Posts Tagged ‘Pollution’

I filmed a video for my YouTube channel a couple of days ago on Peregrine Falcons (the link to my channel is below), how they are thriving and nesting on tall buildings, and how various people/groups have set up live-streaming cameras so that all of us can check in on the nests and see what is going on.

One of the major events that have allowed Peregrine Falcons to thrive was the banning of insecticides in the 1970s, and one big one was the banning of DDT in 1972. Once the chemical was banned in the USA, several groups of dedicated people including scientists and falconers worked incredibly hard to help bring the Peregrine Falcon population back up to a healthy level.

Well, the DDT story is not over. While active use of DDT no longer occurs in the USA, there is still DDT in this country. DDT can persist in the environment for a very long time, and so it can still be found in water and soil. Some of this contamination is from runoff from when DDT was used to control insects. But some of this contamination is coming from sites where chemicals such as DDT were intentionally dumped.

A discarded, leaking barrel sits 3,000 feet underwater near Catalina.
A partly corroded barrel sitting approximately 3,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Catalina Island (Photo Credit: The LA Times).

One such dump site may have been found off the coast of southern California. As reported in the LA Times, researchers have found more than 25,000 barrels of chemicals sitting about 3,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Catalina Island! This likely represents a dumpsite that was used for years to dispose of unwanted chemicals, and the full extent of site was not determined because the barrels extended beyond the edges of the survey area! These barrels are suspected of holding DDT and other chemicals. DDT has been detected in the waters around southern California, it has been found to accumulate in the tissues of dolphins, and has been linked to aggressive forms of cancer in California Sea Lions.

Cleaning these barrels up is going to be a major undertaking. Leaving them in place is not an option because of the lasting health impacts of that much DDT poses a serious threat to a wide range of species (including humans) over a wide geographic area. The barrels themselves are corroded and breaking them apart as they are lifted will be a real danger.

Dealing with sites like this are a stark reminder that we humans have made tremendous mistakes. Many of these mistakes have been in how we have dealt with the natural environment. These mistakes, like dumping barrels of chemicals in the ocean, have left a legacy that we are dealing with today. We must be ready to admit the mistakes of the past. We must be ready to take actions to fix those mistakes. We must be ready to commit the needed money to make these actions a reality. If we are able to do these things, we can experience more recoveries like that of the Peregrine Falcon where it went from almost extinct to almost common, and we will better preserve the vital biodiversity of this planet.

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for just over a year now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations could submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). I was very involved in reviewing those proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements which is pretty exciting because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for four of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals, and so will focus on those projects because they are the ones I am most intimately involved with.

Of the grants I will be managing, one has gone through the complete process and has a signed and executed grant agreement with the Delta Conservancy, and that is the one I am going to introduce here.


The confluence of Marsh Creek (entering from the left) and Sand Creek (entering from the right) in Brentwood, CA (Photo by American Rivers).

The project is called the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project. It was proposed by a non-profit organization named American Rivers with two major goals: 1) to develop a plan to select and organize restoration projects along the portions of Marsh Creek and Sand Creek where they flow through the cities of Brentwood, Oakley and Antioch, CA, and 2) to create and distribute guidelines for how to incorporate stormwater runoff into land use designs. This project has a budget of $73,493 to be spent over the course of three years.

The area where both goals of this project will focus is an area of heavy urban and suburban development. Of all the regions in the Delta, the cities listed above encompass the largest, and fastest growing, human population. The creeks in this area flow down canals that have very little vegetation along their banks and so provide almost no habitat for native birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc. The first goal of this planning project will help American Rivers and their partners to move quickly to acquire properties along the creeks as they become available, and also to design habitat restoration projects on those properties.

When heavy rains fall on the region, that water must go somewhere, and go there quickly. This stromwater runoff is a pulse of water that hits the system suddenly and washes debris, litter, and other pollutants into the creeks. This creates the need for dealing with these stromwater runoff flows in such a way as to minimize the negative impacts to the creeks. The second goal of this project will be the development of techniques for how property owners along the creeks can manage stromwater runoff. These techniques may include stormwater drains that have screens for catching trash that can then be easily disposed of, the formation on drainage ditches that will let stormwater runoff pool and then flow more slowly into the creek and so reduce erosion and limit the release of large amounts of pollution, and other practices that will benefit the creeks of the region. These guidelines will be incorporated into the property development handbook that they cities use and that property developers must follow.

In the three years that this planing project will take, it is going to be very interesting to see what restoration projects come to the surface and what stormwater guidelines are developed. I will keep you posted on these developments and also on the other grants I will be managing as they come online.

Now that it is fall of 2016, our second round of proposals are in the midst of being reviewed and scored. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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mjs plastic

Tiny plastic microbeads in personal care products are washing into public waterways. — credit: Alliance for the Great Lakes

In March of 2014, I wrote a post about microbeads. Microbeads, for those who might be wondering, are tinny spheres of plastic that are added to a variety of personal care products such as toothpaste, body wash, and soap to increase the abrasiveness of the product. The problem is that these pieces of plastic are so small that they pass right through filters and water treatment plants and then flow out into the environment where they can have serious consequences. The polystyrene that microbeads are commonly made of attract a range of chemicals that bind to their surface. When a fish mistakes a microbead for a fish or insect egg, it not only gets a piece of plastic in its stomach, but also a concentrated does of the chemicals that piece of plastic is carrying.

And some of the numbers around microbeads are staggering! Researchers at State University of New York found that an average one square kilometer of Lake Ontario contained approximately 1.1 million microbeads! All these particles move through our streams, lakes, and rivers and eventually find their way to the oceans where they contribute to the massive amount of plastics floating on the earth’s oceans. These plastics continue to have environmental health effects as they move through food webs. A recent study out of Oregon State University found that approximately 90% of the seabirds in the world had plastic in their guts.

So, what to do? Well, in March of this year, Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 1321 to the U.S. House of Representatives which would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit microbeads from being added to products. It calls for the phasing out of microbeads beginning on the 1st of July, 2017. And on the 7th of Dec. the House voted on, and passed, H.R. 1321! This legislation will now go to the US Senate for a vote, and then on to the President to be signed into law.

So, the U.S. Senate is the next hurdle. To help this bill over that hurdle, write to your senators and tell them that you want a vote on this issue, and that you want them to vote with the environment and ban microbeads from our waterways and the waters of the planet!


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There is plastic in your toothpaste! And in body washes and shampoos, as well. Tiny spheres of plastic called microbeads are used to help scrub plaque off the surface of teeth and exfoliate dead layers off the surface of skin, but they have harsh environmental costs.

Microbeads are very small spheres that generally range in size from 0.5 to 500 micrometers and are usually made of polystyrene. They are designed to be small enough that they will wash down the drain of sinks and bathtubs without clogging them. However, this same small size allows them to also slip right past filters and water treatment plants out into the environment. Polystyrene does not biodegrade, so microbeads last for a very long time without breaking down. This means that they accumulate into some pretty significant figures. It has been estimated that 90% of the plastic in Lake Eire, and other lakes in te eastern U.S.A. are microbeads! Once they are out our waterways, they can collect toxic chemicals such as PCBs that bind to their surfaces. They also look like small fish or insect eggs and so are eaten by a wide range of fish. These fish are then eaten by larger fish and the toxins bioaccumulate as they work their way up the food chain eventually to humans.

States are beginning to take a stand to remove microbeads from products. In February, bills were introduced in both New York (by Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney (D)) and California (by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D)) that would ban the sale of cosmetic products that contain microbeads. And we, as consumers, can also play a very important part in protecting the environment on this issue by not buying products that contain microbeads, and so voting with our wallets. The environmental group 5 Gyers has produced a free iPhone app called ‘Beat the Microbead’ that allows consumers to scan product bar codes and find out if they contain microbeads. Microbeads also can be found in the ingredient list of cosmetic products; however, they are not listed as microbeads. Instead, watch for polystyrene, polyethylene or polypropylene. If a product contains one of those ingredients, it is likely in the form of microbeads.

Getting rid of microbeads does not mean that tooth paste will no longer clean your teeth or that facial scrubs will no longer clean your face. Nut hulls or fruit pits that are ground into tiny fragments work well as an exfoliant, and some companies, such as Burt’s Bees, already use them instead of plastics.

So, let’s put our money where our mouth is, send a message to cosmetics companies, and stop buying microbeads!

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