Wildlife are exposed to more pollution than previously thought
Sometimes, pollution is blatantly obvious: the iridescent slick of an oil spill, goopy algae washing up on a beach or black smoke belching from a smokestack. But, more often than not, pollution is more inconspicuous.
Our air, water, land and wildlife are tainted with thousands of chemicals that we cannot see, smell or touch. It may not come as a surprise then, that this unnoticed pollution isn't considered the important threat to wildlife that it should be.
The planet has entered the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, according to scientists, and Canada is not immune. More than half of Canada's grassland birds and aerial insectivores have been lost in only 50 years, and between 1970 and 2014, the more than 500 mammal populations monitored in Canada shrank by an average of 43 percent.
But the assessments that evaluate species to determine those that are at risk of extinction are underestimating the importance of pollution. The good news is that my colleagues and I think we have come up with a potential solution to this problem.
So many chemicals, so much pollution
Globally, tens of thousands of chemicals exist in commerce today. The global chemical industry exceeded US$5 trillion in 2017, and is projected to double by 2030. These chemicals are used in all facets of our daily lives, from pharmaceuticals and fertilizers to pesticides and flame retardants.
Here in Canada, about five million tonnes of pollutants are produced each year by more than 7,000 industrial facilities. More than 150 billion litres of sewage is discharged yearly into Canadian waters.
Close to 700 pipeline spills over the past decade have led to the release of natural gas, crude oil and other substances into the air, soil and water. More than 23,000 federal contaminated sites—such as abandoned mines, airports and military bases—are known or suspected to be contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, heavy metals and other pollutants.