Exposure to Common Herbicide Potentially Harms Endangered Species
An herbicide commonly used in corn and sorghum fields to kill grasses and weeds is being reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency as being harmful to endangered species, according to a biological evaluation draft currently open for public comment.
The exact number of species the herbicide atrazine affects is unknown. However, many environmental groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, say more than 1,000 species could be at risk. For example, frog and fish species that are exposed to atrazine show damaged reproductive systems, even at very low concentrations.
"Finally the EPA has been forced to acknowledge atrazine's far-reaching harms," Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. "This alarming assessment leaves no doubt that this hideously dangerous pesticide should be banned in the U.S., just as it is across much of the world."
The new report, released Nov. 5, details how the herbicide's reach is measured. The EPA "considers overlap of the species range (or critical habitat) with areas directly treated with atrazine and those receiving spray drift," the executive summary explained.
"To address uncertainties associated with how treated acres may be distributed within a state (relative to a species range or critical habitat), and the magnitude of usage on any given year, approaches are employed to represent a central estimate of overlap."
In addition to its use on crop fields, atrazine is also frequently used on household lawns. In September, the agency reapproved continued use of the weed killer for two years, with prohibitions in Hawaii, five U.S. territories and Christmas tree farms.
Atrazine is banned throughout the European Union. After glyphosate, an herbicide that has been used for more than 45 years, atrazine is the most common weed killer in the U.S. Swiss-based Syngenta is the largest worldwide manufacturer of atrazine.
It was noted earlier this year in Vermont that while overall herbicide use is decreasing, farmers increased using atrazine due to its lower price.
In 2018 the EPA concluded that atrazine and two other herbicides "share a common neuroendocrine mechanism of toxicity which results in both reproductive and developmental alterations," in humans. It is often designated a pollutant in ground and drinking water.
The Rural Coalition Pesticide Action Network North America, the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity's Beyond Pesticide action group recently filed a lawsuit to ban atrazine's use in the U.S.
The EPA is accepting public comments until Jan. 5. If the final evaluation proves harm through exposure, the agency, working with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, will determine the endangered species most at-risk and propose ways to curtail exposure.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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