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wonk Q. A. How does nutrient pollution affect the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico? Many people think of nutrients as good things. Our bodies need nutrients to be healthy, but in excess amounts they can be harmful. Nutrients in the environment can come from fertilizers used on farms or lawns, and when it rains they can run off into waterways and eventually into the Mississippi and the Gulf. When I say “nutrients,” I’m specifically talking about nitrogen and phosphorus. They can cause excess algal growth, which can lead to hypoxia when the algae decompose. Hypoxia is low levels of oxygen in the water. It especially harms less mobile creatures. If you’re mobile like a fish, you can swim to areas where oxygen is higher, but if you’re a mussel or crab, you might not have that ability. The gulf has a very productive fishing industry, and nitrates from nutrient pollution can also enter local water sources and contaminate the drinking water. Clean water is key to human health and economic and environmental sustainability, so if nutrient pollution is affecting the water, we must address it. These words are Pinkerton’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the EPA. Kate Pinkerton CAS/BA ’10, CAS/MS ’12 Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency If water hits a regular roof, it can run directly off and enter the roadways, where it can then carry more pollutants to the waterways. If you have a green roof, that contaminated water is more likely to be retained. Let’s talk #americanmag  13

American magazine, August 2013

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