Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Looks May Be Deceiving

The Potomac River still offers scenes that could be called bucolic – lush green against flowing water. But then you read an article like the one in today’s Washington Post and realize just how sick that river is. It basically boils down to the increasing amount of crap we continue to dump into it.

For years no one has wanted to eat anything coming out of the Potomac, or heaven forbid fall in. But it was in 2003 when male fish with eggs growing in their sex hormones – termed “intersex” fish – started to show up in tributaries of the Potomac that we realized just how bad things were.

So what are the culprits? Scientists have found atrazine, an herbicide commonly used on farm fields and proven to cause sexual abnormalities in frogs and fish. Also found were the insecticides chlorpyrifos and endosulfan and the herbicide metolachlor, all probably in runoff from suburban lawns or farm fields.

Other chemicals can be traced to things we all use in our daily life – chemicals used to add fragrance to perfumes, soaps, and other products.

The recent revelation about the various pharmaceuticals found in our drinking water just adds more fuel to this toxic fire.

But, you say, our drinking water (for which the Potomac is the major source) is processed. Well guess what – the treatment process is not designed to remove these chemicals.

So when they say “trace elements were found”, should we feel reassured or should the red flag remain up? Personally I think I may buy even more bottled water. The thought of ingesting sex disrupting chemicals or yesterday’s drugs just does not appeal to me!

How do you feel about our beautiful ailing river?


Blogger Kristin said...

I think we need to look at our own actions and the impact on the environment as well as other people more often than we do.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Sometimes I worry that we are just too late in dealing with this problem.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I always find it interesting that people always omit what I believe to be a very large estrogen / progestin source - contraceptives and HRT.

For some reason, the reports always feature estrogen-like compounds (such as plasticizers and pesticides), but not what I would consider more probable local sources (the pill and HRT). As usual, on the fringe with my ideas.

On the other hand, yes, water treatment removes very little in the way of chemicals from the water. Basically the process is designed to only remove sediment and kill organisms - the rest is left in there (there is some suspicion that antibiotics finding their way into the water supply are contributing to the development of superbugs).

5:56 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- Hopefully your rivers in Canada are somewhat cleaner than this one!

7:31 PM  
Blogger Ulysses said...

There are so many beautiful places all along the river as it runs. Places I wish I could enjoy without worrying about what's in the water.
Could we all agree to stop feeding the damn stupid lawns already?

10:36 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Ulysses -- Unfortunately lawn run-off is just one source of the problem. Maybe if we could back up history about 100 years and do many things quite differently, we might have a fighting chance. But it looks like we are stuck with the side-effects of a very complicated society that is not friendly to our water systems.

10:48 PM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

how I feel?

sad. angered. hopeful.

we have known about the threats to our rivers for decades (and decades and decades) but do we always do what needs to be done. no.

but I am hopeful. I currently live in a city where the river was once so polluted it burst into flames (and it wasn't all that long ago) and today the river is a different river and it continues it's recovery....

9:56 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mouse -- A recovering river is a wonder to behold. Hope springs eternal!

4:25 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I think the cleanliness largely depends on where you live. I am pretty sure that as the water flows up from the great lakes, through the St. Lawrence, it becomes gradually more polluted.

I am just glad I don't live in Europe.

7:56 AM  

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