ENVIRONMENTAL

All the Way to the Ocean

More Information

The following is additional information for teachers, parents and those interested in preserving our oceans, rivers, lakes and natural bodies of water from pollution caused by human activity around the world.

Through the conduct of daily activities, the general public releases a multitude of pollutants into storm drains. Urban runoff is the largest source of unregulated pollution to the waterways and coastal areas of the United States. The most common pollutants released into storm drains are:

* Fuel and motor oil leaking from cars
* Household cleaning products
* Improperly disposed paint and paint thinners
* Paper, cups, and other litter
* Yard waste and fertilizers
* Animal waste left from household pets

It only takes a little pollution to affect an aquatic ecosystem, destroy a habitat, and kill wildlife. What's wrong with a little water running from a lawn into the street, down the gutter and into the storm drain? It's not just water from that one lawn. Combine that action with each car that is washed, each driveway that is sprayed off, and the water really begins to flow. That water carries with it every pesticide, herbicide, or fertilizer used to make lawns healthy and attractive. It carries detergents and oils from the driveways and streets. It carries the debris and waste that gather in the storm drain. It carries bacteria and infectious organisms from pet waste, and arsenic and cadmium left on road surfaces by normal tire wear. And that fluid doesn't go to the sewer or a water treatment plant; it goes straight to the nearest creek, river, estuary, bay, or ocean. Almost every storm drain system in the state bypasses treatment facilities. Once in the river or stream, the pollution kills the micro-organisms and micro-invertebrates that form the base of the natural food web, beginning a ripple effect that ultimately hurts fish, wildlife and humans. As the water makes it way to the oceans, water quality is affected, resulting in increasing numbers of days that beaches are closed every year due to unhealthy water conditions.

Some of the runoff is intentional; most of it is preventable. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that American households generate 193 million gallons of used oil annually, some of which is improperly disposed. The EPA estimates that households improperly dump the equivalent of 17 Exxon Valdez oil spills, every year!

According to the National Research Council, human activities and carelessness cause approximately 29 million gallons of petroleum to pollute North America's ocean waters every year. Nearly 26.3 million gallons of that oil comes from urban run-off, fuel dumping by commercial airplane pilots, emissions from small boats and personal watercraft and polluted rivers. By comparison, pipeline and oil tanker mishaps spill about 2.7 million gallons in our waters.

For those doing their own vehicle maintenance, it's likely some oil, grease, radiator fluid, or other substance has spilled and eventually washed into the nearest storm drain. Some people dump used automotive fluids into storm drains intentionally. Poorly-maintained vehicles leak these fluids onto every roadway they travel. That's why our streets and highways are slick after the first rain of the season. Each rain event carries that "slick" into a nearby waterway, contaminating the water and injuring entire ecosystems.

What about those "biodegradable" products? Biodegradable actually relates to the ability of a treatment plant to break down the product - not its ability to biodegrade in the natural environment. With increased water usage, diversions, and dams, dilution of pollution is not a solution. In order for an ounce of "biodegradable" detergent to be safe for fish, it needs to be diluted by 17,857 ounces of water. One ounce of household bleach requires 312,000