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series: Rivers Of Worry
air date: 6/16/13 6:30 AM
Everyone knows that Chesapeake Bay is in trouble -- fewer are aware of persistent and dangerous contaminants polluting our water long before it gets to the Bay. Rivers of Worry asks the central question: "Is the water safe for human health?" The scenic Severn River on the Bay's western shore is a typical urban-suburban waterway. Many enjoy the lifestyle -- fishing, boating and swimming. But because of high fecal bacteria counts after a hard rain, officials advise everyone to stay out of the water here and across the state for at least two days -- children among those at highest risk. The dangers are highlighted by the story of a resident who acquired a life-threatening infection from fecal bacteria after splashing in the creek behind his house. On the Eastern Shore, public and private wells are the source of drinking water for all the Delmarva Peninsula. Depending on the area, water samples show a range of natural and human-caused contaminants: nitrates, pesticides, herbicides, arsenic. Most are found only in trace amounts, but little is known about the possible health effects of their accumulation or interaction. Intense efforts and resources have been dedicated to clean up and restore the Potomac - known as "The Nation's River." In spite of waste water upgrades, raw sewage is still being discharged during major storms into the Potomac and its main tributary, the Anacostia River. Cost of fixing outdated infrastructure - billions. Meanwhile, researchers on the Potomac suspect that "emerging contaminants" like pharmaceuticals and anti-bacterial chemicals are causing deviations and disease in fish. While the effort and costs of addressing water quality may seem overwhelming, they are exceeded only by the price of ignoring the health of our most vital resource - water.
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