Stories tagged algae bloom

Sep
23
2010

You might be aware of phosphorus, P, as a key ingredient in your lawn fertilizer. Or, perhaps you’ve seen “Does not contain phosphates” labels on your household detergents. If you haven’t seen these labels yet, chances are high you’ll see them soon. Why??

Phosphorus is Useful as Fertilizer and Detergent...

Fertilizer with P: See the N-P-K?  The P stands for phosphorus.  The number 21 below it tells us the percent of P in the fertilizer.  Many lawn fertilizers are now 0% P.
Fertilizer with P: See the N-P-K? The P stands for phosphorus. The number 21 below it tells us the percent of P in the fertilizer. Many lawn fertilizers are now 0% P.Courtesy Malawi MV project work

Phosphorus is a life-supporting mineral, which is why so many fertilizers contain it. Phosphates, the naturally occurring form of phosphorus, help soften water, form soap suds, and suspend particles making them choice detergents. Supporting life and keeping clean would normally be good things, but phosphorus has a dark side too.

... But, Phosphorus Causes Smelly, Dead Eutrophication

Because phosphorus is so good at growing stuff, it is actually harmful to the environment when it becomes dissolved and concentrated in bodies of water. Phosphorus-rich lakes cause algae blooms – huge increases of algae in a short period of time (kind of like the post-World War II Baby Boom, but for algae). Besides being smelly and turning water green, algae “breathe” the oxygen right out of the lake! Stealing dissolved oxygen even in death, algae create hypoxia – low oxygen, which prevents most other living things from surviving in the surrounding area. This whole process, from phosphorus-loading to algae bloom to hypoxia, is called eutrophication. There are other environmental and health risks to phosphorus, but eutrophication is what politicians are talking about around the water cooler these days.

Icky Algae Bloom: Algae blooms occur in nutrient-loaded water bodies and often led to hypoxia in a process called eutrophication.
Icky Algae Bloom: Algae blooms occur in nutrient-loaded water bodies and often led to hypoxia in a process called eutrophication.Courtesy Felix Andrews

Seventeen States Banned Phosphorus in Automatic Dishwashing Detergents

Deciding that euthrophication was yucky, in July, 17 states, including the entire Great Lakes Commission of which Minnesota is a member, passed laws banning phosphates from automatic dishwasher detergent. That might not seem like a big deal, but automatic dishwasher detergent is said to comprise between 7-12% of all the phosphorus making it into our sewage system (source). Previous legislation has limited or banned phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and laundry detergents.

Consumers Asked to Cope

According to a recent New York Times article, some consumers are getting their feathers ruffled as detergent manufacturers re-do their formulas to comply with state laws. The primary complaint is that the phosphate-free detergents don’t clean as well as traditional formulas. Consumer Reports concurred: of 24 low- or no-phosphate detergents tested, none matched the cleaning capabilities of detergents with phosphates. It may be uncomfortable at first, but learning to cope in a low-phosphorus world is already having environmental and human health benefits.

Green Cleaning: There are several line of green cleaning products that contain low- or no-phosphates.
Green Cleaning: There are several line of green cleaning products that contain low- or no-phosphates.Courtesy Becoming Green

Rest assured, industry officials still want your business and are continually improving their formulations. Indeed, the same Consumer Reports article mentioned above rated seven low- or no-phosphate detergents as “very good.” For the curious, there is a multitude of other websites reviewing phosphate-free detergents online. Pre-rinsing and/or post-rinsing have also been cited as ways to deal with phosphate-free dishwashing detergents.

Peak Phosphorus: Another Consideration

If you still aren’t convinced of the switch, consider this: we’re running out of phosphorus like we’re running out of oil. Phosphorus is a mineral, mined from naturally occurring phosphates, and we’re mining it faster than geologic cycles can replenish it. One Scientific American article cites the depletion of U.S. supplies in a few decades (world supplies may last for roughly another 100 years) given current consumption rates. Without phosphorus, world food production will plummet and with a global population soaring towards 9 billion people, that would be a very sorry state of affairs. If we succeed in limiting our phosphorus consumption, say, through eliminating it from household detergents, we may be able to continue using it in fertilizers and thus keep the human population fed well into the future.

What do you think? Is the phosphate-ban worth it?

Jul
16
2009

The burning you feel is your childhood evaporating: Also, your skin.
The burning you feel is your childhood evaporating: Also, your skin.Courtesy jurvetson
Ho-ly spit.

Zo-mg.

We are in deep trouble, friends, enemies and Buzzketeers.

Screw rising sea levels. Nuts to dwindling glacier-based freshwater reserves. Forget desertification. The real danger of global warming we’ve known about since 1958 and we’ve done nothing to prevent it. In our arrogance, we thought we’d be safe forever, but now the chickens have come home to roost. And they’re roosting hard.

Is it possible that you don’t know what I’m talking about yet?

Well, let me explain it to you in a roundabout way.

Remember being a kid in 1958, sitting in your home entertainment room, petting your chinchilla in the dark (not a euphemism), and eating a box of Gushers as you watched your Blu-ray of Steve McQueen’s The Blob? Remember how you felt when that little piece of space goo started to eat that old dude’s hand? Those Gushers burned like the blob’s acid touch, no doubt. And remember when you realized that no amount of hot lead was going to stop the blob, because, duh, why would bullets hurt space goo? You probably squeezed your poor chinchilla to death in your anxiety. Do you recall the little pinprick of hope you felt at the blob’s response to a blast from the CO2 filled fire extinguisher, and the final surge of relief as they crated the awful thing to the arctic, where it could be kept in safety… JUST SO LONG AS THE %@$##$%ING ARCTIC STAYS COLD… QUESTION MARK????!!!!!!!!!

If your chinchilla wasn’t dead already, it didn’t stand a chance at that point, because you were convulsively squeezing everything within reach, and vomiting half-digested Gushers all over your parents’ modern Scandinavian furniture. But no, soothes your nanny, as she strokes your hair and gently clears the Gushers from your airway, that could never happen. It’s the arctic she says, and, standing in the lit doorway behind her, your personal chef nods reassuringly. That’s why they call it “the arctic,” he says in his heavy Japanese accent. Your normal childhood is safe from a life of constant monster threat.

Or so you thought. It’s fifty years later, the arctic is melting, and, in many respects, you’re still a child. And the blob is free.

So far the number of humans-dissolved-alive remains at or near zero, but I expect this figure to skyrocket any day now, as the blob has been seen off the northern coast of Alaska.

The blob has been observed floating in dark, gooey looking mats on the surface of the ocean. The strands of goo are reported to be up to 12 miles long.

What you’re trying to convince yourself, I’m sure, is that this is no blob, but just another harmless oil spill. Wrong-o, says the local coastguard.

“It's certainly biological,” a coastguard petty officer reports. “It's definitely not an oil product of any kind. It has no characteristics of an oil, or a hazardous substance, for that matter.” The smell and composition, he says, suggest that it’s some natural substance, but it’s nothing that any of the locals remember seeing before. But they need only to return to their home theaters, and I’m sure they’ll recognize the substance in no time.

The substance is dark, hangs off the ice when they come in contact, and appears to be “hairy” when examined closely. “It kind of has an odor,” explained one of the locals on the goo expedition, “I can't describe it.” Well, I’ll describe the smell for you: fear.

Jellyfish have been seen tangled up in the blob, and one local turned in the remains of a dead goose, “just bones and feathers,” that had supposedly been found in the goo.

Samples of the blob were brought to Anchorage for analysis. Waste of time, if you ask me. The coastguard pilots that helped retrieve the sample are pretty certain it’s some kind of algae, but that’s what the military would say. It’s the blob.

Hide yourselves. Save your game frequently. Cherish what you remember of “normal life,” because it’s all about to change.

A massive algae bloom is choking China’s Yellow Sea and threatening some Olympic events. Many Chinese cities dump untreated sewage into the Sea. Rich in nutrients, the sewage makes the algae grow like crazy. The problem goes beyond the inconvenience to boaters. The growing algae changes the near-shore habitat. And when all this algae dies, the bacteria that decays it sucks oxygen out of the water, killing fish and creating a dead zone.