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NEWPORT NEWS--Twelve years ago, Rolland Schattschneider went to war. The enemy: cigarette butts. He hunted them with a ven-geance--along sidewalks, at intersections, outside a local school. He picked them up with gloved hands or a mechanical claw, stabbed them with pointy sticks. He stuffed them into garbage bags. He suffered their collective noxious fumes.
And right up to his last day of service on April 5 this year, he counted them: 185,372.
"I started at Barron Elementary School," explained Schattschneider, 82, of the Fox Hill area of Hampton. "I lived right around the corner and used to walk my dog around the schoolyard, and started seeing all the trash and started picking it all up. I found a lot of cigarette butts, and that kind of disturbed me because children play out there. I didn't want them picking them up and putting them in their mouths."
The Daily Press has tracked Schattschneider's progress over the years, and the honors he's won for his personal anti-litter campaign. Now he's retired from his mission.
He's become a minor expert on cigarette butts--their plastic fiber construction, the cancerous chemicals concentrated in those fibers, and what happens when they're flicked by the pack, by the thousands, by the millions onto the ground.
"Each cigarette butt you don't pick up stays on the ground," Schattschneider says. "As soon as water hits it, it releases all these chemicals. And each cigarette butt contaminates two gallons of water."
That's not news to Katie Register of Clean Virginia Waterways at Longwood University in Farmville. Her master's thesis several years ago explored the impact of discarded cigarette butts on the environment. In fact, it was Register who discovered that a single filter can pollute two gallons of water. Specifically, it can kill all the tiny crustaceans called daphnia, or water fleas, living in that water.
"Some people might say, 'Who cares? They're water fleas. They're tiny,'" Register says. "But they form a very important link in the aquatic food chain."
Kill the daphnia, and larger creatures can starve. Poison the daphnia, and the toxicity concentrates up the food chain, including into the fish we consume.