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Why We All Need To Channel Our Inner Erin Brockovich And Make The EPA Care About Water Pollution

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Jenna Karvunidis

This week in the Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ceded just 3 percent of its regulatory control of the US carbon emissions that come from stationary sources.

This is a big deal because the EPA fought and mostly won (nay for the 3 percent and a verbal lashing about “overstretching its powers”), despite a disapproving Congress about carbon pollution control.

The Obama administration has been tough on greenhouse gases from power plants and other industrial sources, per The Clean Air Act. What is interesting, though, is that these same entities don’t give a crap about water pollution. Is this just, dare I say, political?

When Gina McCarthy was appointed head of the EPA by Obama 15 months ago, one of her first orders of business was to double the allowable limit of glyphosate (commercial name you’ll surely recognize: RoundUp) despite the EPA’s documents the suggest levels above 20 ppb are hazardous to human health.

Herbicides and pesticides typically show up in the water supply due to runoff into lakes and streams after crops have been treated. Groundwater pollution is unfortunately not covered under the Clean Water Act, so the problem goes unsolved.

The EPA’s move to allow 40 ppb of glyphosate into the atmosphere — surely under pressure from agri-giant Monsanto — shows a clear lack of concern or lack of power (or both) on the part of the EPA when it comes to water pollution.

Atrazine, another agricultural chemical that has been banned in the European Union since 2004, is also rampant in US water supplies. Just how bad are the consequences of herbicides and pesticides in our water?

Independent panels have shown atrazine has carcinogenic potentialEPA documents also suggest RoundUp can cause reproductive problems and kidney disease. With all of this poison the EPA allows to swim in our water, it’s certainly interesting that they are fighting tooth-and-nail for control over the air.

I never thought I’d be in the position to defend US power plants, but isn’t it a bit odd that carbon pollution in the air is such a priority for the EPA, yet water pollution that affects human health so directly is swept under the rug? I’m beginning to wonder if this is more about economics and less about public health.

The EPA said greenhouse gas restrictions under the PSD and Title V programs would apply to a variety of typically unregulated pollution sources, including schools, churches, apartment buildings and shopping centers — aka, the little guys.

What about the big guys and all of their pollution? The EPA did propose a solution to these issues with a “tailoring rule” that would exempt all but the largest pollution sources.

I’m excited for the day when the EPA seeks to reduce herbicides and pesticides in water — or at least, reduce the amount of sludge-dumping rights a company can buy. I guess that’s a pipe dream, though.

BP was allowed to buy its way into more ammonia in Lake Michigan and I didn’t hear a peep from national regulators.

Maybe we just need louder grassroots voices to demand better water. After all, our government is supposed to listen to us, not the other way around. I’m not taking water pollution lying down.

We need to revisit the Clean Water Act and amend it to include groundwater contamination to guarantee it addresses atrazine, glyphosate and the other hazards that are making their way into our bodies.

Hey, Gina McCarthy, kick the abundance of chemicals out of all of our community resources. Our water is just as important as our air. This shouldn’t be about politics, favoring one industry over another or Mom-and-Pop businesses vs. corporate giants.

The EPA should have one mission: protect American health.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Jenna Karvunidis

Jenna Karvunidis

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