Neptune’s Nightmares: Lawns, Green Algae, Plastics & Medical Wastes

Current Conditions

Editor’s Collection of News About the Seas From Around the Planet

Coastal Dead Zones, Contaminated Fish, and Lawns

From  Scientific American

The typical suburban home is an underestimated source of water pollution, according to research presented today at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington, D.C. The reason? Lawns and gardens.

Water that runs off from these green acres typically picks up a load of fertilizers, pesticides and other potentially toxic chemicals, and washes them—via sewers or directly—into lakes, rivers, streams and even the ocean. Once there, joined by similar runoff from agriculture, the chemicals can drive a host of environmental problems, ranging from dead zones to contaminated fish.

Previous estimates of how much water pollution derived from the suburbs was based simply on rainfall. But horticulturalist Lorence Oki of the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues found that sprinklers and other irrigation techniques also led to significant runoff that, in some cases, carried more pollution with it from the eight neighborhoods studied in Sacramento and Orange counties than runoff after a rain storm.

Pesticides—both organophosphates and pyrethroids—were found in all the water samples, which were collected on a weekly, biweekly and monthly basis for more than two years. The majority of these pesticides, 60 percent, were purchased to control ants, according to a survey by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

But there is a simple solution to lawn runoff. A study at the University of Michigan, published online August 14 in the journal Lakes and Rivers Management , found that Ann Arbor’s ban on phosphorous fertilizers for grass led to a 28 percent drop in the pollutant’s levels in nearby Huron River.

Keeping lawn-care chemicals out of U.S. waters may be as simple as banning them—or at least cutting down on running the sprinklers right after applying fertilizers or pesticides.

 French PM orders beach clean-up

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has announced his government will pay for cleaning French beaches polluted by a toxic seaweed. He was speaking during a visit to a

beach in Brittany where the green algae has been proliferating for years. A new study says the algae can pose a potentially fatal health threat.

Local communities in Brittany have long criticised the government for failing to address the problem, calling on it to help clean up the beaches.

The killer algae is also affecting the English coastline – particularly Dorset, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and West Sussex.

On Wednesday, the UK Environment Agency said the algae was threatening wildlife along the coast.

‘Taking charge’

In France, Mr Fillon visited a beach in Saint-Michel-en-Greve to see the situation for himself.

“The state will assume all of its responsibilities and will take charge of the clean-up of the worst affected beaches, where there could be a public health risk,” he said.

On the same beach, a horse-rider was rendered unconscious and his mount died after slipping on the algae late last month, apparently after inhaling toxic gas released by the rotting seaweed.

The incident prompted the French government to commission a study on the algae’s toxicity, which stems from a noxious gas – hydrogen sulphide – being emitted as the seaweed decomposes.

Researchers from France’s National Institute for Environmental Technology and Hazards (Ineris) found a potentially lethal concentration of the hydrogen sulphide on parts of the beach.

They studied algae samples from the Saint-Michel-en-Greve beach, and found a concentration of the gas of up to 1,000 parts per million in some areas of the beach.

If inhaled, such a concentration of gas “can be deadly in few minutes”, said their report, which was published on Thursday.

The report recommended banning access to potentially dangerous areas, and equipping algae clearing workers with gas detectors.

Intensive agriculture is often blamed for the proliferation of algae along France’s coasts.

The seaweed thrives on high levels of nitrates used in fertilisers and excreted by the region’s high concentration of livestock.

The UK Environment Agency said tighter controls on farming fertiliser and sewage plants should begin to starve the algae of the nutrients it needs to survive.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Monterey Bay Aquarium Talking Trash & Eliminating More Plastics

Researchers from the Project Kaisei/Scripps expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are back ashore. They’re sharing what they found .

… there’s an obscene amount of plastic debris floating in the ocean, causing a great deal of harm to marine life that confuses plastic with food.

While they expedition team was at sea, new research found that it’s not just debris that’s a problem. Turns out the plastic decomposes in seawater, leaving behind a soup of toxic chemicals that poses an additional set of problems for marine life.

It’s a wake-up call to deal with how we use plastics. Here at Monterey Bay Aquarium, our cafe has eliminated all plastic straws and disposable beverage cups, and switched to plant-based materials for “plastic” food containers. We’re reducing the amount of disposable plastic used elsewhere — including encouragement for our vendors not to use plastic shrink-wrap on products they ship to us.


Medical Wastes Wash Up the Jersey Shores


Five syringes that look like the types used for home medical treatment were found Monday along the shore of Long Beach Township and Ship Bottom, Long Beach Island’s health officer said.

The first three needles were recovered between 11:30 and 11:45 a.m. in the vicinity of 11th, 15th and 21st streets in Ship Bottom, health officer Tim Hilferty said. The other two needles were discovered at about 3:30 p.m. by 16th street in the North Beach Haven section of Long Beach Township and 23rd street in the Spray Beach section of the township.

No one was hurt, and none of the beach locations were closed. Hilferty said the syringes probably washed up because of the constant pattern of combined sewer overflows and heavy surf.

LBI beach patrols found 16 syringes washed ashore Thursday, and another three turned up Friday morning.

The Long Beach Township and Ship Bottom beach patrols canvassed the beaches and did not find any other medical waste. A staff environmental health specialist was dispatched to the beaches to pick up the debris, which will be properly disposed of later, Hilferty said. The state Department of Environmental Protection was notified about the discoveries.

E-mail Michelle Lee:

Categories: Condition of Oceans, Great Pacific Trash Island, Pesticides, Rivers to the Sea

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