Tuesday, March 27, 2012

So Much Disinformation, So Little Time

In which I highlight the garbage being dished out as science in the Bay news.  Take for example this piece:  Phosphorus, Part 3: Fishing industry struggles with fertilizer runoff;
Steve Carter finished unloading a dozen bushels of oysters from his battered fishing boat when he paused to look at the Pagan River.

"All out here," he said gesturing toward a nearby inlet, "it's loaded with oysters."

"But you can't get them," he continued, "because they say the water's polluted" with phosphorus and other nutrients that, in excess, can wreak havoc on waterways, including Chesapeake Bay tributaries like the Pagan.
Notice how the quotes end just before the "phosphorus" in the final sentence?  That's because the watermen did not say the words after that point, they were the invention of the author.  Pollution does cause closures on oysters, but it is never for "phosphorus and other nutrients".  Oyster closures are for bacteria, or in extremely rare cases (I can't think of one in Chesapeake Bay) for high concentrations of toxics.  Phosphorus and "other nutrients" (nitrate, ammonium and silicate) are not in fact directly harmful to oysters, at least at the levels found in even the most polluted waters.

Oysters are closed because of bacterial contamination, and that is associated with sewage and septic contamination almost exclusively.  Sewage and septic contamination do bring in nutrients, but it is not the phosphorus, nitrogen or silicate that are responsible.

Is it too much to ask that reporters get the basics right?  Don't bother to answer.

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