Environmental pollution is a global issue that affects almost all ecosystems on Earth. Each year freshwater pollution alone, primarily from agricultural runoff, costs the United States more than $4.3 billion according to a Kansas State University study. Pollution has many other sources and costs. The external cost of pollution caused by automobiles has been estimated well over $50 billion a year, with some estimates as high as $234 billion. Economically, it makes good sense to find remedies for environmental pollution.
What are the impacts of environmental pollution? Agricultural runoff is the biggest contributor to water pollution according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thousands of tons of pesticides and fertilizers are washed into American waterways each year, causing a myriad of effects, from fish kill to beach closings to loss of habitat. Waterways are also polluted by the air. Acid rain formed by sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-powered plants acidifies lakes and contaminates soil, lowering pH levels to points inconsistent with life.
Fortunately, there are solutions. Identification of the sources of pollution is the first step. In agriculture, the EPA is educating farmers about sustainable agriculture practices to reduce pesticide and fertilizer use. Reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions through installation of scrubbers have proven effective. Scrubbers are liquid filters that can reduce emissions up to 95 percent, while improving the efficiency of burning coal by 5 percent. For contaminated areas, site-specific clean up and restoration is possible.
There are more than 500,000 abandoned mines, according to the EPA. These sites present grave environmental issues through contamination of mine drainage, waste, and past use of heavy metals and other toxins. Yet, through the establishment of the Brownfields and Land Revitalization Technology Support Center (BTSC) coordinated through the EPA, mine sites are being reclaimed and restored. In a case study at Joplin, Missouri, the BTSC found that the introduction of phosphate or biosolids can reduce toxicity levels of heavy metals to people, animals, and plants. Abandoned mines are now being developed as recreation areas and wildlife habitat.
Success for an environmental solution requires input by all stakeholders in a project. Clean up efforts are costly. Budget and funding considerations must be a part of the management plan. A long-term solution, however, is not possible unless the source has been eliminated. While the Clean Water Act gives the EPA and other agencies some power, ground water, for example, is not regulated. Additional legislation is needed to give the EPA the jurisdiction to monitor pollution sources such agricultural runoff for their impacts on ground water resources.
Environmental remedies provide immediate aesthetic benefits. Other benefits may not as well known. For example, a reduction in agricultural runoff may prevent invasive species from taking over an aquatic habitat. In turn, environment provides habitat for wildlife and plants. Further, the restored habitat provides recreational and economical value. The environment is an inter-connected web of relationships and dependencies. Environmental remedies help restore balance.