Category Archives: Science

Sea turtles mistake plastic for jellyfish

Sea turtle

I already knew that fish were eating plastic from watching the documentary film Tapped, but I was not really prepared to see this article from Mother Nature Network, or @MotherNatureNetwork on twitter. A green sea turtle, rescued in 2009, was found to have eaten a large amount of plastic. The team of marine biologists was able to extract the largest piece, but the poor turtle still excreted plastic for a month. Marine biologists believe that sea turtles are eating the plastic waste that finds its way into the ocean because it looks like a jellyfish. Since sea turtles love to eat the jellyfish they chomp down on the plastic bag look-a-likes as well.

Reducing the amount of plastic that we use and dispose of every day can make a difference. Everyone has a part to play in helping keep plastic out of the ocean.

It does not have to be a huge life altering decision, because every little bit helps. Try taking a re-usable cloth bag to the store to get groceries instead of using plastic bags. Take a re-usable water bottle with you to work instead of a single use PET plastic bottle. Remember that re-using is better than recycling and if you can’t avoid disposable goods make sure to recycle whenever you can. Cheap plastic water bottles and plastic grocery bags are convenient, but they cause damage to the environment. Challenge yourself to try just one way to reduce plastic waste. I chose to stop buying bottled water and instead keep a bottle of filtered water in the fridge. I haven’t bought bottled water at all in several months. It’s a small change, but it starts with you and me making the right decisions. Together we can make a big difference.

When water isn’t just water

Water test

It’s real water. Or at least that is what the makers of Real Water want you to believe. According to the Real Water website the water that we drink is damaged, or too acidic and does not hydrate the body properly. The science behind their claims is fairly impressive…in volume. It is true that tap water is slightly acidic, which means it has a pH level lower than 7, but is it really bad for your health? Real Water thinks it is and charges $36 for a case of 24 bottles.

You may think that’s not too much to pay if you are going to get better water. After all if you check out their website Real Water claims to be adding free electrons to the damaged water to increase the pH level. The result is a water with greater alkalinity, or pH level higher than 7, so it actually hydrates you far better than damaged water. To be honest their science looks good to an untrained eye, but an alert tweet from @OpheliaRising led me to a great piece in the Guardian written by Rebecca Hill. In the article she explores the claims made by Real Water and spoke with both a chemist and a nutritionist to get their take on positively charged water and the effects of low pH on “damaged water”.

So the first claim that our drinking water is “damaged” and bad for our health is untrue. The chemist, Professor Stephen Fletcher, point out that “The lowest possible pH of carbonated water is around 5″. That means that carbonated water, which is obviously bubbly and not at all like tap water, still only has a pH of 5. Vinegar is a thousand times more acidic than carbonated water and is not dangerous to human health so it is perfectly safe to drink water with a pH level that is slightly less than 7.

So what about the claim that water treatment systems cause water to lose electrons to the point where it no longer hydrates us and the loose free radicals harm our cells? Again bogus. Fletcher argues that, “Water molecules do not act as free radicals” and “The acid component of water (called a hydrogen ion) emphatically does not have an unpaired electron. In fact, it has no electrons at all.”

Finally the company claims that their proprietary process adds millions of free radicals back into water to pair with the loose electrons (free radicals) to bind them back together and increase the alkalinity of water. As Fletcher points out the principle of electro-neutrality prevents water from becoming positively charged in the first place. So if the water was never positively charged, how could Real Water add back missing electrons in the form of free radicals? As Professor Fletcher points out “It follows that the E2 technology cannot add ‘hundreds of millions of free electrons’ to anything, no matter how it works.”

So it seems that Real Water is not real water after all. Like other fellow water bottling companies they are trying to convince you that the water you can buy from them is better than the water that comes from your own tap. You can pay $1.50 a bottle for Real Water, or you can pay a few pennies for a nice glass of water from your own home. As nutritionist Sue Baic points out in the article “Normal tap water is perfectly healthy.” Public water systems routinely test your water and have to adhere to higher health and safety standards than bottled water companies. Don’t buy the hype and especially don’t buy Real Water.

When BPA-free does not equal “safe”

Bpa free

This is a subject that I came across a while back and have spent some time exploring, but this week Beth Terry of myplasticfreelife put up a post that covered the topic perfectly. I highly recommend reading her post about the other estrogenic chemicals that can leach out of plastic and into your food and water. You should also follow her on twitter @plasticfreebeth

The whole post is a great read (so check it out!), but here are a few crucial facts about why we need to move away from disposable plastics and find a more sustainable solution. This is what Beth has been doing since 2007 and her blog is full of advice and information on how to reduce your plastic footprint.

Many brands are now advertising that their products are BPA-free. From baby products to bottled water, companies have been quick to jump on the bandwagon and now advertise that they are BPA-free. As Beth points out “entire shelves of baby products are labelled BPA-free. Are they safe?” Companies want us to believe that BPA-free means that the chemicals used in their plastics are safe, but just because a product is not made with Bisphenol-A does not mean it is safe.

Beth took a 33 page study from the University of Texas and presented it on her blog in a way that is very easy to understand. A big thanks to her for the great work she put in. The UT study “confirms that hormone-disrupting chemicals leach from almost all plastics, even BPA-free plastics.” What does that mean? All those baby products and water bottles can still leach chemicals with Estrogen Activity into beverages and foods that are stored in them. This is bad because chemicals with Estrogen Activity “mimics the hormone estrogen in the body” and can cause a variety of health problems.

Have you ever left a bottled water in your car while you went to shop or see a movie? When you came back did the water taste different? If it was a sunny day the odds are that are that some chemicals leached from the plastic PET bottle into your water. Why is that? In the UT study researchers also tested plastics under duress and found that “plastics are more likely to leach chemicals when exposed to various stressors like heat or light, the researchers also tested the products after subjecting them to UV radiation (mimicking the effect of sunlight)”. So let’s review. Disposable plastics are destroying the environment, cost more money, and also leach chemicals into food and water that disrupt hormone levels, check. Sounds like a great product line.

As I have written about recently, some companies are now touting a new bio-based plant plastic that is not made with petroleum. These new plastics are still not biodegradable and further “71% of all the PLA samples tested were found to leach EA chemicals as well”. Do not buy the hype about plant based plastic, it may be better than petroleum based plastic, but it is not safer for you as the consumer.

Make the decision to use less plastic every day. Why buy plastic water bottles when the water in your home is cheap and also most likely safer to drink? An obvious first step to reduce how much plastic you buy is to put down the bottle and take control of your water.

For the rest of Beth’s research on estrogenic chemicals in plastic you can check out her blog at www.myplasticfreelife.com

A newer “greener” bottle?

Plants

The biggest players in the bottled beverage industry have announced a change to a more green friendly bottle. The new bottles from Pepsi are made from 100% plant based renewable sources (for a great breakdown of the new Pepsi bottle check out myplasticfreelife.com), while Coke has announced their new bottles will be 30% plant based. This is definitely a move in the right direction by both companies. At least this shows that we are seeing a shift in the mindset of major players like Pepsi, Coke and Nestle, but it still is not a substantial change to the problem posed by single use plastic bottles…and here is why.

  • These new bottles are not biodegradable, despite the fact that the name makes them sound that way
  • These new bottles are still made from PET plastic, which can leach endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • The majority of plastic bottles are not recycled
  • Pepsi’s bottles only use 10% rPET (recycled PET) from recycled bottles

I still avoid plastic bottles and prefer re-usable coffee thermoses and water canteens. Filling your own bottles at home will always be cheaper than buying bottled water and helps cut down on waste. Don’t be fooled by the new plant based PET bottles, they are still not biodegradable. If you do buy them like all plastic they should be recycled.

Radiation detected on the East Coast

Radiation warning

Reports are starting to come in from monitoring stations around the country indicating that trace levels of radioactive materials have been detected in the United States. In some states testing has revealed an increase in the presence of radiation in rainwater. This increase in radioactive material is linked to the incident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

The most recent reports from the EPA continue to show that the increased levels of radiation detected are expected and still “far below levels of public-health concern”. The EPA is stepping up monitoring across the country to keep an eye out for public safety. Right now there is very little cause for concern as the increase in radiation levels is expected to be short-lived.

If you are concerned about the radiation level in your drinking water you can try a water filter to remove it. The NSF lists water filter systems that are certified to reduce radium here. A basic carbon filter will not remove radium or radon. These contaminants require a Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Ultraviolet (UV) filter to remove them from drinking water. For more information on radium in water you can check out this page from the Palm Beach County Health Department. It is important to remember that we are all exposed to small amounts of radiation every day and that low level exposure over a short period of time is not a significant health risk.

World Water Day 2011

World water day

Today is world water day and I think it is important that we remember how lucky we are to have access to safe drinking water. According to the UN report “Sick Water” released last year on March 22, dirty water kills more people each year than violence, including war. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon The world’s water supply is contaminated every day with “millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste”.

Have you ever had to walk a mile or more to get water from a dirty well? Take a moment to think about where your water comes from and how amazing it is to be able to turn on the tap and have fresh water delivered directly into your home! Because it is so easy for us to access clean water we often take it for granted and leave the tap running longer than necessary.

Here is a simple challenge that we can all do to help on World Water Day 2011: see how little water you can use today. Try not letting the water run while you brush your teeth, or see if you can take your shower just a couple of minutes faster. Don’t run your washing machine or dishwasher unless it is a full load. Remember that everything we buy takes water to produce.

Every little bit counts. Once you see how easy it is to reduce your own water footprint think about using those same good practices every day and tell your friends how they can help too!

More plastic than plankton

Plastic bottles washed up on the beach

We use plastic for a variety of functions because it is cheap and easy to use. The problem is how much of that plastic that we use every day is not handled responsibly and recycled. We have reached the point where pollution from plastics waste is having a severe effect on the environment. I am not talking about landfills, though there is definitely an argument to be made for the work we have to do there. What I wanted to talk about today is the accumulation of plastic in the ocean. Researchers, like Captain Charles Moore and his team, have discovered that plastic are polluting our oceans in a big way.

Ever take a trip down to the beach? Did it look like this image? Let’s hope it did not, but more and more beaches are becoming receptacles for plastic water bottles and other trash that are thrown into lakes and rivers and eventually find their way into the ocean. What many people do not realize is that plastic is forever. It cannot be dissolved or used up and instead is merely broken down into smaller pieces. While plastic waste on beaches is certainly not something we want to see the issue that Captain Moore and the researchers at the Algalita Marine Foundation are focusing on is the pollution found in the oceanic gyres.

Water sample from the north pacific gyre

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? You can take a tour and get out there to see it for yourself, but it is not a popular destination. Located in the Pacific gyre, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area where oceanic tides have created a gathering point for much of the plastic waste that has found its way out to sea. Samples drawn from the gyre have revealed that there is more plastic than plankton in the water. After being buffeted around and stirred up in the ocean water much of the plastic that has made it to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been broken down into small colorful pellets. With the number of these little plastic pieces floating in the water having exceeded the amount of plankton there many fish are starting to eat the plastic. Instead of eating their natural food source, plankton, the fish are eating our trashed plastics.

The garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is not unique. Researchers have found trash build up in gyres in the North and South Atlantic, Indian, North and South Pacific oceans. Some of the most commonly discarded items are plastic water bottles. With only a small percentage of water bottles actually recycled in the U.S. there is plenty of room for each individual to make a difference. Try to drink from re-usable containers whenever possible and if you do buy a plastic bottle or other container make sure to recycle when you are finished. These are small steps, but together it can make a big difference.

Widely used pesticides impair male reproductive health

Tractor at work

A new study has found that many common pesticides block male hormones and may be a contributor to the decline in male reproductive health. This is one of the only recent studies to focus on human exposure to new chemicals. The majority of studies to this point have been about pesticides that are no longer used. The study found that 30 of the 37 pesticides tested were anti-androgenic and may play a significant role in blocking normal hormone activity.

Pesticides are widely used to protect crops from insects, diseases and weeds. The purpose of pesticide use it to keep people safe by preventing crops from being contaminated. Since agriculture is an essential part of maintaining our food supply we have to be careful of the effect that pesticides have on humans.

Human exposure to pesticides often occurs when the chemicals leach into groundwater after a heavy rain. Once a chemical has made it into the water supply it can eventually end up in our public water system. Pesticides in public water are most likely to be found in more agricultural areas. Hopefully as we learn more about the health risk posed by pesticides we will be more responsible about what chemicals we are exposed to. In the meantime it is always a good idea to have your water tested to find out exactly what contaminants are in your local water supply.

Fun facts you may not know about water

Our planet earth

How much do you know about our planet’s water supply? It might be a lot or very little, but how much you know is not as important as how much you care. Our water supply is a precious resource because it is what sustains life for all the living beings, human or otherwise, here on Earth.

So let’s start with the easy stuff. How much of the earth’s surface is covered by water? About 80%. You knew that one, right? See how many of the next group you can guess correctly. The answers are at the bottom of the post.

  1. What is the most common substance found on earth?
  2. How much of the earth’s water supply is drinking water?
  3. How many gallons of water are dropped by an inch of rain?
  4. How much water does a dairy cow drink to be able to produce a gallon of milk?
  5. Which uses more water, the average dishwasher or an average person washing dishes by hand?
  6. How long can a person live without drinking water?
  7. How many gallons of water does the average person use in one day?
  8. What is the annual cost to supply water to all U.S. citizens?
  9. How much does a gallon of water weight at room temperature?
  10. What percentage of the human body is made up of water?

So how did you do? I must confess I did not know a lot of these fun little bits of trivia either. Our most important natural resource often gets forgotten about or left out of the discussion entirely. So next time you turn on the tap stop and think about the importance of our water supply and how we all have to work together to keep it clean.

Answer Key

A1 = (water) A2 = (1%) A3= (7,000) A4 = (4) A5 = (hand washing) A6 = (1 week) A7 = (123) A8 = ($3.5 billion) A9 = (8.33 lbs) A10 = (66%)

Water cooler talk may be bad for your health

Water-cooler No, not the actual conversation, but the water you drink from the cooler. What many socially minded employees may not know is that the plastic water jug on top of the cooler increases their exposure to a chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a synthetic estrogen compound used as a hardening agent to manufacture polycarbonate plastics, the more durable plastic used to make 5 gallon water jugs. BPA has been in use in plastics for decades and was long thought to be safe for human consumption because it is metabolized quickly. More recently independent toxicology studies have shown that not only is Bisphenol A a potential health risk to humans, but that it can leach into water and food stored in plastic containers. BPA has been found to disrupt the endocrine system resulting in a variety of symptoms including reproductive abnormalities and impaired neurological functions.



A 2003 study by the CDC found BPA in 93% of the participants. While it is virtually impossible to avoid contact with BPA, you can reduce your exposure by avoiding using containers where the chemical may have leached into food or drinks.



The US Department of Health and Human Services has a helpful page that provides a number of ways to reduce exposure to BPA. Many companies now offer BPA free plastics that are much safer to use to store water and other beverages as well. So you can still plan on taking a bottle of water with you to the gym, just make sure to take along a re-usable bottle that is BPA free.