Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lessons from a hurricane, part deux - what goes in the ground, comes around

And then the sky broke up
And then the rain came down
And it washed away everything on the ground
Wash it away, wash it away, wash it away.
Lyrics from Ghost Train, by Marc Cohn
I remember watching the news after a hurricane a few years ago, and there were children on inner tubes playing in the water from the flooding caused by the storm. All I could think about were the chemicals and pollutants that were probably in that water.

While hurricane  Irene was making her way up the east coast, I watched several online discussions on local gardening message boards about gardeners using roundup and other poisonous weed control products.

Sure, I can understand the children not realizing how many chemicals and how much dog poo and probably septic tank seepage is  in that stormwater. But I found it a little troubling that the adult gardeners didn't seem to realize the connection between garden chemicals and the torrential rains that were expected from the hurricane.

An article in the Green column of the New York Times this week talked about the pollutants from hurricane Irene:

Beyond flooding and destruction, Hurricane Irene is likely to have caused less visible environmental damage by dumping sewage, pesticides and other contaminants into waterways along the East Coast, federal officials said.

Officials are just beginning to assess the condition of seven rivers, including the Hudson River in New York. The United States Geological Survey said it sent out crews beginning on Sunday to follow the path of the hurricane between Washington D.C. and Massachusetts and test for pesticides, bacteria and nutrients flushed into rivers by heavy rains.

“What typically happens is that you get a significant amount of rainfall that leads to a significant amount of runoff,” said Charles Crawford, sampling coordinator for the agency. 

That runoff, he said, carries pesticides from farmland, gardens and lawns like those used for termites around the foundation of homes. The agency is also on the lookout for higher levels of bacteria and nutrients from sewer discharges. 

Excessive amounts of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, Mr. Crawford said, could cause algae blooms that can threaten aquatic life and fisheries.

In typical weather conditions, chemicals used in a landscape might have time to soak into the ground and dissipate, not allowing strong concentrations to find their way into the waterways. But during periods of heavy flooding, the products that are in the ground around your home can seep up and wash away. In areas where the flooding is severe, any chemicals that are stored on the floor of sheds or garages might  also find their way into local stormwater drains.

Water quality scientist Beth McGee, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, voiced her concern about this problem as the storm approached. McGee said that much of the flooding that occurs during storms is a result of runoff from streets, lawns, farms and other areas, as well as tides that bring water up the bay. Preserving wetlands, creating buffer areas and landscaping areas to allow stormwater to trickle into the ground instead of running off into nearby waterways can help reduce flooding.

So in my opinion, if you want to "round up" anything, you should round up the chemicals that you have been using in your landscape and dispose of them properly:

Household Hazardous Waste Disposal, DC
Household Hazardous Waste, Montgomery County
Household Hazardous Waste, Frederick County
Household Hazardous Waste, Fairfax County
Household Hazardous Waste, Loudon County
Household HazMat Program, Arlington
STOP Throwing Out Pollutants, Prince William County

Website by Water Words That Work LLC