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Bill Hinkley

Bill Hinkley

Program Director, Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET)

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Many posts on this blog focus on hiking, fishing, birding, and other great activities but I would guess that the most popular outdoor activity in Massachusetts is dog walking.

One of the most significant sources of water pollution in our rivers and bays is furry and has four legs. But the bigger problem may be the companion with two legs and a leash. Un-scooped dog waste contributes huge amounts of pollution – especially disease-causing bacteria – to our waters. In some water bodies, pet waste is the number one source of water pollution.

Hold your nose and consider this: In 2007, over 37 percent of households in the United States owned a dog. Let’s say there is one dog for each 10 people in a given watershed. Then assume an average half a pound of waste is generated per dog per day. The Charles River watershed, with some 900,000 residents, then likely has 90,000 dogs. At half a pound of waste per dog per day that is 45,000 pounds, or 22.5 tons of dog waste generated every day or over 16 million pounds per year!

Dog waste can carry many bacteria and other pathogens. Studies have shown that a typical dog dropping can have as many as 3 billion fecal coliform bacteria. Pets frequently carry giardia and salmonella as well. There are plenty of other compounds in that stuff that encourage the blooms of algae and weeds that clog up rivers and lakes. Some of that growth – called cyanobacteria – also presents a danger to human health.

Waste left on the sidewalk or on the grass doesn’t simply go away. It makes its way, untreated, to storm drains or directly into water bodies where we swim, boat, or fish. When rainstorms wash pet waste and other pollutants into storm drains, we get beach postings due to bacteria or cyanobacteria, warning against swimming just when we most want to go into the water.

So, pick up after your pets – in your yard, in the park, or on the street.

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