Category Archives: Health & Ecological Risk Assessment

The Arctic is Opening Up: Offshore Drilling and Melting Sea Ice

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

The heat is on in the Arctic. This region is now warming at a rate faster than twice the global average—known as Arctic amplification. Consequently, the ice that covers the North Pole and surrounding areas, and melts to its lowest extent each September, has been disappearing at an alarming rate. Continue reading

Methane Leaks: The Big and the Small

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

By emitting just a little bit of methane, mankind is greatly accelerating the rate of climatic change” – Steven Hamburg, Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund

gas flare

Orvis State natural gas flare head, Evanson Place, Arnegard North Dakota. Credit: Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas, has been receiving more bad press than usual lately—courtesy of the massive natural gas leak that erupted on Oct. 23, 2015, at the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility near Los Angeles. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, and thousands of families were evacuated. After unsuccessful initial attempts to plug the leak, Southern California Gas Company was finally able to build a relief well to capture the leaking gas. On February 18, 2016, nearly four months later, officials announced the leak had been permanently sealed.

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The “Microbead-Free Waters Act”: Saying Goodbye to the Tiny Plastic Fragments That Pollute Our Waterways

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

microplastics

Microplastics, including microbeads. Credit: MPCA Photos, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Microbeads—tiny, plastic beads added to face scrubs, soap, toothpaste, and the like—cause environmental damage at the macro scale. Their function is to provide a bit of grit, but they end up in lakes, rivers, and other aquatic habitats. Once there, microbeads are mistaken for food and gobbled up by zooplankton, thus becoming incorporated into the aquatic food chain. Small fish, and other organisms that swallow the contaminated zooplankton, are eaten by bigger fish and eventually, microbeads make their way to the top of the food chain, reaching other wildlife and even humans. However, there is more to this story. Continue reading

Let’s Look at Past Successes to Encourage the Vision of a Brighter Environmental Future

A guest post by Brock B. Bernstein

Pervasive doom and gloom dominates much of the popular news about the environment. Global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, drought, wildfires, overfishing, or overpopulation—it all contributes to a feeling of despair and hopelessness, particularly among young people. This struck home for me on a personal level during a recent conversation with my college-aged son and a few of his friends—they felt they were “totally screwed” because of the inevitable impacts of climate change.

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Fracking and Groundwater Contamination: The Known and the Unknowns

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Peak oil, or peak water? Peak water might be the (unfortunate) answer. Alternative sources of energy may become more widely available, but there are no alternatives to water. The ongoing depletion of groundwater contained in aquifers—one of the most important sources of water on our planet—is a significant threat to our future. Many countries are already near or beyond peak water, and results from recent studies show that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater all too quickly, without knowing when it might run out. Continue reading

Unexplored Links: Climate Change and Environmental Contaminants

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Greenland ice melt figure

Rapid surface ice melt in Greenland (July 2012). Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0

Climate change is happening here and now, and the rate of change is also speeding up, as demonstrated by a recent study. The most dramatic effects are clearly visible all around us—shifting precipitation patterns, sea level rise, ocean acidification, shrinking Arctic sea ice, melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets, and amplified occurrence of wildfires, floods, heat waves, and droughts. Climate change is also a threat multiplier—the environmental fallout it causes can exacerbate political instability in the world’s most dangerous regions and increase the chances of armed conflict. In addition to these conspicuously damaging effects, there are some others that are causing alarm, although not discussed as often and not as clearly discernible at this time: climate change may alter the release, dispersal, and toxic effect of chemicals in the environment, potentially resulting in dangerous levels of human exposure and deleterious consequences for ecosystems. Continue reading

Climate Change: “Uncertainty” and the Hottest Year on Record

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Over the last month, much has been said about 2014 being the hottest year on record. The first announcement came from the Japan Meteorological Agency during the first week of January. Later, a joint announcement by NASA and NOAA reinforced the finding: 2014 was the hottest year in more than 120 years of record keeping. The joint announcement underscored the significance of two major scientific branches of the US government reaching the same conclusion through separate data analyses. Continue reading