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Nonpoint Source Pollution (Polluted Runoff) Environmental Protection Agency Region 2: NONPOINT SOURCE POLLUTION

A Great Threat to our Environment

Nonpoint source pollution, or "polluted runoff," is created when rain, snowmelt, irrigation water, and other water sources run over the land, picking up pollutants and transporting them to local water bodies.

Nonpoint source pollution is also called "people pollution" because much of it is the result of activities that people do everyday. With each rainfall, pollutants are washed from surface and land areas into storm drains that flow into our nearby waterways. Because each individual contributes to nonpoint source pollution simply by performing daily activities, it is not surprising that nonpoint source pollution is the biggest threat to our ponds, creeks, lakes, streams, rivers, bays, estuaries and oceans.

The good news is that we can all help prevent "people pollution"! Simple lifestyle changes can make a tremendous difference in the quality of our water and air resources. Here are a few simple changes we can all make to help minimize nonpoint source pollution in the environment.

In the Home

Common household products (drain and oven cleaners, paint products/thinners, cleaning agents, pesticides, mothballs, etc.) contain toxic ingredients. When these products are overused or improperly discarded they pose a threat to your indoor air, public health, and the environment.

For example, some people think the periodic use of a toxic drain cleaner will prevent clogging when simply pouring a kettle of boiling water down the drain can be just as effective. If a drain is plugged, try using a plunger and put some muscle into it before resorting to strong chemicals! Another remedy for a clogged drain is to pour a cup of baking soda into the drain first, then slowly pour in a cup of white vinegar, let it stand for 15 minutes, then flush with boiling water.

Liquid products such as paints, paint thinners, oils, etc, should never be thrown down drains, toilets, or stormdrains. These products should be sealed in leak free containers and properly discarded. Contact your local or county government to find out how to dispose of these substances properly. Many City Sanitation Departments will not pick up any liquids and suggest mixing Kitty Litter into the liquid to convert it to a solid.

Washing full loads of laundry or dishes is more energy and water efficient. Please avoid small loads. It also helps to use environmentally safe products such as biodegradable and phosphate free detergents.

Take a moment to read product labels when shopping. Try to select products that have little packaging, are aerosol free, and recyclable items. Products contained in easily recyclable containers such as metals, glass, and certain plastics, are a preferred choice. Some examples of products that cannot be recycled are aerosol cans, plastic coated paper cartons, paper coated aluminum bags, and unfortunately juice boxes, a very popular item.

We shouldn't waste water by throwing bathroom trash/cigarettes down the toilet. The wastepaper basket is the best place to dispose this type of garbage. Some folks keep the water running to cool or warm baby bottles, wash vegetables, brush their teeth, etc. Why??? These activities can be done by keeping water in a pot or cup.

Septic systems are a common method of wastewater disposal. If the septic tank is not maintained and pumped periodically, the leach field can become clogged with solids and contaminate ground water as well as create public health problems. If you own a septic system, be especially careful not to dump toxic materials such as paint thinners, pesticides, or chlorine into your system since they may kill the needed bacteria in your tank. Also, avoid adding bathroom trash/solids, unnecessary grease, and food waste into the system. Repair any leaking fixtures and use water reducing fixtures to minimize the amount of water the system needs to treat.

Remember that when we use electricity or burn gas or oil, we are contributing to air pollution which becomes water pollution. Pollutants such as Nitrogen (N), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), are generated and are eventually deposited on land and water, can create acid rain, and may contribute to global warming. Each individual can easily benefit from replacing old windows or doors, or simply using inexpensive weatherstripping around drafty areas. This will minimize indoor/outdoor air transfer and will help keep a warmer house in the winter and a cooler home in the summer. If you keep an air conditioner in a window year round, you may need to insulate and cover it to avoid air leaks. We can live more comfortable lives, save a lot of money, and substantially reduce energy consumption simply by making our homes draft free!

In the Driveway

When changing car engine oil, remember that the oil is toxic to humans, plants, and animals. Do not dump used motor oil down drains, storm drains, or on the ground. It is illegal too! It has been estimated that every three weeks, more oil is deposited on driveways and streets in the United States than the Exxon Valdez Oil spill in Alaska!! Please treat other automobile liquids with the same precautions. Most service stations accept used oil or you can recycle used motor oil at your local recycling center.

When washing your car at home, use small amounts of non-phosphate detergents. Concentrations of phosphates in our waters ultimately cause fish and shellfish to die. Consider using a commercial carwash that recycles its wash water.

In the Yard or Garden

Fertilizers are commonly overused products containing nitrates and phosphates that cause plants and algae to grow or "bloom"in ponds or other waterways. That may sound nice, but fish need oxygen to live. When these algae die and decompose, oxygen is consumed leaving little or no oxygen for aquatic habit. This results in area fish kills. So let's not over apply fertilizers and never apply fertilizers before a heavy rainfall.

Plants and grasses are able to obtain the maximum amount of nutrients when soil pH is maintained between 6.0 and 7.0. The pH tells you if water or soil is acidic or alkaline. The pH ranges from 0-14 with a pH of 7.0 being neutral. Low pH, below 6.0 is acidic and can be raised by adding lime. Lime makes the soil more receptive to pesticides, reducing the amount of pesticides that may be needed. Soil ph test kits and lime are available at local garden centers.

Many products made to exterminate bugs and pests are also toxic to humans, animals, aquatic organisms, and plants. If you apply pesticides to plants properly, they can have little impact to the environment. If pesticides are found in our waters, it is probably due to overuse or application at the wrong time. Please read pesticide labels carefully and use alternatives whenever possible.

Consider planting drought-resistant native trees, plants, and grasses. They tend to be low maintenance, healthier for area wildlife, and also quite beautiful. Overall, native species support a healthier ecosystem.

You can conserve water if you water your lawn/garden during cooler hours of the day as in the early morning or evenings. The vegetation will have a better opportunity to absorb the water before it evaporates in the heat of the day.

Composting is a very easy way to manage yard and food waste, and it gives you back enriched soil that my mom calls, "black gold"!! You can buy a small composter or make your own a compost pile. Be careful where you choose to place a compost pile because it can attract critters. I've heard of successful compost piles on top of buildings in NYC!!

In the Streets

LITTER! Oh please don't litter!!!! The streets are not our garbage can. Litter from the streets will go into storm drains and eventually end up in our nearby waters. If you notice litter filled streets after a garbage collection, keep in mind that sometimes sanitation workers accidentally drop garbage onto the streets because people don't tie up their garbage properly. Be conscious to properly dispose of even the smallest amount of litter, cigarette butts, and pet waste. Pet wastes are a significant cause of nutrient contamination and contain bacteria and viruses which can cause harm to people and aquatic life. Pet owners should use vegetated areas to walk pets, scoop up the pet waste and then dispose the waste in the toilet if possible.

At the Beach/Parks

When relaxing at the beach, remember that the next high tide will take away what you have left behind. We should be extra careful not to leave anything on the beach because we are making a direct impact to the place that we came to enjoy! Food wrappings, beverage containers, diapers, sanitary supplies, and cigarette butts should all be properly disposed. If you can't volunteer time to participate in beach or park clean up days, then take an extra moment to leave each place you visit even cleaner than when you found it.

Some forms of water recreational activities also contribute to poor water quality. The old 2 cycle motors have been said to cause more pollution in two hours than a car running for an entire year!! Newer engines coming on the market today are much cleaner. While they cost more to buy, their cost of operation is less than the older polluting engines.

Do you know that we shouldn't feed certain birds, namely geese?? Feeding geese attracts larger populations, causes birds not to migrate, and leads to more wastes impacting the water. Don't worry, nature provided a meal plan for these creatures.

In your Car

Some people spend a lot of time in their car and understandably, they want to keep their car clean. Throwing garbage out of your car window and onto highways, ramps, and streets is really unsightly! Keep a garbage bag in the car and use your ashtrays. Throw it all away into the trash when it's full and spare people the disappointment of seeing someone casually pollute the streets because you want a clean car. We all like to have clean cars but not at the expense of the environment. Knowing that our automobiles are the #1 cause of air pollution in some areas should prompt us to use mass transportation or car pool whenever possible.


Remember that everything we do can have a positive or negative impact on the environment. Every person is a consumer and we all naturally contribute to pollution. Many of us have acquired habits that contribute significantly to the degradation of our environment without even realizing. We must make efforts to become informed, change our habits, and teach others how we can naturally live our lives with environmentally conscious minds and habits that will benefit ourselves and future generations.

For additional information please refer to the EPA Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program Web Page.

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Region II Nonpoint Source Contacts:

Donna Somboonlakana (212) 637-3700

Katie Lynch (212) 637-3840

Contact:  Somboonlakana.Donna@epa.gov


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