Tag Archives | Pollution

Creating A Habitable Island Made Of Garbage In The Pacific Ocean

Is this the solution to our waste problems? A research team at the University College London is working towards the creation of a Plastic Republic by 2030 in the North Pacific, and funding the project by selling off parcels of land on the future island:
We intend to engineer enhanced adhesive properties in Escherichia coli and marine bacteria to alter the composition and dynamics of resultant biofilms for the adhesion of micro-plastic pollutants, with an extended vision of creating mass aggregates, or ‘Plastic Islands’. After months of planning, we are now rallying to construct a ‘plastic island’ using the principles of synthetic biology. In so doing we hope to provide a solution to one of the world’s major environmental problems – the North Pacific Garbage Patch.
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Green Plants Reduce City Street Pollution Up to Eight Times More Than Previously Believed

Photo credit: Michael Fiegle

Via ScienceDaily:

Trees, bushes and other greenery growing in the concrete-and-glass canyons of cities can reduce levels of two of the most worrisome air pollutants by eight times more than previously believed, a new study has found. A report on the research appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Thomas Pugh and colleagues explain that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and microscopic particulate matter (PM) — both of which can be harmful to human health — exceed safe levels on the streets of many cities. Past research suggested that trees and other green plants can improve urban air quality by removing those pollutants from the air. However, the improvement seemed to be small, a reduction of less than 5 percent. The new study sought a better understanding of the effects of green plants in the sometimes stagnant air of city streets, which the authors term “urban street canyons.”

The study concluded that judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy and other plants in urban canyons can reduce the concentration at street level of NO2 by as much as 40 percent and PM by 60 percent, much more than previously believed.

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Study Finds Caffeine Pollution In Pacific Ocean

All of humanity are coffee addicts, and apparently we won’t stop until we have every creature on land and sea hooked. Via EurekAlert!:

A new study finds elevated levels of caffeine at several sites in Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Oregon—though not necessarily where researchers expected.

This study is the first to look at caffeine pollution off the Oregon coast. It was developed and conducted by Portland State University master’s student Zoe Rodriguez del Rey and her faculty adviser Elise Granek, in collaboration with Steve Sylvester of Washington State University, Vancouver.

Caffeine is found in many food and beverage products as well as some pharmaceuticals, and caffeine pollution is directly related to human activity (although many plant species produce caffeine, there are no natural sources of the substance in the Northwest). The presence of caffeine may also signal additional anthropogenic pollution, such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other contaminants.

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Beach Rocks that Burned California Woman Had Elevated Phosphate Level

Map: Lencer (CC)

An update to this story, a California woman who brought home a handful of greenish rocks her children found on the beach had a very painful surprise when the rocks caught fire in her pocket. She suffered second and third degree burns due to the flaming stones. Her husband suffered similar injuries while attempting to help her.

Lab reports indicate that the rocks contained “elevated” phosphate levels, most likely contamination from a man-made source. San Clemente Island, just miles off the coast where the woman’s children found the rocks, is owned by the military. They’ve denied any responsibility for the pollution and injuries, and for now the investigation continues.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.

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Antibiotic Resistance Genes Accumulating in Lake Geneva Via Wastewater Treatment Plants

Lake Geneva

Photo: Christopher Down (CC)

Via ScienceDaily:

Large quantities of antibiotic-resistant bacteria enter the environment via municipal — and especially hospital — wastewater streams. Although wastewater treatment plants reduce the total number of bacteria, the most hazardous — multiresistant — strains appear to withstand or even to be promoted by treatment processes. This was demonstrated by Eawag researchers in a study carried out in Lake Geneva, near Lausanne.

Treated wastewater from the city of Lausanne — around 90,000 m3 per day — is released into Vidy Bay (Lake Geneva); the discharge point is located 700 m offshore, at a depth of 30 m. The Lausanne region does not have a pharmaceutical industry or intensive animal production. However, the Lausanne treatment plant receives wastewater not only from the region’s 214,000 inhabitants and a number of smaller healthcare centres, but also from a major healthcare facility — the University Hospital of Canton Vaud (CHUV).

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Welcome to the Acid Sea

Waves on Ocean CoastIs the coming tide an uninhabitable ocean? Reports the AFP via Alternet:

High levels of pollution may be turning the planet’s oceans acidic at a faster rate than at any time in the past 300 million years, with unknown consequences for future sea life, researchers said Thursday.

The acidification may be worse than during four major mass extinctions in history when natural pulses of carbon from asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions caused global temperatures to soar, said the study in the journal Science.

An international team of researchers from the United States, Britain, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands examined hundreds of paleoceanographic studies, including fossils wedged in seafloor sediment from millions of years ago. They found only one time in history that came close to what scientists are seeing today in terms of ocean life die-off — a mysterious period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum about 56 million years ago.

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A Cheap New Way To Clean The Air

George Olah. Photo: Bitman (CC)

George Olah. Photo: Bitman (CC)

Via ScienceDaily:

Scientists are reporting discovery of an improved way to remove carbon dioxide — the major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming — from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere. Their report on the process, which achieves some of the highest carbon dioxide removal capacity ever reported for real-world conditions where the air contains moisture, appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Alain Goeppert, G. K. Surya Prakash, chemistry Nobel Laureate George A. Olah and colleagues explain that controlling emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. They point out that existing methods for removing carbon dioxide from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere, are energy intensive, don’t work well and have other drawbacks.

In an effort to overcome such obstacles, the group turned to solid materials based on polyethylenimine, a readily available and inexpensive polymeric material.

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River Of Blood Flows In China

When researching your local natural environs involves a DVD of The Shining…Via the International Business Times:

The Jian River in Luoyang, China had become a “river of blood”…Locals were subject to the water’s eerie, blood-like color for several days before government officials tracked the source of the color not to a Moses-like End Times but to two small chemical plants.

Although media outlets were alerted to the spill by citizens’ panicked calls, others who live neat the water are unsurprised, saying the water changes color often due to the various pollutants dumped into or along the river on a weekly basis. Some Chinese locals report that the river has turned dark green in the past.

chinablood

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Traffic Fumes Linked To Brain Damage, Autism

Not that this should be any great surprise, but maybe now that scientists are able to measure the adverse effects of combustion-engine vehicle pollution, legislators will take action. One can dream, anyway. From the Wall Street Journal:
Congested cities are fast becoming test tubes for scientists studying the impact of traffic fumes on the brain. As roadways choke on traffic, researchers suspect that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks—especially tiny carbon particles already implicated in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments—may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory. New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that, at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability...
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When Pollution Grows Terrible, The Elite Breathe Purified Air

gty_beijing_pollution_nt_111101_wblogIt has recently been noted that in the Chinese capital of Beijing, the air quality has grown so bad as to be off the charts of measurability. But the New York Times reports that the elite breathe special air thanks to purification systems — is this the global future, in which a breath of fresh air is a luxury item?

Ordinary Beijingers could take some comfort in the knowledge that the soupy air they breathe on especially polluted days also finds its way into the lungs of the privileged and pampered. Such assumptions, it seems, are not entirely accurate.

As it turns out, the homes and offices of many top leaders are filtered by high-end devices, at least according to a Chinese company, the Broad Group, which has been promoting its air-purifying machines in advertisements that highlight their ubiquity in places where many officials work and live.

The company’s vice president, Zhang Zhong, said there were more than 200 purifiers scattered throughout Great Hall of the People, the office of China’s president, Hu Jintao, and Zhongnanhai, the walled compound for senior leaders and their families.

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