News / USA

Young People Learn to Protect Trashed Rivers

Young People Learn to Protect Trashed Waterwaysi
June 07, 2013 1:12 PM
Twenty thousand tons of trash are thrown into the Anacostia every year. It turns into a toxic brew including sewage overflows and runoff from driveways, sidewalks and streets. National Fishing and Boating Week in the United States is an opportunity to create new stewards to help protect natural waterways like the Anacostia. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Rosanne Skirble
National Fishing and Boating Week (June 3-10) in the United States is an annual celebration that encourages Americans to get out and enjoy the nation’s rivers and streams.

At a kick-off event on the Anacostia River in Washington, it was also an opportunity to create new stewards to help protect these natural waterways.

Outdoor classroom

Several hundred Washington school children went to class on the Anacostia River, where they were greeted on a pier not far from the U.S. Capitol by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel.

The children fan out across the pier, just steps from Washington's  baseball stadium. While many have gone to a baseball game, fewer have boated or fished on the river. Some don lifejackets for a boat  ride with Jewel. Others model boats out of aluminum foil, talk to naturalists or get a fishing lesson.

Cleaning Up the Anacostia River
Cleaning Up the Anacostia Riveri
|| 0:00:00
While it's fun to fish, these kids won’t take fish home. That’s because the Anacostia is among the nation’s most polluted waterways. A recent study finds that more than half of all bottom feeders on the river, like catfish, have liver tumors and another quarter have visible lesions.  

Trashed river

Dennis Chestnut grew up on the river and now he runs Groundwork Anacostia River DC. The group links community development to the health of the waterway.  

“It’s an opportunity for these kids to see this trash, and I’m quite sure that some will begin asking questions," he said. "Why is this trash here?”

Bladensburg Park is a less polluted stretch of the Anacostia about five kilometers away in Maryland. Two hundred years ago, the port rivaled New York in size and silt from development logged the waterway and, as the population grew, so did pollution.  

"There [are] a million people that live in this tiny watershed that is 176 square miles [456 square kilometers]," said Lee Cain of the Anacostia Watershed Society. "And because there are so many people, there is so much impact."

Looking forward

At Kennilworth Park, a former landfill that is now a grassy field, Cain and Chestnut go down a stepp hill to a stream that feeds the Anacostia. Chestnut's group manages a little trap in the stream and Cain goes knee deep into the muck to help clean it up.

"Eighty percent of the trash in the Anacostia is bottles, Styrofoam or plastic bags," Cain said.

  • Washington school children get a boat ride on the Anacostia River with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the kickoff event for National Fishing and Boating Week. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer Eric Lawton gives Makayla Gray her first fishing lesson on the Anacostia. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • The trash strewn riverfront is across the street from the Nationals Baseball Park and adjacent to the Washington Navy Yard.  It was named a hazardous waste site because of contamination. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • Volunteers do service projects to rebuild the wetland in the Anacostia River. (Anacostia Watershed Society)
  • Groundwork Anacostia River director Dennis Chestnut talks with Washington residents Trevon Brox and Antony Smith about jobs on the river. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • This watershed protection team services the litter traps on the Anacostia managed by Groundwork Anacostia River, DC. (Groundwork Anacostia River, DC)
  • While plastic bottles remain a major problem, a law that puts a fee on disposable bags has dramatically helped reduce the number of plastic bags in the river. (Groundwork Anacostia River DC)
  • The smokestacks from a closed power plant are a grim reminder of the toxic pollutants that flow into the river. (Groundwork Anacostia)
  • With renewed conservation efforts, wildlife is returning to the Anacostia. Boaters frequently see birds like this snowy egret. (Anacostia Watershed Society)
  • Sections of the Anacostia have become a paddler’s delight, like this scene near Bladensburg Park in Maryland. (Anacostia Watershed Society)

He loads trash bags with the bottles and throws balls lodged in the trap to Chestnut, who is standing on the bank talking to Trevon Brox, 18, and Anthony Smith, 19, who've come prospecting for jobs.  

“One of the things that this opportunity proves to guys like you, who are young guys, who have a whole lot of work time in front of you," Chestnut said to them, "this is good honest work, does a great service and you can earn income.”

Brox and Smith live nearby, but grew up largely ignoring the river and are shocked by what they see.
“This is my first time I’ve really been up close and that’s a sticky situation down there,” Brox said. "We all need to come together and stand up and keep our environment clean because that's a safety hazard."

“To be honest," Smith said, "I never even knew there was a park here, never really knew about the river or anything.”

Toxic brew

Twenty thousand tons of trash are thrown into the Anacostia every year. It turns into a toxic brew including sewage overflows and runoff from driveways, sidewalks and streets.

Chestnut says the litter traps he manages barely make a dent in the pollution. But, he adds, what they can do is get people like Brox and Smith to care enough to do something about it.   
“The goal is to get the river to the point that it’s fishable and swimmable," Chestnut said. "What it is going to take is getting everyone engaged at whatever level that they can become engaged, from the youngest to the oldest, to do their part.”

The health of the Anacostia and rivers like it around the country and around the world depend on that commitment.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs