Scientist Who Helped Eliminate Toxic Chemical Flows Into Salish Sea Honored
October 27, 2011
BC Scientist John Elliott, who helped eliminate dioxin and furan discharge into the Salish Sea, is honored with the SeaDoc Society’s prestigious Salish Sea Science Award.
Dioxins and furans are highly toxic persistent organic pollutants that once were dumped into the Salish Sea in pulp mill effluent. They are counted among the twelve most poisonous “dirty dozen” toxins in the world, and once were concentrated in fish and fish-eating birds in British Columbia, causing fishery closures and waterfowl consumption advisories. Thanks to mandated changes in bleaching processes and restrictions on usage of the parent compounds for these toxic chemicals at pulp mills, discharge of dioxins and furans into the Salish Sea has been eliminated.
Today a toxicologist from Environment Canada, Dr. John Elliott, was awarded the prestigious Salish Sea Science Prize in recognition of his research documenting the presence and effects of these chemicals on wildlife and his work with regulators to translate his science into policy that eliminated the release of these chemicals into the ocean.
Dr. Elliot began his work in the mid-1980s with research on great blue herons, to better understand the possible effects of persistent organic pollutants on these aquatic birds. As part of a team that included population biologists, chemists and biochemists, Elliot documented for the first time the exposure of wild birds to the forest industry derived pollutants, dioxins and furans. As well, he documented high concentrations of these chemicals in bald eagles living near pulp mill sites, and went on to determine the deleterious effects of these toxins on eagles breeding near contaminated areas. His initial studies led to further research demonstrating the effects of these chemicals on embryonic development of both herons and cormorants at colonies near pulp mills and other forest industry sites in the Salish Sea.
In countless meetings and presentations, Elliot worked with industry and regulators to communicate this science and in so doing, influenced subsequent national and international regulations that halted the use of molecular chlorine bleaching, and restricted the use of chlorophenolic wood preservatives and anti-sap stains. This was no small accomplishment, as during that time, the forest industry was the economic mainstay of many of the communities around the Salish Sea.
For this work, Elliot was selected as the winner of the SeaDoc Society’s 2011 Salish Sea Science Prize. This prestigious $2,000 no-strings-attached prize is the only award of its kind. It is bestowed biennially by the SeaDoc Society to recognize a scientist whose work has resulted in the demonstrated improved health of fish and wildlife populations in the Salish Sea. It is given in recognition of, and to honor the spirit of, the late Stephanie Wagner, who loved the region and its wildlife.
While awarding the prize today at the 2011 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, BC, Dr. Joe Gaydos, Chief Scientist and Regional Scientist for the SeaDoc Society, said that Elliott’s work “served as an example to the world for how science can make a positive difference and is a crucial foundation for designing healthy ecosystems.”