When you think of “pollution” what comes to mind? Probably the smog in China, plastic bag filled waterways, or sides of highways littered with trash. What you don’t know is that Louisiana has some of the most polluted environments in the United States. Both in the air and in the waterways, Louisiana is full of toxic chemicals that are detrimental to the health of humans, animals, and plants.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Louisiana’s coastal waters ranked 26th out of 30 states for polluted coastal waterways. The main source of the pollution causing the rank to be so poor comes from non-point pollutants. Non-point source pollution is defined as pollutants that cannot be linked to a single identifiable source, but include sources such as run-off, drainage, precipitation and atmospheric deposition. One of the largest sources of nonpoint pollution is nitrogen run off stemming from the country’s Corn Belt. Huge quantities of sediment and water pollute Louisiana waterways by washing off corn fields from the north and entering the gulf through the Mississippi. The Corn Belt, a different region of the country, pushes their waste and runoff to stream and kill the Louisiana ecosystems! If something that far away can harm Louisiana, think what immediate harm our local nonpoint sources can do.
Build-up of these pollutants cause something called the “dead zone” every summer deep within the Gulf of Mexico. In the dead zone there is virtually no life, animals, or plants that can live there because the water quality is so poor. These dead zones spread out and inhibit lakes and canals all the way to the coast causing pockets of lifeless waters. In Louisiana, a state that thrives off of fishing and seafood, these dead zones are unacceptable. John Tesvich, a chair for the Louisiana Oyster Task Force and seasoned oyster fisherman, claims fishing over a dead zone can wipe out 20%-30% of oysters in just one summer. A waterway that used to provide 90% of the country’s shrimp has diminished to only 30%.
Agriculture isn’t the only source of nonpoint pollution in Louisiana. Louisiana is home to 17 refineries and over 50,000 oil and gas wells which, according to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, together dumped over 12.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the waterways in 2012 just in Louisiana. In a written statement Campaign Coordinator Aseem Signh stated
“Louisiana’s waterways should be clean for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife…But too often, our waters have become a dumping ground for polluters.”
and Singh is not alone in this mindset.
ExxonMobil of Baton Rouge claims the name of biggest polluter in Louisiana and the 7th highest polluter in the country. According to the Environment America analysis, Exxon dumps over 2 million pounds of toxic waste into the Bayou Sara area every year. Imagine 2 million pounds, that’s approximately 500 cars worth of waste! Although Exxon contributes quite a bit to the pollution, we can’t lay all the blame on big oil refineries. Other significant contributors include lawn fertilizers used by all who manage land, home sewage treatment plants and fecal coliform – all of which can be easily prevented.
After reading these facts it’s common to wonder, why aren’t there laws in place to prevent this sort of thing? And in fact there are. The CWA, or Clean Water Act, is in place to keep the water clean and safe in the US. The problem is the clean water act can only regulate point source pollutants- not nonpoint source pollutants. These sources are nearly impossible to regulate and trace, and they’re the biggest issue we face in water pollution for Louisiana. Under the Clean Water Act there are a number of more specific regulations that deal with water pollution which you can read about here, but these regulations are not well enforced and cannot maintain clean and safe waterways.
Water pollution hits home with many students at Louisiana State University as the campus is located next to 2 large lakes called “University Lakes”. In a study done in coherence with The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, experts found the shallow lakes cannot efficiently filter the continual runoff from surrounding urban conditions. Things such as clipped grass, fertilizers and yard debris attribute to the pollution – the lakes aren’t looking at a lengthy life span. The article released after the study states “Unwanted nutrients have built up in the lakes and created conditions for plants and algae to grow in excess. When these plants die and decompose, the lakes’ oxygen level falls, sometimes choking out marine life and causing fish kills. Plants now are taking over shorelines where water once lapped. Without dredging, say experts, the lakes will continue to deteriorate.”
With the activity and beautiful landscape these lakes provide, it’s a much easier comparison for students to comprehend when discussing water pollution. In an interview with Adrienne Eldridge, an environmental science major and avid runner at LSU, Eldridge stated “I run the lakes nearly every day!
If they turned back into swamp land-didn’t have the gorgeous reflective quality they show at sunset it wouldn’t be a big downfall to LSU.
These lakes really complete the campus and provide a scenic run to so many students and Baton Rouge citizens.”
So what if we all cared about the Gulf and its surrounding waterways the way we care about our immediate bodies of water that we see every morning or afternoon? We could have a fighting chance, or so thinks John Tesvich. In an article with National Geographic he states proudly
“It’s about resilience. Our forefathers were resilient. Changes are coming. Get involved; stay on top. Be resilient.”
While there are much larger attributing factors to water pollution, both in Louisiana and the US, there are simple ways to do your part so the problems don’t worsen. Here are some preventative tips issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council to help control water pollution:
- Decrease impervious surfaces around your home.
- Use native plants and natural fertilizers.
- Don’t over-water lawns and gardens.
- Use nontoxic household products whenever possible.
- Correctly dispose of hazardous household products.
- Recycle used motor oil.
- Help identify report and stop polluters.
For more details about preventing water pollution visit http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/gsteps.asp.