Environment | Health | Opinion

Jim Kent: Putting a stop to pollution of our waters and our lands






Mni Wiconi -- Water is Life. Photo by Joe Brusky / Overpass Light Brigade

Water, Land & Air Pollution – We’re All Connected
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Columnist
lakotacountrytimes.com

As I received my third message in as many hours about massive pollution sites across the country I was reminded of legendary oceanographer and scientist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who once observed “Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”

A few decades later we, sadly, need to add “land” to the equation.

Widespread pollution - in spite of government agencies, environmental organizations and front-line activists – is still a global concern…even in “the world’s most developed nation”.

And though we may be in better shape than many countries around the world, we’re certainly not in a position to hold our heads above the rest…even if the weight from issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline would allow us to.

For example: the Mississippi River dumps 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year; one trillion gallons of untreated sewage and industrial waste is dumped into U.S waters each year; more than half of U.S. solid waste (110 million tons) is dumped in landfills each year - making us one of the top contributors to worldwide landfill waste, Go, team.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the 1322 Superfund sites that affect land, air and water and occur in every state of the union - from 105 in New Jersey to 1 in Nevada.

South Dakota’s near the bottom of that “Top 50” list with just 2 locations of mega-contamination: the former Gilt Edge Mine site in Lawrence County (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, silver and zinc runoff) and Ellsworth Air Force Base (dichloroethylene, trichloroethylene, arsenic and chromium).

Aren’t you glad you live in the wide-open spaces?

But with the continued push to build more oil pipelines across the country and the ongoing question of what to do with the 75,000 tons of radioactive waste sitting in pools and dry casks at nuclear power plants, you know it’s “the wide-open spaces” that always look most appealing when powerbrokers are looking for impending environmental disaster locations away from their friends and neighbors.

And that’s not to mention the “contaminated areas but not quite bad enough…yet…to be listed as Superfund sites” that we have no idea exist. Like the 53 locations currently awaiting a determination on whether they’ll be added to the Superfund sites list.

Between the enormous waste dumps in every state, the 500 crude oil and natural gas pipeline spills every year, the estimated one million bushels of garbage thrown out of car windows by Americans each year, the 40 percent of American rivers and 46 percent of American lakes too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life, the 73 different kinds of pesticides found in U.S. groundwater that eventually end up in our drinking water (unless we filter) and the 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, groundwater, and industrial waste discharged into U.S. waters annually…I’m amazed that we’re alive.

Truly.

I’m not surprised that so many of us are sick – especially with illnesses our doctors “can’t quite figure out” or have to test and re-test for without finding an answer.

In fact, even known illnesses like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm continue to be a threat to 166 million Americans due to unhealthy air – according to the American Lung Association.

Right. Air pollution. That was one of the first environmental issues tackled in this country. So what’s happened?

The American Lung Association states that at the same time the pendulum has swung toward the positive in clean-up, it’s shifted toward the negative due to climate change, wildfires and drought – all of which cause increased short-term particle pollution in the air and affect public health.

Nor does it matter where you live. Just as we’re all related, we’re all connected – folks in California regularly breathe in air pollution from Beijing.


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So what’s the solution? Everything we’ve already heard but don’t do because we’re too lazy or allow our politicians not to do because we trust “Bobby’s smile” over the reality around us.

Alternative energy. Fuel-efficient cars. Cleaner fuels. Emissions testing. Recycling. Reduce pesticides. Don’t litter. Use less plastic. Green agricultural practices. There are countless pages of suggestions on line.

But the most important recommendation is to speak up: to your spouse, your neighbor, your mayor, your governor, your U.S. Congressional team and, especially, to that dope sitting next to you who just threw his pop bottle out the car window.

Just like forest fires…only you can prevent pollution.

(Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on South Dakota Public Radio, National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at kentvfte@gwtc.net)

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