CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Unregulated industrial runoff and sewage wastewater dumping in the Potomac River was once so bad that President Johnson stated that the river was a "national disgrace."
The resultant public outcry coupled with political will at the federal level launched efforts to limit pollution at its source followed by an overall cleanup that was so successful the Potomac became known as the Nation's River.
Unfortunately, history is repeating itself as new sources of industrial pollutants associated with concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are wreaking havoc on ecosystems due largely to algae blooms caused by nitrates, phosphorus and bacteria runoff.
According to the EPA and conservation organizations, industrial-scale poultry operations in the Potomac Highlands are a major source of these pollutants that are not only heavily polluting the Potomac River but also the Chesapeake Bay.
To what degree these CAFOs should be regulated through new wastewater discharge permitting processes will likely be determined by the courts but what may prove to be a greater threat to these and other waterways is a wide range of chemical pollutants known as endocrine disruptors.
According to the EPA, "Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) ... interfere with the production, release, transport, metabolism, binding, action, or elimination of the natural hormones in the body responsible for the maintenance of homeostasis and the regulation of developmental processes.
"EDCs can include man-made chemicals such as pesticides and plasticizers, natural chemicals found in plants (phytoestrogens), pharmaceuticals, or hormones that are excreted in animal or human waste."
One study by the prestigious Endocrine Society found links between exposure to EDCs and human "male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity and cardiovascular endocrinology."
The science is complex, but EDCs are also the chemicals believed to be responsible for causing mutations in fish in the Potomac River and may also be causing similar destruction in other wildlife habitat near and in the Chesapeake Bay.