Beyond BP Oil Spill: Water pollution problematic 41 yrs after river caught fire


Cuyahoga River Ablaze in 1952

Cuyahoga River Ablaze in 1952

Cuyahoga River Lit Up Again in 1969

Cuyahoga River Lit Up Again in 1969

On this date in history: In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was a mess. All sorts of stuff spilling into the river made it a muck of sewage and chemicals. It was yuckadoo. It was so bad that on this date in 1969, the Cuhahoga River caught fire. It’s a great example of what I complain about often today. That is, we know that our water is polluted, yet we don’t do much about it. Even Chinadaily opined in 2008 that unclean water was a global threat. But, instead, for the most part, we make jokes and post signs. This is what the story was with the Cuyahoga River. The joke in Cleveland in 1969 was that if you fell into the Cuyahoga River, you would decay before you drowned. In fact, the jokes had gone on for years because the Cuyahoga River had caught fire on previous occasions but no one did a thing. This time though, the event served as a catalyst as it finally got the attention of legislators. Global Warming may be happening, but we know that water pollution is killing the fish and wildlife in places like the Ohio River, Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico (and I’m not talking about the current oil spill), where there is a “dead zone” all around the mouth of the Mississippi River. I think its up to about 10,000 square miles at its peak. Yet, we push our attention toward the possible in Global Warming and do very little for the factual, which is water pollution.

1 out of 6 people do not have clean water

1 out of 6 people do not have clean water

The issue of water pollution in the Mississippi Watershed and others was made worse by the push toward ethanol. Increased corn production resulted in an increase in fertilizer run-off into the river. Ethanol is a zero sum game or worse when it comes to energy efficiency and global warming “causing” pollutants but is a big negative when it came to water pollution. Water makes up 68% of our bodies and is an essential part of life, yet we focus instead on the unknown. According to Charity Water, 1 in 6 people in the world do not have clean drinking water. I’d encourage you to help a family who is devoting their life to bringing water to the impovershed in the Dominican Republic. Get involved, get a tax break and maybe win a house while you help others. Let us hope that we don’t have another Cuyahoga River type disaster to get our attention regarding water pollution. Unfortunately, in many regions, the wake-up call has been made, its just that no one seems to be listening.

Water Pollution Comes From Many Sources

Water Pollution Comes From Many Sources

Anyway, as I said, the river had caught fire several times between 1936 and 1969. In the famous 1969 incident, the cause is unknown aside from the attrocious conditions of the river. Some sources say the fire was started by spontaneous combustion. Others say that definitely it did not start that way. The one below says that the cause is unknown but it suspects sparks from a passing train….I didn’t know diesel electric motor trains caused sparks. Anyway, it points out that this was the 10th time the river had ignited.

The different sources also give different dates….some say the 22nd others say the 23rd. My guess is that it started on the night of the 22nd and burned all day on the 23rd though I found one source that claimed the 1969 fire only lasted 30 minutes.   No matter. It happened and again, is an example of what can happen if one ignores pollution of waterways. This was an eye opening event and the leaders of Cleveland did more than simply post signs. They got together and worked to clean up and stop the problem.

Dead Zone Summer 2008

Dead Zone Summer 2008

Many historians point to this event as the one that got the ball rolling for the 1972 Clean Water Act. Things have improved but not enough. While,it is rather uncommon today for rivers to catch fire as they did frequently in the late 19th century, what we can’t see is killing our planet and we need to do something. Maybe if Al Gore makes a movie, then someone will wake up.

This final link of Cuyahoga River Fire facts has some interesting tid bits, including a Randy Newman song they claim is linked to the big fire.

Global Warming has been in the front burner for some time yet there are many experts (more than the media has led you to believe) who dispute much of the “consensus” opinions. About 15 years ago, the topic was ozone depletion. A couple of laws were passed and suddenly that debate left the headlines, but has the problem or risk really gone away? Hit the previous link and see the answer may be “no” its just that you don’t hear about it.

Global Warming and Ozone depletion issues are fueled by speculation and some of that speculation may have very strong merit. But, in my view, we are whistling past the graveyard regarding an issue that is real and is affecting us right now.

If you walk down along the river near the Belle of Louisville, you will see a sign warning of the pollution of the river following a rainstorm. Apparently, a heavy rain causes an overflow of contaminated water up and down the river. Our news department tells me they have reported on the problem. You can find numerous reports of all sorts pollution into the river from raw sewage to other items as pointed out by the Local Government Environmental Assistance Network:

Water is Under Attack Around the World

Water is Under Attack Around the World

Solvent cleaners and paints, mercury switches and lamps, lubricants and other wastes from operations and facility maintenance activities.
Disinfection by-products, i.e. trihalomethanes.
Corrosion by-products.
Leaking or broken lead from service lines, goose neck or service connections.
Radon in wells.
Pesticides and herbicides rinse waters and containers.
Industrial, commercial and household chemical discharges.

http://www.lgean.org/html/p2-11.cfm

Here’s the deal. We know of these problems. Most people I know who fish laugh when you ask if they eat any fish taken from the Ohio River. Report after report confirms the pollution and where its coming from. Its not speculation that marine species are disappearing due to pollution in fresh water and oceanic ecosystems. That could affect the entire water cycle. It deserves more immediate attention and action than other more publicized “crises” and certainly more than merely posting a sign.

Some other time I’ll talk about the problem of a lack of water. Its a bigger problem than you think. Hydrologists know it and so do investors who are buying up water rights and investing in private efforts to create water resources.

Note the sharp dive of the 700mb flow line from Iowa to Louisville

SPC Severe Weather Outlook Tue June 22 2010

Weather Bottom Line:  On Monday, a big MCC was rolling from west to east across Central Indiana and then suddenly took a right hand turn and ran over Cincinnati and into Central Kentucky.  The right edge of the big storms went from say Oldham County through Shelby County and then south and east.  There have been severe weather reports the last few days in Montanat, Wisconsin and around Chicago land which is how the storm track generally has been flowing around the periphery of a ridge.  When you get to Indiana, it swings more southeast and that  pattern persists today with the 700 mb flow lines looking a little more promising today than yesterday as they seem to run from Iowa straight down to Louisville.  For that reason, I would be a bit apprehensive about this afternoon and evening.  There are several shortwaves running across the plains and the orientation of the flow seems just a shade sharper down through the Ohio Valley than Monday.  Given that the Monday storms were so close, I suspect that we may have a little better chance of getting caught in the flow of one of these shortwaves or MCC’s that develop through the afternoon.  The SPC has Louisville on the edge of a broad slight risk area that traverses the plains and arcs a bit southeast. 

SPC Severe Weather Outlook Wednesday June 23 2010

Otherwise, it will be hot again.  With a  cold front approaching on Wednesday, compressional factors will probably elevate the afternoon temperatures to the highest point of the season..most likely in the upper 90’s for Wednesday.  Wednesday night the front comes through bringing a chance for t’storms.   For a day or so, our temperatures back off a little but but the boundary really doesn’t get too far South.  So, with the boundary near the vicinity, I would think that t’storm chances will carry through the end of the week.  Then, the extreme heat returns as the front moves back well north of the area.

10 Responses

  1. You can add to your list of global crises, global cooling. That was a concern in the 1970’s. I was alive then and I remember it. That’s the problem with all this global warming nonsense. It takes away from real problems such as water pollution and water resources. The water table has been dropping in our “bread basket” in the plains for years. What are we going to do when we can no longer irrigate our wheat and corn in the Great Plains? Will we see a return of the Dust Bowl of 1930’s? These are real issues that need our attention, not the weather about which there is little or nothing we can do anyway.

    I would agree that Al Gore needs to make a movie but I’m afraid that his credibility is not what it used to be in many circles. What is really needed is a way to use this clean water crisis to increase federal tax revenue and consolidate power. Maybe if we could come up with “Dirty Water Credits” or something like that. For every time you empty your bath tub someone you have to pay someone else to skip a bath or take a spongebath instead. This might work!! Of course, China and India would have to be exempted.

  2. The lack of water should be the main environmental concern…we are killing ourselves and no one seems to notice the 800lb gorilla in the room.

  3. You didn’t like my “dirty water credits” idea? We need some sort of angle so that a select few will get richer and more powerful to really get this thing going.

  4. I” start saving my bath water…stock up for the big day when I can cash in. Doesn’t work with Snow White though..,.her bath water is never dirty.

  5. That reminds me of one of my lovely bride’s family stories from a long time ago: Soon after my wife’s grandparents first got married, her grandpa was talking to some of his friends answering their questions about how he liked married life and if new bride was a good cook. He said that he was happy and that she was a pretty good cook but he was a litle disappointed that she couldn’t make biscuits! His friends were shocked! “She can’t make biscuits???”, they said. “No.”, said my wife’s grandpa, “Every time she pats out the dough…they turn into sweetcakes!”. It was several years ago when my father-in-law told me that story and my wife’s grandma, who has since passed away, was there with us. She was quite old and feeble at that time and her husband had been gone for several years. But when my father-in-law finished telling that story, I looked over at grandma and saw grandma grinning from ear-to-ear with delight at hearing that story again. It was very sweet to see how happy that story made her.

  6. See…so now you have two examples. You need to come up with some of your own material and see how that, not only does it score points today…but the points just keep piling up over the years.

  7. Sage advice, Mr. Symon. Just remember though that years of points can be wiped-out with just one silly mistake. You know what I’m talking about. Something like…taking your wife to Golden Corral on your anniversary! Something like that.

  8. You have just made Snow White’s “A List”

  9. I am in rare company, I am certain. Please tell Snow White that I am honored.

  10. anniversary…

    Beyond BP Oil Spill: Water pollution problematic 41 yrs after river caught fire « Symon Sez…

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