PBS Broadcast Spotlights Water Pollution Issues

22 Apr, 2009

Happy Earth Day! Or maybe not so happy.

Yesterday (April 21) PBS aired the Frontline episode “Poisoned Waters.” Details and clips have been posted, together with some of the press reaction.

The PBS Frontline Poisoned Waters website.

The PBS Frontline Poisoned Waters website.

The program provides additional evidence of the degree to which human development and other activities threaten our aquatic heritage. Indeed, threaten our own survival. Presenting scientific observations such as the discovery of frogs with multiple limbs and male fish producing eggs, the producers demonstrate once again the degree to which fish and other aquatic life become “first responders” to the pollution of waterways.

As one might expect, the industries responsible for the problems have their heads firmly buried beneath the sand. In one of the highlights of the program, a poultry industry spokesman claimed, with a straight face, that nitrogen pollution finding its way into the Chesapeake Bay came not from the half million chickens housed in a factory farm on Virginia’s eastern shore, but rather from the wildlife in the surrounding woods. This would be funny if it did not demonstrate such craven disregard for the common welfare in the name of profit.

The challenges faced by those who try to protect watersheds were made clear in another segment of the program. In the region around Puget Sound, new land use regulations designed to protect the estuary have led to the formation of a committee of opposition. Comprised of property owners disgruntled by the new restrictions, the group allowed Frontline reporter Hedrick Smith to tape one of their meetings. During that taping one participant expressed surprised that residents have not resorted to violence in response to what he considered the unfairness of the new regulations. This portion of “Poisoned Waters” made all too clear the intensity of perceived conflict between individual rights and public health.

All environmental issues are ultimately about land use. In such matters, when water is involved, as it almost always is, activities far removed can create major impacts downstream. Inevitably, property owners will try to assert their rights, and in many cases do so with little regard for the rights of their neighbors. Such conflicts may well become the major focus of environmentalism in the 21st Century. “Poisoned Waters” did not attempt to offer specific solutions to the problems it uncovered. But it did make clear the urgent need to find answers to those problems, because our nation’s, indeed the world’s, waters cannot much longer bear the insults of unbridled development.

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About the author

John Tullock
John Tullock

John H. Tullock is a zoologist and one of America's leading proponents of environmentally sound aquarium keeping. A native of Tennessee, John received a Master of Science degree from the University of Tennessee in 1976, studying ichthyology under Dr. David Etnier, who is perhaps best known for his discovery of the snail darter. After teaching college-level biology for a number of years, John and a group of partners founded Aquatic Specialists in 1987, which grew to become one of the largest direct-to-consumer national suppliers of marine fishes, invertebrates, and live rock to aquarists. In 1994, he moved on to pursue a career as a writer and consultant to the aquarium trade. He is the author of over a dozen books, including the popular Natural Reef Aquariums. His numerous articles have appeared in every major aquarium publication. An orchid enthusiast, John has also written about his favorite plants. His Growing Hardy Orchids (2006, Timber Press) was named by the American Horticultural Society as one the year’s five best garden books. He is the founder of the American Marinelife Dealers Association, an organization of aquarium-industry businesses that promotes environmentally sustainable practices and education for conservation awareness. He was a member of the steering committee that helped create the Marine Aquarium Council in 1997. John also serves on the board of Conservation Fisheries, a non-profit that operates the only private hatchery in North America that raises endangered and threatened species of native American fish for habitat restoration and species-recovery projects. John is an avid outdoorsman, with a particular fondness for exploring the Cumberland and Appalachian Mountains near his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. John H. Tullock is the author of: Growing Hardy Orchids - http://en.microcosmaquariumexplorer.com/wiki/Growing_Hardy_Orchids Natural Reef Aquariums - http://en.microcosmaquariumexplorer.com/wiki/Natural_Reef_Aquariums

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