]]]]]]]]]]]]]]    DEEP OCEAN: THE SAFEST DUMP      [[[[[[[[[[[[[[
                      By Charles Osterberg           (02/03/1990)

(Charles  Osterberg  is retired  professor  of  oceanography at
Oregon State University  [-- and also an old AtE subscriber])

       From the New York Times, 14 June 1989, I, p. 27:2

             [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

                                                     Damascus, Md.
   Is the ocean as  Congress views it --  a thin, fragile veil of
water,  brim  full  of  good  food  for  future  generations, but
wantonly  poisoned  by  man?  Or  is  it  as  some oceanographers
believe -- a  deep, dark barren desert  providing little food but
with  the greatest  capacity to  assimilate  human wastes  of any
earthly ecosystem?
   It is both.  Two percent of  the ocean is coastal water -- the
seashore, harbors and home for fish.  The rest is the deep ocean,
where few fish are caught.
   Nonetheless, it was  the view of  Congress that prevailed last
year when  it passed  legislation that  prohibits the  dumping of
sewage and industrial wastes into the ocean after Dec. 31, 1991.
   In  doing so,  Congress disregarded  advice from  the National
Research  Council of  the National  Academy  of Sciences  and the
National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmospheres to keep our
options open.  These  groups argued that  we should not foreclose
deep ocean  dumping because, in  some cases, it  is preferable to
any of the alternatives.
   Moreover, this law does not protect the coastal ocean.  Waste,
when burned or dumped on land,  eventually ends up in the coastal
ocean.  As ``Chemical Oceanography,''  a well-known text, states:
``The ocean is man's ultimate  garbage can.  Sooner or later, all
of  the  products   of  civilization  find   their  way  to  this
reservoir.''  Indeed, a  better way to  protect the coastal ocean
would be to dump our waste in the deep ocean.
   The  new law  places two-thirds  of  our planet  off-limits to
mankind's wastes.   This is  an interesting  new philosophy: that
our wastes should go  where we live -- the  land -- and not where
we don't live --  the much bigger, deep  ocean, with water depths
of 3,000 feet or more.
   Fortunately, that view doesn't prevail  in our homes, where we
insist that chimneys penetrate  the roofs, carrying smoke outside
and, above all, where sewer pipes must extend beyond the range of
our noses.   A cork  in either  pipe for  even a  few weeks would
convince anyone of the wisdom of this philosophy.
   Perhaps  this isn't  being fair  to  the members  of Congress.
Perhaps they don't think wastes should go on the land willy-nilly
-- just  on any  land outside my  state.  Probably  they mean out
West, where  a surfeit of  desolate lands lays  idle, defended by
few votes in the House of Representatives.
   Does Congress  expect nature to  suddenly change  her ways and
abide by the new law of the land?
   Mother nature will  placidly thwart the  intent of Congress by
flushing wastes, legally confined  to the land and  air we try to
live on, illegally to the coastal ocean.
   For despite  the new law,  gravity will  prevail.  Congress be
damned: Those  wastes on land  will eventually reach  the sea, as
surely as rivers continue to flow down hill.
   Percolating rains,  the unpredictable  changes in ground-water
levels and erosion will  see to that.  And  smoke and debris sent
into the  skies will  return as acid  rain and  crud, joining the
flood to the sea.
   Congress is sure to lose this contest of wills. Unfortunately,
in the meantime, the land, air  and fresh water that sustain life
on earth  will be  degraded, forced  by the  new law  to serve as
half-way houses, holding the wastes  briefly out of sight, out of
mind before freeing them to flow seaward.
   It makes little sense for Congress to protect the durable deep
ocean  if  it  means discriminating  against  the  planet's other
life-support systems, especially when it affords no protection to
our fragile coastal waters.

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