The University Record, April 17, 1995

Earth Day a yearly reminder of responsibilities

Earth Day a yearly reminder of responsibilities

By Ravi Banda
Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health

Earth Day, which will be marked on Saturday (April 22), was first celebrated in 1970 and has since become a yearly event, a day on which the world reaffirms its commitment to protecting the environment. This celebration transcends all national borders to remind us of the necessity of protecting the Earth for future generations to thrive.

One of the Earth's most important resources is surface water. Humans depend on it for drinking, recreation, irrigation and power generation, among other things. Pollution of this resource is of major concern worldwide.

Surface water pollution can be caused by two types of discharges: point source and non-point source. While point source pollution can be attributed to a specific source, such as a paper mill, a chemical plant or a waste disposal facility, the latter type is more difficult to trace. Non-point pollution sources can include:

n Litter, leaves and vehicle oils and other liquids that accumulate on roads and parking lots.

n Erosion of stream banks and soil erosion from construction sites.

n Runoff from landscaped areas that carries fertilizers, lawn chemicals, grass clippings and other organic materials.

n Spills and unauthorized dumping of chemicals into storm drains and roadside ditches.

Pollution caused by non-point sources is worse in urban areas because of the high percentage of covered surfaces, by which pollutants are quickly conveyed to the creeks, streams, lakes and rivers in storm runoff.

Many programs and environmental regulations exist at the federal and state level to control and eliminate, as much as possible, the impact of the pollutants and to reduce non-point source pollution. Best management practices--structural, vegetative or management practices used to treat, prevent or reduce water pollution-- are required to achieve these goals.

Individuals also can contribute to controlling pollution by following a few simple measures:

n Limiting lawn chemicals.

n Preventing litter and leaves from entering storm drains.

n Properly storing, handling and disposing of such household items as cleaning liquids, paints and thinners, and automobile oils.

Periodic storm sewer cleaning and maintenance, wetlands preservation, oil and chemical spill cleanup and solid waste collection also help reduce pollution.

The University participates in efforts to reduce water pollution through programs aimed at controlling both point source and non-point source pollution. The Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH) oversees and coordinates these pollution prevention efforts with other units, including Intercollegiate Athletics, Grounds and Waste Management, Plant Operations and Transportation Services. OSEH has a staff of trained engineers and environment professionals working to ensure that the U-M is a strong leader in the environmental community.

While we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, there is no better occasion to stress the importance of protecting our natural resources. We must work together to take a course of action aimed at preserving and protecting the resources on which we all depend.

Common Pollutants Associated with Surface Water Pollution



Effects on the environment

Oils and greases

Gasoline, vehicle oils, lubricants, asphalt pavement

Unsightly effects; reduces oxygen and interferes with reproduction and feeding of aquatic life and birds

Suspended solids

Erosion of stream banks and at construction sites; sand when used as a traction material on roads

Turbid water and sedimentation curtail recreational uses; causes clogging of storm drains; decreases effectiveness of flood control structures like retention and detention basins; silting limits habitat for fish


Phosphates, nitrates, nitrites found in soils and in commercial fertilizers; organic substances

Excess nutrients result in growth of weeds and algae in streams and rivers, which can lead to accelerated aging of the ecosystem


Salt used to melt ice in winter

Corrosion of bridges, automobiles; damage to vegetation; increased salinity of surface and groundwater used for drinking; may be toxic to aquatic species

Disease-causing bacteria, litter, metals like lead, arsenic

Animal and pet wastes, lead paint, chemicals

Toxic to humans and aquatic life

Source: The University of Michigan Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health