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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.

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.

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

Roundup Ready Ragweed!

25 Oct

A great video on BBC shows the consequences of overuse of Roundup on Roundup Ready corn.

New food ingredient-interesterified oil. What is it and why should we be concerned?

4 Apr

Prozac causes shrimp to go toward the light where they are quickly eaten!

16 Mar

I just recently became aware of an interview on National Public Radio about the antidepressant, Prozac. This chemical, when it enters our waterways, has unique and self-destructive effects on shrimp, according to a 2010 study by Alex Ford at the University of Portsmouth. By creating this mood stabilizing substance, are we inadvertently changing the behavior of other wetland creatures so that they are effectively swimming into the mouths of their predators?

New Leaf: This Blog Has Changed

29 Feb

From now on, this blog will be devoted to a broader set of topics, including how we use chemistry and land use planning to solve society’s problems, how we decide what is a problem, what is an acceptable risk, and what is a solution to our problem. Historical lessons and predictions for the future are given emphasis, and I hope this will be a forum where environmental and social justice concerns can be raised.

How has the concept of risk changed through history?

19 Dec

“The term risk became common among North Italian merchants in the 15th century. Etymologically, risk refers to the latin ricare, which originates from the Greek concept riza meaning root or cliff. Hellenistic sailors took riza when choosing a route close to the cliffs that, while faster, increased the likelihood of shipwrecks”.
“The scientific concept of risk was introduced by Laplace when dealing with “the probability of the events linked to the hope but also the anxiety of tomorrow” (Laplace 1816, 1921). In this context, hope is defined as the expectation of an uncertain but likely benefit. Laplace was the first to define risk as the product of all harms and b enefits multiplied by the probability of their occurrence.”
“The notion of risk came to the forefront with the rise of the Industrial Age. At that time, however, harm was merely considered as an opportunity cost for gaining access to the benefits tied to the new technologies. Here, the simple definition of risk as the probability of loss dominated literature and practice for a long time. In Europe, for instance, discussions on technological risks in the 1970’s werealmost exclusively characterized by definitions of risk in which only losses were considered. Concepts in which risk is defined as an adverse outcome can be denoted as pure risk. As paustenbach (2002) pointed out, however, the environmental and health risk assessment methodologies developed in the 1970’s were a major departure from such concepts. Instead of strictly defining the existence of hazards in terms of black and white, risk assessment provides a deliberate, mainly quantitative assessment that relates a valuation of the impacts of unwanted, negative outcomes to their likelihood of occurrence.”
“Risk is dealt with in a wide breadth of disciplines ranging form natural to technical, medical, and social sciences as well as the humanities. Today, risk assessment, risk perception, and risk management are vital. Risk—and in particular environmental risk—gained a new dimensionality with the advent of the mastery of nuclear fission (Krohn and Weingart, 1987), because the human species was then able to coause damage not only to microcosmic systems but to global ones as well. In principlbe, this phenomenon is of importance for many new technological aspects. Sociologist Ulrich Beck and colleagues speak of a World Risk Society (Beck 1986; Beck and Sznaider 2006) wherein some scientists and other concerned people fear that we cannot fully exclude new technological inventions (e.g., a specific genetic manipulation in a plant or animal, a new organic compound,, or a specific nanotech particle) that could pose suck risks for humans and for the environment as to become intolerable for society.”
Scholz, RW, Siegrist, M (2010) Low risks, high public concern? The cases of persistent organic polluntants (POP’s), heavy metals, and nanotech particles. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 16:185-198