Environmental Economic Impact of Pollution

Environmental Economic Impact of Pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Essay

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The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary with six major tributaries, the James, the Potomac, the Susquehanna, the Patuxent, the York, and the Rappahannock Rivers, feeding into the bay from various locations in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia (Chemical Contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay – Workshop Discussion 1). These areas depend on the Bay as both an environmental and an economic resource. Throughout the last 15 years the Chesapeake Bay has suffered from elevated levels of pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater treatment plants, farmland, air pollution, and development all lead to reduced water clarity and lowered oxygen levels, which harm fish, crabs, oysters and underwater grasses (Key Commission Issues 1). There are other types of pollution in the bay such as toxic chemicals, but because nutrient pollution is the most significant and most widespread in the Bay its effects are the most harmful to fisheries. Nitrogen and phosphorous fuel algal blooms which cloud the water and block sunlight from reaching underwater grass beds that provide food and habitat for waterfowl, juvenile fish, blue crabs, and other species (Blankenship 11-12). Algae plays a vital role in the food chain by providing food for small fish and oysters. However, when there is an overabundance of algae it dies, sinks to the bottom of the Bay, and decomposes in such a manner that depletes the oxygen levels of the Bay (11). The reduced oxygen levels in the Bay reduce the carrying capacity of the environment and these “dead areas” sometimes kill off species that can not migrate to other areas of the Bay, such as oysters (11). Increased abundance of algal blooms also led to the overabundance of harmful and toxic algae species and microbes such as the microbe Pfiesteria, which was responsible in 1997 for eating fish alive and making dozens of people sick (12). The heightened awareness of diseases that can be contracted through consumption of contaminated fish also has an economic impact. Therefore, the excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorous have fueled an overabundance of algal blooms, which has reduced water clarity and lowered oxygen levels, affecting many species within the bay and ultimately the industries that rely on these species

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