Bay Crossings Article

Tips for a Healthy Bay and a Healthy You

By 
Deb Self
From the April 2014 edition of Bay Crossings

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, Opening Day on the Bay on April 27, and the spring and summer recreation season, Baykeeper presents tips to protect both your health and the health of San Francisco Bay.

When You’re Along or On the Bay

Use mineral sunscreens, but avoid nanoparticles. Most chemical sunscreens contain dangerous compounds like oxybenzone and retinol that can cause cancer and disrupt hormones. Instead, use mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide, because they don’t appear to absorb deep into the body, don’t break down in sunlight, and pose a lower health risk. However, zinc and titanium sunscreens can contain nanoparticles—extremely tiny particles of these minerals that harm human health. Nanoparticles are too small to be removed by sewage treatment, so when you wash them off in the shower, they end up in the Bay, where they may harm Bay wildlife. Sunscreen manufacturers don’t have to list nanoparticles in their ingredients, so the way to avoid them is to choose a sunscreen labeled nano-free.

Clean up litter. Trash in streets and along the shore can get blown into the Bay, or washed into the Bay when it rains. Always put trash in a trash bin, and keep the lids on your home trash and recycle bins firmly closed. Smokers shouldn’t to discard cigarette butts on the street or along the Bay—cigarette butts are one of the most common types of trash found on our shorelines.

In Your Garden

Avoid weed killers and fertilizers. Herbicides marketed to kill weeds poison pets, kids, and creeks. When fertilizers get washed into creeks and the Bay, it can rob the Bay of oxygen fish need. Just say no to weed killers and fertilizers in your yard.

Don’t use pesticides, even "safer" ones. Urban and suburban pesticide use is a major source of water pollution that kills fish and aquatic plants and insects. Pyrethrins are marketed as safe and natural, because they are derived from chrysanthemums. However, these pesticides have been closely linked with neurological problems and developmental delays in exposed children. Instead, try physical removal of pests, spraying down plants with water, and squishing invaders.

Consider taking out your lawn. Lawns require lots of water that isn’t available in the Bay Area during dry years. Consider converting your lawn to drought-resistant native plantings that provide needed habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

Install a rain barrel or cistern. With the Bay Area experiencing serious drought, now is the time to prepare to make better use of the rain that falls on your home. Reducing the amount of storm water that runs off your property keeps that water from picking up pollutants in gutters and streets and carrying contamination to storm drains that lead to the Bay. In addition, capturing rainwater to irrigate your garden later, during the dry season, reduces your water consumption.

Avoid planting trees and shrubs near the sewer line that connects your home to the sewer system. Plant roots are one of the most common causes of sewer line problems that can cause sewage to be washed or spilled into storm drains or creeks that lead to the Bay.

If You’re a Boater

Pump out boat sewage. It’s illegal to discharge treated or untreated boat sewage into the Bay. And salt water does not sterilize the bacteria and other pathogens in sewage. Empty marine sanitation devices at designated facilities designed to take human waste to sewage treatment plants, or use a mobile pump-out service.

Practice clean boat maintenance. Avoid commercial cleaners that contain phosphates, ammonia, bleach, chlorinated solvents or lye. These cleaners all harm the environment, and some, if overused, can destroy protective coatings on boats. Often vinegar, baking soda, or just plain water can do the job with a little elbow grease. Baykeeper successfully uses environmentally-safe cleaners on our pollution patrol boat. Dispose of hazardous wastes such as used oils, oil filters, and lead batteries at a hazardous waste facility. Save large cleaning and maintenance jobs for when your boat is out of the water, at a boatyard with waste collection and treatment systems.

However you enjoy the Bay Area outdoors, Baykeeper wishes you a happy spring and summer recreation season. And thank you for helping protect San Francisco Bay from pollution!