Blake Johnston
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Garbage and Toxic Waste: What To Do with It

Keeping BC’s Waterways Free from Pollution

by Blake Johnston

Some of us are guilty of polluting our water, but all of us suffer.

BC Outdoors Magazine’s Water Blogged, an informative guide to environmentally safe fun on Canada’s most beautiful inland and coastal waterways. In each issue we will endeavour to show you ways to not pollute while having fun swimming, boating, waterskiing or just sitting on the beach.

Everyone knows water needs to be clean. Unfortunately we have been polluting the Earth since ancient times.

At the height of Rome’s influence on the world they were producing on average 80,000 tonnes of lead and 15,000 tonnes of copper a year. This pollution from smelters in Southern Europe, estimated to have been as much as 800 tonnes of copper and 400 tonnes of lead is known to have reached as far as Greenland in the form of polluted snow between 500 BC and 300 AD.

Even more so pollution has increased a great deal since the Industrial Revolution and the advent of modern marine transportation and recreation.

The Industrial Revolution caused severe pollution due to the increased population. Both London and Paris by the middle of the 19th century had populations of up to 1 million and 2.4 million citizens and nearly everyone was dumping human waste into these city’s rivers. Without modern sewage systems outbreaks of both Typhoid and Cholera, two diseases borne from human waste, occurred in both of these cities. In 1832 more than 20,000 people died from a cholera outbreak in Paris.

Both the inland and coastal shores of our beautiful province belong to all of us and it is everyones duty to protect them from harm.

Today a major part of the pollution that ends up in the Oceans comes down our rivers.  Up to 80% is from land based sources. The other 20% is from unsubstantiated ocean bound sources (shipping).

There are five garbage Gyres or patches around the world:

  • Gyres are large systems of rotating ocean currents that capture and hold floating debris.
  • The largest Gyre is in the North Pacific Ocean between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N, most of its content is made up of low density plastic debris that is suspended just below the surface of the water. It is estimated that there is an average of about 5.1 kilograms of plastic per square mile.
  • The true size of this patch is not known but conjectural estimates range from 700,000 sq km (270,000 sq mi) to 15,000,000 sq km (5,800,000 sq mi) which would be about (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean) up to twice the size of the continental United States.

Unlike organic debris which is biodegradable the photodegradation:

  • The degradation of a photodegradable molecule caused by the absorption of photons, particularly those wavelengths found in sunlight) of suspended plastic particulate in the Great Pacific garbage patch continues on to the molecular level. Polymers are not biodegradable they just keep breaking down into smaller pieces. These particles in turn, as they get smaller, are being ingested by the sea life in the area and are then entering the food chain. Some plastics do decompose in water in as little as a year. These types of plastic leach Bisphenol A, PCBs and various derivatives of Polystyrene.
  • The threat from this pollution is at the microscopic level. The various polymers can absorb organic pollutants such as
  • PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyl) are dielectric and coolant fluids, in transformers, capacitors and electric motors. PCBs are environmental toxins and are classified as persistent organic pollutantsthat have been linked to cancer in animals and humans. Health studies have shown a causal link between exposure to PCBs and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a frequently fatal form of cancer.
  • DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) are solid crystaline organochlorine insecticide chemical compounds that are colourless, tatsteless and almost odorless. Technical DDT has been in everything from xylene to petroleum distillates, emulsifiable concentrates, water-wettable powders, granules, aerosols, smoke candles and charges for vaporisers and lotions. DDT is toxic to a wide range of living organisms such as crayfish, daphnids, sea shrimp and many species of fish. It is less toxic to mammals, but may be moderately toxic to some amphibian species, especially in the larval stage.
  • PAHs (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) also known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons or polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, are potent atmospheric pollutants that consist of fused aromatic rings and do not contain heteroatoms or carry substituents. Naphthalene is the simplest example of a PAH. PAHs occur in oil, coal and tar deposits and are produced as byproducts of fuel burning (whether fossil fuel or biomass) some of these compounds have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic. PAHs are also found in cooked foods. Studies have shown that high levels of PAHs are found, for example, in meat cooked at high temperatures such as grilling or barbecuing and in smoked fish.
    • Up to 267 different species worldwide are affected by plastic marine debris and a portion of these species live in the North Pacific Gyre.
    • We are contaminating the food chain in our creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans at the microscopic level on up to our dinner plate in a manner in which no one is immune, everyone is at risk. Water can be treated sometimes easily and sometimes with great difficulty and most times at great expense.

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