Water Pollution in America
Water pollution refers to a type of environmental degradation that occurs following deliberate or unforeseen contamination of such water bodies as rivers, groundwater, lakes, aquifers, and oceans. Water pollution happens following an indirect or direct discharge of pollutants that have not undergone sufficient treatment into the aforementioned water bodies. The U.S. Government is committed to ensuring that its citizens have access to quality water and that industrial and municipal effluents are regulated to avoid contaminating water bodies. This is intended to safeguard human health and aquatic life.
Estimates by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) show that each year more than 1.2 trillion gallons of effluent from industries and households get dumped into U.S. Water bodies. When hazardous chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing industries are released into water bodies without having undergone proper treatment to remove harmful compounds and toxins, this in turn pollutes various water bodies. Besides the obvious impact on water quality, water pollution also poses a danger to marine life, including endangering the lives of certain rare species. Additionally, Hearn (2011) reports that more than two-thirds of the bays and estuaries in the United States are significantly degraded owing to phosphorous and nitrogen pollution. According to Ostopowich (2010), over 40 percent of the lakes in the United States are already too polluted to permit swimming or fishing activities.
The EPA notes that over the past three fiscal years, 41 states have been recording higher levels of lead in drinking water than the recommended levels, based on the Lead and Copper Rule published by the EPA In 1991 to control the levels of copper and lead in drinking water (Gusovsky, 2016).
The EPA further reports that only Arkansas, North Dakota, Nevada, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Mississippi have been reporting safe levels of lead in their drinking water.
Various pollution incidents have also been reported over the past few years, and these have helped to reveal the extent to which water pollution affects human life and the environment. One such incident happened in the Gold King Mine, Missouri, in 2015. This environmental disaster was triggered by the actions of workers of Environmental Restoration LLC in conjunction with EPA personnel who were trying to drain water that had formed into a pond near the entrance of the Gold King Mine (Schlanger 2015). This resulted in the wastewater spill finding its way into the Animals Rivers, thereby polluting it and endangering marine life and individuals in the city of Durangog who depended on the river. Figure 1 below is a diagram of the PH test conducted on water flowing from the Gold King Mine after the accident. The test indicates that the water was acidic, with a PH of between 4 and 4.5 (Pappas, 2015).
Another incident that gave a glimpse of the state of the quality of water in the United States is the Flintwood water crisis. For many years, Flint city relied on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for the supply of water. However, in 2013, Flint city decided to switch suppliers, settling on the Karegnondi Water Authority. However, the connection would be delayed till 2016, a move that prompted the city management to rely on water from the Flint River as a temporary measure (Delaney, 2016). However, the water proved to be highly corrosive, with records from a local paediatrician showing high lead levels among children. This, along with other complaints, prompted Rick Snyder, the Michigan Governor, to declare a state of emergency in Genesse County (Botelho, 2016).
Another waterway that is heavily polluted in the United States is the Mississippi River. According to Bernhard (2012), over 12.7 million pounds of various toxic chemicals, including benzene, nitrates, mercury, and arsenic, found their way into the Mississippi River in 2010, largely through illegal dumping. This makes the Mississippi River the second most polluted river in the United States, after the Ohio River which had a toxic discharge of 32 million pounds of toxic chemicals. These toxic chemicals are significant to human and marine health for they are known to cases various forms of reproductive disorders and cancers, not to mention their impact on developmental delays.
Over the years, the U.S. Government through relevant enforcement agencies like the EPA has developed different public policies with a view to regulating pollutants in waterways, thereby ensuring that Americans have access to safe, quality water. One such policy is the Clean Water Act. The Act forms the framework for regulating quality standards that surface waters should meet, as well as the regulation of effluent discharges into water bodies. The EPA, in keeping with the Clean Water Act guidelines, has implemented various pollution control programs across the country, such as the establishment of waste-water standards that govern different industries. The Act further requires that individuals and industries first obtain a permit if they wish to discharge any effluent into navigable waters (U.S. EPA 2017). In addition, municipal and industrial facilities are also required to first get a permit before discharging effluent directly into surface waters.
The EPA has also issued various effluent guidelines for the discharge of wastewater into surface waters that municipal and industrial facilities have to observe (U.S. EPA 2016). Examples of pollutants the EPA seeks to regulate through these guidelines include arsenic, lead, and mercury, among others.
In sum, water pollution remains a big challenge for the regulatory agencies in the United States. Despite the establishment of policies such as the Clean Water Act and Effluent Guidelines by the EPA, only a handful of states have been shown to abide by these guidelines, as evidenced by the levels of contaminants reported such as lead and arsenic. Various incidents such as the Flintwood water crisis and the Gold King Mine disaster have also pointed toward the risks inherent in environmental accidents involving effluent discharge.
Bernhard, B (2012). Mississippi River is second-most polluted U.S. waterway.
Botelho, G (2016). Water crisis in Flint, Michigan, draws federal investigation. Retrieved
Delaney, A (2016). How Flint's Water Got Poisonous. The Huffington Post, January 19.
Gusovsky, D. (2016). America's water crisis goes beyond Flint, Michigan.
Hearn, M (2011). 20 Water Pollution Facts for the U.S. and the World.
Lake Forest College (2016). Pollution on the Mississippi River.
Ostopowich, M (2010). Water Pollution. New York: Weigl
Schlanger, Z. (2015). EPA Causes Massive Spill of Mining Waste Water in Colorado, Turns
Animals River Bright Orange.
U.S EPA (2016). Effluent Guidelines.
Summary of the Clean Water Act.