Soil can be a pollutant

There was a discussion in our office about a construction site operator who was explaining to one of our inspectors as to why soil isn’t a problem. Essentially his reasoning is that soil is everywhere and how can something that is “natural” be pollution. Allow me to briefly explain how soil can be a pollutant.

A pollutant is any substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects. Soil becomes a pollutant when there are harmful effects due to its presence. When soil enters into local bodies of water or storm sewers it is called sediment. Sediment is the problem.

The Environmental Protection Agency lists sediment (soil particles in water) as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. Roughly 70% of the sediment in any body of water is from human land use and the other 30% is from natural erosion and deposition processes.

Let us remember that Lake Erie is facing significant stress from harmful algal blooms. These blooms make for undrinkable water. The nutrients that trigger these blooms are transported by sediment. Sediment, by itself, can increase the cost of treating drinking water and lead to odor and taste problems. This issue is happening now in Flint, Michigan when the city started drawing drinking water from the Flint River. (See this article by the Huffington Post)

Soil in our water is the problem.

If you see something, say something by Calling the Ohio EPA Northeast district office at 1-800-686-6330. Call the Cuyahoga Soil and Water conservation district office for any other technical questions or needs at 216.524.6580.

Blog author: Brian White, Urban Conservationist

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