What Pollutes The Mississippi River

Disturbing Facts

The Mississippi River is an important water source for many states, which can be polluted by runoff from a variety of sources, including factories, farms, sewage plants, and storm water. Pollutants can have devastating impacts on the local environment and human health. The following facts provide a snapshot of the current status of pollution in the Mississippi River:

  • In 2017, the Mississippi River was the second most polluted river in the United States, surpassing only the Ohio River.
  • A 2016 test of the water quality from the Mississippi River contained dangerously high levels of E.coli, lead and PCBs.
  • The toxins and bacteria that enter the Mississippi River travel downstream and can contaminate lakes, streams, and drinking water.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has contaminated the Mississippi River with toxins from industrial and agricultural activities.
  • The Mississippi River has been under intense scrutiny in recent years due to its contamination from urban runoff, which contains metals and pesticides from farms, and chemical compounds from factories.

Impact On Wildlife

The pollutants that enter the Mississippi River have detrimental effects on wildlife and the environment. Toxic pollutants such as mercury and lead have severe impacts on wildlife, particularly fish, leading to impaired reproduction, deformities, and death. These pollutants also alter the chemical makeup of the water, making it difficult for aquatic species to survive. In addition, the algae bloom caused by nutrient runoff creates unbalanced ecosystems, where animals and plants become more vulnerable to predation.
There are also the issues of water contamination that threaten the health of humans who consume fish from the river. Humans are particularly at risk for consuming chemicals that bioaccumulate in fish, as well as for ingesting pathogens from the water, such as E. coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium.

Sources of Pollution

Two of the primary sources of pollution in the Mississippi River are sewage runoff from wastewater treatment plants, and runoff from industrial and agricultural activities. Sewage runoff from wastewater treatment plants is the primary source of organic pollutants, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which can lead to oxygen depletion and the growth of toxic algae blooms. Industrial and agricultural activities, meanwhile, can lead to the contamination of the river with heavy metals, fertilizer, and pesticides, which can end up in the water and can have devastating consequences on the health of humans and wildlife. In addition, urban runoff, which contains metals and pesticides from farms, as well as chemical compounds from factories, is also a major source of pollution.

Role of Government

The government of the United States has taken various actions to reduce the levels of pollution in the Mississippi River. The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, established water quality standards, the monitoring of discharges, and the prevention of ongoing pollution of waterways. The act also provided for the development of control programs for major pollutants, including toxic chemicals, oil and grease, and suspended solids.
In addition, the EPA has developed several programs to reduce the amount of pollution that enters the Mississippi River. These include the Total Maximum Daily Load program, which requires states to establish a limit to the amount of pollutants that can be discharged into the river from a specific source; the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which sets limits for discharges for toxic substances; and the National Aquatic Resource Surveys, which monitor waterways for pollutants.

Effective Solutions

Reducing pollution in the Mississippi River is not an easy task, as the sources of pollutants are numerous and varied. However, there are several ways to reduce the amount of pollutants that enter the river. One of the most effective solutions is to improve wastewater treatment plants and reduce the amount of wastewater that is discharged into the river. This can be achieved through better management of wastewater and by updating existing sewage systems with newer, more efficient technology.
In addition, reducing nutrient runoff from agriculture and storm water runoff from cities is paramount. Practices such as using efficient irrigation systems and vegetative buffers, installing green roofs, and using low impact development techniques can help reduce runoff and promote water quality.

Grassroots Organizing

The importance of grassroots organizing for reducing pollution in the Mississippi River cannot be overstated. Local initiatives and organizations, such as the Mississippi River Collaborative, are working to raise awareness about the importance of clean water, the sources of pollution in the river, and the need for action. By empowering local residents, these organizations increase their ability to advocate for clean water, call for better regulations and enforcement, and hold both government and corporate polluters accountable.

Environmental Engagement

Environmental engagement and advocacy play an important role in protecting the Mississippi River and its ecosystems. This includes participating in rallies and other public events that bring attention to the river and its importance, engaging with policy makers and elected officials, and advocating for stronger laws and regulations that protect waterways and aquatic ecosystems.

Citizen Science

Citizen science is also a powerful tool for citizens to protect the Mississippi River. Organizations such as the Mississippi River Network and the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory are engaging citizens to actively monitor water quality, look for emerging contaminants, and report their findings to the appropriate authorities. This data is invaluable in understanding the state of the river and identifying opportunities for remediation.

Education and Awareness

Education and awareness are essential to achieving clean water in the Mississippi River. Educating the public about the issues facing the river, its ecosystems, and the need for sustainable water policies is key. This can be accomplished through school programs, public outreach events, and other forms of multimedia, such as film and radio broadcasts that bring these issues to life.

Personal Commitment

Each of us has a role to play in protecting the Mississippi River and making sure its ecosystems remain healthy. Everyone can make a personal commitment to reduce their impact on the river by reducing their water consumption, limiting their use of pesticides and fertilizers, and challenging corporations that pollute their surroundings. In addition, individuals can join organizations that fight for clean rivers and speak up against polluters.

Taking Action

The fight for clean water in the Mississippi River will require collective action and long-term commitment from everyone involved, from policy makers and local governments, to ordinary citizens and concerned organizations. By enforcing better regulations and enforcement measures, promoting sustainable practices, and engaging with local communities, we can together protect the Mississippi River and its ecosystems.

Raymond Strasser is a passion-driven writer and researcher, dedicated to educating readers on the topic of world rivers. With a background in Geography and Environmental Studies, Raymond provides insightful pieces which explore the impact and importance that rivers have around the world.

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