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