Over Half of U.S. Rivers and Streams Polluted
Research sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has discovered that 55% of the streams and rivers in the United States are polluted and may not support aquatic life.
The research, called the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment, was the result of data gathering by a combination of EPA scientists, state and local governments, and university researchers who collected testing from about 2,000 locations throughout the U.S.
Below is an excerpt of a summary of the findings from the EPA’s press release of March 26:
– Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels. Twenty-seven percent of the nation’s rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water—known as nutrient pollution—causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.
– Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and pollution. Vegetation along rivers and streams slows the flow of rainwater so it does not erode stream banks, removes pollutants carried by rainwater and helps maintain water temperatures that support healthy streams for aquatic life. Approximately 24 percent of the rivers and streams monitored were rated poor due to the loss of healthy vegetative cover.
– Increased bacteria levels. High bacteria levels were found in nine percent of stream and river miles making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreation.
– Increased mercury levels. More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption. For most people, the health risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern, but some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.
Poisoned food chain
As stated clearly in the release, this is not just about taking care of nature. It is about our future health and survival. More than 13,000 miles of rivers of mercury toxicity means much of the fish and shellfish harvested from these regions can cause significant health issues, relating to a myriad of possible nervous disorders.
High bacteria levels mean that our children can no longer swim in many rivers and streams. Bacteria levels are higher due to the fact that the ecosystem is out of balance. Those processes our waterways use to purify and filter water – and manage toxic bacteria – have been interrupted.
Toxic levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from the chemical farming industry and animal factory farms means our methods of food production might be feeding us for now, but they are choking us in the long run. This is graphically illustrated by dead zones forming in many of those waterways positioned nearby farming regions.
Turning water pollution around begins with each of us – opting for natural alternatives that do not produce water pollution.
EPA Newsroom. EPA Survey Finds More Than Half of the Nation’s River and Stream Miles in Poor Condition. March 26, 2012.