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Earth Island Reports

Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters

Save the Whales! … And the Frogs and Fish!

Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters (CSAW), known for leading the fight to regulate the release of toxic municipal and industrial effluents, as well as cruise ship pollution, is charting a new course along two fronts – protecting great whales and stopping the release of hormone disrupting chemicals from municipal sewage plants.

CSAW has partnered with the International Marine Mammal Project to launch the Great Whale Conservancy (GWC), whose mission is to generate public action to ensure the world’s great whales thrive for generations to come. GWC’s first effort – the Blue Whale Protection Program – will target the unnecessary deaths of blue whales from ship strikes along the coast of California.

photo of a person holding a fish, it's mouth agapeistockphoto.comGender-bending chemicals may be affecting large mouth bass.

The blue whale is the largest animal species ever to have inhabited Earth. The global blue whale population prior to human predation has been estimated at 350,000. Today the number is down to about 10,000. One of the largest blue whale subpopulations is the Northeast Pacific group. Whales from this group transit between four areas – the California Bight (south of Point Conception), the west coast of Baja California, the Sea of Cortez, and the Costa Rica Dome. The largest number of blue whales congregate in the California Bight between the months of June and October.

Unfortunately, this area is also one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More than 6,000 cargo ships ply the Santa Barbara Channel every year. About three to five blue whales are reported killed each year by ships in the area between San Francisco and the Santa Barbara Channel. The actual number of deaths could be much higher. Many kills go unreported because blue whales are negatively buoyant – they sink when they die.

Despite their size, California’s blue whales are for the most part unseen, which is a major reason why they remain unprotected. The GWC is creating a Web-based video and constructing a life-size blue whale float that will visit schools and participate in parades. It will help bring the issue to the attention of state and federal agencies, to demand a seasonal adjustment of the shipping lanes in blue whale habitat.

On the toxic effluent front, the Obama administration seems to have finally caught on to the fact that hormone-mimicking chemicals entering the environment from our municipal sewage are having a drastic effect on frogs, fish, and other aquatic life. Last August, partly in response to a petition brought by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Sierra Club, SEIU, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the EPA announced it would begin a phase-out of nonylphenol ethoxylates, a highly toxic, gender-bending group of chemicals used in industrial detergents.

While sewage treatment plants remove significant levels of particulate pollutants, dissolved pollutants tend to move through the system and often include significant amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Even when present in the water in very small amounts (e.g. 20 parts per billion), these chemicals can have an effect on aquatic life because endocrine systems are designed by nature to make changes in the body based on subtle chemical signals. The effects of these chemicals on humans have not been determined.

Although the EPA is finally beginning to move on this issue, citizen groups must continue to act as watchdogs. Industry groups supporting the continued use of gender-bender chemicals such as atrazine, an herbicide commonly used on corn, can be expected to fight to keep their products on the market. Given the open hostility many members of the new Congress have to environmental regulation, the public should not expect the EPA to act boldly without significant public pressure.

In addition to publishing information on hormone-disrupting chemicals, CSAW will make full use of the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Clean Water Act to limit or ban the discharge of chemicals that can harm the environment by causing changes to the endocrine systems of higher animals.

To learn about protecting our waters visit: eii.org/csaw. To help save the whales go to: eii.org/gwc.

—Gershon Cohen

   

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