San Francisco Bay could become chemical soup without new regulations

The marine life of San Francisco Bay could be at risk, unless better chemical regulations are put into place.

An annual water-monitoring report found a number of chemicals, including pesticides and detergents, to be "contaminants of emerging concern."

Each year, the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay publishes a report titled "The Pulse of the Bay." This report includes data from several water monitors, including the San Francisco Estuary Institute.

None of the chemicals were found in a high enough concentration to receive the most serious designation. In other words, there isn't enough of these pollutants to have an immediate negative effect on animals, plants and people. However, there are several contaminants at the second-to-highest designation. The San Francisco Chronicle reports these chemicals could become a problem soon:

"However, there are a number of chemicals that are showing up not too far from levels of concern, and that's the bad news," said Tom Mumley, assistant executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Those chemicals warrant further monitoring and stricter regulation, he said.


The chemicals of concern include Fipronil (a pesticide), PFOS (a stain repellent), nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates (found in detergents) and PBDEs (flame retardants).

The authors of the report write their goal is to "prevent water quality impairment rather than waiting to react once adverse effects are observed." The report states:

'Scientific knowledge about contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in the environment has been accumulating at a rapid rate since the late 1990s. The concern is no longer “can we find them?” since they’ve been shown to be ubiquitous in the aquatic environment; now managers, scientists, and stakeholders are asking “what should we do about them?” There are tens of thousands of potential emerging contaminants, with more continually being introduced, and toxicological research and water quality standards development do not keep up with the rate at which we are finding them in the environment. Additionally, regulatory constraints and barriers pose challenges for management and control of [contaminants of emerging concern].'

The good news is that regulations have shown to help improve water quality, like California's 2008 ban on certain PBDEs. The authors push for a regulatory system modeled on the European Union's REACH program, which places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers, who must show that their products are safe.

Tags: San Francisco | Water Conservation