How to do Your Part in Conserving the Earth

Article by: Aditya Seth

Let’s face it - our ecosystems are dying off. There are a total of 10 ecosystems on Earth. These include forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems, desert ecosystems, tundra ecosystems, freshwater ecosystems, and marine ecosystems. 25% of the Earth’s ecosystems have died. Forests are being shrunk due to humans cutting down trees to make money. Freshwater ecosystems are being polluted. All of these have detrimental effects on the surrounding plants and animals that live in the ecosystem. This includes habitat loss, species becoming endangered, and more! But it gets worse. These ecosystems are projected to degrade even more. 60% of coral reefs are expected to be gone in the next 30 years. Some may think “So what! It doesn’t affect me.”. Well actually, it does! In the process of damaging forests, we are contributing to our carbon footprint. Moreover, many of the resources are finite, meaning they are limited. At the rate we are using these finite resources, they will be gone before the future generations can use them. However there are easy ways that we as individuals can take to save and conserve the ecosystems. These require very little effort and is something that everyone can do.

Recycle!

Firstly, everyone can recycle. There are many common household objects that can be recycled including jars, wine bottles, broken glasses, plastic bottles, paper products, and much more! By recycling, we are are re-using those same materials for different purposes without having to use more resources. For example, sticky notes can be recycled to become pieces of paper in a notebook. 90% of all plastic bottles made don’t reach recycling places. Instead they sit in landfills for thousands of years, disintegrating slowly. Over time, plastic bottles accumulate and it becomes extremely harmful for the surrounding nature. One big example of this is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is a huge area in the Pacific Ocean that has debris consisting of plastic. It is harming wildlife that live near it since they are eating it or getting stuck in it. By simply throwing away certain objects in a different bin, you are doing your part in saving the Earth.

Reduce Consumption of Resources!

Secondly, everyone can reduce their consumption of resources. These resources include water, gas, electricity, and other finite things. There are many small things that can be done to reduce the use of these resources that will make a big difference. For example, only using washers and dryers when they are full. Although this a small thing to do, it has a big impact as it can save 1,000 gallons water per month!. If everyone replaced their light bulbs at home with energy-saving fluorescent lights, then it would be the equivalent of removing millions of cars from the streets. By shortening your shower by 1 minute per day, you can save 150 gallons of water per month!

Composting!

Thirdly, everyone can compost. Composting is the act of decaying certain materials into compost, which can then be used as a plant fertilizer. Many things that you may be throwing away in the trash can is compostable. This includes, vegetable scraps, egg shells, tea bags, used napkins, spoiled milk, and much more! This natural plant fertilizer will help your plants grow better, save you money, and avoid littering.

 

If everyone does their part, then Earth will definately be a better place not just for us but also the environment around us.

Mercury Exposure

By Aditya Seth

What is Mercury?

Mercury is a chemical element that is generally found in the Earth’s crust. There are 3 different types of mercury. The first type is methylmercury and other organic compounds and they are formed when mercury combines with carbon. The microscopic organisms convert the mercury into methylmercury, which is the most common organic mercury compound found in the environment. The second type is the elemental (metallic) mercury. It’s a shiny, silver-white metal and is liquid at room temperature. It is used in older thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and some electrical switches. When dropped, elemental mercury breaks into smaller droplets which can go through small cracks or become strongly attached to certain materials. At room temperature, exposed elemental mercury can evaporate to become an invisible, odorless toxic vapor. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas. The third type of mercury are inorganic mercury compounds. They take the form of mercury salts and are generally white powder or crystals, with the exception of mercuric sulfide (cinnabar) which is red. Most uses of inorganic compounds have been discontinued.

How does Mercury get Emitted into Air?

Emission of Mercury from rocks into the air and water is a problem for the environment. The emissions can happen naturally. Both volcanoes and forest fires send mercury into the atmosphere. However, human activities are mainly responsible for much of the mercury that is released into the environment.  The burning of coal, oil and wood as fuel can cause mercury to become airborne, as can burning wastes that contain mercury. This airborne mercury can fall to the ground in raindrops, in dust, or simply due to gravity, which is known as air deposition. The amount of mercury deposited in a given area depends on how much mercury is released from local, regional, national, and international sources. Since mercury occurs naturally in coal and other fossil fuels, when people burn these fuels for energy, the mercury becomes airborne and goes into the atmosphere. In the United States, power plants that burn coal to create electricity account for about 42 percent of all manmade mercury emissions

    • Burning oil that contains mercury

    • Burning wood that contains mercury

    • Burning mercury-containing wastes, including wastes from the manufacture of Portland cement consumer products that contain mercury, like electronic devices, batteries, light bulbs and thermometers, that are thrown into garbage that is incinerated.

    • Using certain technologies to produce chlorine

    • Breaking products that contain mercury

    • Burning iron ore, coke and limestone in electric arc furnaces used to produce steel

    • Using coal-fired boilers in many industries to generate forms of thermal heat like steam

The most common way of getting exposed is by eating seafood with high levels of methylmercury (form of mercury that is toxic), in their tissues. A less common way people are exposed to mercury is breathing mercury vapor. This can happen when mercury is released from a container, or from a product or device that breaks. If the mercury is not immediately contained or cleaned up, it can evaporate, becoming an invisible, odorless, toxic vapor.

Health Effects:

Mercury has many adverse effects. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages. High levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of babies developing in the womb and young children may harm their developing nervous systems, affecting their ability to think and learn.

Ecological Effects:

Birds and mammals that eat fish have more exposures to methylmercury than other animals in water ecosystems. Predators that eat these birds and mammals are also at risk. Methylmercury has been found in eagles, otters, and endangered Florida panthers. At high levels of exposure, methylmercury's harmful effects on these animals include; death, abnormal behavior, slower growth and development, and reduced reproduction.

Fish To Stay Away From/Safe to Eat

  • High Mercury Levels

    • Tilefish, King mackerel, Shark, Swordfish, Marlin, Orange roughy, Ahi Tuna, Bigeye tuna, Spanish mackerel, Gulf mackerel, Albacore tuna, Yellowfin tuna, Sea bass, Bluefish, Grouper.

  • Low Mercury Levels (Safe to Eat)

    • Salmon, Herring, Haddock, Anchovies, Butterfish, Crab, Clam, Crawfish, Catfish, Croaker, Flounder, Chub mackerel, Atlantic mackerel, Oysters, Pollock, Perch, Mullet, Muscles, Rainbow trout, Freshwater trout, Sardines, Shrimp, Scallops, Squid, Sole, Tilapia.

Guatemala

Article by Itai De Roca

Walking through the narrow streets of Guatemala, you will be graced by the beauty of the land and the fascinating culture of its people, many of whom are of Mayan descent.  The hills are filled with terraced land and crops are being grown plentifully.  Yet a problem remains.  Malnutrition has gotten so bad in this country that in some rural areas, as high as 80% of the youth population is underfed.

The problem stems from the sharp income disparity seen between classes, as many farmers are bogged down by living in an archaic sharecropping system.  In addition to this, there is a lack of awareness of proper nutrition, fueled by powerful business who thrive on children incessantly using junk foods as a cheaper alternative to rice, beans, and corn which can constitute a strong diet.  Even when offered the opportunity to eat healthily, families would rather sell their crops (or food given to them by NGO’s) in order to sustain their meager lifestyles.  Since this problem begins at a young age, many Guatemalan children suffer from stunting and irreversible brain damage, trapping them in a vicious cycle.  Malnourished children will struggle in school, and fail to equip themselves with the skills necessary to progress or understand a balanced diet.  The education system is sorely lacking and classrooms cannot be run when they are full of kids starving.  Often, situations necessitate that the child works in the fields rather than go to school.  

This issue, however, is not a nationwide one.  In Guatemala City, the economy is relatively stable and some live in affluence.  The money to help these underprivileged people is present, but not being utilized.  Countries like Mexico and Brazil are living proof that cash transfer systems are effective in combating poverty, and the Guatemalan government fails to implement similar programs. This is simply a result of the government's failure to successfully implement tax reform.  The government has been inept in combating the large corporations that stand to lose, but it is essential that Guatemala looks past the interests of corporations, and begins to look at the real issue at hand: malnourishment and its detrimental effects on their society.

Oil Spills

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What are oil spills and how do they occur?

An oil spill occurs when hydrocarbons from liquid petroleum leak into the environment due to negligence or malfunction. Over the past few decades we’ve seen many widespread pollution incidents, and a great amount more that has gone under the public’s radar. Spills arise from equipment breaking down, natural disasters, and even intentional acts by terrorists and vandals. 6.4 billion liters of oil have been lost due to tanker incidents alone from 1970-2009! Remember when the first rain of the rainy season occurs, and you see rainbow colors in small puddles. That is the oil and dust rising out of the unwashed road. That also contributes to the oil in the ocean since approximately 2.6 billion liters of oil enter the ocean every year, with half of that due to motor vehicles. Every year, oil runoff from a city of about 5 million could dump as much oil in the ocean as one large oil spill! While you may be thinking that oil spills happen quite rarely, smaller and more chronic ones occur on a daily basis.

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The effects of these toxic monsters

Oil spills are quite deadly to the local environment and humans. Crude oil breaks up into gas, naphtha, kerosene, light gas, and other noxious residuals, all of which are known to be hazardous to human & animal health, and can affect large-scale environmental systems.  Oil has a tendency to spread out extremely thin and could spread out hundreds of miles across the ocean. Therefore, oil can reach coasts and estuaries and contaminate them. In addition, when marine animals and birds get coated with oil, they lose their power to trap air and repel water, which leads to hypothermia and death since they can’t maintain their body heat. Such marine animals include sea otters, hawksbill sea turtle, fish, and even sharks. Oil contamination can impact public health including illnesses caused by toxic fumes or by eating contaminated fish or shellfish. However, there are many other less obvious public health impacts, including losses and disruptions of commercial and recreational fisheries, seaweed harvesting, boating, and a variety of other uses of affected water. 

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Solving the problem

One way we can prevent lots of oil spills is by incorporating many preventative measures such as de-fueling or checking for leaking gaskets, seals, and docking glands. Since oil spreads rapidly, containing it in its 1st stage of spread is critical. This can be done using a large floating barrier called a boom. In addition, a new substance is emerging which may clean up the oil in the most efficient way. A superabsorbent polymer material can be used to sop up oil 40 times its own weight, and afterwards the oil can even be recovered. It is a cost-effective solution which dramatically reduces the environmental impacts from oil spills.