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19 Nov 2013: Pollution From Plastic Trash
May Make Tiny Island a Superfund Site

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Tern Island debris

Duncan Wright, USFWS
Tern Island marine debris
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to study whether plastic pollution on a small island in the Pacific Ocean is severe enough to warrant listing it as a Superfund clean-up site. Tern Island, a 25-acre strip of land about 500 miles northwest of the Hawaiian island Oahu, is home to millions of seabirds, sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity asked the EPA to add the entire Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and parts of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the list of federal Superfund sites due to extreme marine debris pollution, but the agency has only agreed to undertake an environmental study on Tern Island. The island is awash with marine debris ranging from plastic water bottles and tiny bits of plastic to discarded fishing gear and home appliances. Studies have shown the trash can take a heavy toll on wildlife — seabirds, for example, often ingest bits of plastic after mistaking them for food and eventually die of starvation. The EPA study is the first step of a potentially years-long process to determine whether the island qualifies for listing under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.


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