The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to set plastic pollution limits for ocean waters under the Clean Water Act.
The petition, filed Aug. 22, requests that EPA initiate a rule-making to establish national water-quality criteria to address plastic pollution, and also asks EPA to publish information to guide states in monitoring and preventing harm to waters from plastic pollution.
Specifically, the petition asks EPA to limit visible plastic pollution in the oceans to zero and to also set strict limits on small plastic items in oceans and on beaches.
“Plastics are an everyday convenience for us, but a daily death sentence for seabirds, seals, sea turtles and hundreds of other ocean species,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the San Francisco-based national, nonprofit conservation organization.
“Our oceans are littered with grocery bags, drink lids, water bottles and candy wrappers. It's time for the EPA to step in and finally address this crisis,” Jeffers said.
Under the Clean Water Act, states must adopt water-quality standards recommended by the EPA and identify waters that do not attain those standards.
In its 55-page petition, the center cited a 2009 study published by the British-based Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. That study claims that plastic pollution makes up 50-80 percent of beach litter, floating marine debris, and trash on the ocean floor.
“In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments, such as grocery bags, straws and soda bottles, are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day,” said the center.
The center also said the plastic pollution problem in oceans is only getting worse, citing that same British study as saying that more plastic was produced between 2000 and 2010 than in the last century, and that plastics production is growing at a rate of 9 percent per year,
In its petition, the center argued that plastic pollution has deadly consequences for at least 267 marine species and that plastics ingested by fish can cause intestinal injury and death.
“When very small marine animals eat plastic, it can seriously injure or kill them by blocking their esophagus or breathing tube or inducing a false satiation of hunger,” said the petition. “Larger plastic debris also entangles and traps marine mammals.”
The center proposed that EPA adopt a quantitative criterion for bodies of water that requires “less than one item of plastic per square meter for ocean sediments, including beaches at or below the high-tide line.”
For plastic items in the water column, the center proposed that EPA adopt a standard that water columns should have “less than one item of plastic per cubic meter.”
“Plastic debris is a problem that crosses local and state lines, so only a large, collaborative effort of cleaning up our nation's waters will have a meaningful impact on plastic pollution,” the petition said.