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Water Quality in the United States


Water resources on the planet are highly diverse and represent the most important substances necessary to ensure the life of living creatures. From small plants to humans, every living being needs water to sustain itself. Industries rely on water to manufacture food products, while underground waters are vital for maintaining the buoyancy of the land. This literature review examines and discusses the essential elements associated with water quality, including groundwater contamination and stormwater management. Additionally, the review will provide a holistic view of current methodologies that are instrumental in preserving the precious resource known as water.

Groundwater Contamination Cases

The pollution of lakes, rivers, and underground water sources occurs due to the neglect and irresponsibility of people and companies. Previously, underground sources, giving more water than all lakes, rivers, and streams were considered to be protected from the penetration of pollution by the layers of the earth located on the top (Vigil, 2003). However, it is known that water held in soil and crevices can be subject to pollution, as well as surface waters if their protection is not organized properly. The growing technological pressure on the environment has led to the fact that groundwater has been contaminated (Vigil, 2003). The reserves of drinking water on the planet are rapidly decreasing, and its quality is deteriorating, which affects the health of people, along with the diversity of the animal and plant world.

The quality of water available for use in the United States and other countries continually changes from year to year. Humankind and nature are two significant factors, whether directly or indirectly, contributing to being the vicissitudes in the quality of water. Rivers and tributaries are repeatedly the most affected by either non-point or point source pollution, making the water unfit for human consumption. For example, the 3M Company operates on the banks of Tennessee River in Decatur, Alabama. In August 2018, they purchased the property of 11-acre at Lawrence County (Fleischauer, 2019b). After their research of shallow groundwater 3M, the spokeswoman, Fanna Haile-Selassie, states that levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances were far above the risk level calculations of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whereas the soil contained PFAS on levels that were far below EPA standards. That is why it is imperative for factories to reduce the production of such chemicals. The most studied chemicals in the PFAS family are PFOA and PFOS, which 3M no longer uses (Fleischauer, 2019a). Unfortunately, such violations present a great deal of danger not only for humans but for the wildlife as well.

The disposal area was determined by the investigation conducted by 3M Company at Lawrence County, where industrial chemicals exceeded the risk levels. The 11-acre territory was purchased by this company in 2018, and as stated by its spokeswoman, the level of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exceed the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) levels in shallow groundwater. In the soil, the risk of contamination was considered below the EPA (Fleischauer, 2019a). The investigation of the closed disposal sites is an ongoing process that is performed by 3M in Decatur, including Deer Springs landfill near Flint, Brookhaven Middle School, and so on. At the same time, the evidence shows that 3M discharged toxic pollutants into the Tennessee River (Fleischauer, 2019b). The inspection by the EPA revealed that 3M used PFAS toxins that are prohibited, which points to the need to strengthen the transparency and integrity of companies working with chemicals.

Among other cases of groundwater pollution, it is possible to note Athens Utilities that was being to blame for killing fish due to a sewer overflow and detected high levels of E.coli. Vigil (2003) claims that the environmental issues are especially important in terms of the 21st century with its rapid technologic development and little attention paid to preventing ecological collapses. The maintenance of manufacturing and meeting the official requirements should be seen as the viable ways to protect water resources. In case of Athens Utilities, it was a human error: the employee working with a sewer line did not remove the plug, which led to overflow (Accardi, 2019). The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) also reported about the failure of the mentioned company to provide toxicity reports in 2017 and 2018. Nevertheless, the report submitted in 2019 indicated that Athens Utilities recognize high levels of E.coli, which is a critical sign of the intention to cooperate with monitoring organizations.

In its turn, 3M seems to be less ready for providing timely and comprehensive information about its water pollution incidents. The report by Fleischauer (2019a) illustrates that the initial statement of the company contained no references to suing the prohibited chemicals. In fact, ADEM discovered the opposite facts, and 3M had to idle certain manufacturing processes. Since the company declared that it would continue collaborating with both ADEM and EPA, it can be suggested that the current system of reports is not sufficient to protect groundwater. These different approaches to following groundwater protection requirements are representative of how various companies consider their impact on the environment. Accordingly, water contamination significantly affects people’s health, causing such diseases as kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, asthma, thyroid diseases, et cetera (Fleischauer, 2019a). Accardi (2019) mentions that “41 largemouth bass, eight spotted bass, 49 bluegill, 16 green sunfish and 529 redbreast sunfish” were killed as a result of the incidence that was caused by the performance of Athens Utilities.

Water source pollution occurs either as a result of an accident that led to the ingress of pollutants into the water or neglect of the requirements for the treatment of waste products discharged into rivers. In most cases, it is hardly possible to determine the degree of contamination of the source without special analyses (Vigil, 2003). Obviously, pollution is visible only if the substances discharged into the reservoir are untreated sewage, detergents, and oil products (Iowa PBS, 2012). The reasons for environmental risks and insufficient environmental safety are different. For example, a poor-quality study and insufficient effectiveness of environmental decisions in projects for the development and construction of construction and repair of wells can be noted (Mateo-Sagasta, Zadeh, & Turral, 2017). The negative environmental consequences result from low-quality implementation of existing design solutions due to poor equipment with technical means of high operational reliability and low efficiency of a monitoring system.

Stormwater Management

The samples of stormwater that are taken by the monitoring organizations also demonstrate the presence of toxins. For example, 18 types of PFAS were revealed in the Tennessee River, which is likely to be caused by the discharge made by 3M. The industrial wastewater was found as the source with the highest levels of pollution.. In particular, “52,000 parts per trillion and PFOS levels of 150,000 parts per trillion” were detected, as reported by Fleischauer (2019b). It should be stressed that the mentioned company declared that it stopped those manufacturing processes that were associated with PFAS. These findings indicate the importance of stormwater management since rain, snow, and storm sewers are absorbed into the soil. The awareness of manufacturing companies should be regarded as one of the strategies to reduce water pollution (Iowa PBS, 2012). The review of the contemporary responses that are practiced by the EPA will provide more information on this topic.

Groundwater Management Requirements

In connection with the growing problem of groundwater pollution, monitoring of their condition becomes an urgent task. This allows identifying not only the sources of pollution and changes in the composition of water bodies, but also detecting the effect of these changes on the development of various hydrological and geological processes. To implement the above recommendations, it is necessary to create an effective monitoring system. To understand the ways to design and introduce such a system in practice, it is important to examine the current order and fines for groundwater safety violations, which are discussed by various resources.

Fines can be noted among the most widespread measures to respond to environmental pollution. When Athens Utilities discharged the contamination that killed fish, the company was fined for $30,000 to be paid to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Accardi, 2019). This amount of money included the costs of replacing fish and investigating this case by the local authorities. The reports that discuss the case of 3M provide no information about the financial reimbursement, which limits the current evidence. Nevertheless, it is possible to suggest that stronger sanctions are needed to promote greater compliance with the regulations.

The order that was set by the EPA on 3M largely focuses on the requirement to sample the wells near its location and discharge places to monitor further incidents. As stated by the ADEM, the compliance matters should be addressed as soon as possible, and the future inspections should establish the fact of following the requirements. Another issue that should be clarified refers to the insufficient attention to studying toxins, such as FBSA and FBSEE, which sets certain limitations on addressing them. Since the companies are not fully aware of them from the toxicological perspective, it becomes more difficult to prevent their discharge into water. In addition, some of the toxins are patented, which restricts their commercial availability. As a result, the manufacturers tend to struggle with the very identification of some toxins.

The presence of clean water cannot be taken for granted because it plays a very significant role in supporting all forms of life in the world. Clean water is not only important in supporting life, but it also contributes towards improving happiness and prosperity in different parts of the world. Water pollution and any other issue affecting water are not easily separable by physical boundaries because upstream pollution is, in most cases, felt by those downstream. When a major source of drinking water is polluted, all countries or nations that are served by it are all affected irrespective of its geographical coverage (Vigil, 2003). Effective strategies need to be developed in consultation with all the countries or nations that may be relying on the same water source and the greater global environmental community whose actions against pollution will be adopted globally (Iowa PBS, 2012).

Natural Conditions Affecting Water Quality

Water quality is determined by its mineral composition, thus making the geology around water sources an important element in determining its quality. The geology of a region influences the general composition of minerals reacting with water as it flows from one point to the other (Vigil, 2003). The meaning of this is that regions whose geological makeup is made up of limestone deposits make water passing through it absorb high amounts of magnesium and calcium. The climate of a region also affects the quality of water because it determines the frequency of precipitation, winds, and temperatures that affect not only the chemical composition of water, but also the biological and physical characteristics of water.

Vegetation cover acts as one of the leading natural purifiers of water. Vegetated regions have high-quality water compared to non-vegetated water regions. The presence of vegetation in a region makes water go through a series of processes, including the uptake of some of the minerals that affect its quality in various ways. On the other hand, vegetation cover falls, breaks, decomposes, and decays in water bodies, making the water colored and ultimately affecting its quality.

Ways of Improving Water Quality

A multi-dimensional approach is recommended when improving water quality because of the problem’s complexity. The response should act on the key drivers that encourage the expansion of production, agriculture, and urban life in order to make changes in the way global society treats water. One of the first solutions is concerned with the efforts to reduce food waste and encourage healthy and sustainable diets (Mateo-Sagasta et al., 2017). This solution is holistic as a mere change in dietary patterns among the population can curb the high demand for meat, which is produced at industrial farms. For instance, the right incentives can facilitate sustainable diets that focus on healthy and seasonal foods. An example of a successful program was the implementation of subsidies and taxes for producers as well as coupons for consumers to facilitate the production and purchasing of sustainable foods (Purnell, Gernes, Stein, Sherraden, & Knoblock-Hahn, 2014). However, without the increased environmental awareness on the part of the global community, concerns about behavioral change and sustainability are complicated to address.

Policy instruments represent another critical aspect of improving the quality of water. The principle of “polluter pays” has rarely been applied in practice since pointing out the actual polluters is both expensive and complicated. Implementing the typical regulatory instruments, such as bans on the direct pollutant discharge, restrictions on the marketing and sales of harmful substances, as well as limits on production and agricultural practices is recommended for getting control over harmful practices (Mateo-Sagasta et al., 2017). A regulatory approach requires the encouragement of self-reporting among manufacturers and agricultural institutions. By being transparent about their practices would allow companies to avoid being subjected to fines, penalties, and compensation payments. However, enforcement remains a challenge, and governments should be proactive in establishing barriers that are imperative for industries to follow.

The article that was published by the Food and Water Watch presents the Prevent Future American Sickness (PFAS) Act that is aimed at the requirement to clean up PFAS from drinking water. This Act is based on the recent finding of the Environmental Working Group that these toxins can be detected in all the largest water supplies (“Sanders unveils bill,” 2020). It especially concerns major corporations that can invest in research and benefit the society. Toxins are a serious health threat that requires an immediate action since these hazardous elements lead to various diseases. The proposed Act is expected to speed up the solution of the identified problem, which can be implemented across the country (“Sanders unveils bill,” 2020). By holding the manufacturers and other polluters accountable for their actions, the Act offers that they should be fully responsible for lean up processes.

While the regulation of unsustainable and harmful practices among manufacturers and farmers is a step toward improving water quality, community and municipal efforts are also necessary. For example, it is recommended to test and treat waterways such as ponds and lakes regularly is an important aspect of preventing the growth of harmful weeds and growth. Another example is designing and constructing rain gardens in communities (Mateo-Sagasta et al., 2017). It seems to be important to point out that they are cost-effective, easy to implement, may reduce erosion, minimize flooding, and promote groundwater recharge.

A special role in ensuring the environmental safety of production is assigned to personnel. Numerous emergencies with serious environmental consequences show that many industrial accidents are caused by the human factor. Often, the reasons lay in the irrational, poorly thought out organization of labor, as well as the savings in attracting and paying appropriate remuneration to highly qualified specialists (Vigil, 2003). Inadequate qualifications of working personnel lead to poor quality service. To achieve more profit and optimize the staff, the service can be entrusted to other organizations, not to manufacturing companies. The neglect of labor organization and its safety leads to a violation of technological regulations and unauthorized access of random people. Ensuring environmental safety requires an appropriate environmental culture. A low level of professional environmental culture is unacceptable in modern production. The specialists in various fields do not clearly understand the possible consequences of their actions on the environment. They need to master appropriate knowledge to prevent environmental problems and their negative manifestations.

Conclusion

The problem of water pollution is multi-dimensional and implies a range of factors that should be taken into consideration. This literature review found that the current cases of groundwater contamination are largely associated with manufacturing companies that discharge toxins into the rivers. The samples of stormwater also demonstrate that it can contain toxins that cause health problems, including kidney cancer, thyroid diseases, fertility reduction, and other conditions. The EPA and ADEM are the key organizations that control water pollution in Decatur. The compliance with the regulations that are set by these organizations is the paramount goal to minimize the discharge of toxic elements into groundwater. Employee education, decreased water waste, and sustainable policies are also among the most relevant strategies that can be applied by manufacturing companies. The systematic efforts that include policy change are necessary to reduce the impact of human life on water quality. However, special attention should be paid to the topic of community collaboration and education to implement small but impactful steps toward addressing the identified issue.

References

Accardi, M. (2019). Athens Utilities fined $30,000 for fish kill, other violations. Decatur Daily. Web.

Fleischauer, E. (2019a). 3M: Groundwater contaminated at old Lawrence dump. Decatur Daily. Web.

Fleischauerz, E. (2019b). Before operations idled, EPA report said 3M discharging high levels of pollutants. Decatur Daily. Web.

Iowa PBS. (2012). Explore more: Water quality. Full Program [Video File]. Web.

Mateo-Sagasta, J., Zadeh, S., & Turral, H. (2017). Water pollution from agriculture: A global review. Rome, Italy: FAO.

Purnell, J.Q., Gernes, R., Stein, R., Sherraden, M.S. & Knoblock-Hahn, A. (2014). A systematic review of financial incentives for dietary behavior change. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(7): 1023-1035.

Sanders unveils bill to combat corporate polluters and protect drinking water. (2020). Web.

Vigil, K. M. (2003). Clean water. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press.

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StudyKraken. "Water Quality in the United States." August 26, 2022. https://studykraken.com/water-quality-in-the-united-states/.

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