Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Washing machines as source of plastics pollution

It all comes out in the wash

From the report…
It seems that household washing machines appear to be a major source of so-called “microplastic” pollution — bits of polyester and acrylic smaller than the head of a pin — that scientists now have detected on ocean shorelines worldwide. Their report describing this potentially harmful material was published in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Mark Browne and colleagues explain that the accumulation of microplastic debris in marine environments has raised health and safety concerns. The bits of plastic contain potentially harmful ingredients which go into the bodies of animals and could be transferred to people who consume fish. Ingested microplastic can transfer and persist into their cells for months.
How big is the problem of microplastic contamination? Where are these materials coming from? To answer those questions, the scientists looked for microplastic contamination along 18 coasts around the world and did some detective work to track down a likely source of this contamination.
They found more microplastic on shores in densely populated areas, and identified an important source — wastewater from household washing machines. They point out that more than 1,900 fibers can rinse off of a single garment during a wash cycle, and these fibers look just like the microplastic debris on shorelines.
The problem, they say, is likely to intensify in the future, and the report suggests solutions:
“Designers of clothing and washing machines should consider the need to reduce the release of fibers into wastewater and research is needed to develop methods for removing microplastic from sewage.”
For more information go to: http://bit.ly/vJ92Em


November 23, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

Even The Cleanest Wastewater Contributes To More ‘Super Bacteria’

 

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...

Image via Wikipedia

From the 16 November 2011 Medical News Today article

A new University of Minnesota study reveals that the release of treated municipal wastewater – even wastewater treated by the highest-quality treatment technology – can have a significant effect on the quantities of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, often referred to as “superbacteria,” in surface waters.

The study also suggests that wastewater treated using standard technologies probably contains far greater quantities of antibiotic-resistant genes, but this likely goes unnoticed because background levels of bacteria are normally much higher than the water studied in this research.

The new study is led by civil engineering associate professor Timothy LaPara in the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities College of Science and Engineering. The study is published in the most recent issue ofEnvironmental Science and Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society. The research was part of a unique class project in a graduate-level civil engineering class at the University of Minnesota focused on environmental microbiology.

 

Read the article

November 16, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

New free, hands-on tool supports sustainable living choices (nitrogen footprint measure)

New free, hands-on tool supports sustainable living choices (nitrogen footprint measure)

From the February 22 2011 Eureka news alert

People who want to eat healthy and live sustainably have a new way to measure their impact on the environment: a Web-based tool [http://n-print.org/sites/n-print.org/files/footprint_sql/index.html#/home] that calculates an individual’s “nitrogen footprint.” The device was created by University of Virginia environmental scientist James N. Galloway; Allison Leach, a staff research assistant at U.Va.; and colleagues from the Netherlands and the University of Maryland.

The calculator is a project of the International Nitrogen Initiative, a global network of scientists who share research and data on the nitrogen dilemma. The project was announced Feb. 19 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.

What’s the nitrogen dilemma? Though some residents of the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico likely are familiar with it, it’s unknown to most Americans outside the agricultural world. For the last 30 years, Galloway and other leading scientists have been noting fish kills in coastal areas, threats to human health as a result of air and water pollution, and changes to global biodiversity and climate. This tool is one of their attempts to foster more understanding of nitrogen’s role in our lives.

“Nitrogen, as any farmer knows, is essential to plant life,” said Galloway, associate dean for the sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at U.Va. and the Sidman P. Poole Professor of Environmental Sciences. “But the widespread use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to boost crop production has resulted in excess nitrogen coming off farms – essentially adding unwanted, unneeded fertilizer to our natural systems, with disastrous results. The combustion of fossil fuels adds even more nitrogen to our environment. It’s a largely untold story.”

Scientists are calling nitrogen pollution a major environmental problem that includes significant damage to air and water quality in places such as the Chesapeake Bay, where the federal government has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to reducing nitrogen runoff from farms and industry. Similarly, nitrogen runoff from Midwestern farms that ultimately flows into the Gulf of Mexico is largely responsible for toxic algal blooms that have suffocated coastal waters, leading to hypoxic zones, resulting in the loss of fish and shellfish.

To raise awareness, Galloway, a pioneering nitrogen scientist, organized a global team of experts to develop the footprint calculator as an educational tool – one he and his colleagues hope will both raise the profile of the nitrogen issue and galvanize people into action. By measuring what and how much you eat, as well as other factors like how you travel, the calculator shows your impact on the nitrogen cycle.

The website also makes recommendations for how to lessen your “nitrogen footprint.” They are similar to other sustainable living choices: reduce airplane travel, choose renewable energy and eat less meat, particularly beef (since cattle consume massive quantities of farmed feed, which requires much fertilizer). Professors and lecturers are already using the tool in classrooms to teach students how one individual can alter – and help restore – a natural nitrogen cycle.

“Solving the nitrogen dilemma is a major challenge of our time,” Leach said. “By calculating our individual impact, and taking small steps to reduce it, we can all play a part – and send a strong message to our nation’s leaders that we want this issue taken seriously.”

This new footprint calculator is the first in a series of research tools, known as N-Print [http://www.n-print.org/], which Galloway and his team are developing to connect the production of nitrogen with the policies used to manage it. The team is currently creating a similar calculator for farmers and other nitrogen users, as well as a tool for policymakers that will provide regional nitrogen emission ceilings, which will show how much nitrogen can be released in these regions without major negative environmental impact.

“There are readily available solutions to reducing nitrogen pollution,” Galloway said. “By connecting consumers, producers and policymakers, we can solve it.”

Chemical fertilizer use and combustion engines are the main sources of nitrogen pollution. Scientists who are recording dramatic changes to ecosystems from the U.S. to China say the disruption of the naturally occurring cycle of nitrogen through ecosystems due to human activity leads the list of global tipping points [http://bit.ly/95eWNn] and have named it a top threat to global biodiversity. It contributes to human health problems, water pollution, ozone layer depletion, smog, climate change and coastal dead zones. Nitrous oxide, created mostly from grain and meat production, is also a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

 

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This project is supported by the Agouron Institute, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.Va., and the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands.

For information, visit: www.n-print.org/.

 

 

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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