Thoreau’s Walden Pond is under threat from human activities

April 6, 2018 by  
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In his book first published as  Walden; or, Life in the Woods , transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau reflected on living simply in green spaces while cultivating self-sufficiency and carefully observing the natural world. His reflections were informed by his experiences living in a cabin near the edge of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts . Today, Walden Pond remains a cherished local landmark, where people enjoy hiking and swimming. However, since Thoreau’s time, Walden Pond has suffered from climate change,  erosion  and even human pee. In the mid-1800s, Thoreau described the “crystalline purity” of the water in Walden Pond, a characteristic still observable today. However, that may soon change as the effects of climate change take hold. In  a recently published paper on the environmental health of Walden Pond , researchers concluded that major changes in the algal content of the lake began in the 20th century and continue to threaten it today. According to the paper, “The sediment darkening and high percentages of [ algae ] in the recent sediments of Walden Pond … indicate not only that the lake ecosystem is now quite different from that described by Thoreau but also that it may be primed for more severe reductions in water clarity in a warming future.” Related: Thresher sharks die in Massachusetts – likely due to cold shock As global temperatures continue to rise , more people looking for relief from the humid summer weather in Massachusetts may find their way into the pond for a refreshing dip. Researchers concluded that more than half of the phosphorous content in the pond “may now be attributable to urine released by swimmers.” The good news is that Walden Pond has seen its environmental health improve in recent decades. However, vigilance is necessary to preserve Walden for future generations. Via The Guardian Images via Ekabhishek , Terryballard and Cbaile19

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The world’s first space hotel could launch by 2022

April 6, 2018 by  
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We’ve all heard of the companies promising to launch humans on trips to space , but have you thought about where you will stay once you get there? Startup Orion Span thinks they have the answer – and they’re planning to launch a luxury space hotel into orbit in the next few years. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, start saving your pennies – a 12-night stay will set you back a mere $9.5 million PER PERSON. But don’t worry, the price includes transportation, food and drinks, and a three-month training course. The Aurora Station hotel will be able to accommodate four guests at a time, plus two crew members. The station will float above the Earth in low orbit (about 200 miles above the planet – 50 miles below the ISS) and the company claims it will be ready to start hosting guests by 2022. That’s extremely soon – keep in mind that other companies have set lofty goals for space hotels that didn’t quite get realized . The company plans to start with one station and expand as demand grows. If you want to book your stay right away, 80k will hold you a spot until the hotel is built and launched. Related: Elon Musk says trips to Mars coming as soon as next year Speaking of, Orion Span hasn’t provided much in the way of details for its space hotel. For instance, the company says it plans to manufacture the station at a Houston facility that hasn’t been built yet. Nor has it disclosed how it plans to transport people to the station – it seems likely that it will team up with one of the companies who is developing private space travel. Even still, it’s a pretty exciting idea, and not a bad price considering that it costs $81 million for an astronaut to hitch a ride to the ISS on a Russian rocket. Via Engadget Images via Orion Span

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Planting wildflower strips across crop fields could slash pesticide use

February 2, 2018 by  
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Could wildflowers help us cut our use of pesticides ? The Guardian reported that colorful strips of the flowers have been planted through 15 large arable fields in England – instead of just around them – as part of a Center for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) trial. The wildflowers could boost natural pest predators, potentially helping us reduce our reliance on environmentally damaging pesticides. Concern has mounted over how pesticides are harming our environment , even as we struggle to feed all 7.4 billion humans on the planet. Scientists in the UK are seeking sustainable ways to grow food, and wildflowers could help. The flower strips on 15 farms were planted last fall, where researchers will monitor them over the next five years. Related: How one Bay Area couple plans to save the bees by planting one billion wildflowers Stripes of wildflowers across farm fields could cut pesticide spraying https://t.co/L2l1tQJxdm by me @CEHScienceNews pic.twitter.com/kV4KavIjN5 — Damian Carrington (@dpcarrington) January 31, 2018 The Guardian pointed to research showing that use of wildflower margins to boost bugs like hoverflies, ground beetles, and parasitic wasps has cut pest numbers and even increased yields. But in the past, wildflowers were largely planted around fields instead of through them, making it harder for natural predators to get to the middle of large fields. GPS -guided harvesters now allow for crops to be reaped precisely, avoiding wildflower strips. Initial tests revealed planting stripes around 100 meters, or around 328 feet, apart, allowed predators to attack pests like aphids throughout a field. In the field trials, strips are around 20-feet-wide, and take up two percent of the total field area, The Guardian reports. Oxeye daisy, wild carrot, common knapweed, and red clover are among the flowers planted. Scientists will be watching to see if drawing insects into the middle of fields “does more harm than good.” CEH scientist Richard Pywell told The Guardian the ideal is that natural predators keep pests in check over the years so farmers would never have to spray pesticides. The Guardian said similar tests are happening in Switzerland, with flowers like dill, cornflowers, poppy, coriander, and buckwheat. Via The Guardian Images via Henry Be on Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons

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United Kingdom joins Europe in banning bee-killing pesticides

November 10, 2017 by  
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The United Kingdom is joining Europe on a key environmental issue by supporting a total ban on neonicotinoids, pesticides that have decimated bee populations across the world. According to British environment secretary Michael Gove, the United Kingdom has reversed its previous opposition to such a ban after new research has shown that neonicotinoids cause significant damage to bee colonies. Gove was also moved to adopt this new policy position after reading reports of 75% declines in insect populations in Germany . “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,” said Gove, according to The Guardian . “I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” Although neonicotenoids are the world’s most used insecticide, their use on flowering crops was banned by the European Union in 2013. The United Kingdom nonetheless opposed the ban, though the times have changed. As the EU moves towards a total ban on neonictenoids outside of greenhouses, the United Kingdom’s change in its policy position adds momentum to the European reform effort. Related: “Bee-friendly” plants sold in the UK are coated in harmful pesticides “As is always the case, a deteriorating environment is ultimately bad economic news as well,” said Gove, citing figures that pollinators boost the profitability of UK crops by £400m-£680m each year. Gove also pointed out that, in the face of declining pollinator populations, British gala apple growers are forced to spend £5.7m per year to compensate for the loss of the natural ecological services provided by pollinators. Environmental and science groups are applauding Gove’s decision. “We warmly welcome the UK’s change of position,” said Matt Shardlow, of the insect conservation group Buglife, according to The Guardian . “Brexit will give the UK more control over the health of our ecosystems and it is essential in doing so that we apply the highest standards of care.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Crazy new building in China looks like a giant crab!

November 10, 2017 by  
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China may have decided to steer away from “weird architecture” , but bizarre new buildings continue to pop up throughout the country. The new Ecology Center in Kunshan is one of the strangest we’ve seen – it looks a giant crab, complete with hairy claws and white pincers! The building is located on Yangcheng Lake’s eastern shore and it references the area’s famous crab-based delicacy. The outer shell is crafted from dark stainless steel , with pincers and claws resting on the ground. The crab’s durable exterior can supposedly withstand strong winds and typhoons . Related: 21 of China’s Quirkiest, Craziest and Most Fantastical Buildings Work is still underway on the building’s interior, which is expected to open to visitors in 2018. Via Archdaily

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New Harvard study links pesticide consumption with reduced fertility in women

October 31, 2017 by  
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When trying to get pregnant, many women adopt a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables . But it turns out they may be compromising their chances — unless the produce is organically grown. According to a new study published in  the journal JAMA Internal Medicine , women who ate 2.3 servings or more of high- pesticide -residue fruits and vegetables had an 18 percent lower probability of getting pregnant and a 26 percent lower probability of giving birth to a live baby. 325 women between the ages of 18 and 45 participated in the study. CNN reports that they were already undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers gave the women diet questionnaires and recorded their height, weight, overall health, intake of supplements, and residential history. They then analyzed each woman’s pesticide exposure by determining whether the fruits and vegetables she consumed were treated with high or low levels of pesticides — chemical concoctions that are sprayed on fruit to protect plants (and humans) from mold, fungi, rodents, insects, and weeds. The scientists analyzed the pesticide levels based on reports from the US Department of Agriculture’s  Pesticide Data Program . Strawberries typically top the list as the #1 sprayed fruit, whereas avocados , onions, dried plums, corn and orange juice are typically low in pesticide residue. The results were disturbing: compared to women who ate less than one daily serving of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables, those who ate more than 2 servings were 26 percent more likely to have a miscarriage. “Most Americans are exposed to pesticides daily by consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Yu-Han Chiu, first author of the study and research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “There have been concerns for some time that exposure to low doses of pesticides through diet, such as those that we observed in this study, may have adverse health effects, especially in susceptible populations such as pregnant women and their fetus, and on children. Our study provides evidence that this concern is not unwarranted.” Related: Facial deformities in Ugandan apes linked to pesticide use The researchers also determined that consuming low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables was associated with increased odds of pregnancy and giving birth. “Although we did find that intake of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables were associated to lower reproductive success, intake of low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables had the opposite association,” Chiu said. The researcher concluded: “A reasonable choice based on these findings is to consume low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables instead of high-pesticide-residue ones. Another option is to go organic for the fruits and vegetables known to contain high pesticide residues. It is very important to keep in mind that, as far as we are aware, this is the first time that this association is reported, so it is extremely important that our findings are replicated in other studies.” + JAMA Internal Medicine Via CNN Images via Pixabay ,  Reader’s Digest ,  HerFamily.ie

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Facial deformities in Uganda apes linked to pesticide use

August 29, 2017 by  
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Our pesticides may be harming animals that live nearby, according to new research. A group of 10 scientists led by Paris’ Musée de l’Homme and the Great Ape Conservation Project at Kibale National Park in Uganda found baboons and chimpanzees with facial deformities near an agricultural area where they were told around eight pesticides had been used. 25 percent of chimpanzees the researchers monitored displayed abnormalities like reduced nostrils, reproductive issues, hypopigmentation, cleft lip, or limb deformities. Kibale National Park is close to industrial tea plantations and gardens growing maize, which are often raided by the chimps and baboons, according to the researchers. But it appears pesticides in the crops they’re taking are harming them. Related: Bee-killing pesticides have been found in US drinking water The researchers asked people in tea factories and villages what pesticides were being used, and were told of eight: glyphosate , cypermethrin, profenofos, mancozeb, metalaxyl, dimethoate, chlorpyrifos , and 2,4-D amine. They took samples from soils, fresh maize stems and seeds, and river sediments near where chimpanzees reside between 2014 and 2016 and discovered mean pesticide levels were above recommended limits. They also found the pesticides imidacloprid and DDT, as well as its metabolite pp’ -DDE. And it appears these pesticides may be affecting the animals. Out of 66 chimpanzees monitored, 16 had deformities. The scientists also photographed 35 baboons, and at least six had severe nasal deformities. The researchers said in the abstract of their paper they think “excessive pesticide use…may contribute to facial dysplasia in chimpanzees and baboons.” The suggestion that our agricultural practices are physically altering animals is horrifying; the researchers noted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists chimpanzees as endangered . The animals are also of economic importance in Uganda as they draw in ecotourists. The researchers said it may be a conservation priority to minimize threats to their survival, as the use of pesticides may be. The journal Science of The Total Environment published the research online earlier this year. Scientists from institutions in France, Uganda, Canada, and the United States collaborated on the work. Via ScienceDirect Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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New MIT water purification method eliminates even trace chemical waste and pesticides

May 12, 2017 by  
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Ridding water of tiny concentrations of pollutants isn’t easy. Typically, a lot of energy or chemicals are required to remove these dangerous contaminants – but that could change. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany have come up with an electrochemical process able to pull out toxins like chemical wastes, pharmaceuticals , or pesticides . Their process could help people in developing countries obtain water without those unhealthy compounds. The scientists pioneered an electrochemical process able to selectively get rid of organic pollutants, which can be harmful even in minimal amounts. Here’s how it works: small surfaces are coated with Faradaic materials which can become positively or negatively charged after reactions. An electrical source is added to the surfaces, and then as water flows around the materials, the surface materials are tuned to bind with noxious pollutants. Unlike other systems that require either high pressures or high voltages to work, the new way can function at what chemical engineering professor T. Alan Hatton described as relatively benign low voltages and pressures. Related: Researchers develop solar-powered device to harvest water in the desert The system could help people in the developing world obtain water free of toxic pollutants. Chemical engineer Xiao Su of MIT , lead author on a paper published recently in Energy and Environmental Science , said in a statement, “Such systems might ultimately be useful for water purification systems in remote areas in the developing world, where pollution from pesticides, dyes, and other chemicals are often an issue in the water supply.” Su said the system, which is highly efficient, could operate even in rural locations with a little help from solar panels . The new method isn’t quite ready to go yet, but mechanical engineer Matthew Suss of Technion Institute of Technology in Israel seems hopeful. He said the system still needs to be tested under real-word conditions and for lengthy periods of time to see if it’s durable, but the prototype “achieved over 500 cycles, which is a highly promising result.” Via MIT News Images via Melanie Gonick/MIT and Felice Frankel

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Trumps EPA chief lifts ban on pesticide that poisons children

March 31, 2017 by  
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As part of the Trump administration’s current war to overthrow Obama-era environmental regulations, this week, newly appointed EPA Chief Scott Pruitt signed an order reversing a recommendation to ban a pesticide linked to nervous system damage in children. Chlorpyrifos is sprayed on tree nuts, soybeans, corn, wheat, apples, citrus, and a number of other common crops. In recent years, researchers have found that chlorpyrifos exposure on foods, in drinking water, and in the air can impair cognitive development in children. (Given that the active chemical is related to nerve agent weapons, perhaps this should not be surprising.) Multiple studies have found that children exposed to the pesticide at high levels have lower IQ scores than their peers. In light of the evidence, much of it gathered by the EPA’s own researchers, the agency adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for any residues of the chemical left on food items in 2015. Since it’s impossible to completely remove the chemical, this would have effectively ended its use in the US. This followed a decade of restrictions that have gradually reduced the number of approved crops and circumstances for its use. Despite the risk, it’s still used widely in other countries. Related: EPA chief says carbon dioxide is not a ‘primary contributor’ to global warming Now, Scott Pruitt is ignoring his own agency’s research in order to allow farmers to continue using this toxic pesticide. Of course, that’s not the way he’s spinning it – if you ask him, it’s a win for the scientific process. In a statement about the order, he said, “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.” The Natural Resources Defense Council has already pledged to fight the new action in court. Via LA Times Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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South Carolina kills millions of bees while spraying for Zika mosquitos

September 2, 2016 by  
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The Zika virus is now officially spreading within the US , so it’s understandable that public health officials are doing all they can to try to stop the spread of the disease before it can gain a foothold. Unfortunately, in the case of one South Carolina county, those efforts have unintentionally resulted in the deaths of 2.5 million bees. Dorchester County generally uses ground-based sprays in order to combat mosquitos , deploying clouds of pesticide by truck in order to keep the insects at bay. However, last Sunday, officials made the decision to switch to an aerial spraying method instead. With little more than a Facebook post on Saturday and a newspaper announcement on Friday to alert locals of the change in plans, an airplane traveled across the county in the early hours of Sunday morning dispensing a mist of the pesticide Naled. Most people seem to have missed the memo from the county, and that included the beekeepers at Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply in Summerville. After the pesticide hit the farm, it wiped out a whopping 46 hives and a total of 2.5 million bees. One visitor to the farm described the scene as “ like visiting a cemetery .” There’s a simple reason why Dorchester County didn’t consider the short notice a problem: Naled is not considered a serious hazard to human beings due to how quickly the chemical dissipates in the air. However, it’s highly toxic to a variety of pollinators, including bees. Normally, if beekeepers are aware of aerial spraying nearby, they’ll cover their hives in order to protect the bees. Moreover, many counties spray for mosquitos at night, because honeybees are primarily active during the day. Related: 44% of US honeybee colonies died off last year Dorchester County officials claimed in an interview with the Washington Post that they had attempted to call all beekeepers in the county, but had made some errors. For one thing, their registry was apparently missing many local beekeepers in the area, particularly hobbyists. Other beekeepers who were on the county’s list apparently slipped through the cracks and weren’t contacted at all. Related: EPA finally admits popular insecticide threatens honeybees While it’s understandable that public officials would want to do everything possible to keep mosquito populations down, in this case, no one followed any of the best practices for protecting local pollinators. Given how colony collapse disorder has already devastated bee populations, it’s incredibly irresponsible to spray when bees are likely to be out and about. Hopefully the negative publicity and backlash from this incident will cause administrators of mosquito control programs across the US to act more carefully in the future. Via TreeHugger Images via Wikipedia and Flowertown Bee Farm and Supplies

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