “green” movement and the emphasis that is put on repairing the damage that we have caused, there really is a chance that in our foreseeable future contamination levels will decrease. The reported levels that you just read about are actually 2.6 percent less than toxic releases in the Wasting our Waterways 2007 report.
Ultimately, it is the public who are funding the corporations who are contaminating our planet. By our purchase of products that are produced by a company which is in violation of EPA standards, we are supporting and contributing to the contamination they cause. They would not be there if it was not for the demand of the consumer. With the availability of cleaner products: recycled toilet paper, phosphate free dishwasher detergent, organic lawn fertilizers, we can make an impact on which corporations thrive in our country.
I’m not going to deny that “green” products cost more. It may be understandable that we cannot switch over to all cleaner products, but just as the accumulation of toxins works, the effect of Americans working together adds up as well. One better product, one smarter choice, truly does make a difference. As demand for cleaner products increases, so will the technology that produces them. I can only hope that the damage that we continue to do it the meantime will be reversible.