The following short notes highlight some of the issues that challenge our watersheds, and which we can all play a part in changing!

Medicines, pills and other pharmaceuticals

Keep Pharmaceuticals out of our streams and ground water!  Dispose of them properly at designated collection points (county health departments, many police or fire stations or pharmacies – call them before you visit).  Pharmaceuticals dissolve readily, and contaminate soils as well as streams, lakes and rivers, affecting wildlife (e.g. feminization of male fish, alteration of feeding or survival behaviors) .  Municipal water plants cannot remove many pharmaceutical chemicals, so they may be in drinking water in many locales.  Another complexity is that these are mixes of pharmaceuticals in various concentrations, and the long term effects of these combinations are not well understood. 

Pharmaceutical contamination also increases the risks for the development of bacterial resistance to important drugs.

Salt, as in winter de-icing on roads and pavements

Overuse of road salt or rock salt for de-icing of roads, parking lots, sidewalks and other pavements is threatening our soils and waters.  We all know that salt – sodium chloride (NaCl) – can impact our health (excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke), and it can also impact our environment including contaminating groundwater, our source for drinking water. 

While salt is important for public safety, we should know that a 12 oz. cup of salt should be enough to treat 12 to 15 feet of sidewalk, and that salt doesn’t work well when temperatures are below 15 degrees F  (use some sand or alternatives that work at lower temps).   A teaspoon of salt is enough to contaminate 5 gallons of water!  

Fortunately resources such as Cuba and Ela Townships use salt smart strategies to minimize unnecessary salting.

Picture of plastic trash floating in water

Microplastics – small pieces of plastic either manufactured to be small or pieces broken down from larger materials by wave and wind action – are present in the oceans and inland waters.  They are unintentionally eaten by a large number of aquatic animals that are later served for our dinners.  This poses an emerging food safety concern because of the toxicity of some plastics and their components, or due to the contaminants that the plastics absorb.  Some forms of plastic are known carcinogens if ingested; other plastic additives are suspected to be endocrine disrupters.  The toxic contaminants can bioaccumulate, and affect both the health of wildlife and potentionally people.

Another problem…when plastics degrade in sunlight, they emit methane and ethylene – greenhouse gases!

Another good article can be found here.

Blue, Green and Yellow polyester fibers

Are our clothes polluting our waters too?  A lot of our clothes are made of plastic… such as polyester (pictured above), nylon and acrylic.  When these clothing are washed, they shed thousands of plastic fibers each time, which go down the drain and, eventually to our streams, rivers and lakes and eventually into the ocean.

These fibers present the same challenge as some of the microplastics discussed in the previous section – especially due to plastics’ tendencies to absorb or collect other pollutants, which could then be ingested along with the plastic fiber.

Good folks are working on the problem though, and there is much that can be done.  Patagonia sells a special laundry bag that captures the fibers.  Industry is also working on fabrics that don’t shed much at all.

Leaves and yard debris in storm drains

Leaves are natural…what’s wrong here?  Leaves are also a huge source of nutrients, especially phosphorus. Those nutrients are going directly into the storm drain, and into our creeks and lakes where they could  create conditions ripe for algae blooms.

Key polluting nutrients are phosphorus and nitrogen when they are in excess.  

To be continued.

Picture of Buckthorn leaves and berries

Common Buckthorn or Rhamnus cathartica came to the U.S. in the mid 1800’s as a popular hedging material. The plant was soon found to be quite invasive, and is considered allelopathic – producing one or more biochemicals that influence the germination, growth, survival and reproduction of other plants.  The plant releases the chemical compound emodin into amphibian breeding water environments which is toxic to amphibian embryos and disrupts their development, especially for  frogs and salamanders.  Its berries are toxic, as is the bark of the tree.  

Other research notes there are significantly more coyotes, raccoons, and opossums in buckthorn invaded areas, possibly because birds and their nests are easier to prey on if built in buckthorn than in native shrubs or trees.

Buckthorn is currently the most common tree in the region, comprising up to 42% of the tree canopy in some areas.  Join efforts to eliminate buckthorn with CFC, BACT and the Morton Arboretum.