Chemical pollution exceeds safe levels for life

| 19/01/2022 | 26 Comments
Cayman News Service
Plastic garbage among the mangroves on Grand Cayman (photo courtesy of Plastic Free Cayman)

(CNS): Natural ecosystems around the world that humans depend on to survive are all at risk from a cocktail of chemical pollution that now pervades the planet from Mount Everest to the depths of the Pacific Ocean. A comprehensive new study looking at “novel entities”, meaning non-geological substances such as plastic and chemicals, found the amount of pollution from man-made material is “currently operating outside the planetary boundary” of what would be considered safe.

Publishing in a technical journal, the team of international scientists warned that global action is needed to curb the release of these chemicals akin to that taken to manage greenhouse gases.

“The increasing rate of production and releases of larger volumes and higher numbers of novel entities with diverse risk potentials exceed societies’ ability to conduct safety related assessments and monitoring,” the group of scientists and researchers warn in their results.

“We recommend taking urgent action to reduce the harm associated with exceeding the boundary by reducing the production and releases of novel entities, noting that even so, the persistence of many novel entities and their associated effects will continue to pose a threat.”

The scientist said plastics are of particularly high concern. Here in the Cayman Islands, local environmental activists recently revealed that they had cleaned up over seven tonnes of garbage, most of it plastic, from local beaches in 2021.

Cayman may not have a petrochemical industry, but the beaches and waters are being polluted with imported chemicals. In addition, there is almost no monitoring of ground contamination and water pollution from construction sites. And while a limited single-use plastic ban is expected this year, Caymanians, like everyone else in the world, are being exposed to harmful chemicals every day.

Plastic is at the top of the novel entities pollution list, but there are another 350,000 registered synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides, industrial compounds and antibiotics, as well as some toxic chemicals like PCBs, which are extremely long-lasting and widespread.

The study, made by an international team of scientists, found that chemical pollution has reached the point where human-made changes to the Earth push it outside the stable environment of the last 10,000 years.

The scientists assessed how hundreds of thousands of chemicals produced by human activity are impacting the stability of global ecosystems and concluded that we have now exceeded the planetary boundary for environmental pollutants.

“The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals and other novel entities into the environment is not consistent with staying within the safe operating space for humanity,” said co-author Linn Persson from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Another co-author, Bethanie Carney Almroth, from the University of Gothenburg, said on her social media pages that the group is calling for “urgent action, better management of chemicals, better monitoring, better policies with increased implementation and compliance, and international agreements leading to prevention of pollution at source”, as well as a shift toward reusing materials instead of wasting them.

“There’s evidence that things are pointing in the wrong direction every step of the way,” she said. “The total mass of plastics now exceeds the total mass of all living mammals. That to me is a pretty clear indication that we’ve crossed a boundary. We’re in trouble, but there are things we can do to reverse some of this.”

More concerning still is the fact that the scientists have not yet identified all of the problems and negative impacts surrounding chemical pollution, which means that the situation is going to get even worse. Nevertheless, the production of novel entities continues to increase rapidly.

The chemical industry is the second largest manufacturing industry globally and production has increased 50-fold since 1950 and is projected to triple again by 2050 compared to 2010. Of the known 350,000 chemicals or engineered materials, 70 ,000 have been registered in the past decade.

“The production of intended chemicals entails the unintended production of byproducts, transformation products, and impurities which may not be considered under chemicals assessments and management measures,” the scientists said in the study.

Sounding the alarm, the researchers concluded that the ongoing introduction of new materials is outpacing safety assessment and regulation of chemical substances and the capacity of many countries to enforce compliance. An ever-growing number of novel entities are found in remote locations of the planet and the number of grossly contaminated locations is increasing.

“Many distinct and partly interacting effects of NEs on Earth’s physical and ecological systems are being reported,” the study stated. “In short, rapid growth in diversity and production volumes and releases outstrips society’s ability to assess, let alone manage NEs. Planetary burdens are already considerable.”

As chemicals continue to be produced, used and disposed of with insufficient or nonexistent regulations and enforcement, they will continue to pollute the environment.

“Based on the evidence presented here, we submit that we are now in a zone of exceedance of the Planetary Boundary for novel entities. Further, even if we were to stabilize or reduce production and releases, the effects due to our transgression of the NE-PB will still be a threat due to the persistence of many novel entities.

“Thus, we conclude that increases in production and releases of novel entities are not consistent with keeping humanity within the safe operating space, in the light of the global capacity for management,” the report stated.

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Category: Land Habitat, Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (26)

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  1. Both the DEH and the DOE could readily assess the volume of all chemicals that go into our porous, Swiss cheese island and ultimately into the lagoons and reefs. If Customs keeps detailed records of all of the imported chemicals that end up on the ground or down our drains, it should be simple enough to process on the computer. DOE could use such data to predict the volume and density of each chemical that is currently and increasingly leaching out onto the mangroves, near-shore, mid-shore and off-shore corals. Unfortunately the answers to why our hard coral live coverage has dropped from 80% to 15% since the 1980’s (as our population exploded) are doubtless multifaceted and will likely only come long after we hit 0% live hard corals. The scientific process is, unfortunately much slower than our rate of change. Let me remind you that this entire island and its beaches was built by and maintained above sea level by hard corals. Please, DOE and DEH check out the data available from Customs (though I expect you already have). If they aren’t already collecting enough specific details, please instruct them to do so. I’m sure there ought to be a long list of detergents, pesticides, herbicides, cleaning fluids, solvents, etc…, the volume of which would be extremely alarming to know. If you advise us to stop using certain products I surely will. If you regulate harmful products, I’m all for it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I brought this to everyone’s attention about the landfill years ago. It was reported by Tammi Sulliman. When hurricane Ivan flooded all the downtown, George Town with approx. 8 feet of seawater. Medical waste and chemo drugs, which have radioactive wastes. They were placed in steel drums that got rusted and were leaking all over George Town?? Photographs were taken and were included in the article. Didn’t hear one comment from the community.
    So you all are concerned now? Dart should have never been allowed to build there before it was cleaned up. Thank God, Bodden Town people stopped the landfill being placed in their district

  3. nauticalone345 says:

    We only have to look out our car windows as we drive along, especially following the NRA bush cutting. It is absolutely disgusting and alarming the amount of roadside waste alone, nowadays. And no enforcement to curb it! Just the occasional asking persons to not litter….as if that type of person generally reads or listens to such pleadings / messages. ENFORCEMENT is the EDUCATION that is required!

  4. Anonymous says:

    84 comments, so far, on Airport curbside and only 15 on chemical pollution that affects each living thing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not a care the world! No wonder Cayman never built a database on cancer victims.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you know the real problem is 10:44, neither you or I really care enough to want to sacrifice everything and make a difference. Globally the population has seen what happens before and post pandemic with regards to the changes of the environment and wildlife but everyone is soon enough back in their car, on a plane, looking to cruise through Alaska and pursue the perceived lifestyle and consumables that ‘make
      them happy’. The problem isn’t pollution, that’s just a repercussion of the underlying ignorance of common compassion, grace to humanity and willingness to be mindful of and embrace the miraculous existence we’re privileged to. In short we’ve been presented the before and after but choose to revert back to the before despite the consequences 🤷🏻‍♀️

  5. Anonymous says:

    Several years ago my landlord instructed his yard keeper to dispose of several rusty partially filled paint cans by digging a hole to bury them in the empty lot next door. It actually made me sick to my stomach.
    I did not report it to anyone since I was on a work permit at the time.
    Now I am a paper driftwood rascal. Is it too late to do anything about it? (Would a metal detector find the cans?)

    They are now developing that empty lot!

    • Anonymous says:

      So when it was to your advantage for you to keep quiet, you did? You are as much a part of the problem as your landlord. At least there is the possibility that the landlord was ignorant and didn’t know any better. You just watched it happen, knowing full well it was bad.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Write all the laws you want.Put up all the signs you want. Without enforcement they are useless.
    Drive through Barkers “National Park” any day. The lazy ignorant dumping of trash ,old furniture and the likes , coupled with the picnic waste left behind in bags for the chickens and dogs to spread all over is ridiculous.How hard is it to take out and properly dispose of what you brought to the party?

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s official: Living damages your health!

  8. Keep it on the down low, its better that way says:

    Water Authority has a strong law covering ground water pollution but they only go after low hanging fruit. And CUC, petrochemical companies, old schoolmates, big money types, power brokers, service club members, Lodge members are exempt from their scrutiny.

    Has anyone been charged with any crime under the law and severely punished for the countless leaks over the past 30 years? The law and its enforcer is a farce.

    It’s a slow death for some that don’t know they have been and still are exposed to industrial levels of pollution. The polluter pays in the first world and more often than not goes bankrupt or out of business but not in the Cayman Islands. Not even a slap on the wrist.

    • Anonymous says:


    • Anonymous says:

      I saw people sanding an industrial fishing boat down in the canal I Prospect Dr and the whole thing is filled with weird plastics or something I don’t know what it is but no one shows up to ever investigate anything

  9. Anonymous says:

    Mom’s comin round to make it right again. Learn to swim, I’ll see you all in Georgetown Bay

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am not afraid of COVID or other viruses or bacterias, because my body was designed to fight it on its own and I can do so many things to prevent infections, fight it if I get sick.

    But I am absolutely powerless when it comes to environmental poisons. I feel anger, worry, insecurity, pessimism and frustration for I know I CAN’T DO a THING, MY BODY CAN’T DO ANYTHING about never ending exposure to chemicals, man-made EMF, even if my body detox system is robust, even if all my genes that work tirelessly on detoxing my body are normal, for there is always a limit to what a human body is CAPABLE of doing taking into account living in the environment detrimental to health. The entire planet Earth is now one giant cesspool and we just keep increasing it.

    By the way, do you know what chemical cocktail found in face masks? Now imagine billions of face-mask that allegedly save us from COVID are discarded then find its way to poison our bodies. We are the stupidest creatures Universe created, I just don’t know why we exist.

    • Anonymous says:

      “I am not afraid of COVID or other viruses or bacterias, because my body was designed to fight it”

      Totally ignoring the thousands of years that human civilization has suffered under the onslaught of many horrible diseases, now largely controlled or eliminated by vaccines.

      “We are the stupidest creatures Universe created, I just don’t know why we exist.”

      Speak for yourself!

      • Anonymous says:

        Vaccines against devastating and deadly infections of the past that provide immunity FOR LIFE is one thing, 3-4 jabs against the viral infections that has 99% survival rate and provide NO immunity AT ALL- basically work like a medicine, is another thing. Apples and Oranges!

        Not being afraid of COVID and relying on body’s innate immune system is not a vice, but a healthy, proportional response to the threat, based on 99% survival rate.

    • Anonymous says:

      Speaking about innate immune system ability to prevent and fight natural, created by nature, health hazards… the body’s own defence mechanism…

      CNS: The rest of this comment can be found here.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Finally! The way overdue Article that says while you afraid of COVID, spending millions in futile attempts to “tame” the virus, environmental health hazards slowly poisoning and killing you, your children and children who have not been born yet!

    If you have measured the levels of dioxin and furans in human bodies 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦, umbilical cords 👶, mothers milk 🤱, animals-domestic and wild🦎🐖🐈🐄, soils, foliage🌿, locally grown food and other agricultural products, sea water 🌊 , fish 🐠🦞🦑, etc. I GUARANTEE the results would be so shocking ☠️, that most expats will be gone in a blink of an eye.

    Refresh your memory, pay attention to the dates:
    WHAT DID THEY FIND?? Has been 13 months since they started to investigate I REMEMBER Department of Environmental Health answer had made my day 🙉🙊:
    – the regulations do NOT include the “guidelines indicating what pollutants one should test for…”
    – DEH does NOT have the “necessary equipment to allow for adequate monitoring of such emissions at this time…
    -It is hoped that (the department) will be able to do so in the foreseeable future.
    IT HAS BEEN 4 YEARS ALREADY, or “foreseeable future” is still 20 years away?

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s a sea of PCBs and dioxins under CUC from old transformers. Another of Cayman’s dirty little secrets.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It’s about money, power and greed. It will be the undoing of everything that truly matters.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Additionally, in Cayman, we also have few to non-existent regulations of chemicals, and let’s not talk about how our sewage is disposed of…..

    • Anonymous says:

      How is our sewage disposed???? I am curious 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        there were lots of article in the past few years. Both CNS and Compass. I guess if something has changed, it changed for worse. Terrifying stuff!

      • Anonymous says:

        Injected into the A$$hole of Cayman, sometimes without meeting its processor’s own standards. Ironically the same Authority sells drinking water and is responsible for its quality too. Absolutely no oversight, but then again that’s the job of OfReg and their band of do nothing pen pushers. Do you drink tap water, I don’t and if you really knew everything that it contains you might not even want to bathe in it.

      • Anonymous says:

        The “Rich”;on south sound is straightbin the ocean for sure. You can see all the pipes if you swim out there pointing out and running under.

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