The Gulf’s BP disaster reawakens concerns over local waters

There’s a big spill in the Gulf and BP (not Be Prepared) has not been able to quell the gusher. Wildlife habitat, a huge seafood industry and hundreds of miles of beach recreational are in peril. This worst-ever off-shore drilling disaster has CNN delivering 24/7 coverage.

The Gulf situation is worrisome enough to overshadow the dire condition of Puget Sound’s waters. So my neighbor still sloshes toxic grime off his car with a bucket of caustic cleaner. Street of Dreams homes sport lawns with the artificial green one gets only from Astroturf or massive over-fertilizing. A flyer advertizes a cleaner boasting enough chemical muscle to eliminate any need for elbow-grease.

Home use of commercial chemicals leads to what is called Non-Point-Source Pollution. A little here, a little there, so why sweat the small stuff when BP’s disaster qualifies as a bona fide Point-Source Polluter — a 9.0 on a Richter scale for pollution. BP’s spill is the stuff of headlines though the cumulative harm from little non-point source polluters is greater. Yet we sleep through that truth.

For a wake-up call we might consider what happened in Arapaho Falls, Colorado. The small town of 9,300 was in shock following coordinated raids of local businesses by state police. Records were impounded and management and employees questioned. State Police Lieutenant Dan Monteith said arrests may be expected.

Acting on complaints, investigators followed the sale, use and disposal of known toxic chemicals by businesses. Whether acting singly or as a group, Prairie Farm Supply, D&M Superfoods, Carlson Auto Repair, Farmers’ Tractor Service, Honeywagon Septic Service, AutoGleam Carwash and others may soon face criminal charges for years-long toxic pollution of local groundwater. Monteith added, “Though no links have yet been confirmed, it has the earmarks of a conspiracy.”

Investigators and townspeople alike were baffled at the apparent lack of motive. All but two of the suspects had long-standing roots in the community and many contributed time and funds to civic projects. According to a CHP spokesperson, all cooperated with the investigation.

CSU water specialist Helen Weidkamp said, “Everything that goes down a drain ends up in ground water or rivers.” She cited fouled wells in the county and fish kills in Camas Creek as evidence.

Time to confess: There is no such town as Arapaho Falls. I made it up. But just because this didn’t happen in a fictitious town doesn’t erase the reality that it really does happen in every city in the nation. Think about it. Where else can the cleaning chemicals used in Marysville’s homes and businesses go if not down one drain or another.

Friends in the grocery biz tell me that stock along cleaning-supplies aisles turns over every three to five days. A shorter time for big jugs of bleach. Much longer for specialties like brass polish. The total contents of those shelves — the same stuff that makes you sneeze when passing by, is loosed into the environment twice every ten days or less. And the assault goes on relentlessly.

In the great cycle of things, the world’s population flushes toxics downstream to oceans and then eats the fish that survive. Don’t eat too much though, because USDA tests prove that the chemicals we flush loop back into our diet. That’s the global picture. The local issue is the impact chemical wastes have on Munson, Allen and Quilceda Creeks — and of course waters that lie downstream.

When shoppers cruise a cleaning products aisle they might envision the contents of all those shelves dumped into local sewers, soil, drain-ways and creeks. It happens every few days! Then multiply the effect by the number of supermarkets in Marysville. Add the total volume of garden fertilizers and chemicals to the toxic stew.

Time was when soap was made from animal fat, lye, wood ashes and flower petals. All natural. But because soap leaves a bit of a film and soap-washed hair isn’t as glossy as in Breck ads, we invent new cleaning products. One of the newest boasts an automatic sprayer that anoints a shower-stall’s walls with a potion so powerful that no elbow-grease is needed to dislodge soap scum. Then down the drain it goes.

We think of materials as natural or synthetic. The environment would be in a lot less trouble if we thought of them as natural and unnatural, instead. Soap, ammonia, borax, hot water and vinegar are natural and effective cleansers. Though a few sticky cleaning jobs may call for measured chemical warfare, most household cleaning can be done just as well with non-toxic stuff. A little baking soda and vinegar in a quart of warm water is all one needs for general cleaning. White vinegar makes a dandy window cleaner. With the availability of dozens of excellent books on non-toxic cleansers there’s no need to belabor this.

Fifteen of Washington’s major salmon runs are endangered or threatened. Healthy fish live in good water. The chemicals we use rule out the possibility of good water, ergo, we can’t expect healthy fish. This isn’t even arguable.

Yet it is argued. It’s the dams, they say. It’s Indian nets in the rivers. It’s high-seas capture of juvenile salmon. It’s building permits encroaching on watersheds. Like BP, so long as we stay busy pointing blame elsewhere, we excuse the role we play. And the good we might do eludes us.

If this were a dead-fish issue it might get our attention. Dead fish decorating the high-tide line, gaspers doing the side stroke along the surface, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, it is nothing so dramatic. What we’re conspiring to produce is dead water.

Comments may be addressed to: rgraef@verizon.net.

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