Emerging issue: EDCs in Great Lakes fish

One of the scientific papers at this week’s SETAC meeting presented details of a very intensive study of endocrine disrupting chemicals in Great Lakes fish. The paper was focused on methodology: results will not be available for some time, likely into 2014. However, the level of effort and the intensity of the research suggests that measurable quantities of EDCs will be found in the fish.

EDCs mimic hormones that are important to our reproductive system. A common outcome of exposure to EDCs is feminization of the wildlife species. Researchers have expected for some time that EDCs also cause feminization in male humans.

Release of the data is likely to cause an explosion of public interest in EDCs: where do they come from, why are they allowed, and what can be done to remove them from the ecosystem (nothing, though prevention measures will eventually lead to reduction of EDC concentrations in the environment). The fact that this study is focused on the Great lakes may make the issue that much closer to home for millions of Canadians and Americans. EDCs are found in a wide range of consumer and industrial products.

Note: This is advance notice of as yet unpublished research presented at the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry annual North American conference in Long Beach, CA, this week.  That’s why GallonDaily is not providing our usual links to published sources for this series of articles.

Emerging issue: synthetic textile fibres

Over the next few days GallonDaily will highlight some of the emerging issues being discussed at the SETAC meeting in Long Beach, CA.

Plastics in the oceans received a significant amount of discussion at SETAC 2012 but not so much related to plastic bag use. It appears that a growing percentage of the microparticle plastics found in the oceans comes from our clothes. When clothes made of synthetic fibres are washed, the wash water may contain as much as 1900 microparticles of plastic fibre per litre. One estimate is that each year almost 50 tons of plastic microparticles from clothes washing are finding their way into the Pacific Ocean from cities west of the Rocky Mountains.

These particles are mostly so small that they bypass sewage treatment systems and end up in rivers and lakes. The small size means that the rate of sedimentation is very slow so they remain suspended in the water column for many years and are readily ingested by smaller organisms.

There’s no obvious solution to this problem. Filtering of wash water is probably not practical for particles of this microscopic size but the emerging research does suggest that manufacturers and brandowners of synthetic fibre clothing may be facing this issue in the years ahead.

Disclaimer: much of the work presented at SETAC is in progress and not yet peer reviewed. That’s why GallonDaily is not providing our usual links to published sources for this series of articles.

Emerging environmental issues discussed at SETAC

A major environmental science conference is continuing in Long Beach, California, this week. GallonDaily finds the annual North American meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) particularly useful as an indicator of potential future environmental risks. The conference involves the presentation of about 800 papers on a wide range of environmental science topics and a similar number of poster presentations on emerging research.

Among the highlights this year are sessions on:

  • the continuing effects of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill
  • environmental implications of flame retardants
  • environmental effects of nanotechnology
  • ecological risks of personal care products
  • persistent organic pollutants in the marine ecosystem
  • pesticides in urban aquatic environments
  • ecotoxicity of military materials
  • contaminants of emerging concern in human tissue
  • risk of rodenticides to non-target species
  • environmental contaminants of emerging concern
  • assessing impacts on the environment of oil sands reclamation strategies
  • life cycle assessment for emerging technologies
  • increasing the sustainability of plastic from cradle to grave
  • alternative methods for evaluating toxicity
  • endocrine disrupting substances in the environment

GallonDaily’s editor will be making a brief presentation on Application of LCA to Consumer Product Environmental Claims in the interactive poster session on Thursday afternoon.

The program and abstracts for the SETAC 2012 North America meeting are at http://longbeach.setac.org/

US post-election poll suggests big coal and oil did not achieve election goals

The NRDC Action Fund, an affiliated but separate organization from the Natural Resources Defense Council, has published post-election poll data from key battleground states showing that, despite tens of millions of advertising dollars from the oil, gas, and coal industries and the Republican party attacking Democrats on energy issues, the energy attacks failed to resonate with voters, including voters in Midwestern states where the energy attacks were most heavily focused.

The poll indicates that voters in the key states remain strongly supportive of renewable energy, and government efforts to increase renewable energy use. It also suggests that voters have flatly rejected Republicans’ continued assault on the EPA and pollution controls.

Nearly 2 in 3 US voters, 64 percent, say they have a favorable impression of renewable energy, compared to only 13 percent who say they have an unfavorable impression. This strength of support crosses demographic and partisan lines, with a wide variety of voters giving renewables high marks.

Furthermore, huge majorities favor increasing the United States’ use of wind and solar energy. Voters favor increasing wind power by a 71 – 9 percent margin, and favor increasing solar power by a 78 – 5 percent margin.

More details are available at http://www.nrdcactionfund.org/press-release/battleground-polling-memo.html/

Great Lakes: old contaminant concentrations improve slowly, new contaminants worsening

The news regarding toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes is mixed. A recently published paper shows statistically significant decreases in the concentrations of chlorinated and persistent bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) contaminants (PCBs, DDT, dieldrin, cis-chlordane, oxychlordane, cis-nonachlor) in lake trout in Lakes Huron, Ontario, and Michigan over the period of 1999 to 2009. At current rates of decline, the levels of these chemicals in Great Lakes fish may decline to below levels of concern in about 30 years. There is no similar trend in Lakes Superior and Erie but concentrations of these toxic substances are lower in fish in these two lakes than in the other three.

Another study published earlier this year shows that concentrations of brominated flame retardants, also persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances, are increasing in Lakes Michigan and Ontario. The concentration in sediment of one BFR is currently doubling every 3–5 years in Lake Michigan and approximately every 7 years in Lake Ontario.

The paper showing decreases in PBTs (free abstract; pay for full text)  is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23085469

The paper showing increasing concentrations of BFRs (free abstract; pay for full text) is at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es204141p

See also a more detailed summary of the results of these two research projects at http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/great-lakes-legacy

GallonDaily’s editor was a participant in a team effort to promote actions reducing flows of toxic substances to the Niagara River, the Great Lakes system connection between Lakes Erie and Ontario, in the 1980’s. Progress in reducing levels of toxic contaminants in the Great Lakes is certainly slow.

Climate change denial may have helped defeat four members of Congress

One can never be sure of the factors that contribute to election results but a new aggressive approach by a US ngo against five climate change deniers in the House of Representatives suggests that a decent advertising budget, social media, and, perhaps, a fortuitous storm may have contributed to costing four of the five their seats.

The League of Conservation Voters, a very well-established ngo set up by David Brower in 1969,  targeted with a $1.5million campaign in this year’s Congressional election what it called the “Flat Earth Five” climate change deniers. LCV targeted Rep. Dan Benishek (MI-01), Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-24), Rep. Dan Lungren (CA-07), Rep. Francisco Canseco (TX-23), and Rep. Joe Walsh (IL-08). All but Rep. Dan Benishek were defeated yesterday.

The LCV campaign may or may not have been the reason for the defeat of these four members of Congress but it would seem that it almost certainly did not help their re-election. The outcome of this campaign is likely to embolden environmental ngos to target other politicians and business leaders seen as climate change deniers. LCV states that, with its affiliated political committees, it spent nearly $14 million during the 2012 election cycle — more than the last three cycles combined — to defend clean energy and climate champions like President Obama and candidates for the House and Senate nationwide.

LCV is still targeting corporations including Microsoft, Comcast, and Pfizer that fund the Heartland Institute, a leading corporately-funded organization in the climate change denial movement.

Information about the LCV “Flat Earth Five” campaign is at http://www.lcv.org/elections/flat-earth-five/

The campaign to pressure corporations to de-fund the Heartland Institute is at  https://secure3.convio.net/lcv/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&page=UserAction&id=865&autologin=true&JServSessionIdr004=c84rhheph2.app334b

Empire State Building a model of green commercial renovation

The Empire State Building – yes, that building, in New York City has implemented a series of energy retrofits that have reduced operating costs by $2.4 million in the first year alone. In the next few years, when the project is complete, the building is expected to reduce its energy use by nearly 40 percent–and save about $4.4 million each year. In the process the building is becoming a symbol of what can be done to reduce energy use in a cost effective manner in existing commercial buildings.

A team of real estate, energy service and climate experts worked over nine months to prove to the building’s owners that an energy efficient retrofit made economic sense. Johnson Controls, an energy service company, guaranteed that its portion of the work would provide roughly 20 percent savings for 15 years–or they would foot the bill for the difference.

A key component involved rebuilding the windows, reusing the existing glass, sash, and trim, and sandwiching a layer of insulating film between the two existing panes. This strategy created far less waste than tearing out the old windows and shipping in replacements.

More details on this new poster child for cost effective energy efficiency can be found at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/empire_state_building_cuts_ene.html

Diet may be impacted by climate change

Agriculture and food production contribute up to 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a compilation of research by the respected Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

According to the research, production of the most common commodity staples—wheat, maize and rice—will be challenged by new weather patterns. Raising livestock and catching fish and other aquatic products—two of the more common sources of protein—will also be challenged by a new climate. In some areas, different plants, breeds and species can provide substitutions, but in others, adaptation is critical. Adjustments in production, replacement with commodities that can tolerate the new conditions in different regions, and innovations in technology are key elements of adaptation. This recalibration of agriculture will eventually extend beyond what is grown and raised. The world’s many cultures must adapt to the changing dinner menu forced upon them due to climate change.

While CGIAR’s work is focused on developing countries, disruption to global food commodity markets caused by climate change may have impacts around the world. As examples of dietary changes that may be forced upon a warming world, CGIAR states that banana products may replace much of the global potato consumption, cassava could substitute for wheat, and cowpeas could substitute for soybeans. In southern Africa goats are already substituting to some extent for cattle.

Key links to the research, published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, are available at http://ccafs.cgiar.org/news/press-releases/agriculture-and-food-production-contribute-29-percent-global-greenhouse-gas