Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Shores' litter targeted in 11th River Sweep

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It wasn't too long ago that one could furnish a house from discarded items collected by volunteers along the banks of the Ohio River.

        “That's one of the reasons why we started the River Sweep,” said Jeanne Ison, public information programs manager for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO). “When you have a shoreline that has all that kind of stuff on it, no wonder people think it's polluted.”

        Saturday's 11th annual River Sweep along the 3,000-mile lengths of the river and its tributaries won't turn up that much, Ms. Ison said.

        “It was unbelievable what we found then,” she said — couches, refrigerators, water heaters, toilets and even a telephone booth.

        This year, organizers hope to bring out volunteers to clear away old tires, plastics and other litter cluttering up the shore lines.

        “It's a day when families can come out and help clean up the environment,” she said.

        During the 1998 sweep, more than 21,000 volunteers in six states collected more than 10,000 tons of trash and other debris from the banks of the Ohio and its tributaries. “About 1,000 people participated from the Greater Cincinnati area,” Ms. Ison said.

        The river sweep, which began in 1989, is the largest environmental event of its kind and encompasses six states, from Pennsylvania to Illinois. The goal of the project is to draw attention to the litter problem and remove it from the shoreline.

        “It gives people the opportunity to clean up their local environment and protect this precious resource, the Ohio River,” said Kristi Rose, public information specialist for the commission. “It's not only a biological resource but one for recreation.”

        The quality of the water in the Ohio River has improved over the past 50 years.

        In 1948, less than 1 percent of the sewage or industrial waste discharged into the Ohio River received any treatment, according to ORSANCO's 1998 annual report. The river was like an open sewer, and people worried little about what happened to the waste after it left their site, the report said.

        “People didn't worry about what they put in the river because it washed down stream,” Ms. Ison said.

        In 1995, all municipal wastewater received primary and secondary treatment be fore being released into the Ohio River.

        “I think it's getting better,” said Nathan Sturm, Northern Kentucky Solid Waste Management coordinator. “Government agencies, and society as a whole, have eliminated most point-source pollution. That doesn't happen much anymore.”

        Point-source is the type of pollution for which environmentalists can literally point to the source. “The source might be a pipe that's going directly into the river,” he said.

        But now, the focus is on non-point-source pollution. “Litter is considered a non-point-source,” he said.

        Although plastics and tires may not kill fish as other pollutants do, they do have an impact on the overall environment of the river. “You've seen pictures of ducks with six-pack rings on their necks,” Mr. Sturm said.

        Nobody is sure at what point hu mans could be affected by litter.

        “As much as we don't like to think this, we are a major part of the web of the ecosystem on this planet,” he said. “It's important to maintain it for our own health.”

        There are several sites where volunteers can gather in Kentucky and Ohio for the sweep. Information: (800) 359-3977.


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