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water pollution

  • Clean Air = Clean Water - Clean Air Act credited for improving Chesapeake Bay Water Quality

    The saying, 'what goes up must come down,' certainly holds some weight (no pun intended), but now appears to influence water quality too.

    A recent study shows that cleaner air above the Potomac watershed, including that of the Washington DC metropole may account for the recent improvements in Chesapeake Bay water quality. A team of researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science suggest that there is a link between improved water quality of freshwater systems in the Upper Potomac River Basin and improved air quality as a result of the Clean Air Act, which has seen a reduction in nitrogen pollution contaminating land and freshwater systems in the Potomac watershed.


    According to lead author, Keith Eshleman, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science:

    "The recent water quality successes in the Chesapeake Bay restoration are apparently driven more by air quality regulation rather than by water quality control efforts. These air quality regulations were intended to address human health issues and acid sensitive streams. No one thought you would have this positive impact on water quality. It was totally unanticipated."

    Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the US. It is also one of the most polluted, suffering from high nutrient loads and hypoxic conditions due to oxygen depletion resulting from excessive nitrogen inputs. Much focus, and credit, has been given to improved land-based strategies, such as wastewater treatment and agricultural practices, to reduce nitrogen pollution in freshwater systems. Yet the research team found that the improvement in water quality in the Upper Potomac River Basin, covering an area of approximate 12,000 miles that extends across the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, can be attributed to improved air quality, or more specifically, due to a reduction in atmospheric nitrogen deposits which have been curbed as a result of the Clean Air Act, introduced in 1973 and amended in 1990.

    "Most best management practices--like a riparian buffer or retention pond--only impact a relatively small area," said Eshleman. "You can think about the Clean Air Act as a best management practice that affects every square meter of the watershed."

    Nitrogen in the atmosphere — largely arising from emissions produced when fossil fuels are burnt — is eventually deposited on land or on surface waters. If the amount of nitrogen that is deposited is higher than the amount of nitrogen that plants and trees need for growth, soils may become nitrogen saturated. This surplus nitrogen can enter freshwater systems, where it can result in algal blooms that negatively impact aquatic life in freshwater and marine ecosystems.

    The scientists have been analyzing water quality data from streams and rivers in the Upper Potomac River Basin since 1986. They have discovered that water quality throughout the watershed has improved universally. In particular, the scientists noted a decline in atmospheric nitrogen deposition since 1996 — the same period that emission limits were placed on coal-fired boilers. The researchers also noted that nitrate concentrations in the Upper Potomac river began to decline soon thereafter, and continued to do so through to 2012. As a result, nitrogen saturation within the watershed was quickly reversed. The study suggests that in the future, water quality within the Potomac watershed is likely to improve further as cleaner energy sources such as renewables and natural gas replace coal-fired energy plants.

    Journal Reference

    Keith N. Eshleman, Robert D. Sabo. Declining nitrate-N yields in the Upper Potomac River Basin: What is really driving progress under the Chesapeake Bay restoration? Atmospheric Environment, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.07.004

  • Wastewater Treatment Facilities Release Significant Amounts of Microplastics into Rivers

    Microplastics are an emerging pollutant in our oceans, becoming an increasingly worrying environmental problem. Yet, while these tiny plastic beads originate from land-based sources, making their way to the ocean via rivers, very little is known about their abundance and impact on our freshwater systems. According to a new study, these tiny bits of plastic escape through wastewater treatment filtration mechanisms, and are discharged into rivers where they can pose a risk of contaminating drinking water and food sources.

    Microplastics are defined as tiny bits of plastics with a width of less than 0.20 inches (5 mm) — that are now recognized as an emerging ocean pollutant that is harmful to marine organisms.
    Yet while most of the debris that enters our oceans — including plastics — gets transported there via rivers, we have very little understanding about how these microplastics enter rivers or how they affect river ecosystems, says Timothy Hoellein, an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago.

    Many communities rely on rivers as a source of drinking water, notes Hoellein; they are also important habitats that support a variety of wildlife. Fish and freshwater invertebrates ingest these tiny bits of plastic, which then move up the food chain, ultimately ending up in the fish we eat. It has already been recognized that microplastics floating in the oceans harbor toxic pollutants as well as bacteria that can pose a health risk to animals and humans who ingest them. Microplastics in rivers pose a similar threat.

    "Rivers have less water in them (than oceans), and we rely on that water much more intensely," Hoellein said.

    In a previous study, Hollein found that water samples from a site downstream from a wastewater treatment facility had higher concentrations of microplastics than water samples from a site further upstream. Now, a new study of ten Illinois urban rivers conducted by Hoellein and his research team supports these initial findings. While the study estimates that around 90% of the incoming microplastics is being arrested by the wastewater treatment facilities, due to the exorbitant amount entering the treatment plants, the 10% that escapes into rivers (estimated between 15,000 - 4.5 million particles per day per plant) is still significant.
    In 8 out of the 10 rivers studied, microplastics originated from wastewater treatment facilities. The new study found that these micoplastic particles harbored bacteria that posed a greater health threat than bacteria found in the river water from which they were extracted.

    "[Wastewater treatment plants] do a great job of doing what they are designed to do - which is treat waste for major pathogens and remove excess chemicals like carbon and nitrogen from the water that is released back into the river," Hoellein said. "But they weren't designed to filter out these tiny particles."

    The study also shows that microplastics remain in the environment for long periods of time, and very often are transported a long way from their original source. As these microplastics are transported downstream they are introduced into different ecosystems, making their way through multiple foodwebs in each of these systems.

    According to Hoellien, scientists are currently trying to ascertain what percentage of plastic remains in rivers, and what percentage makes its way to the ocean. By studying microplastics in our rivers, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the complete lifecycle of these tiny, but dangerous, bits of plastic — from where they originate on land, to how much ends up in our oceans.

    "The study of microplastics shouldn't be separated by an artificial disciplinary boundary," he said. "These aquatic ecosystems are all connected."

  • Sediment Contaminants: Tracking the Source of Erosion

    Sediment contaminants are a common occurrence but rarely covered in today's environmental discussions. After a particularly heavy downpour you may often find that the waters in your local stream or river have transformed from a clear bubbling brook into a fast-moving mass of opaque chocolate colored liquid.

    That chocolate brown coloration is the result of suspended sediments, which may range in size from minute granules of clay or mud to larger pebbles and stones, originating from eroded substrates further upstream.

    As the river meanders through its course, sediments are swept away by the flowing water in the process commonly known as erosion. These suspended sediments will eventually be deposited, but very often they are not wanted in the place where they land up. This is especially true for drinking water sources, as not only is sediment considered a drinking water contaminant that makes your tap water murkey and unpleasant to drink, these sediments often have other contaminants clinging to them, which can pose a health hazard in drinking water.


    Soil scientist David Lobb has been investigating the origin of sediments carried by rivers in the Tobacco Creek Watershed, which eventually flow into Canada's Lake Winnipeg, where this load is deposited. Lake Winnipeg is Canada's 2nd largest watershed having three major river systems emptying into it. It is therefore very susceptible to the effects of activities that take place further upstream and important that we consider the watershed in its entirety, and not simply look at water that is flowing out of the watershed explains Lobb.

    The ecological health of a watershed, together with issues affecting its water quality, are areas of growing concern as both can be negatively impacted by a wide range of human activities. For example, crop fertilizers, animal waste from livestock, or sewage effluent from wastewater treatment plants, can all cause nutrient loading in lakes that encourage algal growth that clog up waterways, smother other species and generally disrupt the ecology of freshwater lakes. They can also fuel harmful algal blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

    Lobb, together with fellow researchers from the Universities of Manitoba and Northern British Columbia used a technique known as color fingerprinting to gain a better understanding of where the sediments in Lake Winnipeg were originating from. The color of a sediment is a key indicator of where it was originally eroded.

    According to Lobb, while this method of fingerprinting is not quite as accurate as taking fingerprints from a crime scene, the available tools can accurately identify the source of the sediments. The technique is also easy, quick and cheap to implement.

    "In the most simple case, black sediment is from surface sources and light sediment is from subsurface," explains Lobb, "That's an oversimplification of a very precise process backed up by statistical models."

    Lobb notes that it's important to determine whether sediments originate from surface or subsurface soils. Sediments originating from eroded subsoils tend to be eroded from the bottom and sides of rivers and streams as the water flows over them, whereas sediments originating from surface soils (topsoil) is more likely to have been eroded from farm lands, forest floors or areas along the river banks.

    "We found that nature is more often to blame for a lot of the sediments we see in our streams," says Lobb, "Humans may not have as much of an effect on the amount of sediment flowing out of a watershed as we've been taught," says Lobb, "but we do have a profound effect on hydrology, and that can contribute to the erosion and sediment produced downstream."

    The sediment in the South Tobacco Creek originates mostly from subsurface soils that are eroded from the banks of streams and the extensive walls of rock that frame the creek as it makes its way through the 600-foot escarpment. While people typically assume that sedimentation is due to erosion of farm lands, river channel erosion, which is a natural process that is constantly occurring, is one of the major contributors of sedimentation, according to Lobb.

    The color-coding fingerprinting technique allows us to easily finger point the geographic origins of sediment, however it is not so easy to know what action to take once we have these answers, says Lobb. One angle that they will be focusing on in future is managing runoff from farm lands — placing it as a top priority on the same level as managing soil erosion and topsoil loss from farm lands — addressing this at both local farm-field scale and watershed scale.

    The question of scale is both complicated and important as watersheds tend to be dynamic entities that are continually changing. The health of one stretch of a river will also impact the health of another stretch. It is thus important to look at the watershed in its entirety, and for Lake Winnipeg, the watershed extends over an area that is 40 times larger than the area the lake covers.

    "The public is demanding actions and impacts on a watershed scale," says Lobb. "Therefore, practices and processes have to reflect that larger regional scale."

    Journal Reference

    Louise R.M. Barthod, Kui Liu, David A. Lobb, Philip N. Owens, Núria Martínez-Carreras, Alexander J. Koiter, Ellen L. Petticrew, Gregory K. McCullough, Cenwei Liu, Leticia Gaspar. Selecting Color-based Tracers and Classifying Sediment Sources in the Assessment of Sediment Dynamics Using Sediment Source Fingerprinting. Journal of Environment Quality, 2015; 0 (0): 0 DOI: 10.2134/jeq2015.01.0043

  • Ban Plastic Microbeads in Order to Protect Aquatic Wildlife

    Plastic microbeads are increasingly becoming a problem for species inhabiting both freshwater and marine ecosystems, and reducing water quality of valuable freshwater resources that humans depend on for drinking water and recreation. Now a team of conservationists suggest that banning the use of plastic microbeads in beauty products that will end up in wastewater streams, to be discharged into rivers and lakes, to ultimately end up in the ocean, is the only solution to the problem.

    Plastic microbeads are used in a wide range of beauty products such as soaps, facial scrubs and shower gels that by design are washed down the plughole and into the wastewater system. These tiny plastic beads pass through wastewater treatment works to pollute freshwater and marine environments. Collectively, the amount of microbeads being incorporated into products is huge, and so too is the impact they are having on aquatic ecosystems.

    Plastic microbeads Plastic microbeads

    In a report that was recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from seven different institutions slam the use of plastic microbeads, which are used to give beauty products a granular texture that purportedly aids in tooth whitening (toothpaste) or removing dead skin (soaps, scrubs and shower gels) and recommend that manufacturers switch to non-toxic, biodegradable alternatives, which are readily available.

    "We're facing a plastic crisis and don't even know it," said co-author, Stephanie Green, a Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University.

    "Part of this problem can now start with brushing your teeth in the morning," Green explains. "Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our wastewater treatment plants were built to handle, and the overall amount of contamination is huge. The microbeads are very durable."

    In their analysis, the scientists conservatively estimate that around 8 trillion microbeads (which could cover over 300 tennis courts) are emitted into rivers, lakes and estuaries every day in the US alone. These eventually spill out into the sea to contaminate marine ecosystems. But this is only 1% of the microbeads that flow down our drains; the other 99% -- which total an estimated 800 trillion -- is removed with the sludge from wastewater treatment plants,. This typically gets spread over surface soils, where the microbeads can potentially wash into streams, rivers and the ocean through surface runoff.

    "Microbeads are just one of many types of microplastic found in aquatic habitats and in the gut content of wildlife," said lead-author, Chelsea Rochman, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California/Davis. "We've demonstrated in previous studies that microplastic of the same type, size and shape as many microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects," Rochman said. "We argue that the scientific evidence regarding microplastic supports legislation calling for a removal of plastic microbeads from personal care products."

    While plastic microbeads are a smaller contributor to the larger problem of plastic debris in freshwater bodies and oceans, they are arguably the easiest to control. As consumers and manufacturers become more aware of the problem of plastic microbeads, some manufacturers have committed to refraining from using plastic microbeads in personal care products that are designed to be 'rinse off', while some states have taken steps to regulate or even ban the sale of personal care products that contain plastic microbeads.

    The report points out that some of these bans include loopholes due to their choice of wording. For example, plastic microbeads are also used extensively in beauty products that are not designed to be 'rinse off', such as cleansers and deodorants, but could still potentially end up in our waterways, while some regulations allow the use of 'biodegradable' products, which allows the use of some plastic microbeads that do biodegrade, albeit only slightly. According to the report, when drafting new legislation, unambiguous wording must be used to "ensure that a material that is persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic is not added to products designed to go down the drain."

    The authors conclude that: "The probability of risk from microbead pollution is high, while the solution to this problem is simple."  Thankfully there is a handy app that can help consumers choose products wisely. Use this microbead app to check if products contain plastic microbeads.

    Journal Reference
    Chelsea M. Rochman, Sara M. Kross, Jonathan B. Armstrong, Michael T. Bogan, Emily S. Darling, Stephanie J. Green, Ashley R. Smyth, Diogo Veríssimo. Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015; 49 (18): 10759 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03909

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  • Are Septic Tanks Polluting US Waterways?

    Septic tanks are supposed to break down fecal waste to prevent E.coli and other harmful pathogens from entering the environment, particularly freshwater systems. However, a new study has revealed that this is not the case.

    The study conducted by Michigan State University water scientist, Joan Rose, together with her team of fellow water detectives, showed that US rivers and lakes are being contaminated with pollutants seeping from septic tank systems.


    The study, which was published online in the August edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the largest study ever conducted on watersheds, and serves as a benchmark for assessing water quality and the impact that septic sewage systems have on freshwater systems, and the implications to both the environment and human health.

    "All along, we have presumed that on-site wastewater disposal systems, such as septic tanks, were working," said Rose, Homer Nowlin Chair in water research. "But in this study, sample after sample, bacterial concentrations were highest where there were higher numbers of septic systems in the watershed area."

    Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that microbes in the soil break down human waste and that soil particles serve as natural filters, removing contaminants from the wastewater as it seeps through. Soak-away septic systems such as a pit dug in soil below an outhouse or a septic tank that discharges out to a drainage field have been in use for centuries. However, according to Rose, these treatment methods fail to keep harmful pathogens such as E. coli from entering freshwater systems that supply us with drinking water.

    "For years we have been seeing the effects of fecal pollution, but we haven't known where it is coming from," she said. "Pollution sources scattered in an area - called non-point - have historically been a significant challenge in managing water quality."

    The research team used a novel method akin to that used by Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) detectives -- aptly named "CSI for water" by Rose -- to assess water samples from 64 Michigan river systems for traces of 2 human fecal bacterial contaminants: E. coli and B-theta, and to track the origins of these non-point pollutants back to their source.

    Many states across the US, including Michigan, South Carolina and Florida, depend on septic tanks for the treatment of human waste, as do most lake resorts and resort towns located near lakes across the country. While the regulations for septic tank wastewater management differ from state to state, stricter measures need to be enforced to ensure freshwater systems are not contaminated as a result of septic tank seepage.

    "This study has important implications on the understanding of relationships between land use, water quality and human health as we go forward," Rose emphasized. "Better methods will improve management decisions for locating, constructing and maintaining on-site wastewater treatment systems. It's financially imperative that we get it right."

    Considering the health hazards posed by bacterial contamination of our drinking water sources, consumers are encouraged to take measures to protect their health and that of their family by investing in a good quality home drinking water filter that is capable of removing bacteria such as E. coli as well as other contaminants that are commonly found in drinking water.

    Journal Reference

    Marc P. Verhougstraete, S.L Martin, A.D. Kendall, D.W. Hyndman & J.B. Rose. Linking fecal bacteria in rivers to landscape, geochemical, and hydrologic factors and sources at the basin scale. PNAS, August 2015. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1415836112

  • Plastics and Microbeads Persist in the Great Lakes

    In an article recently published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, scientists warn that plastic debris, including plastic microbeads, could pose a larger environmental threat to the Great Lakes than initially thought.

    According to co-author, Philippe Van Cappellen, a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and chair of Canada Excellence Research:

    "We know more and more about ocean plastics, but, paradoxically, we have little information on the distribution and fate of plastic debris in the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater resource."


    The paper analyzes surveys conducted as part of university studies together with field-based observations conducted by beach clean-up volunteers, and presents a comprehensive analysis of the problem of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

    Plastic debris can vary greatly in size, ranging from large plastic barrels to bottle tops to tiny plastic microbeads that are commonly used in beauty products such as shower gels and facial scrubs, as well as fine plastic fibres from synthetic materials that wash out with laundry water.

    Large plastic items break down over time into smaller pieces of plastic that can persist in the environment for centuries. These tiny plastic particles absorb toxic pollutants from the surrounding water. Because they are so small, they are readily ingested by fish, shellfish and other aquatic wildlife. The plastics and the toxins are not only detrimental to the fish who ingest them, but also to organisms higher up the food chain, including humans, who consume them.

    "Survey any stream or river in the Great Lakes region and there is a good chance you will find plastic debris, including microbeads or microplastics," said first author Alex Driedger, a graduate student in the Ecohydrology Research Group.

    When microplastics are flushed away they enter the wastewater stream, but because of their minute size, they bypass wastewater treatment facilities and are discharged with treated water into freshwater systems. A survey of wastewater released from treatment facilities in the state of New York showed that water from 6 out of 7 of these treatment plants contained plastic microbeads. Currently there is no requirement for wastewater treatment facilities in either the US or Cananda to monitor plastics in the water discharged from their plants. Consequently, very little is known about the true magnitude of the problem or how widespread it is in our waterways.

    According to the study, out of all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie contains the highest concentrations of plastic.

    The concentrations even exceed those of Lake Geneva even though the population density of surrounding inhabitants is three times lower than that of Lake Geneva. The study shows that in some areas of the Great Lakes the concentrations of suspended plastics is as high as levels recorded in ocean garbage patches where plastic debris accumulates in large swirling oceanic gyres.

    "Canada needs to step up to the plate and take action," says Van Cappellen who is also a member of the Water Institute. "Both the Europeans and Americans are proposing legislation to deal with the problem. Canada should follow their lead."

    Journal Reference

    Alexander G.J. Driedger, Hans H. Dürr, Kristen Mitchell, Philippe Van Cappellen. Plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A review. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 2015; 41 (1): 9 DOI: 10.1016/j.jglr.2014.12.020

  • Sochi Water Woes

    Reports of bright orange contaminated water spewing from hotel taps in Sochi leaves us pondering whether this could have any adverse effects on the Olympians as well as spectators and press visiting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

    With a budget of over fifty billion US dollars for constructing the stadiums and sports facilities needed to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, one would have thought that the organizers would have focused more attention on issues surrounding the provision of safe drinking water to visiting athletes and tourists alike. Instead of taking the opportunity (and available funding) to clean up the local water supply, they have rather opted to provide visitors with a supply of bottled water to satisfy their thirst. But competitors, tourists and journalists alike all need clean water for bathing or showering, as well as for cooking, and bottled water just won't do the trick.


    The city of Sochi gets its water supply from the Mzymta River, which has become increasingly more polluted and contaminated as a result of runoff from landfills used to dispose construction and industrial waste that has accumulated during the construction of Sochi's Olympic Village.

    According to reports, officials have opted to pay heavy fines rather than making an effort to clean up Sochi's water supply. Clay fill has been used to cover debris and industrial waste in the landfill sites, including tires, foam, spray cans, chunks of cement, as well as other hazardous waste materials. While the authorities have been aware of the problem for years, they have not been forthcoming in sharing this with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

    Russian citizens rely heavily on bottled water supplies from local suppliers such Alibaba, Sochi Water, and KAY National Spring Water. But there is concern as to the safety of this 'natural spring water', which may be collected locally or from further afield, for example from springs at Uludag Mountain in Turkey.

    With visitors having been warned that they should not use the orange tainted water flowing from hotel taps for washing or bathing, it could be a nightmare for athletes and a very long holiday for tourists. With revelations that the hotel showers are monitored with cameras to prevent water shortages, most guests will be even more reluctant to wash while in Sochi, not that they are likely to want to take lengthy showers in bright orange water anyhow.

    The issues with showering and bathing aside, there is a bigger health threat associated with drinking or eating food that has been prepared or cooked with contaminated water. This is not only impacting visiting tourists and reporters, but will not doubt also have an impact on the visiting athletes too, and could in all probability affect their ability to perform at their optimal level.

    This is a stark reminder that even when visiting developed countries some precautions need to be taken to ensure that you will have access to safe drinking water. Big Berkey Water Filters supply a variety of water filters that could be useful in this and other situations, including a shower filter that screws into the shower head, a Travel Berkey water filter, and a portable Go Berkey Kit that could prove handy when traveling around a foreign country with a questionable water supply.

  • EPA Launches New Website Revealing Local Pollution and Water Quality Conditions

    On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a new, user friendly website to allow anyone to look up water quality and pollution violations of their local waterways and drinking water sources.

    How's My Waterway

    How's My Waterway? Presents EPA Water Quality Data in Plain Language

    How's My Waterway? was developed to interpret and present the data EPA collects from the states and territories every two years on 34 different pollution categories and the state of local waterways, as well as summarize any resulting action plans.

    "EPA's national information system on water quality assessments -- ATTAINS -- is a technical database designed for specialized scientific and technical uses. For many years, EPA has compiled valuable nationwide information in ATTAINS on the condition of healthy and polluted waterways, gathered through Clean Water Act assessment and reporting by States and territories...

    ...Without being experts in water quality or databases, people have needed an easier way to learn about their local waters, their pollution problems and why they matter, and what's being done to improve conditions. Faced with a baffling array of scientific information and a complex technical database, an average citizen might say, 'All I really want to know is, how's MY waterway? And please tell me in words I understand."

    While not a native mobile device app, How's My Waterway? is a website designed with mobile users in mind. It's clean, simple interface loads quickly on tablets and mobile devices. Should a user want more information, the technical reports upon which How's My Water Way? is based are linked from within each relevant section.

     How's my Water - Washington DC

    "America's lakes, streams and rivers are national treasures. Communities and neighborhoods across the U.S. want to know that their local lakes, rivers and streams are healthy and safe to enjoy with their families", said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water. This new app provides easy, user-friendly access to the health of a waterway, whether it is safe for swimming and fishing, and what is being done about any reported problems. People can get this information whether researching at a desktop or standing streamside looking at a smart phone. Change begins with awareness and How's My Waterway? is a solid step in the right direction.

  • Millions of Pounds of Industrial Toxins Pollute Rivers and Drinking Water Annually

    The Ohio River provides drinking water for 3 million people. In 2010, the Ohio river was also the dump site for 32 million pounds of toxic chemicals, according to a new report based on the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). As we reported in our last article regarding aging sewer systems polluting our beautiful beaches, human pollution is affecting our waterways in much the same way and many times in a worse manner.

    In all, industrial polluters dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into U.S. waterways in 2010. Polluters in just the top 5 states Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Texas and Georgia were responsible for 40% of all toxins released into U.S. waterways, according to the non-profit advocacy organizations Environment America and Frontier Group which analyzed the data.

    Toxic Water Pollution By River Watershed

    Polluters have been self-reporting toxin releases since 1987, but 2010 is the first year for which EPA classified releases by watershed.

    Top 10 Waterways for Total Toxic Discharges, 2010
    Rank Waterway Toxic discharges (lb.)
    1 Ohio River (IL, IN, KY, OH, PA, WV) 32,111,718
    2 Mississippi River (AR, IA, IL, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, TN, WI) 12,739,749
    3 New River (NC, VA) 12,529,948
    4 Savannah River (GA, SC) 9,624,090
    5 Delaware River (DE, NJ, PA) 6,719,436
    6 Muskingum River (OH) 5,754,118
    7 Missouri River (IA, KS, MO, ND, NE) 4,887,971
    8 Shonka Ditch (NE) 4,614,722
    9 Tricounty Canal (NE) 3,386,162
    10 Rock River (IL, WI) 3,370,392

    source: Wasting Our Waterways

    Top polluters across the country included food and beverage manufacturing, heavy metals manufacturing, chemical plants, and petroleum refineries. One company, AK Steel, released 30 million pounds of toxins into waterways in Indiana and Ohio.

    Toxic River Pollution to Drinking Water Contamination

    These toxins persist in the environment and, because most larger U.S. towns and cities draw drinking water from rivers and lakes, they can be piped right into our homes. The New York Times reported in 2009 that the tap water of 1 in 10 Americans either contained dangerous chemicals or failed drinking water health standards. This is just another reason why we believe owning a home water filter like the berkey water filter is critical to protecting one's health.

    Lax Clean Water Act Enforcement Leads To Polluter Playground

    Environment America and Frontier Group did not estimate how much of the total toxins released represent illegal pollution or exceedences of Clean Water Act permits. According to the groups, lax enforcement is a major reason that 40 years after the Clean Water Act became law, America's waterways remain a "polluter's paradise." The report explains:

    "States (who are primarily responsible for enforcing the law in most of the country) have often been unwilling to tighten pollution limits on industrial dischargers and have often let illegal polluters get away with exceeding their permitted pollution levels without penalty or with only a slap on the wrist.

    The Clean Water Act intended pollution discharge permits to be gradually tightened to force innovation toward safer industries and progress toward universally drinkable and swimable waterways. Not only is this not happening, as of 2009 almost 1 in 5 discharge permits for major industrial facilities was expired.

    "The Clean Water Act's original objective was to clean up all of America's waterways by 1985, 27 years ago," said Rob Kerth, analyst for Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Many people born in 1985 have kids of their own now, yet still millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are being dumped into our waterways."

    We covered this a couple of years ago in response to a new york times piece on the failure of the Clean Water Act, and it's sad to say not much has changed and doesn't look to be anytime soon.

  • America's Aging Sewer System Threatens Beachgoers and Swimmers

    Your Berkey water filter has been shown to effectively purify even untreated water. But unfortunately, your water filter can’t protect you from water contamination if you swim in it.

    Water Quality State and county authorities issued 24,091 beach closing and advisory days in 2010 due to pollution, primarily from sewage and animal waste, which could expose swimmers to a host of waterborne illnesses.

    Sewage Contamination From Cities and Farms

    According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the advocacy organization that calculated the beach-closing statistic, pollution from leaky sewer pipes or overflows during heavy rains are a primary source of human sewage pollution in waterways.

    In many urban areas, rain runoff from roofs and roads is directed into the same pipes that carry household sewage to the local water treatment plant. During very heavy storms, the system can be overwhelmed and rainwater and untreated sewage simply overflows into local waterways. In more rural areas, poorly contained animal agriculture operations allow rain to wash waste into waterways.

    Surfers and Swimmers Get Sick from Contaminated Beach Water

    The latest issue of Surfer magazine reports: “Most official county advisories warn to avoid contact with the water for 72 hours after a heavy rain, a three-day buffer to allow the collective runoff to thin to healthy levels.”

    Many surfers don’t wait that long, either because they don’t realize they should or they think they tougher than the bacteria in the water. “Surfers sometimes believe that they are immune to ocean-related illness, because they have been surfing that same spot for years, or that the water quality is not as bad as it is hyped up to be,” explains Paloma Aguirre, spokesperson for the San Diego-based environmental organization WiLDCOAST.

    Even Sandcastles Can Harbor Beach Bacteria

    According to NRDC, it’s not just surfers who are at risk. Swimmers and other beach-goers, especially pregnant women, children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system need to heed warnings and stay out of the water when bacteria levels rise. Not only that, minimizing exposure to beach sand after an advisory is issued may be just as important.

    “Bacteria concentrate in sand as water rises and recedes with the tides, leaving both the wet sand and the dry sand just beyond it more heavily contaminated than the water. Because of this, it is most important to keep beach sand out of the mouths of toddlers. Keeping your hands out of it or washing them after playing in the sand is also a good idea,” explains the NRDC website.

    Pollution Illnesses on The Rise

    Pollution at U.S. beaches exposes swimmers to a range of waterborne illnesses and may cause stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems.

    It is hard to determine the number of gastroenteritis cases or other diseases caused by swimming in polluted water. There is no national reporting system in the United States to help epidemiologists track national trends, but the Centers for Disease Control estimate that illness from contaminated beach water is on the rise. One study conducted by the agency concluded that 10 percent of Great Lakes beachgoers get sick after swimming.

    Fixing Sewers and Protecting the Public from Pollution

    RDC and other public health advocates are calling for a variety of reforms that include increased funding for sewer treatment plant upgrades and sewage system repair. The public could also be better protected by improving water quality testing speed, accuracy, and public notification systems.

    Read more:

    Fixing Leaky Pipes Could Triple U.S. Water Bills
    Green Infrastructure Protects Rivers Around the United States
    E. Coli Contamination of Drinking Water

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