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 properly.
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.
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