Clean streets, clean water
A recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the impact of plastics pollution – when physical trash ends up in our waterways and washes ashore – in the Delaware River. The article pointed to the fact that the source of the pollution is likely tied to storm events happening upstream. In the litter-prone neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Camden, residents can appreciate how a healthy summer rain cleans off the streets and sidewalks and gives the neighborhood a welcome rinse. What residents may appreciate far less is what happens to all the street litter and to other less visible pollutants that coat the surfaces of a working city.
In rinsing off our streets, roofs, and sidewalks, a good rain will pick up a heavy load of plastic water bottles, food wrappers, and other litter, but also pet waste, motor oil from leaking engines, and all manner of soot and chemicals from car exhaust and other sources. When it rains as little as an inch, and sometimes even less, the sewer systems that run underneath Philadelphia and Camden can be overwhelmed by all the added stormwater flooding in through thousands of storm drain inlets. This toxic load mixes with the sewage already in the system (that’s right, the stuff sent from our 2 million+ toilets) and can end up overflowing, untreated, into the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Each year, Camden and Philadelphia experience dozens of overflow events from almost 200 different overflow release points after it rains, dumping filthy stormwater mixed with raw sewage directly into our rivers and streams.