poisoned waters

What are your thoughts on this report? Do you think America will act in time to save its waterways? What will it take?

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I am struggling to understand how you could produce and air a major piece about the natural resources of Puget Sound and never once mention our Native American Tribal governments. As a matter of federal treaty law, these Indian Tribes co-manage the natural resources of Puget Sound. The Tribes have struggled for years to have their rights recognized and enforced, and they are now major players, and making major investments, to protect and restore Puget Sound. The Indian leaders in Western Washington are widely recognized as important spokesmen for Puget Sound, but not on your program.I believe that you should be asking yourselves some tough questions about why this might be. When major players, who happen to be of a minority race, are totally left out of the story, it raises serious questions of racism. I would have expected Frontline to be aware of and sensitive to the rights and contributions of Native Americans in Puget Sound.

George Walter
Olympia, Washington

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

In the course of making any documentary, painful decisions are made about which sequences to include or not include in the final version of the film, and good and important stories may be edited out. As Poisoned Waters entered its final editing stages, sequences were shortened or eliminated to cut the film to two hours and to give it tighter focus not on water resource issues in general, but more narrowly on the legacy of toxins from industry and urbanization. In that editorial process, a sequence about the Swinomish and Nisqually tribes' substantial effort to restore and protect salmon habitat in the Skagit and Nisqually rivers was cut from the film. Since that decision, FRONTLINE and its co-producer Hedrick Smith Productions have worked to make sure the Native American issues in this chapter were fully incorporated in the overall coverage of Poisoned Waters. Correspondent Hedrick Smith showed the full 15-minutes salmon habitat sequence at a pre-broadcast screening in Seattle April 14, and Nisqually tribal leader Billy Frank personally thanked Smith for that effort. A special Puget Sound DVD was created that includes chapters that were cut from the broadcast version of the film, including the habitat segment, and will be distributed in the Puget Sound area. FRONTLINE's Web site tells the habitat story with a profile of Billy Frank, and includes video of the 15-minute habitat sequence. We appreciate the time and cooperation of the Swinomish and Nisqually people in helping the filmmakers with their reporting.


June 12, 2009 Associated Press article about Victoria, British Columbia dumping untreated raw wastewater. Apparently the need for a treatment plant has been debated since 2006 and only now have they decided that the cost is worth the expense.

"Regional politicians last week approved a $1.2 billion plan to build four treatment plants to handle about 34 million gallons of raw sewage that Victoria and six suburbs pump into the Strait of Juan de Fuca each day."

I don’t know, but it seems like this would be an important step towards the overall health of Puget Sound. Article link at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090612/ap_on_re_us/us_canadian_sewage

Michael Wade
Charlotte, North Carolina


The program is well done as far as it goes but it does not go far enough.

OCEAN ACIDIFICATION is a major problem that is likely to become more serious than it is now. The professional literature on ocean acidification is substantial and is growing: the bottom line-- ome 22 million tons of CO2 go into the worlds oceans every day--besides what goes into the atmosphere. The carbon footprint is directly related to fossil fuel burning. Ocean Acidification has its roots in fossil fuel burning which is the primary causal factor in that big umbrella called "climate change". Fossil fuel burning, climate change, global warming, melting of ice caps, release of methane into the atmosphere (a gas 20 times more toxic than CO2)are all fossil fuel burning related. Don't expect the oil industry to fund research that will point fingers at the fossil fuel burners.

There is more, of course, but I have said enough--for now.

Jim Anthony
Ka'a'awa, Hawaii


The piece about the Chesapeake Bay is enough to make anyone that has spent any time there want to cry. In all, I calculate that I have spent a good, a wonderful five years of my life on the bay and its tributaries, swimming, fishing, sailing and crabbing (sound familiar?). In 1947 I can recall staring down in the water and seeing the white flickerings of a multitude of fish. Each year following that event, the numbers were reduced. Hardly enough at the beginning, but over time, almost a scarcity. I can also recall hauling trap nets full of shad and herring. It's a shame that farming has been allowed to pollute this marvelous body of water to the extent that it has.

Ronald Rowley
Pawleys Island, South Carolina


Even if this video is focused mainly on the Puget Sound, it should be a clarion call to all states and countries throughout the world. This video does a good job on exposing the events of the Puget Sound, which should tell others what to expect from their waters. I think that we should all be very concerned with our environment, because all of the waste created will affect us and the future generations. Because of this disaster waiting to happen, we will be labeled as a bad generation, unless we turn this around. Even if i am in high school, i want to do all i can to help out the environment, to make the earth a clean place to live for one and all.

Sheheryar Mahmood
Monmouth Junction, New Jersey



Once again PBS well done! Thank you for calling attention to the state of the Bay and acknowledging the causes. As a resident of the Chesapeake Bay Community I owe much of my knowledge to your thought provoking film. All of the problems you discussed I have noticed during my everyday life on the Bay. Last summer my family had to mark out many reported dead zones so we did not accidently fish where nothing could survive. This was particularly alarming to my parents who had never imagined that the water quality could be so terrible. Many members of my community have also suffered ear infections that have required medical attention. In my seventeen years, I have noticed these changes occur at rapid rates. After seeing many active citizens in your film I will now not just watch these problems unravel, but will try to be a participant in my local environmental movement. These problems are not something that should be ignored and your film has certainly convinced me that I need to act now. You have raised my level of consciousness. Thanks Again!

Sandy Point, VA



Thank you for _Poisoned Waters_. I appreciated that the documentary showcased watersheds on both the east and west coasts. As the documentary shows, these watersheds are unique in their geography and history but share many of the same kinds of water quality issues and responses from the general public and local and state government.

I recently completed a Master of Arts thesis in history on the topic of pollution of the Willamette River of Oregon from the mid-1920s to the early 1960s. My study ends with the broadcast of Tom McCall's documentary _Pollution in Paradise_ in 1962. Future Oregon governor McCall produced his documentary in response to continued degradation of the Willamette and other Oregon waters in spite of decades of pollution abatement advocacy.

There are many correlations between McCall's work and _Poisoned Waters_, the most obvious of which is McCall's conclusion that average citizens need to be more conscious and more active in their approach to water quality.

It's intriguing to me that the call for increased citizen involvement remains constant more than 45 years after McCall's documentary.

To see _Pollution in Paradise_, visit the Oregon State University's website: http://oregonstate.edu/media/cbnnp

James V. HillegasHistorianPortland, Oregon

James HIllegas
Portland, OR


I would like to respond to Mrs. Jim Leland ofMontpelier, VT who commented that he felt Poisoned Waters did not accurately report on CAFO regulations and the permits that the CAFO operators are required to obtain.

I am a Waterkeeper on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Your readers and Mr. Leland need to understand that, until 2009, the State of Maryland put all 'enforcement' of CAFO related regulations under the direction of the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The MDA is not an enforcement agency. While nutrient management plans were required, there was no inspection or monitoring of these plans. Also, Maryland blocked the NMPs from public access, and this lack of transparancy compounded the compliance issue. Furthermore, Maryland also did not require the majority of CAFO's to file a NPDES permit.

It had become quite evident that voluntary compliance did not work. MDA is a support agency to agriculture in this state. Lack of monitoring, enforcement or fines only allowed the problem to grow.

Waterkeeper Alliance and the Chesapeake Waterkeepers began a campaign in 2007 to not only apply pressure to MDE to strengthen their regulations, we also challenged the lack of public access to the Nutrient Management Plans. Only this year did the State begin to draft new regulations that will put compliance of permits into the hands of the Maryland Department of Environment - an enforcement agency! The Waterkeeper challenge to make the NMPs public was won, enhancing our efforts to continue independent monitoring of Maryland Eastern Shore CAFOs. And in 2009 the EPA has now more clearly defined to the State of Maryland which CAFO operations must file NPDES permits (almost all of them.)

As Mr. Ruckelshaus, former EPA Chief, said in Poisoned Waters, the solution is through 'rules, regulation and enforcement.' However, rules and regulations are not there to put people out of business - obviously hospitals, garages, wastewater treatment plants, paint factories, restaurants all continue to be productive businesses even under regulation.

Maryland CAFOs, too, must conduct their business in a manner that does not pollute our water and our air. A good place to start would be for the integrator to do the right thing and assume this responsibilty.

Kathy Phillips, Assateague COASTKEEPER
Berlin, MD


I believe the following video listed below will be of interest to the polution solution you reported about in the Poisoned Waters show. The technology is available right now to clean up the environment. Please look at doing a a show on solutions as can be found in the video link below.

Mycologist Paul Stamets studies mycelium and lists 6 ways that this astonishing fungus can help save the world. Cleaning polluted soil, creating new insecticides, treating smallpox and maybe even the flu ... in 18 minutes, he doesn't get all the way through his list, but he has plenty of time to blow your mind. An audience favorite at TED2008.


Edwin Bickel
Sarasota, Florida


I found the Poisoned Waters special to be extraordinarily insightful, although down right depressing. With that said, I wanted to share a bright light in the clean water movement that I believe your viewers will find touching and exciting.

This week in commemoration of Earth Week, an extreme, long-distance swimmer named Christopher Swain plunged into the ice cold Atlantic Ocean to do a 1,000 mile free crawl from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Washington DC to call attention to the challenges we're facing as an ocean planet.

He's not just calling attention to the issue through his aquatic trek down the Atlantic seaboard, he is coming ashore to help 2,000 classrooms develop projects to protect the oceans.

And as if that was not enough, he will also be performing Ethical Electronic Recycling (EER) events along the way, giving the public a chance to come on down , meet him and safely dispose their old cell phones, computers, TVs, etc. His EER events break down harmful electronics into reusable or recyclable parts, which helps to keep the toxic components out of the water.

His personal commitment to the issue is extraordinary and not without sacrifice. He's survived collisions with boats, 12-foot waves, Lamprey Eel attacks, and waste contaminated with everything from arsenic to nuclear waste.

Please let your viewers know about Christopher, which proves that one person can be a force for change in addressing the health of our ocean planet.

Deron Triff
Durham, New Hampshire


I'm writing on behalf of the American Water Resources Association to thank you for bringing attention to this complex and emerging problem. I also wanted to offer a link for your "How to get involved page," which you might find useful.

In May 2007, our member magazine, Water Resources IMPACT, dealt with the topic, Contaminants of Emerging Concern. AWRA has agreed to open the entire issue to folks who want to know more about this issue. The magazine can be found here:http://www.awra.org/impact/issues/0705impact.pdf

Please let me know if you have questions or if you would like additional information.

And thanks again for the great work you!

Terry Meyer
Middleburg, VA


As someone who is involved in agriculture I wish you would have touched on the many conservation practices we use in agriculture, most often on a volunteer basis. This practices can be quite expensive and include; terraces, waterways, field borders, riparian buffer strips, conservation tillage just to mention a few. We celebrate Earth Day every day while trying to successfully balance our populations needs/demands with our natural resources. Your representation of storm water pollutants in my opinion was very accurate.

Denise Noonan
winfield, kansas


"Poisoned Waters" was a well-produced, thought-provoking documentary. However, it overlooked a huge threat to the Chesapeake watershed: unconventional natural gas drilling with hydraulic fracturing in PA and NY. This process utilizes millions of gallons of fresh water, sand, and chemicals to fracture shale and release natural gas. This process has been exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, among other federal protections, but can contaminate underground and surface sources of drinking water with chemicals like benzene, toluene, and naphthalene. And yet companies do not currently have to disclose the chemicals they are using. There is a big story here; perhaps it needs its own documentary.

Otego, NY


Thank you for a thought-provoking program.

I've been an arm-chair environmentalist for some time, but now I'm inspired to take action. I think the topic warrants more episodes that put pressure on companies playing with our habitat and our health.

I wish the disgruntled homeowners had been given a chance to answer this question: Even if you don't give a hoot about the whales, don't you want your son and his children to be able to swim and drink clean water?

Jackson Heights, NY


posted april 21, 2009

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