Continuing from the post below on the mighty river and a country’s effort to keep it at bay. We have seen a magnitude of devastation in the Mississippi and Louisiana areas from strong tornadoes and severe weather. In response to a surging Mississippi River that is threatening to flood out larger cities downstream the government in conjunction with the Army Corp of Engineers have opened up spillways and removed earthen levees to relieve the banks of river. The excess water is diverted to flood plains and low farm communities, a small price to pay in comparison to flooding out larger populations closer to the Gulf. We do a lot to control this 2,300 mile river but for how long should we allow this and how long will the river allow it?

In their natural state, rivers are dynamic systems. Over the course of hundred of years, sediment builds up in the river bed causing the river to meander. A river as long as the Mississippi changes course radically every thousand years or so.” (The WEEK, Vol 11 Iss 518 pg 13). The Snake River here in the Northwest has evidence of deviating up to 100 miles from its present course. That does a lot for changing ecosystems and landscapes.

“The levees lining the Mississippi have saved millions of lives over the years, but some argue they’ve caused an ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The levee infrastructure siphons river sediment through a single waterway out into the sea, preventing it from building up to form natural defenses for Louisiana’s wetlands. As a result the Gulf’s waters have steadily eroded the state’s coastline. More than a million acres of land have vanished over the past hundred years; by 2100, some scientists say, New Orleans could be an island. The only solution may be to demolish levees and let the river run wild, says Christopher D’Elia, dean of the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University, but that would displace thousands of people and harm industries that rely on the river. “We’re absolutely hamstrung about the situation” he says.” (THE WEEK, Vol 11 Iss 518 pg 13)

I think this topic is really interesting, we have reached a breaking point with this river system and we know it. A stagnant ecosystem like the one at the end of the River heading into the gulf, is an unhealthy ecosystem. From this to the loss of biodiversity described in the post below there needs to be a snap to get the area back into healthy operation. D’Elia and others are torn between decisions and what’s to be done. However the river has been ‘set free’ upstream to prevent the flooding and damage of more populated areas downstream. A similar course of action would be to let the River run wild now before it reaches a critical or surprising point years from now. Handle the situation while its still manageable.

Nine farming states along the Mississippi river have been contributing to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico just off the coast of Louisiana due to chemical fertilizers used in farming.  The main chemicals that cause the dead zone are nitrogen and phosphorous that creates algal blooms that starve other living creatures of oxygen.  The fact that so many states along the river contribute to the problem leads to a discussion of which is responsible for the pollution, which is responsible for cleaning up the mess, and what practices can be implemented in order to reduce this environmental degradation.  The NY Times reports that only two of the states, Illinois and Indiana, have taken action.  These actions are limited, however, to only pertain to lakes and not the main cause of the dead zone in the gulf, the Mississippi river.

The fact that the river crosses many borders creates an imbalance of power and a blame game of sorts.  States downstream are most affected by the pollution causing them to promote large-scale regulations by the EPA pertaining to the river as a whole in order to encompass the scope of the environmental issue.  Apparently, voluntary mechanisms have not done enough to encourage more sustainable agriculture.   At the very end of the river, in the Gulf of Mexico, citizens who have absolutely nothing to do with agricultural production may be the most negatively affected.   Fishermen see a large decrease in yield and cannot find quality marine life in or near the dead zone.

One reason for the use of chemical fertilizers that damage rivers and oceans is the American appetite for cheap food.  Because of the need for food and the preference for cheap food, agricultural producers are forced to yield more food more frequently and must use chemical fertilizers in order to keep up with the consumer’s appetite.  This is an example of how many levels contribute to this type of environmental degradation.

The consumption patterns of society require lots of food for very cheap.  This leads to more agricultural lands that sometimes are placed where other vital natural features once existed which removes the natural systems that usually purify and clean out toxins.  Chemical fertilizers are used in order to keep up with the demand for food both in amounts and cost.  With natural filtration systems removed, these chemicals are able to enter the rivers and as they pass by more agricultural states, chemical concentrations grow.   Once the chemicals enter the ocean, they create algal blooms and dead zones which negatively affect fishing industries.  In order to try to regulate these problems, states try to implement voluntary regulation which simply does not work because the bottom line for agriculture is profit.  Also, producers of agriculture perceive more risk from applying too little pesticides as opposed to applying too much.  Downstream states that are more negatively affected blame states upstream and call for a large-scale regulation put in place by the EPA.  Finally, it takes a collaboration of local governments, farmers, environmental groups, federal government and regulatory agencies to come up with a plan to decrease use of chemical fertilizers while maintaining crop yield to satisfy the consumer’s appetite.

Last week mine, Olga, and Miguel’s group did a presentation on Cradle to Cradle manufacturing. One of the points I brought up supporting the theory was to avoid the current crisis of e-waste that is occurring around the world. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that burning plastics releases horrible toxins into the atmosphere, and that breathing the smoke is extremely carcinogenic. So how would developed nations around the world allow this to happen?

Actually, the government policy of many developed nations such as the U.S. and most European countries publicly state they will not ship containers of e-waste to be recycled in underdeveloped countries like Ghana. In 1992, the Basel Convention was signed by almost every country in the world, and it was designed to stop the trade of e-waste from developed nations to less developed nations. So, since it is so much cheaper to recycle e-waste in countries without laws governing the matter in how it is done, countries had to find a way to get around this basil convention. The brilliant loophole they developed is renaming the e-waste as “secondhand goods.” The stated intentions of this is that a television that we deem old is perfectly fine for someone in Africa to use, same with computers. In reality, most of the computers and televisions being sent in containers to places like Ghana are not in working order, as they discuss in the video I posted below. The e-waste shows up in containers, and the contents are sold in open air markets to brokers who then can do whatever they please with their purchases, AKA take advantage of poor people and have them burn them down and scavenge the metals such as copper, iron, and aluminum. The people find the metals, and return them to the brokers for a small cash amount. The broker stockpiles the metals, and then sells them in bulk, making a huge profit. Because there is a lack of enforcement in many of these less developed countries, this process is allowed to go on without anyone enforcing the rules of the international agreement. The main countries abusing this process are Germany, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, and of course, the United States.

The pesticide-free park movement is growing!

I found out about this program when I interned for Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) This program has been very successful and has been endorsed
throughout the Pacific Northwest and throughout the country. It is based on the idea that Everyone has the right to a safe place to play! According to NCAP, pesticides are inherently dangerous compounds.Even with careful application they leave unwanted toxic residues in our food, water and even in our bodies. Where we are exposed to pesticides is not always our choice. Across the Northwest, children, families and pets are exposed to pesticides at their neighborhood parks.  Neighborhood parks serve as gathering places for community celebrations, events, and informal get-togethers among friends.  Parks are reflections of a community, places to celebrate diversity, and places for families and kids to play.

Programs like this are an excellent tool for Grassroots eco-friendly and sustainable efforts.

NCAP is building tools for success

As more Northwest community members demand pesticide-free public spaces, parks departments are responding. Already, 19 cities have adopted a Pesticide-free Parks Program, creating public spaces where people can play without being exposed to pesticides.  And the pesticide-free parks movement is growing!

NCAP has been hard at work to ensure that neighborhood parks are free of pesticides for communities to enjoy. We have created the necessary resources and tools to empower community members to reduce pesticide use in their neighborhood, starting with their park.

We also know that these programs won’t be successful unless the parks managers have the right tools.  NCAP provided new resources to parks managers on effective pesticide-free techniques as well as created an online network for parks managers and professional landscapers to share and learn even more.

Arbor Lodge Park SignGet your City on the Map!

NCAP needs your help in continuing to grow this important program and your community is the first place to start!  We have all the resources and tools you need to establish a strong pesticide-free park program in your community, as well as resources and tools for the city park professionals.

Ten Steps to establish Pesticide free-parks:

1. CONNECT WITH OTHERS WHO SHARE YOUR INTEREST IN PESTICIDE-FREE PARKS

2. SET GOALS AND CLARIFY WHAT THE GROUP WANTS

3. IDENTIFY AND MEET WITH PARKS STAFF TO MEASURE SUPPORT FOR YOUR GOALS

4. GATHER MORE SUPPORT FROM THE COMMUNITY TO GAIN VISIBILITY AND ADD TO YOUR NUMBERS

5. LAUNCH A CAMPAIGN TO INFLUENCE THE DECISIONMAKERS WHO CAN ESTABLISH THE DESIRED PROGRAM

6. ONCE THE PROGRAM CONCEPT IS APPROVED, WORK WITH PARKS STAFF TO DESIGN A PROGRAM THAT HAS COMMUNITYAND AGENCY SUPPORT

7. PUT THE PROGRAM IN WRITING

8. TRAIN AND SUPPORT YOUR PROGRAM VOLUNTEERS

9. PLAN A COMMUNITY EVENT WITH PARKS STAFF TO KICK OFF THE PROGRAM AND CELEBRATE!

10. MOVING FORWARD WITH YOUR PROGRAM

 

For more information : http://www.pesticide.org

My parents are getting my little brother a dog, and while I was online doing some research for them I came across this NY Times article that reminded me far too much of this class. We have spent all term talking about our daily contact with chemicals, and how they affect humans, wildlife, and pets. I know we have spoken about our experiences with processed foods and what is actually in them, but I never really considered what could be in our pets food. The food they WE give them because we love them, that they don’t have the ability to refuse. It is also the food that we don’t have the expertise to know exactly what it contains, unless we all have a full laboratory in our basements. This article reports on two Chinese manufacturers that knowingly put a harmful toxin in animal food during 2007 in order to reach high protein levels, with the result of over 4,000 animal deaths in just the U.S.  It can be found at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/business/worldbusiness/09iht-petfood.1.5616947.html

Manufacturers of animal food are required to have specific levels of protein and nutrients in their products, to label these correctly, and submit to quality testing. However, these two companies used loop holes and poor ethics to make sure they were still able to sell their low quality, low protein food products as high quality, high protein and expensive food products. After putting the chemical melamine, which is used in fertilizer and plastic production, to fake protein levels their food product met the high quality standards that their contract called for. Then set for sales,   they mislabeled their products on purpose, with the intent to avoid quality inspections that would have prevented their distribution throughout the United States. Over 4,000 animals died as a result of eating their products.

I feel like their are so many guilty parties in situations like this. To start, it is the horrible companies that attempted to get away with this, all in the hopes to make money while cutting costs. Then, it is the Chinese government that doesn’t regulate their industries well enough. As well, the United States government and companies should be more ethical in who they do business with, and the inspection processes that they have in place that are intended to prevent situations like this. Lastly, we have the consumer who bought the product and gave it to their pet unknowingly. I wish I could say that the pet owner isn’t at fault here to any degree, but then again they are the ones who chose to get a pet in the first place, most likely for their own ego, and decide to give it dry, imported food.

All I know is that it is a sad day when we are so oblivious to the chemicals around us that kittens and puppies are dying because we demand chemicals in our daily life.

The EPA has attempted to calculate the incalculableness of toxicity using the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) model. The RSEI is computer-based and is meant to rank certain risks against others to determine what poses the highest risk. On the EPA’s website, they boast that the RSEI is “fast and effective” because it “uses simplifying assumptions to fill data gaps and reduces the complexity of calculations.”

The most important factors to determine the RSEI rating:

  • Amount of chemical released
  • Location of that release
  • Toxicity of the chemical
  • Fate and transport through the environment
  • Route and extent of human exposure
  • Number of people affected

Many of these factors seem difficult to give a rating to, such as route of human exposure or toxicity of the chemical. It seems like this would force the EPA to make impossible decisions, such as what’s worse a chemical exposure of pesticides to 50 people with instant sickness or an exposure of radiation to 100 people with prolonged effects.

Also, I find it interesting that they don’t include age or health of people affected, only the number, which seems to leave a lot of loopholes for companies. Also, this mentality promotes the idea that desert or rural landscapes are the best spots for contamination instead of trying to prevent the contamination in the first place.

The EPA gives a list of common questions they use the RSEI to answer, such as:

  • How do industry sectors compare to one another from a risk-related perspective?
  • What is the relative contribution of chemicals to the RSEI risk score within a given industry sector?
  • What release pathway for a particular chemical poses the greatest potential for risk-related impacts?
  • What states or regions have the greatest potential for risk-related impacts from certain chemicals or industry sectors?
  • What is the trend in potential risk-related impacts for particular chemicals, industry sectors, or regions?

These questions also seem like unanswerable questions. For example, “What release pathway for a particular chemical poses the greatest potential for risk-related impacts?” suggests that aerosol poisoning is different from water contamination, risk-wise. I feel like I would be just as terrified from breathing in poison as I would be drinking poison, but the EPA seems determined to make one seem less dangerous than the other. Sometimes an unquantifiable question needs to be left unmeasured and just avoided entirely. Instead of trying to pick the lesser of two evils, the EPA needs to get rid of the evils altogether!

See the ridiculous RSEI system for yourself at:

http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/rsei/pubs/basic_information.html

Throughout the whole term of this class we have been talking about pollution and toxins that we come in contact with everyday or just the harmful chemicals that are out there in the world. Well on Thursday I got to witness the effects of toxins in my own life. And it was completely my fault. My cat had fleas and so on Monday I put flea medication on her. By Tuesday, the spot where I had put the medication was completely bare. Her hair had fallen out and there was a skin lesion on the site of application. I washed her to get the flea medication off, getting the advice from the instructions if there were any allergic reactions to the medication. I hoped everything was going to be okay. Then on Thursday morning, I watched as my cat scratched away a huge patch of fur under her chin, where another, even worse skin lesion was. This time, I took her to the vet. There I was informed that there are two different types of flea medications. One type is a pesticide, while the other is an insecticide. The difference between the two has to do with the animal’s blood-brain barrier. The difference between the pesticide and the insecticide is the size of the molecules of the active chemicals. The pesticide flea medication’s molecules are small enough to get through the blood-brain barrier where they can cause skin lesions, drooling, brain injuries, seizures, and even death. The insecticide’s molecules are too large to get through that blood-brain barrier and so they don’t have those severe side effects. The flea medication that my cat got was the pesticide kind. Her reaction to the medication could have been a lot worse; the vet said that she got off with the mildest of symptoms. What really bothered me most about this experience is that the companies that produce the pesticide flea medication know that their product isn’t healthy and that it has those kinds of symptoms associated with its use. Nobody is monitoring what kinds of “medications” they put out on the market, even though people’s pets are consistently dying from them. Shouldn’t there be some kind of warning about how dangerous the product really is or an end to the product all together because the makers of it know exactly how bad it is? This experience has showed that even with good intentions, I was woefully uneducated about everyday products that I thought were relatively safe. It took my cat getting sick, a trip to the vet, and $180 later to fully realize just how bad chemical standards are. If these medications that cause death in pets are allowed on the market, then what other things am I completely unaware about as well?

the mildest symptom

The recent discussions of harmful plastics has made me think about something I don’t believe we covered much in class, but most of us know about- the Pacific Gyres. These free floating plastic island cesspools contain millions of pieces of plastic, some very large, some microscopic. They are the result of our throw away society, tossing plastics into the ocean and landfills where they may reach the ocean. Many people have asked why can’t we just clean it up? It is not that easy, these islands are miles wide and float just below the surface, nice and hidden, yet in perfect stance for causing problems to marine wildlife.

The reason the past few discussions made me think about these gyres is that we keep discussing the dangers of chemicals in the plastics we use. One of the most interesting clean up ideas I have heard of is to create bound, recycled floating islands out of the plastic, that can be inhabited by either wildlife or humans. Last year I was able to find a lot of articles relating to this that had extravagant plans and pictures, but it seems that many of them have been taken offline. The best description I could find currently can be found here:  http://harmoniouspalette.com/RecyleLand/GyreLand.html.

This seems like an interesting idea, and to even imagine the possibilities that this could present for the future blows my mind. However, with all this talk of dangerous plastics, all I can think about would be the types of cancer any inhabitants would end up developing. They say that the new plastics we use can be dangerous to us, I don’t have any idea what the dangers posed by partially decomposed plastics would be after sitting in seawater and the sun for months. I guess this post more aims to bring up the idea of solutions. It seems nearly impossible to come up with perfect solutions for all the problems we have caused as humans, and sometimes it seems like the solutions we come up with are far worse than the original issue. So what do you say, should we leave the plastic in the ocean and twiddle our thumbs, or should we try to put those poisonous pieces to good use?

 

Curious of the literature produced by the government on energy, I decided to explore their webpage (U.S. Department of Energy) and happened upon the “energy kids” webpage.  This site detailed the production and consumption of energy as a means to educate school children, and a tool for teachers to implement in class.  Expecting little to no remark upon the negative, and toxic, effects of these processes I was caught by surprise to find each non-renewable resource section (natural gas, oil, and uranium) featuring an “(energy source) and the Environment” segment.  These sections articulate the deleterious effects of producing and consuming oil, gas, and uranium by describing the impacts on the environment, emissions and byproducts, effect of technology, and regulation policy.  For example on the oil site it states:

Petroleum products give off the following emissions when they are burned as fuel:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOX) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
  • Particulate matter (PM)
  • Lead and various air toxics such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and 1,3-butadiene may be emitted when some types of petroleum are burned

Nearly all of these byproducts have negative impacts on the environment and human health:

  • Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and a source of global warming.1
  • SO2 causes acid rain, which is harmful to plants and to animals that live in water, and it worsens or causes respiratory illnesses and heart diseases, particularly in children and the elderly.
  • NOX and VOCs contribute to ground-level ozone, which irritates and damages the lungs.
  • PM results in hazy conditions in cites and scenic areas, and, along with ozone, contributes to asthma and chronic bronchitis, especially in children and the elderly. Very small, or “fine PM” is also thought to cause emphysema and lung cancer.
  • Lead can have severe health impacts, especially for children, and air toxics are known or probable carcinogens.

Or for the natural gas site:

“Well drilling activities produce air pollution and may disturb wildlife. Pipelines are needed to transport the gas from the wells, and this usually requires clearing land to bury the pipe. Natural gas production can also result in the production of large volumes of contaminated water. This water has to be properly handled, stored, and treated so that it does not pollute land and water.”

Or for the uranium site:

“The main environmental concerns for nuclear power are radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, spent (used) reactor fuel, and other radioactive wastes. These materials can remain radioactive and dangerous to human health for thousands of years. They are subject to special regulations that govern their handling, transportation, storage, and disposal to protect human health and the environment.”

…and…

“U.S. reactors have containment vessels that are designed to withstand extreme weather events and earthquakes.”

The solution to all of these environmental problems created by these non-renewable resources?  Government.  After every negative impact listed by the website is a section describing the governments use of policy, regulation, and technology to remediate or reduce its effect. They feature headlines for the oil section like: “Laws Help Reduce Pollution from Oil” and “Technology Helps Reduce Drilling’s “Footprint”.  For natural gas: “Fracking involves pumping liquids under high pressure into a well to fracture the rock and allow gas to escape from tiny pockets in the rock. Unfortunately, fracking has become controversial as it is blamed for contaminating water wells and streams with natural gas and the fracking fluids.”  Note the use of “unfortunate” for describing the “controversial” state of fracking, and assigned “blame”.  Lastly, nuclear power: “These materials are subject to special regulation that govern their handling, storage, and disposal so they will not come in contact with the outside environment.”  Basically, they solve all the problems of these resources’ production and consumption by stating that the government is watching out for us.  However, practically everything we have learned this term leads me to believe the antithesis of this conclusion.  Is this the reason so many citizens of the states practice such a devoted faith to our government.  Have they spoon-fed us compliance since kindergarten?

Energy kids webpage: http://www.eia.gov/kids/index.cfm

The U.S. Postal Service has been in bad shape the last few years, with officials threatening to cut Saturday delivery. Mail volume has dropped by 17% from 2006 to 2009, losing a lot of revenue (D.M. Levine, PopSci). What if the Postal Service became a means of environmental monitoring? The government, private companies, and non-profit organizations could ‘rent’ space on mail cars to attach monitoring devices. They could monitor cell phone coverage to air pollution to harmful biological and chemical agents.
It would provide for regional up-to-date statistics. Of course, what is monitored is up to those who have an interest in gathering regional data and in renting space on mail cars.

The Postal Service relies on a telematics system to track packages, similar to GM’s OnStar navigation program. There are already 218,684 vehicles moving along 232,000 different routes across the country. The system to gather extensive information in various regions is already in place. If the information gathered were available to the public, further transparency could be achieved for the atmospheric condition in places people travel to and from. This system would also be able to determine the background levels of certain pollutants or chemicals. Adams writes, we “need the extra-sensory perception of scientific instruments to accord it to the status of material reality” (197). Otherwise, humans are oblivious to the invisible parts of the environment they live in. As we discussed in class, sometimes it is better to be ignorant to the chemicals you come in contact with to prevent over-thinking and stress about how you will react. Again, it would be up to the individual if they wanted to view the stats near their home or work place. But the important part is that the option is there and that information is being gathered about the everyday ‘normal’ person environment. This could be used to make stricter regulations or to pinpoint sources of leaks. It is an idea that could benefit many parties.