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Keep Liberty Beautiful: Cigarette butts a major part of stormwater pollution
Karen Bell
Keep Liberty Beautiful Executive Director Karen Bell.

Dr. Karen Bell

Keep Liberty Beautiful

Last week, we found ways to make our community more aware of pollinators during National Pollinator Week. 

Thanks to a partnership with Hinesville, Midway and Fort Stewart libraries, we gave out over 300 pollinator- garden starter kits! I am sure our little winged friends will appreciate all the new flowers in the area. The weather forecast for this week shows that rain is coming and should help water all the new plants.

But, with the rain comes stormwater pollution.

Stormwater picks up and carries various pieces of litter into our waterways. Any trash can cause problems, no matter the amount. One of the smallest but most significant contributors to stormwater pollution is cigarette butts. Many smokers do not believe cigarette butts are litter and don’t think twice about leaving a pathway of cigarette litter behind them. According to Keep America Beautiful (KAB), Americans smoke fewer cigarettes today, yet cigarette butts continue to be the most littered item in the United States and around the world. KAB states the main reasons for this are the lack of awareness on the smoker’s part and the lack of availability of waste receptacles at transition locations, such as outside stores and other buildings, and at public transportation pickup spots.

Surprisingly, in a survey by KAB, 77% of people responded that they didn’t think of cigarette butts as litter. KAB also notes that for every public cigarette butt receptacle, cigarette litter drops by 9% in that area.

When it rains, cigarette butts left on the ground can end up in our waterways. The cumulative effects of stormwater runoff on water bodies are evident in our rivers and the ocean. Stormwater pollution includes litter thrown on the ground; antifreeze, grease, oil and heavy metals from cars; fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals from gardens, homes and businesses; bacteria from pet waste and failing septic systems; and sediment from poor construction- site practices. If not properly managed, the volume of stormwater can flood and damage homes and businesses, flood septic system drain fields, erode stream channels, and damage or destroy fish and wildlife habitats.

Because less water soaks into the ground, drinking water supplies are not replenished, and streams and wetlands are not recharged. This can lead to water shortages for people and a small stream flow for fish.

Uncontrolled stormwater runoff has many cumulative impacts on humans and the environment, including:

• Flooding — Damage to public and private property.

• Eroded streambanks — Sediment clogs waterways, fills lakes and reservoirs, and kills fish and aquatic animals.

• Widened stream channels — Loss of valuable property.

• Aesthetics — Dirty water, trash, debris and foul odors.

• Fish and aquatic life — Impaired and destroyed.

• Impaired recreation — Swimming, fishing and boating.

• Threat to public health — Contamination of drinking water and fish/shellfish.

• Economic impacts — Impairments to fisheries, shellfish, tourism and recreation- related businesses.

• Increased cost of water and wastewater treatment — Stormwater pollution increases raw water treatment costs and reduces the assimilative capacity of water bodies.

Excess stormwater causes flooding and damage that is difficult and costly to clean up. To find out ways that you can make a difference, visit our website at www.keeplibertybeautiful. org. You can also contact Keep Liberty Beautiful at (912) 880-4888 or klcb@

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