Blog #14 Water Pollution & Solid and Hazardous Waste

Water pollution defined by the text as any change in water quality that can harm living organisms or make the water unfit for human uses such as irrigation and recreation. Water pollution usually involves contamination by one or more chemicals or excessive heat. This pollution comes from either a single source or point or from a larger more dispersed area. The text defines point sources are discharge pollutants into bodies of surface water at specific locations through drain pipes, ditches or sewer lines. It is good that point sources are located at specific places because they are fairly easy to identify, monitor and regulate. Versus a nonpoint sources, that are broad and diffused areas that are difficult to identify and monitor. Nonpoint sources include runoff chemicals from cropland, livestock feedlots, and logged forest, urban streets, etc. Agricultural activities, a common source of environmental issues, is the leading cause of water pollution. Industrial facilities emit a variety of harmful chemicals into the water, making them the second largest water polluter.  The third water polluter is mining, that creates erosion of sediment and runoff toxic chemicals. It should be noted that the water is very heavily polluted by widespread use of human-made materials, especially plastic.

A few years ago when I started to research environmental issues, our harm on the environment, global warming, etc. I remember finding out about the Great Pacific garbage patch. This is an area in the pacific where garbage circulates in an area that is twice the size of the United States. These plastics and other garbage breaks down and is ingested by aquatic life. Not only does it harm the lives of aquatic creatures, but consuming those fish adds harmful chemicals in your body. A very nasty cycle of throwing pollution out then back into your body.

Some effects of water pollution is as follows: infectious agents that cause diseases, oxygen-demanding wastes that completely dissolves oxygen needed by aquatic species, plant nutrients that causes excessive growth of algae, inorganic chemicals that adds toxins to aquatic systems, sediments disrupt photosynthesis, food webs, other processes, and heavy metals that cause cancer. It was reported in 2010, that lack of clean water kills more people than war and all other forms of violence combined! WHO estimates that almost 1 billion do not have access to clean drinking water. An average of nearly 4,400 premature deaths a day are brought on by unsafe water — majority of those deaths from children younger than age 5.

Even when degraded, streams and rivers can recover rapidly. However, this process will not work when the streams become so overloaded with pollutants. Additionally, the cleansing process can remove biodegradable waste, but can not break down nondegradable waste. Stream population is prevalent in developed and less-developed countries. In less-developed countries stream pollution comes from discharges of untreated sewage and industrial waste. The pollution in less-developed countries is a serious problem that is correlated with a growing population.

Just moving from Seattle, I was happy that our text cover the story of Lake Washington and Pudge Sound. The text uses Lake Washington and Puget sound as an example of how we can reverse severe water pollution in a fairly short time and how citizen action combined with scientific research works. However there are still issues with a growth in population, resources use and organization around Seattle. We have learned for these examples that cleaning and removing pollution is a continuous effort that without continuing work, pollution and degradation will return.

Since 95% of our drinking water in the US comes from groundwater, we must  understand the major pollution affecting groundwater and other drinking sources to have access to clean water. Unlike streams, groundwater cannot cleanse itself very well. Common pollution from groundwater comes from fertilizers, pesticides, gasoline, and organic solvents. Another problem that affects groundwater is nitrate ions and toxic aresics. Nitrate ions leach into groundwater often from fertilizer and has the ability to cause cancer. Long term affects of drinking water with toxic arsenic could likely cause deaths from cancer. We must focus on preventing groundwater pollution because it is the only way to protect groundwater.

As I noted earlier with the Great Pacific garbage patch, oceans are becoming highly polluted. The majority of ocean pollution, around 80%, originates on land and is transferred to the ocean. Due to the pollution we have seen coastal waters full of viruses thriving the raw sewage that can be very harmful for humans and animals. Aside from the pollution that  originates from land, pollution comes from cruise ships in the form of waste of toxic chemicals, garbage, sewage and waste oil.

So how can we deal with water pollution? To reduce water pollution we must first act to prevent it. We can work with nature to treat sewage, cut resources use and waste, reduce poverty and slow population growth. We can focus on pollution from nonpoint sources, prevent groundwater contamination, reuse treated wastewater, reduce air pollution, and practice the three R’s.

Solid and Hazardous Waste

Another common theme in our text is waste. We waste alot. We waste water, food, electricity, resources, etc. This chapter covers the solid and hazardous materials that we throw away. Studies show that we can reduce are harmful waste by 90%. A major category of our waste is solid waste – which is anything unwanted or discarded  material we produce that is not liquid or gas. There are two types of waste: industrial solid waste and municipal solid waste. Industrial solid waste is produced by mines, farms and industries that supply people with goods and services. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is basically garbage, or solid waste produced by homes and workplaces.

Waste in the United States is the leader in total solid waste production and solid waste per person. Though we only have 4.6% of the world’s population, America produces about one-third of the world’s solid waste coming industrial solid waste from mining, agriculture waste and industry waste. Each year the United States generates enough MSW that could fill convoy of garbage trucks that could circle the world eight times. The majority of our waste goes into landfills or is incinerated, but much of it ends up as litter.

To deal with solid waste we much go back to the fundamental R’s that we learned at children. Reuse, Reduce and Recycle. To add to that- the key of that scenario is to reduce first.

Although I have mentioned him in a previous blog, he’s story is worth repeating. The story of the ‘No Impact Man’. His goal was to combat the environmental crisis on an individual level by not doing a single thing that would cause an environmental impact. I like his story alot because it gives the reader a understand of the simple things you do in your daily life that impacts the environment, including building up waste. I tried the no impact project when I first read the book – I was hyper aware after the project of things I use like straws or paper towels that just builds up waste. I believe he mentions the amount of products we use for under 10 seconds that go straight into landfill after your use. Since there I haven’t been as good with keeping up with my wasteful habits, but like we learned with Lake Washington – this is a continuous practice and work.

We burn more than 600 large waste to energy incinerators globally. The advantages of these incinerators is that it reduces trash volumes, produces energy, concentrates hazardous substances into ash for burial and sale of energy reduces cost. The disadvantages is that they are very expensive to build, the produce hazardous waste and encourages waste production. On the other hand, sanitary landfills have advantages and disadvantage, too. The advantages are low operating costs, can handle large amounts of waste and no shortage of landfill space in many areas. However, the disadvantages is that it releases greenhouse gases, output approach that encourages waste production and eventually leaks and can contaminate groundwater.  These technologies for burning and burying solid wastes are well developed but burning contributes to air and water pollution and greeenhouse gas emissions, and buried wastes eventually contribute to the pollution and degradation of land and water resources.

What we need to do is make the transition to a more sustainable low-waste society. To do this we need to focus on grassroots and environmental justice. The environmental justice movement is a grassroots approach to environmental discrimination in the United States. This group puts pressure on governments, businesses and environmental organization to become more aware of environmental injustices and act to prevent it. Aside from moving into this environmental justice viewpoint – we need to become a low waste society. I think it will be very difficult for us to move away from our high quantity of waste, yet it is something that we as a nation must focus on. We could possibly regulate the amount of waste people produce by taxing per bag of garbage each home produces. Or I like the idea of banning plastic bags. When I lived in Seattle they passed their plastic bag ban (and charged 5 cents for every paper bag used). I think this is a great way to reduce waste – one that we need in NYC.

Two Blog Questions

  1. After reading and watching the trailer for Chris Jordan’s film – the images of the birds he found dead were pretty horrifying – do you think his film will help us to move away from our obsession with plastic?

  2. How can we reduce waste at our school? New School offers on-campus composting sites at their schools and gives composting trash cans/bags to their students. How can we implement that at Fordham?
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One comment

  1. useful info!

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