Time was when no one would even think twice about swimming
in the Mississippi River. You could jump right in, even catch catch
your dinner in it. Now, crew teams from surrounding schools are often
told to keep their mouths shut if they fall in, to ensure they do not
swallow any of the water.
After floods in the early 1900s, those who lived in the river bottoms
were given typhoid shots before they were allowed to return to their
homes. Like most great rivers used for commerce, the Mississippi River
is in ill health. The further downstream you go, the worse it gets.
The Mississippi River starts at Lake Itasca, MN, which is now a national
park. By the time the river reaches the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and
Minneapolis, the problems have begun. In downtown Minneapolis alone,
there are five Superfund sites within five miles of the river's edge.
Poor water quality, decreasing biological diversity and contaminated
organisms are all symptoms of our abuse of this national symbol. Agricultural
pollutants, in the form of runoff, fertilizer and animal manure, are
one major problem. Point source pollution in the form of industrial
waste poured directly into the river is another. Runoff from our cities
and our sewer systems, many of which are not treated before entering
the river, is another.
As the river suffers, so do the people. The Mississippi River provides
23% of the nation's public surface water supplies. Eighteen million
people depend on the Mississippi and its tributaries for drinking water.
But it's not just the water we drink that is of centern. What we do
to the rivers show up in other ways as well. One example is the area
in Louisiana called "Cancer Alley". Between Baton Rouge and New Orleans
is said to have one of the highest incidence rates of cancer in the
country. Residents also suffer from high numbers of respiratory problems,
birth defects and immune system disorders.
This is theoretically due to the huge amount of industrial pollution
affecting the waters, soil and air of the area, beginning mostly in
the 1940s. The rivers and the fish are not the only ones we harm.
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