polluted contamination

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Mario Farone
Op-Ed
Local Water Pollutions
Do you feel comfortable drinking tap water? From my own experience, some Rhode Island
residents do not. Reasons vary from taste and convenience to habit and conservation. Yet, there is
one reason that goes beyond just personal preference; the fear of local water contamination. We’ve
all heard stories about water supplies becoming tainted with chemicals, viruses, or other impurities
which may ward some citizens away from consuming water directly from the tap. While this
certainly is a serious issue, is our water supply so easily susceptible to such contaminates? One of the
biggest scapegoats behind this reasoning lives in the center of the state, exacerbating this
misconception for local residents.
The Johnston Landfill, located on Shun Pike, is plagued with close to 2,500 tons of
commercial and residential waste per day from just about 97% of the state’s population. Taken at
face value, these numbers may seem a bit overwhelming. The non-hazardous waste is spread in
layers, compacted, and covered each day with a mixture of organic and inorganic material. A sanitary
approach, this covering method also does well in keeping even the closest of neighboring areas free
of odor.
Yet, with so much waste being accumulated, couldn’t it be possible for some contaminates
to reach groundwater by way of rain runoff? Well, no. While the landfill itself does not employ the
use of ground liners, it was strategically built at one of the highest altitudes in Johnston and more
than 15 miles away from the nearest water treatment plants. Because of the high altitude and “waste
layering” tactics, it is virtually impossible for any contaminated water to reach ground water supplies.
Landfills are necessary for a comfortable living environment and our own state landfill
essentially sets the standard in eco-friendly practices making it the least of our concerns when it
comes to water contamination. But, as it stands now, even highly regulated areas in the U.S still face
major water contamination problems. In the most recent national report on water quality in the
United States, 45 % of assessed stream miles, 47% of assessed lake acres, and 32 % of assessed bays
and estuarine square miles were classified as polluted. This begs the question, what is the real cause
of this contaminated water?
If there should be any finger pointing at the possible threat to water purity and
environmental health it should be headed back in our direction. Human pollutants are amongst the
largest contributors to local water contamination and range from common litter, to noxious liquids
such as car oil and windshield wiper fluid.
One of the most common forms of water pollution and perhaps the most environmentally
disruptive takes the form of storm water. Living in the northeast, it is common for us to see heavy
snow and rainfall throughout the seasons. Each time it rains or snows, hundreds of gallons of storm
water rushes through our cities and towns and eventually makes its way into the various rivers, lakes,
and ponds locally as well as the statewide. But how can pieces of trash find their way into our water
system?
Common pollutants dropped across town such as plastics, cigarette butts, Styrofoam cups,
shopping bags, and many more make their way into our streams and rivers. This happens when the
pollutant materials are swept up from impervious surfaces, such as a local roadway, by running
rainwater. The pollutant is then carried to the next runoff such as a sewer drain, now having entered
the water cycle. Furthermore, chemical pollutants from our vehicles leak and run into these storm
deposits as well, further contaminating the storm water. Eventually, this contaminated steam will
find its way into various rivers, lakes, ponds, and even our ocean. The contaminated water, once it
reaches a resting destination, will also start to affect wildlife in the region.
The heavier the pollutants, the more sunlight is inhibited from entering the water, providing
less and less nutrition to the base layer of the food chain, underwater plants. If pollution is bad
enough, we could even start to see an increase in waterborne pathogens making swimming in these
areas impossible. Industry would also be greatly affected, as much of the coast relies heavily on these
environments. Individual water supply could also be affected if polluted water that has been
absorbed through the ground can make its way to local aquifers and even well water
Trash plays a major role in water contamination and just a few plastic cups or spilled oil can
prove to be harmful to our water supply. Local water as a whole, although harder to contaminate
due to state regulation, is still not entirely safe if we as a community practice irresponsible disposal.
Individual water supply contaminations have a higher chance of being affected if water that has been
absorbed through the ground can make its way to local aquifers and even well water
Even though the risk for community water contamination is pretty minimal, the matter of
creating and maintaining a healthy environment is far more important. This problem of pollution
begins and ends with us. There is only so much that a state or town can do to minimize litter; that
job rests with the individual. That being said, small but immensely helpful changes in the way we
look at our environment are what will help the most. Making sure that all trash is deposited in a
receptor, cleaning up spilled oil or car fluid while properly disposing of their containers, and limiting
the amount of lawn chemicals you use are just a few steps in the right direction. Every person plays
a small role, individually, but combined can mean the difference between a healthy or an unhealthy
habitat. Urging local officials to construct a more preventative drainage system could vastly help
prevent the entrance of pollutants. (Even something as simple as a mesh net instead of an
uncovered opening)
The ocean state that will live within depends on us to help create a pollutant free
environment to help preserve the industry and recreation that is so deeply connected with our
history. Whether the change is for the preservation of our ocean habitat, industry, or even our
drinking water, it’s a change that we can stand behind together as a community.
Works Cited
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, DC. "The National Water
Quality Inventory: Report to Congress for the 2002 Reporting Cycle – A Profile."
“Health Effects of Drinking Water Contaminants." Health Effects of Drinking Water
Contaminants. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.
"Groundwater Contamination." Groundwater Contamination. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.
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