Category Archives: Pollution

Cheap Meat is an Illusion

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Hog waste disposed into lagoon
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Wendy’s Baconator®, a half pound beef burger smothered with two yellow slices of cheese and six thick slices of bacon, costs a little more than $4. Perdue’s® 12oz pack of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets goes for $3.99. Two Tyson® chicken breasts, averaging 24oz, can be found for as little as $7. In the United States, meat is cheap and available and corporate behemoths like Tyson and Perdue dominate the meat markets. The retail price of industrialized meat stays low in part because of the prioritization of profit over all noneconomic factors, such as the environmental wellbeing and conservation. The environmental costs of the livestock sector are monumental. Industrial animal farming pollutes drinking water, contaminates soils, spreads disease, and emits massive amounts of greenhouse gases responsible for heating the earth’s atmosphere. These environmental costs and consequences are externalized by big agribusiness, while the public, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies are often left to finance and address all damages.

As detailed in the last blog post, the industrial livestock sector has moved towards a system that maximizes production and profitability. The pursuit of these goals prompted large-scale farms to introduce antibiotics to animal feed, pack more animals into tighter spaces, and speed up production practices. Further, government subsidies and deregulation facilitated the rise of industrial animal farms. Tufts University, for example, estimates that between 1997 and 2005 the United States’ industrial livestock sector saved over $35 billion with the aid of federal farm subsidies. Oftentimes, such farm policies, the maximization of profit, and the wellbeing of the environment come into conflict, and livestock operations continually trample the health of the natural world.

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The Dangers of Antibacterial Soap

Hand soap with Triclosan. Courtesy of CAPL Washington and Jefferson College

When buying soap and cleaning products, most consumers purposefully purchase brands that are known for being antibacterial. It has been well advertised that antibacterial products are necessary for keeping people and their families safe from getting sick; as it turns out, this assumption that antibacterial is better is not being confirmed by modern research.  Additionally, the active ingredient in antibacterial soap, triclosan, is bad for the environment and potentially dangerous for humans.

Triclosan is a molecule that contains mostly carbons and chlorine, and was first patented in 1964. While that molecular makeup seems harmless, especially considering all healthy, organic compounds contain carbon and chlorine is a common atom that humans are exposed to, the particular structure may actually be detrimental to the environment and human health.
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History of Pollution: economics, politics, and Deng XiaoPing


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While China’s recent economic boom has accelerated the pollution spewing across the land, the roots of its environmental problem stretch back centuries. The dynastic leaders of ancient China regularly conquered and consolidated territory while developing China’s economy; this exploited the nation’s natural resources in such a way that it contributed to famines and natural disasters according to the Council of Foreign Relation’s Elizabeth Economy in The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future. Culturally, China’s Confucian roots helped encourage policies that often promoted man’s use of nature, hindering the development of a conservative ethos. “China’s current environmental situation is the result not only of policy choices made today but also of attitudes, approaches, and institutions that have evolved over centuries,” Economy writes.

It wasn’t until the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment that China began to develop its first government approved environmental institutions. A delegation was sent to the United Nations Conference, but by then the country’s environment was already in dire straits that were further exacerbated by economic reforms of the late 1970s. Prior to the initiation of economic reforms, China maintained policies that kept the economy very poor, stagnant, centrally controlled, vastly inefficient, and relatively isolated from the global economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, Since opening up to foreign trade and investment and implementing free market reforms in 1979, China has been among the world’s fastest-growing economies, with real annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaging nearly 10% through 2013. In recent years, China has emerged as a major global economic and trade power: it is currently the world’s second-largest economy, largest trading economy, second- largest destination of foreign direct investment (FDI), largest manufacturer, and largest holder of foreign exchange reserves. Continue reading

Face wash: A Major Contributor to Micropollutants in Water

The products enclosed by a green circle have plastic exfoliating beads (2014).  Photo courtesy of Gwen Gallagher

The products enclosed by green circles have plastic exfoliating beads (2014). Photo courtesy of Gwen Gallagher

Facial washes are extremely popular products used for deep cleanses and are an integral part in most people’s daily routine. They are especially helpful for preventing acne and giving the consumer a refreshed feel. Some face washes contain exfoliating beads to improve the soap by mechanically removing the outmost layer of skin. The beads help remove dead skin layers and any debris from the day to reveal smoother skin and facilitate the growth of healthy, rejuvenated skin. The exfoliating beads tend to be made of out plastic and were considered ideal for the consumer because of the guaranteed smooth surface, which reduces the potential for redness and irritation of the skin. Unfortunately, the beads are so small that they can slip through water treatment facilities and plastic is not easily degradable. As a result, plastic microbeads are accumulating in marine environments and posing a threat to the organisms.

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Choking on Its Own Success: China’s Pollution

No country in history has ever risen as a major industrial power without also rising as a leader in environmental damage, leaving behind a slew of environmental chaos that can take far longer and far more wealth to remedy than its rise to power took.  The environmental damage caused by rapid industrialization of the world’s most populous nation, China – it had 1.351 billion people in 2012 – is so severe and far-reaching that its multifaceted repercussions are present not only domestically, but also internationally.  Continue reading