Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emerging Contaminants in Bay Waters

Narragansett Bay and its watershed are exposed to many contaminants from runoff, industry and waste water. New work being done by Victoria Sacks and her colleagues at URI is helping us to understand what are being called "emerging contaminants" - those things that are derived from human activity that cannot be removed in the waste water treatment process. These include endocrine disrupting compounds that are found in personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and industrial processes.

In a recent study, passive samplers were deployed around the Bay watershed by volunteers, and measured levels of triclosans (common in antibacterial soaps), alkylphenols (found in detergents), and PBDEs (flame retardants). While the amounts of these contaminants found were low, they were found throughout the Bay watershed.

Other contaminants of concern within our waters are things like caffeine, hormones, and other pharmaceutical chemicals that can disrupt endocrine functions in fish and amphibians and affect the health of millions of people. These drugs are showing up not only in surface waters, but also in the drinking water of major cities. This fact sheet from American Rivers provides interesting background on the subject.

Recently, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the Pharmaceutical Stewardship Act (H.R. 2939) to establish a national pharmaceutical take back program. This program would be financed by manufacturers and would reduce the supply of unused and expired medications.

The Food and Drug Administration has a website that outlines safe ways to dispose of medication. Medication should not be flushed, and should either be taken to household hazardous waste collection or disposed of in the trash.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pawtuxet Falls Dam Removal

This week we are celebrating the removal of the Pawtuxet Falls Dam in Pawtuxet Village. Neighbors and citizens have been coming out and enjoying the view, watching the hydraulic hammer at work. This project is very visible and while not everyone agrees with it, it has become a good educational tool to teach about river restoration. I am blogging about the project at our project blog, and you can see lots of photographs on the Save The Bay Facebook page.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rolling back the Clean Water Act

On July 14th, the House of Representatives passed HR 2018, the "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011." This was the latest in a series of attempts to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting our air and water and enforcing federal laws that have been in place for 40 years. The Clean Water Act was written to give enforcement responsibility to the federal government because the patchwork of state laws did not work.

HR 2018 reverses this and leaves enforcement entirely up to the states. This is a blatant attack on health and environmental protection, and wipes out decades of partnership between the federal and state governments, especially in places like the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes where watershed-wide plans and actions are in place. As we all know in the Narragansett Bay watershed, water does not obey state boundaries and we must work together for the health of our environment.

While this bill is very unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate, it is still important to ask your Senators to oppose the act and any other efforts to undermine the ability of EPA to protect our air and water. We are likely to see more erosion of funding and enforcement capability within our federal agencies, and we must keep the pressure on our elected officials to keep these agencies intact. If you would like to send a letter to your Senator, you can use this handy tool.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fish are Returning to the Bay

The fish are coming in, and after this past weekend's full moon, we should be at the peak this week. Air and water temperatures have remained cool, but the fish are here. We will find out in a few weeks how successful this run has been. Make a visit to a local fish ladder and see how many you can see. I took this video last week at Gilbert Stuart mill in North Kingstown. A group of at least 100 fish were milling about below the fish ladder waiting for that moment to climb.

Fish counts are going on across the state. Good places to see fish are at Rising Sun Mill in Providence, and on Buckeye Brook in Warwick at the Route 117 bridge. Fish counting is also going on at Shad Factory Pond in Rehoboth.

Friday, February 4, 2011

More Weather Extremes Greet us in the New Year

I am sure that you have heard the superlatives from the recent storm that covered the United States. It was the largest storm, in terms of the area of the country that it covered, that we have ever seen. Florida is the only state that does not have snow cover. Australia, in the mean time, is suffering under summertime floods and cyclones, unprecedented in their size. I have heard theories related to various climate forcing elements - the polar vortex and changes in the jet stream, changes to ice cover over the Great Lakes and the Arctic Ocean. Weather extremes are here to stay, but what they say about our future is still unclear.

Here are a number of interesting articles related to extreme weather. This article in the New York Times suggests that warming of the Arctic Ocean has weakened the polar vortex, or jet stream, that keeps the cold air to the north.

This blog entry from the National Wildlife Federation suggests a link to heavier snow with less ice on the Great Lakes and hence more moisture in the atmosphere.

If you want to read more about the effects of extreme weather, changes in sea ice and and the research behind these theories, read this NY Times blog entry and this page from the NWF.

Weather extremes are becoming the norm, and we are going to need to adjust quickly. We can adjust, to an extent, but what about wildlife? Weather extremes send confusing signals to animals and plants about when to migrate, when to flower, when to mate, and when to search for food. This will cause disruptions to habitats, plant and animal communities, and the availability of water and food. Some species that are mobile will be less vulnerable than those that aren't - especially trees and other plants, including food crops that we all rely on. Already food and water insecurity are helping to de-stabilize global communities and political regimes. Climate disruption has been a big part of our human past and it will continue to be in the future.