Internationally-recognized pollution expert to join Raincoast’s conservation team

A view of the mountains over Vancouver, a layer of smog in the mid ground, and ships at rest in the foreground of the Salish Sea.
Photo by Michael O. Snyder.

Vancouver, BC – Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s commitment to conservation science in coastal British Columbia takes a big step forward today, as they announce that pollution expert Dr. Peter S. Ross is joining their team. 

Dr. Ross has played a prominent role in leading ground-breaking studies on ocean pollution in Canada and around the world, and has overseen solution-oriented research on priority pollutants in the ocean, in salmon and in killer whales. He previously worked as a Research Scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and recently served as Vice-President of Research at Ocean Wise.

Chris Genovali, Raincoast’s Executive Director, said that “Dr. Ross discovered 20 years ago that BC’s killer whales were the most contaminated marine mammals in the world – highlighting the vulnerability of BC’s coastal wildlife to pollution. Dr. Ross will fill a gap in British Columbia pollution reduction efforts and build bridges across jurisdictions, institutions and legal instruments.”

Dr. Ross will be leading a new Healthy Waters Program at Raincoast. The program will monitor water pollution from a multitude of sources from land to sea, covering the water that is essential to salmon, whales and people. It is widely acknowledged that land-based activities are responsible for 80% of ocean pollution, and this initiative recognizes society’s collective failure to stem the release of pollutants into the ocean. 

Foundational to this initiative is that it will use Raincoast’s collaborative framework to build a water pollution monitoring plan with community water stewards, notably Indigenous Nations. This comes with the acknowledgement that Indigenous communities often face disproportionate impacts of pollution, through contaminated drinking water, degraded environmental conditions and pollutants in foods harvested in their territories that they have stewarded for millenia. Chris Genovali adds, “Dr. Ross’s previous work in support of clean water and safe Indigenous foods creates a valuable opportunity for Raincoast to build on our history of combining western science and Indigenous knowledge to further sustainability in BC.”

The initiative will begin in the urbanized Fraser River and Salish Sea watersheds, with the possibility of a BC-wide expansion.

Since no single agency is responsible for the pollution of water in all its forms, there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive approach to monitoring water pollution in British Columbia – one that seamlessly captures water along its journey from headwaters to homes, street runoff to rivers, and rivers to the ocean. And one that helps to identify solution-oriented priorities for all of us.

A history of incidents in BC underscores the serious threat posed by pollution: 

  • The derailment of nine Canadian National railcars in 2005, resulting in the release of 40,000 L of caustic soda into the Cheakamus River and the deaths of 500,000 salmon and trout.
  • Tire particles, tire-associated chemicals (6-PPD Quinone) and pesticides are entering urban fish habitat and killing salmon.
  • Killer whales in BC’s coastal waters are the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world, highlighting the vulnerability of this salmon-eating predator to the legacy of industrial chemicals.
  • Drinking water is at risk from pathogens, lead (Pb) and disinfection byproducts, with Drinking Water Advisories in place for many communities and Indigenous Nations.

Dr. Ross calls it ‘British Columbia’s Invisible Crisis’, with the contamination of water in all its forms threatening the health of people and wildlife. 

Farida Bishay (Superintendent, Environmental Monitoring, Liquid Waste Services at Metro Vancouver) said, “This initiative will help us with engagement and relationship building with numerous stakeholders and partners in the regional community as we move forward with our liquid waste management planning process.”

This novel initiative represents the first time that a single program will tackle the divergent pollutant profiles in water along its convoluted journey from headwaters to the ocean, intersecting the needs of anadromous salmon, whales, and people. After all, clean water is essential to all forms of life. The direct engagement with communities and residents will afford an important opportunity to build an action team from the start – habitat champions that can see the priority pollution problems in their communities and take appropriate steps to mitigate the source of the problem. This will help advance Canada’s commitments under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 6 (Clean Water for all) and 14 (Life Under Water), in the context of reconciliation as outlined in the UN Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples.

Dr. Ross has begun to engage with communities to develop a comprehensive plan.