Health: Waterborne illnesses not just a Third World issue

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

Water is the most abundant and essential element found on earth. It covers more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface. Water makes up about 60 percent of adult body weight and human blood is 90 percent water.

Every system in the human body is dependent on water in some capacity, whether it is to carry nutrients to vital organs or to flush toxins out of those organs. The survival of life on our planet is dependent not only on water, but also on clean water.

Worldwide, more than 1 billion people, mainly in developing countries, do not have access to clean water. One in five children under the age of five die from water borne illnesses that are preventable through clean drinking water supplies and proper sanitation.

In the United States, more than 19.5 million people become ill each year from drinking water that is contaminated by bacteria, parasites or virus. A major culprit is raw sewage that is either inadvertently or purposefully disposed of in rivers and other waterways before it can be adequately processed in a treatment facility.

Scientists believe that untold numbers of people have been made ill from contamination and pollution of America’s waterways. During the 1960s, chemical pollution of soil and water went unchecked.

The Cuyahoga River in Ohio was on fire from burning toxic waste. From Akron to Cleveland there were no fish in the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie could not support any type of life and was pronounced dead. It has taken decades and billions of dollars to clean these waterways to an acceptable level.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 260 million Americans depend on the safety of the tap water provided by systems that comply with EPA regulations. Although the water supply in America is the safest on Earth, there are still threats to that safety.

The EPA estimates that 39 percent of our rivers and streams, 45 percent of lakes and reservoirs, and 51 percent of estuaries do not meet water quality standards. Pollutants from run-off water and non-compliance with environmental standards are threats to clean water. The areas most affected include natural wetlands.

Even individual household activities are contributors to water pollution. Storm water run-off is rainwater or melted snow that is not absorbed by the soil. It runs across rooftops, lawns and paved surfaces such as driveway and into storm drains or severs. Excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, improper disposal of paint and other solvents and even pet waste may end up in rivers and lakes.

There are some simple steps that will help ensure abundant, clean water now and in the future.

Use, store and dispose of chemicals properly. Consider purchasing more environmentally safe products and use plants and groundcover to absorb storm water.

There are many excellent websites that have additional tips to conserve and protect water for now and in the future. Visit the Franklin County Health Department’s website at www.fchd for links to those websites.

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