Recent Blog Entries

  • MargaretThibo
    The Factory Food Industry's Role in Water Contamination
    Entry posted September 14, 2014 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    The Factory Food Industry's Role in Water Contamination
    Entry:

    Advocacy groups like the Environment America Research & Policy Center are pushing for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen the Clean Water Act in order to protect the nation’s fresh water supply.  In order to highlight the urgency, Environment America cites a report that they conducted. The report states that 206 million pounds of hazardous waste material are dumped into U.S. waterways annually.  Approximately 10% of that waste can be directly credited to the industrial food companies.

    The report also discusses the food industry was the largest offenders in toxic dumping. The top spot goes to Tyson Foods with an annual dumping of 18 million pounds of waste into U.S. waterways. Cargill Inc, Perdue Farms Inc, and Pilgrim Pride Corp. also top the list.

    The toxic chemicals dumped usually include mercury, arsenic, and nitrates. Both mercury and arsenic are heavy metals that can cause serious health problems upon exposure. Nitrates which result from the chicken processing factories can also cause health problems like organ damage.  Nitrates in drinking water prove especially dangerous when used in making baby formula. Infants are more sensitive to exposure and can develop many illnesses, including one called methemoglobinemi, in which blood is not able to carry oxygen to the entire body. Babies with this disorder can often appear slightly blue in color as a result.

    Not only do heavy metals and nitrates affect human health, but the water contamination can lead to complete dead zones in waterways. Nitrates encourage algae overgrowth, so much so that the algae consume all of the waters oxygen. With no oxygen in the water other life cannot be sustained. Dead zones have been a continued current environmental issue for the Great Lakes.

    The solution is also not as simple as boycotting the purchase of a certain brand in protest, as many of the food companies are so large they supply goods to many other venues. For instance KFC, McDonald’s, and several other fast food chains all rely on Tyson Foods. The Environment America Research & policy Center argues that the only way to combat the dumping of industrial waste into the nation’s waterways is for the EPA to strengthen the Clean Water Act. Industries like the factory foods would then become more accountable of what they are dumping into U.S. waterways and essentially what they are dumping into our drinking glass.

    Keywords:
    hazardous waste material, water contamination, current environmental issue
  • MargaretThibo
    Debate Over Charred Forest Heats Up
    Entry posted September 7, 2014 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    Debate Over Charred Forest Heats Up
    Entry:

    Last year’s brutal forest fire in Central California, known as the Rim Fire, was a national news headline, with video images of the impressive blaze burned into many of our memories. The fire destroyed eleven homes and approximately 400 square miles of land. The fire burned much of Stanislaus National Forest as well as parts of Yosemite National Park. All in all, the fire cost the state more than $125 million to fight and eventually extinguish.

    After the final flames were put out, the debate over what to do with the charred land began to heat up. Following site assessments the U.S Forest Service has been working to come up with a fair solution, but has acknowledged that they cannot please all parties involved. Last week a plan was released allowing 52 square miles of burned forest to be logged by timber companies.  Approximately 24 square miles consist of mountain range forest, the remaining 28 square miles is roadside.

    Timber companies have bid on the land and the money resulting from the purchase is expected to go towards replacement baby trees. Proponents of this plan point out that the haste in the U.S. Forest Service’s decision has driven the bids lower than they could have been since some of the burned timber has begun to deteriorate.

    Removal of burned timber has also been advocated as the best option for both public interest and environmental safety. For instance, any unsafe trees in danger of falling or causing destruction will be removed. Also removing charged trees will result in a lower chance of future forest fires in the area.

    Environmentalists are not as thrilled with the decisions made. They argue that the burned trees are an important part in the forest’s re growth. They also serve as the habitat for many species like the spotted owl and the black-backed wood pecker. Environmentalists feel that the only option that they have left is to take the U.S. Forest Services and timber industry to court. One strategy may be to get the spotted owl listed as an endangered species. If this occurred, it habitat would be protected.

    Keywords:
    site assessments , environmental safety
  • MargaretThibo
    Paper or Plastic?
    Entry posted September 7, 2014 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    Paper or Plastic?
    Entry:

    California has recently become the first state in the nation to successfully pass legislation that bans the usage of single use plastic bags. Previously, bans like this have only occurred on the municipal or county level, including many Californian cities as well as Maui County in Hawaii.

    The ban on plastic bags also known as SB270 has faced many obstacles and strong resistance over the past few years. Opponents include bag manufacturing companies, the stores that currently distribute bags to customers, and several other strong lobbies. Plastic bag manufacturers argued that a ban in California could lead to the layoffs of many employees across the United States, making the national economy even worse. Stores that distribute plastic bags point out the additional cost that they would incur since paper and reusable bags are far more expensive than plastic bags. The additional cost could then be offset by price hikes of store products. This would make shopping more expensive for the average consumer.

    Several factors helped satisfy critic concerns. First, SB270 was passed allowing $2 million in loans for plastic bag manufacturers to convert machinery to produce reusable bags. If the bag manufacturing industry is successfully updated, there would be no need for layoffs. The bill also allows stores to charge 10 cents per paper or reusable bag to cover costs. While the consumer will have to eat the initial bag cost, it would essentially be a onetime fee if they reused their bags at each shopping trip.

    The gained support from the United Food & Commercial Workers Union also helped in the bill’s passage as this powerful lobby has a lot of political clout. Lastly, the bill to ban plastic bags in a multi-step plan, allowing all parties involved to become comfortable with the idea. The ban would first only affect grocery stores and pharmacies. SB270 requires these establishments to have completed environmental compliance by 2015. Convenience stores as well as all other types of stores do not have to be fully compliant until 2016.

    Advocates of SB270 are thrilled with its passage.  Environmentalists believe that the ban on plastic bags should save California’s government millions of dollars each year since costly cleanup efforts along the coastline will be drastically decreased. The cost reduction is not the only benefit. A ban on plastic bags could result in the estimated 10 billion bags that California uses annually not ending up in a landfill or in the ocean.

    Plastic bags account for approximately 10% of the garbage that is washed ashore annually and have been associated with deaths of 200 different marine species. Many animals become entangled or mistake a bag for food and consume it. Plastic bags are equally as dangerous land pollution. The bags do not break down easily due to their chemical makeup and are not easily recyclable. The plastic bag industry manufactures brand new bags at a fraction of the cost of recycling bags. All of the above concerns are why environmentalists feel that as drastic as it may sound, an all out ban is the best option.

    The passage of SB270 has raised many questions, like whether or not the trend will catch on across the country. Could other states adopt similar legislation?  California’s ban will serve as important example of whether such a practice will succeed or fail.

    Keywords:
    environmental compliance, land pollution
  • MargaretThibo
    California Community Plans Lagoon Cleanup
    Entry posted September 1, 2014 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    California Community Plans Lagoon Cleanup
    Entry:

    The San Elijo community, located to the north of San Diego, has drafted a detailed plan to completely restore a local 979 acre lagoon.  Area residents are being given the opportunity to publicly comment on the San Elijo Lagoon plan this week at a town meeting. The public may also view the plan electronically on the San Diego Department of Parks & Recreation’s or U.S. Army Corp of Engineer’s website.

    Over the past few decades, Lagoons have been completely ignored environmentally. They have been contaminated by highway runoff water and sewage. Lagoons like the one in San Elijo face water contamination as well as changes to currents. These changes have allowed lagoons to become shallow, mostly stagnant pools of water. It turns out that Lagoons are actually unique ecosystems that should be conserved. After site assessments, researchers have found that the San Elijo Lagoon is home to over 700 different types of plants and animals.

    Restoring the Lagoon would involve a complete dredging as well as a redirecting of the channel flows.  All sand resulting from the dredging process would then be donated to nearby beach for beach restoration projects.  Nearby mud flats would also benefit from the restoration. Mud flats serve an important purpose of filtering potentially contaminated water before it reaches the ocean, as well as being the home to a multitude of shellfish. These shellfish would supply bird populations with a much needed food source.

    A more circulated San Elijo Lagoon will vastly reduce the amount of mosquitoes in the area as well, since they will have much less stagnant breeding area. A reduction in mosquito populations would prevent the spread of diseases as well as make the scenic area far more enjoyable for residents. The restoration plan also calls for the construction of trails to access the Lagoon for nature walks, bike rides, or bird watching.

    The San Elijo Lagoon restoration plan is not anticipated to receive much public scrutiny since it is similar to plans that have proven highly successful at lagoons in nearby communities.

     

     

    Keywords:
    water contamination, site assessments
  • MargaretThibo
    The European Union Could’ve, Wood’ve, Should’ve
    Entry posted September 1, 2014 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    The European Union Could’ve, Wood’ve, Should’ve
    Entry:

    The European Union’s (EU) desire to improve its energy policies and prevent future climate change has in turn created an entirely new current environmental issue. The European Union’s fatal flaw occurred when it classified the burning of wood as a renewable resource. In 2001 the EU set a goal of reducing the amount of carbon emissions produced by 20% over the next thirteen years. The move toward using wood as a form of sustainable energy was a major piece in reaching that goal.

    There are several issues with treating wood as if it is a renewable resource, the most obvious being the mass deforestation that results.  With countries like Poland and Finland relying on wood burning for most of its energy production, the demand became too great for shrinking European forests. The solution became importing wood from the United States.  The majority of this wood comes from Southern states like the Carolinas and Georgia. Entire forests in the region are slashed for export. This exportation creates an entirely new environmental issue since additional energy is used and contaminates created in the transportation process.

    The decision to encourage the use of wood burning was the result of a series of underdeveloped research that stated that small younger trees offset more carbon than larger older trees. The European Union believed that they were helping the environment. They were not only replacing hazardous coal burning plants, but creating a new generation of healthy trees. More recent research has shown that young trees do not always consume more carbon than older trees. Once again, any difference in wood versus coal in carbon output becomes equalized once trees are cut down, processed, and shipped.  While it is true that technically trees and be re grown, classifying them as a renewable resource seems like a reach.

    Nations across Europe began offering huge incentives to convert coal burning plants to wood burning plants. Great Britain is offering three companies the equivalent of $912 million in subsidies to do so.  About 40% of German energy is generated from wood burning as well, although they have made many advances in solar energy.

    Since many nations have already undergone major conversions to burn wood for energy, environmental groups have suggested the burning of saw dust and wood pellets instead of whole trees.

     

     

    Keywords:
    current environmental issue, sustainable energy

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