The Pacific Gyre of Toxic Crap and an Island Superfund Site

Floating Continents of Toxic Marine Debris Are Way Less Benign Than They Sound

Pacific Trash Vortex In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Tern Island May Be Our First Offshore Superfund Site

From time to time, you may read an article about what is usually called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch*, a swirling mess of disintegrating plastic and other consumer crap lying just below the surface. That’s kind of a folksy name for a phenomenon that is an environmental disaster on a global scale that could not have even been conceived of thirty years ago. Although it is often characterized as being Texas sized, the sheer scale of this swirling gyre is hard to imagine. That’s because satellites are unable to pick up the concentration of microplastics, sludge and other debris that is suspended just below the surface.

The concentration of plastic has two obvious effects on the Ocean ecosphere. Depending on the type of polymer involved, the plastic eventually breaks down into its component parts, and at some point will enter food chain – a bad thing. Chemicals that are banned most places enter the Ocean, including BPA, PCBs, and derivatives of polystyrene. Larger pieces of garbage are ingested by marine life – especially birds – which die of starvation because of the equivalent of empty calories. The birds don’t know they’re hungry, then they die.

Death by Plastic

Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Garbage Parch is Tern Island, a small American outpost that is part of the Hawaiian Islands National Refuge but about 500 miles away from the chain. In spite of its designation as a marine nature reserve, the Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the EPA to make Tern Island a Superfund site. Because it is solid ground, Tern Island accumulates a much more visible array of consumer crap. Beyond the billions of plastic bottles that make up a large percentage of the mess, there is almost no type of consumer good that has not traveled thousands of miles to pile up on Tern Island. Among the ill effects is a newly noted elevation in the PCB levels of monk seals in the region. In addition to the trash that has floated to Tern Island, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has discovered a landfill full of electrical equipment discarded by the U.S. Military.

So you know what the EPA is going to do? They are going to start an INVESTIGATION.


*Also referred to as the Pacific Trash Vortex

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