Environmental groups claim that fertilizers and other contaminants from the Mississippi River have created a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Massachusetts. As a result, the groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an effort to stop the pollution.
The environmental groups' goal is to have judges force the EPA to set specific guidelines for state water quality standards, as well as for wastewater treatment, in order to reduce pollution in the Mississippi River Basin. Since the basin stretches from the Rocky Mountains to New York, it includes a lot of agricultural areas. Water from the Mississippi River is carried south through agriculture and industrial states, eventually flowing into Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. The water also gathers nitrogen that stimulates excessive algae growth in the dead zone. Algae blooms can be highly toxic.
Environmentalists claim that the Gulf of Mexico has become "the nation's sewer" and that the EPA is not doing enough to clean up the water or prevent it from getting worse. Groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Gulf Restoration Network filed lawsuits after the EPA failed to take into consideration a petition for stronger wastewater treatment rules in 2007 and rejected a petition for water quality standards in 2008. Currently, the EPA is reviewing the lawsuits.
Herbicides and nitrogen in drinking water have been linked to an increase in birth defects and other health problems. Currently the EPA lists the maximum acceptable level of nitrate as 10 MCL. Beyond that, any infant younger than six months who drinks nitrate-filled water risks becoming seriously ill and dying without proper treatment.
If your child has a birth defect that you believe is due to contaminated drinking water -- whether in the Gulf of Mexico or elsewhere -- you could do what the environmentalists did and sue a regulatory agency to enforce water quality standards. Rather than sue to receive "damages," or a money award, you would be suing for equitable relief -- in this case, an injunction. While most injunctions put a stop to harmful activities, your injunction would compel the agency to take action. You might also try filing a toxic tort lawsuit against those responsible for contaminating the water. If the water is being polluted by one predominant source, such as farmland in a specific location, identifying the problem and filing a suit against the landowners would not be overly difficult. On the other hand, if the water pollution comes from many sources -- such as runoff from several states -- it could be much harder to identify the specific offenders. That is probably why environmental groups chose to focus their lawsuits on the EPA rather than individual polluters. The problem is so widespread and the culprits so many, and so spread out, that the time and expense needed to file lawsuits against them could be a nightmare.