Aluminum is one of the most common elements in earth’s crust and is always present in the environment in conjunction with other elements, like silicon. Some of the aluminum present in the environment, however, results from anthropogenic sources, like air pollution, surface run-off, and waste from the mining and smelting processes. While aluminum can be tolerated in low concentrations, in high ones, it can be extremely deleterious in the environment. According to the EPA, one third of the most contaminated sites in the United States have aluminum pollution. In just Tennessee, 43 miles of streams are impaired abnormally high aluminum levels.
In humans, high aluminum intake has been linked to degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. As for the environmental impact, aluminum is accumulated in the tissues of some aquatic plants, which can be detrimental to health upon ingestion by other species, as aluminum acts as a neurotoxin in many mammals. The release of aluminum into the environment is often in conjunction with acid mine draining, which causes acidification of the environment.
Although there are some ways to remove aluminum from water, they tend to leave other chemicals behind. Thus, it is best to prevent more aluminum from entering.
How You Can help
Are you a member of a group or organization in your community that would be interested in adopting this waterway? Contact the Cumberland River Compact if you’re interested in learning more about stream adoption.
Report any acid mine drainage, extremely polluted sites, or suspected environmental violations to the EPA. If you live in Kentucky, also report the problem to the KY Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement
1) Report Abandoned Mine Drainage - EPA
2) KY Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement Hotline - 502-564-2340
If you live or work next to a waterway, leave a 35′ to 100′ no mow zone on its banks. Allow natural and native plant growth in this buffer area or plant native trees, bushes, and groundcover. This vegetation can filter pollutants before they reach your waterway and provide other water quality benefits that far exceed those of a mowed lawn. Native plants and grasses require less watering and fertilizer and also provide important habitat for native species of wildlife.
1) Free trees for Tennesseans during TEC's annual statewide 100K Tree Day - TN Environmental Council
2) Purchase Native Wildflower/Grass Alternatives to Mowed Grass - Roundstone Native Seed and/or Seedland
3) Tennessee Aquatic Stream Clean Up and Riparian Tree Grant (Scroll to bottom of linked page for more info) - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
4) General Guidelines for Volunteer Based Riparian Buffer Plantings - TN Environmental Council
5) Improving Stream Channels With Live Staking - UT Extension
6) Tennessee Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook - TN Dept. of Agriculture
7) Landscaping with Native Plants in West, Middle, and East TN - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
8) Native Plants for TN - UT Extension
9) Forest Stewardship Program and Landowner Services - KY Division of Forestry
10) Plant Availability Guide - KY Department of Agriculture
11) State Nurseries and Tree Seedlings - KY Division of Forestry
Impervious or impermeable surfaces, like pavement, contribute significantly to polluted stormwater runoff and alter stream flow habitat. If you've got excess pavement you'd like removed, consider a de-paving project with the Compact. Elsewhere, ensure that your downspouts drain to vegetation, gravel, or rainbarrels, rather than impervious surfaces. If you constructing or repairing your driveway, pervious pavement allows stormwater to infiltrate and filter through the ground. If you can’t do the whole drive, consider making only the portion closest to the street pervious.
1) De-paving Work - Cumberland River Compact (Call 615-837-1151)
2) Rain Barrel Sales - Cumberland River Compact
3) Rain Barrels Make Good Sense - UT Extension
Participate in community planning efforts and advocate for relevant measures that improve or protect water quality. Write to your elected official and let them know this is concern or invite them to speak about the impairment with your home-owners association. When elections come up, vote for candidates who will address the problem and hold them accountable to their promises. Support local watershed / environmental associations.
1) Advocacy Toolkit - TN Environmental Council
2) Find Your Legislators - Federal Legislators; State Legislators (KY/TN); Local Legislators (KY/TN) 3) A number of organizations work to address impacts to communities from mining in our basin. They include Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices, KY Waterways Alliance, Southern Environmental Law Center, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment.
Do your neighbors, family, or roommates know about the problem? Now that you know how to be an effective steward, enlist the help of others in your neighborhood. Share iCreek or resources within it with your neighbors and encourage them to join the effort to protect your creek.