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Common Pollution Sources


Each year the Lake Junaluska Assembly removes approximately 20 tons of debris, transported by Richland Creek, from booms at the lake entrance (Haywood Waterways Association, It’s not just dirt).

The North Carolina Clean Water Education Partnership provides a good overview of the following common sources of pollution, and what each individual can do to minimize them:

  • Litter
  • Pet Waste
  • Septic Systems
  • Household Chemicals
  • Car Washing
  • Waste oil, fuel leaks, other fluid leaks

Key Takeaways

Plastics can take hundreds of years to degrade and are often mistaken by animals for food, which can lead to starvation because they cannot be digested. An estimated 14 million tons of plastics alone end up in the ocean every year (Jambeck et al. 2015).  Chemicals in plastics may also be absorbed into edible seafood in concentrations that can be harmful to people. Researchers found plastic particles in the guts of 1-in-4 fish purchased from public markets in California and Indonesia (Oksman 2016).

Cigarette butts take up to 25 years to degrade.

Pet waste contributes to bacterial contamination in our waterways. Digestive system bacteria like fecal coliform, salmonella, and campylobacter contribute to gastroenteritis and other diarrheal diseases (WHO 2017).



YOU can make a difference by disposing of litter, cigarette butts and
pet waste in trash receptacles.


Failing septic systems are also a major contributor to bacterial contamination, and allow anything else dumped in sinks and flushed down toilets like household chemicals, laundry detergents and pharmaceuticals to leach into groundwater and streams. In 2014, Haywood Waterways Association and the Haywood County Environmental Health Department received a $30,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund to help homeowners repair their septic systems. They repaired 81 systems and prevented the leaching of 29,000 gallons/day of human waste (HWA).



YOU can keep your septic system in good working order if you:


  • Inspect and pump the septic tank regularly; it’s the best preventative maintenance a homeowner can do. A typical 1,000 gallon tank for a family of four should be pumped about every three years. Pumping prevents solids from clogging the drain lines and extends the life of the system.
  • Don’t flush household chemicals, such as bleach, disinfectants, paints, solvents, pesticides, antifreeze, antibiotics, and medications. Also, limit the use of anti-bacterial soap and drain cleaners. Chemicals in these products kill the bacteria that purify sewage.
  • Don’t flush hanging toilet cleaners, coffee grounds, cooking oils, and feminine hygiene products. These can clog the system and cause raw sewage to back up into the house.
  • Direct roof drains and sump pump drains away from septic drain fields. Over-saturation of soil keeps soil from absorbing and cleaning wastewater.
  • Don’t park automobiles or other heavy items over a system. They can crush the drain lines.
  • Plant only grass over and near your septic system; roots from trees or shrubs may clog and damage the absorption field.

The NC DEQ provides a good overview of common household chemicals, how to dispose of them, and less toxic or non-toxic alternatives.



YOU can make a difference by reducing toxic chemicals in your household and properly disposing of them. Earth 911 maintains an extensive hazardous materials and recycling database.

Car washing and fluid leaks are another major source of stormwater pollution including:

  • Petroleum hydrocarbons (i.e. gasoline, diesel fuel, motor oil, fluids, and lubricants) from automobile engines, leaks, and fuel combustion processes  
  • Heavy metals from normal wear of auto brake linings (copper), tires, exhaust, and fluid leaks  
  • Phosphorous and nitrogen‐contained in detergents used for cleaning vehicles, which cause nutrient loading
  • Surfactants from detergents and cleaning formulas (synthetic and organic), which are used to help loosen dirt or grease
  • Solids from vehicle exteriors and surfaces   

The cumulative effect of car washing has been demonstrated in a study in Federal Way, Washington. Researchers estimated the frequencies of at-home car washes to determine an annual total for it’s residents (444,224 driveway car washes). They also measured the amount of water used (20 gallons/wash), and sampled the pollutant load for a single car wash several times to calculate an average concentration of key pollutants of concern.

Annual car washing pollutant load for one community with 62,000 residents.



YOU can make a difference by either using a car wash with an oil/water separator, or by washing on the lawn instead of driveway so water can be absorbed instead of running off. You can also use biodegradable detergents, and have your car serviced regularly to fix and prevent leaks.



Jambeck, J., R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T. Siegler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. Law. 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347 (6223): 768-771. Available from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768.

Oksman, Olga. 2016. Fish for dinner? Your seafood might come with a side of plastic. The Guardian 8/31/2016. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/31/fish-plastic-pollution-ocean-environment-seafood

WHO (World Health Organization). 2017. Fact Sheets. Available from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/en/

HWA (Haywood Waterways Association). Our Impact. Available from http://haywoodwaterways.org/impact.html