We like to kid ourselves that as a technologically advanced society, we have one of the foundations of civilization firmly in the can – clean, potable water. We are, as with many other things, lying to ourselves with the help of government and industries with agendas that do not include the expense of doing much about it except passing the buck and pointing fingers. For millennia, the earth’s waters have been used by populations for crop cultivation, drinking water, sewage systems, bathing, and clothes washing, and waste disposal – sometimes all at the same time. Pollution is a centuries old problem, a vector of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium.
As the Industrial Revolution took hold, industrial waste on a scale never seen before was added to the mix, followed by agricultural contaminants such as herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Plastic waste has created the world’s largest trash heap in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and a matching one in the Atlantic, while the radiation being expressed into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima’s meltdown in March 2011 continues. Low-oxygen “dead zones” are forming in the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast regions of the US, disrupting the ecosystem of the ocean bottoms. In addition, the Gulf of Mexico continues to experience repercussions not just from 2010’s Deepwater Horizon explosion, but from a twelve-year-old oil leak that could last another hundred years.
Scared yet? You should be – because I haven’t even started on the problems plaguing our freshwater lakes, rivers, and aquifers, drugs in drinking water, or the threat of invasive plants, fish, and crustaceans. Moreover, lead contaminated water is a problem not only for the people who have no alternative than to use it, but it’s a contamination problem after it goes down the drain, too. We are in danger of not only collapsing fisheries but of having water all around us that isn’t fit to drink or wash with. We have let everyone off the hook, from drug manufacturers, to agriculture, to industry, to oil, gas, and coal industries and now everyone is facing the consequences.
At a federal level, we need both infrastructure and scientific studies untainted by special interest money, lobbyists, and regulatory capture to study how to mitigate the damage being done to people and the environment by polluted water in all its forms. If our government officials point to the lack of rivers catching fire as evidence of a job well done, then they need to look further afield to the harm being done. If we like to think of America as leader of the free world, we are leading in precisely the wrong direction. The best leaders lead by example, with an agenda that strengthens and unites their organization instead of dividing and stonewalling it. The embrace by Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau of science and rationality should be our example to follow in order to effect real change.