Pet owners around the country are seeing their beloved canines perish after letting them cool off in waters harboring toxic algae.
Dogs in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas have all died recently after swimming in waters covered in a harmful algae bloom, which is difficult to detect.
"Your typical lay person will not be able to tell one algae from another, or a good from a bad," said Dr. Mark Aubel, of Greenwater Laboratories who studies harmful algae blooms, to Atlanta's 11 Alive. "It just kind of behooves anybody that sees algae in a lake, in a pond, that they'd probably want to be cautious and just not expose themselves to it or to their pets."
Last Thursday, a couple in Wilmington, NC tried to give their three dogs some relief from the heat by letting the dogs splash around in a nearby pond. Within 15 minutes of leaving the water, one of their West Highland terriers started to suffer from seizures. When they arrived at the veterinarian's office, the other Westie started to decline, followed shortly by the couple's "doodle" mix therapy dog. By midnight, all three dogs were dead, as CNN reported.
All three died from ingesting harmful blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, in the water.
"What started out as a fun night for them has ended in the biggest loss of our lives," wrote Melissa Martin, one of the dog owners, in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 15,000 times, according to CNN.
Since she did not see any warning about the harmful algae bloom, "We are now on a mission to put signs at every body of water that can have this deadly bacteria," Martin added at the end of her Facebook post.
In Austin, TX, three dogs have died after exposure to the toxic algae at Lady Bird Lake in Red Bud Isle. While people are not allowed to swim in the water, the popular spot for an off-leash dog walk had no signs warning dog walkers to keep their dogs away from the lake.
Now, after three dogs have died, the city closed Red Bud Isle to the public after discovering that 40 percent of Lady Bird Lake's surface is covered in a harmful algae bloom.
The first dog death at Red Bud Isle happened a month ago when an Austin dog-owner's German shepherd-Rhodesian ridgeback mix lost control of his legs and struggled to breathe after swimming in the lake. The dog was brain dead shortly after arriving at the vet's office, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
The other two dogs died on Aug. 1 and 3, respectively. All three dogs had the same story: after entering the water, the dogs struggled to keep their balance and lost the ability to stand. Within an hour they were dead, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
It's not fair, and it's not okay," wrote Brittany Stanton, the owner of the last dog to die from swimming in Lady Bird Lake, in a lengthy post on Facebook. "Word needs to be spread about this incredibly devastating risk."
This weekend, a similar story happened in Georgia, when a couple took their border collie to Lake Allatoona. Shortly after splashing around, the dog began to vomit and by the time the owners reached the vet, the dog was brain dead, according to the owner's Facebook post.
This summer has seen an unusually intense wave of algae blooms that have shut down lakes in the Pacific Northwest, New Jersey and every beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Scientists say the climate crisis is probably a factor in the increase of cyanobacteria, which can grow in dense clusters and produce toxic substances. An increase in the frequency and intensity of rainstorms has pushed fertilizer runoff into waterways. Furthermore, hot, sunny days and the conditions are set for a harmful algae bloom, which are appearing more frequently and earlier in the season, according to The New York Times.
Dogs are particularly vulnerable to cyanobacteria because they swallow so much water when they swim, as Heavy.com reported.
The Many Hazards of Toxic Algae Outbreaks https://t.co/VDx3L4PPR0— Enviro Voter Project (@Enviro_Voter) September 18, 2018
With fall fast approaching, outdoor critters seeking to regulate their temperature are trying their best to get inside. Ants, spiders, moths, mosquitoes, fruit flies, stink bugs, termites, silverfish, and ladybugs – to name a few – can easily make their way into homes, and once they've settled in, it's often hard to get them out.
Chemical insect solutions are bountiful, but have a range of dangerous consequences for human health and the environment. Insecticide exposure is linked to respiratory and neurologic symptoms, disruption to hormonal balances, and both birth defects and compromised immune systems in infants. These chemicals also impact local ecosystems and destroy delicate balances within food chains; they often kill non-target species as well, and contaminate the air, water, and soil.
As pesky as flies and ants are, it's important to keep them out of our homes through natural means to protect both ourselves and the environment. Here are a few ways to deter and eliminate pests in your home without reaching for chemicals.
Use mint to keep ants, mosquitoes, spiders, and mice away.
Mix 10-15 drops of peppermint oil with 8oz of water and put in a spray bottle – or, keep a mint plant (indoors or outdoors) to make a homemade spray. Crush 1 cup of mint leaves and add to two cups of boiling water. Stir for a few minutes, then allow the mixture to cool before straining and pouring into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture where these species are spotted, focusing especially on entry points like vents, doorways, and windows. Bags of mint tea are also quite effective.
2. Neem Oil
Derived from the seeds of the neem tree, neem oil is safe for humans and animals, but kills more than 200 species of insects. It's also found as an ingredient in cosmetics, toothpaste, soap, and some shampoo.
House plants plagued with thrips, aphids, or white flies will benefit from a spray of the oil every once in a while. It can also be used as a fungicide to combat many common houseplant diseases.
Try using neem oil in the garden as well if pests are harming your outdoor plants.
Vinegar both repels and attracts insects, which you can use to your advantage.
If lines of ants trekking across the floor or kitchen counters are a common sight in your home, use vinegar to destroy the scent trails that they leave behind. Wipe down surfaces with white vinegar where ants are seen, as well as points of entryway like windows and doors. Acetic acid in vinegar is also harmful to spiders; mix water and vinegar in a 1:1 ratio and spray in areas of the home where spiders linger, like baseboards and out-of-the-way corners.
On the other hand, the smell of vinegar is attractive to fruit flies and aphids. Create a trap for the bugs by filling a bowl with apple cider vinegar, cover with plastic wrap, and poke several small holes using a pin, the tip of a lead pencil, or anything of a similar size. The flies and aphids will fly into the trap and be unable to escape, eventually drowning in the vinegar. This efficient solution can be employed both indoors and outdoors where the pests are present.
This especially pungent herb is a natural, aromatic fly repellent.
Basil is easy to grow both inside and out; position plants on windowsills or other points of entry, or on the outside of your home to deter flies.
If you aren't able to grow your own, put dried basil in muslin pouches and place them in problem areas around the house. The pouches are also easily moveable if the problem persists in other spots.
Along with being a beautiful addition to your garden or indoor dried-flower bouquet, the scent of lavender repels fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and moths.
Grow lavender in pots inside where you notice the pests, or around the perimeter of your home, especially near entry points. Alternatively, purchase dried lavender (or dry your own) to fill pouches, and put them in closets where moths might live.
Like all essential oils, lavender oil is quite effective at killing insects. To make your own lavender spray, mix 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil with water. You can also use fresh lavender, but remember that fresh stems are far less concentrated than dried, so you'll have to use more to get the same effect. Muddle the lavender and mix with water in a spray bottle after passing it through a mesh strainer.
Ants, strangely enough, have an aversion to cucumber. The bitter vegetable is also effective against silverfish, moths, and mites in the home.
Leave fresh cucumber slices or peels near entry points, but be sure to replace them very frequently, since decomposing matter will only attract more bugs.
7. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is made from fossilized algae, which is then ground into a powder. Food-grade diatomaceous earth is safe for humans, but lethal for insects with an exoskeleton like stink bugs, spiders, earwigs, bed bugs, flies, beetles, and ladybugs, which die of dehydration within 48 hours of exposure. Look for the product in your local hardware or garden store, and sprinkle small amounts in affected areas.
While effective, diatomaceous earth products are processed and packaged, and thus carry a greater environmental impact than items you might already have around the house.
Lemons, limes, oranges, and other citrus fruits repel spiders, ants, and mosquitos.
In a spray bottle, mix water with lemon or lime juice (store-bought concentrate works, but try fresh fruits for a waste-free option). Use it to wipe countertops, windowsills, and other areas where bugs tend to congregate, or spray in the air. Or, simply rub the peels on problem areas.
You can also tackle grease and grime in the kitchen at the same time by making your own surface cleaner with vinegar (also an insect deterrent) and lemon. As you use lemons for their juice or zest, add them to a large jar in the refrigerator filled with vinegar, shaking every day. After at least two weeks, remove the lemons and pass the mixture through a towel or piece of cheesecloth to remove any residue. Mix the vinegar-lemon mixture with water in a 1-1 ratio, and store in a spray bottle. The solution is excellent for cleaning countertops, bathroom surfaces, and greasy stovetops, although avoid marble and stone, as the acidic lemon might cause pitting in the surface over time.
Along with cinnamon's strong scent, the eugenol – a naturally-occurring compound found in cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and basil that's used in many commercial insect repellents – will also keep the bugs away.
To control dust mites, try cinnamon bark oil. Create a 1:1 mixture of water and denatured alcohol, then add a few drops of the oil. Use the spray to deter mites on carpets, bedding, etc.
Sprinkling cinnamon or laying cinnamon sticks (which usually have a stronger scent, especially when microwaved for a few seconds) around the kitchen will also keep ants away. If you can locate their trail, lay a line of cinnamon through it, which they won't cross. Cinnamon should also protect against earwigs, cockroaches, bed bugs, fruit flies, silverfish, and spiders.
10. Dish Soap
DragonImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Dish soap isn't always "natural," but is less harmful than insecticide and is likely already in your kitchen cabinet, ready to be used.
Combat fruit fly problems in the kitchen with a simple dish soap solution. Instead of deterring the bugs, create a homemade trap by filling a glass or jar three-quarters of the way with vinegar (white or apple cider), then adding 6-8 drops of dishwashing liquid. Fill the rest of the bowl with warm water and set in the affected area. Flies will get trapped in the mixture over time; pour out the bowl periodically and remake.
Ladybugs – another common household pest – tend to gather in groups, and can be combatted with a soapy-water spray. This will kill some of the bugs and the scent will keep them from returning.
11. Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus oil both repels and eradicates some household pests. Mix ¼ teaspoon of the aromatic oil with a cup of water, and spray in areas affected by gnats, flies, and ants (or directly on garden plants, if the problem also exists outdoors). Alternatively, apply a few drops eucalyptus oil on a cloth, and leave it in areas with lots of flies.
The oil is often lethal to scale insects like mites and aphids. Combined with water and a small amount of dish detergent, a eucalyptus oil spray can be applied directly to affected indoor and outdoor plants.
While largely safe, eucalyptus can be toxic if ingested in large amounts, and the oil is highly flammable; use with caution and make sure there is proper airflow in rooms sprayed with the oil.
Catnip – a plant that got its name from the cats that are attracted to it – is, surprisingly, more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, according to a 2018 study from Scientific Reports. Growing catnip in the garden is an easy way to keep mosquitos away from your backyard or patio.
Apply catnip oil to surfaces in mosquito-filled areas of the home, or create a spray much like those for lavender and mint. Apply directly to the skin as well if spending time outdoors in a mosquito-laden area.
13. Protect Your Home
Perhaps the best way to combat pests is to prevent them from entering the home in the first place.
Consider how to better seal your home against insect invaders. Mice and squirrels often come in through holes in siding or where electrical wires and pipes come in, and insects sometimes hitch a ride on things you bring inside, like firewood. Use weather stripping and caulk to close gaps around doors and windows, inspect baseboards for holes, and install window screens during the warmer months.
Organizing and dusting is very effective at keeping insects from nesting. Spiders and other bugs like hiding in dark, cluttered spaces; clear out cardboard and other debris, and keep your home clean and uncluttered. Also remove any potential breeding areas near/under your home, like piles of mulch, grass clippings, or other yard waste. Wood piles should also be a bit away from the home.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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For nearly as long as solar panels have been gracing rooftops and barren land, creative people have been searching out additional surfaces that can be tiled with energy-generating photovoltaic (PV) panels. The idea has been pretty straightforward: if solar panels generate energy simply by facing the sun, then humans could collectively reduce our reliance on coal, oil, gas and other polluting fuels by maximizing our aggregate solar surface area.
So, what kind of unobstructed surfaces are built in every community and in between every major city across the globe? Highways and streets. With this in mind, the futuristic vision of laying thousands, or even millions, of solar panels on top of the asphalt of interstates and main streets was born.
While the concept art looked like a still from a sci-fi film, many inventors, businesses and investors saw these panels as a golden path toward clean energy and profit. Ultimately, though, the technology and economics ended up letting down those working behind each solar roadway project — from initial concepts in the early 2000s to the first solar roadway actually opened in France in 2016, they all flopped.
In the years since the concept of solar roadways went viral, solar PV has continued to improve in technology and drop in price. So, with a 2021 lens, is it time to re-run the numbers and see if a solar roadway could potentially deliver on that early promise? We dig in to find out.
Solar Roadways: The Original Concept
Solar roadways are complex in execution, but in concept, they're as simple as they sound. They're roads "paved" with extremely strong solar panels that are covered in glass that can withstand environmental stressors and the weight of vehicles driving over them on a consistent basis.
The idea was something that got people really excited when the initial Solar Roadways, Inc. project (which is still seeking funding) burst onto the scene in 2014:
More advanced designs included solar roadways outfitted with LED lights that could be used to illuminate lane lines, communicate to drivers and more. Other iterations included weight sensors that would detect when obstructions were on the road or could alert homeowners if unexpected vehicles were approaching their driveway. Embedding these kinds of technology into the solar roadways renderings only added to their appeal and the initial hype around the concept.
Key Selling Points of Solar Roadways
Early innovators of solar roadways touted the numerous benefits of their ideas. These included:
- Sunlight shines down on roads at no cost, making the energy not only readily available, but also free (aside from installation and maintenance).
- The ability to power street lights with solar roadways eliminated the need to pull extra energy from the grid.
- Having electronics embedded into the roadway opened up a world of possibilities for communicating with drivers in ways that didn't require painting and repainting of roads.
- The ingenuity to attach weight sensors on the solar panels could be used to alert drivers about potential obstructions, such as animals, disabled vehicles or rocks on the road.
- In a future of electric vehicles, the possibilities were seen as even more beneficial, as solar roadways could be used to power electric vehicle charging stations or to charge the cars while they're driving.
While some early thinkers may also have envisioned these roadways sending solar energy to the local power grid, the most impactful way solar roadways could utilize the energy they generated is right around the road itself: lighting street lights, heating mechanisms to melt snow on the roadway, or powering small emergency equipment on road shoulders.
Using the energy for on-road applications would mean that the power didn't have to be sent long distances before being used, which results in energy loss. However, in more rural or remote locations, having the solar roadway energy available for nearby homes and businesses could be a huge benefit, especially if there's an outage in the overall grid.
Why Solar Roadway Tests Have Failed
To much of the general public — and especially to people who weren't well versed in the intricacies of solar panels or road structures — solar roadways seemed like a slam-dunk solution that both looked futuristic and had benefits that went far beyond electricity generation. It was the kind of innovation that had people exclaiming: "How has no one done this yet?!" But in reality, the execution of solar roadways was much more complex than the idea.
Here are a few reasons solar roadway tests have failed:
Cost of Manufacturing and Maintenance
The cost of the energy from the sun may be free, but the investment to install and maintain the solar roadways was undeniably prohibitive. The reason asphalt is used by default to pave roadways is because it is immensely affordable and low-maintenance, which is especially critical on vast, expansive roadways and interstates.
In 2010, Scott Brusaw, co-founder of Solar Roadways, Inc., estimated a square foot of solar roadway would cost about $70. However, when the first solar roadway was built in France by a company called Colas, it measured 1 kilometer and cost $5.2 million to build — or about $1,585 per foot of roadway. Of course, this was a small iteration and bulk manufacturing would cost less, but either way, it's hard to believe the cost of a solar roadway would ever be competitive with the price of asphalt, which is about $3 to $15 per square foot.
Further, the cost and complexity to send a crew to repair individual panels that fail would far outweigh those to maintain asphalt. So, while one of the presumed benefits of solar roadways is the cost savings associated with self-generated energy, even back-of-the-envelope math highlights how the numbers would simply not add up to be more cost-effective in the long run.
Energy Required to Produce the Panels
Another limiting factor appears when considering the energy it takes to make asphalt versus high-durability glass and solar panels. Most asphalt used on roads today is a byproduct of distilling petroleum crude oil for products such as gasoline, which means it makes use of a substance that would otherwise be discarded as waste.
The solar roadway panels, although intended to save energy in the long run, take much more to produce. Typical rooftop solar panels can easily make up for the extra energy used in production because the glass doesn't need to withstand the weight of vehicles driving over them, but solar roadways have that added complexity.
Power Output of the Panels
When estimating power output, early optimists seemed to perform calculations based on the raw surface area they could cover — and not much else. However, beyond the stunted energy generation that any solar panels face on cloudy days or at night, solar roadways presented unique new performance challenges.
For example, vehicles constantly driving over solar roadways would interrupt sun exposure. Plus, they'd leave behind trails of fluid, dirt and dust that can dramatically reduce the efficiency of solar panels. Being installed on the ground is a challenge in itself because of how readily shade would find the roads; that's the reason you find most solar panels on rooftops or elevated off the ground and angled toward the sun.
Issues With Glass Roadways
Lastly, driving on glass surfaces is simply not what modern cars are designed to do. Asphalt and tires grip each other well, being particularly resilient in wet conditions. If the asphalt is replaced with glass — even the textured glass that's used for solar roadways — tire traction could be reduced dramatically. Wet or icy conditions could lead to catastrophic situations on solar roadways.
Could Recent Advances in Solar Technology Bring Solar Roadways Closer to Reality?
For all of these challenges and even more roadblocks that early solar roadway projects have run into in the past, the reality is that solar technology continues to improve. In the seven years since the first Solar Roadways, Inc. video went viral, solar panels have developed to be more durable, more cost-effective and more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. To put some numbers behind these trends:
- The average solar PV panel cost has dropped about 70% since 2014.
- In 2015, FirstSolar made news with panels that were 18.2% efficient. Today, the most advanced prototypes are able to exceed 45% efficiency.
- Total solar energy capacity in 2021 is nearly six times greater than in 2014, and with that explosion has come advances to flatten the learning curve and increase the general public's acceptance of the benefits of solar.
- Solar jobs have increased 167% in the last decade, giving the industry more capable workers able to take the reins of a solar roadway project and more professionals who know how to affordably install solar.
The question to ask is whether these advances are enough to bring solar roadways from failure to success.
Despite the improvements, many of the original challenges with solar roadways remain, and the scale of execution is immense. Even with decreasing solar PV costs, outfitting long stretches of roadway with such complex technologies will require tremendous capital.
Rather than a future where solar roadways cover the country from coast to coast, a more likely outcome is that these advances will bring solar roadways to viability in narrow, niche applications.
Just like tidal energy is a great opportunity for small coastal communities but can't be scaled to solve the energy crisis across the world, it's conceivable that limited-scope solar roadways could be constructed around the world. However, large-scale solar roadways may never be more than a pipe dream.
If you're looking to cool off in the waters of Mississippi's Gulf Coast, think again.
A toxic algal bloom has made the waters dangerous to humans and their pets. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has shut down swimming at all of its beaches due to a blue-green harmful algal bloom, according to CNN.
Toxic algae are dangerous to touch and poisonous when swallowed. It can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, the state agency warned.
While the sand on the beaches is still open, the state's DEQ said beachgoers should avoid water contact or consumption of anything from the waters "until further notice," as CNN reported. The agency also advised anyone exposed to the water to wash with soap and water and to not eat fish or any other seafood taken from affected areas.
The blooms are not technically algae, but cyanobacteria — aquatic and photosynthetic bacteria. Many things, including changes in water temperature and fertilizer run-off, can trigger its bloom. Once the conditions are right for the cyanobacteria to spawn rapidly, they produce harmful toxins, as The Week reported.
"I had a feeling it was going this way. Water always flows west to east," Pascagoula resident Bill Kenan told Biloxi ABC affiliate WLOX. "It just keeps going and going and going. I don't know if it's ever going to get better. I hope it does."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the climate crisis and increases in nutrient levels of bodies of water due to fertilizer run-off are potentially causing harmful algal blooms to occur more often and in areas not previously affected, ABC News reported. Warmer waters with a marked increase in surface temperature or a change in sea currents are particularly susceptible to the bloom. A harmful algal bloom can look like foam, scum or mats on the surface of water and can be different colors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This bloom was triggered in part by the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway in Louisiana, which introduced an excessive amount of freshwater to the coastline, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
The spillway was opened to offset a rising Mississippi River that experienced massive swelling after an especially wet winter that caused flooding in along the river's coastlines.
The spillway is expected to close mid-July after the river's waters recede. Experts believe its closure will prompt the algae bloom to dissipate. "Once they close the structure, conditions will start to change pretty quickly," said John Lopez, of Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a conservation organization that monitors water conditions throughout the Gulf Coast region, as reported by CBS New Orleans.
That prognosis will offer little relief to residents and tourists along the Mississippi Gulf Coast where temperatures will hover in the mid-90s all week.
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Toxins enter the body through what we eat, drink, breathe in, and process in any way. Once inside, toxins overtax our immune system and detoxification system and leave us more vulnerable to illness — not ideal during cold and flu season, and especially not this year during a pandemic — and make us age a little faster, too.
Fortunately, there are a lot of simple things you can do from the comfort of your own home to keep toxins out of your body, flush them out of your system faster, and boost your immunity all at the same time, says Dr. Bill Rawls, Medical Director of Vital Plan. He shares his top 10 strategies below.
1. Source Your Food Wisely
Try to stay away from packaged and processed foods that contain ingredients you can't pronounce, and instead reach for fresh food from natural sources. Aim to make vegetables more than 50% of your daily diet — their fiber is a great natural binder, and they're full of beneficial phytochemicals — and minimize your red meat consumption.
Also, whenever practical, choose organic over conventional products. That said, we know organic prices and accessibility can be an issue, so for help making strategic decisions, refer to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists:
The Dirty Dozen:
(*While raisins aren't technically a fresh food, the EWG found that they are "one of the dirtiest produce commodities on the market — and even some organic raisins are contaminated.")
The Clean Fifteen
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
2. Consider Detoxifying and Immune-Boosting Herbs
There are a number of herbs and natural ingredients that can help support detoxification and immune health. Here are the ones at the top of Dr. Rawls' list:
Chlorella: This nutrient-rich freshwater algae binds to toxins so they can be eliminated from your body more efficiently. Chlorella works particularly well for withdrawing heavy metals. Pure chlorella can be purchased in the form of bulk powder, tablets, or capsules.
Milk Thistle: It's been used for thousands of years to support a healthy liver, the primary organ responsible for detoxification.
Dandelion: Known to help support liver function, research suggests dandelion helps promote the body's natural detoxification and elimination processes.
Bitters: Bitter flavors are important to digestion — they stimulate the release of the saliva, enzymes, and bile that help break down your food. Include bitter herbs and foods in each meal, or take a botanical extract that blends bitter herbs like dandelion root, burdock root, orange peel, and gentian root
Reishi mushroom: An extensively studied adaptogenic mushroom, reishi has exceptional immunomodulating and antiviral properties. It helps normalize inflammatory cytokines and promotes healthy immune response against threatening microbes.
Rhodiola: Another adaptogen, rhodiola improves stress tolerance by reducing fatigue, supporting energy levels, and improving tissue oxygenation.
Turmeric: This popular spice is well loved for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Shilajit: An herbo-mineral adaptogen, shilajit has a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine for longevity and strength. It's also an immunomodulator with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties.
Gotu Kola: Best known for improving memory and mood, gotu kola is also great for promoting a normal response to inflammation, balancing stress hormones, and supporting circulation.
Vital Plan is a certified B Corporation — one of only eight supplement companies recognized for achieving the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. If you make a purchase using the link above, EcoWatch may earn a commission.
3. Filter Your Water
Much of America's tap water has been shown to contain pollutants, so filtering what comes out of your kitchen sink is smart. To be sure you're using a filter that does the trick, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Look for a filter certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association.
- Choose one that removes the contaminants in your water (check your local drinking water quality report to see what's present).
- Change your water filters on time.
4. Choose Safe and Effective Cleaning Supplies
When buying household cleaning products, don't bring home chemicals that could harm your health more than some of the microbes you're trying to get rid of. Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market that work safely; here are some ways to shop wisely:
- Look for the Green Seal, Ecologo, or Safer Choice (EPA) seals.
- Opt for fragrance-free options.
- Avoid triclosan and quaternary ammonium compounds or "quats." (One tactic is to choose products that don't advertise as "antibacterial.")
- Consult the EWG's list of safe and effective products for guarding against coronavirus.
5. Opt for Non-Toxic Beauty and Personal Care Products
There are a lot of claims made on beauty and self-care products these days, but words alone, like "natural," "organic," "non-toxic," "clean," "green," and "eco-friendly," don't mean a thing — they aren't backed by any sort of regulatory or certification processes. Instead, to find non-toxic products you trust, you have to do a little research.
- USDA Organic
- EWG Verified
- Made Safe
- NSF/ANSI 305
- Natural Products Association Certified
- Whole Foods Market Premium Body Care
6. Get Outside
One more reason to get outdoors beyond combatting cabin fever: The air in natural environments is generally much cleaner than indoor air. For one, outdoor air contains ⅔ less carbon dioxide, high levels of which negatively affect our productivity, sleep, and more.
Forest air in particular contains phytoncides, organic compounds emitted by trees and plants that have been shown to boost our immune system function, plus plants in general help neutralize toxic substances in the air. Forests, open spaces, and open water are also rich in negative ions, which reduce inflammation.
So take your pick of natural environs, and get out there as often as possible — while still maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others, of course.
7. Bring Nature Indoors
Plants are natural air purifiers, so bringing some plants indoors can help clear the air in your home. Here's a list of the top 10 air-purifying plants to consider:
- Areca palm
- Lady palm
- Bamboo palm
- Rubber plant
- English ivy
- Dwarf date palm
- Boston fern
- Peace lily
8. Drive Less, Move More
Staying off the roads decreases air pollution, and the fact that many of us are driving less these days is noticeably improving air quality. If your commute is on hold, try to translate some of your usual travel time into getting more physical activity, or sneak in more movement between other normal routines.
Exercise improves circulation, oxygenates your tissues, and enhances the work of the lymphatic system through muscle contractions — all of which make it easier to move toxins out of your body.
9. Practice Forgiveness
Through the practice of gratitude, we stay centered and in the present moment. This allows us to move through situations from our heart. Take time to forgive someone or yourself for things in the past. When we forgive, we expand and open up to endless possibilities.
10. Quit a Bad Habit
Are you a smoker? Pack rat? Chronically sleep-deprived? In a bad relationship? Toxins come into our lives in many forms. Consider if you're participating in any unhealthy patterns or holding onto anything that no longer serves you, and then find a way to limit those things in your life.
Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
Reposted with permission from Vital Plan.
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A women fills a water bottle with a filter from an alpine lake in the mountains around Pemberton, British Columbia, Canada. Canada is on the front lines of rapid climate changes that affect the water cycle. Ben Girardi / Aurora Photos / Getty Images
By Corinne Schuster-Wallace, Robert Sandford and Stephanie Merrill
In recent years, the daily news has been flooded with stories of water woes from coast to coast to coast.
There are melting glaciers and ice sheets in northern and western Canada and lead in drinking water in the older neighborhoods of many cities in Canada. We see toxic blue green algae threatening pets, livestock and drinking water as well as catastrophic floods, droughts and fires.
In 2018, parts of British Columbia experienced devastating floods, followed by wildfires a couple of months later.
Our water resources are under threat from contamination, land use, urbanization and climate change. If we're not careful, it may not be clean enough or available when we need it.
An Opportunity to Lead
The public supports environmental — and water — leadership in Canada. Many political pundits have suggested the federal election result of October 2019 was a clear call for climate action.
And yet Canada is on the front lines of rapid climate changes that affect the water cycle. Where, when, and how much rain, snow or freezing rain falls is changing across Canada.
This is the water that we depend upon to replenish our groundwater, rivers and lakes, which continue to have a significant and increasing impact on water availability and quality in Canada and around the world.
However, Canadians remain divided on energy policy and resource development, and on appropriate solutions that balance environmental, economic and social needs. As Canadians, we must move beyond this and implement changes to better manage our water resources sustainably.
Water Front and Center
We must manage our water sustainably because water is central to environmental, social and economic sustainability and therefore sustainable societies. This is the focus of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals identify targets that must be achieved for livelihoods, health, education, environment, cities, oceans, equity and partnership.
It's important to understand that these goals are not isolated, but interrelated. This is why, even though there is a goal for water (SDG 6), there are 40 targets in the other 16 goals that relate directly to water.
For example, we cannot have good health if we do not have clean and accessible water, and children cannot go to school or adults to work, if they are not healthy. With water often at the heart of many social and economic inequities, it is critical to address water quantity, quality and access issues in order to meet all of the goals and to achieve the global sustainable development vision.
The recipe for managing Canada's water resources in a sustainable and equitable manner requires all of us to urgently recognize our changing climate and water resources, including drinking water, and act appropriately.
It requires federal co-ordination and leadership on water to overcome challenges of fragmented jurisdiction, such as following through with their commitment to create a Canada Water Agency, develop a national flood forecasting system and ensure universal access to adequate drinking water supplies.
Research institutions must also step up to advance our knowledge, develop and assess decision support tools and solutions, and communicate their findings to communities, governments and economic sectors.
Finally, it requires reconciliation through shared nations' governance of water resources and recognition of the long history of successful, sustainable management of natural resources through indigenous knowledge and historical local knowledge.
Getting Our Own House in Order
Canada could support the world in achieving water sustainability, but it must first get its own house in order and achieve the UN's water goals nationally.
Canada's water opportunities and challenges. Global Water Futures
Canada still has not reached universal access to reliable, potable water supplies for everyone, especially First Nations communities. Lead pipes, disinfection byproducts and aging infrastructure are interrupting drinking water service and negatively affecting human health.
The Bottom Line
Canada already has the expertise, technologies, industries and research capacity to make good on a commitment to water sustainability and universal achievement of the UN's water goals for all Canadians. But it needs leadership to advance research and practice to expand our existing strengths, and export these internationally.
Canadian research institutions have a role to play in bringing the country together by showing Canada and the world the solutions and benefits of achieving these goals.
There are significant long-term benefits at stake, including the enhanced health and well-being of current and future generations, as well as expanded economic opportunity. But, to achieve these, political leadership needs to transcend partisan lines in order to do what is right.
Ultimately, we have an opportunity to make where we live a better place and to get our own watersheds in order. This will help us create a better, more just, equitable and sustainable world for all. The alternative is, quite simply, unthinkable.
Corinne Schuster-Wallace is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Saskatchewan.
Robert Sandford is the Chair in Water and Climate Security at United Nations University.
Stephanie Merrill is a research scientist in knowledge mobilization at the Global Institute for Water Security, Global Water Futures Program, University of Saskatchewan.
Disclosure statement: Corinne Schuster-Wallace receives funding from Global Water Futures and the Canadian Tri-Agency. She is co-chair of the Working Group on Climate Change for the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research.
Robert Sandford receives partial funding from the Global Water Futures program at the University of Saskatchewan.
Stephanie Merrill is a volunteer board member of the Saskatchewan branch and National board of the Canadian Water Resources Association and the Nashwaak Watershed Association.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The last red tide in Florida lasted 15 months — pictured here at Bean Point Beach. TriggerPhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute announced Friday that samples of water taken off the shore of Collier County turned up high concentrations of the toxic algae that causes the tide, according to The Associated Press. There were also reports of dead fish and respiratory problems in the area.
"We have received reports of dead fish for several locations in Collier County including Barefoot Beach, Naples Bay near the Gordon River and by the Naples Pier," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Kelly Richmond told the Fort Myers News-Press. "Mullet appeared to be the most affected species but other unidentified fish have also been reported dead."
The news comes only about eight months after the state's longest red tide this decade finally faded away in February, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
It's back. https://t.co/h35ce9N9s2— Tampa Bay Times News and Weather (@Tampa Bay Times News and Weather)1570286700.0
That red tide began in November 2017, killed thousands of fish, turtles and marine mammals and harmed the economy of coastal towns that rely on tourism. At its peak, it touched all three of Florida's coasts.
This red tide is currently only impacting the state's southwest coast. In addition to Collier County, Lee County also tested positive for low concentrations of the algae, The Associated Press reported.
It is not yet known how long this bloom will last or where it will spread, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
The University of South Florida's College of Marine Science predicted it would move northwest in the next few days, The Fort Myers News-Press reported.
Red tides are caused by the organism Karenia brevis. The Tampa Bay Times explained how these tiny organisms create such big problems:
Small, scattered colonies of microscopic Red Tide algae live in the Gulf of Mexico all year long. Usually their numbers are so tiny that no one notices. But every now and then, usually in the late summer or fall, the algae population 10 to 40 miles offshore explodes into something called a bloom.
During a bloom the algae multiply rapidly and spread across the water's surface, staining it a rusty color that gives the phenomenon its name. Then winds and currents carry it toward shore, where it can be fed and prolonged by pollution from fertilizer, sewage spills and leaky septic tanks.
So far, this red tide has killed hundreds of fish. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that those in the Naples area who have chronic respiratory illnesses or are especially sensitive to red tide will face breathing irritation, The Fort Myers News-Press reported.
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By Max G. Levy
In seabird after seabird, Anna Robuck found something concerning: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, lurking around vital organs.
"Brain, liver, kidney, lung, blood, heart," Robuck says, rattling off a few hiding spots before pausing to recall the rest. Robuck, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, quickly settles on a simpler response: She found the chemicals everywhere she looked.
PFAS — a group of synthetic chemicals — are often called "forever chemicals" due to their quasi-unbreakable molecular bonds and knack for accumulating in living organisms. That foreverness is less of a design flaw than a design feature: The stubborn, versatile molecules help weatherproof clothing; smother flames in firefighting foam; and withstand heat and grime on nonstick pans.
Through consumption and disposal, the chemicals seep into ecosystems and bodies, where they have been linked to cancers, pregnancy complications, and reproductive and immune dysfunction. Recent attention has focused on the prevalence of PFAS in drinking water.
"Over the past 10-15 years we've really developed this super negative picture of what PFAS do to humans," Robuck says. "But we've barely scratched the surface of that in wildlife."
One particular area of concern is the marine ecosystem. Long seen as a bottomless sink for pollutants, the ocean is a final stop for PFAS trickling into the ecosystem. Once in the ocean, PFAS can persist for decades or longer — and travel long distances. As a result, a growing body of scientific research suggests that marine wildlife are accumulating dangerous amounts of "forever chemicals."
"If we continue to emit PFAS, then the capacity of the ocean to dilute them is going to be exceeded," says Jamie DeWitt, an environmental toxicologist at Eastern Carolina University. "For all we know, oceans could be reservoirs that re-pollute the land."
Journeying Across the Globe
Coastal environments seem especially vulnerable to PFAS seeping from the chemical plants and military bases responsible for heavy contamination. Charlotte Wagner, a researcher at Harvard University studying the global transport of pollutants, says it's still unclear what fraction of PFAS pollutants remain contained at their source, and what fraction has already leached into other environments.
But the fact that they do spread — and far — is clear. They generally wind up in oceans, according to Wagner. And not just the ones nearby. Studies in the early 2000s showed that PFAS survived decades-long journeys from manufacturers to remote ocean basins without breaking down.
"The ocean is not this static pool or bathtub," she says. Large-scale ocean circulation moves pollutants huge distances across the globe. Some varieties of PFAS may degrade slightly over the course of years, until they convert into one of the more stable "terminal PFAS" subgroups, including PFAAs.
"To the best of our knowledge PFAAs don't degrade at all under natural environmental conditions," says Robuck. Rather than diluting PFAS to infinitely low concentrations, oceans carry them to remote areas, like the Arctic and Antarctic.
Other pollutants that reach the ocean, like DDT and PCBs, will stick to algae and sediment that eventually fall to the ocean floor. "That is a really important removal process," Wagner says. "For PFAS, that process is minor." Plants, algae and sediment only remove a small fraction of PFAS from the water column. That leaves more to accumulate in animals, reaching concentrations thousands of times higher than surrounding waters.
And those chemicals could travel right back to humans. Eating a lot of seafood, especially fish high on the food chain like tuna, would be concerning, she says.
But it's not just fish — and humans eating them — that are at risk. A study last year reported PFAS in seawater and plankton dozens of miles off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Other research has revealed PFAS compounds — even some that have been previously phased out of production — in manatees, loggerhead turtles, alligators, seabirds, polar bears, dolphins and whales.
Measuring Harm to Ocean Life
In North Carolina's Cape Fear River, striped bass carrying high levels of PFAS showed distinct signs of impaired immune and liver function. But in the vastness of ocean water, can PFAS levels be high enough to cause harm?
"In recent years there have been increases in immune-based diseases in turtles and dolphins," says DeWitt. One of the most well-studied health effects of PFAS is immune dysfunction. Most experiments are limited to humans, rodents and chickens, but researchers are piecing together the role of PFAS in marine immune issues.
One study concluded that PFOS, a phased-out PFAS that still circulates today, triggers "chronic immune activation" in bottlenose dolphins. A similar link between PFOS and susceptibility to disease appeared in sea otters. Other research links multiple PFAS to hormonal changes in polar bear brains. But these aquatic wildlife health studies are few and far between.
"PFAS in wildlife is kind of the wild west," says Robuck. "Wildlife are inherently difficult to study in a lot of ways."
Zeroing on the health effects for individual species is tricky because scientists lack baseline data about stress responses and pollutant levels. They have no choice but to presume consequences in wildlife based on hormonal, immune and reproductive effects in lab animals. For Robuck, that means judging how a pelican will respond to its measured PFAS levels according to health data collected from a chicken. "That's a really crappy comparison," she says.
In one sense, the method is conservative: Lab animals are well cared for, so their health effects may be a best-case scenario compared to the stressful baseline of wild animals' experience. But it also means we don't have an accurate sense of what dangerous thresholds are for most aquatic life — despite a parade of red flags.
Endless Stream of Pollutants
Part of the problem is the sheer number of different compounds. Of the thousands of known PFAS, studies have only deduced health thresholds for a handful. Scientists screening their effects simply can't keep up with the pace.
The chemical compounds that fall under the PFAS umbrella are also not all the same. Some are long, bulky molecules; others are smaller and more agile. Some forms tend to naturally convert into others; others don't degrade whatsoever. Each molecule has the potential to be more toxic or bioaccumulative than the next. But for a lot of PFAS, Wagner says, scientists don't even have standardized methods of detecting them.
To make matters worse, even as some of the most dangerous chemicals are being phased out, companies are making alternatives. But they may not be any safer than what they're replacing. And scientists have found these alternatives are also accumulating in the bodies of fish and polar bears.
"It seems that we haven't learned anything from the past," says Belén González-Gaya, an analytical chemist at the University of Basque Country in Spain. "We keep on substituting compounds [for] others without any knowledge of biological effects."
Sydney Evans, a research scientist for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, suggests that researchers shouldn't have to prove the health risks for thousands of similar compounds in order to warrant regulatory action. "The burden needs to be on these companies and manufacturers to prove their compounds are safe," she says.
And while there is much we don't know about the majority of PFAS, experts argue that we do know enough to assume they all share fundamental features: persistence, bioaccumulation and health risks. For this reason a group of scientists recently published a call for governments and companies to treat all PFAS, old and new, as a single hazardous group.
"It's really the only way that we can be ahead of the curve," says Wagner, who cowrote the article. "Rather than always realizing that a compound is toxic once it's already everywhere and we measure it on a remote ice-site somewhere in Greenland."
To shut off the flow of PFAS into the ocean, scientists say that manufacturers should phase out the chemicals and focus on proving safer alternatives.
With so many open questions, Robuck hopes to see research that more closely predicts threats to marine life — and by extension people, too.
"As humans, we rely on every natural resource under the sun," she says. "When we undercut a healthy environment, we undercut our own health."
Max G. Levy is a freelance science journalist. He writes stories about the environment, public health, basic science, and how technology shapes policy.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Josh Bonifield
The Australian brewery Young Henrys is working to fight climate change with an unusual ingredient—algae.
The fermentation process that occurs during beer production releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which can contribute to climate change. It takes a tree approximately two days to absorb the CO2 released from producing one six pack of beer. But, Young Henrys says their in-house cultivated algae not only absorb the CO2 released, they also produce as much oxygen as two and half acres of wilderness.
Algae, a photosynthetic organism, are often seen as a nuisance because they can cause red tide—a toxic algal bloom —or infect local water sources. But, they are also up to five times more effective at absorbing carbon than trees, according to the technology company Hypergiant.
Oscar McMahon, Young Henrys' Co-Founder, sees their potential to curb beer production emissions. McMahon tells Food Tank, "This is a unique project and the focus is not to profit. It is to create something that we can then share with other people to adapt and use."
Young Henrys signed onto this project with the University of Technology Sydney to reach carbon neutrality. To experiment with the effectiveness of its system, Young Henrys uses two bioreactors to cultivate algae. The first, a control, contains CO2, oxygen, and algae. The second contains the same three components but is connected to a fermentation tank. As the fermentation process produces additional CO2, the gas flows into the bioreactor.
According to McMahon, at the end of each day, the control bioreactor consistently contains 50 percent less algae. This demonstrates that the algae in the experimental bioreactor successfully consume the harmful greenhouse gas, McMahon tells Food Tank. The hope is that this system can not only lower CO2 emissions from beer production, but ultimately convert it into oxygen.
This specific project will continue for one more year, but McMahon hopes that algae will continue to lower Young Henrys carbon emissions as they find additional uses for the organism.
Young Henrys is currently experimenting to incorporate algae into food, pharmaceuticals, and bioplastics. Other companies around the world are also developing energy bars, dietary supplements, protein shakes, and other food and drink items using algae.
To scale up algae production and develop these new products, McMahon and Young Henrys are in consultation with engineering and beer industry groups to make this process scalable. McMahon says that both micro-breweries and national breweries will require the infrastructure and technology to easily incorporate algae in beer production.
McMahon describes the beauty of algae and the microorganisms used in beer fermentation as "ying and yang organisms, similar things that live in big tanks of liquid that conduct opposite yet correcting jobs."
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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During summer in central New York, residents often enjoy a refreshing dip in the region's peaceful lakes.
But sometimes swimming is off-limits because of algae blooms that can make people sick.
"Some of the algae may produce chemical toxins that can have harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, terrestrial and marine mammals, and birds," says Jennifer Graham, a research hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey.
She says reports of harmful algal blooms are increasing across the country, and climate change could be part of the reason.
Some harmful algae prefer warm temperatures, so blooms may be growing more common as rivers and lakes warm.
Extreme weather can also contribute to algal blooms because heavy rain can cause nutrients to run off farm fields and sewage systems into waterways.
"Nutrients are basically the food source for algae," Graham says.
In New York's Finger Lakes and other locations across the country, the USGS is monitoring algal blooms.
Graham says they are trying to better understand toxic bloom growth and severity, so local agencies can make informed decisions about how to protect people.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
SB 172 responds to and reverses the City of Key West's 2019 ban on the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect its coral reef. The ban was set to take effect Jan. 1, 2021, but the new law strikes down that ban and prohibits similar ones.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Key West sits on Florida's Reef Tract, the only barrier reef in the continental U.S.
Florida's multi-billion coastal economy "is highly tied to the coral reefs and dependent on their health," the Environmental and Energy Study Institute found.
Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral, according to experts, reported ABC News.
"(Coral reefs) provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental services, such as food, coastal protection, and tourism," said a NOAA infographic article about the harms of sunscreens. The infographic focuses on how sunscreen chemicals enter the ocean environment, the harm they cause to marine life including corals, fish, algae, etc. and alternative, reef-safe ways to stay protected from the sun.
Common chemicals in sunscreens and cosmetics are "highly toxic" to marine life and "even very low concentrations" of oxybenzone and octinoxate accumulate in coral tissue, inducing bleaching, damaging coral DNA and deforming and killing young coral larvae, according to NOAA.
This harm to the next generation of reefs threatens the survival of corals generally at a time when reefs are already heavily imperiled. NOAA called nontoxic sunscreen alternatives "critical" to protect reefs against "exacerbating effects posted by climate change and bleaching."
Oxybenzone and octinoxate also disrupt the human endocrine system.
Even while the new Florida bill was moving towards DeSantis' desk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration removed most chemical sunscreens from its list of "safe and effective" products pending health studies, instead designating mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as "safe and effective, reported Florida Phoenix.
Proponents of the bill, including many business interests, claim sunscreen is necessary to protect the residents and visitors to the sunshine state from skin cancer.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley spearheaded the bill, disputing the science claiming that sunscreens harm reefs. He argued that protecting tourists and residents from cancer trumps protecting coral reefs, reported Florida Phoenix and CBS Miami.
Those criticizing the bill call it the latest attack on local government home-rule authority as well as on coral reefs, reported Star Tribune.
Some have called the bill a "gross overreaction" to Key West's "measured and reasonable limitation" meant to protect their lucrative, important natural resource, reported Sun-Sentinel.
"When it comes to protecting Florida's coral reefs, the Governor is standing with corporate interests, despite millions of taxpayer dollars spent on reef preservation and restoration," environmental groups said Tuesday in a joint press release, reported Florida Phoenix.
NOAA said that "although pollution is a major cause of coral reef degradation," it is also "the easiest factor to mitigate" because manufacturers and consumers can choose to create and purchase less harmful products. The only issue, NOAA found, was that regulation of the toxic chemicals in sunscreens "has largely been ignored."
DeSantis did not issue statements as his office Monday night released the new bill, reported CBS Miami.
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By Anne Schechinger
Over the Fourth of July holiday, many of us love to beat the heat in a favorite lake, pond or river. But this year, vacationers from coast to coast will have to look out for a potentially record-breaking number of algae blooms.
So far this year there have been news stories about 107 algae outbreaks, compared to just 63 this time last year. That's a 70 percent increase. EWG's interactive map tracks news reports of blue-green algae blooms across the country since 2010, and this year is on track to have the most so far.
Recreating in or near water stricken by an algae bloom can lead to serious health consequences. Short-term exposure — whether through skin contact or ingestion — to the toxins sometimes produced by algae outbreaks has been linked to sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and liver damage.
These outbreaks don't just affect peoples' health, they also hurt their wallets. Algae keeps people away from businesses near affected lakes, such as marinas and restaurants.
Lake Hopatcong, in New Jersey, is currently suffering the biggest bloom ever recorded in the state. Hopatcong Mayor Mike Francis says it could have devastating impacts on the health of residents and his town's economy.
In many cases, algae outbreaks are preventable. Reducing the amount of chemicals that run off farm fields can greatly reduce the number and severity of blooms in agricultural areas.
Lake Macbride, in Iowa, is an example of a lake surrounded by farmland that has algae bloom and E. coli problems. Mandated agricultural conservation practices could go a long way toward cleaning up water bodies like Lake Macbride.
If you plan a lake outing this holiday, it's vital to know what to look for to figure out whether a toxic blue-green algae bloom is present in the water. Before your next trip to a lake, check out our new video to find out.
By Sarah Graddy and Robert Coleman
This summer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is tracking outbreaks of potentially toxic algae across the U.S. We have been startled to find that these outbreaks are erupting everywhere: from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Though outbreaks of algae vary in type, severity and health hazards, all toxic algae outbreaks have serious consequences.
They Make People Sick
Every summer, people fall ill following exposure to algae outbreaks. Exposure can be caused by contact, ingestion or inhalation. Short-term health effects can range from skin irritation and numbness to fever and headaches. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer, liver failure and sperm damage. Some studies have even linked ingestion of cyanotoxins to brain inflammation.
What is traditionally called blue-green algae is actually a class of microscopic organisms called cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria can be toxic and can also produce various types of cyanotoxins that have different hazards. Here's a breakdown of the various health risks of each type of cyanotoxin.
They Threaten Children's Health
For children pumped to play in and around the water, lake or beach vacations can be ruined by water infested with slimy blue-green algae. With their small, developing bodies, children are especially endangered by algae exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2009-2010, 61 people in Ohio, New York and Washington got sick from toxic algae outbreaks in lakes, and two-thirds of them were children or teenagers. Children may be at a greater risk of illness from the toxins generated by toxic algae outbreaks because they more frequently come in contact with or ingest contaminated water.
Here are some helpful tips for parents looking to shield their children from algae exposure. Be sure to keep an eye on young children around potentially contaminated water and warn them about the exposure risks and telltale signs of outbreaks.
They Poison Our Drinking Water
In 2014, half a million people in and around Toledo, Ohio, were told not to drink their tap water—or even shower in it—for three days after bacteria from a massive algae outbreak in Lake Erie got into the water supply.
Toledo was the first major U.S. city where toxic algae outbreaks made tap water unsafe for human consumption. But it probably won't be the last, especially since the number of these outbreaks across the nation seems to be multiplying each year. Because algae outbreaks are so widespread and seem to be growing, they may be fouling tap water even in places where officials have not issued a do-not-drink warning.
They Contaminate the Air We Breathe
Recent studies indicate that the toxins produced by some outbreaks can become airborne, where they can be inhaled by people in, on or near contaminated water.
Whether by sunbathing on the shore or taking a cruise on a boat, inhalation of contaminated water can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and other respiratory ailments.
They Harm or Even Kill Pets
There are many documented cases of dogs and other pets becoming seriously ill or even dying from the toxins from algae outbreaks. Splashing in or drinking contaminated water can be dangerous for pets. If you believe your pet may have been exposed, be on the lookout for symptoms such as lethargy, seizures, diarrhea or vomiting. Exposure to high levels of cyanotoxins can lead to liver failure and death.
They Provide a Breeding Ground for Mosquitos
Algae outbreaks thrive in still, warm water—and so do mosquitos. Recent news stories from Florida report that residents are concerned their homes near blue-green algae outbreaks are breeding grounds for mosquitos, which can carry dangerous diseases like West Nile virus, encephalitis and malaria.
Much is still unknown about the relationship between algae outbreaks and mosquitos, but it is still important to act in an abundance of caution. Check out EWG's Guide to Bug Repellents on tips on how to avoid mosquitos and other disease-carrying insects.
They Worsen Climate Change
Scientists have new evidence that algae outbreaks are significant sources of greenhouse gases. A study earlier this year found that as algae outbreaks decrease the level of oxygen in lakes and other bodies of water, carbon and methane emissions from decomposing plants rise exponentially. And as climate change gets worse, the resulting warmer waters are causing more algae outbreaks, creating a toxic feedback loop.
They Devastate Ecosystems
Dying algae consume oxygen in water, creating dead zones where nothing can survive, including microorganisms. The toxins in algae outbreaks can be ingested by small fish and shellfish. As those animals are consumed by larger aquatic creatures, they can cause large fish kills and die-offs of other animals.
The same emissions that contribute to climate change can also enter the water cycle as acid rain that damages forests and other ecosystems, and pollute the air we breathe.
They Wreak Havoc on Economies
Because people can be exposed to cyanotoxins just by being around contaminated water, algae outbreaks understandably scare away people from visiting affected lakes, rivers or beaches. Communities that struggle with regular, serious toxic algae outbreaks, like some cities in South Florida and around Lake Erie, can lose billions of dollars from lost tourism and recreation.
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