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Home arrow Health arrow Best practices for environmental health : environmental pollution, protection, quality and sustainability


The goal of communities at the local, state, and federal level is to develop appropriate programs using Best Practices in all areas to resolve the problems related to controlling water pollution and protecting water quality. Some of the successful programs are included below to give individuals an opportunity to see what actually happens in practice to improve and protect people and the environment.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is the ultimate response to mitigating, controlling, and remediating a multitude of water quality problems, as well as preventing new sources of contamination and restoring the bodies of water so they can be utilized for all of the purposes intended. The Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth. They contain 84% of North America's fresh surface water and are shared by the United States and Canada. (See endnote 24.)

The initiative utilizes an adaptive science-based framework for restoration of the Great Lakes. It is a cost-effective and strategic approach using the best available science and the results of programs from the past and present. It is meant to implement the work of the 16 federal agencies and build on the many years of planning and work done by the non-federal partners. The initiative has already funded over 1500 projects and programs and will plan to do considerably more in the future. This adaptive approach to restoration recognizes that the work needed to solve the many inter-related problems in the environment of the Great Lakes must be accomplished in small pieces, which may have to be repeated numerous times. This is very similar to how this book has been written and should be utilized to respond to environmental problems. This technique includes:

  • 1. Gathering of necessary data in a scientific manner to define the problems in a given area and to identify priorities in prevention, protection, and restoration
  • 2. Establishing goals, objectives, and means of determining progress in work done
  • 3. Developing and implementing projects and programs
  • 4. Monitoring changes due to the project and measuring if they are acceptable
  • 5. Transferring of knowledge to others
  • 6. Making decisions about new projects based on the success of other projects
  • 7. Adapting Best Practices from successful programs to new areas
  • 8. Reassessing major goals, objectives, and techniques utilized annually and every 5 years for redirection of projects or techniques used (See endnote 25)

Since 1970, there have been citizens’ groups who have been involved in trying to clean up the huge amount of pollutants that have been introduced into the Great Lakes. These stakeholders have been joined by local, state, tribal, and national agencies to create a means of reducing the numerous pollutants which are the sources of the problems. Considerable funding has been coming from the federal government through various laws including the Great Lakes Legacy Act which is primarily for the remediation of contaminated sediment. The Great Lakes Advisory Board is one of many groups of stakeholders who have important input in the restoration of the Great Lakes. They provide advice and recommendations to the US EPA administrator who serves as the chairperson of the federal interagency task force. Members of this advisory board come from business, agriculture, foundations, environmental justice groups, educational organizations, environmental groups, academia, local, state, and tribal governments, etc. This type of advisory board on a grand scale is similar to what the author used in the community rodent control project in Philadelphia in 1959-1963, on a much lesser scale. There also was an interagency group working on the problems of rodent infestation and rat bites and was chaired by the district health officer as well as the district environmental health supervisor. (See endnotes 26, 27.)

President Obama also, through an Executive Order, established the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force along with the regional working group of 16 federal agencies with the administrator of the US EPA as the coordinator of the group. The group works with the multitude of other interested sources to achieve the rebuilding of the Great Lakes. There are four major focus areas:

  • 1. Toxic substances in areas of concern to deal with contaminants and toxic hotspots including the cleanup and restoration of 21 impaired areas at 12 different locations and the remediation of about 3 million yd.[1] [2] [3] [4] of contaminated sediments
  • 2. Invasive species to deal with disruption of ecosystems by these non-native species including the prevention of self-sustaining populations of Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes
  • 3. Nearshore health and non-point source pollution to deal with degradation caused by nonpoint source pollution and subsequent damage including reducing swimming bans and advisories for the Chicago beaches
  • 4. Habitat and wildlife protection and restoration to deal with destruction of fish and wildlife habitats including reopening more than 800 miles of river for fish passage

Grand Calumet River—Great Lakes Areas of Concern

The Federal Water Pollution Act of 1972 set broad national objectives to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the country. It regulated discharges of pollutants including limiting point sources and establishing a clean lakes program. It established the NPDES. This law motivated citizens’ groups and various governmental agencies to insist on greater accountability by everyone who had created pollutants in the past and was creating contamination of the waterways in the present. A great deal of attention was given to the Great Lakes, which were dying and had at least 41 toxic hotspots, thus leading to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Grand Calumet River projects are examples of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Some of the restoration projects include:

  • 5. Additional monitoring is being done in a variety of areas to determine the effectiveness of existing programs.
  • 6. A steel company completed the dredging of 5 miles of river on a branch of the Grand Calumet River.
  • 7. The development of a plan for toxic pollution prevention in the beginning of the implementation of the plan.
  • 8. The development and implementation of a household hazardous waste collection project.
  • 9. The development and implementation by the steel industry of a waste minimization program and implementation.
  • 10. The use of Consent Decrees (an order issued by a judge for individuals, companies, or governmental entity to voluntarily comply with certain laws, rules, or regulations) with the three sanitary districts to start the process of eliminating combined sewer overflows.
  • 11. The development of a non-point source pollution control program to reduce contaminants in the watershed. (See endnote 28.)

US Environmental Protection Agency

The US EPA, in its Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Program, has a national menu of stormwater Best Practices on special topics. They include public education, public involvement, illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction, postconstruction, and pollution prevention good housekeeping. Educational programs consist of public service announcements in the media, pamphlets, booklets and inserts in utility bills, and programs for educating homeowners and businesses. Public involvement includes volunteer monitoring programs, which need to produce usable data to help determine whether programs are working and what changes need to be made, storm drain marking programs, stream clean-up programs, and developing and implementing new stormwater programs by local people. Appropriate ordinances are approved for all facets of stormwater discharge and all associated concerns at the local and state level. The basic steps in developing the program are:

  • 1. Make a study of the watershed including all bodies of water, pipes leading to water, and stormwater receptacles.
  • 2. Make a study to determine the illicit discharges into all bodies of water, containers, or pipes.
  • 3. Monitor these discharges and determine the composition of the effluent and where it is coming from. This is easiest to do in dry weather.
  • 4. Request voluntary compliance in eliminating the source of contamination.
  • 5. Determine which legal entities have control over illicit discharges in various parts of the selected area.
  • 6. If the source continues to illegally dispose of effluent into pipes, containers, and bodies of water, use appropriate legal enforcement.
  • 7. Resurvey the area to make sure that the problem has not started over again.
  • 8. Re-evaluate the watershed program and make readjustments as necessary.
  • 9. Public education is of greatest significance because the citizens, community organizations, and others can find the cause of problems, report them to the proper people, help in the evaluation of the results, help gain budget for successful programs, and teach our children to protect our air, water, and land for the future.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has developed a cost-effective recommended plan for industrial stormwater control which satisfies the rules related to necessary permits for discharge and other regulations. The plan includes the use of non-structural Best Practices, which is a change of behavior and management to reduce the source of the pollutants. The plan also includes structural

Best Practices, which are physical means of controlling or managing stormwater runoff and drainage including the diversion of surface rainwater from the area, the covering of exposed materials, the prevention of the infiltration of materials into the ground, and the retention and treatment of contaminated water.

The Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan includes:

  • 1. Planning and organization of the disposal of stormwater by making necessary inspections, gathering data, assessing and reassessing existing problems, and assessing and reassessing existing Best Practices and making changes where necessary
  • 2. Assigning a management team with appropriate oversight responsibility and the ability to make changes in processes when needed
  • 3. Preparing material safety data sheets for all potentially hazardous materials
  • 4. Developing a description map and drainage map of the facility including the industrial activities and potential for discharge of contaminants and at which sites
  • 5. Preparing a list including quantities of significant materials and their associated risks including the raw materials, byproducts, finished products, and waste
  • 6. Knowledge and use of specific Best Practices by individual industries
  • 7. A list of Best Practices and where they are utilized for:

a. Source reduction and prevention

b. Diversion of water and pollutants

c. Treatment

  • 8. Evaluation of all illicit or avoidable discharges, which should be done primarily in dry weather
  • 9. Preventive maintenance program including physical maintenance of equipment, inspection of equipment, and inspection of potential pollutant sources
  • 10. Specialized employee training programs

State of Washington Department of Ecology

The State of Washington Department of Ecology has a program modeled after the US EPA guidelines. They utilize citizens, governmental employees, and business people to call their local Stormwater Hotline if there are unusual discharges or unusual odors or colors in the stormwater. The various jurisdictions in the state share information and Best Practices for eliminating the problems. As examples:

  • • The City of Yakima found sewage discharges from pipes leading to homes, warehouses, wastewater areas and a local hospital. They injected smoke into each of the pipes and found that they were illegally emptying into the Yakima River. They were corrected.
  • • The City of Seattle Public Utilities employees found while doing routine dry weather screening of stormwater systems, sewage coming from a housing development in Seattle. The effluent was sampled and the city worked with the owners of the development to correct the problem.
  • • The City of Seattle Public Utilities employees found an illegal connection from an industry which was going into a drain and discharging into the Duwamish River.

Philadelphia Suburban Water Company

The Philadelphia Suburban Water Company works in partnership with the Bucks County Conservation District and the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service to reduce levels of herbicides used in the spring during peak runoff times. The water company collects samples of the water at different places in the watershed and the other two groups share this information with local farmers and other people to try to get them to reduce the level of chemicals in use. This has shown some reduction of chemicals in the water.

US Department of Agriculture Forest Service

The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service has a program to help reduce heavy use of quality water from national forests and grasslands. About 124 million people utilize this primary source of water as their drinking water supply. The Forest Service promotes Aquatic Management Zones, an area adjacent to the stream channels and other water bodies which help protect them from contamination. The width of the zone is determined by administrative decisions based on potential problems that would occur in the event of the pollution of the body of water. Specific Best Practices include the following:

  • • Reduction of the use of pesticides and fertilizers which lowers the amount of chemicals entering bodies of water. This can be accomplished in parks and golf courses by the use of integrated pest management control programs;
  • • Reduction of various agricultural chemicals through better practices, thereby lowering the amount of potential pollutants of ground and surface water;
  • • Proper spreading of appropriate amounts of nutrients and organic waste on land, lowering the quantity of potential runoff;
  • • Properly enforced pet waste removal programs by the owners helps reduce the level of microorganisms found in water and the level of eutrophication found in bodies of water. All animal wastes from agriculture need to be handled and disposed of in an appropriate manner to prevent pollution of the land and bodies of water. (See Handbook of Environmental Health, Pollutant Interactions in Air, Water, and Soil, Volume 2, Fourth Edition (CRC Press), for technical details on how to handle these issues.) Use of a nutrient management plan is a technique to identify nutrient needs, in both timing and quantity, utilized to fertilize crops properly. Excessive amounts of nutrients could contaminate bodies of water, while inadequate amounts of nutrients would result in poor crop production. This allows for appropriate use and disposal of animal manure, commercial fertilizers, irrigation water and wastewater, and naturally occurring nutrients.

US Geological Service

Since 1991, the US Geological Service has been operating the National Water Quality Assessment Program—Source Water-Quality Assessments. The purpose of the program is to help determine whether 280 mostly unregulated organic compounds made by people are found in source water used for community water systems and provide this information to citizens, various groups, industries, and regulatory agencies to help them develop the original data needed for a water quality program. In 2013, the programs were expanded to include an additional 30 surface water and 30 groundwater evaluations. Monthly samples of water are taken and tested and then a determination is made about the quantity and quality of the chemical. In order to eliminate these chemicals, it is necessary to know what they are and their concentrations, which will help lead to the source and hopefully the elimination of the chemical from the water supply. These chemicals may be:

  • • Byproducts of disinfection
  • • Pesticides including fumigants, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, and their products of disintegration
  • • Gasoline, oil, and their byproducts
  • • Refrigerants, propellants, solvents, and other organic compounds
  • • Chemicals used in manufacturing and personal care products

  • [1] A $52 million project to get rid of the contaminated sediment from Roxana Marsh wascompleted in 2012. It consisted of the removal of 385,000 yd3 of sediment contaminatedwith PCBs, PAHs, heavy metals, pesticides, etc., and placement of a cap of 6 inches oforganoclay (a chemically modified clay used in water and wastewater treatment) coveredby 12 inches of sand, which covered the remaining sediment in this area.
  • [2] The Fish and Wildlife Service helped restore fish, wildlife, and habitat to these cleaned areas.
  • [3] In 2011, Indiana state officials were working with the cities of East Chicago, Hammond,and Gary to help develop plans to separate the combined sewers and thereby help reducethis type of contamination to the waterway.
  • [4] State and federal people are working on restoring 100 areas of wetland to be used formigratory birds and fish and help reduce nutrient pollution.
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