Raptor Pyromaniacs in the Outback!

12 Jan

Human beings are not the only ones that use fire.

Fire hawks set fires and then hunt the fleeing mammals and lizards. Yes, we are not the only ones to use tools or fire in a premeditated way to our own advantage!



A machine that can harvest plastic from the ocean’s garbage islands too good to be true? Ted Talk by Boyan Slat. Also, check out rebuttal, seriously folks!

28 Mar


Fallacy of cleaning the plastic from the oceans, a reality check!

Fish get stoned on anti-anxiety meds.

25 Mar
Trout with a rose

Trout with a rose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We live in a stressful environment. Some turn to anti-anxiety medications to help them cope. One class of anti-anxiety medications, benzodiazapines, make it through our digestive tracts, into our wastewater stream and out into our waterways intact and they give fish the munchies, with serious environmental consequences. Check out this


riveting article from Mother Jones.

Ethephon, the ‘good guy’ organophosphate?

14 Mar
Ball-and-stick model of the ethephon molecule,...

Ball-and-stick model of the ethephon molecule, the most widely used plant growth regulator. Colour code (click to show) : Black: Carbon, C : White: Hydrogen, H : Red: Oxygen, O : Orange: Phosphorus, P : Green: Chlorine, Cl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever tried putting an unripe pear in a paper bag with a ripe banana to ripen the pear more quickly? Go ahead! It works. The reason this works is because many ripe fruits give off ethylene, a gaseous growth hormone, when they are ripe, and ethylene triggers the generation of more ethylene, in a cascading, snowball effect within these ‘climacteric’ fruits. Ethylene also triggers stems and leaves to senesce, or turn yellow and mobilize their valuable photosynthesis machinery to other parts of the plant. In the original example, if you put a head of broccoli in the paper bag with the ripe banana, the broccoli will yellow and then brown. Pest managers have learned that you can use this hormone to good advantage in an integrated pest management plan by hastening the ripening of fruits to avoid late-season pest pressures such as walnut husk fly in walnuts. But how can you target the application of a gas like ethylene to the fruits of a tree in an orchard at high enough concentrations to ripen the husk (fruit) of the walnut tree? The answer might surprise you: spray an organophosphate pesticide such as ethephon that breaks down into ethylene and phosphonic acid. This stuff is now only registered in the USA as a plant growth hormone, but in fact it was originally registered in the 1970’s as a pesticide and has pesticidal properties, acting upon the nervous systems of insects, crustaceans and humans. It is a lousy pesticide, since it is not very toxic to insects and breaks down quickly in the environment, so nobody uses it as a pesticide on purpose any more. Instead, it is used exclusively as a growth regulator. http://1.usa.gov/16w8BO7

Avoidance by changing the timing of harvest is a wonderful strategy for preventing the need for ‘real’ pesticides which have serious insecticidal properties in the late season. I think it is important, however, to be aware that this stuff is actually an organophosphate pesticide as well, and to take proper precautions when applying and storing it, just as you would if you were spraying diazinon or chlorpyrifos or any other major organophosphate pesticide, which everyone knows are neurotoxins by means of inhibiting the enzyme cholinesterase in the brain. We can toy with the idea that we are using a safer material, but safer is a relative term.
Also, please note that ethephon acts upon plants as a growth regulator and upon insects and mammals as a neurotoxin, so let that be a lesson to ya not to assume, as I did, that plant growth regulators are as safe as water for human handling and for beneficial insects.
In my amateur opinion, then, ethephon is an undercover organophosphate playing the ‘good guy’ in today’s orchard crops because of the small concentrations and low toxicities applied and because these applications allow farmers to avoid rather than treat late-season pests through early ripening, but it is important to remember that this stuff is still a neurotoxin and to take proper precautions when handling it.

The innocent pyrethroids, perspectives from the bottom of the ag drainage canal

17 Jan
English: Pumping station A drainage channel le...

. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, gentle readers,

I am writing to announce that I have actually started working in my field, or more precisely, in the canals at the end of the irrigation ditches at the downhill side of my field, and I am thrilled. My job is to sample water to help California growers comply with state and federal regulations regarding nutrient and pesticide loads in their tailwater. I have no skill getting my waders un-stuck from the mud, so I only hope one day to go pro, but this is my big chance, I think.

From a debriefing session at the company headquarters I learned that there are exceedences for two organophosphate pesticides, a family of pesticides effective against many insect pests and very soluble in water. Instead, to protect waterways from further contamination, farmers are switching to more frequent use of pyrethroids, a family of pesticides extracted from the marigold family of plants and effective against a narrower range of pest insects, namely the butterfly and moth family. Pyrethroids were considered safe because they bind to soil well and they break down fairly quickly, but if they do wash down into waterways on sediment particles, they are deadly to aquatic invertebrates, and they need to be used more frequently than their organophosphate predecessors. Is switching to pyrethroids really an improvement? I have my doubts.

Am I glad to be doing something about my passion for public access to environmental quality data? You betcha!

From the ditch,

Your faithful correspondent.

Register for webinar by Dec 6 12-1 pm–factors affecting California’s youth now on an interactive map

3 Dec
UC Davis

UC Davis (Photo credit: arlen)

Are you interested in where in California our kids are getting the best chance at ‘wellbeing‘? Factors like nutrition and health risk factors are now on an interactive web-based map, free and open to the public. This info can empower us to make our regions healthier for our kids and understand what factors contribute to youth ‘wellbeing’ while learning a little bit of geography.

Check out the project, through UC Davis’s Center for Regional Change:
“Please join us for a webinar to introduce Putting Youth on the Map, a new interactive web mapping tool on youth well-being developed by the Center for Regional Change, in collaboration with ANR Cooperative Extension.

To register, go to http://tinyurl.com/PYOM1. Event#: 966143331, Password: youth.”

How much Aflatoxin can our beef and poultry handle in these stormy times? Senator weighs in.

1 Dec

The laws of supply and demand dictate that scarcity drives prices up. Corn and other feed grains are moldier than usual due to unusually stormy weather, making quality corn more scarce on the market, thereby driving corn prices up. The price of corn is also rising because of the increasing demand for corn ethanol fuel, a renewable, cleaner burning gasoline additive,., and because of a severe recent drought in the US midwest. Meat animals no longer bring in enough money to pay for their traditional, corn-based feed, so farmers and ranchers are reportedly sacrificing their herds to make ends meet.
Senator Roberts has a solution to this problem. Why not ease up on the regulations about feed grain quality? Why not  feed livestock a mix of moldy grain and quality grain, a mix that is designed to reach, but not exceed, the Food and Drug Administration’s maximum Aflatoxin concentration? After all, we have plenty of moldy grain this year, and plenty of hungry livestock. He understands that dairy cows should be given less aflatoxin than other types of livestock, and this should be considered when giving out aflatoxin waivers. More feed means lower feed prices and possibly more ranchers able to stay in business this year.

What are the risks to poultry, beef cattle, dairy cattle and consumers of overexposure to Aflatoxin? For poultry, aflatoxin reduces weight gain. For dairy cattle, aflatoxin has minimal effects on the cows but goes directly into the milk supply, putting human consumers at risk.


How much is too much aflatoxin in feed grain, according to the FDA? No harm comes to animals consuming 20 parts per billion of aflatoxin, but it is legal to use feed with up to 300 parts per billion of aflatoxin. The difference is due to the fact that resulting meat or poultry meets FDA standards for aflatoxin levels in consumer products. The compliance policy guidelines can be found here.

What about other types of fungal toxins? Why did Senator Roberts not mention Fumonisin, a more potent fungal toxin on corn and other feed grains? The FDA compliance policy guidelines on food and feed levels for this toxin are available here.

Since more aflatoxin-contaminated feed  will be on the market instead of being tilled under, will this result in increased risks of direct human consumption?

If Senator Roberts’ idea is adopted, for how long will the mixed grain waivers be available?  What if this decision were made permanent? Would long-term low-level exposure to these fungal toxins decrease our animal product yield and increase our long-term exposure to these dangerous fungal toxins?

You can email Senator Roberts, or write your own senator, if you have an opinion about his proposed solution to this critical feed shortage.


What does this mean for the politics of environmental justice?

26 Nov

What does this mean for the politics of environmental justice? (Onthegroundforum staff)

China is currently coming to grips with the conflict of interest inherent in government control of both environmental protection and economic returns at their publicly owned factories. Citizens object to placement of facilities in their back yards, most notably copper smelters and paraxylene factories.

Copper smelting contaminates surrounding areas with lead, something familiar to me from my home town of El Paso, where a decommissioned ASARCO smelter left a legacy of lead in the south of the city. Paraxylene damages liver, nervous system and eyes (see material safety data sheet from Amoco), but makes money for China because it is a precursor to plastic soda bottles and polyester fibers for clothing manufacture.
Could additional checks and balances, or public scrutiny of monitoring data, help keep factories on track for the safety of their surrounding communities? Can an existing government implement new checks and balances on its own operations? Is the situation much better here in the US where factories are privately owned but elected officials finance campaigns with industry contributions?

Prospect Journal

By Kirstie Yu
Staff Writer

Thousands of middle class protestors have risen up this year against chemical plant expansions in cities all over China, starting in Dalian (Liaoning province) in August 2011, Shifang (Sichuan province) in July 2012, and most recently Ningbo (Zhejiang province) at the end of October 2012. The concerns of these protestors lie primarily with the environmental damage and health risks involved with the potential pollution released into the city through toxic byproducts from the proposed paraxylene plant (Dalian), copper plant (Shifang), and petrochemical plant (Ningbo). The protests have ranged from nonviolent sit-ins and banner demonstrations to more violent riots with attacks on police cars and government offices. Police have arrested individuals, used tear gas to break up the crowds and even beaten some protestors, furthering frenzied riots and growing dissent against government plans.

Unlike how private companies primarily own the factories in America, government companies own…

View original post 1,457 more words

Enviroblog: Our old bones release lead into our bloodstreams–a delayed hazard of leaded gas

18 Nov
Inner beauty

Bone density scan (Photo credit: kightp)

Seniors worry about decreasing bone density because of increased risks of fractures. A new study suggests that as bones dissolve, they release old lead deposits along with calcium, leading to delayed lead exposure as well.


Enviroblog: A new target for deadly lead?.

Subtle but potentially serious: health effects of low-level pesticide exposure

8 Nov

The Bing cherry owes its development to the Ch...

Reposted from The Pump Handle, a wonderful science blog that is associated with National Geographic Magazine:

Subtle but potentially serious: health effects of low-level pesticide exposure.