But this quite another. Two studies in one day, on items vital to our daily lives, show them to in fact be major pollution sources threatening our health and ecosystem on a daily basis.
The study getting the most attention is on plastics. They are not as stable as we thought. They may degrade rather quickly in sea water. And they release dangerous chemicals like BPA as they do so. (Picture by CBS from Photobucket.)
The worst offender may be common Styrofoam. Japanese scientists simulated its decomposition and found a known carcinogen, styrene monomer, and two suspected carcinogens. As much as 150,000 tons of plastic, much of it Styrofoam, wash up on Japan alone each year.
Wired found some scientists skeptical of the study. They said most plastic sinks to the bottom, that temperatures there are very low, and it is unlikely to break down there.
Of course one of the skeptics quoted is Charles Moore, who 10 years ago discovered The Great Garbage Patch, a section of garbage-strewn ocean larger than Texas killing wildlife between California and Hawaii. The Great Garbage Patch is the good news.
Closer to home we have coal ash.
Even if clean coal advocates are right, and we can capture the carbon used in burning coal, that just leaves more coal ash. And coal ash is deadly stuff.
Scientists from Duke and Georgia Tech are about to publish a piece in Environmental Science & Technology studying the impact of a coal ash spill in Tennessee last year. Samples taken upstream and downstream included arsenic, mercury, even radium. When coal ash dries the dust can be deadly.
The results are in-line with those blacked-out by the Bush Administration in 2002 and finally released this year.
And there is worse news. The containment ponds around most coal plants, like the one that broke open in Tennessee, may not really be containing anything. Coal ash may still end up in the environment.
I should add here that the American South, where I live, is almost totally dependent on coal-fired power plants, with two of the three worst offenders located in my home state of Georgia. The worst is less than 100 miles south of Atlanta.