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P2 Week Press Conference

P2 Week - Green Chemistry Can Help Keep The Seas Free of Debris and Pollution

The oceans, polluted with debris and plastics, are in trouble.  DTSC believes green chemistry is the solution.

At a Pollution Prevention Week event in Sausalito on September 22, DTSC Acting Director Maziar Movassaghi called green chemistry “a game-changer” because products will be redesigned using chemicals that naturally break down without harming the environment.  The catch-phrase for green chemistry: “benign by design.”

“If it’s a bottle, it should be dissolvable in the ocean without impacting the environment,” Movassaghi said. “If it’s a product with gasses coming off, those gasses shouldn’t be poisonous.”

Championing California’s year-old Green Chemistry Initiative, Movassaghi told a gathering of media, business and environmental representatives that DTSC has formed partnerships with several groups to fight ocean pollution and work toward finding ways to reduce toxics going into the marine environment.

The partners:
  • The Ocean Protection Council, created by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004 to work with government agencies to better manage the state’s ocean resources and ensure healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems;
  • Project Kaisei, a team of scientists, environmentalists and ocean lovers studying marine debris in the Pacific Ocean.
  • California Product Stewardship Council, a Sacramento-based non-profit coalition of governments and government entities working to reduce the amount of packaging.
  • The Watershed Project, a Contra Costa County group focusing on pollution flowing from creeks and river into San Francisco Bay.
  • The Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a Long Beach organization dedicated to protecting the marine environment and its watersheds through research, education and restoration.

Representatives from each group also spoke at the Pollution Prevention Week event, held at the Bay Model, an education center operated by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that explores the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system. 

The Bay Model sits on 1.5 acres by the Sausalito waterfront.  On September 22, the Kaisei, the 151-foot tall ship recently returned from a monthlong journey to study the huge “plastic vortex” in the north Pacific, tied up to the long wooden dock outside. With the ship in the background, reporters from San Francisco TV stations CBS5 and NBC Bay Area interviewed Mossavaghi and Mary T. Crowley, founder of the Sausalito-based Ocean Voyages Institute and Project Kaisei, about the role green chemistry will play in cleansing the polluted seas. Their reports aired that evening.

As Movassaghi and Crowley spoke, those attending the event wandered the Kaisei, squeezing through the tight, narrow passageways where 25 crew members and scientists – including biologist Dr. Margy Gasse from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment – spent all of August sailing through the gyre of junk.  Underscoring the message of the day, a gull floated in the water nearby pecking at a plastic bag.

Crowley said that 30 years ago she sailed deep into the north Pacific and saw just a few pieces of plastic. On this journey tiny pieces of swirling plastic began showing up just 400 miles into the voyage. DTSC’s Environmental Chemistry Laboratory currently is analyzing some of the marine debris collected by Kaisei scientists. Some of the garbage the Kaisei – “ocean planet” in Japanese – brought back was laid out on the dock: fragments of nylon fishing nets, large chunks of heavy plastic, glass and plastic bottles. Earlier, during his talk, Movassaghi had held up a small glass bottle filled with sea water murky with hundreds of pieces of tiny broken plastic.

“Folks,” he said, “this is what we have to stop.”
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