Sediment pollution is an issue for human health, animal health, and environmental health. (Courtsy Photo)

By Fort Belvoir Environmental Division

Sediment pollution is an issue for human health, animal health, and environmental health.

What is Sediment and Sediment Pollution?

Sediment is the loose sand, clay, silt and other soil particles that settle at the bottom of a body of water. Sediment is dislodged by rainwater and transported by stormwater runoff towards bodies of water through the process of erosion. Any soil that is not protected from rainfall or runoff may be vulnerable to erosion and become a source of sediment pollution. Sediment pollution affects water quality by increasing turbidity (cloudiness) that can inhibit plant growth, animal development, and prevent clean drinking water.

A Pollution Carrier

Other pollutants such as nutrients, heavy metals, organic chemicals, bacteria, and pathogens can adhere to sediment particles and be carried into streams and rivers via stormwater runoff. Some pollutants may dissolved into the water and wash downstream quickly, while others may remain stuck to sediment on the bottom of the stream bed for years.

Consequences of Sediment Pollution

Sediment pollution can alter water quality, stormwater infrastructures, and water ecosystems.  Excessive amounts of sediment may clog storm drains and cause flooding. Drinking water contaminated with sediment is more expensive to treat. Sediment can clog fish gills, reducing their resistance to disease, lowering fish growth rates, and affecting fish egg and larvae development. Nutrients carried by sediment into the water may accelerate the growth of blue-green algae that release toxins and affect humans and wildlife health.

Things you can do to prevent Sediment Pollution

  1. Pick up your pet’s waste.  Pet waste is rich in nitrogen.  When it rains, sediment carrying these nutrients may pollute stormwater.

  2. Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them off. Washing these areas results in sediment and other pollutants running off into streams, rivers, and lakes.

  3. Keep storm drains clear and never sweep grass clippings or leaves into storm drains. Leaves and yard clippings left on the street will wash into storm drains.  As they decompose in the water, they will contribute to nutrient pollution and may cause eutrophication (toxic algal blooms).

  4.  Wash your car at the car wash. This will prevent detergents and chemical or sediment residues washing off your vehicle from becoming stormwater pollutants.

  5. Reduce the amount of fertilizers you use.  Limit or stop all use of fertilizers in your lawn or garden.  If you need to use fertilizer, use non-phosphorous fertilizer and check the weather before you apply it.  Do not apply fertilizers right before it rains.  Not only will you be contaminating stormwater, but your plants will not get the nutrients you are trying to provide.  Make sure you follow the application instructions on the fertilizer container to ensure you are not overusing the fertilizers.