GMWEA recently won a $9,860 grant from the Lake Champlain
Basin Program (LCBP) to help inform Vermont citizens about what we can do to reduce
pollution in Lake Champlain.
We can do a lot –
provided we have the right information.
Most of us are familiar with the damaging effects of
phosphate pollution, and with the e. coli
contamination that sometimes closes beaches. Unfortunately, our contribution of pollutants
doesn’t end there.
Here’s a troubling, but illustrative fact: In a study conducted in 2016 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 60% to 75% of the male smallmouth bass in the Mississquoi River were found to have both male and female genitals. Their impaired reproductive function has potentially disastrous effects on the aquatic ecosystem.
Researchers say the deformity is probably due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, particularly those mimicking estrogen, with the lead suspect being the herbicide atrazine – a common ingredient in consumer lawn and garden products.
Unfortunately, weed-killers are by no means the only ecologically-harmful chemicals a typical household contributes. Many can be found in common household products loosely grouped under the name PPCPs – pharmaceuticals and personal-care products. The average Vermonter flushes, pours, or washes off these pollutants, and they enter the inflows of our wastewater treatment systems. Some break down and become inert, but too many end up lingering – invisible, but harmful – in our natural waters.
If even our high-tech municipal systems can’t remove them, our
only remedy is to prevent them from entering
the water in the first place. That means
we citizens need to learn better habits of product use and disposal.
The LCBP grant, funded by the U.S. EPA and administered
through New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Council (NEIWPCC), will
allow GMWEA to develop a series of four informational brochures, to be sent to
every city and town in Vermont. Delivered
to ratepayers with water/sewer bills, the brochures – along with website/blog
postings and other media coverage – will inform Vermont households about how to
reduce use of ecosystem-damaging chemicals and how to dispose of them
PPCPs, such as antibiotics, antimicrobials, antidepressants, birth control pills, skin creams, insect repellent, hair dyes, and laundry products are only part of the problem. Bacon grease and other kitchen fats clog wastewater pipes and pumps, especially when combined with “flushable” wipes, Q-tips, and tampons, reducing system efficiency and costing money in repairs. Chemicals used in the garage and yard – degreasers, solvents, antifreeze, fertilizers, insecticides, weed-killers (such as atrazine) — also end up in storm drains or runoff and wreak havoc in rivers and lakes.
During the next year, every city, town, household, and
individual will receive tips on how to avoid polluting our shared
waterways. With this basic know-how, you
can cut your input of the damaging chemicals.
Current plans call for the first brochures to be sent in
May, and the initiative is expected to culminate in March, 2020. GMWEA will contact municipal authorities to
facilitate distribution in coming months, but if you’re a facility operator,
town manager, DPW administrator, teacher, or ratepayer, you’re welcome to
contact us sooner. We’d love your help
in getting the word out!
Thanks are due to our fiscal agent, Vermont League of Cities and Towns; to the Lake Champlain Basin Program; to New England Interstate Pollution Control Council; and to the U.S. EPA, original source of the funding.
Note: This post has been edited since its first publication to provide better information on the 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study.
Click here to return to GMWEA’s website.