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Activists Hope To Clean Up Chesapeake Bay's 'Horror Story'

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Environment America staffers at a cleanup of the Anacostia River.
Jessica Gould
Environment America staffers at a cleanup of the Anacostia River.

A team of volunteers and staffers with the advocacy group Environment America are going trick or treating along the Anacostia River. But instead of collecting candy, they’re filling their bags with Styrofoam cups, empty beer bottles, and abandoned tires. 

"I’ve done these kinds of cleanups before and it’s the typical stuff. There’s nowhere else to put it so why not dump it where no one else will find it," says Rebecca Rehr, a graduate student at the University of Maryland. Picking up trash isn’t scary, she says. But the people who litter are. 

"I think at this point people know what they’re doing and they know it won’t biodegrade and they’re still doing it," she says. "I think that’s the scariest part." 

In fact, the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are a virtual horror story of pollution, according to Environment America associate Sarah Hyman. 

"Every day, trash, runoff and debris wash into the Anacostia River turn and make its way to the Chesapeake Bay," Hyman says. 

Meanwhile, she says, more than 1 billion pounds of chicken waste flow into the bay every year, creating massive algae blooms and oxygen-deprived dead zones. "Marine wildlife literally try to swim out of the dead zones to try to survive but if they get caught they suffocate," she says.  Development along the bay also means area wetlands are disappearing fast; Hyman cites figures showing that Maryland has lost 75 percent of its wetlands. 

So Hyman is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to increase protections for wetlands and strengthen regulations limiting pollution and runoff. 

"People shouldn't be afraid of fishing, swimming and drinking from the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed," she says. The activists hope by next Halloween, the bay will be a little less scary.

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