Tag Archives: pollution

Laundry Lint Pollutes the World's Oceans

Laundry Lint Pollutes the World’s Oceans – ScienceNOW.

There’s nothing subtle about dryer lint: Clean the fluffy, gray mat off the filter or risk a fire. Washer lint, however, is sneaky. Nearly 2000 polyester fibers can float away, unseen, from a single fleece sweater in one wash cycle, a new study reports. That synthetic lint likely makes its way through sewage treatment systems and into oceans around the world. The consequences of this widespread pollution are still hazy, but environmental scientists say the microscopic plastic fibers have the potential to harm marine life.

The existence of so-called microplastics in marine environments is not, in itself, a revelation. Larger bits of plastic, such as those in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, gradually break down into microscopic fragments. And minute plastic fibers have turned up before in treated sewage and on beaches. But no one had looked at the issue on a global scale, says ecologist Mark Browne of University College Dublin.

So Browne and his team recruited far-flung colleagues on six continents to scoop sand from 18 beaches. (The scientists had to wear all natural-fiber clothing, lest their own garments shed lint into the samples.) Back in the lab, the researchers painstakingly separated the plastic from the sand—a process that involved, among other things, hand plucking microscopic fibers from filter papers. A chemical analysis showed that nearly 80% of those filaments were made of polyester or acrylic, compounds common in textiles.

Not a single beach was free of the colorful synthetic lint. Each cup (250 milliliters) of sand contained at least two fibers and as many as 31. The most contaminated samples came from areas with the highest human population density, suggesting that cities were an important source of the lint.

Cities come with sewers, and Browne’s team thought the plastic fibers might enter the ocean via sewage. Sure enough, synthetic lint was relatively common in both treated wastewater and in ocean sediments from sites where sewage sludge had been dumped. In all the samples, the fibers were mainly polyester and acrylic, just like the ones from the beaches.

Finally, the researchers wanted to see how synthetic lint got into sewage in the first place. Given its polyester-acrylic composition, they thought clothing and blankets were a good bet. So they purchased a pile of polyester blankets, fleeces, and shirts and commandeered three volunteers’ home washing machines for several months. They collected the wastewater from the machines and filtered it to recover the lint. Each polyester item shed hundreds of fibers per washing, the team reports in the 1 November issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

A polyester sweater may seem cozy and innocent on a winter day, but its disintegrated fibers could be bad news in marine environments, Browne says. Other studies have found that microplastics in the ocean absorb pollutants such as DDT. And Browne’s own work has shown that filter-feeding mussels will consume tiny plastic particles, which then enter the animals’ bloodstreams and even their cells. If the same thing happens in nature, the plastic fibers could “end up on our dinner plates,” incorporated into seafood, Browne warns.

There is still no direct evidence that the fibers—pollutant-tainted or otherwise—harm marine life, but Browne says it’s worth figuring out. He argues that the fibers are “guilty until proven innocent” and says that textile and washing machine manufacturers, as well as sewage treatment plants, should be looking for ways to keep the fibers out of the ocean. Garments that shed less lint, or filters that trap the fibers, might help.

ScienceNOW sent a copy of the study to Patagonia, one popular maker of fleece sweaters. No one was able to review the study and comment before deadline, but spokesperson Jess Clayton said that Patagonia does intend to follow up on the findings with Polartec, its primary supplier of fleece.

Christopher Reddy, an environmental chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, says it’s still hard to tell where lint pollution fits in the spectrum of environmental problems. It won’t “trump CO2 in the atmosphere” as a priority issue, but he calls the new results “provocative” and says they should trigger follow-up studies that measure the effects of the fibers on marine life. “It never ceases to amaze me that we continue to find more pollutants entering the coastal environment,” he adds. “What else is out there we may be missing?”

Warming Arctic releases frozen organic air pollutants

Warming Arctic releases frozen organic air pollutants – environment – 28 July 2011 – New Scientist.

  • 28 July 2011

Air pollutants emitted decades ago are coming back to haunt us. As the Arctic warms, persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, trapped in snow and ice are being re-released. This unwelcome return has been suspected for some time but is now confirmed by 16 years’ worth of data.

POPs travel around the globe on winds, build up in food and water supplies, and accumulate in animal body fat. They have also been linked to serious human health problems, including cancer, and can be passed from mother to fetus. They have been banned under the Stockholm convention since 2004.

The new study looked at air concentrations of POPs up to 2009 in Svalbard, Norway, and in Canada’s Nunavut province, and found an increase since 2000 (Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1167).

'Super sand' to clean up dirty drinking water?

BBC News – ‘Super sand’ to help clean up dirty drinking water.

Papua New Guinea The technology could help improve access to clean water in developing countries

Contaminated water can be cleaned much more effectively using a novel, cheap material, say researchers.

Dubbed “super sand”, it could become a low-cost way to purify water in the developing world.

The technology involves coating grains of sand in an oxide of a widely available material called graphite – commonly used as lead in pencils.

The team describes the work in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

In many countries around the world, access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities is still limited.

The World Health Organization states that “just 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan African and 50% of the population in Oceania [islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean] use improved sources of drinking-water.”

The graphite-coated sand grains might be a solution – especially as people have already used sand to purify water since ancient times.

Coating the sand

But with ordinary sand, filtering techniques can be tricky.

“Given that this can be synthesized using room temperature processes and also from cheap graphite sources, it is likely to be cost-efficient” Mainak Majumder Monash University, Australia

Wei Gao from Rice university in Texas, US, told BBC News that regular coarse sand was a lot less effective than fine sand when water was contaminated with pathogens, organic contaminants and heavy metal ions.

While fine sand is slightly better, water drains through it very slowly.

“Our product combines coarse sand with functional carbon material that could offer higher retention for those pollutants, and at the same time gives good throughput,” explained the researcher.

She said that the technique the team has developed to make the sand involves dispersing graphite oxide into water and mixing it with regular sand.

“We then heat the whole mixture up to 105C for a couple of hours to evaporate the water, and use the final product – ‘coated sand’ – to purify polluted water.”

Cost-efficient

Sand “Super sand” is made using regular sand – and it could become a low-cost way to purify water

The lead scientist of the study, Professor Pulickel Ajayan, said it was possible to modify the graphite oxide in order to make it more selective and sensitive to certain pollutants – such as organic contaminants or specific metals in dirty water.

Another team member, Dr Mainak Majumder from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said it had another advantage – it was cheap.

“This material demonstrates comparable performance to some commercially available activated carbon materials,” he said.

“But given that this can be synthesized using room temperature processes and also from cheap graphite sources, it is likely to be cost-efficient.”

He pointed out that in Australia many mining companies extract graphite and they produce a lot of graphite-rich waste.

“This waste can be harnessed for water purification,” he said.

Pollution continues to choke America’s beaches

Pollution continues to choke America’s beaches – International Business Times.

REUTERS/Lee Celano
A protective boom is seen as oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill recedes back into the Gulf of Mexico after washing into a drainage canal in Waveland, Mississippi July 7, 2010.

According to the 21st annual beach water quality report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), pollution from storm water runoff and sewage overflows have taken a toll on U.S. beaches, often forcing their closure.

The report called ‘Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches’ reveals that “America’s beaches have long suffered from pollution,” NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine said, adding that “the difference is now we know what to do about it.”

Last year, U.S. beaches suffered from serious contamination including oil from BP oil spill, and human and animal waste, the report said.

The persistent pollution woes over the years has led to a “dirty legacy,” Devine said in the report, which analyzed government data on beach water testing results from 2010 at more than 3,000 beach testing locations nationwide.

“A concerted effort to control future pollution is required. By making our communities literally greener on land, we can make the water at the beach cleaner,” he added.

Heavy rainfall in Hawaii, contamination from unidentified sources in California, and oil washing up in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP disaster led to closing and advisory days at America’s beaches in 2010, affecting beach tourism.

“By taking steps to stop the biggest sources of pollution in the waves, we can help keep trips to beach carefree, and support our lucrative tourism industries nationwide,” David Beckman, Director of the Water Program at NRDC, said.

The report revealed that about 70 percent of the closing and advisory days were issued because bacteria levels in the water exceeded health standards.

The region with the most frequently contaminated beach water in 2010 was the Great Lakes, where 15 percent of beach water samples exceeded public health standards. The Southeast, New YorkNew Jersey coast and Delmarva region proved the cleanest at 4 percent, 5 percent and 6 percent respectively.

Beach water pollution causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.

According to NRDC report, the incidence of infections has been steadily growing over the past several decades, and with coastal populations growing it is reasonable to expect this upward trend to continue until the pollution sources are addressed.

Hawaii may get hit with trash from Japan's tsunami

Researchers: Hawaii may get hit with trash from Japan’s tsunami – CNN.

The Hawaiian islands may get a new and unwelcome addition in coming months — a giant new island of debris floating in from Japan.

Researchers in Hawaii have created a simulation showing exactly how the houses, tires, chemicals and trees washed to sea by the March 11 tsunami will float across the Pacific and eventually hit the U.S. coast.

The team, led by Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the International Pacific Research Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa have spent years preparing computer models by following real world observations of floating buoys, according to a statement.

The first wave should begin washing up on beaches in Hawaii within a year, the simulation shows.

After it passes Hawaii it should begin hitting beaches stretching from Vancouver down through Oregon, Washington and to the tip of Baja California in 2014, before bouncing back toward Hawaii for a second impact.

That second impact five years from now could be even more concentrated and harmful to Hawaii’s beaches and reefs, the researchers found.

The flotsam and trash eventually makes its way into what’s called the North Pacific Garbage Patch, a sort of circulating whirlpool of garbage hundreds of miles in diameter.

There it eventually decomposes and breaks up in collisions over many years.

Human impact on world's rivers 'threatens water security of 5 billion'

Human impact on world’s rivers ‘threatens water security of 5 billion’ | Environment | The Guardian.

The world’s rivers are so badly affected by human activity that the water security of almost 5 billion people, and the survival of thousands of aquatic species, are threatened, scientists warned .

The study, conducted by institutions across the globe, is the first to simultaneously look at all types of human intervention on freshwater – from dams and reservoirs to irrigation and pollution. It paints a devastating picture of a world whose rivers are in serious decline.

While developing countries are suffering from threats to both water security and biodiversity, particularly in Africa and central Asia, the authors were surprised by the level of threat posed to wildlife in rich countries.

“What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe,” said Prof Peter McIntyre, one of the lead authors, who began the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan.

“Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges.”

Some of the worst threats to aquatic species in the US are in the south-eastern states. Prof Charles Vörösmarty of the City University of New York, lead author and an expert on global water, said the impact on wildlife in developed countries was the result of river systems that had been heavily engineered and altered by man. “With all the protection the EU has in place, it was surprising to see it was a hotspot for biodiversity loss. But for a long time Europeans have altered their landscapes, including the removal of 90% of wetlands and floodplains, which are crucial parts of river ecosystems,” he said.

The team behind the report, published in the journal Nature, examined datasets to produce a map of how 23 different human influences – such as dams, the introduction of alien non-native fish, and pollution – affect water security and biodiversity. Previous studies have tended to look at just one influence at a time.

Even the world’s great rivers, such as the Yangtze, the Nile and the Ganges, are suffering serious biodiversity and water security stress.

Despite their size, more than 30 of the 47 largest rivers showed at least moderate threats to water security, due to a range of human impacts such as pollution and irrigation. Even the Amazon, considered to be relatively pristine, still has human fingerprints on it, said Vörösmarty.

“While the Amazon is in generally good shape, in the upstream regions, such as Peru, there are many high density areas of people that inject threat into the system.

“The legacy of that human threat passes downstream into the remote forested areas of the river.”

Globally between 10,000 and 20,000 aquatic wildlife species are at risk or face extinction because of the human degradation of global rivers, the report said. The world’s least affected rivers, the authors found, were those furthest from populated areas, such as remote parts of the tropics, Siberia and elsewhere in the polar regions.

Vörösmarty said he hoped the global report would highlight the need to address the root causes of the degradation of rivers. “We’re spending trillions of US dollars to fix a problem we’ve created in the first place. It’s much cheaper to treat the causes rather than the symptoms, which is what we do in the developed world today,” he said.

In Britain rivers have been getting cleaner over the past decade. But a report by the UK’s Environment Agency last year admitted only five of 6,114 rivers in England and Wales were considered pristine and three-quarters were likely to fail new European quality standards for various reasons.

Genetically inserted insecticide contaminates U.S. waterways

Observations: Genetically inserted insecticide contaminates U.S. waterways.

Add another compound to the long list of agricultural pollutants in the nation’s streams, rivers and waterways: the Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt toxin, a protein crystal known as Cry1Ab that kills caterpillars and other agricultural pests. A wide variety of crops, including 63 percent of the corn planted in the U.S. in 2009, have been genetically engineered to build the bacterial protein in their leaves and stems.

Those roots and stems are apparently washing into the waterways of the Midwest; 86 percent of 217 streams in Indiana surveyed by scientists contained such detritus. And, according to the results of that survey published online September 27 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 23 percent of the streams had the Bt toxin floating in the water—six months after harvest.

All of the contaminated streams lay 500 meters or less from a corn field and, based on current maps of lands used for agriculture, the researchers estimate that 91 percent of waterways in the Midwest—Iowa, Illinois, Indiana—are within that distance from a corn field. The finding may also be the result of a practice known as “no-till” farming, in which the unused portions of the crop are left on the fields to minimize erosion, though the crop waste itself seems to end up in the adjacent streams.

Of course, these streams ultimately feed one of the great river systems of the planet—the Mississippi and Missouri river basin. Ultimately, those rivers terminate in the Gulf of Mexico, where runoff of agricultural fertilizers promotes algal blooms that end up creating vast “dead zones” of seawaters devoid of oxygen. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey found that levels of such fertilizer runoff have remained the same or even increased since the 1990s in a recent analysis.

It remains unclear what impact the Bt toxin may be having in any of these aquatic ecosystems, if any. But it is clear now that the insecticides genetically engineered into plants—like their manufactured chemical counterparts—are capable of traveling with the rain from field to stream.

Scientists Find Evidence That Oil And Dispersant Mix Is Making Its Way Into The Foodchain

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/29/scientists-find-evidence_n_664298.html

Scientists have found signs of an oil-and-dispersant mix under the shells of tiny blue crab larvae in the Gulf of Mexico, the first clear indication that the unprecedented use of dispersants in the BP oil spill has broken up the oil into toxic droplets so tiny that they can easily enter the foodchain. Continue reading Scientists Find Evidence That Oil And Dispersant Mix Is Making Its Way Into The Foodchain