Vape-Trail Spoils RiverNov 02, 2023 09:41AM ● By Susan Maxwell Skinner
Wildlife rescuer Ben Nuckolls and assistant Leslie Ackerman display some of thousands of vaping items retrieved from a rafting stretch of the American River. Toxins from the cartridges present a danger for animal and human river use. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner
SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - If vaping is touted as less harmful than smoking, the habit is not healthy for waterways.
With the popularity of e-cigarettes, e-debris is new age trash in the American River. In the short distance between Sunrise Bridge (Fair Oaks) to Ancil Hoffman Park (Carmichael) riverbeds and banks have lately yielded thousands of plastic vape cartridges.
These contain lithium batteries and cocktails of nicotine, oils and flavorings inhaled by vapers.
The river not only supplies drinking water for millions of humans. Its pollution also impacts fish and a multitude of wildlife species. Pollution also impacts fish and thousands of wildlife species. “Batteries contain highly toxic chemicals and acids,” explains California Department of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Supervisor Nick Bauer. “In stagnant water, these and vaping residues can accumulate and become more concentrated. They can leech into sediment and be consumed by organisms living in the water.
“All river wildlife is potentially affected because harmful chemicals tend to bio-accumulate as they move up the food chain. The containers eventually wash downriver to add to the huge amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean.”
California Wildlife Encounters rescuer Ken Nuckolls considers e-debris “the new environmental hazard plaguing our waterways.”
“Arsenic, lead, chromium and nickel in lithium batteries are known carcinogens,” he says. “Ingestion of lead kills our native eagles. It only takes a particle the size of a rice grain to be fatal for them.”
Notes diver Matt Spruitenburg: “Five years ago, we seldom found vaping apparatus… Now we see it everywhere. These items are disposable, so when they’re finished, some rafters just toss them. Dumping trash in the American River is illegal. There are garbage cans in landing areas. Rafters can surely hold their trash till then.”
Karl Bly has volunteered for river cleanup since childhood and runs a group called American River Lost and Found. “I’ve collected boxes and boxes of vaping cartridges,” he says. “In any waterway, garbage is a problem. But garbage that contains chemicals is even worse for river quality.
“I encourage people to enjoy our river. But make an effort to pick up garbage.”
The American River Parkway Foundation coordinates monthly “Sustainable Saturday Clean-Ups.” For volunteer information, email www.[email protected]