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I blog about my Catholic faith, my prayer life, good books and good movies.

Care About Kids, Care About Fish

Abigail Benjamin

As a Mom, I'm used to protecting my kids from dangers in our environment. I keep my 1 year old from chewing on lead paint chips or falling down the basement stairs. I keep high fructose corn syrup out of our diet. I make sure my 13 year old has a charged cellphone with her whenever she goes on a bike ride with her sibling.

Before I spent a fall day as a volunteer for the American Conservation Film Festival, I never worried about a simple environmental danger that I expose my six children too multiple times a day. I never worried about our water.

I live near the banks of the Potomac River, roughly 90 miles upstream from Washington D.C. Since 2003, U.S. Geological Survey Biologists have found large numbers of male small mouth bass in the Potomac River are carrying immature eggs. Male fish aren't supposed to carry eggs. 

The leading scientific theory is that some kind of unnatural combination of chemicals from the area farms and sewer treatment plants are "endocrine-disruptors." Rainwater pushes these chemicals from different source-points into the Potomac River. The male fish end up absorbing these chemicals in such high levels that their reproductive system turns haywire.

These levels of "endocrine-disrupted" male fish are high and getting higher. In 2006, the US Fish and Wildlife found 82% to 100% of all small mouth bass male fish had eggs on the Potomac River. When the research was repeated on the Susquehanna River near Hershey, PA, 100% of the small mouth bass male fish  had eggs inside them.

Why should we care about the fish? I live in coal mining country. Years before we had electronic sensors or safety monitors, coal miners would take yellow canaries  in cages down into the coal mine with them. The birds had a similar, yet more senstive, respiratory system to human. If the miners dug into some invisible toxic gas underground, the canaries would die first. If a coal miner ever heard a canary stop singing, he knew to instantly run out of the coal mine as quickly as possible to save his life.

Fish inside the Potomac River are more than one of God's beautiful creatures. Fish serve as an "indicator species." When fish populations are stable, they are an "indicator" of clean water and good health. For me, if the U.S. Biologists suddenly need to invent a new term called "intersex" to describe 82% to 100% of the male fish swimming in the river that supplies my family's drinking water, then I see a clear environmental metaphor. The canaries have stopped singing around me. I need to act quickly to protect my family against cancer and other abnormal cell growth.

This Christmas, I asked my Mom to give us a $200 Water Distiller from Amazon as a present. My drinking water now has no taste and our ice cubes are clear.  I've created a Clean Water Conference inside my small hometown in Central West Virginia. I'm answering emails now from the West Virginia Sierra Club in between washing towels and supervising homework. For me me, caring about the fish is simply one more way I give love to my kids.