By:  Mariama Conteh*

The Anacostia River has been unsafe as far as many can remember, but according to documents, this river has been paying the price of human actions since the Europeans were here. Industrial toxic chemicals also had a great impact in making the river unhealthy for residents to even be near the water due to its harmful attributes. Unfortunately, many people throw their waste products in the river, adding to the contamination resulting in its current state. Further, factories took advantage of the watershed and started to pollute the Anacostia River by leaving their toxic chemicals behind. These companies are the main cause of why the river is causing health related problems, for example when left unabated, these chemicals release carcinogens into the air, opening doors for cancer.

It could be argued that the pollution of the Anacostia River has worsened the sickness and unemployment rates in Wards 7 and 8, as these rates are significantly higher than across the rest of the city. The health of the Anacostia River is a direct reflection of the health of the communities it surrounds. Research has revealed that, “one of the most notable chemical pollutants in the river is polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which have immune, reproductive, endocrine, and neurological effects, and may cause cancer and affect children's cognitive development. This and other chemicals build up in the river bottom, where they make their way up the food chain and become stored in the tissues of fish, posing a health threat if people consume them.[1]” This cannot continue because it puts D.C. residents in danger, especially if they ingest a fish caught in the river.

Recognizing the environmental and health harms associated with the river, several nonprofit organizations as well as the D.C. government have stepped up to proactively address the health of the river. Councilmember David Grosso has, each year, participated in volunteer clean-up efforts of the Anacostia River.  Additionally, Councilmember Grosso has collaborated with the Seafarers Yacht Club and visited several sites along the river. Meanwhile, schools have the opportunity to do some community service work and to also make a change in their Wards. Schools such as the one that I currently attend, Cesar Chavez PCS Capitol Hill, have frequented the river in an effort to raise awareness of the dangers associated with a river containing harmful toxins and enable students to participate in clean-up efforts. The unfortunate truth of the river is that people and their actions have caused this situation; however, people also have the power to change the river’s course and agencies like the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment are doing the best they can, to undo the damage that has been caused.  I hope that in my lifetime I will be able to enjoy an Anacostia River where I can swim freely, fish and generally be able to have a stable and healthy river and community at large.

*Mariama is a rising senior at Cesar Chavez PCS Capitol Hill and is participating in the school’s Public Policy Fellowship, with Councilmember Grosso. This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.