British Columbia

Group calls for plastic pellet regulation after finding widespread pollution

Surfrider Foundation Canada claims the tiny plastic pieces are being spilled by industry along the Fraser River and are washing up at beaches all over southern B.C.

According to Surfrider Foundation Canada, spilled pellets are being washed into storm drains

Plastic pellets in a water reservoir leading to the Fraser River on Annacis Island in Delta, British Columbia on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A B.C. oceans protection group says new research showing widespread plastic pellet pollution throughout southern B.C. waters is proof the province needs to start regulating the product.

Surfrider Foundation Canada claims the tiny pellets — known as nurdles — are being spilled at plastic manufacturing sites along the Fraser River and washing into municipal storm drain systems that flow into local waterways.

In a combined effort, Surfrider Foundation Canada and the University of Victoria found pellets had found their way to waterfronts in the Lower Mainland, and as far away as north and south Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands and the Sunshine Coast.

"It's really time to turn the tap off on plastics," said Surfrider researcher David Boudinot.

Plastic pellets are pictured in a water reservoir leading to the Fraser River on Annacis Island in Delta, British Columbia on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We're highlighting the spills in particular because there's no real specific regulation or legislation for plastic pellets in the province," he said. 

The pellets are used in all kinds of industrial and commercials application, including the making of plastic bags, bottles, containers and packaging. 

The tiny pellets are easy to transport and pour, but also easy to spill. 

Surfrider Foundation Canada researchers say they have documented pellet spills at 12 unnamed Metro Vancouver industrial sites, parking lots, rail sidings and street drains. 

David Boudinot, Surfrider Foundation Canada’s plastic pellet researcher, finds plastic pellets in a water reservoir leading to the Fraser River on Annacis Island in Delta, British Columbia on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In a statement to CBC, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy thanked Surfrider for bringing the issue to its attention. It also said in the last three years not a single report of plastic pellets entering the Fraser River was received on the provincial polluters hotline. 

"The Province is working to reduce plastics in the marine environment," read the statement. "The ministry will be looking into these concerns and determining appropriate next steps."

Boudinot said he is perplexed as to why industry doesn't do a better job cleaning up spills.

He says a good first step would be to introduce a requirement for storm drain covers — similar to those used on construction sites— to prevent pellets from getting washed down the drains.

"If you have a spill at home, you don't just leave it on the ground, you clean it up," said Boudinot. "These spills at these workplaces, why aren't they cleaning them up?" 

It is well established that plastic particles that accumulate in the digestive tracts of birds and fish can injure or kill the animals. Toxins released by plastics have also been proven to move up the food chain.

With files from Joel Ballard

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.