Ohio's waters more polluted
Bacteria, heavy metals are main culprits
By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
More Ohio waterways are imperiled by pollution than two
years ago, and only one river in the state meets federal
clean water standards for swimming, fishing, boating and
other recreational uses.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's analysis,
released last week, said the majority of Ohio's rivers,
streams and lakes are considered "impaired'' because
of high concentrations of bacteria from raw sewage and
Officials have warned that people should not eat more
than one fish meal a month out of the Ohio River because
the fish could contain mercury or other contaminants that
can cause cancer or other disorders. Authorities also
say that on most days the water is not safe for recreational
use - like water skiing or swimming - because of high
Linda Oros, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, said this year's
report is worse because the analysis is tougher. Previous
reports, she said, did not account for bacteria levels
from sewage, or advisories against eating too much fish
from polluted waterways.
The agency compiles the report every two years.
Oros said the agency hopes to develop plans to clean
up 80 Ohio rivers by this summer.
The report grades watersheds - or geographical drainage
areas - because pollutants are washed by rains from farms,
roads, junkyards, industry and other sources into watersheds.
"When we were just measuring (pollution in) waterways,
we found contamination coming from somewhere, but we weren't
looking at the whole ecosystem to see how one thing impacted
another," Oros said.
Mike Fremont, president emeritus for Rivers Unlimited,
called the report "embarrassing."
"If somebody trashes your village green, are you
proud of it? Our rivers are part of our village green.
They are a paradise for a lot of people. We will have
something of tremendous value if we can restore those
that are trashed," he said.
Rivers Unlimited is a Cincinnati-based group of citizens
that works to restore, maintain and improve Ohio's 61,000
miles of rivers and streams.
The report found 242 watersheds and 21 large rivers throughout
Ohio not meeting federal water quality standards, and
in need of a clean-up plan. That's up from 205 watersheds
and 15 large rivers identified in its 2002 report. The
only stream that complies is the Raccoon Creek in south-central
Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's
Great Lakes office, said the problem with the federal
law requiring such water quality reports is that it does
not force states to clean up the pollution.
States have a decade to write clean-up plans once a watershed
is identified as not meeting standards.
"There is no defined time period required to complete
the clean-ups," said Buchsbaum, whose organization
sued the Ohio EPA in 2001, alleging the state was not
coming up with clean-up plans fast enough. That lawsuit
Ohio River included
Among the imperiled waterways in the report is the Ohio
River, which has pollution from chemicals such as polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins - among the worlds' most
toxic man-made chemicals. PCBs have been linked to a variety
of human health problems such as cancer, brain damage
and problems with the immune system.
Analysis of the Ohio River was performed by the Ohio
River Valley Water Sanitation Commission and will be included
in the OEPA's final report, which will be sent to the
federal Environmental Protection Agency as required by
Peter Tennant, executive director for the sanitary commission,
said the river is suitable for human contact - unless
it rains. That's when raw sewage overflows from outdated
systems up and down the river, causing bacteria levels
to rise to dangerous levels.
"We rarely have an instance where it perfectly meets
the criteria," Tennant said.
Tennant said PCBs and dioxins have been banned for more
than a decade, but still pose a problem in the river because
they don't break down over time.
"It's almost a blast from the past," Tennant
said. "We don't know if what we're seeing in fish
is from active discharges or stuff that's been around
Your chances of finding fish from the Ohio River in a
grocery store, or on the menu at any restaurant in Greater
Cincinnati, are about as slim as a dorsal fin, said John
Kinsella, a master chef and instructor at Cincinnati State
Technical and Community College.
Most grocery and restaurant operators won't risk serving
fish from the river because most species carry high levels
of chemical contaminants. Commercial suppliers are required
by the Food and Drug Administration to deliver fish with
certificates of origin that tell where the fish were harvested.
"It's very doubtful that you would come across a
fish from the Ohio River, because most people wouldn't
buy fish from the Ohio River," Kinsella said. "The
risk is just too great. All it takes is one instance of
chemical poisoning from tainted fish and you could be
out of business.
"I wouldn't eat anything out of the Ohio River.