There’s An Environmental Disaster Unfolding In The Gulf of Mexico

There’s An Environmental Disaster Unfolding In The Gulf of Mexico

SOURCE: HuffPost DATE: July 11, 2019 SNIP: A historic slow-moving flood of polluted Mississippi River water loaded with chemicals, pesticides and human waste from 31 states and two Canadian provinces is draining straight into the marshes and bayous of the Gulf of Mexico — the nurseries of Arnesen’s fishing grounds — upsetting the delicate balance of salinity and destroying the fragile ecosystem in the process. As the Gulf waters warm this summer, algae feed on the freshwater brew, smothering oxygen-starved marine life. And as of Wednesday, an advancing storm looks likely to turn into a tropical storm or hurricane by the weekend, with the potential to bring torrential downpours and more freshwater flooding. Fishermen and state government officials agree this long, hot summer may go down in history as one of the most destructive years for Gulf fisheries. The torrent of river water pushing into Gulf estuaries is decimating crab, oyster and shrimp populations. The brown shrimp catch this spring in Louisiana and Mississippi is already down by an estimated 80%, and oysters are completely wiped out in some of the most productive fishing grounds in the country, according to state and industry officials. The polluted freshwater has also triggered algae blooms, which have led to beach closures across Mississippi. “We are seeing impacts across the coast in all sectors of the fishing communities,” said Patrick Banks, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We will continue to collect data to support a disaster declaration.” It’s not just fisheries that are suffering. Dolphins have been dying in huge numbers across the region — nearly 300 this...
Algae Blooms Fed by Farm Flooding Add to Midwest’s Climate Woes

Algae Blooms Fed by Farm Flooding Add to Midwest’s Climate Woes

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: June 26, 2019 SNIP: The historic rains that flooded millions of acres of Midwestern cropland this spring landed a blow to an already struggling farm economy. They also delivered bad news for the climate. Scientists project that all that water has flushed vast amounts of fertilizer and manure into waterways, triggering a potentially unprecedented season of algae blooms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted that the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico—a massive overgrowth of algae—could become the size of Massachusetts this summer, coming close to a record set in 2017, and that an algae bloom in Lake Erie could also reach a record size. “Every place in the Midwest is wet,” said John Downing, an aquatic ecologist and director of the Minnesota Sea Grant. “There will be a terrific amount of algae blooms.” As rain washes nutrients—mostly fertilizers and manure—into streams, rivers and lakes, those nutrients stoke the growth of algae, a process known as eutrophication that depletes oxygen in the water. That algae can choke the waterways, killing aquatic life and making water unsafe to swim in or drink. These algae-filled waterways also emit methane, a powerful climate pollutant. Atmospheric methane has shot up over the past 12 years, threatening global emissions-reduction goals. Downing and his colleagues have determined that algae blooms could accelerate methane emissions even more. “We not only lose good water,” he said, “we also exacerbate climate...
A new material that’s part plastic and part rock is forming on this Portuguese island

A new material that’s part plastic and part rock is forming on this Portuguese island

SOURCE: MNN and Science of the Total Environment DATE: June 25, 2019 SNIP: You know we have a problem when our plastic pollution starts becoming a permanent fixture of the planet’s geology. And that seems to be exactly what’s happening on the Portugeuese island of Madeira—a place famed for wine, mountain peaks and, perhaps soon, its plastic-encrusted shoreline. Back in 2016, marine biologist Ignacio Gestoso first spotted the unusual patterns on rocks scattered along the island’s shore, as Gizmodo reports. It seemed that plastic was no longer content to wash ashore in its manufactured state, as bottles and wrappers and caps. Instead, it had formed a kind of hybrid material with the rock that would become known as “plasticrust.” At the time, Gestoso wrote off the strange new material as an unhappy coincidence. Surely, this union of plastic and rocks couldn’t last. But when he and his team returned to the island a year later, they found the marriage had not only lasted, but thrived. In a new study, published in Science of The Total Environment, Gestoso and his colleagues describe “plasticrust” as a synthetic moss covering huge swathes of the island’s stony shoreline — and even sporting bright, new and terrible colors. In fact, the researchers estimate plasticrust taints nearly 10 percent of rocky surfaces on the Madeira shoreline. At this rate, plasticrust is poised to become a part of our geological record. “The dimension of the problem is so large that it is possible our current era will generate an anthropogenic marker horizon of plastic in earth’s sedimentary record,” the authors note in the study...
As the world grapples with plastic, the U.S. makes more of it — a lot more

As the world grapples with plastic, the U.S. makes more of it — a lot more

SOURCE: Center for Public Integrity DATE: June 13, 2019 SNIP: Jace Tunnell shuffled forward near the water’s edge, head bent. He was hunting for something that shouldn’t be on this beach near Corpus Christi, and he kept finding it. Hidden in the sand — white, tan, nearly translucent — were tiny plastic pellets. They’re about the size of a lentil, most of them, so insubstantial that several blew out of his hand as soon as he picked them up. Some were tan from baking in the sun. It wasn’t hard to see why a bird looking for seeds would snap these imposters up. These are the products of plastics producers, intended to be turned into bottles, bags and countless other items. As much as anything one-tenth of an inch across could sum up the modern world, they do. A marvel of chemical engineering. A convenient material that will long outlast us. A global waste predicament of daunting scope. Microscopic plastic particles are in our oceans, the fish we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink. Plastic waste is piling up, increasing amounts of it going to landfills as U.S. recycling programs — dependent on Asian countries that no longer want our scrap — struggle to adjust. In March the United Nations, “alarmed” by the environmental and public health consequences of plastic items intended to be used once and thrown away, urged countries to “take comprehensive action.” Against this backdrop, the United States is about to make a whole lot more of the stuff. Production of the most common plastic, polyethylene, is on track to jump more than...
UK accused of ‘silently eroding’ EU pesticide rules in Brexit laws

UK accused of ‘silently eroding’ EU pesticide rules in Brexit laws

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 12, 2019 SNIP: The UK has been accused of “silently eroding” key environmental and human health protections in the Brexit-inspired rush to convert thousands of pages of European Union pesticide policy into British law. Despite government claims the process would be little more than a technical exercise, analysis by the University of Sussex’s UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) has uncovered significant departures from EU regulations, including the removal of a blanket ban on hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are known to cause adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects and immune disorders. The UK legislation removes the EU system of checks and balances to give a handful of ministers the power to create, amend and revoke pesticide legislation. It also appears to weaken the existing “precautionary principle” approach, which requires scientific evidence from an independent body that a pesticide is safe to use. Instead, UK ministers are given the option to obtain and consider such evidence at their own discretion. The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws, which include regulations on pesticides, landfills, recycling and climate heating. Under the new regulations, however, power to make, amend and revoke pesticide legislation will be devolved to each of the national territories and consolidated to a secretary of state in England, relevant ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the competent authority in Northern Ireland. Hormone-disrupting chemicals are permitted for use in Canada and the US, and both countries have criticised the EU ban. Whether the UK government’s decision to remove the ban was an invitation to open trade talks with North America was as...