Polluted Drinking Water is Top Environmental Fear

Americans are more worried about water pollution than global warming, air pollution or other environmental concerns, according to an annual Gallup survey.

by James Laughlin

Americans are more worried about water pollution than global warming, air pollution or other environmental concerns, according to an annual Gallup survey. In fact, when ask to rate their level of worry about each of 12 environmental concerns, their top four concerns were related to water quality, with the greatest concern being pollution of drinking water.

It’s significant that fears about drinking water pollution were expressed even though Gallup’s annual Environment survey was conducted in early March before a widely publicized Associated Press report on pharmaceuticals in the public water supply. While the percentage of those worried about drinking water had declined since the 2007 study, polluted drinking water has topped the list every time it has been included in the Gallup survey.

The other top worries cited in the survey included contamination of soil & water by toxic waste; pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs; and concerns about maintenance of the nation’s supply of fresh water. Also included in the survey were questions on loss of natural habitat for wildlife, air pollution, loss of tropical rain forests, damage to the ozone layer, urban sprawl and acid rain.

It’s interesting to me that global warming was listed as 10th among the top 12 environmental worries, even though it is arguably the most discussed environmental issue these days. Gallup officials speculated that water quality is seen as a more immediate concern to Americans, while global warming is seen as a somewhat more remote issue to deal with in the future.

While 53 percent of respondents were worried about polluted drinking water, concerns about water safety are generally reduced now compared to what they were in the late 1980s and 1990s, and down from where they were in 2000, the first year of Gallup’s annual Environment poll. The one exception to that general pattern is maintaining the nation’s supply of fresh water for household needs: concern increased in 2002 and has been steady since then.

In a related survey on global warming, 61% of Americans say the effects of global warming have already begun. However, only about one third say they worry about it a great deal, a percentage that is roughly the same as the one Gallup measured 19 years ago. There has been an uptick in the percentage of Americans who say global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetimes, rising from 25% in 1997 to 40% today.

Copies of the two surveys can be found at www.gallup.com

Since writing my April column on the issue of pharmaceuticals in water, I have received a few letters on the challenges of disposing of unused medications. Once astute reader suggested a slightly odd but apparently effective way of disposing of medications: kitty litter.

For liquids, simply mix in with the litter. For pills, first dissolve them in water and then mix well. The theory being that the chemicals are absorbed into the litter and locked into place. I’m not sure if it’s a scientifically or environmentally sound practice, but it would certainly make the medications unattractive to small children and drug abusers…
James Laughlin, Editor

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