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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Cards N Time: Pollution Part V, Water

  • Half the nitrogen in our bodies’ muscle and organ tissue started out in a fertilizer factory, and 59 percent of that food obtains nitrogen from synthetic fertilizer. [1] No plant, no protein can grow without nitrogen extracted from air through photosynthesis. But, not enough of it occurs naturally so factories produce 100 million tons of it worldwide each year to help nature along.
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  • Nitrogen
    Half the nitrogen in our bodies’ muscle and organ tissue started out in a fertilizer factory, and 59 percent of that food obtains nitrogen from synthetic fertilizer. [1] No plant, no protein can grow without nitrogen extracted from air through photosynthesis. But, not enough of it occurs naturally so factories produce 100 million tons of it worldwide each year to help nature along.
    Pollution from synthetic nitrogen presents mankind with a dilemma. Out of an EPA list of 18,770 impaired water sites, only 529 are polluted primarily by toxic point sources. Most of the rest are polluted by runoff. Half of nitrogen is lost through leaching, erosion, and emissions. Consequently, one-fifth of the total river miles in the U.S. will not support “healthy biological communities” according to the EPA.
    In the past, chicken farmers supplying Tyson’s generated mountains of fowl poop which they spreading on their fields as fertilizer. Rain then carried chemicals into Oklahoma, fouling our rivers and bringing about lawsuits. Now, farmers must obtain permits to perform such foul deeds.
    Aral Sea
    Two summers I taught in Uzbekistan, then a Republic of the USSR. Soviet planners built numerous irrigation canals diverting waters from their two main rivers emptying into the fourth largest lake in the world—the Aral Sea. They did this to grow cotton on sand. It did, but it also drained the lake to 10 percent of its original size and salinated the Uzbek soil. Once I flew over the Sea which had dried into two vestiges leaving a dried and polluted sea bed to blow extremely toxic dust across the region. Kazakhstan has subsequently built a dam on the river entering the northern vestige of the lake which has begun to restore it.
    Global Village
    When I taught three summers in China, I felt a world away from home. Michael Parfit obtained his drinking water from a spring flowing from a mountain in Montana. Having no one upstream to pollute his stream, he was confident of its purity, but a routine test proved him wrong. The report read, “background bacteria too numerous to count.” [2] He, like most, have no idea of the contents of their drinking water. Most feel as Parfit did, that sources of pollution are proximate and identifiable. They aren’t.
    Fish in Lake Laberge in the Yukon Territory contain a variety of chemicals blowing in from Russia. Stone Lake in central Sweden has no trout because of acid rain. Twenty thousand of Sweden’s 100,000 lakes are fishless. Emissions from hundreds of smoke stacks a thousand-feet tall create rain as acidic as vinegar and lemon juice on lakes a half a world away! We can no longer think only of ourselves. We must think what would happen if acts of individuals are multiplied 7 times followed by 9 zeroes! That is why we need laws e.g., for THEM!
    Page 2 of 2 - Point Source Pollution
    The Panic of 1893 ended the dream of William T. Love to build a canal from the Niagara River north to Lake Ontario, bypassing the great Falls. It left a one mile canal 50 feet wide and 10 to 40 feet deep. From 1898 to 1948, the city and federal government dumped all kinds of waste into the canal — including nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project.
    In 1948, Hooker Chemical Company bought the property and over the next five years buried 21,000 tons of toxic chemicals in it. They covered it with up to 25 feet of soil and under duress sold it to the Niagara School District. Hooker made full disclosure and in the contract denied future liability for building on the site. The School Board disregarded their explicit warnings and built two schools nearby and allowed individuals to build houses over the site.
    Newspapers began investigating by 1978 after it was discovered that 60 percent of children born between 1974-78 had birth defects. President Jimmy Carter in August 1978 declared a federal health emergency at Love Canal that resulted in 800 families being relocated and reimbursed them for their homes. This led to passage of the Superfund Act discussed in an earlier article. A 1995 an EPA suit forced the chemical company to repay $129 million.
    The Cayahoga River
    The summer of 1969 the Cayahoga River just south of us in Cleveland caught on fire! We thought we had moved near hell! It was then described as having large quantities of black heavy oil floating in slicks, sometimes several inches thick with 6 inches of visibility. It was the 13th time it had ignited. The Cayahoga and Lake Erie were fishless. That began the “environmentalism” movement leading to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the Clean Water Act. By 1986, the lake supported 44 species of fish. By 2011, one-third of the lake was covered by oxygen-stealing algae.
    Water Acts
    The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates flowing and standing bodies of water in contrast to the Safe Drinking Water Act [SDWA] of 1974 which ensures any “public” drinking water system of which there are over 150,000 nationwide. In 2005, Congress amended the SWDA to specifically exclude hydraulic fracturing by oil companies in what is called the “Halliburtin loophole.” (At the time, the vice president was the former CEO of Halliburtin — the world’s largest provider of fraking services.) (This week Koch Industries of Wichita announced that they are building a $1 billion nitrogen factory in Enid.)
     
    [1] National Geographic, May 2013. P98.
    [2] National Geographic, Vol.184, No.5a, 1993, pg.78cf.
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