Protecting our Environment: Land, Air, and Water Pollution


Protecting our Environment: Land, Air, and Water Pollution

Middle Tennessee treasures its beautiful open spaces. Our landscape is part of our history. We must be diligent to ensure that it remains part of our future.

With 1,000,000 new people projected to call Middle Tennessee home by 2035, there is no question that we must plan for conservation the way we currently plan for development, and that we must protect our natural assets by reducing Middle Tennessee’s levels of air, land, and water pollution. By supporting those Middle Tennessee nonprofits specializing in environmental initiatives – and by each pledging to live a “greener” lifestyle – we can start to make a difference. Whether we live in an apartment or home, these small choices can help create a healthier, cleaner and safer environment for everyone.

Combating pollution in our area will take more than picking up discarded trash from the sides of our roadways; it means looking to the water and air, as well as the land. Davidson County alone hosts approximately 2,500 total miles of streams. Of these, an astounding 350 miles were placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of “impaired” waters in 2009 – meaning that pollution has altered properties of the water to the extent that it does not meet quality standards and cannot meet its designated uses. Pollutants such as siltation and suspended solids are two of the leading causes of impairment in Tennessee streams; these impact streams by eliminating habitat, blocking light penetration, and smothering aquatic life.

Our dependence on cars results in ground-level ozone and particle pollution which affects human health and well-being by reducing lung function; causing wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and asthma; and triggering asthma attacks. Everyone is at risk of experiencing the adverse effects of ground-level ozone, but those with heart or lung disease, children, the elderly, and those who are active outdoors are at greater risk.

These pollutants pose a serious risk not only to the protection of trees and plants, but to the public health of Middle Tennessee residents. The rate of asthma deaths among Davidson County adolescents and adults ages 15 to 34 in 2007 represented a 4-fold increase from the 2003 rate, and was almost 12 times higher than our Healthy People 2010 goal.

In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated all or parts of 18 counties in Tennessee as “non-attainment” areas for ozone, meaning that ozone-related air pollution levels consistently exceed federal air quality guidelines. Five of those 18 counties are here in Middle Tennessee.

The region regained attainment status, but the EPA has since strengthened ozone standards, leaving us again at risk of being designated a non-attainment area. The Clean Air Partnership has ramped up its efforts to get the community involved in reducing the ozone level and improving air quality in Middle Tennessee. Working toward meeting this new standard will improve public and environmental health, increasing the quality of life in Middle Tennessee.

The biggest challenge to stemming land, water, and air pollution lies in getting people and businesses to care enough to change their behaviors. Adopting smart-growth practices, recycling, planting trees and modifying transportation habits will bring long lasting change to our region. Nonprofit organizations in Middle Tennessee working on these issues everyday need your help! Let’s keep Tennessee green.

The Facts:

  • 60% of Tennesseans live in counties where ozone levels exceed EPA standards (Clean Air Partnership)
  • The average American idles for 16 minutes a day, resulting in 10 billion gallons of gasoline and 94 millions tons of CO2 emissions annually (EPA)
  • Restarting a vehicle uses less fuel and causes less wear and tear on your engine than idling for 10 seconds or longer (EPA)
  • Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population nearly doubled. In that same period, public demand for water more than tripled! Americans now use an average of 100 gallons of water each day — enough to fill 1,600 drinking glasses per person! (EPA 2008)
  • A recent government survey showed that at least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013. (EPA 2008)
  • Lighting consumes up to 34% of electricity in the United States. (Worldwatch Institute, 2007)
  • Each of us uses approximately one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products per year. (EPA 2008)
  • More than 56% of the paper consumed in the U.S. during 2007 was recovered for recycling — an all-time high. This impressive figure equals nearly 360 pounds of paper for each man, woman, and child in America. (Paper Industry Association Council, 2007)
  • Just over 48% of office paper is recovered for recycling. This becomes raw material for paperboard, tissue, and printing and writing papers. (Keep America Beautiful, 2006)
  • Over 73% of all newspapers are recovered for recycling. Almost a third goes back into making more newsprint. The remainder is used to make paperboard, tissue, and insulation, or exported. (Keep America Beautiful, 2006)
  • The 36 billion aluminum cans landfilled last year had a scrap value of more than $600 million.

How You Can Help:

  • Support recycling in your workplace, school and congregation
  • Support operating budgets (staff and facility costs) for nonprofit environmental organizations
  • Create school-based experiential learning on environmental issues
  • Support sustained environmental youth programs
  • Carpool to work
  • Keep cars maintained and tires inflated
  • Reduce idling time by parking your car instead of using drive-through lanes, or shutting off your engine in the school pick up line
  • Sponsor community gardens
  • Encourage private land conservation and/or water resource conservation
  • Designate large gifts to purchase and preserve specific tracts of land
  • Sponsor training for local decision-makers on smart-growth and watershed planning principles
  • Sponsor recycling initiatives in rural areas
  • Partner with a builder to turn an idea, such as a mixed-use village or “green” building design, into a reality
  • Provide incentives for water-resource conservation and land conservation

Reduce transportation-related pollution in Middle TN:


  • Try trip chaining. Make one trip in the car to take care of several errands. This will conserve gas and reduce pollution.
  • Skip the drive-thru and go inside. This reduces the amount of time your car is idling, which in turn reduces the amount of wasted gas and air pollution your car is emitting.
  • Carpool to work once a week. If everyone did this, one of our largest pollution sources would be cut by 20%!