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Center for Biological Diversity:
Ocean Plastics Pollution 

Summit County Citizens Voice, November 10, 2013

Environment: EPA to tackle ocean plastic pollution
By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After decades of neglect, the issue of plastic debris polluting the oceans is finally showing up on the EPA radar screen. Even though the agency recently declined to address plastic pollution under the Clean Water Act, it will step up efforts to monitor and assess health and environmental impacts, and to develop national data on the economic costs of ocean litter to local, state and national governments.

“We’re happy to see the EPA taking plastics pollution seriously,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Emily Jeffers. The environmental group last year petitioned the EPA to develop water-quality standards for plastic pollution and publish information to guide states in monitoring and preventing harm to waters from plastic pollution.

“Every year bits of discarded plastic kill thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals. Some choke on plastic, and others are poisoned by it. Still more find themselves swimming through vast patches of toxic litter. It’s an international tragedy that needs to be addressed,” Jeffers said.”

Billions of pounds of plastic are found in giant, swirling convergences around the world, including a polluted area of the Pacific that’s twice the size of Texas. The root of the problem is plastic and other garbage that’s dumped into the oceans. In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments — like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

In a report issued last month, policy and environmental experts at UCLA didn’t pull any punches, saying the global plastic waste stream has been totally mismanaged for decades. According to the study as much as 20 million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean annually. The waste has a wide range of impacts, including direct mortality to marine life, degraded coral reefs, damage to sea vessels and lost tourism and fisheries revenues — not to mention billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

According to the statement responding to the petition, the EPA will develop and provide information on reducing plastic pollution at its source — guidance covering, as the Center requested, plastic-pollution threats, monitoring and measurement, best management practices to reduce that pollution, and direction for states and cities to create regulations to prevent plastic pollution.

“Obviously we think the EPA needs to move as aggressively as possible to stem the spread of ocean plastic pollution, including strict limits on discharge,” said Jeffers. “But the agency is moving in the right direction with these new steps. We hope we can begin getting a handle on this crisis before it’s completely out of control.”

Plastics pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Curious marine mammals get entangled and drown in plastic garbage, seabirds feed the bright, colorful pieces to their young instead of food, and sea turtles eat plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish.

Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or becoming entangled in it; many more suffer after ingesting plastic particles that contain toxic substances, which can cause death, injury or reproductive failure.

Endangered wildlife like Hawaiian monk seals and Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are among the nearly 300 species affected by plastic litter.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton