Ocean Pollution

We take our oceans for granted. They are so big, and we have been dumping garbage into them for so long that it is easy to think there are no risks. In March, USA Today and other news outlets reported that the “World’s largest collection of ocean garbage is twice the size of Texas.” In February of last year, ABC and others reported that the “Earth’s deepest ocean trenches contain high levels of pollution” — highlighting the reality that marine animals in the deep were contaminated with PCBs, even though their use has been eliminated in the U.S. in 1977 and others have followed suit. In other words, PCBs still may eventually become part of the food chain. It has been reported that more than a third of plastic materials leach toxic substances into the environment, but little has been done to change that or to minimize the millions of disposable plastic items that are now ubiquitous in our daily lives. Little thought is given to creating alternatives. Low cost justifications fall short because the environmental bill will come due.

There are many examples of industry justifying unsound environmental practices with talk of low costs; but the real costs in natural resources aren’t taken into account. For example, the fossil fuel industry is experiencing a boom here in the U.S.A. This is primarily due to “fracking” – hydraulic fracturing technology that frees up natural gas when it breaks apart rock deep underground. This is accomplished using millions of gallons of pressurized fluids that often include toxic substances. When the “fracked well” is complete the fluids are often dumped into nearby rivers, which of course flow into our oceans. Keeping the cost of natural gas low is the justification for this; and it includes keeping the substances in the fluids trade secret. In other words, only the company knows what it is dumping. New Jersey faces a decision about this issue vis a vis the Delaware River because just across the border in Pennsylvania is prime fracking territory. If we want to know what is getting dumped, the taxpayers will have to pay to analyze river water. Meanwhile aquatic life is taking it all in.

We would do well to remember that our rivers and oceans are a critical source of food around the world. Restrictions on harvesting fish, crabs, etc. have been in place for decades because some species had bordered on extinction. Why is it so difficult for legislators to see the need to restrict dumping pollutants that endanger the food supply? Wouldn’t we be better off paying more for the natural gas now rather than risking less food and contaminated food in the future? What do you think?

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