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News and Resources

Water Quality Environmental Justice - July 30, 2017

                Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment of races, cultures, and incomes through the enforcement of environmental laws. The equal enforcement of environmental laws across all boundaries should be implemented to improve health outcomes. For example, access to food, clean air, and clean water should be a fundamental right, not a privilege. But unfortunately, this is not always the case. Harmful water quality affects human health, aquatic life, and the ecosystem.  Waste entering and impacting waterways, along with lack of funding, are major contributors to contaminated water. However, for residents of affected communities, there are collective efforts that will help improve and protect water quality.

                The lack of access to funding is a major setback in improving water quality. Some cities, such as Washington D.C. and Seattle, do not have money to pay for water quality testing due to budget cuts.  However, during a chemistry school project, students found traces of lead in their water. Lead is toxic and detrimental to our health, and children are more susceptible to the impacts. Children are still developing and exposure to lead can result in behavior and hearing problems. Some students and teachers drink out of water bottles instead of water fountains and use hand sanitizer to wash their hands. However, this is only a temporary solution and will become expensive.  Installing water fountain and sink filters are alternative solutions that schools can invest in.

 In an article by The New York Times, young kids in West Virginia were getting rashes and skin burns due to barium and arsenic in the water. Both barium and arsenic are chemical by-products that can get into groundwater and wells due to industrial activities. According to the National institute of Environmental Health Science, these industrial activities can include pesticide spraying and mineral deposits. To minimize the damage of these substances, parents had to put medicated lotion on their kids before and after taking showers to prevent the rashes from spreading.

In New Jersey and South Carolina, some people feel unsafe swimming because the water is dirty due to storm water runoff. According to research conducted by scientists of the American Chemical Society, some lakes contain waterborne illnesses, such as E. coli and other parasitic infections. By the time public warnings are issued about the water, it is too late and the infections have spread. These parasitic infections (ex. Cryptosporidium) can lead to blindness and diarrhea. There are also reports of outbreaks of viral illnesses such as Echovirus. Echovirus is the result of fecal matter in the water, and more common symptoms include pink eye and a sore throat. Improper wastewater disposal causes restrictions on swimming and access to beaches. As citizens of local communities, we can encourage government officials to invest in green, budget-friendly infrastructure solutions. Green infrastructure, such as green roofs and permeable pavements mitigate storm water runoff.

 Many communities have old pipes that need to be restored. These pipes may have nitrate contamination that gets into the water via runoff. A high amount of nitrate in the water can result in cancer in animals and blue baby syndrome (BBS), BBS turns an infant a blue-grey color and reduces oxygen availability. The older pipes have an easier time clogging, and when water is released from faucets sometimes it produces a rusty brown color. Some older pipes were made from iron or lead; therefore, some water has a metal taste. Old pipelines also leak from having holes after many years of not being restored. Bacteria creeps into these holes making the water unsafe to drink. Inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene from contaminated water sources or bad food preparation, can result in Typhoid fever, a serious illness that can result in death. Many communities apply for grants to renew their old pipelines and wait a decade or more to see any new construction. However, until pipes are restored, pipe relining is a solution. Pipe relining is a fast and inexpensive method where the interior of the pipes are coated with epoxy resin to fill up the holes.

                Wastewater is liquid waste, sewage, runoff, and storm water dumped into rivers. Wastewater is enhanced through chemicals, animal activities, and human activities. Data has shown that wastewater contains toxic chemicals and radium contamination, due to spills. According to Harvard Health Publications water also gets contaminated by pharmaceuticals. To resolve this issue, some areas have a drug take-back program for unused medicine, which prevents people from flushing it down the toilet. 

                Water quality is one aspect of environmental injustice that challenges human, aquatic, and ecosystem wellbeing. Our communities will benefit greatly if new polices and monthly monitoring are adopted. Actions such as reducing our fertilizer usage, properly disposing of chemicals, and organizing community cleanups will also help.  Promoting innovative solutions and approaches will help limit water insecurity. If we prioritize these water issues that call concern for everyday life, we can improve public health.

Mason is a Step-Up STEM intern with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 



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