UN Warns of Rising Levels of Toxic Brine as Desalination Plants Meet Growing Water Needs

UN Warns of Rising Levels of Toxic Brine as Desalination Plants Meet Growing Water Needs

SOURCE: United Nations University DATE: January 14, 2019 SNIP: The fast-rising number of desalination plants worldwide — now almost 16,000, with capacity concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa — quench a growing thirst for freshwater but create a salty dilemma as well: how to deal with all the chemical-laden leftover brine. In a UN-backed paper (“The state of desalination and brine production: A global outlook“), experts estimate the freshwater output capacity of desalination plants at 95 million cubic meters per day — equal to almost half the average flow over Niagara Falls. For every litre of freshwater output, however, desalination plants produce on average 1.5 litres of brine (though values vary dramatically, depending on the feedwater salinity and desalination technology used, and local conditions). Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day (a 50% increase on previous assessments). Desalination plants near the ocean (almost 80% of brine is produced within 10km of a coastline) most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment. The authors cite major risks to ocean life and marine ecosystems posed by brine greatly raising the salinity of the receiving seawater, and by polluting the oceans with toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process (copper and chlorine are of major...
Turtles’ Tummies Found Clogged with Plastic

Turtles’ Tummies Found Clogged with Plastic

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine DATE: December 10, 2018 SNIP: Tiny pieces of plastic in the ocean are killing juvenile loggerhead turtles, a new study shows, threatening the survival of the endangered species. Wind, waves, and sunshine break down discarded plastic—from water bottles to fishing gear—into tiny pieces. About 90 percent of the estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic that litters the ocean measures less than five millimeters across, or about half the width of a pinky finger. Plastic like this can now be found littering a brown seaweed called sargassum, in which loggerhead turtles forage for food. For the new study, Evan White of the New Materials Institute at the University of Georgia examined the gastrointestinal tracts of 52 turtles that died at only days or months old and found that 48 contained plastic. The plastic bits, which were up to a millimeter wide, were sometimes lodged in the turtles’ narrow, winding intestines, blocking the passage of food. The blockages were enough to cause the turtles to starve. The plastic was just a tiny percentage of their body weight, but enough to kill them. Juno Beach is one of the world’s most densely nested sea turtle sites. One of every 20 loggerhead turtles on the planet starts its life here. The beach is also littered with plastic. On a recent November survey, for instance, a team of center volunteers found dozens of plastic fragments, including pieces of straws, bottle caps, a comb, and even Chinese sausage packaging. The study’s findings show how serious the dangers of microplastic are to the survival of loggerhead turtles, says Jeanette Wyneken, a biologist at...
Freshwater Is Getting Saltier, Threatening People and Wildlife

Freshwater Is Getting Saltier, Threatening People and Wildlife

SOURCE: Scientific American DATE: December 6, 2018 SNIP: Salts that de-ice roads, parking lots and sidewalks keep people safe in winter. But new research shows they are contributing to a sharp and widely rising problem across the U.S. At least a third of the rivers and streams in the country have gotten saltier in the past 25 years. And by 2100, more than half of them may contain at least 50 percent more salt than they used to. Increasing salinity will not just affect freshwater plants and animals but human lives as well—notably, by affecting drinking water. When Sujay Kaushal, a biogeochemist at the University of Maryland, College Park, who studies how salt invades freshwater sources, sampled the local water supply he found not just an elevated level of the sodium chloride, widely used in winter to de-ice outdoor surfaces, but plenty of other salts such as sodium bicarbonate and magnesium chloride. How people use the land is another important factor. “Today, the saltiest streams are in the northern Great Plains,” scientist John Olson at California State University, Monterey Bay says. “Salinity is naturally high, and mining and oil and gas extraction are releasing more salt by exposing new rock and pumping out saline groundwater.” In those places, he adds, it is not unusual to find streams that are about half as salty as ocean water. The largest predicted increases are in the arid Southwest, however. The combination of expanding agriculture and reduced rainfall there would require careful irrigation management, Olson says. In the Colorado River Basin, where several such projects are ongoing, the economic cost of salinization is...
It’s raining junk: Weather service dumping balloons and e-waste across the landscape

It’s raining junk: Weather service dumping balloons and e-waste across the landscape

SOURCE: CBC DATE: December 5, 2018 SNIP: Environment Canada has for years encouraged Canadians to reuse, recycle and reduce, but its weather service routinely dumps electronic waste — including batteries — across the landscape, making no efforts to recover the material. Every day, 62 weather balloons (radiosondes) carrying battery-powered circuit boards burst at high altitudes and drop their loads to the ground, discarded and forgotten. That works out to 22,630 dumps of ‘e-waste’ each year, distributed widely, with each balloon carrying either six AA alkaline batteries or two potentially toxic lithium batteries. [U]nlike the United States, which attempts to recover and re-use some of these devices, Canada simply leaves the balloons and their radiosondes wherever they happen to fall — which is often in remote and pristine wilderness areas and in waterways. France has experimented with a parachute-based system to recover its radiosondes. Switzerland recovers and re-uses more than 60 per cent of the devices that it launches. It has been estimated that the United States reuses about 18 per cent of its radiosondes. Using data from 2014, Vancouver-based Amit Kumar, who is writing his PhD thesis at the University of British Columbia on the fate of electronic waste in Canada, estimates that only about 20 per cent of the 725,000 tonnes of e-waste generated in Canada that year was collected for proper disposal or recycling. Much of the remainder ended up in landfills, where there is a risk of toxins seeping into groundwater and contaminating...
For decades B.C. failed to address selenium pollution in the Elk Valley. Now no one knows how to stop it.

For decades B.C. failed to address selenium pollution in the Elk Valley. Now no one knows how to stop it.

SOURCE: The Narwhal DATE: December 4, 2018 SNIP: If you follow the crystalline waters of the Fording River up the Elk Valley, past Josephine Falls, you’ll discover a small pocket of genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout prized by fly fishers from around the world. The species is known for sparse, dark freckles that run along the contours of an arched back and the signature orange-pink slits that gouge both sides of its throat. Small teeth line the entirety of its mouth, even under the tongue. The meandering oxbows of the Upper Fording have created the unique conditions for this particular population of westslope cutthroat trout to remain genetically distinct, not having bred or ‘hybridized’ with other nearby populations. Yet these very same gentle waters now threaten to bring an end to this particular lineage of westslope cutthroat trout, first noted in the journals of Lewis and Clark and christened with the scientific name Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi. Selenium pollution, leaching from manmade mountains of waste rock, has inundated the waterways of the Elk Valley, depositing itself in the docile currents of the Fording and Elk Rivers. First, selenium settles in slow moving waters where it is converted into organic compounds by bacteria. It is then taken up by algae which are eaten by bugs which, in turn, are eaten by fish. As the contaminant accumulates in trout it can lead to ghastly facial and spinal deformities, an absence of the plates that overlay and protect the fish’s fleshy gills and — where deformities make survival impossible — death. In 2014 an expert report prepared for Environment Canada warned that selenium...