The Sierra Club is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create nutrient standards for the Ohio River, on which five million residents rely for drinking water.
Hank Graddy, chapter water committee chair for the Sierra Club-Kentucky, said more than 700 miles of the river currently is unusable and is posing a threat to residents' drinking water.
He believes EPA action is needed to control nutrient pollution, because Kentucky and other states in the Ohio River Basin haven't taken regulatory action.
"Many people who look at the Ohio River would identify uncontrolled discharge of nitrogen and phosphorous from agricultural activities and from municipal sewer treatment plants and from utilities as the single greatest pollution problem in the Ohio and in many places across the nation," Graddy contended.
Large algae blooms covering hundreds of miles popped up in 2015 and 2019 due to excess nutrients, according to reports from the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.
Graddy noted the EPA has already issued nutrient caps for Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie.
He explained blue-green algae can produce a toxin that's harmful to the liver and can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and other health effects in humans, and pointed out most treatment plants lack the ability to remove the toxin from the water supply.
"It's not adequately regulated, nobody's doing anything about it, and we keep loading more and more nitrogen and phosphorous into the system," Graddy asserted.
He added tourism revenue and other economic life that a healthy river brings to the Ohio Valley are at stake.
"The Louisville riverfront, the Owensboro riverfront, the Northern Kentucky riverfront," Graddy outlined. "These are assets to the community, and we need a river that is a part of that asset."
The EPA said more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams nationwide are impacted by excess nutrient pollution, but experts say the number probably is much higher, because only a small percentage of streams are tested.
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