Monday, November 16, 2009

Canada Drowns Its Scientists with Inadequate Support

Blue whales fascinated me when I was a kid. I thought: these giants can swallow me whole without blinking, but they're not at all interested in nibbling on humans. I always thought that because of their size, they only inhabited the open oceans, but today* (that is, 25 June 2005) in the Toronto Star I read that they have been sighted in the St. Lawrence River for years. The only thing is once they experience the St. Lawrence they don't come back. And they don't bring their kids either. Still, since they have been seen in Canadian waters, our government declared them an endangered species, which required them to develop a recovery plan. Since Canadians are known for their environmentalism and progressiveness, they accordingly funded one scientist $10,000 last year and $2,000 this year to find out what shooes the Blue Whales out of our waters.

Richard Sears raises real money on his own to figure out what spooks the whales (interesting that on his site, there are four flags, not one is Canadian). He doesn't believe that a high level of dioxins, becoming entangled in fishing nets, encountering ships and whizzing boats, oil spills, and noise from activities like geological exploration, are enough to deter them. But I don't know, if I encountered all that and then saw one of the tumourous belugas that live in the St. Lawrence, I'd turn fin and run.

Right next to the article on blue whales is one on cleaning up chemicals. Canadian researchers have invented three ways to clean up the tasteless and odorless trichloroethylene (TCE) and its cousins (degreasers and dry cleaning solvents that take hundreds of years to break down). This is a victory for Canada, her brainpower, her environmental activism, right?

The U.S. known for its neanderthal approach to the environment has set a maximum level of TCE in drinking water of 5 parts per million. Canada's standard is 50 parts per million. The U.S. has surveyed wells to find out how much TCE is out there and where. Canada has not. But to be fair, it is a provincial responsibility to protect our groundwater. The provinces have done no surveys either. Almost 20 years ago, the U.S. forced testing of potentially contaminated sites. Canada and the provinces don't want to be a big bully. Once these sites were catalogued, the U.S. pounced on these three Canadian inventions and have started cleaning up TCE. For example, nano-sized iron coated in water and corn oil break down the chemicals faster and cheaper, and then the oil coating feeds the bacteria that chow down on TCE and convert it to ethane, a harmless gas. They tested this at NASA.

Meanwhile, back at home, the main concern is cost. The cost to clean up, that is, not the cost of TCE on our health and economy. Here, our governments figure if they don't do the surveys, don't do the testing, don't support our scientists and their innovations, then we don't have a problem. Canadians do ostrich well.

---------------------------
*It's amazing what you find when your finger hits the wrong key and the article you weren't looking for loads into the word processor. I wrote this back in 2005, when I was searching for answers, and forgot to post it. So it's here, now, only oh about 4 years late, but still relevant, especially as the Harper government continues this abysmal legacy by overseeing the sell-off of innovative, lucrative bits and pieces of Nortel to foreign buyers and ignoring climate change meetings.

No comments: