Top U.S. Environmental Concern: Water Pollution

Polluted waters are a top concern for those in the U.S. (Photo: Ivan Radic [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

People around the globe are regularly bombarded with bad news about the planet, but what aspect of the environment concerns most Americans? According to a survey conducted by Gallup this March asking that exact question, the top environmental concern among U.S. citizens is water pollution. In fact, water-related issues occupied the top four spots on the poll, with drinking water pollution coming in as the top environmental concern. Given the essential nature of water to sustaining human and other life, it hardly comes as a surprise that some form of water pollution has been the top-ranking environmental issue of concern to Americans in each Gallup reading since 1989.

As clean water becomes increasingly scarce, Americans get more and more concerned about various aspects of water: the safety of drinking water, polluted water collecting in reservoirs, the contamination of water by toxic waste, and fresh water supply for household needs. Water pollution was a hot political issue back in the early days of the environmental movement, however, this ended sometime after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received powerful regulatory tools with the 1972 Clean Water Act and the follow-up 1987 Water Quality Act. Once again, water pollution is back in the news getting the attention it deserves due to recent Supreme Court decisions that have weakened the definition of the waterways that were once protected. As a result, new legislation has been proposed called the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009. This legislation would bring protection back to many rivers, streams and wetlands that were originally safe under the 1972 Act. The Obama administration is behind the new version of the act, and many environmentalists are pinning their hopes on its passage.

Water pollution in America

According to Malcolm Wittenberg, the CEO and founder of SafeHarbor Foods, a seafood mercury testing certification group, most of the Northeast Atlantic waters have become a receptacle for mercury and other contaminants that are byproducts of coal plants in and around the Northeastern part of the country. That’s bad news for fish consumers, especially pregnant women, as studies have shown that unborn children are particularly susceptible to the detrimental effects of mercury.

The U.S. Geological survey has just recently reported that Chicago’s wastewater is responsible for pollution in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. An article in the Chi Town Daily News says that city is the number one offender in discharging water tainted with phosphorous and nitrogen, chemicals that can accumulate through laundry detergent and lawn fertilizer. This tainted water makes its way down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and has helped to create an 8000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf.

The EPA published an atlas of America’s most polluted waters in 2000. The maps in the atlas depict waters within each state that do not meet state water quality standards. The atlas accounts for more than 300,000 miles of rivers and streams, and more than 5 million acres of lakes are being polluted. The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of these polluted water bodies. It therefore comes as no surprise Americans are concerned about these issues, as water literally affects every aspect of our lives. We can only hope that Washington follows suit by passing the new legislation that will allow us to begin reversing the damage.

Reenita Malhotra also contributed to this article.