NEWS | Aug. 15, 2012

Don’t pollute: Keep storm drains toxin free

By Earle Folger 628th Civil Engineer Squadron environmental engineer

 Pushing trash and garbage into a storm sewer is a costly practice. Allowing trash to runoff into storm sewers is costly to cities, neighborhoods and to wildlife.

When storm drains get clogged, storm water collects in the streets and can become a traffic hazard. Yes, they are fun to splash in, but they can be dangerous to drive through. Since they can be dangerous to traffic, local governments have to send out crews to unclog the storm drains, costing money that could otherwise be used to buy playground equipment, fire trucks, or perhaps to hire extra policemen.

Most anything you can think of has probably ended up in a storm drain. Soccer balls, beverage cans, bottles, plastic grocery bags, grease from the backyard grill, motor oil, paint, and any garbage we leave lying around can get blown or washed out of the yard and lodged in a storm drain.

Putting chemicals into the storm drain is particularly unhealthy for the environment. Solid items like garbage bags and lawn furniture usually get stuck before they get to the end of the storm drain, but chemicals flow all the way to the rivers and lakes. When that happens, fish, turtles, bears, deer and people suffer the exposure to the chemicals.

It's easy to think that what you flush down the a storm drain is such a small amount, nobody will notice. And although it is illegal and you may not get caught, there is still an impact on the environment.

Storm sewers that smell like chemicals can be dangerous to children that play nearby and some can even be life threatening. There were two deaths in Summerville, S.C., a few years ago caused by deadly gases building up in a storm drain.

Certain chemicals are dangerous to fish even in small amounts. This can easily become dangerous to people that eat the fish. There are already certain places in the greater Charleston area where anglers must limit the number of fish they eat because of unsafe levels of water pollution.

Other household chemicals should also not be dumped into the garbage or storm drain. Completely use the chemical or bring the chemical to a recycling center that will properly dispose of it. Examples of household chemicals that should never be disposed in a storm drain include: window cleaners, motor oil, antifreeze, drain clog removers, toilet bowl cleaners, air fresheners, bug killers, pool chemicals, fertilizers and gasoline.

All of these household products are safe when used as directed, but when misused or inappropriately disposed, they can be dangerous to people and wildlife. The bottom line, dumping chemicals or other garbage into a storm drain, a storm ditch, or a storm drop is inappropriate, is illegal and creates a danger for other people.