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The Potomac: America’s most beleaguered river, new report

The Potomac is the nation’s most imperiled river, according to a report issued today by the nonprofit group, American Rivers.

Pescados by Daquella manera (Daniel Lobo)
Creative Commons license

The river, which supplies drinking water to five million people in the Greater Washington region, suffers from a bad case of  runoff from laws and factory farms, alike. those woes have turned the Potomac into a spawning ground for so-called “intersex fish” – male fish born with ovaries. Yikes! Scientists have linked the chemicals in lawn fertilizer and “chicken litter” (manure produced in large quantities at the region’s poultry farms) that get washed into the waterways where they wreak havoc of fish reproduction and create habitat-crippling dead zones bereft of oxygen, among other things.

The Washington Post today notes that U.S. Congress has failed to act despite growing evidence that what’s happening to the fish may be a disturbing sign of the human health implications. In fact, sentiment on Capitol Hill is moving in the other direction with Republicans periodically launching attempts to roll back the Clean Air Act, reporter Darryl Fears notes, quoting environmentalists.

The landmark federal law, which turns 40-years-old this year, has led to major improvements in the health of the nation’s waterways, experts say. At the time of its passage in 1972, some U.S. rivers were such reeking open sewers that they sometimes caught fire. Nevertheless, the Potomac is one of ten that continue face the most serious ongoing problems.

Besides the Potomac, today’s top ten list, of sorts, includes the following:

  • Green River (which runs through Wyoming, Utah and Colorado)
  • Chattahoochee River (Georgia)
  • Missouri River (nine states in the central United States)
  • Hoback River (Wyoming)
  •  Grand River (Ohio)
  • Skykomish River (Washington)
  • Crystal River (Colorado)
  •  Coal River (West Virginia)
  •  Kansas River (Kansas)

Potomac’s Intersex Fish May Get Further Study

We may eventually have more information about whether human health is at risk from pollution blamed for changing the sex of fish in the Potomac River. Several members of Congress have introduced legislation calling for a National Institutes of Health study to better understand how chemical run off from farms, industrial operations and backyards disrupt hormones, according to this story in the Washington Examiner.

The proposed study comes after last month’s alarming findings by the Potomac Conservancy, which concluded that the chemical compounds that drain into the river are causing male fish to grow eggs. While the Conservancy didn’t draw any conclusions about what those chemicals could be doing to humans, it does not sound good.

It’s about time officials got around to calling for more information since concerns about intersex fish have been around for at least a couple of decades. It’s a wonder we don’t already have a better handle on this phenomenon.

Should We be Worried about the Potomac’s Inter-sex Fish?

In this morning’s sustainability news roundup, I noted that Washington Post coverage of a new report on Potomac River pollution left out discussion of the human health implications. Greater Washington gets its drinking water from the river, which makes the Potomac Conservancy‘s findings all the more alarming: The group concludes that chemical run off from farms, industrial operations and backyards is causing abnormal sexual development in fish. (The males grow eggs.) While the Post story only says the jury is still out on how these pollutants could impact humans, a reporter at The Washington Times dug a little deeper, interviewing John Peterson Myers, a biologist who founded the research group Environmental Health Sciences. Here’s a link to the story and here’s a quote that cuts to the crux:
“Water-treatment facilities are not yet required to screen for endocrine-disrupting contaminants, so they end up in our tap water,” he said. “We aren’t sure exactly what level of exposure causes harmful effects to human health, but if the intersex-fish phenomenon is any indication, there’s a critical need for regulatory agencies and decision makers to start addressing this issue,” he said.

Morning Coffee: Smart Appliances, Unisex Fish

The New York Times’ Green, Inc. blog says “smart appliances” designed to save on energy usage are arriving in stores around the country. The catch: the “smart” grid that would allow these appliances to put their energy-busting technology to work is still a dream on Washington policymakers drawing board.

The toxic stew of chemicals in the Potomac River is killing fish and altering their sexual development, according to the Potomac Conservancy‘s annual “State of the Nation’s Rivers” report, covered today in The Washington Post. The report, reportedly, makes no conclusions on the human health impacts. What goes unstated, however, is that our drinking water here in DC comes from the Potomac!

Ryan Avent laments the lack of car sharing in DC, while The Heights Life picks up on the rejoicing on city listservs now that parking-space hogging street cleaning is suspended until the spring.

Washington Business Journal says Montgomery County may opt for a more permanent but costly light rail instead of a bus for the planned 14-mile Clarksburg to Shady Grove line. The vote is set for Nov. 17.

Greater Greater Washington posts on a new report grappling with what the metropolitan DC area will look like in 2050. The take away: Revamping aging suburbs into denser, more pedestrian friendly communities of the future will be no easy task, David Alpert notes.  The Coalition for Smarter Growth is holding a forum tomorrow night.

Park View DC has the goods on last night’s ANC1A meeting in which developers discussed plans for the former Central Union Mission property at the southwest corner of Newton and Georgia Ave.

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