Oceanography Professor Rainer Lohmann is worried about the chemical pollutants that drift into our waterways and travel around the globe in the world’s oceans, contaminating food webs and sometimes lingering for decades.
In the Lohmann Lab at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, he’s tracked these chemical compounds – pesticides, mercury, PCBs, flame retardants and others – from Narragansett Bay to the Arctic Ocean and even into the mother’s milk of Antarctic fur seals, who pass it along to their pups. He also developed a process to detect them in the water using a simple sheet of clear plastic. But he doesn’t want to just study these compounds, he wants to eradicate them.
Professor Lohmann says that many of the chemicals he finds today were banned 40 years ago but are still found at harmful levels, especially in the Arctic. And thousands of untested new chemicals – what he calls ‘emerging contaminants of concern’ – are being introduced to the environment every year through industrial processes, with little regulation or government oversight.
So last year he spearheaded efforts by the scientific community to demand stricter regulation of these chemicals, and he was invited to testify before Congress about proposed legislation that he said will do little to improve the situation.
“We have the most ineffective chemical control act anywhere on Earth,” he said. “It’s very frustrating that things are moving so slowly to fix it. But I’m determined to try.”