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Expense Reports for OCWD Directors

Expense Reports for OCWD Directors

These are expense reports obtained previously by the Surf City Voice for all current Orange County Water District directors. Listings for 2014 are incomplete. Audit pages for 2013 show the number of meetings claimed by directors versus the number of meetings actually attended. Readers will also be interested in my previous story detailing total benefits received by current directors, “‘Would you like a sandwich?’ Water directors keep their early meetings and bloated stipends.”

Stephen Sheldon
Director Sheldon 2014; Director Sheldon 2013

Shawn Dewane
Director Dewane Jan-Feb. 2014; Director Dewane 2013

Denis Bilodeau
Director Bilodeau Jan-Feb 2014; Director Bilodeau 2013

Roger Yoh
Director Yoh Jan-Feb 2014; Director Yoh 2013

Jan Flory
Director Flory Jan-Feb 2014;

Philip Anthony
Director Anthony Jan-Feb. 2014; Director Anthony 2013

Kathryn Barr
Director Barr Jan-March 2014; Director Barr 2013

Cathy Green
Director Green Jan-Feb 2014; Director Green 2013

Vincent Sarmiento
Director Sarmiento Jan-Feb 2014; Director Sarmiento 2013

Harry Sidhu
Director Sidhu Jan-Feb 2014; Director Sidhu 2013

 
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Five Reasons to Pee in Your Garden

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

I confess, my husband and I both pee in our backyard garden, waiting until nightfall so as not to surprise neighbors.

We’ve always been comfortable relieving ourselves alongside lonely highways, even in daylight when waiting for the next bathroom seems unreasonable. But peeing in our own garden started as something of a lark, a combo of enjoying feeling a little naughty while also stealing a moment to take in the stillness of the night.

However, after a little research into the contents of urine and the ecological footprint of toilet flushing, I’m approaching my nightly garden visitations with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with sound reasons to continue the habit.

#1 Urine is a good fertilizer, organic and free
Contrary to popular belief, urine is usually germ-free unless contaminated with feces. It’s also about 95 percent water. The chief dissolved nutrient is urea, a nitrogen (N)-rich waste metabolite of the liver. Consequently, urine is high in N. Synthesized urea, identical to urea in urine, is also the number one ingredient of manufactured urea fertilizers which now dominate farming industry. Furthermore, urine contains lower amounts of the other two main macronutrients needed for healthy plant growth, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).

Poor soil conditions and the prohibitive cost of manufactured fertilizers in third world countries have inspired rigorous study of urine fertilizer as a sustainable strategy to reduce poverty and malnutrition and promote worldwide food security. As example, in an in-depth 2010 practical guide for using urine as crop fertilizer, an international research institute (Stockholm Research Institute) writes that, “Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur as well as micronutrients are all found in urine in plant available forms. Urine is a well balanced nitrogen rich fertilizer which can replace and normally gives the same yields as chemical fertilizer in crop production.”

Depending on water intake, humans produce roughly 1-2 liters of urine a day. With proper planning the urine from one person during one year could suffice to fertilize”300-400 m2 of crop,” according to the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Urine as crop fertilizer is not just a theoretical concept, but has been put into practice successfully all over the world, including Africa, northern Europe, India, Central America, and even the United States. In fact, if you live near Brattleboro, Vermont, you can contact the Rich Earth Institute to participate as a “urine donor” in the first field studies of urine as fertilizer in the United States.

Urine jugs

Photo: Mike Earley

Obviously, there are important guidelines and safety procedures for farms and entire communities that rely on urine fertilizer for crop production – like special two-compartment toilets designed to collect urine free of fecal contamination – which are unnecessary for someone like me who pees directly in the garden and with more casual purpose in mind. Guidelines that do apply to everyone, however, include applying the urine to soil rather than foliage and mixing the urine in right away.

 


#2 Combat drought
Regions in all five continents are in the grip of sustained droughts. One-third of the contiguous United States was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought as of the end of August, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. My home state of California is suffering record-breaking drought with no end in sight. Governor Brown recently called on Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent, and peeing in the garden gives me a good head-start to meeting that goal.

indoorwateruse_4webOn average, Americans each use 80-100 gallons of water per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Seventy percent of a household’s water consumption is typically for indoor uses, with toilet flushing the biggest water hog (see pie chart).

Although newer toilets generally use 1.6 gallons per flush, older ones use at least three gallons. So someone flushing urine 6 to 8 times per day could easily save 10 to 24 gallons of water daily by diverting all their urine to the yard. But, even if collecting urine in the daytime is out of the question – say, if you work outside the home or simply consider peeing into a receptacle and ferrying it to the yard a deal-breaker – the water savings by just peeing in the yard twice a night could easily amount to an annual water savings of between 1000 and 2000 gallons per person.

# 3 Slow groundwater depletion
Based on satellite data, NASA recently released an alarming report describing dramatic groundwater depletion in the Colorado River Basin in under a decade. The Colorado River Basin is considered the water lifeline of the western United States. NASA calculated the water loss at 53 million acre feet, nearly twice the volume of freshwater in Nevada’s Lake Mead. The real shocker is that groundwater loss accounted for three-fourths of the depletion, and no one knows how much groundwater is left or when it could run out.

In California, a third of the state’s water supply comes from regional groundwater. Rapidly dwindling groundwater levels, due to unregulated well drilling and extraction, is threatening the availability of water for agriculture and even human consumption, finally prompting California to enact a package of critical groundwater protections in Sept.

Individuals can do their part too, by peeing in the yard or, at least, adhering to the adage I grew up with, “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.” If each of California’s 12.5 million households flushed just four fewer times daily, the drain on the state’s groundwater would be lessened by 25-50 million gallons annually.

#4 Bypass sewage treatment plants
Though the pathogens (germs) in household wastewater come primarily from feces, many pharmaceuticals and chemicals in personal care products (PPCPs) are excreted in the urine, producing global pollution of natural bodies of water and even drinking water because sewage treatment systems are not designed to eliminate such substances.

Everything flushed down the toilet is piped to either onsite septic tanks or more often to municipal treatment plants where the liquid undergoes a two-step process, first separation from the bulk solids through settling and then incubation with bacteria to digest disease-causing pathogens and produce an effluent safer for return to the natural environment. The treated effluent from septic tanks is allowed to seep on-site into the ground, whereas treatment plants typically release directly into rivers, lakes and oceans.

Depending on regional policies, the effluent might also undergo so-called tertiary treatment involving chemical purification and/or microfiltration before release. Water shortages are increasingly driving reuse of tertiary-treated wastewater for landscaping, recharging groundwater aquifers and even for crop irrigation, prompting closer scrutiny of the water’s purity. However, even tertiary treatment is not generally designed to remove PPCPs.

Happily, soil generally does a good job of trapping and eliminating many pollutants, offering an alternative to conventional wastewater treatment of urine. When a liquid is doused onto soil, pollutants adhere to soil particles then undergo biodegradation by the abundant fungal and bacterial flora in soil. Sunlight and the rich oxygen content of soil also foster degradation. In fact, the filtration and incubation steps in conventional wastewater treatment mimic these naturally occurring processes in soil.

In the last decade, researchers have been measuring how fast common PPCPS biodegrade in soils and typically find half-lives on the order of days or weeks.

So letting soil decontaminate your urine seems a sound idea. A word of caution is in order, however, for those of us in more developed countries where our urine is more likely contaminated with PPCPs. A recent study reported solid evidence that irrigating the soil of common field vegetables with tertiary-treated water produced low levels of PPCPs in the edible portion of the vegetables. Until we know whether such residues represent any health risk, it seems wise to deposit urine outside the home vegetable garden.

#5 Reconnect with nature
The simple act of returning my urine directly to the soil, whilst attending to the sights, sounds and smells of the night, has heightened my awareness of my place in nature. It’s also confronted me with a glaring reality, that every man-made environmental ill threatening all life forms, everything from global climate change to the buildup of PPCPs and plastic waste in bodies of water and industrial chemicals in human and animal tissues, stems from an ill-conceived notion that humans are somehow exempt from the laws of nature.

Obviously, spotty progress can be made here and there applying new technologies or policies to address focused environmental issues. For example, California just became the first to institute a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. Though I’ve welcomed this legislation, I also see how limited the impact will be on the global environment: Since the dawn of the “age of plastics” in the 1950s, non-biodegradable plastics have come to pervade nearly every aspect of daily life in westernized societies, and the steep rise globally in the production of consumer plastics is projected to continue unabated into the future.

Photo: Laura Silverstein

Photo: Laura Silverstein

Peeing in my garden has instilled in me a sobering certitude that solving the planet’s looming environmental crises will require something far more fundamental and all-encompassing than regional policy changes. A global paradigm shift is needed, both away from believing we can unthinkingly manipulate and destroy natural resources and toward humbling seeking and embracing our natural and sustainable place within this unspeakably beautiful garden that is planet earth.

Though peeing in the garden is now a habit with me, it still feels a little risqué, and I like that.

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Steve Sheldon Watch: OCWD director shills for Poseidon, again

Steve Sheldon Watch: OCWD director shills for Poseidon, again

Stephen Sheldon, the Orange County Water District’s elected representative from Irvine, continues to use his government position to benefit Poseidon Resources, Inc., the corporation that wants to build an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

By doing this, he may be risking the consequences of violating conflict of interest laws.

The OCWD manages the county’s groundwater basin and provides drinking water for 2.4 million residents by selling it to 19 municipalities and special water districts in the county.

The OCWD staff and board of directors are currently leaning heavily toward making ocean desalination part of its “water portfolio” through a business relationship with Poseidon.

Sheldon, a candidate for reelection in November, spoke in favor of Poseidon’s proposed project at a joint planning committee meeting of OCWD and the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), held on July 23.

The Poseidon plant would cost about $1 billion and produce 50,000 acre feet of desalinated water a year.

In a plan conceived by OCWD and Poseidon, that desalinated water would replace the same amount of untreated imported water that the district currently buys from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (through its retailer MWDOC) for $593 per acre foot. That water is pumped into the groundwater basin.

Poseidon’s desalinated water would cost over three times as much, about $2,000 per acre foot, according to OCWD’s chief engineer, John Kennedy.

Until at least last December, according to Sheldon’s most recent Statement of Economic Interests (SEI), he worked as a consultant for Faubel Public Affairs, a partner of Communications Lab which lists Poseidon as a current client on its website.

Public officials who use their position to influence a government decision that affects them financially have an illegal conflict of interest under California’s Political Reform Act (CPRA) and California Govt. Code 1090.

But during the joint meeting, Sheldon tried to argue that Poseidon’s project would add to the county’s groundwater supply. In fact, as other water officials from OCWD and MWDOC pointed out repeatedly at the meeting, Poseidon’s water would not increase the county’s water supply—above or below ground—by a single drop.

“We’re just really replacing the amount of imported water we need to bring into the region,” OCWD’s Executive Engineer, John Kennedy, explained to Sheldon.

The Surf City Voice previously reported that during a May 21 OCWD board meeting Sheldon advocated for Poseidon and voted to send out Requests for Proposals to several consulting firms to analyze financing options for its desalination project, including direct OCWD funding and ownership.

Sheldon said “No comment” after that meeting when I asked him why he participated in the Poseidon vote. Then he chased after me as I left, only to demand that I tell him if I had electronically recorded his answer.

During a subsequent board meeting, however, Sheldon accused me of misrepresenting the facts about his relationship to Poseidon.

There was no conflict of interest, he said, because public officials are relieved of any potential charges related to a source of income that was discontinued a year or more in the past.

That’s true, but Sheldon’s SEI indicates that relief from potential conflict of interest charges won’t come until December, 2014, at the earliest. That’s because his SEI doesn’t indicate a termination date for his business relationship with Faubel; nor has Sheldon submitted an amendment to it since it was filed last April.

Theoretically, Sheldon could argue that Faubel Public Affairs and Communications Lab are separate businesses, despite public comments by CEO Roger Faubel and Lab founder Brian Lochrie confirming their close business partnership.

Lochrie, a former Faubel employee, started Communications Lab a year ago last April after leaving Faubel’s office with most of his staff and marketing clients, including Poseidon, according to a story at the time in the OC Register.

Lochire took his new entourage to another office in the same building, just down the hall.

Since Sheldon has not clarified his relationship to Poseidon (he did not accept an offer to meet or speak with this reporter at greater length), and any clarifying legal action against him is unlikely before election day, the voters must decide if the wall separating Faubel and Communications Lab is invisible and if Sheldon is being honest about being free of conflict.

But Sheldon’s election opponent, Newport Beach City Councilperson Leslie Daigle, may not be so shy about Sheldon’s Poseidon connection as well as his numerous other ethical and legal dilemmas.

Apparently, her campaign has been using a Facebook account called Steve Sheldon Watch to post links to documents detailing Sheldon’s numerous personal trials and tribulations, including hundreds of thousands of dollars of state and federal tax liens, contract violation lawsuits, and a divorce claim by his wife that he is stealing from his child’s $1 million “off-shore” trust account.

Two of the Facebook posts relate directly to Sheldon’s job as an OCWD director.

One of those posts questions Sheldon’s relationship to Poseidon based on in his 2012 SEI filing—in which he states he directly consulted for Poseidon, asking, “Is that legal since OCWD is studying if they want to buy Poseidon’s desalinated water?”

The other OCWD related post, “nothing but the best for Sheldon,” links to his OCWD expense reports and questions his $1,048 stay at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Los Angeles.

Daigle told the Daily Pilot that she was running against Sheldon because of the OCWD board’s involvement in frivolous lawsuits and its attempt to build a power plant.

Sheldon was one of three OCWD directors, including Denis Bilodeau and Roger Yoh, who as members of the district’s Water Issues Committee (WIC), met secretly with several members of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce in October, 2013, to smooth the way for building the power plant on 20 acres of OCWD property in the so-called Ball Road Basin in the city of Anaheim.

Many Anaheim residents are opposed to the proposed power plant and want to use the lands for parks and recreation purposes.

The WIC meeting arguably violated California’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, so the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce protested. To prevent a lawsuit, the OCWD Board of Directors voted to promise to “cease and desist from prior challenged conduct.”

But the agenda for one of many secretly held OCWD Executive Committee meetings exposed by the Voice through a public records inquiry, reveals that the directors may have broken their legally binding promise.

The Executive Committee agenda for June 10, 2014, contains a discussion item about how to gain leverage for rezoning the Ball Road Basin—if a proposed deal with Competitive Powers Ventures to develop the power plant fell through—by supporting grant requests by Anaheim for developing pocket-parks.

“I believe we could leverage cooperation on these types of soft issues in return for the City helping us kill SB 26 and helping us rezone Ball Road Basin to commercial usage if the CPV deal falls through”, OCWD General Manager Mike Marcus wrote.

The OCWD seems to have backed off its efforts to build a power plant in Anaheim for now, but this month its board of directors voted to study building one in Fountain Valley instead as part of its Long Term Facilities Plan.

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Posted in Headlines, MWDOC, OCWD, Poseidon, Water Boarding6 Comments

OCWD: Directors’ Misuse of Committees Shows Disdain for Ratepayers’ Rights

OCWD: Directors’ Misuse of Committees Shows Disdain for Ratepayers’ Rights

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice
Commentary

At a recent (July 3) sub committee meeting, OCWD’s Director Cathy Green dismissed an idea by Director Jan Flory to have staff prepare a report on the cost alternatives for video streaming public meetings.

Flory wants to make it easier for the district’s ratepayers to attend those meetings or at least be able to see them by watching live or archived versions online.

Few public citizens participate in OCWD meetings, a blow to democracy that is exacerbated by a calendar set for the convenience of directors but not them.

Trying to break that mold a bit, on the day of the committee meeting, myself and a few other public citizens actually did attend in order to support Flory’s proposal.

But Green and the two other voting members of the five-member communications and legislation committee, Stephen Sheldon and Shawn Dewane, tried to table discussion of the item—even though there is no tabling motion under OCWD meetings rules—for up to a year.

Green melodramatically argued that she wasn’t going to vote to have OCWD staff get a lot more information about video streaming until she had a lot more information about video streaming.

That’s right. That’s really what she argued. But don’t take my word for it, watch the video accompanying this commentary to see and hear for yourself.

Green also said that, in Huntington Beach, where she served two terms with me as a member of the city council, video streaming never worked.

“I’m not going to say ‘Oh let’s do it’ and then we end up with all the trouble that so many other entities have ended up with—they don’t work,” she opined. Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, OCWD, Water Boarding2 Comments

Disappearing Ocean Plastics: Nothing to Celebrate

Disappearing Ocean Plastics: Nothing to Celebrate

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

You’d think that finding far less plastic pollution on the ocean’s surface than scientists expected would be something to cheer about. The reality, however, is that this is likely bad news, for both the ocean food web and humans eating at the top. Ingestion of tiny plastic debris by sea creatures likely explains the plastics’ disappearance and exposes a worrisome entry point for risky chemicals into the food web.

Except for a transient slowdown during the recent economic recession, global plastics consumption has risen steadily since plastic materials were introduced in the 1950s and subsequently incorporated into nearly every facet of modern life. Annual global consumption is already about 300 million tons with no foreseeable leveling off as markets expand in the Asia-Pacific region and new applications are conceived every day.

Land-based sources are responsible for the lion’s share of plastic waste entering the oceans: littering, wind-blown trash escaping from trash cans and landfills, and storm drain runoff when the capacity of water treatment plants is exceeded.

Furthermore, recent studies reveal an alarming worldwide marine buildup of microplastics (defined a millimeter or less) from two other previously unrecognized sources. Spherical plastic microbeads, no more than a half millimeter, are manufactured into skin care products and designed to be washed down the drain but escape water treatment plants not equipped to capture them. Plastic microfibers from laundering polyester fabrics find their way to the ocean via the same route. Continue Reading

Posted in Environment, Headlines, Water1 Comment

Why Do Some OCWD Board Members Loathe Being Watched?

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice
Commentary

About a dozen members of the public attended the July 16 meeting of the Orange County Water District to support Director Jan Flory’s request that staff gather information on the cost of streaming board meetings on the Internet, something many other Orange County government bodies have done for years.

Flory sees streaming as an important way to improve transparency and increase the public’s participation in managing its water resources.

But the stars above must have been aligned against Flory that night because, even though her proposal won five out of eight possible votes, it lost.

In earthly terms, what happened?

The answer is in the shrewd, some might say cynical, use of the OCWD’s administrative code, which specifically requires an affirmative vote of the majority of the entire ten-member board (six votes) to pass a motion, regardless of whether those members abstain or show up at the meeting or not.

Board president Shawn Dewane, who had voted to recommend tabling Flory’s proposal at a previous (July 3) meeting of the Communications Committee (he wanted it tabled for a year), and Director Denis Bilodeau, who has remained silent on the topic, were both absent.

Directors Kathryn Barr, Cathy Green, and Roger Yoh, all openly hostile to streaming meetings for public viewing, abstained–not because they had a conflict of interest, the only ethically valid reason for abstaining (apparently, they don’t want to take responsibility, on record, for killing the proposal), but out of spite. Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, OCWD, Water Boarding6 Comments

‘Absolutely Infuriating’ OCWD Director Says About Secret Meetings

‘Absolutely Infuriating’ OCWD Director Says About Secret Meetings

By John Earl
Surf City Voice
Note: The characterization of the Executive Committee meetings as “secret” is the writer’s term and his term only. The wording of the opening paragraph was not meant to imply otherwise

An Orange County Water District director, infuriated over being misled by OCWD staff and other directors about secretly held and possibly illegal executive committee meetings, plans to speak out at the District’s next board meeting, July 16, the Surf City Voice has learned.

“Since I have been copied with agendas for recent executive committee meetings,” Director Jan Flory told the Voice in a phone interview, “I am very disturbed that they are not copied to the rest of the board before its meeting. The scope of issues it talks about far exceeds what I have been told the Executive Committee deals with.”

The previously secret agendas and other documents were shown to Flory by the Voice, which obtained them through multiple requests under the California Public Records Act.

Flory is one of three appointed OCWD directors on the ten-member governing board. She represents the city of Fullerton and started her term last January. The other seven board members were elected by districts.

Flory said she will ask Fullerton’s city attorney to look into the legality of the Executive Committee’s meetings. Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, OCWD, Poseidon, Water Boarding6 Comments

OCWD: ‘Would you like a sandwich?’ Water directors keep their early meetings and bloated stipends

OCWD: ‘Would you like a sandwich?’ Water directors keep their early meetings and bloated stipends

John Earl
Surf City Voice

At the June 18 regular board meeting of the Orange County Water District, Director Jan Flory of Fullerton asked her nine colleagues if they would support consolidating the dates of four public committee meetings in order to save $106,000 a year and to make those meetings more convenient for the public to attend–early morning and high-noon start times are great for water buffaloes but inconvenient for the general public.

Flory suggested holding two committee meetings in succession at 3 and 4 p.m. with a 30 minute break before each of two regular monthly board meetings held on the first and third Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m.

The current system is “cumbersome and inefficient,” she told her colleagues that night, “and it occurred to me that there was a much more cost-effective way of dealing with this.” Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, OCWD, Water Boarding6 Comments

Who Runs the Orange County Water District? You or Poseidon Inc.?

Who Runs the Orange County Water District? You or Poseidon Inc.?

Commentary
By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Dear Friends:

“A journalist is a good citizen of his or her community.”

That’s what I learned from the editor of the Eugene Register Guard, while taking a college journalism class at the University of Oregon, more years ago than I would care to remember.

But what he said is still true today. And that’s why I am asking you, in this editorial, to please show up and speak out at the Orange County Water District board meeting, Wednesday, June 4, about a proposal on the agenda to spend $50,000 or more on a study that will financially benefit Poseidon Resources Inc., a shady corporation that wants to build a $1 billion ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach and make us pay for it, whether we need the water it would produce or not.

Here’s why I think it’s important:

As explained in the recent Surf City Voice story, at the May 21 board meeting of the OCWD, Director Stephen Sheldon voted on a contract proposal that will benefit Poseidon, even though documentation he has filed with the District and the County shows that he works for a consulting company that has Poseidon for a client.

The fundamental question regarding the contract vote that is continued on Wednesday night’s OCWD agenda is, who does the board represent and work for, Poseidon or WE the people? Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, OCWD, Poseidon, Water Boarding2 Comments

Vanity Skin Scrubbers Harm Ocean Food Web

Vanity Skin Scrubbers Harm Ocean Food Web

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

It’s time to eliminate plastic micro-bead exfoliants.

The beauty industry hits hard on the importance of frequent exfoliation to keep skin looking younger and healthy. Spherical plastic micro-bead scrubbers, no larger than a half millimeter, have been introduced into hundreds of skin care products in recent decades, but scientists are discovering that the ocean food web, and maybe human health, could be imperiled as a result.

alternatives to plastic

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads (Wikimedia Commons)

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads (Wikimedia Commons)

In babies, skin cells are replaced every two weeks, but by age 50 the turnover rate has slowed to six weeks or longer, fostering wrinkles and other unwelcome signs of aging. Products containing plastic micro-beads profess to speed up cell rejuvenation, and their popularity signals that consumers have bought into the promise of exfoliating your way to a more youthful look. Whether or not such products deliver on this promise, scientists have discovered that these innocent-looking plastic micro-beads are insidious little transporters of chemical pollutants into lakes, streams and oceans and maybe onto our dinner plates.

Micro-beads are usually made of polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), and like other plastics, they’re thought to persist in the environment for a hundred years or more. They’re added to facial scrubs, body washes, soap bars, toothpastes and even sunscreens and designed to be washed down the drain.

However, micro-beads commonly escape waste treatment plants and pollute bodies of water, because the plants aren’t designed to eliminate them or because wastewater is diverted directly to local waterways in heavier rains.

“Microplastics” are defined as plastic debris smaller than five millimeters and include both manufactured micro-beads and the breakdown products of larger plastic waste which fragments into progressively smaller bits during exposure to sunlight and other environmental forces.

The Santa Monica-based non-profit 5 Gyres Institute is studying the impact of micro-beads and other microplastics on aquatic environments and found that a single tube of facial cleanser can contain over 300,000 micro-beads.

And, in a study published last year in Marine Pollution Bulletin, 5 Gyres reported that the surface waters of the Great Lakes averaged 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometer: Many were tiny spheres matching those in personal care products.Micro-bead density was as high as 600,000 per square kilometer in one sample.

Lead author Marcus Erickson has also informally sampled the Los Angeles River and found an abundance of plastic micro-beads there too. These startling findings add to a growing body of evidence that microplastics are building up in all bays, gulfs and seas worldwide.

Micro-beads listed as "polyethylene" in body wash ingredients

Micro-beads can be listed as micro-beads, polyethylene or polypropylene on product labels

Plastic debris of any size represents a dual chemical threat to aquatic environments, both from noxious chemicals manufactured into them (like bisphenol-A and phthalates) and because plastics are lipophilic, meaning oily pollutants found in water environments are attracted and adhere to their surface. As early as 2001, for example, scientists discovered that virgin pellets of PP exposed to coastal Japanese seawaters adsorbed toxic chemicals, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs) and a breakdown product of the banned pesticide DDT, up to a million times their concentration in the surrounding water. Other risky chemicals, including flame retardants, have since been added to the list of pollutants associated with marine plastics.

Consequently, plastic debris ingested by sea creatures has become a potential threat to the ocean food chain, and scientists have already documented the ingestion of plastics by many fish species as well as marine creatures as small as barnacles and as large as whales. Over half of sea turtles found dead have ingested plastic.

Studies are also emerging documenting the bioaccumulation of chemical pollutants in fish and other animal tissues when plastics are ingested. For microplastics, this threat is magnified by their small volume which means greater relative surface area to which pollutants can adhere.

Recent research suggests that micro-beads are among the very worst offenders expressly because they are made of PE or PP. A research team led by Chelsea Rochman at U.C. Davis deployed various types of mass-produced plastics into San Diego Bay for up to a year and found that, compared to other polymers, PE and PP soaked up higher concentrations of measured pollutants: PCBs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

In a particularly disturbing follow-up study published in Scientific Reports last November, Rochman and colleagues observed liver toxicity in fish attributable to pollutants picked up from San Diego Bay when, for two months, the fish diet contained ground up PE previously deployed in the bay. Such findings notch up the concern that human health could also be impacted by plastics accumulating in the ocean food web.

According to Plastics Europe, an industry association, global plastics production reached 288 million metric tons in 2012 and is projected to continue its rise. Oceans cover 71 percent of the earth’s surface (roughly 140 million square miles) with an average depth of over 2.6 miles. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that there are already 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean, distributed on the surface and seafloor and throughout the water column. The plastic burden of the Pacific Ocean alone is thought to total 18 million tons.

Given the ocean’s vastness, there’s no practical or impractical means to remove the existing plastic pollution. The idea of somehow filtering out all the microplastic debris is doubly absurd.

The only rational solution is to stem the inflow of further plastic pollution. For micro-beads, the means of accomplishing this is straightforward. Industry must eliminate plastic micro-beads from all products and replace them with biodegradable alternatives, like apricot pits, cocoa beans, walnut shells, dried coconut or salt.

5 Gyres is spearheading a global Beat the Micro-Bead campaign to both urge consumers to read product labels and pressure retailers and manufacturers to eliminate plastic micro-beads. So far, the list of corporations that have promised to reformulate their products without plastic micro-beads includes Johnson and Johnson, Unilever, The Body Shop, L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive, Beiersdorf, and Proctor & Gamble. None has yet delivered.

A handful of states might not wait for industry to act. Bills banning micro-beads have been introduced in Illinois, Minnesota, New York and Ohio. In California, similar legislation prohibiting the sale of “microplastics” in personal care products by 2019 passed the State Assembly on May 23 (AB1699).

Plastic micro-beads are used for maybe a minute before they’re mindlessly washed down the drain, exemplifying a consumer society paying little attention to the makeup or fate of its waste. The fact that micro-beads might come back to haunt us via our dinner plates is food for thought.

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