By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Ambika Chawla
When the rains never arrived in the East African nation of Somalia in 2016, nor in 2017, hundreds of thousands of rural residents were forced to abandon their lands and livelihoods due to one of the most severe droughts in decades. Then, in 2019, from September to December, heavy rains led to severe flooding there, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in rural areas and towns in the districts of Belet Weyne, Baardheere and Berdale.
Humanitarian experts predict that the current trajectory of climate change will displace millions of people in the Global South. Source: Kanta et al. 2018. Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.
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Ali Hussein camp on the outskirts of Burao, Somaliland, is home to numerous families displaced by conflict and drought. Photo courtesy of Oxfam East Africa from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY 2.0
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Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.
Charlotte's Web<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDcwMjk3NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzQ0NjM4N30.SaQ85SK10-MWjN3PwHo2RqpiUBdjhD0IRnHKTqKaU7Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="84700" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a2174067dcc0c4094be25b3472ce08c8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="charlottes web cbd oil" data-width="1244" data-height="1244" /><p>Perhaps one of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for several years. The company is currently in the process of achieving official USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts. Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavor options such as chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist.</p>
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By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, “Thirsting for Solutions," here.
Thousands of Chemicals<p>PFAS dates back to the 1930s and 1940s, when Dupont and Manhattan Project scientists each accidentally discovered the compounds. The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, now 3M, soon began manufacturing PFAS as a key ingredient in Scotchgard and other non-stick, waterproof and stain-resistant products.<br></p><p>Thousands of different PFAS chemicals emerged over the following decades, including the two most-studied versions: PFOS and PFOA. Oral-B began using PFAS in dental floss. Gore-Tex used it to make waterproof fabrics. Hush Puppies used it waterproof leather for shoes. And DuPont, along with its spin-off company Chemours, used the compounds to make its popular Teflon coatings.</p><p>Science suggests links between PFAS exposure and a range of health consequences, including possible <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/index.html" target="_blank">increased risks</a> of <a href="https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/what-we-study/pfas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cancer</a>, <a href="http://www.ijthyroid.org/journal/view.html?doi=10.11106/ijt.2020.13.1.19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thyroid disease</a>, <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019305094#:~:text=PFAS%20may%20disrupt%20lipid%20regulation.&text=We%20examined%20PFAS-lipid%20relationship%20in%20prediabetic%20adults%20over%2015%20years.&text=Plasma%20PFAS%20concentrations%20had%20positive,associations%20with%20total%20cholesterol%20level.&text=Risk%20of%20dyslipidemia%20was%20elevated%20in%20relation%20to%20baseline%20PFAS%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high cholesterol</a>, <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30823334/#:~:text=Exposures%20to%20perfluoroalkyl%20substances%20(PFAS,fatty%20liver%20disease%20(NAFLD)." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">liver damage</a>, <a href="https://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/13/10/1479" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">kidney disease</a>, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41390-019-0720-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low birth-weight babies</a>, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/pr2015213.pdf?origin=ppub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune suppression</a>, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ecco-jcc/article/14/Supplement_1/S138/5705603" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ulcerative colitis</a> and <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30626391/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pregnancy-induced hypertension</a>.</p><p>"PFAS really seem to interact with the full range of biological functions in our body," says David Andrews, a senior scientist with <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00713" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the nonprofit Environmental Working Group</a> (EWG, a collaborator on this reporting project). "Even at the levels that the average person has in this country, these chemicals are likely having an impact."</p><p>The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even issued a warning that exposure to high levels of PFAS might raise the risk of infection with Covid-19 and noted evidence from human and animal studies that PFAS could lower vaccine efficacy. A PFAS known as PFBA is raising particular concern with respect to the global pandemic. Philippe Grandjean, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues recently found a positive correlation between severity of Covid-19 symptoms and the presence of PFBA in individuals' blood, <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.22.20217562v1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to their non-peer-reviewed preprint paper</a> published in October.</p><p>"There is a whole range of potential adverse effects. To me, the interference with the immune system is the most important," Grandjean says. "According to our data, the immune system is affected at the lowest exposure levels."</p>
Water Woes<p>Once PFAS gets into the environment, the compounds are likely to stick around a long time because they are not easily broken down by sunlight or other natural processes.</p><p>Legacy and ongoing PFAS contamination is present across the U.S., especially at or near sites associated with <a href="https://www.nccoast.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/ITRC-PFAS-Transport-Fact-Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">fire training, industry, landfills and wastewater treatment</a>. Near Parkersburg, West Virginia, PFAS seeped into drinking water supplies from a Dupont plant. In <a href="https://pfasproject.com/decatur-alabama/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Decatur, Alabama</a>, a 3M manufacturing facility is suspected of discharging PFAS, polluting residents' drinking water. In <a href="https://pfasproject.com/hyannis-massachusetts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hyannis, Massachusetts</a>, firefighting foam from a firefighter training academy is the likely source of well-water contamination, <a href="http://eeaonline.eea.state.ma.us/EEA/fileviewer/Rtn.aspx?rtn=4-0026179" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to the state</a>. Use of PFAS-containing materials such as firefighting foam at hundreds of military sites around the country, including one on <a href="https://pfasproject.com/whidbey-island-washington/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Whidbey Island</a> in Washington State, has also contaminated many drinking water supplies.</p><p>"It works great for fires. It's just that it's toxic," says Donald (Matt) Reeves, an associate professor of hydrogeology at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo who studies how PFAS moves around, and sticks around, in the environment.</p><p>It can be a near-endless loop, Reeves explains. Industry might discharge the compounds into a waste stream that ends up at a wastewater treatment plant. If that facility is not outfitted with filters that can trap PFAS, the chemicals may go directly into a drinking water source. Or a wastewater treatment facility might produce PFAS-laced sludge that is applied to land or put into a landfill. Either way, PFAS could leach out and find its way back in a wastewater treatment plant, repeating the cycle. The compounds can be released into the air as well, resulting in some cases in PFAS getting deposited on land where it can seep back into drinking water supplies.</p><p>His research in Michigan, he says, echoes a broader trend across the U.S.: "The more you test, the more you find."</p><p>In fact, a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00713" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study by scientists from EWG</a>, published in October 2020, used state testing data to estimate that more than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water at concentrations of 1 part per trillion (ppt) or higher. That is the recommended safe limit, <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1048291115590506" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to some scientists and health advocates</a>, and is equivalent to <a href="https://www.secnav.navy.mil/eie/Pages/DrinkingWaterConcentrations.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one drop in 500,000 barrels of water</a>.</p><p>"This really highlights the extent that these contaminants are in the drinking water across the country," says EWG's Andrews, who co-authored the paper. "And, in some ways, it's not a huge surprise. It's nearly impossible to escape contamination of drinking water." He references research from the CDC that found the chemicals in the blood of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2072821/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">98% of Americans surveyed</a>.</p>
Inconsistent Regulation<p>U.S. chemical makers have voluntarily phased out their use and emission of PFOS and PFOA, and industry efforts are underway to reduce ongoing contamination and clean up past contamination — even if the companies do not always agree with scientists on the associated health risks.<br></p><p>"The weight of scientific evidence from decades of research does not show that PFOS or PFOA causes harm in people at current or historical levels," states Sean Lynch, a spokesperson for 3M. Still, he notes that his company has invested more than US$200 million globally to clean up the compounds: "As our scientific and technological capabilities advance, we will continue to invest in cutting-edge cleanup and control technology and work with communities to identify where this technology can make a difference."</p><p>Thom Sueta, a company spokesperson for Chemours, notes similar efforts to address historic and current emissions and discharges. The company's Fayetteville plant has dumped large quantities of the PFAS compound GenX, contaminating the drinking water used by Kennedy and some 250,000 of his neighbors.</p><p>"We continue to decrease PFAS loading to the Cape Fear River and began operation this fall of a capture and treatment system of a significant groundwater source at the site," Sueta stated in an email.</p><p>A big part of the challenge is that PFAS is considered an emerging contaminant and is, therefore, not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But most of the ongoing PFOS and PFOA contamination appear to come from previous uses cycling back into the environment and into people, notes Andrews.</p><p>A big part of the challenge is that PFAS is considered an emerging contaminant and is, therefore, not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2016, the EPA set a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos" target="_blank">non-binding health advisory</a> limit of 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. The agency proposed developing federal regulations for the contaminants in February 2020 and is currently reviewing comments with plans to issue a final decision this winter.</p><p>Several U.S. states have set drinking water limits for PFAS, including California, Minnesota and New York. Michigan's regulations, which cover seven different PFAS compounds, are <a href="https://www.natlawreview.com/article/michigan-adopts-drinking-water-criteria-7-pfas-compounds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">some of the most stringent</a>. Western Michigan University's Reeves says that the 2014 lead contamination crisis in Flint elevated the state's focus on safe drinking water.</p><p>Still, the inconsistency across the country has created confusion. "The regulation of PFAS remains varied. States are all having different ideas, and that's not necessarily a good thing," says David Sedlak, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. "People are uncertain what to do."</p><p>The Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council, or ITRC, a coalition of states that promotes the use of novel technologies and processes for environmental remediation, is working to pull together evidence-based recommendations for PFAS regulation in the absence of federal action.</p><p>University of Southern Denmark and Harvard professor Grandjean suggests a safe level of PFAS in drinking water is probably about 1 ppt or below. The European Union's latest risk assessment, which Grandjean says corresponds to a recommended limit of about 2 ppt for four common PFAS compounds, is "probably close," he says. "It's not a precautionary limit, but it's certainly a lot closer than EPA's."</p><p>GenX, introduced in 2009 by DuPont to replace PFOA, is among a newer generation of short-chain PFAS designed to have fewer carbon molecules than the original long-chain PFAS. These were initially believed to be less toxic and more quickly excreted from the body. But some evidence is proving otherwise: <a href="https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/EHP6233" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies suggest</a> that these relatives may pose many of the same risks as their predecessors.</p><p>"The family of PFAS chemicals being used in commerce is a lot broader than the small set of compounds that the EPA is considering regulating," says Sedlak. "Up until now, the focus of discussion related to regulation has centered around PFOS and PFOA with some discussion of GenX. But the deeper we dig, the more we see lots and lots of PFAS out there."</p><p>Andrews notes that the ongoing pattern of replacing one toxic chemical with another is a problem that the federal government urgently needs to fix. "This entire family of chemicals shares many of the same characteristics," he says.</p><p>"When these chemicals stop being produced, especially in significant volumes across the country, the levels go down," Andrews says, referring to a corresponding drop in PFOS and PFOA concentrations in Americans' blood after the phaseout of the compounds. "But it raises that concern of what's coming next? Or what are we really being exposed to that we're not testing for?"</p><p>Andrews and his co-author Olga Naidenko, also a scientist with EWG, further urge governments to consider one relatively low-hanging fruit: non-essential uses of PFAS. "Even if somebody would make an argument that, for serious fires, we need to use the best foam, I think we can all agree that there's no reason to spray PFAS just to train," says Naidenko. "You can spray water."</p><p>Environmental health advocates express hope that 2021 will bring greater progress on PFAS regulation. President-elect Joe Biden <a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has pledged to set</a> enforceable limits for PFAS in drinking water and to designate PFAS as a hazardous substance — which would accelerate the cleanup of contaminated sites under the EPA's <a href="https://ensia.com/features/superfund/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Superfund program</a>.</p>
Breaking the Chain<p>Meanwhile, the million-dollar (or realistically much, much more) question is: How do we get PFAS out of drinking water? The bond between carbon and fluorine atoms is one of the strongest in nature. As a result, PFAS degrades extremely slowly in nature. "People have called them 'forever chemicals' for good reason," says Sedlak. "These carbon-fluorine bonds want to stay put."</p><p>Because PFAS resists degradation, filtration is the primary strategy for removing it from drinking water. <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/reducing-pfas-drinking-water-treatment-technologies" target="_blank">Granulated activated carbon</a> filters can absorb PFAS and other contaminants, although they must be replaced when all of the available surface area becomes occupied by chemicals. The filters also tend to work less well for short-chain compared to long-chain PFAS. Another removal method is the use of ion exchange resins, which can attract and hold negatively charged contaminants such as PFAS. Perhaps the most effective technology to date is reverse osmosis. This approach can filter out a wide range PFAS. At the same time, it carries a high price tag, notes Heather Stapleton, a professor of environmental science and policy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.</p><p>Stapleton has researched the various filters and finds that all of them can work well. She installed an at-home filter after discovering PFAS in her own drinking water. But that cost can be a significant barrier for many people, she notes, making it an "environmental justice issue."</p><p>The diversity of PFAS compounds also poses a challenge. Community water systems may spend significant resources to install systems for water treatment only to find that while the method might work well at removing one set of PFAS, it can fail to filter another set, says Naidenko.</p><p>Scientists are investigating further chemical and biological treatment methods. Sedlak is among researchers looking into ways to treat PFAS while it is still in the ground, such as via in situ oxidation coupled with microbes to break down chemicals.</p><p>"What we know for sure is we were exposed. What we don't know is what sort of lasting health impact that has on us as a community" – Emily DonovanJoel Ducoste, a professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, laments that currently employed treatment processes still fall short of removing PFAS and providing safe drinking water to Americans. "This has been problematic in our state and is becoming a national problem," he says.</p><p>More definitive science surrounding PFAS — optimal treatment methods, truly safe alternatives and potential health effects — can't come soon enough for those dealing daily with legacy PFAS contamination in Wilmington.</p><p>"What we know for sure is we were exposed. What we don't know is what sort of lasting health impact that has on us as a community," says Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, a grassroots group advocating for clean water in the region. Part of their effort, she says, is seeking better medical monitoring of people exposed to PFAS.</p><p>Due to the long latency between exposure and disease — often decades — it is difficult to link any PFAS with specific cancers. Kennedy notes no history of breast cancer in his family and no genetic predisposition to the disease. "Those factors made me believe even more that it was PFAS responsible for this," he says.</p><p>"It seems like that's not the right way to test chemical safety — the big underlying concern here — to expose the population widely. And yet, that seems to be what we're doing now," says Andrews.</p>
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By Brett Walton
Who's responsible for making sure the water you drink is safe? Ultimately, you are. But if you live in the U.S., a variety of federal, state and local entities are involved as well.
Setting Limits<p>The process for setting federal drinking water contaminant limits, which is overseen by the EPA, was not designed to be speedy.</p><p>First, the EPA identifies a list of <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ccl/contaminant-candidate-list-4-ccl-4-0" target="_blank">several dozen</a> unregulated chemical and microbial contaminants that might be harmful. Then water utilities, which are in charge of water quality monitoring, test their treated water to see what shows up. The identification and testing is done on a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ccl/basic-information-ccl-and-regulatory-determination#what-is-CCL" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">five-year cycle</a>. The EPA examines those results and, for at least five contaminants, as required by the SDWA, it determines whether a regulation is needed.</p><p>Three factors go into the decision: Is the contaminant harmful? Is it widespread at high levels? Will a regulation meaningfully reduce health risks? If the answer is "Yes" to all three, then a national standard <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ccl/basic-information-ccl-and-regulatory-determination#what-crieria-reg-det" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">will be forthcoming</a>. Altogether, the process can take a decade or more from start to finish.</p><p>Usually, however, one of the three answers is "No." Since the 1996 amendments were passed, the EPA has not regulated any new contaminants through this process, though it has strengthened existing rules for arsenic, microbes and the chemical byproducts of drinking water disinfection. The agency did decide in 2011 that it should regulate perchlorate — which is used in explosives and rocket fuel and damages the thyroid — but reversed that decision in June 2020, claiming that the chemical is not widespread enough to warrant a national regulation.</p><p>Two other chemicals have recently advanced to the standard-writing stage. In February, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler announced that the agency would regulate PFOA and PFOS, both members of the class of non-stick, flame-retarding chemicals known as PFAS. For those two chemicals, the EPA currently has issued a health advisory, which is a non-enforceable guideline.</p>
Omissions and Nuances<p>That is the regulatory process at the federal level. But there are omissions and nuances.</p><p>One big omission is private wells. Water in wells that supply individual homes is not regulated by federal statute. Rather, private well owners are responsible for testing and treating their own well water. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that about 15% of U.S. residents use a private well. Some states, such as New Jersey, require that private wells be tested for contaminants before a home is sold. County health departments might also have similar point-of-sale requirements.</p>
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By Jen Monnier
In the summer of 2015, Laurie Weitkamp was walking on the beach near her coastal Oregon home when she saw something strange: The water was purple. A colony of tunicates, squishy cylindrical critters that rarely come to shore, had congregated in a swarm so thick that you could scoop them out of the water with your hand. "I'd never seen anything like it," she says.
Weitkamp, a research fisheries biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, knew that something had been afoot in the northeast part of the Pacific Ocean since the fall of 2013, which was unusually sunny, warm and calm. A mass of warm water stretched from Mexico to Alaska and lingered through 2016, disrupting marine life. Tunicates weren't the only creature affected; sea nettle jellyfish all but disappeared, while water jellyfish populations moved north to take their place, and young salmon starved to death out at sea, according to a report by Weitkamp and colleagues. Scientists dubbed this event "The Blob."
Marine heat waves like The Blob have cropped up around the globe more and more often over the past few decades. Scientists expect climate change to make them even more common and long lasting, harming vulnerable aquatic species as well as human enterprises such as fishing that revolve around ocean ecosystems. But there's no reliable way to know when one is about to hit, which means that fishers and wildlife managers are left scrambling to reduce harm in real time.
Fisheries biologist Laurie Weitkamp is helping develop policies to reduce the threat of marine heat waves, which can devastate ocean life. Photo courtesy of Laurie Weitkamp
Now, oceanographers are trying to uncover what drives these events so that people can forecast them and so minimize the ecological and economic damage they cause.
The Blob, which lasted three years, is the longest marine heat wave on record. Before that, a heat wave that began in 2015 in the Tasman Sea lasted more than eight months, killing abalone and oysters. A 2012 heat wave off the East Coast of Canada and the U.S., the largest on record at the time, pushed lobsters northward. It beat the previous record — a 2011 marine heat wave that uprooted seaweed, fish and sharks off western Australia. Before that, a 2003 heat wave in the Mediterranean Sea clinched the record while ravaging marine life.
As Earth's climate warms, record-setting marine heat waves are becoming more frequent and severe. Map adapted from Marine Heatwaves International Working Group.
Heat waves are a natural part of ocean systems, says Eric Oliver, an assistant professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. As with temperature on land, there's an average ocean temperature on any particular day of the year: Sometimes the water will be warmer, sometimes it will be colder, and every once in a while it will be extremely warm or cold.
But greenhouse gas emissions have bumped up the average temperature. Now, temperatures that used to be considered extremely warm happen more often — and every so often, large sections of the ocean are pushed into unprecedented heat, Oliver says.
Pelagic ocean ecosystems, however, have not caught up to these hotter temperatures. Organisms may be able to survive a steady temperature rise, but a heat wave can push them over the edge.
When blue swimmer crabs started dying in western Australia's Shark Bay after the 2011 heat wave, the government shut down blue crab fishing for a year and a half. This was hard on industry at the time, says Peter Jecks, managing director of Abacus Fisheries, but it managed to save crab populations. Not all creatures were so lucky — abalone near the heat wave's epicenter still haven't recovered.
"If you don't have strong predictions [of marine heat waves], you can't be proactive. You're left to be reactive," says Thomas Wernberg, an associate professor of marine ecology at the University of Western Australia.
See Them Coming
After Wernberg saw his region's sea life devastated by the heat wave, he recruited scientists from many disciplines in 2014 to begin studying these extreme events in what became the Marine Heatwaves International Working Group. The group held their first meeting in early 2015 and has since created protocols for defining and naming marine heat waves, tracking where they happen and measuring their ecological and socioeconomic impacts.
If we could see heat waves coming, aquaculturists, fishers and wildlife managers would have a better chance at saving money and species, Wernberg says. Seafood farmers could hold off stocking their aquaculture facilities with vulnerable species. Lawmakers could enact seasonal fishing closures or temporarily expand protected areas. Scientists could store animals or seeds of vulnerable plants.
That's why scientists around the world are trying to understand what triggers extreme warming in the ocean. Oliver is one such scientist. He feeds ocean data gathered by scientists, satellites, buoys, and deep-diving robots into computer modeling software to identify the forces that drive marine heat waves.
It's a relatively new field of research for which there are still few definitive answers. But past heat waves can be broadly classified into two categories, Oliver says: those driven by the ocean and those driven by the atmosphere.
For an example of an ocean-driven heat wave, Oliver points to the 2015 Tasman Sea heat wave. An ocean current that flows south down the East Coast of Australia normally veers toward New Zealand, but in 2015 it pulsed westward toward Tasmania, bringing a wave of warm water from the tropics that lingered more than six months. "Tropical fish were seen in water that is normally almost subpolar in temperature," Oliver says.
On the other hand, a 2019 heat wave in the Pacific, the so-called "Blob 2.0," was brought down from the atmosphere, according to Dillon Amaya, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Using computer models, Amaya found that this heat wave emerged when a weather system over the Pacific lost steam, leading to weaker-than-usual winds. Wind helps cool the ocean by evaporating surface water in the same way a breeze cools a person's sweaty skin. But stagnant air above the Pacific locked more of the sun's heat into the water that year.
The recent "Blob 2.0" heat wave bears some resemblance to "The Blob," which disrupted marine life from Mexico to Alaska over the course of three years. NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Amaya is able to simulate heat waves thanks to recent technological advances. Scientists have known for decades that marine heat waves exist, he says, but "we have just begun to recognize these events as unique and deterministic — something we can predict — in the last five to 10 years."
That understanding inspired researchers to build computer simulations capable of playing out complicated ocean processes by weaving together information about ocean and atmospheric currents, sea surface temperature and salinity. Creating these simulations helps them learn more about heat wave mechanics, which lays the groundwork for predicting future events.
Back in Oregon, Weitkamp is part of the group that manages the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. As heat waves like The Blob and Blob 2.0 deplete fish populations, the group is trying to figure out how to create policies better suited to this new normal. Knowing when the next one might hit could help.
"These heat waves have been a good wake-up call," she says. "People are trying to figure out how they're going to adapt."
Reposted with permission from Ensia.
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A Look at Why Environmentalism Is So Homogeneous — and How Organizations Might Cultivate Genuine Diversity
By Ambika Chawla
As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Erynn Castellanos would spend hours exploring her grandmother's backyard garden, an oasis of greenery filled with oranges, sugarcane, yerba buena, guava and herbs.
Underrepresented<p>In 2014, Dorceta Taylor, a professor of environmental justice and food systems and the director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability, published a landmark <a href="https://www.diversegreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ExecutiveSummary_Green2.0_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> of racial diversity in green NGOs, government agencies and foundations. She reported that 16% or fewer of staff in these organizations were people of color and less than 12% occupied leadership positions.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.diversegreen.org/leaking-talent/" target="_blank">follow-up study</a> published in 2019 by Stefanie K. Johnson, associate professor of Management at the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado, reviewed 40 green NGOs and foundations and found that green organizations were still overwhelmingly white, with only 20% of NGO staff identifying as people of color. In fact, the study found that from 2017 to 2018, the percent of senior staff positions at green foundations held by people of color fell from 33% to 4%.</p><p>And a <a href="https://www.mediamatters.org/broadcast-networks/how-broadcast-tv-networks-covered-climate-change-2019" target="_blank">recent study</a> by Media Matters for America found that people of color comprised only 10% of people interviewed or featured in media coverage on climate change.</p>
Root Causes<p>What's behind the lack of proportional representation of communities of color in the environmental workforce?</p><p>Peggy Shepard, co-founder and director of <a href="https://www.weact.org/" target="_blank">WE ACT for Environmental Justice</a>, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes underrepresented communities around environmental justice education, energy efficiency, toxins in consumer products, climate justice, clean air and more, says it's part of a far larger societal malaise. WE ACT also engages in policy advocacy at the city, state and federal levels.</p><p>"I see the fight for environmental justice, housing justice, Black Lives Matter, prison reform — all of those are linked by the underlying systemic racism that really mandates that we have organizations to safeguard our lives from the police, and to safeguard our environment," she says. "All of those issues that are about protecting rights, and justice is what really links us all."</p><p>Castellanos says that, in addition to not seeing people like them already engaged, some members of the <a href="https://ensia.com/articles/latinos-care-about-the-environment-so-why-arent-green-groups-engaging-them-more/" target="_blank">Latino community</a> view environmental problems as less pressing than other issues. "Immigration is number one, with people being detained," she says. "How can you tell your students to care about the environment when they are afraid that their parents won't be home?"</p><p>Virginia Palacios, a climate change consultant for <a href="http://www.greenlatinos.org/" target="_blank">GreenLatinos</a><u>,</u> says that people of color may have fewer opportunities to engage in environment-oriented activities that require financial resources when they are growing up, such as summer camps. As a result, they may not have a background that predisposes them to moving into green careers or being active in environmental groups.</p><p>"People who are low income are more likely to be people of color," Palacios says. "When you are coming from that background, you are not going to have the same opportunities as a person who is more affluent had in their life. You might not have been able to go to the summer camp that prepared you to go to college. You probably didn't get to do all the extra stuff that people use to stack up their resume."</p><p>One of the findings in Taylor's 2014 report was that in addition to overt discrimination, unconscious bias often perpetuates workplaces that lack diversity in hiring and promotion practices.</p><p>"Homogeneous workplaces arise because of adherence to particular cultural norms, filtering, network structure, and recruitment practices. These are forms of unconscious or inadvertent biases that can lead to or perpetuate institutional homogeneity," states the report.</p><p>Palacios contends that implicit bias often occurs as part of the hiring practices of green groups. "People tend to hire people who look like them or who went to the same schools as they did. Or, they get a good feeling from this person because they are like them."</p>
Strategies for Change<p>Palacios says she believes training workshops on implicit bias can be an effective strategy for increasing diversity.</p><p>"Organizations that want to improve diversity have to know that they have unconscious bias. They will have to go through a process of unlearning habits," she says. "One of the things that has been the most successful in my experience are being able to go through an in-person training with your peers and then being able to have a conversation, to process things verbally. I think unconscious bias trainings are one of the first things that white folks can do to understand how they have been programmed."</p><p>The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has begun such trainings, according to senior vice president and chief human resources officer Sean Cook, in addition to other initiatives to promote diversity in the environmental workforce, such as fellowships and partnerships with universities.</p><p>"One of the initiatives that we have recently undertaken is unconscious bias training. Last year, we worked with an outside firm called Kaleidoscope to help us roll out this training initiative, which included increasing our knowledge of race and equity, leading inclusively, leveraging differences, and building a diverse team. Individual trainers from Kaleidoscope went to our offices in New York, San Francisco, Sacramento and Washington D.C. and trained all managers on these subjects. We began these trainings at the ground level of our organization and went all of the way up to the board of directors," says Cook.</p><p>According to Cook, staff gave the conscious inclusion training high marks. In follow-up surveys, 95% agreed or strongly agreed that "cultural competence can improve my experience in the work environment," and 89% agreed or strongly agreed that "the material in the session felt relevant to our workplace."</p><p>Cook says EDF is also working to ensure that during the hiring process, applicants are not judged unfairly based upon their educational background. "We want to make sure that we are inclusive of all, whether you went to an Ivy League school, whether you were self-educated, whether you attended a community college, a liberal arts school or a state university."</p><p>Palacios also recommends that organizations create guidelines for the skills that are critical for a job position, and that hiring managers should "really have a rubric in mind of how you are going to be judging the person in front of you. That can help to reduce bias when you are having an interview with someone, so you don't ask, 'Did they go to the same school that I did? Did they play the same sports that I did?'"</p>
Genuine Diversity<p>Hodan Barreh, a youth environmental advocate passionate about bringing diversity to the environmental movement in her hometown of Austin, Texas — which <a href="https://www.statesman.com/business/20160924/report-austin-most-economically-segregated-major-metro-area-in-us" target="_blank">studies show</a> is one of the most economically segregated cities in the country — cautions green groups to avoid tokenization of people of color if they want to bring genuine diversity to the environmental movement.</p><p>"They bring in that one Latinx person, that one Indigenous person, that one person of color, and they think that's enough. They think that one perspective speaks for all of the community," Barreh says. "That's very problematic, because not one person can give you the full perspective of what a community entails."</p><p><span></span>Shepard points out that it's important to remember that the environmental movement is more than large green groups: It also includes a constellation of community-based groups advocating for environmental justice within their localities. The problem, she says, is that the media and decision-makers are often deaf to their voices.</p><p><span></span>"When elected officials and policymakers want to know about environmental justice, they don't necessarily call environmental justice groups, they'll call [the Natural Resources Defense Council] or Sierra Club," she says. "It's the devaluing that we have expertise, that we're knowledgeable about our own issues and about the places where we are living."</p><p><span></span><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://ensia.com/features/environmental-workforce-diversity-systemic-racism/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em></p>
By Jenny Morber
Caribbean corals sprout off Texas. Pacific salmon tour the Canadian Arctic. Peruvian lowland birds nest at higher elevations.
Known and anticipated changes in species distribution due to climate change around the world have implications for culture, society ecosystems, governance and climate change. Figure used with permission from Gretta T. Pecl, originally published on 31 Mar 2017 in Science 355(6332).<p>How we define species is critical, because these definitions influence perceptions, policy and management. The U.S. National Invasive Species Council (NISC) defines a biological invasion as "the process by which non-native species breach biogeographical barriers and extend their range" and states that "preventing the introduction of potentially harmful organisms is … the first line of defense." But some say excluding newcomers is myopic.</p><p>"If you were trying to maintain the status quo, so every time a new species comes in, you chuck it out," says Camille Parmesan, director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, you could gradually "lose so many that that ecosystem will lose its coherence." If climate change is driving native species extinct, she says, "you need to allow new ones coming in to take over those same functions."</p><p>As University of Florida conservation ecologist Brett Scheffers and Pecl warned in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0526-5" target="_blank">2019 paper in <em>Nature Climate Change</em></a>, "past management of redistributed species … has yielded mixed actions and results." They concluded that "we cannot leave the fate of biodiversity critical to human survival to be randomly persecuted, protected or ignored."</p>
Existing Tools<p>One approach to managing these climate-driven habitat shifts, suggested by University of California, Irvine marine ecologist Piper Wallingford and colleagues in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0768-2" target="_blank">a recent issue of Nature Climate Change</a>, is for scientists to adapt existing tools like the <a href="https://www.iucn.org/theme/species/our-work/invasive-species/eicat" target="_blank">Environmental Impact Classification of Alien Taxa (EICAT)</a> to assess potential risks associated with moving species. Because range-shifting species pose impacts to communities similar to those of species introduced by humans, the authors argue, new management strategies are unnecessary, and each new arrival can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.</p><p>Karen Lips, a professor of biology at University of Maryland who was not associated with the study, echoes the idea that each case is so varied and nuanced that trying to fit climate shifting species into a single category with broad management goals may be impractical. "Things may be fine today, but add a new mosquito vector or add a new tick or a new disease, and all of a sudden things spiral out of control," she says. "The nuance means that the answer to any particular problem might be pretty different."</p>
In recent years, northern flying squirrels in Canada have found themselves in the company of new neighbors — southern flying squirrels expanding their range as the climate warms. Public Domain / USFW<p>Laura Meyerson, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island says scientists should use existing tools to identify and address invasive species to deal with climate-shifting species. "I would like to operate under the precautionary principle and then reevaluate as things shift. You're sort of shifting one piece in this machinery; as you insert a new species into a system, everything is going to respond," she says. "Will some of the species that are expanding their ranges because of climate change become problematic? Perhaps they might."</p><p>The reality is that some climate-shifting species may be harmful to some conservation or economic goals while being helpful to others. While sport fisherman are excited about red snapper moving down the East Coast of Australia, for example, if they eat juvenile lobsters in Tasmania they could harm this environmentally and economically important crustacean. "At the end of the day … you're going to have to look at whether that range expansion has some sort of impact and presumably be more concerned about the negative impacts," says NISC executive director Stas Burgiel. "Many of the [risk assessment] tools we have are set up to look at negative impact." As a result, positive effects may be deemphasized or overlooked. "So that notion of cost versus benefit … I don't think it has played out in this particular context."</p>
Location, Location, Location<p>In a <a href="https://www-nature-com.ezp3.lib.umn.edu/articles/s41558-020-0770-8" target="_blank">companion paper</a> to Wallingford's, University of Connecticut ecology and evolutionary biology associate professor Mark Urban stressed key differences between invasive species, which are both non-native and harmful, and what he calls "climate tracking species." Whereas invasive species originate from places very unlike the communities they overtake, he says, climate tracking species expand from largely similar environments, seeking to follow preferred conditions as these environments move. For example, an American pika may relocate to a higher mountain elevation, or a marbled salamander might expand its New England range northward to seek cooler temperatures, but these new locations are not drastically different than the places they had called home before.</p><p>Climate tracking species may move faster than their competitors at first, Urban says, but competing species will likely catch up. "Applying perspectives from invasion biology to climate-tracking species … arbitrarily chooses local winners over colonizing losers," he writes.</p>
The marbled salamander, a native of the eastern U.S., is among species whose range could expand northward to accommodate rising temperatures. Seánín Óg / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Urban stresses that if people prevent range shifts, some climate-tracking species may have nowhere to go. He suggests that humans should even <a href="https://ensia.com/features/time-for-trees-to-pack-their-trunks/" target="_blank">facilitate movement</a> as the planet warms. "The goal in this crazy warming world is to keep everything alive. But it may not be in the same place," Urban says.</p><p>Parmesan echoes Urban, emphasizing it's the distance that makes the difference. "[Invasives] come from a different continent or a different ocean. You're having these enormous trans-global movements and that's what ends up causing the species that's exotic to be invasive," she says. "Things moving around with climate change is a few hundred miles. Invasive species are moving a few thousand miles."</p><p>In 2019 University of Vienna conservation biology associate professor Franz Essl published a similar argument for species classification beyond the native/non-native dichotomy. Essl uses "neonatives" to refer to species that have expanded outside their native areas and established populations because of climate change but not direct human agency. He argues that these species should be considered as native in their new range.</p>
They Never Come Alone<p>Meyerson calls for caution. "I don't think we should be introducing species" into ecosystems, she says. "I mean, they never come alone. They bring all their friends, their microflora, and maybe parasites and things clinging to their roots or their leaves. … It's like bringing some mattress off the street into your house."</p><p>Burgiel warns that labeling can have unintended consequences. We in the invasive species field … focus on non-native species that cause harm," he says. "Some people think that anything that's not native is invasive, which isn't necessarily the case." Because resources are limited and land management and conservation are publicly funded, Burgiel says, it is critical that the public understands how the decisions are being made.</p><p>Piero Genovesi, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Invasive Species Specialist Group, sees the debate about classification — and therefore about management — as a potential distraction from more pressing conservation issues.</p><p>"The real bulk of conservation is that we want to focus on the narrow proportion of alien species that are really harmful," he says. In Hawaii "we don't discuss species that are there [but aren't] causing any problem because we don't even have the energy for dealing with them all. And I can tell you, no one wants to remove [non-native] cypresses from Tuscany. So, I think that some of the discussions are probably not so real in the work that we do in conservation."</p><p>Indigenous frameworks offer another way to look at species searching for a new home in the face of climate change. According to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11625-018-0571-4" target="_blank">a study</a> published in Sustainability Science in 2018 by Dartmouth Native American studies and environmental studies associate professor Nicholas Reo, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and Dartmouth anthropology associate professor Laura Ogden, some Anishnaabe people view plants as persons and the arrival of new plants as a natural form of migration, which is not inherently good or bad. They may seek to discover the purpose of new species, at times with animals as their teachers. In their paper Reo and Ogden quote Anishnaabe tribal chairman Aaron Payment as saying, "We are an extension of our natural environment; we're not separate from it."</p>
The Need for Collaboration<p>The successful conservation of Earth's species in a way that keeps biodiversity functional and healthy will likely depend on collaboration. Without global agreements, one can envision scenarios in which countries try to impede high-value species from moving beyond their borders, or newly arriving species are quickly overharvested.</p><p>In Nature Climate Change, Sheffers and Pecl call for a Climate Change Redistribution Treaty that would recognize species redistribution beyond political boundaries and establish governance to deal with it. Treaties already in place, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates trade in wild plants and animals; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora, can help guide these new agreements.</p><p>"We are living through the greatest redistribution of life on Earth for … potentially hundreds of thousands of years, so we definitely need to think about how we want to manage that," Pecl says.</p><p>Genovesi agrees that conservationists need a vision for the future. "What we do is more to be reactive [to known threats]. … It's so simple to say that destroying the Amazon is probably not a good idea that you don't need to think of a step ahead of that." But, he adds, "I don't think we have a real answer in terms of okay, this is a threshold of species, or this is the temporal line where we should aim to." Defining a vision for what success would look like, Genovesi says, "is a question that hasn't been addressed enough by science and by decision makers."</p><p>At the heart of these questions are values. "All of these perceptions around what's good and what's bad, all [are based on] some kind of value system," Pecl says. "As a whole society, we haven't talked about what we value and who gets to say what's of value and what isn't."</p><p>This is especially important when it comes to marginalized voices, and Pecl says she is concerned because she doesn't "think we have enough consideration or representation of Indigenous worldviews." Reo and colleagues <a href="https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/sites.dartmouth.edu/dist/9/52/files/2012/10/Reo_etal_AIQ_invasive_species_2017.pdf" target="_blank">wrote in American Indian Quarterly in 2017</a> that climate change literature and media coverage tend to portray native people as vulnerable and without agency. Yet, says Pecl, "The regions of the world where [biodiversity and ecosystems] are either not declining or are declining at a much slower rate are Indigenous controlled" — suggesting that Indigenous people have potentially managed species more effectively in the past, and may be able to manage changing species distributions in a way that could be informative to others working on these issues.</p><p>Meanwhile, researchers such as Lips see species classification as native or other as stemming from a perspective that there is a better environmental time and place to return to. "There is no pristine, there's no way to go back," says Lips. "The entire world is always very dynamic and changing. And I think it's a better idea to consider just simply what is it that we do want, and let's work on that."</p>
To save insects we must give them the space they need to survive. asadykov / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Andrew Urevig
Butterflies and bees, ants and beetles, cockroaches and flies — whether loved or feared, insects help humans. Just sample the ways these animals enable life as we know it: they pollinate crops, give us new medicines, break down waste and support entire ecosystems.
Yet many insects around the world are in decline.
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By Mary Hoff
Klaus Lackner has a picture of the future in his mind, and it looks something like this: 100 million semi-trailer-size boxes, each filled with a beige fabric configured into what looks like shag carpet to maximize surface area. Each box draws in air as though it were breathing. As it does, the fabric absorbs carbon dioxide, which it later releases in concentrated form to be made into concrete or plastic or piped far underground, effectively cancelling its ability to contribute to climate change.
Though the technology is not yet operational, it's "at the verge of moving out of the laboratory, so we can show how it works on a small scale," said Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University. Once he has all the kinks worked out, he figured that, combined, the network of boxes could capture perhaps 100 million metric tons (110 million tons) of CO2 per day at a cost of $30 per ton—making a discernible dent in the climate-disrupting overabundance of CO2 that has built up in the air since humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest 150 years ago.
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By Mary Hoff
What should we be thinking about when we think about the future of biodiversity, conservation and the environment? An international team of experts in horizon scanning, science communication and conservation recently asked that question as participants in the eighth annual Horizon Scan of Emerging Issues for Global Conservation and Biological Diversity. The answers they came up, just published in the scientific journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution and summarized below, portend both risks and opportunities for species and ecosystems around the world.
"Our aim has been to focus attention and stimulate debate about these subjects, potentially leading to new research foci, policy developments or business innovations," the authors wrote in introducing their list of top trends to watch in 2017. "These responses should help facilitate better-informed forward-planning."
1. Altering Coral Bacteria
Around the world, coral reefs are bleaching and dying as ocean temperatures warm beyond those tolerated by bacteria that live in partnership with the corals. Scientists are eyeing the option of replacing bacteria forced out by heat with other strains more tolerant of the new temperatures—either naturally occurring or genetically engineered. Although the practice holds promise for rescuing or resurrecting damaged reefs, there are concerns about unintended consequences such as introduction of disease or disruption of ecosystems.
2. Underwater Robots Meet Invasive Species
If you think getting rid of invasive species on land is a challenge, you haven't tried doing it in the depths of the ocean. Robots that can crawl across the seafloor dispatching invaders with poisons or electric shock are being investigated as a potential tool for combating such species. The technology is now being tested to control crown-of-thorns starfish, which have devastated Great Barrier Reef corals in recent years and invasive lionfish, which are competing with native species in the Caribbean Sea.
3. Electronic Noses
The technology behind electronic sensors that detect odors has advanced markedly in recent years, leading biologists to ponder applications to conservation. Possibilities include using the devices to sniff out illegally traded wildlife at checkpoints along transportation routes and to detect the presence of DNA from rare species in the environment.
4. Blight of the Bumblebees
We tend to think of pollinating insects as our ecological friends, but in the wrong place nonnative bees can spell trouble instead by competing with native insects, promoting reproduction in nonnative plants and potentially spreading disease. And they're doing just that, thanks to people who transport them internationally for plant-pollination purposes. Out-of-place bumblebees are already spreading through New Zealand, Japan and southern South America, and there is concern they could do the same in Australia, Brazil, Uruguay, China, South Africa and Namibia.
5. Microbes Meet Agriculture
Select bacteria and fungi are emerging as potential agricultural allies for their ability to help kick back pests or stimulate growth in crops. As research advances in this area, questions are being raised about potential implications for nontarget species, ecosystems, soils and more.
Bumblebees imported to pollinate crops are a growing threat to native pollinators around the world. iStock