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Tag Archive: pollution

  1. After the Napa Fires, a Disaster-in-Waiting: Toxic Ash

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    by Adam Rogers October 29 2017 read full Wired article here

    By any measure, the fires that tore through Northern California were a major disaster. Forty-two people are dead, and 100,000 are displaced. More than 8,400 homes and other buildings were destroyed, more than 160,000 acres burned—and the fires aren’t all out yet.

    That devastation leaves behind another potential disaster: ash. No one knows how much. It’ll be full of heavy metals and toxins—no one knows exactly how much, and it depends on what burned and at what temperature. The ash will infiltrate soils, but no one’s really sure how or whether that’ll be a problem. And eventually some of it—maybe a lot—will flow into the regional aquatic ecosystem and ultimately the San Francisco Bay….

    …”Naturally occurring, lower-severity fires can have positive impacts,” says Kevin Bladon, a forest ecohydrologist at Oregon State University. The fires free up organic carbon and put nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous into play. “But the really large, high-severity megafires that we’ve started to observe push the systems in a lot of cases too far.”

    That means dangerously large algal blooms, so-called eutrophication that can eat all the dissolved oxygen out of a waterway, making it unlivable for everything else….’

    …What makes these latest Northern California fires unique, though, is that they burned not just forest wildland but also cities. And the built environment burns differently. It gets hotter, and it leaves behind different remains. “All of a sudden you’ve got a lot of impervious surfaces,” Bladon says. “Water hits it and flows over. If there are burned materials sitting on the roads, that’s going to move very rapidly into waterways. We have no handle on that at all.” Ash science isn’t much more than a decade old; understanding urban ash science has never really been a necessity—but now megafires are coming to cities….

    …The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality already watches what’s in the San Francisco Bay besides water. Some of its scientists now have a proposal to monitor the Napa River for what water watchdogs call “contaminants of emerging concern.” The field is new enough that they’re not even sure what they’re looking for yet—they’re going to use “non-targeted analysis” to look for anything unexpected. The San Francisco Estuary Institute already monitors dioxins, PAHs, metals, and other stuff in the bay, but only annually or semiannually.

    That’s probably not fast enough….

  2. Prozac in ocean water a possible threat to sea life

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    • crabs living in harbors and estuaries contaminated with fluoxetine are at greater risk of predation and mortality.

    Posted: 20 Oct 2017 09:58 AM PDT  Read full ScienceDaily article here

    Oregon shore crabs exhibit risky behavior when they’re exposed to the antidepressant Prozac, making it easier for predators to catch them, according to a new study.

    …For years, tests of seawater near areas of human habitation have shown trace levels of everything from caffeine to prescription medicines. The chemicals are flushed from homes or medical facilities, go into the sewage system, and eventually make their way to the ocean...

    …”The changes we observed in their behaviors may mean that crabs living in harbors and estuaries contaminated with fluoxetine are at greater risk of predation and mortality…”

    Joseph R. Peters, Elise F. Granek, Catherine E. de Rivera, Matthew Rollins. Prozac in the water: Chronic fluoxetine exposure and predation risk interact to shape behaviors in an estuarine crab. Ecology and Evolution, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3453

  3. Better managing plastic waste in 10 rivers could stem ~90% of plastics in the ocean

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    • Scientists have found that 10 rivers around the world where plastic waste is mismanaged contribute 88-95% of global load of plastics in the ocean.
    • Halving plastic pollution in these 10 waterways — eight of which are in Asia — could potentially reduce the total contribution by all rivers by 45 percent.

    October 11, 2017 American Chemical Society see full ScienceDaily article here

    Massive amounts of plastic bits that are dangerous to aquatic life are washing into the oceans and into even the most pristine waters. But how it all gets there from inland cities has not been fully understood. Now scientists have found that 10 rivers around the world where plastic waste is mismanaged contribute to most of the oceans’ total loads that come from rivers.

    ..the amount of plastic in rivers was related to the mismanagement of plastic waste in their watersheds. Additionally, the top 10 rivers carrying the highest amounts accounted for 88 to 95 percent of the total global load of plastics in the oceans, according to the researcher’s calculations.

    The researchers say halving plastic pollution in these 10 waterways — eight of which are in Asia — could potentially reduce the total contribution by all rivers by 45 percent.

    Christian Schmidt, Tobias Krauth, Stephan Wagner. Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea. Environmental Science & Technology, 2017; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b02368

  4. Strips of prairie plants slow loss of soil, nutrients and water from ag fields, double biodiversit

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    • Converting as little as 10 percent of the cropped area to prairie strips reduced soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus losses in surface runoff by 77 percent, nitrate concentrations in groundwater by 72 percent and total nitrogen losses in surface runoff by 70 percent, compared with all-crop watersheds. Pollinator and bird abundance more than doubled

    October 2, 2017 USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station read full ScienceDaily article here

    Prairie strips integrated in row crops reduce soil and nutrient loss from steep ground, provide habitat for wildlife, and improve water infiltration, a decade of research is demonstrating….

    ….Research suggests that prairie strips reduce soil and nutrient loss from steep ground, provide habitat for wildlife and improve water infiltration. According to the study published by PNAS, converting as little as 10 percent of the cropped area to prairie strips reduced soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus losses in surface runoff by 77 percent, nitrate concentrations in groundwater by 72 percent and total nitrogen losses in surface runoff by 70 percent, compared with all-crop watersheds. Pollinator and bird abundance more than doubled….

    …”The strips are designed to act as a speed bump to slow water down and give it time to infiltrate the soil,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, the study’s lead author and a professor at Iowa State University. Researchers estimate that prairie strips could be used to improve biodiversity and ecosystem services across 3.9 million hectares of cropland in Iowa and a large portion of the 69 million hectares planted in rowcrops in the United States, much of it in the Midwest.

    Lisa A. Schulte, Jarad Niemi, Matthew J. Helmers, Matt Liebman, J. Gordon Arbuckle, David E. James, Randall K. Kolka, Matthew E. O’Neal, Mark D. Tomer, John C. Tyndall, Heidi Asbjornsen, Pauline Drobney, Jeri Neal, Gary Van Ryswyk, Chris Witte. Prairie strips improve biodiversity and the delivery of multiple ecosystem services from corn–soybean croplands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201620229 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1620229114

  5. House sparrow decline linked to air pollution and poor diet

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    • City sparrows suffer from more stress than their country cousins, find Spanish researchers, especially during breeding season

    October 3, 2017 Frontiers  read full ScienceDaily article here

    House sparrows are well-adapted to living in urban areas, so it is surprising their numbers have fallen significantly over the past decades. An investigation into this worrying trend finds that sparrows living in urban areas are adversely affected by pollution and poor nutrition. The study also finds the birds suffer more during the breeding season, when resources are needed to produce healthy eggs….

    …if our cities are unhealthy for birds, which is what our study is suggesting, then as their neighbors we should be concerned because we are exposed to the same environmental stressors as house sparrows.”

    …”We took a small blood sample from each bird, according to its weight and physical condition, and released them unharmed,” she explains. The samples were analyzed for signs of oxidative stress, which can be used to measure how much an environmental stressor, such as pollution, is weakening the bird’s natural defenses….

    …”We need to work hard to improve the quality of the urban environment, for example, air quality and the design of green areas. Even the leftovers that we throw in the bin at the park should encourage us to reflect on ourselves: more nuts and fruit and fewer chips and cookies would be better for humans as well as for birds,” Herrera-Dueñas advises.

    Amparo Herrera-Dueñas, Javier Pineda-Pampliega, María T. Antonio-García, José I. Aguirre. The Influence of Urban Environments on Oxidative Stress Balance: A Case Study on the House Sparrow in the Iberian Peninsula. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2017; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2017.00106

  6. Plastics in soil: municipal compost possible major entry path

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    • At least 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually, from which large parts end up in the environment, where it persists over decades, harms biota and enters the food chain. Yet, almost nothing is known about plastic pollution of soil.
    • Soils may receive plastic inputs via plastic mulching or the application of plastic containing soil amendments.
    • In compost up to 2.38–1200 mg plastic kg−1 have been found so far. Compost, especially of municipal origin, must be considered as a serious entry path of plastic in soil.

    Highlights

    •Analytical methods and possible input pathways of plastic in soil were discussed.
    •Organic matter challenges plastic quantification in soil.
    •Soil amendments and irrigation are likely major plastic sources in agricultural soils.
    •Flooding, atmospheric input and littering can potentially pollute even remote soil.
    •Leaching of small plastics from soil into groundwater cannot be excluded

    Abstract

    At least 300 Mio t of plastic are produced annually, from which large parts end up in the environment, where it persists over decades, harms biota and enters the food chain. Yet, almost nothing is known about plastic pollution of soil; hence, the aims of this work are to review current knowledge on i) available methods for the quantification and identification of plastic in soil, ii) the quantity and possible input pathways of plastic into soil, (including first preliminary screening of plastic in compost), and iii) its fate in soil. Methods for plastic analyses in sediments can potentially be adjusted for application to soil; yet, the applicability of these methods for soil needs to be tested. Consequently, the current data base on soil pollution with plastic is still poor. Soils may receive plastic inputs via plastic mulching or the application of plastic containing soil amendments. In compost up to 2.38–1200 mg plastic kg− 1 have been found so far; the plastic concentration of sewage sludge varies between 1000 and 24,000 plastic items kg− 1. Also irrigation with untreated and treated wastewater (1000–627,000 and 0–125,000 plastic items m− 3, respectively) as well as flooding with lake water (0.82–4.42 plastic items m− 3) or river water (0–13,751 items km− 2) can provide major input pathways for plastic into soil. Additional sources comprise littering along roads and trails, illegal waste dumping, road runoff as well as atmospheric input. With these input pathways, plastic concentrations in soil might reach the per mill range of soil organic carbon. Most of plastic (especially > 1 μm) will presumably be retained in soil, where it persists for decades or longer. Accordingly, further research on the prevalence and fate of such synthetic polymers in soils is urgently warranted.

    Melanie Bläsing and Wulf Amelung. Plastics in soil: Analytical methods and possible sources. Science of The Total Environment Volume 612, 15 January 2018, Pages 422-435

  7. Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic, studies show

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    • New studies find microplastics in salt from the US, Europe and China, adding to evidence that plastic pollution is pervasive in the environment
    • Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibres and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste.
      1. Stop using bottled water – In most cases it is no safer than tap water and costs 3 times as much gasoline and 1,ooo times as much as tap water.
      2. Bring your own reusable grocery bags with you when you go to the store.

    Jessica Glenza September 8, 2017 read full article in the GuardianUK

    Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets. Following this week’s revelations in the Guardian about levels of plastic contamination in tap water, new studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the US.

    Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibres and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7m tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations.

    “Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment,” said Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the latest research into plastic contamination in salt. Plastics are “ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use – plastics are just everywhere”….

  8. Mangrove trees, particularly their leaf litter, filter copper out of soil and water

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    Mangroves vital for environmental decontamination

    August 3 2017 ScienceDaily

    A new study from Indonesia has found that their leaf litter accumulates the most copper, followed by leaves and then roots…..

    They found that copper concentrations in the plant material were up to ten times more than the water samples. Leaf litter carried the highest concentration, followed by live leaves and then roots, according to the study published in the Pertanika Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science.

    The results confirm findings from several other studies and demonstrate the mangrove’s ability to defend “itself against contaminated environments by excreting copper through its leaves, which will then be discarded through defoliation.” Mangroves are able to do this better than many other plant species, due in part to their adaptation to living in coastal zones, where they absorb and eliminate salt in a similar way.

    As the leaf litter breaks down, copper can then be reintroduced back to the soil and water. However, the researchers suspect the impact is minimal: the estimated amount released is less than 3.5 percent of the total absorbed, and is spread over a large area.

    Martuti, N. K. T., Widianarko, B., and Yulianto, B. Translocation and Elimination of Cu in Avicennia marina. Pertanika Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science, 2017

  9. Since 1950s, 8.3 billion tons of plastics produced; 79% discarded into landfills and environment; only 9% recycled

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    • Humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment, according to a study.

    Posted: 19 Jul 2017 11:09 AM PDT  read full ScienceDaily article here

    …The researchers found that by 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, 6.3 billion tons of which had already become waste. Of that waste total, only 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.

    If current trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050. Twelve billion metric tons is about 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.

    Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Jenna Jambeck, study co-author and associate professor of engineering at UGA. “Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices.“…

    They estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the oceans in 2010….

    “Roughly half of all the steel we make goes into construction, so it will have decades of use — plastic is the opposite,” said Roland Geyer, lead author of the paper and associate professor in UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. “Half of all plastics become waste after four or fewer years of use.”

    “I think we need to take a careful look at our expansive use of plastics and ask when the use of these materials does or does not make sense.” ….

    Roland Geyer et al. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, July 2017 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782

  10. Why do seabirds eat plastic?

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    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161110092222.htm

    Posted: 10 Nov 2016 06:22 AM PST

    If it smells like food, and looks like food, it must be food, right? Not in the case of ocean-faring birds that are sometimes found with bellies full of plastic. But very little research examines why birds make the mistake of eating plastic in the first place.

    It turns out that marine plastic debris emits the scent of a sulfurous compound that some seabirds have relied upon for thousands of years to tell them where to find food, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. This olfactory cue essentially tricks the birds into confusing marine plastic with food.

    The study, published Nov. 9 in the journal Science Advances, helps explain why plastic ingestion is more prevalent in some seabird species than in others. Tubenosed seabirds, such as petrels and albatross, have a keen sense of smell, which they use to hunt. They are also among the birds most severely affected by plastic consumption….

     

    M. S. Savoca, M. E. Wohlfeil, S. E. Ebeler, G. A. Nevitt. Marine plastic debris emits a keystone infochemical for olfactory foraging seabirds. Science Advances, 2016; 2 (11): e1600395 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600395