The Good Tidings bring Dirty Tides

Hokusai: Great Wave

I remember from back in my days as an environmental attorney when I used to work on water pollution that a huge percentage of water pollution is directly the fault of average people, not waste water treatment plants or big industry. Just by the fact that we exist, eat, drink, consume, and produce waste (both natural and synthetic), we cause damage to the environment. As a matter of fact, seemingly natural and organic substances (such as nutrients) are also pollutants, especially when they are entered into an ecosystem in quantities above their sustainable levels.

In any event, here is an article fromt the Associated Press about how levels of certain ingredients from the most popular holiday treats have been found in the Puget Sound:

Researchers: Baking impacts Puget Sound

Researchers at the University of Washington say all that holiday baking and eating has an environmental impact — Puget Sound is being flavored by cinnamon and vanilla. “Even something as fun as baking for the holiday season has an environmental effect,” said Rick Keil, an associate professor of chemical oceanography. “When we bake and change the way we eat, it has an impact on what the environment sees. To me it shows the connectedness.”

Keil and UW researcher Jacquelyn Neibauer’s weekly tests of treated sewage sent into the sound from the West Point treatment plant in Magnolia showed cinnamon, vanilla and artificial vanilla levels rose between Nov. 14 and Dec. 9, with the biggest spike right after Thanksgiving.

Natural vanilla showed the largest increase, “perhaps indicative of more home baking using natural vanilla,” Keil and Neibauer wrote.

“This conjecture is weakly supported by a verbal communication between Rick Keil and an employee of the Wallingford QFC (supermarket) who felt that natural vanilla peaked during the holiday seasons,” the scientists’ preliminary report says. “This will be investigated more thoroughly.”

So far, the research has turned up no evidence that snickerdoodles are harming sea creatures, but their research does lead to some serious environmental questions. Fish rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate food, for example, and, in the case of salmon, to find their way back to their home stream to spawn.

“All the spices have odors associated with them, so it’s interesting to ask whether they are there in sufficient concentration (for fish) to smell them,” Keil said.

Using benchmarks from a published scientific study, they were able to estimate that people in Seattle and a few outlying areas served by the sewage plant scarfed down the daily equivalent of about 160,000 butter- or chocolate-chip-type cookies and about 80,000 cookies containing cinnamon during the Thanksgiving weekend.

The county did not spend any money on the study, but officials at King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division said they were happy to cooperate because they expected the results to reinforce their message: What goes down the drain has to come out somewhere.

That goes both for pesticides and industrial chemicals as well as vanilla and cinnamon.

“It’s an ability to look at a whole population’s behavior through one pipe,” said Randy Schuman, a county science and technical support manager who helped arrange the wastewater testing.

Keil’s findings present a light side of what scientists say is potentially a serious situation. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies have documented that antibiotics, contraceptives, perfumes, painkillers, antidepressants and other substances pass through the sewage system into waterways.

King County researchers several years took caffeine measurements to try to learn whether the city’s coffee drinking habits had any effect on the sound. Caffeine was found in more than 160 of 216 samples in water as deep as 640 feet.

“It was everywhere,” Schuman said. “There’s an effect (from) humans on the sound and it’s almost ubiquitous. It’s not just at the end of the (discharge) pipe.”



Filed under Essays

5 responses to “The Good Tidings bring Dirty Tides

  1. Voluntary human extinction anyone? LOL.

    (Sorry cousin, had to take the potshot at the species … again):(

  2. eric

    If you mean by voluntary extinction that people choose to not have children to make the planet a more sustainable place for future generations of other people’s children, well that is always an interesting proposition.

    Then there is involuntary, negligent yet very natural extinction. That is what we are doing. We take a dump and we pollute. We walk our dogs and we pollute. We take a pee and we pollute. The water treatment plants can get rid of most of the toxic waste, but the other natural stuff that comes out of us always has its toll on the world. So, I guess as long as we are all full of crap, the place will slowly go to the toilet.

  3. LOL. There’s just some logic that stands on its own, well done. Nothing to add.

  4. eric

    But, don’t take me for a total greenie. I think we are totally irresponsible with respect to the environment. Not only do our actions affect the future of the planet, but they also have immediate health implications. I also think though, that from a moral point of view, we have more obligations to our present generation than we do towards the future, unborn ones. So there is a balance. Why should we sacfrice our children for our children’s children’s children.

  5. Necessarily they are intrinsically intertwined. There is no logical means to separate the present tense from the future tense, (failure of the hominid’s cognition via the Humian Inductive Logic Fallacy, i.e. we create causality).

    The problem with the hominid is providence. As the praedatorius culminis of myriad creation, we are the defacto keepers of the equilibrium of the global environment. It has little to do, in fact, with being “a greenie”. Much like the virus, we work to undo our host, and leave ourselves no out.

    What we do today will only exponentiate, under population stress and hominid ignorance, the expedience of the morrow’s demise.

    Logically and reasonably, they are one and the same.

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