Category Archives: Toxicology

Insidious Danger: Microplastics Pollute Aquatic Life and Harm Our Food Supply

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

microplastic on blk bkgrnd

Microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Microplastics—the tiny bits of plastic that are now infamously and ubiquitously present in the world’s waterways—are polluting aquatic life and ending up in our food supply. As evidence of the damage that microplastics inflict on aquatic life accumulates, so does the amount of microplastics dispersed in oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. Virtually indestructible in natural environments, these tiny bits of plastic contain a combination of very small particles—microparticles and nanoparticles—that derive from the breakdown of larger plastic items, for example plastic bags and bottles, and include, among others, pre-production plastic pellets (the so-called nurdles), microbeads from personal care products, and microfibers from textiles.

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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

Clean Power Plan, New Ozone Standard, and Asthma

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Syncrude smokestacks

Out with the old: Syncrude facility. Credit: Pembina Institute, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On August 3, 2015, the Obama administration announced the finalized US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Clean Power Plan.” The plan has been developed under the Clean Air Act and aims to slash carbon emissions from US power plants, which account for one-third of all carbon emissions in the country, by giving each state an individual goal for cutting these emissions. The EPA estimates that the new national standards will significantly decrease carbon pollution produced by the electric sector by 2030; carbon emissions will be 32% lower than the 2005 levels. For a step-by-step guide on how the Clean Power Plan works, head here. Continue reading

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

US Federal Government Taking Aim at Protecting Pollinators

A guest post by Richard J Wenning, Editor-in-Chief, Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM).

Next week is National Pollinator Week in the US (June 15-21, 2015), and a good time to consider the importance of bees, birds, butterflies, and bats for a healthy ecosystem. Pollinators contribute more than $24 billion annually to the US economy by tending to the vineyards, orchards, farmlands, nurseries, and countless acres of open space used by tourists every year. Pollinating requires a significant natural work force. But right now, nature’s workers are not doing so well. 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

Neonicotinoid Pesticides: New Findings Highlight Their Role in the Disappearance of Bees

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

European_honey_bee_extracts_nectar

European honeybee (Apis mellifera). Photo by John Severns, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Bees have been declining for years worldwide—this is a well-accepted fact. However, the “why” of this decline is still a matter of debate. Although it is likely that a combination of different factors is contributing to the global bee die-offs, increasing attention is now devoted to the toxic effects of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. They are systemic pesticides—their solubility in water allows them to reach leaves, flowers, roots and stems, even pollen and nectar. One could therefore infer that these pesticides will likely kill not only the insects that farmers want to eliminate, but also pollinators. Continue reading