Heal the Ocean, is an incredible non-profit based here in Santa Barbara whose mission is to end ocean pollution. They have a very hands on approach, actually funding their own scientific studies to find the sources of pollution and commissioning engineering studies and environmental assessments to determine the costs of clean up. After five years of research, they recently released the California Ocean Wastewater Discharge Report and Inventory. The report, which encompasses all the wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into the Pacific along the California coast, provides an unprecedented overview of the state of our wastewater system. When the study was started, the issue of bacteria in the water was the primary focus but as time went on, the problem of chemical pollutants took on an increased significance. Apparently our wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to treat these pollutants, termed Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC’s). As more research was conducted, it became apparent that the source of many of these CEC’s was personal care products. Turns out that many products we use everyday, (think shampoo, lotions, toothpaste, sunscreens, antibacterial soap, fabric, canned goods, etc. ) are loaded with chemicals, and they are not only poisoning the ocean, but may be very harmful to us. Katherine Engel, a research associate with Heal the Ocean, has written an excellent paper “Bad for the Ocean, Bad for You” which details many of these CEC’s and provides tips on how to avoid them. This is a must read as is her companion essay, Personal Care Products- A Research Journey. The ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products are not regulated in any meaningful way; many of them include known toxins such as lead which has been found in many brands of lipstick. Engel writes “consumers have NO idea they are bathing in toxins, smearing toxins on themselves, rubbing toxins into their hair,” and when we are done with this toxic bath, the CEC’s “go down the drain from your house to a wastewater treatment plant, where for the most part they bypass the current treatment system and are discharged straight into the ocean.” These chemicals also pose a threat to our drinking water . The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates 91 contaminants but it is estimated that there are over 60,000 chemicals used in the US. While the wastewater treatment plants are not currently treating these chemicals, it is possible that with higher levels of processing they might be able to effectively remove these contaminants. This would require an increase in funding, most likely through rate hikes on the sewer portion of our water bills. I think that if people understood the problem they would support this. How much is safe, clean water worth to you? According to Hillary Hauser, the Executive Director of Heal the Ocean, ” A wastewater treatment plant is the most important environmental tool we have for the ocean, period. And we have to help them.” Heal the Ocean will be hitting the road with their groundbreaking reports and “will be talking to state water agencies, politicians, experts and regulators.” Let’s help support them. Obviously, if we can keep these chemicals out of the system to begin with we will helping to solve the problem and likely improving our health as well. These chemicals are ubiquitous in many of the products we buy, but they are not essential and often there are better alternatives available.
ACTIONS TO TAKE
- READ THE LABELS of the products you have been buying and if they are loaded with these CEC’s write to the company to see if they can change their formulas. If not, find a better replacement.
- SUPPORT THE WORK OF HEAL THE OCEAN
- BUY WISELY Know what is in the products you buy and what went into making them. Support companies who are committed to the most sustainable practices
- VOICE YOUR CONCERN Let your representatives know that you care about proper funding for our sewer systems
A big part of living a green lifestyle is being a conscious consumer. Here is another chance to get it right.