[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EW-04-12-12-Bisphenol-A.mp3|titles=EW 04-12-12 Bisphenol A]
Synthesized in the laboratory more than 100 years ago, bisphenol A did not enter widespread production until the 1950s, when it was discovered that as an additive to polycarbonate plastics, it makes them harder and more resilient. [Read more…] about How resilient is your plastic?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EW-04-09-12-City-Ecosystems.mp3|titles=EW 04-09-12 City Ecosystems]
Ecologists define an ecosystem as a unit of the landscape—a forest, a lake, or a river. Often, they are interested in the movement of materials through that area. For instance, rain may deposit nitrogen in a forest, while a stream may carry nitrogen away from the forest and into a river. [Read more…] about Cities as ecosystems?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EW-04-04-12-Lead.mp3|titles=EW 04-04-12 Lead]
One of the biggest success stories of the environmental movement was getting the lead out of gasoline. Tetra-ethyl lead was first put into gasoline in the 1920s to improve engine performance and eliminate “knock.” Of course, it was necessary to get the lead out of the engine, so potassium bromide was added to the gas as well, and the lead was emitted as a lead bromide aerosol. Most of this fell beside the road. [Read more…] about Remember heavy metal?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EW-04-02-12-Cell-Phone-Recycling.mp3|titles=EW 04-02-12 Cell Phone Recycling]
18 months. That’s the average lifespan for a cell phone in the US. Most carriers let customers upgrade their phones after a year and a half, and most customers opt to do it. The bulk of discarded cell phones end up mixed in with household garbage. Less than 10% are recycled. [Read more…] about When it comes to cell phones, we're talking about a lot of toxic trash
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EW-03-30-12-Cancer1.mp3|titles=EW 03-30-12 Cancer]
Last year, 1.6 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer, and more than a half million died from it. The process is protracted and painful.
But, how does cancer arise anyhow? Cancer begins with a change in the activity of our genetic material, or DNA. Normal cell division is compromised, and tumors form. Some people are genetically predisposed to certain cancers. For instance, inherited mutations in the BRCA genes, are linked to a family history of breast and ovarian cancers.
A widely-cited study in Scandinavia found that among nearly45,000 pairs of identical twins—individuals with identical genes— breast, colorectal and prostate cancers had a strong genetic link. But the results of this exhaustive study also revealed environmental factors are linked to twice as many cancers as genetic factors.
We are exposed to carcinogens through smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, breathing industrial pollution, radiation exposure, and infections like hepatitis. Carcinogens are also in a wide range of products designed to make our lives easier: insect repellants, cleaning materials, solvents, and personal care products.
The rates of environmentally-induced cancers speak strongly for the regulation of toxic substances. Unfortunately, only about 200 of the nearly 80,000 chemicals being used in the U.S. have been assessed for their potential to cause cancer.
Knowledge is power. Let’s make analyzing our chemical inventory a priority, so that we can identify substances like dioxin, which need to be eliminated from production.
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EW-03-23-12-Ecosystem-Services.mp3|titles=EW 03-23-12 Ecosystem Services]
Briefly, ecosystem services are things that nature does for us that have a real dollar value. Some, such as providing food and timber, are obvious. When queuing up at our local supermarket or bookstore, the goods we are buying are products of agriculture and forestry. [Read more…] about Ecologists are talking about ecosystem services – but what do they mean?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-03-19-12-Atrazine.mp3|titles=EW 03-19-12 Atrazine]
Atrazine is the second most widely used herbicide in the United States. Last year some 75 million pounds of the weed killer were applied to sugar cane and corn crops, as well as lawns and golf courses. Sales topped a billion dollars. [Read more…] about Can we weed out the truth about atrazine?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/EW-03-13-12-Nanoparticles.mp3|titles=EW 03-13-12 Nanoparticles]
Like it or not, we have entered the world of nanotechnology. Less than 1/3 of a micron in length, nano-particles are miniscule. On the surface of clothing, they can prevent stains and wrinkles; on bandages, they impart antimicrobial properties. [Read more…] about It’s a small world out there
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-03-12-12-Gulf-Oil-Spill.mp3|titles=EW 03-12-12 Gulf Oil Spill]
In 2010, two days before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, millions of gallons of crude oil began spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The BP Deepwater Horizon blowout would shape up to be one of the largest accidental oil spills on record. And awkwardly, the leak was at the bottom of the ocean, at a depth of about a mile. [Read more…] about Would you like a little oil in your water?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-03-06-12-Metal-Recycling.mp3|titles=EW 03-06-12 Metal Recycling]
Last month, the EPA issued several violations to one of the company’s California plants. The facility, located on the Port of Redwood City, converts discarded cars and appliances into scrap metal that is sold to China. [Read more…] about The dirty business of metal recycling
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-03-05-12-Lawns.mp3|titles=EW 03-05-12 Lawns]
Unless you are an avid fan of croquet, lawn tennis, or summer garden parties, it’s time to let your lawn go natural. A wild yard is not un-American – it’s what the pilgrims had when they first arrived in New England. For nearly all of us, today’s obsession with the perfect, park-like lawn is a waste of time and money and bad for the environment. Let it go natural. [Read more…] about It’s time to forsake your lawn
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-03-02-12-Flame-Retardants-.mp3|titles=EW 03-02-12 Flame Retardants]
Few of us are familiar with polybrominated diphenyl ethers. They’re not in your spice or medicine cabinet, and you’re not likely to find them among the garden chemicals in your garage. But, if you have a sofa, a laptop, or a TV, they are in your house. [Read more…] about Do we need to retard the rush to flame retardants?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-29-12-Ammonia-.mp3|titles=EW 02-29-12 Ammonia]
More than a century ago, two German chemists discovered how to convert the nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere to ammonia, which could be used in a variety of products, including fertilizers to increase crop yield. Their work was of little consequence until the 1960s, when mounting global famine sparked the Green Revolution. [Read more…] about Ammonia—a toxic gas that feeds the world
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-27-12-Military.mp3|titles=EW 02-27-12 Military]
Some political candidates vehemently deny global climate change. And several conservative think-tanks have an agenda focused on discrediting the scientific evidence for human effects on climate. But deep inside the U.S. Pentagon, officials take climate change very seriously. [Read more…] about What do the generals know that we don’t?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-24-12-Nitrous-Oxide.mp3|titles=EW 02-24-12 Nitrous Oxide]
Most of us that have encountered nitrous oxide—better known as laughing gas—have been sitting in the dentist’s chair awaiting a painful procedure. [Read more…] about Nitrous Oxide—it’s not just a laughing matter anymore
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-14-12-Fish-Pills.mp3|titles=EW 02-14-12 Fish Pills]
We are a nation of pill poppers. From statins to lower cholesterol to antidepressants to lift our mood, more than half of Americans are currently taking a prescription drug. Some twenty percent of us are take three different prescriptions daily. [Read more…] about Here’s the fish, and here are the fish on drugs
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/EW-02-06-12-Microbes.mp3|titles=EW 02-06-12 Microbes]
Without microbes, none of these things would be possible.
Microbes are single-celled organisms that include bacteria and fungi. Microbes “breathe” and “eat” — except they aren’t restricted to oxygen like us — and their food includes sugars and starches, as well as rocks and chemicals.
Microbes are everywhere and they make up a large part of the environment. A single teaspoon of garden soil can hold more than a billion microbes. Even extreme places, such as Antarctic ice sheets, are home to flourishing microbial communities.
These tiny powerhouses are essential to healthy soils. Through a process called decomposition, microbes break complex organic substances into smaller units that other plants can more readily absorb.
Dr. Amy Burgin is a soil scientist at the University of Nebraska…
“Microbes do a lot of really good things for us – beer, wine, bread, cheese, all kinds of good stuff, in addition to cleaning out water and keeping us healthy,” says Burgin.
Many microbes produce chemicals that compete with and fight off other microbes. We know these mainly as antibiotics. Penicillin, for example, was first extracted from bread molds.
Transgenic crops, such as Bt corn, are another example of how humans have tapped into microbial chemical warfare.
By borrowing genes’ bacterium that produces a toxin poisonous to insects, plant scientists have create created a strain of genetically modified corn that can ward off insects.
While the merits of genetically modified crop remain hotly debated, one thing is certain —we owe a lot to microbes. Without them, plants wouldn’t grow, food would be scarce, and the world would be overflowing with garbage.
This script was adapted from a column by Amy Burgin that originally ran in the Poughkeepsie Journal. You can access the original article here – http://www.caryinstitute.org/ecofocus_2008-09-14.html.
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/EW-01-23-12-West-Nile.mp3|titles=EW 01-23-12 West Nile]