Swim at Your Own Risk: Federal Government Fails to Prioritize Water Protection
By Peter Lehner
Some kids are afraid of sharks. In the ponds where I like to swim, it’s snapping turtles—although I’ve never heard of one hurting a swimmer. Or they might even fear some sort of imaginary water monster, scaly and horrible, lurking in rivers and streams. As thousands of families head to the waterfront for the start of the season, parents are preparing to coax their kids into the water. But in some communities, the danger in the water is all too real. In Georgia’s Lake Blackshear, they’re afraid of E. Coli. In Talco, TX, it’s oil.
Yes, there be monsters here, but not the kind with tentacles and sharp teeth. These monsters are carcinogenic chemicals, crude oil and dangerous bacteria, spilled or dumped—often illegally and without penalty—by industrial polluters, into small streams and wetlands, from where they can wash into bigger lakes, rivers, oceans and even drinking water supplies. For more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been hamstrung when polluters contaminated certain streams and wetlands, thanks to some muddled Supreme Court rulings and Bush-era policies that made Clean Water Act enforcement nearly impossible in these cases. And yet for the past two years, the Obama administration has been sitting on an opportunity to better protect these waters. The administration has proposed strong protections for these waters, but has waited and waited to put them into effect. It’s high time the administration moved forward to strengthen clean water protections.
The Clean Water Act is our nation's fundamental safeguard for water. Yet tens of millions of wetland acres—which protect drinking water, and provide crucial flood protection and wildlife habitat—have been effectively cut out of Clean Water Act protections. And about 2 million miles of streams, which provide drinking water for 117 million people, along with the wetlands nearby, are in a legal limbo that prevents many of them from being protected. Hundreds of communities have been left at the mercy of polluters.
In Georgia, swimmers and boaters on Lake Blackshear have to deal with manure in the water, washed in by a factory farm upstream, because enforcement efforts were hampered. When crude oil spilled into Edwards Creek, a small, seasonal stream in Talco, TX, the EPA didn’t even bother to pursue enforcement, despite the fact that half the residents in the county get their drinking water from systems that rely on streams like these. The current legal tangle made it too complex to prove that Edwards Creek was protected under the Clean Water Act. This is what the administration's proposal would fix.
Ensuring that small streams and wetlands are protected is an important measure for public health, and a sound economic decision as well. Wetlands soak up overflows from storms and swollen rivers like sponges, protecting billions of dollars’ worth of property and countless lives each year.
Across the country, we have 9.6 million homes and $390 billion in property located in 15,000 square miles of flood-prone areas. The flood insurance provided by protecting wetlands helps avoid the price, in economic and in emotional terms, we pay for rebuilding stricken towns.
According to the New York Times, EPA regulators said that in a four-year period, more than 1,500 major pollution investigations involving oil spills, carcinogenic chemicals and dangerous bacteria in lakes, rivers and other water bodies, were not being prosecuted.
Moving forward with new Clean Water Act protections will help preserve wetlands and small streams so more communities can have a reliable drinking water supply, swim without fear of getting sick and protect themselves and their families from devastating floods. It will help provide certainty for businesses and industry and support billions of dollars in economic activity, from manufacturers who need clean, ample water—like brewers—to the millions of anglers who fish in rivers, streams and lakes across the country. As global warming promises to deliver more extreme weather, disrupting water supplies and increasing flooding in many parts of the country, defending our waters from pollution becomes an even more critical effort.
It’s time to end the delay.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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