Tag Archives | Pollution

On the Slow Kill of the World’s Oceans

Picture: speakupforblue.com

Picture: speakupforblue.com

Aaron Dames writes for Divided Core:

It is probable that every major ecological pillar however tenuously stabilizing the structure of the oceans is crumbling.  Although some endangered fish populations and coral reef systems are being protected and restored, the seas overall are in deep shit.  Overfishing and pollution are reducing biodiversity by killing-off larges swaths of ocean life.  The destruction of vast marine habitats will have catastrophic repercussions for humanity.  [According to some earth scientists, oceanic ecocide poses a greater threat to the existence of humanity than climate change.  Higher global temperature averages which melt icecaps and glaciers will lead to higher sea levels and the inundation of a plethora of coastal industries, cities, and urban centers that are responsible for contributing to environmental destruction and the mass production of excessive, heat-trapping, carbon-dioxide emissions. As in times of major economic depressions or financial stagnation, the inundation of coastal megalopolises will result in a decrease of industrial activity which may subsequently benefit nature as a whole (until industrial activity is resumed), but would have horrible consequences for humanity, especially for those hundreds of millions of impoverished coastal inhabitants who already live in deprivation, and who would become environmental refugees in the event of a significant increase in sea levels.  (Click here to view an interactive map from National Geographic which depicts how coastlines would change if all glaciers and icecaps on Earth were to melt.)]

Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but human beings have caused a lot of trouble for life in the world’s oceans.  The process in which the destruction of sea life occurs is largely two-fold.  Large-scale destructive events like oil spills (Deepwater Horizon) and nuclear power plant disasters (Fukushima) can cause serious damage to the affected aquatic areas.  Damage from such disasters is often immediately evident, such as the deformed and eyeless fish and shrimp that appeared in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or the dying sea lions pups and seals with bleeding lesions that have washed up on beaches in California and Alaska the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown.  Yet as grave and harmful as they are, explosive, headline-making disasters are less deleterious to life in the seas than the cumulative, synergistic effects of routine human activities such as oceanic commerce, commercial fishing, and pollution.  For example, a 2002 study by the National Academy of the Sciences found that the 85 percent of the 29 million gallons of marine oil pollution originating from North America derives from runoff from cars and oil-based machines and accessories (like lawnmowers and household robots) – and the sum of these tiny releases of oil, carried into the ocean by streams and storm drains, is equivalent to an Exxon Valdez oil spill every eight months.  [As additional food for thought: there are apparently 90,000 cargo ships in the world.

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Fique Fibers from Andes Mountains Part of Miracle Solution for Dye Pollution, Find Scientists

Picture: Cornell University (C)

Picture: Cornell University (C)

Via ScienceDaily:

A cheap and simple process using natural fibers embedded with nanoparticles can almost completely rid water of harmful textile dyes in minutes, report Cornell University and Colombian researchers who worked with native Colombian plant fibers.

Dyes, such as indigo blue used to color blue jeans, threaten waterways near textile plants in South America, India and China. Such dyes are toxic, and they discolor the water, thereby reducing light to the water plants, which limits photosynthesis and lowers the oxygen in the water.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Green Chemistry, describes a proof of principle, but the researchers are testing how effectively their method treats such endocrine-disrupting water pollutants as phenols, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and phthalates.

“These molecules are contaminants that are very resilient to traditional water-purification processes, and we believe our biocomposite materials can be an option for their removal from waste water,” said study co-author, Marianny Combariza, a researcher at Colombia’s Universidad Industrial de Santander.

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The Ocean Is Broken

Pacific-garbage-patch-map 2010 noaamdpAustralia’s Newcastle Herald describes the sorry tale of Ivan Macfadyen’s adventures in the polluted Pacific Ocean. Here’s a particularly depressing excerpt:

“After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,” Macfadyen said.

“We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.

“I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes.

“Part of it was the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years ago. The wave came in over the land, picked up an unbelievable load of stuff and carried it out to sea.

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World Heath Organization Says Air Pollution Is Leading Cause Of Cancer

LandscapeDon’t breathe, it will kill you. Via the South China Morning Post:

The World Health Organization has classified outdoor air pollution as a leading cause of cancer.

“The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances. We consider this to be the most important environmental carcinogen, more so than passive smoking,” said Kurt Straif, head of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The agency evaluates cancer-causing substances. This is the first time it has classified air pollution in its entirety as causing cancer.

The most recent data, from 2010, showed that 223,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide were the result of air pollution. The expert panel’s classification was made after scientists analysed more than 1,000 studies worldwide and concluded there was enough evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer.

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Barbecue Ban Fails to Help Chinese See Across Tiananmen Square

chinesebarbeqLloyd Alter writes at TreeHugger:

According to the Real Time Air Quality Index, a score of 150-200 is unhealthy, and “Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.” A score of 201-300 is very unhealthy, “Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.” Over 300: “Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects.”

It hit 271 on Sunday. On Saturday morning when I took these photos, you could barely see across Tiananmen Square. It made my eyes water and my throat sore. Much of it is from seriously damaging particulates known as PM2.5, or particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns, coal fired power stations and industries around Beijing are blamed. There are a lot of VOC’s (volatile organic chemicals); China Daily notes that these weren’t even measured until 2010.

“If we hope to see real changes to the country’s air quality, coordinated control of multiple pollutants, including VOCs, is a must,” Yang Jintian, head of the Atmospheric Environment Institute at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, told China Daily.

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MIT Study Claims Air Pollution Kills 200,000 Americans Each Year

200,000I believe this is the ultimate example of what is known as “cost externalizing.” Via the MIT News Office:

Researchers from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment have come out with some sobering new data on air pollution’s impact on Americans’ health.

The group tracked ground-level emissions from sources such as industrial smokestacks, vehicle tailpipes, marine and rail operations, and commercial and residential heating throughout the United States, and found that such air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year. Emissions from road transportation are the most significant contributor, causing 53,000 premature deaths, followed closely by power generation, with 52,000.

In 5,695 U.S. cities, the researchers [found] the highest emissions-related mortality rate in Baltimore, where 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.

Barrett says that a person who dies from an air pollution-related cause typically dies about a decade earlier than he or she otherwise might have.

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Lake Michigan Contaminated With Prescription Drugs

simpsons-fishDrugs in the water at Lake Michigan:

Via Scientific American:

Prescription drugs are contaminating Lake Michigan two miles from Milwaukee’s sewage outfalls, suggesting that the lake is not diluting the compounds as most scientists expected, according to new research.

“In a body of water like the Great Lakes, you’d expect dilution would kick in and decrease concentrations, and that was not the case here,” said Dana Kolpin, a U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist based in Iowa.

It is not clear what, if any, effects the drugs are having on fish and other creatures in Lake Michigan. But this ability to travel and remain at relatively high concentrations means that aquatic life is exposed, so there could be “some serious near-shore impacts,” said Rebecca Klaper, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and senior author of the study published in the journal Chemosphere.

Keep reading.

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Japanese Authorities Admit Fukushima Has Been Leaking Radiation Into Water For Two Years, And Cannot Be Stopped

fukushimaVia the New York Times, a reminder to always take officials with a grain of salt when they issue statements denying that the oceans and air are being poisoned:

The stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima has probably been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for two years, ever since an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant, Japan’s chief nuclear regulator said on Wednesday.

In unusually candid comments, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, also said that neither his staff nor the plant’s operator knew exactly where the leaks were coming from, or how to stop them.

The operator, Tokyo Electric Power, has reported spikes in the amounts of radioactive cesium, tritium and strontium detected in groundwater at the plant, adding urgency to the task of sealing any leaks. Radioactive cesium and strontium, especially, are known to raise risks of cancer in humans.

Until recently, Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco, flatly denied that any of that water was leaking into the ocean, even though various independent studies of radiation levels in the nearby ocean have suggested otherwise.

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China To Introduce Death Penalty For Egregious Polluters

pollutersHarsh but fair? Via Scientific American:

Chinese authorities have given courts the powers to hand down the death penalty in serious pollution cases, state media said, as the government tries to assuage growing public anger at environmental desecration.

A new judicial interpretation which took effect on Wednesday would impose “harsher punishments” and tighten “lax and superficial” enforcement of the country’s environmental protection laws, the official Xinhua news agency reported: “In the most serious cases the death penalty could be handed down.”

Protests over pollution have unnerved the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party. Thousands of people took to the streets in the southwestern city of Kunming last month to protest against the planned production of a chemical at a refinery.

Severe air pollution in Beijing and large parts of northern China this winter have added to the sense of unease among the population.

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Traces Of Prozac In Water Make Fish “Antisocial, Aggressive And Even Homicidal”

prozac

Good thing there aren’t traces of Prozac in the water we drin– oh, wait. ABC News reports:

Fish swimming in water with a trace of the anti-depressant Prozac became edgy, aggressive and some even killed their mates.

The fish were subjected to traces of the drug by a research group at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that examined how environmental exposure to the medication altered the behavior of fathead minnows. Lead researcher Rebecca Klapper says that this experimental setup could actually be a reflection of the fishes’ reality.

The human body does not absorb medications 100 percent, so a trace amount is excreted in urine. Water treatment centers are unable to completely filter out all of those contaminant and can trickle down and affect the wildlife.

Klapper sees the minnows as a way to gauge the long-term effects of Prozac in humans. “It’s not just an environmental question but a human question as well,” she tells ABC News.

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