Tag Archives: Pollution

Water Glass

My final project will explore the abundance of glass found in Astoria Park. The shards of glass and waste glistening amongst the waves pose an important question: is the water surrounding New York City healthy? For my research, I will focus on the East River. The East River is a salt water tidal estuary. It’s a receptacle for the city’s sewage and and garbage, and was so unhealthy at one point that people could not swim in it. Fortunately, as of 2010, it is Use Classification 1 which means it is now safe for boating and fishing. Yet, the glass and bottle caps remain. To check its cleanliness I have decided to shovel three gallons of water. One will be of the water, one will display the rocks, and one will show the glass.

http://www.areyouprepared.com/150-Gallon-Rock-Well-Water-Tank-p/rw150w.htm
areyouprepared.com 150 Gallon Rock Well Water Tank

Then, I will collect pieces of the glass and create a mosaic out of it representing the river. Once I finish it, I will show it to at least 10 strangers at Astoria Park to hear their initial response, and then explain how all of it was created by what’s in the water surrounding them. Hopefully we can start a conversation and discuss the health of our city, and on a larger scale our world.

http://www.brownstoner.com/queens/astoria/visiting-glass-beach-in-astoria-park/
brownstoner.com Glass Beach

I’ll also take a look at how water has changed throughout history. With climate change increasing, it will be interesting to see the past and future of the rivers surrounding New York City.

 

A Many More Idlers Idly Idling By

It appears that what our professor, Peter Terezakis, said the first week of class was true. At least it was true for me. Ever since Peter discussed how frequently he notices cars illegally idling on the streets throughout New York City, I have had difficulty not noticing the same thing. Often times, I cannot top to take a photo as I am running to my next destination, but the amount of photos I have do not nearly do this crime justice. Of course, this happens in other areas around the country, but for me, New York feels large enough to take in as it is. Over the past week, I’ve felt like I’ve had eagle vision. Even when I don’t pay attention to cars idling, I will still notice and it feels like the number of cars are increasing everyday. How comforting ignorance of this crime must be… I have also been telling friends and family about the new bill proposed by George Packenham as well as his documentary, Idle Threat. It is nothing short of imperative that this bill be passed. 13491 521283155952128

Love me some black Mercedes lung (just kidding…)

On my walk to class this morning, I made a quick stop at Liquiteria for my favorite smoothie, Bulldozer with added strawberries and blueberries.  While waiting for my order, I looked out the window and instead of the usual dog walkers and cabs flying down 6th Ave, I saw a beautiful black C 700 Mercedes Benz waiting out front. I remembered this assignment and decided to go outside to get a closer look to see whether or not the driver was idling. Sure enough, she was texting on her phone with the AC on.  I snapped the photo above and got her license plate number and she was sitting on the corner of W 8th and 6th Ave.  It made me feel like a detective (a secret dream of mine since I was a kid) so I think I’m gonna keep this up.  Unfortunately, idling is destructive and in no way do I hope to see more of it occur. However if it does, I plan on staying aware and taking action.

image

Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy

I began thinking about all the waste we produce and where it all ends up. You can imagine that the answer is really obvious– landfills, sewer systems, the ocean, etc. Then I started questioning which kinds of waste aren’t necessarily visible to the average consumer. One of these less tangible pollutants to affect our land is the nuclear bomb test. That’s right! According to nuclearweaponarchive.org, “between 16 July 1945 and 23 September 1992 the United States of America conducted (by official count) 1054 nuclear tests, and two nuclear attacks. The number of actual nuclear devices (aka “bombs”) tested, and nuclear explosions is larger than this, but harder to establish precisely.”

Bikini Atoll, July 25, 1946
Nuclear Bomb Test

So, we know from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WWII with the Pacific, that nuclear weapon radiation exposure is extremely lethal and still affects the land and people living off of it for generations. But can underground bomb tests affect our soil, and eventually us? Of course it can, and it has. The National Cancer Institute website posted a study showing the effect nuclear bomb tests have on us. I highly suggest reading the full report for a deeper understanding, but here is an excerpt to sum it up:

 

Fizeau Test, Nevada Test Site, July 1957

“Scientists estimate that the larger amounts of I-131 (radioactive form of iodine–called iodine-131) from the Nevada test site fell over some parts of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Montana. But I-131 traveled to all states, particularly those in the Midwestern, Eastern, and Northeastern United States. Some of the I-131 collected on pastures and on grasses. Depending on the location, grazing cows and goats sometimes consumed contaminated grasses resulting in I-131 collecting in the animals’ milk. Much of the health risk associated with I-131 occurred among milk-drinkers–usually children. From what is known about thyroid cancer and radiation, scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer.”                            –National Cancer Institute

Is having the most deadly nuclear weapon in the world worth a spike in childhood cancer? Are these tests absolutely necessary? And will these highly lethal radioactive substances ever decompose in a safe way? I live in a post WWII country, where the U.S. isn’t necessarily trying to grow our nuclear weapon arsenal. It’s been said we’ve actively tried over the last decade or so to decrease our nuclear warfare arsenal. Have we learned that the damage cannot be undone? Generations to come will suffer the consequences of actions taken by scientists in the 40s, 50s, and 60s who poisoned the Earth and all its inhabitants.

School kids drinking milk
School kids drinking milk

What About Flint ?

For a rundown of the Flint water crisis, Vox posted an article describing the situation. While a large part of this problem comes from a lack of city funding and a questionable attempt to cut corners with low-income city residents, the Flint water crisis is drawing the attention it deserves. The ethical questions regarding Flint suggest a serious deficiency in government responsibility for low-income cities as well as egg on a serious concern for what to do next.

With the presidential debates in action, the problems in Flint are finally coming to light and getting proper attention. The Michigan political system is being scrutinized for its lack of transparency and honesty with its residents and the entire city is realizing that its unknowingly been poisoned despite complaining to city officials about the mysterious state of their water.

What surprised me most about this was the discovery that there is still a huge amount of lead pipes in the United States, completely dependent on filtration systems to make the water potable. What happens if these systems break ? Will it mean large quantities of the population have to start getting sick in order to draw government attention ?

In Flint’s case, it seems this is what would have to happen. The difference I see for Flint (and other cities that have had lead exposure issues in the past), is the economic dependence on government funding. The economies of most cities impacted by lead exposure are, quite simply, bad. Cities with less money seem to be paid less attention by their governments and suffer because of it. It also seems as though the priority is more politically based than health based. Lots of articles are floating around the internet about the various political implications this crisis has for Michigan state representatives. What doesn’t seem to be getting as much coverage are the efforts of companies and individuals around the world to help.

I came across the Divvy while reading news about Flint and discovered that the company Clearly Filtered has organized a donation campaign to send water filtration systems, pitchers, and bottles up to Flint in order to combat the lead poisoning in their water supply:

 

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/lead-exposure-gasoline-crime-increase-children-health — an article about the relationship between lead exposure and crime rates

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/09/lead-f09.html — other cities with lead poisoning

TedTalk about lead poisoning in Utica as well as remedies and prevention methods.

Meat Consumption in the 21st Century

Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel about immigrant life in the United States, showed Americans a harsh and unpleasant side of the meat industry. Unsanitary and unethical working conditions were exposed, leading to reform in the meat industry and a reevaluation of the service. During the early 20th century, immigrants were often employed in slaughterhouses and factories as a way of taking advantage of cheap labor opportunities. These companies swindled immigrants who were desperate for work and attempted to save every penny they could by taking shortcuts with sanitation and meat regulation. However, these slaughterhouses knew what we know today: the meat industry holds high power over Americans.

According to the North American Meat Institute, Americans produced (and consumed) 93 billion pounds of poultry and meat in 2013. This fact sheet also mentions that American dietary guidelines have a daily recommendation of 5.7 ounces of meat “as part of a healthy, balanced diet” (https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/47465/pid/47465).

In Sinclair’s novel, the meat industry serves as a central hub for American economy and growth. The owners of meat markets are able to exploit immigrants for cheap labor and the American population can purchase cheap meat products as part of their “healthy” daily diets. What I am especially  curious about is how and when it was decided that meat be a core part of our daily diet.

In recent years, health care providers have been recommending plant-based diets in an effort to avoid heart diseases and high cholesterol. Plant-based diets are no longer being passed off as inadequate and have been recognized to provide the same — if not more — amount of nutrients as a carnivorous diet.

With the recent press expressing the benefits of plant-based diets, why are Americans still eating so much meat ? I think this is due to the fact that we have been encouraged to believe in the power of meat and animal-based proteins. By including meat as an essential for a healthy American diet — especially in the 70s/80s — meat production has progressed to an astonishing state of mass production and shoddy business practices. The developments in factory farming and modified animal hormones have not only resulted in severely unethical animal treatment, but have also led to incredible amounts of environmental waste.

NPR’s article regarding meat consumption takes a look at meat consumption in America and what the cost really is for our consumption practices. 15 years after Sinclair’s novel was published, cattle inventory was listed at 12.5 million; in the 70s, it was somewhere around 45 million and today, it’s around 29 million. As NPR points out, the decrease in cattle isn’t representative of the levels of cattle consumption. In fact, those levels have spiked up since the 70s, even though there were substantially more cattle.

On the plus side, Americans have become more efficient with the amount of waste of the animal. However, there is still the obvious issue of the resulting waste that comes with a meat-based diet. Meat production is not only unethical in some ways, but is also one of the main causes of environmental destruction in the world.

The amount of land, water, emissions, and energy that goes into producing beef is huge and with the continued myth that our diets must include some percentage of daily meat intake only allows the meat industry to maintain its hold on the American population.

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/12/84-percent-of-vegetarians-go-back-to-eating-meat.html

http://blogs.wsj.com/numbers/how-much-meat-do-americans-eat-then-and-now-1792/

The Problem With Convenience

As our world and economy develop, we’re finding new ways to go about our daily lives in an effort to make our existence as easy and comfortable as possible. We’ve designed cars with cushy interiors that take away from gas efficiency, travel-sized and disposable soaps, snacks, and household items, and developed toxic chemicals that can kill weeds or clean our shower drains while wreaking havoc on the environment.

The desire and “need” for convenient and comfortable lifestyles have led to the development of companies like Monsanto whose development of GMO crops have resulted in a more efficient and predictable crop, but have also damaged green spaces and water supplies around the globe. We have started challenging nature’s decisions and have begun to manipulate the land in order to make our own lives more comfortable.

The price of comfort is paid in a number of ways. The millions of plastic bottles and containers generated per year is staggering, and with the mentality that “someone else” will recycle or drive a more fuel efficient car leads to a massive attitude of disregard towards the environment. In this estimate from 2007, 17 million barrels of oil were required to produce plastic for water bottles in the United States — enough oil to power 1 million cars. The potability of the majority of American water makes me question why there is such high demand for bottled water. Has this become a luxury item ? Or are people fearful of what is in their tap water ?

If people are in fact fearful of what their water contains, there must be a reason behind it. As shown in Gasland, people across the country being exposed to toxic fracking chemicals which are leaking into their groundwater supply. Monsanto’s production of glyphosate has resulted in pollution of groundwater sources. In order to curb our environmental imposition, the need for convenience has to be reduced. There are small steps that people can take everyday that can make an impact like not buying plastic bottles and working to ban the use of Monsanto’s poisonous herbicide. It might take some adjusting to, but in the end, it will lead to a healthier planet.

Contamination More Than A Shortage

The existence of a water shortage today comes from humans contaminating the potable water they have at their disposition.  It is easy to blame global warming as the sole source of decreasing levels of water, but when looking at the facts and reports, we come to see that one of the most prominent problems of the lack of clean water comes from our own pollution as humans, whether it be in industrial or non-industrial societies.

In Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, the issue comes from corporations’ fracking activities.  The water still exists in the areas covered, but if consumed it will have extremely dangerous consequences.  I was shocked to learn that so many people share common side effects of constant headaches, loss of their sense of taste and smell, and permanent brain damage from drinking their tap water in active hydraulic fracking areas.  No matter how much proof is given to these corporations, they still refuse to admit that their activities are endangering humans.  Seeing the water bubbling in the streams and the flammable tap in people’s homes has only led the companies to object the disclosure of the chemical content being released in the water.

Image Source: http://cleanenergyaction.org/2013/07/18/to-frack-or-to-freak-the-effects-of-hydraulic-fracturing-on-our-environment/

Camera
C2100UZ
Focal Length
39.3mm
Aperture
f/2.8
Exposure
1/400s
ISO
100
Camera
C2100UZ
Focal Length
39.3mm
Aperture
f/2.8
Exposure
1/400s
ISO
100
Camera
C2100UZ
Focal Length
39.3mm
Aperture
f/2.8
Exposure
1/400s
ISO
100

Image Source: Drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline (Linda Baker)

Similarly in India, the Yamuna Network report Yamuna: A River In Peril, the Yamuna river is exposed as being a common disposal space for toxic raw sewage and industrial waste. The water now contains high and unhealthy levels of nitrate, spreading waterborne diseases amongst children. This has also led to the total destruction of the river, which now has huge accumulations of white foam covering its surface, turning it into a true sewage canal. Image Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2240307/An-industrial-bubble-bath-Hindus-dive-foam-coated-polluted-Yamuna-River-pray-new-moon-ritual.html
Mouth of Yamuna River, India

Contrarily to the tap water in Gasland, Yamuna is so much more than a source of potable water. The Yamuna River represents values, spirituality, and a holy space: it has been a continuous source of life to families of man for thousands of years.

The issue with the environment in which we live in today, whether it be industrial or non-industrial, is that people take what they please without thinking about the detrimental consequences of their actions. As Sunita Narain describes it, “Cities today need water, so they take water from a river, but they give back sewage.

Is World War III Going to be About Water?

It was a casual Thursday night that me and my three best friends decided to go out and get a few drinks to unwind from a very long week. Once we settled down  at the restaraunt and got to talking, one of my friends, Sarah, started talking about her political science classes. The topic quickly shifted to her theory that World War III is going to be about water. Now, given the circumstance, we all thought she was being absurd so our reaction was to laugh it off; there was no way that there was any truth to this.

After our last lecture in Green World, in which we looked at the environmental issues surrounding clean water, I’m starting to wonder if my friend Sarah was right all along. While the theory seems absurd, all the facts that support it are horrifyingly that: facts. Fact: The earth if made up of 70% water, but only 2.5% of that water is clean, and even worse, only 1% is easily accessible. Fact: the rivers in poorer cities and towns barely move due to the insurmountable litter that is thrown into them. Fact: Melting ice is flowing down moulins at a speed faster than ever, decreasing sea ice at both Poles and affecting the global energy balance. In short, water is becoming a commodity. And what, in the past, have nations done to secure commodities? They fight.

I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh for about 6 months in my junior year of high school and I remember doing a science project in which we put seeds into the lake and those same seeds in fresh water to see which batch would grow quicker. After a month, we noticed that the seeds in the lake had not grown at all due to the extreme pH levels of the water. Being an eye witness to something so grave really affected the way I saw the situation. I wasn’t just reading about it from the comfort of my own classroom. I was seeing it with my own eyes. Poorer countries are at an even greater disadvantage because they have not organized proper filtering, recycling or garbage systems and so pollution is at all time high. As the amount of drinkable water dwindles, I fear that is the developing countries that are going to suffer the most.

 (This image is free to use or share and is linked back to its original source)

While it is important to recognize that World War III could very well end up being about water: it is also important to recognize that war is not our only option. The solutions are clear and they are simple. Solution: developed nations can rally together to help developing nations create proper disposable systems to decrease pollution. Solution: developed nations can start using renewable energy sources more commonly to avoid dirtying large bodies of water with oil and nuclear waste. Solution: we need to all stop pretending that someone else will come up with the solution for us because before we know it, what seemed like a silly conversation between four college friends will become a horrifying reality.