Chemical Contamination Threatens to Turn San Francisco Bay into a Toxic Soup
San Francisco is world-famous for its clam chowder, but a new report from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Board threatens to make the city notorious for another, less appetizing kind of soup. In their annual assessment, “Pulse of the Bay,” researchers found significant levels of pesticides, herbicides, flame retardants, and a host of other nasty chemicals in the water. While none of the toxins were marked with the highest designation of concern, several were assigned the level directly below and show no signs of decreasing.
The Water Quality Control Board and other Bay monitors published their findings in advance of the biennial State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference this week. They report that chemicals from residential, agricultural, and waste water treatment facilities are making their way into the Bay in concentrations that warrant strict state and federal regulation. Compounds of note include mercury, pyrethroids insecticides, alkylphenols from household cleaning products and detergents, perfluoro-octane sulfonate stain repellants, and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants.
With over 100,000 chemicals approved for the market in the United States, scientists believe that they are only beginning to comprehend the varieties and amounts of toxins being washed into the Bay. They advocate for both government and manufacturers to eliminate chemicals they know present a risk to human and environmental health. In 2004, PBDE’s were voluntarily phased out by the industry, and monitors have since seen a decline in their levels, proving that stringent standards can help stem the toxic tide.
The plight of the San Francisco Bay highlights the foolhardy manner in which chemicals are often introduced into ecosystems. Instead of placing the burden of proof on companies that produce the toxins, the private sector is held responsible for identifying and rectifying the problem. Until dangerous compounds are outright eliminated from sale, advocates face an uphill battle to inform the public and influence purchasing decisions.
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