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The fight for clean water: Our earth and its most vulnerable resource

Publication Date: April 10, 2019

Imagine taking a regular sip of water ­— water that would be believed to be clean and healthy to drink. Suddenly, you feel lightheaded and nauseous, for reasons unknown. The problem all along was the micro-contaminants in the water, some of which are extremely dangerous for both humans and animals to consume in any way. With the way waste management has been worldwide, this is the unfortunate path that we are on right now and is an issue that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible to preserve the safety of both humans and other species.

Water contamination is a problem that regions all over the world experience, all with similar but different effects. Some cause illnesses that can be cured if treated quickly, such as malaria, while others have more dangerous effects, such as cancer. One case of this was the water supply in Hinkley, California. The water supply was filled with hexavalent chromium — an extremely toxic, heavy metal that was used in a cooling tower system. The toxic water was then put into unlined pools of water, some of which percolated into the groundwater and caused serious health issues to anyone who consumed that water. Erin Brockovich, a high profile environmental activist, took this case to court and won, forcing the town of Hinkley to take action but, at that point, a lot of damage had already been done. With the constant disposal of trash, chemicals and other contaminants in our waterways, this is a danger that is constantly growing and becoming more of a reality each day. While there are high-quality water filters that exist, such as the ones on Rider’s campus, other places may not use high-quality water filters, or any filter at all, leaving many people at very high risk for health issues that result from the exposure of certain contaminants.

While there are many contaminants that are harmful to both us and other species, some of the most abundant and harmful are arguably electronics and plastics that are improperly discarded. Electronics are dangerous because of mercury, a heavy and toxic metal, leaking into the surrounding water. This directly affects the marine life in the oceans as they consume it, which is then amplified up the food chain. As explained by Gabriela Smalley, a professor of oceanography, “[Biomagnification] is well established for heavy metals such as mercury, which is found at high concentrations in large predatory fish. These contaminants are harming not just the marine animals that ingest them but also end up in the food we consume.” 

Smalley also discusses the growing issue of plastic contaminants entering our waters, which end up being consumed by marine species and eventually end up in our bodies if we consume some sort of marine life. Even if humans do not directly consume the contaminated water, it still finds a way to end up in our bodies, causing severe health effects. When asked how to avoid the growing issue of water pollution, Rahul Mehta, fellow Eco-Rep and environmental science major, said,  “It really comes down to the consumer, for the most part. If everyone makes smarter choices by avoiding items with plastic packaging or recycling electronics properly, the issues with our water would not be as dire as they are today.”

Thankfully, our water can still be clean today. There are so many great organizations and events that are held to clean up beaches and the ocean, some of which Rider is involved with. In fact, on April 13, The Office of Sustainability will be traveling to Island Beach State Park to join forces with Clean Ocean Action for a beach sweep, in which people can go to the beach to clean up any trash and prevent it from entering our water supply. Rider is also a part of Fill it Forward, where every time a Cupanion tag is scanned, that cup of clean water contributes to a water project in the world who needs clean water. Whether it’s getting on the beach and cleaning up trash or scanning a tag, everyone can do their part to save Earth’s most precious resource.

Dean Riddle

Rider Eco-Rep

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