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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For the last several years, I have incorporated a present day problem facing our ecosystems in my fifth grade science class. I have often used the Chesapeake Bay as the topic to be discussed and debated. I have taught my students about the many runoff problems/environmental pollutants present. Your show shed new light on the continued problems facing the bay. Recently my class researched different points of view and how many groups are contributing to the fragile ecosystem of the Chesapeake. Students were involved in a 'mock town hall' in which much debate and emotion was portrayed. Needless to say, I believe that my students realized that we all have been contributing to the problem and can have an active role and voice in protecting the bay. My class is looking forward to watching the program online and further researching the action being taken. I would welcome any additional resources that I could use to further enhance their learning.

Angie Isaacs
charlotte, nc


I found your piece to be very informative and enlightening as to the extent that water pollution has not been abated as much as the public has been led to believe and agree more needs to be done. I do take issue, however, to the way the landowners surrounding Seattle were portrayed. It was unfortunate that they came across as hot heads and potentially violent in their opposition to King County’s newly imposed land ordinances. What was not conveyed by your program was that these individuals had their property confiscated. While it may have been in the best interest of the public that these lands be preserved, King County did not condemn the lands, nor compensate the owners of the lands. They simply issued regulations that prohibited the clearing of these private lands, the building on these lands and in some instances prohibiting the owner of these lands the right to walk on them. In addition, these private land owners still had to pay property taxes on the land they could not use. Wouldn’t you be angry too? This is why the ordinances are in court.

Bellevue, WA


Overall, Poisoned Waters was a well produced and thought-provoking piece of environment reporting.

After watching this program however, and similar environmental reporting, I am always struck by the fact that virtually no discussion of the effects of human population growth is put forth. This is unfortunate as water quality is very much impacted by the number of people in any given place on our planet. In fact, I would have a difficult time naming a single man-made threat to our environment that is not made worse each and every day by increased population growth.

While we certainly need to classify and remove toxins in our waters and find non-toxic alternatives, we also need to understand, and talk about the fact that an ever-growing population makes such tasks all the more difficult. The more people, the more toxic waste. It's that simple.

Please consider producing a program focusing on unchecked population growth as it relates to the many environmental crises that we now face.

Owen Neils
Mason, MI


I am a partner in a company that seeks to provide economic solutions to the problem of excess nutrients and some of the emerging contaminants that are found in our nations' waters.

I would like to point out that we can build a new economy and put people to work while cleaning up our environment. That economic activity, as represented by many green technologies, will restore much of the natural capital that is the true foundation of our wealth and security. That taking a pro-environmental position does not mean you are anti-business or anti-growth. Being pro-environmental will allow us to grow and prosper. It is time to stop trying to avoid liability and responsibility and get on with building a future.

We produce and distribute a product called Biohaven Floating Islands that provides an economical solution to some of the problems that are listed. It basically creates a floating wetland that can naturally clean nitrogen and, we think, can remove some of the emerging contaminants. Our website is www.floatingislandse.com. We are all about jobs and the environment.

Thank you Frontline.

Robert Crook
Carrboro, NC


Thank you so much for broadcasting this important investigation into the state of our nation's imperiled waters. I am the Black Warrior Riverkeeper in Alabama, and we have the third largest chicken producing county in the country in our watershed. Like the pollution that comes from chicken CAFOs, much of the pollution I see while patrolling the watershed is a product of the way we live here in America. If we do not choose to slow down and start implementing more sustainable living practices, the magnitude of water pollution will only increase. Water pollution often occurs in remote areas, far from the public eye - so educating the public about these issues is critical. Other than muddy water runoff, sewage spills, and oil sheens water pollution is, as you pointed out, often impossible to see. Likewise, groundwater and air pollution are often made of more than meets the eye. I hope to see more of this reporting in the future. Thank you and Happy Earth Day!

Nelson Brooke
Birmingham, AL


Your program certainly brought up some serious environmental issues, but had certain inaccuracies that reduced its credibility.

One example is claiming that "dead zones" kill fish. It is very common (at least in midwest and southern reservoirs) for water below a depth of about 15 feet to become devoid of oxygen in summer. It's true that bottom-dwelling animals cannot survive there, but fish simply move into shallower water.

Also, for decades now, concentrated livestock operations have require discharge permits under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. This is a federal-state program that should by law be taken over by the U.S. EPA if states fail to enforce it.

Another thing about Puget Sound. The probelem with PCBs is a serious one, but the quality of water there is generally quite good. (It is much deeper and has more natural "flushing action" than Chesapeake Bay.) Restricting development of remaining forested areas around the Sound has a number of advantages, but it's a real stretch to imply that reduction of PCBs is one of them.

One area of hope is that if "exotic" chemicals in water supplies actually do reduce men's sperm counts, the over-population that is the root cause of these problems will become self-correcting.

Ted Stude
Carbondale, Colorado


I found the program to be substantially less in depth than I would have expected. I am especially concerned with the perpetuation of the myth that agricultural operations are not regulated. I would have thought the producers might have investigated how the large chicken farms are currently regulated. From what I understand both Maryland and Delware have permit programs in place for these farms. It seems that some input from those that manage these programs would have been appropriate and at least provided some balance to the piece. I also found it perplexing that there was no mention of the fact that the clean water act has regulated concentrated animal feeding operations since it became law. Implementation may vary as well as effectiveness but the requirements have been there for a long time. This piece would leave the uninformed to believe that agricultural operations are allowed to pollute and that is simply not the case.

jim leland
montpelier, vt


As a professional who works in the water quality programs focussed on nonpoint source pollution, I was thrilled when your program took on the very subject we've been trying to educate people about for years, but have never had the opportunity to reach such a broad audience. Bravo to your coverage and for addressing these issues that are so often swept aside (and down the river).

I was, however, dismayed that the program did not address the disparity between how funds are allocated between point source and nonpoint sources of pollution. The program noted repeatedly that the majority of water quality problems are due to nonpoint source pollution and yet the majority of Clean Water Act and EPA funds in general focus on point sources. This year alone, the nonpoint source pollution program, EPA's 319 Program, will receive $200 million nationwide (and no stimulus package funding) while other CWA programs focussed on point sources will receive $1.736 billion (SRF and 106 programs). How can we solve the biggest water quality problems if we have the lowest amount of funding available to us?

Shanon Phillips
Oklahoma City, OK


Another typically excellent program from Frontline. I was happy to see the coverage of so-called "smart growth" initiatives and their positive impact on the problem. The Metro extension to Tyson's Corner and beyond will be very welcome to DC area residents. This is another in a long list of reasons for the country to move towards the "New Urbanist" ideal of walkable communities and dense mixed use urban centers.

However, a very serious water polluter, perhaps the worst of all, was left entirely out of the program. I'm referring to the Coal Electricity generation industry. From the mines to the smokestacks, their catastrophic environmental impact can not be overstated. Something to remember as we watch this program on our computers, drawing power from coal.

Thanks for another excellent program.

Philip Hamm
Ashburn, VA


We need to let the poultry producers know we are not going to support their product given their behavior.

I sent the following to Perdue and the Delmarve Poultry Institute. Let's let them know what we think.

Hi,I have been a long time Perdue customer. I am 52 generally vote republican and consider myself somewhat conservative and business friendly.After viewing the Frontline program last night I can no longer support or purchase your products. I understand you are undertaking some voluntary programs to tackle the poultry waste issue, but I don't believe that is enough. With $4.1 billion in sales (that's a lot of chickens, and a lot of chicken waste) you have the scale and the resources to take responsibility for the waste product of your product. I know there is an intermediate farmer but they are not large enough to tackle the problem.

I understand I may be paying more money for poultry products in the future but I am happy to do that for a cleaner environment.

By the way you need to disassociate yourselves from Bill Satterfield of the Delmarva Poultry industry. His explanation and rationalization was embarrassing and inane.

Thanks for listening, Hopefully we can do business again in the future.Mark Barbian

Mark Barbian
Brooklyn, NY


A few days ago, I was kayaking at Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. Sadly, that estuary is dying, too. In the shallow water, I could see the eelgrass that serves as a nursery for fish and shellfish being smothered by a thick coat of brown algae. A dead harbor seal covered with flies was decaying on one of the sedge islands. Based on what I've read, runoff of lawn fertilizer from the thousands of new homes that have sprung up near the shoreline over the past thirty years is the primary cause of the eutrophication that is killing Barnegat Bay. It's unfortunate that the people who live in those homes are oblivious to the damage caused by seemingly harmless products.

John Hunka
New York, New York


Great program. You had good coverage and discussion about the sources and causes of water pollution in the U.S. today. I was especially glad to see the focus on the connection between land use, storm water runoff, and water pollution. It was repeated over and over that we need to change how land is developed and things like preservation of natural areas and smart growth were mentioned as part of the solution. However, smart growth was never fully explained and other best management practices that individuals could implement were not talked about at all. Things like rain barrels, rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, and several others can be used to greatly reduce the amount of storm water coming from our homes, businesses, and roads.

You also missed a good resource by not going to the Center for Watershed Protection based in Maryland and heavily involved in protecting and restoring the Chesapeke.

This was a great introduction to the problem. I would encourage Frontline to do another program that focusses on what is being done all around the country to solve it.

David Rutter
Columbus, Ohio


Thank you very much for this amazing program. As a hydrologist, I am aware of these emerging contaminants and other sources of pollutants to our waterways, but it is difficult to stay on top of the toxicological side of the equation. The % defects and other abnormalities that you presented were staggering. And the Orca tissue PCB concentrations were, in a word, sad. That said, I would really like to see someone like Frontline bring ideas to the forefront. Specifically, a program which highlights regions around the world where successful watershed management approaches have been implemented and positive results achieved would be very helpful in starting the "engagement" of the people. The question is - do such examples exist?

Nicholas Azzolina
Suamico, WI


One thing that stood out in the program you aired was that we can't "market" the problem but we have to "market" the "quality of life issue": home, schools, roads, traffic etc. I wish that you would do a show on what works and how to get people involved. The end of the show "unless the public becomes engaged" is the most frightening part of the situation. How do we make that happen? Please address this in your next broadcast on the situation. Thanks!

Martie Anderson
Oviedo, FL

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

You can find out more about how and where citizen action has made a difference here.


A very important program on an under reported problem in recent years. Thank you. But unless I missed a segment, you neglected a largely unaddressed source of water pollution. Medicines and pharmaceuticals, in solid and liquid form, are being released into our waste water systems by consumers, hospitals and medical facilities of all kinds, in alarming volumes, and eventually finding their way into our freshwater rivers, lakes and wetlands, then into our bays and estuaries. The impacts on the health of all wildlif--and on human health--are potentially catastrophic.

Portland, OR

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

This problem is addressed in chapter five -- "The Startling New Contaminants." You can watch this segment here or read more about endocrine disruptors here.


posted april 21, 2009

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