Stories tagged water pollution


Blue Jeans closeup.jpg: Blue Jeans closeup
Blue Jeans closeup.jpg: Blue Jeans closeupCourtesy Wikimedia Commons - author: Mark Michaelis

During the textile manufacturing process, excess dyes are sometimes discharged as wastewater resulting in water pollution downstream. In recent years, particular attention has focused on water pollution in China resulting from indigo dyes used to create the distinctive blue color of denim blue jeans.

Some nanoscientists are looking at ways to help remove potentially harmful dyes chemicals from water.

Scientists at Colombia’s Universidad Industrial de Santander and Cornell University have come up with a cheap and simple process using natural fibers embedded with nano particles to quickly remove dye from water.

The research takes advantage of nano-sized cavities found in cellulose; plant fibers can be immersed in a solution of sodium permanganate and then treated with ultrasound causing manganese oxide molecules grow in the tiny cellulose cavities. The treated fibers are able to quickly break down and remove the dye from the water.

More about this topic:

  • Cornell University study on fibers and dyes visit:
  • GreenPeace report "Toxic Threads" visit:
  • Popular Science article on indigo dye and water pollutionvisit:
  • China's famed Pearl River under denim threat
  • To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:

    To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:


    A lake carrier heads out on Lake Superior from Duluth: As with the world's oceans, researchers have now detected plastic pollution in all the Great Lakes.
    A lake carrier heads out on Lake Superior from Duluth: As with the world's oceans, researchers have now detected plastic pollution in all the Great Lakes.Courtesy Mark Ryan
    Over the past couple years, Science Buzz has posted several stories (here and here) about the humongous patches of garbage and plastic debris found floating in the world's oceans. It's a serious problem and one that should raise red flags for anyone concerned with the Earth's environment. But even more troubling is the recent news that plastic particles have now been found in all five of the Great Lakes lining the border of the USA and Canada. Unlike the large globs of plastic clogging areas of the ocean, the plastics polluting the Great Lakes are microscopic particles detectable only in a microscope. But they're no less disturbing.

    A team of researchers led by Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason, professor of chemistry at SUNY-Fredonia has been gathering water samples and reported finding high concentrations of plastic particles in the chain of freshwater lakes. One of the researchers involved is environmental chemist Lorena Rios-Mendoza from University of Wisconsin-Superior. Both she and Mason have studied the Great Trash Island (aka Trashlantis) in the Pacific Ocean but has now turned their attention to the Great Lakes.

    Most of the plastic found in the water is visible only under a microscope, but has been found in all five of the Great Lakes, both in the water column, and in lake sediment. The amount of micro-plastic varies between lakes with Lake Erie - the shallowest and smallest by water volume - containing the largest ratio and Lake Superior - the largest and most voluminous - a much smaller ratio. But it doesn't matter; the point is that we're polluting some of our important sources of fresh water with plastic.

    It's thought that cosmetics with could one of the sources, since the industry relies heavily on using micro-beads in its products. These tiny plastic particles used on our faces, skin, and teeth, eventually get washed off into the water supply where they're too small to get filtered out. But cosmetics certainly aren't the only source. Plastic refuse obliterates the shoreline in Haiti
    Plastic refuse obliterates the shoreline in HaitiCourtesy tedxgp2
    Think of the ungodly amount of plastic material we use and discard every year. Surprisingly, only about five percent of the bags, bottles, cups, electronics, etc. get recycled; most plastic trash ends up in landfills where it slowly degrades and eventually finds its way into the world's favorite garbage dump: the oceans.

    “We have no idea how long some of these plastics stay in the ocean, could be more than 40 years,” Rios-Mendoza said. She also worries if organic toxins in the water can attach themselves to the tiny plastic particles, and end up in the food chain. In this regard, Rios-Mendoza has been sampling Great Lake fish to see if such toxic particles are present in their guts.

    It's important to remember that only 3 percent of the world's water is freshwater and the five Great Lakes - Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Erie - together contain 20 percent of that freshwater. That's a large portion of a relatively scarce and essential life ingredient. Last fall, I posted an interesting graphic that illustrates nicely Earth's total water supply versus fresh water and puts things in perspective.

    Lake Superior: Plastic pollutants have now invaded the upper Great Lake.
    Lake Superior: Plastic pollutants have now invaded the upper Great Lake.Courtesy Mark Ryan
    Rios-Mendoza and Mason have been collaborating with a research and education group called 5Gyres Institute that monitors and studies garbage patches found in five subtropical gyres in the world's oceans. Rio-Mendoza presented a preliminary study of their work on the Great Lakes at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society. The team's future studies involve pinpointing the sources of plastic pollution and acquiring a better understanding of how plastics degrade in the environment.

    "We all need to become aware of how much plastic we use in our lives and avoid using single-use products. Don’t buy water in plastic bottles or cosmetic products with micro beads. Bring re-usable bags to the store with you. Simple things like this make a big difference, but it’s also important to keep talking about this issue and raising awareness about how it affects the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans.” --- Dr. Sherri Mason“

    By the way, here in Minnesota, and situated at the western tip of Lake Superior, the city of Duluth was recently proclaimed to have the best tasting drinking water in the state. By best-tasting, I'm assuming they mean it has no taste whatsoever since water is described as a colorless, tasteless liquid. Whatever the case, I always thought Duluth's drinking water was the best while growing up there (my grandparents lived in a Twin Cities' suburb and I never liked the taste of their softener-treated water).
    In another water-related story, it's estimated that life on Earth can survive for at least another 1.75 billion years until we move out of the habitable zone and our oceans (and other water sources) will evaporate in the increased heat. So it's probably best that we take care of what water we have - it needs to sustain us for a long time.

    National Geographic story
    Red Orbit story
    The World's Largest Dump
    The Great Pacific garbage patch
    Star Tribune story on Duluth's water

    This article describes a new sugar-based compound in development by researchers at the City College of New York that has the potential to make oil slick cleanup a lot easier in the future. The compound turns the oil to gel, which can be easily skimmed from the water's surface. This is a great alternative to dispersants like the ones BP used because it's nontoxic and shouldn't harm ocean organisms. Check out the video on the same page of that stuff in action--pretty cool!


    Dive in and explore: Discover amazing videos, pictures, and cool ocean stuff, including teacher resources and actions you can take.
    Dive in and explore: Discover amazing videos, pictures, and cool ocean stuff, including teacher resources and actions you can take.Courtesy Smithsonian Ocean Portal

    Today marks the 100th birthday of the late, great ocean explorer and visionary Jacques Cousteau. How many remember watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” on TV—either as a kid or with their kids? For many of us in the 1960s and 70s, a Cousteau TV special was a major event that brought the whole family together. His programs were how we first came to love and appreciate the marine world and see the effects of human actions. Cousteau was truly ahead of his time, and his conservation ethic is needed more than ever as we tackle problems like climate change, overfishing, pollution, and—of course—the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
    We can draw inspiration from his example and take steps to help the ocean. Some of the most important actions you can take involve making changes in your own home, driveway, and workplace. The newly launched Smithsonian Ocean Portal is an award-winning website designed to help people connect with the ocean and “Find Their Blue.” More than 20 organizations have joined forces to build this site as a way to inspire and engage more people in ocean science and issues. Why not start today, as a birthday gift to Cousteau?
    Tell us how he inspired you
    and learn more about sharks and squids, coral reefs, the deep ocean, the Gulf oil spill, and much more. Dive in and explore!
    Colleen Marzec, Managing Producer
    Smithsonian Ocean Portal

    My mom just sent me an E-mail. Why's that worthy of a Buzz post? Well, it just so happens that she's on board the OSV Bold, the US Environmental Protection Agency's only ocean and coastal monitoring ship. (It's crawling along the coast of Maine right now.) From the boat, scientists are able to sample the water column, ocean bottom, and sea life to get a sense of how the ocean is being impacted by human activities, and how we can better manage what goes into it. If you're curious, you can follow the adventures of the OSV Bold on Twitter, or read the daily observations log. (There's a photo of Moms in the batch posted for day 4, but her face isn't visible. Just trust me: she's the beautiful on the Bold. Oh, and lest you think this is a completely frivolous and nepotistic post, check it: picked up the story, too.)

    I ran into this interesting story over my lunch hour. From all of my observations of schools of minnows in the shallows of lakes, they're among the least likely candidates for needing antidepressants. Yet, they're still finding them.


    Our precious water supply may be at risk
    Our precious water supply may be at riskCourtesy Tsjal
    Well, this is not good to hear.

    An investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that the drinking water of more than two dozen US cities is polluted with pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs.

    The medications, which include antibiotics, sex hormones, and mood stabilizers, along with commonly used medications such as ibuprofen, were detected in trace amounts – quantities of parts per billions or even trillions - but let’s face it, this is really disturbing news.

    How the drugs got there is obvious; our country’s population is a highly medicated one. We pop a lot pill for all sorts of conditions, headaches, depression, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, birth control, sexual dysfunction, to name just a few. Our bodies metabolize a large portion of these drugs but any part not absorbed, ends up going down the toilet and back into the water system.

    “People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that’s not the case,” said Christian Daughton, an EPA scientist who was one of the first to bring attention to the issue.

    Waste treatment plants filter the water before it gets discharged back into reservoirs or into the water table, and the water is treated again for drinking but unfortunately the treatment plants just aren’t set up to filter out the drug traces. The AP’s five-month investigation also turned up disturbing data that shows some natural watersheds are also contaminated, meaning this stuff is getting into everything.

    The trace amounts don’t seem to be a concern, at least not in the short term. But what about in the long term? The effect of ingesting low-levels of all these different types of medications over a lifetime –or even during the critical nine months of gestation – just isn’t clearly understood. Some recent studies have shown disturbing alterations in human cells and wildlife exposed to water laced with pharmaceuticals and industrial pollutants, but these studies aren’t well known to the general population.

    And human waste isn’t the only source of contamination. Steroids given to cattle have been shown to find their way from feedlots back into the water system. And here’s an unsettling statistic I learned recently: 75 percent of the antibiotics sold by the US drug companies is used on livestock -such as chickens- to keep them healthy while they grow fat for the slaughterhouse. Some of their manure is then used to fertilize crop fields and the antibiotics get into the aquifers.

    So what to do? At the moment, the federal government has no requirement for testing water for drugs and many major cities don’t do it. Less than 50 percent of the 62 cities the AP investigated didn’t test for that kind of contamination. These included major metropolitan centers such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Chicago, New York City and Phoenix. Some water providers told the AP investigators that they had found no traces of pharmaceuticals in their water, only to have an independent test show that wasn’t true.

    You might think, as I did, that maybe bottled water is the answer. Unfortunately much of that is just repackaged (and untested) tap water. And most home purification systems don’t filter out drug contaminates. There is a process called reverse osmosis that can rid the water of all traces of medical contaminants but at the moment, it is very expensive and results in a lot of contaminated waste water just to get a single gallon of potable water.

    And the US is not alone in this problem. Traces of pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers around the world. Considering that only 3 percent of Earth’s water is fresh water, something needs to be done.

    AP Story