The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is believed to have been around since the 1970’s, is now an estimated 6,474 square miles of water unable to support marine life.
Government and independent scientists believe nutrient runoff is the main cause of the dead zone. Pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus flow into the gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
For many, the ethanol industry and the government’s 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard carry a lot of the blame. Since the governments introduction of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, acreage of U.S. land to farm corn and soy beans has grown by 16.8 million and over 1.2 million acres of grassland has been lost.
Flooding in 2015 and earlier this year washed away tremendous amounts of pollutants that had accumulated on land during the prolonged drought. The sources of much of these nutrients were cornfields, 40% of which are dedicated to producing ethanol, which fuel companies are compelled by Congress to blend with gasoline.
NOAA officials estimate the Dead Zone costs the nation’s seafood and tourism industries $82 million a year. And it likely will get worse, scientists believe. The gulf produces about 40 percent of the nation’s seafood, which includes offshore species such as shrimp and red snapper. And Louisiana is second in seafood production to Alaska, according to The Nature Conservancy.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 40% of the nation’s waterways suffer water quality problems. Water systems are often interlinked and the dangers of runoff from agriculture, forestry, construction and people’s personal yards are numerous.
Did you know that a typical city block generates more than five times as much rainwater runoff as a forested area of the same size? This is because rooftops and pavement don’t allow water to soak into the ground like forests, wetlands and grasslands do. Instead, rainwater runs off pavement into the nearest storm drain, where it’s transported to local streams, rivers and eventually the ocean. On its way to the storm drain, rainwater picks up pollutants like oil, antifreeze, pet waste, fertilizers and pesticides. In most places, storm water does not get treated, so all of those pollutants end up in local waters.
Using non-toxic house products, not dumping things other than water down storm drains, and not flushing medication down the toilet or sink are just a few things you can do to keep the water in your area clean.
Chicago officials boast that the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant is one of the world’s largest sewer treatment plants, handling the waste of 2.3 million people.
The Stickney Water Reclamation is the biggest single source of phosphorus in the entire region that drains into the Mississippi River. Combined with other sewage plant releases a state task force concluded that these plants are responsible for about half of the phosphorus pollution in rivers that drain into the Mississippi.
The need for more aggressive and widespread action is especially acute in Illinois, which by most estimates is the largest contributor of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution to the Gulf of Mexico.
A new $31 million project will help to reduce that pollution by diverting wastewater through three reactors that use catalysts to form tiny, nutrient-rich “pearls” for the fertilizer industry. The district estimates the equipment will produce up to 10,000 tons of slow-release fertilizer a year and reduce the Stickney plant’s phosphorus discharges by about 30 percent.
More still needs to be done, but this project is a good start.
Every year marine species, from lobsters and fish to sea lions and birds, become trapped or entangled in lost, abandoned or discarded fishing gear. This “derelict gear” continues to capture fish and wildlife while at sea, even if no fishermen retrieves the catch.
The Fishing for Energy partnership works to address this problem in two ways: by providing commercial fishermen with no-cost opportunities to dispose of derelict and retired fishing gear, and by offering grant support for direct removal and assessment efforts.
Through March 2016, the Fishing for Energy partnership has provided removal services at 48 ports in 10 states, collecting over 3 million pounds of fishing gear. Gear collected at the ports is first sorted at Schnitzer Steel Industries for metals recycling, and the remaining non-recyclable material is converted into energy at Covanta Energy locations.
An estimated 9 to 10 percent of Wisconsin wells have tested over safe limits for nitrate.
Studies have estimated that 90% of nitrate in groundwater comes from spreading of synthetic fertilizers and dairy manure on farm fields, with most of the remainder from septic systems.
Nitrate behaves differently. Relatively little lingers near roots where it can be absorbed. Water washes it down into shallow groundwater that is the source of drinking water for one-quarter of Wisconsin residents.
Legumes and alfalfa, take up nitrogen before it can reach groundwater, but are not as profitable as corn. When prices rise for corn, which requires heavy applications of nitrogen-based fertilizer, farmers quickly convert acreage and boost spreading. Wisconsin farmers applied over 200 million pounds of nitrogen in excess of UW-Extension recommendations.
Not only does the fertilizer create toxic drinking water, but the phosphorus in fertilizer and manure contributes to abnormal algae growth in lakes and streams when it runs off the land with rain and snowmelt.
Drinking water contaminated with more than 10 milligrams per liter of nitrate poses acute risks to infants and women who are pregnant, a possible risk to fetuses in early stages of pregnancy, and a longer-term risk of serious disease in adults.
The line from drought to war is not nearly as straightforward, though on the surface it doesn’t seem to involve any leaps of faith. It makes sense that a severe drought would lead to massive crop failure, and that in a country heavily dependent on agriculture the results would be disastrous.
The drought lasted several years and forced hundreds of thousands of poor farmers off their lands and into cities that were already overcrowded by refugees (1 million or so, by most accounts) from the war in neighboring Iraq.
However, the drought alone may not have been what forced the farmers from their land. The cancellation of diesel and fertilizer subsidies also had a crippling effect on the farmers. Political, economic and technological forces at work in the modern world also play a major role in economical collapse.
Despite the much-touted health benefits of fish, consumers may be getting more than just lean protein in their servings of seafood. Researchers have found that around a quarter of the fish in markets in Indonesia and California contained plastic or fibrous material in their gut. This study is one of the first to make a direct link between plastic and the food which end up on the plates of consumers.
We already know that eating fish comes with risks of ingesting metals like mercury and lead, or pesticides like DDT. Scientists don’t currently know whether or what amount of plastics in fish poses a threat to human safety. They do know, however, that plastics are associated with a cocktail of chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic, and some of which disrupt our hormone system. Once they enter the ocean, plastics can also become a sponge for other contaminants like pesticides and industrial chemicals.
According to PHY ORGS the researchers emphasize that the debris are found in the animals’ guts. That suggests people are likely to ingest the debris only if the animal is eaten whole, like sardines and anchovies. The team is still studying whether chemicals in the material can transfer into the meat.
The presence of tiny plastic particles, or microplastics, is a growing problem worldwide. A team of scientists estimated that eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans each year, and predicted that that number will increase over the next decade.
Reducing plastics in the ocean will require a concerted, multi-pronged effort and interventions might include banning plastic microbeads in personal care products, working with big plastic producers to search for alternative materials, or even possibly putting fiber filters on washing machines.
In species from alligators to humans, males are being born less frequently than they were before. Environmental experts are examining the link between man-made chemicals and their role as endocrine disruptors.
Exposure to phthalates, a common class of petrochemicals, can happen through air, water or food. They are contained in cosmetics, cleaning products and consumer goods from wall paper to toys. Some types of phthalates are not only carcinogens, but they are also known endocrine disruptors. Glyphosate, one of the most common and highly used herbicides is found in trace amounts in nearly every food item that is made from genetically modified crops. This endocrine disruptor is especially toxic to human cells in vitro.
Sperm counts worldwide have been cut in half, male infertility has increased, and testicular cancer rates have doubled. These endocrine disruptors interfere with male hormonal system and are playing have havoc with the basic building blocks of male sexual development.
Many central Florida lakes are heavily polluted with a mixture of pesticides, nutrients and fertilizer – many chemicals are old chemicals like DDT that are persistent. Scientists studying alligators in central Florida have found evidence that pesticides have the ability to alter the development of testes as well as lower the testosterone levels of the males similar to those of females. Sexual organs of male alligators nesting in these lakes are 1/3 their normal size and reproduction rate is 90% below average.For several weeks after conception the embryo is neither male nor female. Sex hormones determine whether the fetus will be a boy or a girl. In the 7th week of pregnancy the male reproductive tract begins developing. Chemical exposure is likely behind a 200% increase in male genital birth defects. After birth the infant is further exposed to chemicals in mother’s milk. Blood and urine samples show that contaminates are not only in the child at birth, but they stay in the child.
The falling male birthrate is a global phenomenon. There are 20 heavily industrialized nations where male births have mysteriously declined. Since 1970 this has added up to almost 3,000,000 fewer baby boys. Virtually all of the products linked to male reproductive problems are made from petroleum and of the 80,000 chemicals in use 85% have never undergone testing for the impact on the human body.
Synthetic chemicals may be the threat linked to the survival of our species.
Introduced to Malheur Lake as early as the 1920s, likely as a food source for people living in the arid region, the invasive carp have now taken over the lake.
Historically, Malheur Lake was utilized by up to 35% of the Pacific Flyway’s canvasback population, was the second most important redhead production site in the West, and at its peak produced, over 100,000 ducklings annually. Currently the refuge has only 5-10 percent of the productive bird habitat it provided before carp were introduced.
The estimated carp population in the refuge has grown into the millions. The carp sift through the mud searching for insects and aquatic plants to eat; uprooting plants and creating silt plumes in the process. Malheur Lake is void of the plants that provide food, shelter, and nesting grounds for waterfowl and other migratory birds.
Chemical treatments, barriers and traps, and water management have been used in an attempt to eradicate the carp. Unfortunately they only resulted in very short term habitat improvements, and the carp continue to return.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has entered into an agreement with Silver Sage Fisheries and Nutrient Company to catch and process invasive carp. The company would eventually like to use the carp as a food product or fish oil, but it currently has its sights set on turning them into fertilizer.
During a trial using fishing nets, fishermen caught more than 40,000 pounds of carp. The test project is expected to cost $500,000 the first year. The carp removed from the Lake will be processed into organic fertilizer for application on nearby organic croplands.
The sun is shining. The temperatures are rising. A trip to the park is imminent. All of the end pieces of bread saved during the long winter is gathered and ready for the trip. Strolling along the water’s edge the ducks are just waiting to receive some of the bounty, they are so used to being thrown scraps that they follow me to an empty bench where I sit and quickly become their favorite visitor as crumb after crumb is tossed.
It is just amazing to watch the birds run from crumb to crumb trying to get as much as they can. I smile. There is something captivating about feeding wildlife.
Of course, until now I had not realized the harm I may actually be causing. Those “wild” ducks shouldn’t be following me around; that is unnatural behavior – they should fear me. The food I am tossing to them is low in protein and are very poor substitutes for natural foods such as aquatic plants, natural grains, and invertebrates.
This artificial feeding causes inbreeding, delayed migration, overcrowding, disease, deformity and water pollution. Some parks maintain a strict “no feeding” area to watch the birds while some places still offer such an activity. The key to feeding the ducks properly is to provide food that is nutritious to waterfowl such as special duck pellets or seedless grapes cut in half, shredded kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce, and grains, including wheat, barley and oats. These are all healthy food sources that will appeal to most waterfowl.
Of course it is not just about the birds. Water pollution is a big issue in regards to feeding the ducks. Decomposing bread creates bacteria and attracts vermin, especially rats, whose urine transmits Weil’s disease, which can be deadly to people. Rotting bread exacerbates naturally occurring surface algae – which can give off toxins damaging to fish populations and create a stench for humans – by releasing more nitrates and phosphates. It also denies sunlight to underwater plants. And the bread eaten by birds creates more feces, which has the same effect.