Why We Should Worry About the State of Our Water

Aug 11 2014 • Posted by

The world is running out of clean water. We now live in a country where every water body is degraded in quality to some extent. Before water quality standards were written into law, companies freely dumped their effluent waste into local water bodies. The pollution of such water bodies has not been entirely undone, even when attempts to clean them have been made. For example, between 1947 and 1977, General Electric dumped at least 1.3 million pounds of PCB’s into New York’s Hudson River. When the Hudson’s water quality came into question, GE spent millions on donations, lobbyists, scientists, and lawyers, all to avoid taking responsibility (especially after the Hudson was declared a Superfund site in 2002). The company’s biggest fear was that if they were forced to take responsibility for pollution (and therefore remediation) of the Hudson, then they could be forced to take responsibility for other sites that they contaminated*. This would be unfavorable because the requisite equipment and time lost to remediation would cost them additional money.

Since the early 2000’s, GE has been forced to clean the PCB’s from the Hudson, but they do not have to bring the river back to the quality it was in before they arrived. This is problematic for numerous reasons. For one, even if small traces of PCB’s remain, there is still risk to human health. Even in small doses, any toxin can be detrimental to human health if people are exposed frequently enough. More important however, is the fact that PCB’s bioaccumulate in living tissue, meaning that they increase in concentration with each succession of the food chain. This implies that even if all of the PCB’s were to be removed from the sediment in and around the Hudson River, PCB’s will remain in the tissue of local organisms for several years, magnify with each link in the food chain, and eventually reach humans in high concentrations.

For a lot of people, a notice of polluted water spurs an immediate trip to the supermarket to purchase bottled water, yet bottled water is almost always the same quality as local tap water. In many cases, bottled water is tap water. Companies like Poland Spring, which use illustrations of mountain streams to give the impression that their water comes from somewhere pristine and untouched actually draw their water from urban places. Sometimes the water coming out of the faucet is even cleaner than the water on the supermarket shelves! Instead of searching for alternatives, we should demand cleaner water standards. Our government is business-oriented as a result of the way our economy functions. It is a fact that is reflected in the tendency our nation has to be lenient toward even the worst polluters. We have allowed companies like General Electric to weasel their way out of taking responsibility for polluting our water bodies and our land, often times causing record cases of disease in local towns. We should be demanding more from our businesses. In many ways, businesses rely on the satisfaction of the consumer. This is power in our hands, which we can use to demand what should be our basic right. Unless your tap is certifiably contaminated, don’t buy bottled water. Instead, hold polluters and politicians accountable.


*Information about General Electric’s contamination of the Hudson was taken from The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century by Alex Prud’Homme. This is a very informative book and is a great book to read if you are interested in issues surrounding water.


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Whales Are Incredible.

Aug 08 2014 • Posted by

Maybe I’m biased because I grew up near New Bedford, but the answer of whales comes easily if you ask me about my favorite mammal. Whether it’s their size or their song, I can’t quite put my finger on what is so awesome about them. As a result, it was upsetting to read about how new shipping lanes off of the California coast are threatening the habitat of Pacific Blue Whales. Blue whales are the largest existing animals that have ever existed, but ironically, their diet is solely composed of microscopic organisms called krill. There are certain areas and seasons where the krill catch is best, and since krill is so essential, the endangered blue whale relies on these locations to maintain their health and wellness. However, as I mentioned before, a new study has been published showing that shipping lanes near San Francisco and Santa Barbara ‘bisect major feeding grounds’ for the animals. These routes increase the probability that whales might be struck by gigantic shipping vessels, injuring or killing them. In addition, the noise pollution underwater creates major challenges for the whales, who primarily communicate via “songs” to each other. These “songs” may be a major part of courtship rituals, and, well, the population of endangered whales, no matter their species, can never recover unless there is some magic in the whale mating department.

However, there are some solutions to the problem. Whales are migratory creatures, and as a result, shipping lanes could be modified during the summer and fall, when the density of krill is highest in these areas. Another potential fix is imposing speed limits during these seasons to make it easier for whales to move away from ship’s paths. Furthermore, innovations in sonar technology might make it easier for ships to steer around pods of whales. Solutions like these have already been implemented on the East Coast as a result of similar problems involving the North Atlantic Right Whale, whose low numbers have made an slightly encouraging, though slow, rebound in the past years. I find it very distressing that our ever-increasing need for STUFF (the primary reason for these shipping lanes from Asia to the coasts of the Americas is to transport goods created across the Pacific) was the reason for the whale population’s original decline, and now our population is not doing what it can to assuage the damage wreaked by over-whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries. A blue whale’s heart is the size of a small car, and it pains me to think that an evolutionary miracle such as this one could be interrupted.

I will be blogging about whales again next week. In the meantime, here are some links for more reading/watching about the creatures of the deep.


Whale, see you later!


PS- That whale was a pun about well.

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What the Frack?!

Aug 06 2014 • Posted by

What is fracking? Why all the fuss? Is it really that bad?

Fracking stands for hydraulic fracturing, which is process used to extract natural gas sealed deep beneath the Earth. Natural gas is a methane-based fossil fuel formed millions of years ago from the remains of dead plants and animals. Natural gas, similar to other fuels such as coal and petroleum, is a nonrenewable resource. Hydraulic fracturing involves sending a highly pressurized liquid deep into the Earth’s core to crack open rocks, exposing trapped natural gas for extraction. The liquid formation used to fracture the rocks is composed of water, sand, and an array of chemicals. This combination ensures the efficient release of natural gas from the rocks harboring this carbon fuel. Fracking is considered beneficial because it grants access to previously unreachable havens of fossil fuel. It allows us to power our daily lives through the heaps of electricity generated by the procedure.

However, not everyone is so giddy about fracking. Scientists are warning that the dangers of fracking may outweigh the benefits. For example, a small percentage (1-8%) of the methane fuel produced by fracking is leaked back into the environment. This only speeds up the process of the greenhouse effect, and disregards environmental sustainability. Another issue fracking invokes is its harm to water — particularly to water consumption. According to multiple reports, fracking uses 3-8 million gallons of water per well.

Water contamination and air pollution are other unintentional byproducts of the fracking process, leading to reports of negative health effects. Fracking contaminates otherwise clean drinking water, and the chemicals involved in the liquid mixture have been reported as carcinogenic. As if it couldn’t get much worse, researchers and geoscientists have also found hydraulic fracturing to be responsible for seismic earthquakes.

It appears as though the benefits of fracking don’t match up against its negative components. Fracking should be a harrowing reminder that renewable and clean energy resources such as solar and wind power are a necessary alternative as we continue to hurt the environment more and more to maintain our over-the-top energy consumption. As time goes on, we’ll learn more about this shady method of fuel extraction and hopefully mandate safe-practice laws to ensure that fracking is performed with health, safety, and the environment in mind.

Mike Salhany

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Solar Powered Water Wheel Cleaning the Ocean

Aug 01 2014 • Posted by

While browsing Facebook, I happened upon a really interesting article about a solar powered water wheel that cleans the plastic from the ocean. It turned out to be a fascinating read.

Only .1% of plastic produced each year ends up in the ocean, which doesn’t sound like a lot, right? Well, when you realize that we produce about 300 million tons of plastic each year, you understand how polluted our oceans can be. There are about 1 billion tons of plastic in the ocean currently which is a huge problem to the environment. The plastic detrius is harmful to all the animals and plants that inhabit our oceans.

However, the City of Baltimore has a solution. The Healthy Harbor program  revealed the Water Wheel to help clean up the debris inside the Baltimore harbor.The Water Wheel pulls floating garbage out of the water onto a conveyer belt, which deposits it into a dumpster barge, thus preventing the trash form ending up in the ocean. To make things even more environmentally friendly, the wheel is powered by both the current and solar panels. In about two months of operation, it has collected around 50 tons of garbage from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, most notably a tire in recent months. Not only is it helping the environment, it’s also a really cool idea, and an example of how fantastic innovation can be. I was amazed at how much trash was collected, especially in light of the statistic I mentioned earlier.

If you want to learn more about it, here’s a video of the Water Wheel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5l7s6wC50g, and here is its Twitter feed https://twitter.com/mrtrashwheel

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Going Solar Like a Pro

Jul 31 2014 • Posted by

Solar power, the increasingly popular form of energy , just converts sunlight into electricity either by panels or indirectly though another source.

Solar comes mostly in the form of solar panels that people can put either on their roofs or in their yard. The solar panels are photovoltaic, meaning that they convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. The number of solar panels that can go onto a roof depends on how much a household pays its energy bills, how old the roof is, and how much budget the household manages. These days, I think solar power’s a great option, and interest is high. I’m always amazed and excited about how many solar leads that we get each week.

Solar panels are just one form of having solar. On Tuesday’s team meeting, we made solar phone chargers, following a video from a guy that has built one of chargers before. Now, to build a solar phone charger, one needs an Altoids tin or some other tin can, a 4V solar panel, batteries, soldering iron, wires, and a special USB port. However, besides this, it is definitely a process. I learned some electrical skills that could come in handy for the future. Even thoughI didn’t do it, I would say that the hardest part is the soldering. Just watching Aaron and Eli solder the wires to the positive and negative side of the panel seemed difficult or frustrating, but its awesome when the light comes on and you can use solar power on a smaller scale! When I pick up my own solar phone charger, it will work and I can save a bit of energy by using it. If you want to make your own, you can always find videos on Youtube using simple parts from around the house or buy a kit on amazon. Get one because they are awesome!

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Solar Energy: Driving Towards New Horizons

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

Recently a group of engineering students from the University of New South Wales created a record breaking solar car. The team calls themselves Sunswift and they have developed a solar car that they confidently believe will break a 20 year old record. The record that they are planning on breaking combines speed and distance. In order to qualify the car must travel a distance over 310 miles using only solar power and a battery pack. The current record for a solar car in this category is 45 mph over 310 Miles. The team plans to beat this record by achieving an astonishing speed of 87 Mph. The overall goal of the Sunswift team is to prove that solar powered cars can be a practical means of travel and they want to be part of the solar revolution. Sunswift represents what the new generation wants to see for our future. What they are doing is a vital part of what needs to be done to improve our current system that is quite frankly going to ultimately destroy us. If humans want to continue our way of life we need practical forms of alternate energy and transportation. With the progressive minds of the students from Sunswift, the future actually looks very promising for us all.

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Hope for America’s Future

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

It’s unfortunate to see that today, Americans (well some) seem to only care about themselves and not about others. They are disintegrating that community that they talk about back in the so called “good old days” by not talking to their neighbors, or lending a helping hand to someone who is not as privileged and successful as one is in life. Fortunately though, I saw a glimmer of hope for America’s future to protect our communities at an event that I was working at yesterday.

This event was called the Onset Summer Music Series at 1 Union Avenue, Onset, MA 02558. I mean, tons of people from different socioeconomic classes came to this event- it is not just an event exclusive for the rich, the middle class, the poor or people that just lived in Massachusetts; everyone from all stretches of life can come to this event. In fact, one person was from Tennessee while another person that I talked to was from Westwood which is located near Boston. It’s pretty awesome talking to people from other places in the United States or even around the world instead of just talking to people whom live around you (I mean don’t get me wrong, it is cool to talk to people around you but as not as more cool to meet someone from a place like Tennessee). But anyways, it was nice to see everyone having a good time-sitting back, listening to the music and even dancing to it. The next group that will play at Onset will be on Wednesday, July 30th from 6:30pm-9:30 and will occur every Wednesday from 6:30pm-9:30pm with different bands until August 26th. It is a great event to bring your friends too or the whole family to just sit back, relax your mind from a long day of work, and to just listen to the music and talk to people from around the Commonwealth or even from different parts of the United States. But more importantly, this is just one of the many great events that a group of people in the South Coast hold in order to mold our community together. Speaking for my generation, I really do appreciate that a lot as I too care about my community and making it a better one for my peers and for future generations to come.

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Stability in Israel (environmental stability that is)

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

This past week I was fortunate enough to take a trip to the Middle East, more specifically Israel. In a time of tension, I was able to truly see the country in all its glory. I went to the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem and swam in the lake up north. I floated in the Dead Sea and slept in a Bedouin tent. However as an Intern at the South Coast Energy Challenge, I found myself looking at Israel’s environmental sustainability and I was impressed. The first environmentally friendly object that I saw was solar panels everywhere. I saw solar panels on houses, schools and buildings. After experiencing the hot sun I understood why it was everywhere. I also saw windmills in certain areas, turning and making clean energy. The last thing I noticed were giant recycling cages all over Israel filled with plastic ready to be recycled. These cages were in public places and I saw multiple times people throwing bottles and other recyclable goods in the cages. Upon further research I found that Israel was more environmentally friendly then I thought it was.

After researching a little on Israel’s green goals I found out that they are in fact in the coming year will be creating a special green town. The Mt. Gilboa town of Nurit will be Israel’s first green town. This means it’s power will be fully run off of windmills and solar PV units while also planting trees to naturally cool the area. Another astonishing fact is that Ninety percent of Israeli homes have a solar water heater and the company, Arava Power, will have 10 solar fields up and running by the end of 2016. Other inventions like the battery powered car and the cardboard bike was though of in Israel. The fact is that Israel is aware of environmental problem and even as a very small country they are trying to make a difference in the world.



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German Solar

Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

At one of the events I worked at this week I learned an interesting fact from a wonderful environmentally friendly citizen, who also signed up with us. He talked about how Germany is one of the leading producers of alternative energy, especially in solar. Him and his wife visited their a couple years ago and said when they drove on the Autobahn that there were miles and miles of solar energy farms. In fact nearly every house that met the right conditions, southish facing and unshaded, had solar panels on either their roof or yard. And apparently the United States and Germany are also on the exact same longitude or really close to the same longitude, but Germany more than doubles our solar energy output in megawatts at the end of 2013. This really intrigued me, so I decided to do some research later that day.
Germany has been the world’s top solar installer for several years with about 1.4 million PV systems all over the country which accounts for about 7% of their total electric generation. In addition to other alternative energy sources, Germany’s share of renewable energy is about 31%, well on their way to reaching their government goal of 35% by the end of 2020. And a good start to achieve their goal of 100 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2050. Their solar energy production is continuously growing and they have even been starting to export some of their energy to neighboring countries. Meanwhile America is just starting to get more serious in producing solar energy. Last year the US installed 4,751 Megawatts of new PV capacity, the largest amount in one year in American history, and is continuing to grow at an increasing pace. If we continue to move towards more solar energy production and other alternative energy sources, our energy will be cleaner and safer.

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Jul 30 2014 • Posted by

Everyone seems to be obsessed with commitment. Commitment in jobs, relationships, going to the gym: finding that internal grit is a prize package, and a common complaint I hear about my generation is that we don’t have enough of it. However, I find it odd that in a society that values maintaining a practice for the long term, we are unable to get together to pass legislation regarding the mitigation of global climate change.

I understand that it’s scary to talk about climate change. It’s terrifying to imagine that the existence of our species, and the things that make us comfortable are taking such a toll on our habitat, the place we call home. However, it’s mind-boggling that some of our senators and representatives continue to believe climate change is a “left-wing liberal fringe” issue, when every major scientific study has shown that a) it is a real phenomena and b) the effects will be catastrophic for our children, and our children’s children. These elected officials will not go up to bat against the lobbyists and gigantic checks of Big Oil and Big Agriculture, generally because they require their money to stay in office. The fundraising cycle in Washington is virtually endless, and as someone who now has a lot of experience about what it’s like to consistently be asking for something, I can almost understand their dilemma. Almost.

The years continue to go by, and while it’s too late now to stop some of global warming’s effects like sea level rise, we still have the opportunity to put a framework in place to SUSTAIN the health of our planet, and make sure that we are able to keep taking advantage of the miracle of human consciousness in collaboration and admiration of nature. It’s unpopular to think long term, but we have to start now.

On a more personal note, I have been staying off of the disposable coffee mugs and even all disposable drink containers. At a recent Bay Sox game, I asked the drink vendor just to fill my bottle in the sink, and he was happy to oblige. However, I am sad to report the breakage of my trusty ceramic mug. I will try to glue it back together, but it just might not be the same. More on this dilemma next week, and hopefully a more uplifting blog entry!

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