Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Toxic Midwest Flood Waters

Behind my beautiful blooming corn flowers are the hazy hills. A bright red cardinal decorates the air. Another perfectly humid summer New England day.

Watching the current flooding in the Midwest is sometimes just too overwhelming. The videos look like regular lakes where a roof top got lost. It is not uncommon for the flooding to be more than two miles away from the Mississippi. That's a lot of flood waters, that's just plain huge if you think about it.

If you're having trouble with that volume, try this: take every house, farm, barn, and shed and imagine the standard chemicals laying around in basements, under sinks, on shelves and in equipment. Imagine things like chlorine, ammonia, cleaners, ant killer, gasoline, oil, pesticides, herbicides and all the bottles, bags and containers dissolving into the waters. Now add farm animal and human waste into the mix and... my mind swims in one major toxic brew. To further add to the nightmare, all the chemicals that are on most fields are being consumed by the flood waters and the new toxins are finding their resting place on the very fields we may be consuming food from. A contamination horror story.

This is the same epiphany I had when I was in New Orleans working for Habitat. The shear volume is so overwhelming. We had the opportunity to visit the side of a levee and the amount of trash, plastic and demolished materials in the waters made me loose my appetite for fish. Ugh.

So the Midwest flood waters are probably the most toxic brew in human history. And where does that water go? I can only think of two places: into the ground or down stream. Now it's a toss up which is worse: our farm land for our food supply including both animals and agriculture, or contaminating everything in its downstream path leading to the mouth of the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico where it can potentially mix in with our entire ocean.

The mouth of the Mississippi is already the largest water dead zone in the world. It was predicted to be the size of the State of Massachusetts earlier this spring. A dead zone is where there is not enough oxygen in the water support life. This is caused by the fertilizers from upstream farms feeding happy algae who multiply beyond the rate of rabbits, then die and the feeding bacteria gobble up all the oxygen. Now we'll have more happy toxic laden algae and who knows how big the dead zone will become.

Sometimes it's hard for me to get my head wrapped around what's happening regarding these toxic flood waters because the volume is beyond huge and the impact is beyond words. I shudder at the irreversible damage that has been done. How we grow our food and manage our waters must change. After all, those are our two basic needs for survival.

We need to talk about this, not cover it up. We need to not accept that the toxins are "within safe levels"; what ever that means. We need to demand change in how we manage our food and water supplies. Have conversations, show your concern or outrage, email your representatives at all levels and take action. Remember, they work for us.

The magnitude of what we are doing to our earth can really ruin your day, and maybe your life. After all, we all live downstream.

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