Drugs in the Drinking Water?

There are pharmaceuticals in my drinking water?

Unfortunately, there is a high chance that there are traces of pharmaceutical drugs in tap and bottled water. I was very surprised myself to learn about this sad fact. The tap water in the United States in arguably the cleanest and safest drinking water in the world that is free of microbes and other harmful chemicals. (1) According to the Associated Press investigation, there are varying drugs such as antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. (2) But how exactly does this happen? What are the environmental and health implications of having drugs in our drinking water?

How Do They Enter Our Drinking Water System?

Over last few years, the numbers of U.S prescriptions have rose 12%, tallying up to 3.7 billion prescriptions. Adding nonprescription drug purchases to this list adds another 3.3 billion.(3)  With a grand total of 7 billion prescription drugs entering a population of 320 million people, there is no wonder why our drinking water is contaminated. When people take these medications, not all of the medicine is absorbed by the body. Therefore, unmetabolized or unused drugs are being flushed down the toilet. The waste water is then treated and released in reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. Next, some of that water is cleaned at treatment plants and then piped to consumers. (4) The problem is that most of these treatment plants do not remove all of the drug residue.

But wait, human waste and voluntary disposal are not the only causes for contamination in our water system. The drugs that veterinarians use to treat animals with arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity are sometimes the same drugs that are used to treat humans. (5) Similar to humans, the drugs are still prevalent in the waste by products. In the same way that thorough human waste drugs enters our water system, animal waste is washed into streams, rivers, and groundwater systems. This not so pure water eventually ends up in our bodies.

The Effects On Human Health & The Environment  

Although these drugs are found at parts per billion and per trillion, scientists are still concerned about the lifetime effects of these drugs floating around in our drinking water. There is research evidence to support that small amounts of medicine can have devastating effects on human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells, and human breast cancer cells. It can cause kidney cells to grow too slowly, cancer cells to proliferate exceedingly, and the blood cells showed signs of biological activity associated with inflammation. (6) Additionally, there is evidence from the global and national community of the damaging impacts that pharmaceutical ridden waterways can have on wildlife. Male fish have been found to essentially turn into female fish by creating egg yolk proteins which is usually found in females! (7) This is a clear red flag that having drugs in our water (although in a small amounts) is definitely not beneficial to human or Environmental health.


So now the big question is what can we do about our drinking water? Apparently it does not matter whether you drink tap or bottled water; we are all still at risk. It is time that we pressure our government and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  As human beings we are entitled to clean drinking water and safe food. It is about time we the people of this nation truly had the power to change the ball game for all our sakes (and the environment’s!). Over the past few weeks in this blog series, we have been posting many articles about how one can save energy. However, this is time when we need to use it. We need to use the energy that it requires to protest, write to congress, and voice our opinions. Don’t you want to know what’s floating around in your drinking water?

Below are a few sources that have more information concerning particular states’ and cities’ purity of drinking water.




Wireless Energy Transmissions: Making the Seemingly Impossible Possible

 In 1901, Nikola Tesla began the creation of the Wardenclyffe, a “power tower”, foreseen to one day be able transfer energy wirelessly in all directions around it. But, soon after this project had begun it was scrapped, and the tower with it, due to low funding and lack of investors.

Fig. 1 Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower

One hundred and fourteen years later, scientists have finally taken Tesla’s work to the next step, and have succeeded in transmitting energy wirelessly. JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or the Japanese equivalent of NASA) has harnessed the power of microwaves, directed this power at pinpoint accuracy at a small target, and delivered 1.9 kilowatts of power 55 meters away for the very first time, no wires attached. Scientists aim to use this technology for the generation of solar power in outer space. But 55 meters is miniscule compared to the 22,300 miles away that scientists aim to place these solar stations. Yet, this could be a major breakthrough in renewable energy: humans may one day be able to harness a virtually undisturbable, inexhaustible source of energy. In space, there is never a time of day or type of weather that is unfit for the capture of solar rays. And we still have billion years, give or take a few, until our sun begins to die. 

Fig 2. What the solar panels in space may end up looking like

Technology like this has existed previous, but in different forms. First of all, typically, energy, or in it’s usable form, electricity, is transmitted via power or distribution lines or wires. In addition to wired transfer, there are also two different types of wireless energy transmission: near-field or non radiative, and far-field or radiative. Near-field is somewhat newly conventionalized, but nonetheless relatively commonly used for charging devices, such as phones, electric toothbrushes, and cardiac pacemakers. You may have see this method in your local technology store as a mat that you can place your phone on to wirelessly charge.

Fig. 3 An example of near-field non-radiative technology: the wireless charging mat

The type of wireless energy conveyance that JAXA has just now harnessed is far-field, or radiative transmission. Also known as “power beaming”, radiative transmission occurs via beams of electromagnetic radiation, such as microwaves or laser beams. The solar space stations would use the microwave technique to beam precisely pinpointed streams of energy down to earth.

Fig. 4 Another idea of what the wireless space solar panels may look like

Though inexhaustible radiative wireless energy seems to be faultless, as with any new innovation there are challenges as well as possible flaws. How will JAXA move this gigantic solar system into space? How will they choose to construct it? Maintain it? I assume that this process of but moving from the earth into space, and position will take years. And, what will it look like from earth? Will we be able to see it?

Will it be efficient, more so than existing solar panels? Though they will certainly generate a massive increase in amount, I hypothesize that there will be energy lost along the way, as 22,300 miles is an extremely long distance. And if the beam is concentrated and powered high enough not to be inefficient, what will become of the people, animals or objects that get in it’s way? After reading comments on what informed readers believe will occur, I have come to the conclusion that, because this beam will be incredibly hot, it could cook or vaporize anything in it’s way. Though a JAXA spokesman has said that this beam will not fry a bird or airplane in it’s path due to low-energy density, it is hard to make solid conclusions when this method has only been tested in the range of 55 meters and not yet an exponentially larger scale.

Fig. 5 A third layout of how these panels may be aligned, and how they function

The station itself is bound to cost millions, if not billions of dollars, which will either drive taxes or the cost of energy itself up. In addition, JAXA has been working on this Space Solar Power Systems idea for years, and has only made it to the first, vital step: transmission itself, and for only a short distance. A representative from the Agency has stated that it could take decades before the practical application of the technology becomes a reality. News providers and science enthusiasts have speculated no earlier than the year 2030 or 40.

Fig. 6 A group of JAXA Scientists

Though wirelessly transmitted energy will not be an innovation of the near future, I believe that when the Space Solar Power System is implemented, and the method is working, that it will change the way we think of energy altogether. In fifteen years, nonrenewable resources will begin to dwindle. There will be unrest, and slowly our beautiful earth will begin to be saturated with turbines and panels, streaking across the landscape. An alternate option will be desired, if not necessary. And what better option than putting these energy collectors outside of our world entirely, and making them infinite? It is unavoidable to state that wireless solar space energy could very well be our future. And if so, it will certainly be a bright one.

The Plan EJ 2014!

Environmental justice is the idea that people of all ethnicities, genders or income should be taken into account regarding environmental legislation. Accordingly, issues of environmental justice involve both social and environmental conflicts, and there are many of these issues indeed. For instance, studies have shown that generally people of color are more affected by pollution than White-Americans. Furthermore,”in 2011, scientists found that American counties with the worst levels of ozone had significantly larger African American populations.” (Grist) The ozone layer is a layer of the atmosphere. it becomes larger through a process called the greenhouse effect. Electricity production (power plants),transportation (i.e.: cars, buses, trains), even residential use of electricity all have one thing in common: they require the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable sources of energy including petroleum, coal and natural gas. The burning of any fossil fuel releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases remain in the ozone layer, trapping heat on earth and contributing to climate change.

Nevertheless, this isn’t an article about issues of environmental justice. This is an article designed to inform on a governmental plan focused on combating issues of environmental justice. Finally.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made environmental justice the top priority in the agency’s overall mission. From 2009 until May 2014 the EPA worked to create the Plan EJ 2014.   They describe it as

 “A roadmap that will help the EPA integrate environmental justice into the agency’s programs, policies, and activities. The Goals of the plan are to:

  • Protect health in communities over-burdened by pollution
  • Empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment
  • Establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities.” (epa)

    I think of the plan as a guding hand, a plan that pushes all sectors of the EPA into taking into account environmental equality when making decisions.

The significance of this plan is simply in the fact that it exists. The plan EJ 2014 is a bit of revitalization of a failed executive order of 1994 issued by President Clinton. Clinton’s executive order called for federal agencies to stop companies from “overburdening communities of colors.” (grist) Meaning, to stop concentrating power plants in low income neighborhoods, or more generally to stop concentrating pollution in low income neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, The executive order was largely ignored.

Bretin Mock sums up the importance of the plan excellently when he says “at least now, the powers that be can no longer feign ignorance.” (Grist) The people that can make a difference have acknowledged that environmental inequity is an issue, which is a huge step for the environmental justice movement in its own right.




The Future: Not Salty Salt Water

When you were little you were always told to never pee in the pool, right? Well some people don’t think that rule applies to the ocean, and to those people I say this: The ocean may be our new source of fresh water, so quit peeing in it! The process of desalinization may be the solution to end the Californian drought, and other droughts all around the world (as long as those places have the access to the technology). The basic idea of the process is that sunlight is focused onto a cylinder of water using mirrors; the water then evaporates and spins a turbine as it rises and later collects as clean water. Desalination takes impure runoff water, or ocean water, and uses solar energy to evaporate the water off, using it for farming, drinking water, or other purposes.

In California the WaterFX solar thermal desalinization plant is working to turn contaminated run off water into pure water for the community. This one plant so far is capable of producing 14,000 gallons of clean water a day. That’s the same amount of gallons if you collected all the milk from 1,750 cows in one day. The average American uses between 80-100 gallons of water a day through just daily use. The hope for this plant is to expand their operation and produce 2 million gallons a day. Aaron Mandell, co-founder of WaterFX, sells the water to farmers in the community and sees the company multiplying ten times in the next five years. Using desalinization is a really good way to help the drought in California, but doesn’t it mess up the natural water cycle?

Solar desalinization sounds pretty cool initially, it produces clean water and power with no fuel, just sunlight, but I had many initial concerns with the process when I first heard of it. The water cycle is basically the base of life on earth, and if it is tampered with then who knows the extent of the damage that could be done. How much water would be taken out of the ocean? What would happen to microorganisms in the water that play a crucial role in the oceans food chain? What happens to the left over gunk that made the water impure to begin with? After thinking about these questions I came to the conclusion that no source of energy is perfect and that on the scale of natural cycles that we already mess with in order to get power, solar desalinization seems to be on the smaller end of the spectrum.  It essentially has no negative environmental impacts directly due to the fact that it has no emissions, and no chemicals are used in the process. Its negative impact is based purely upon what people who run the plant choose to do with the “gunk” that’s left over after the water evaporates.

Pollution in India shortening Life Expectancy

According to a recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago, Yale and Harvard, more than half of India’s population lives in places with such polluted air that each person loses an average of 3.2 years in life expectancy.

This means that 660 million Indians lose 2.1 billion years as a result of air pollution.

A World Health Organization study last year found that 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. Also, the worst city for air pollution is New Delhi. India’s government pays no attention to these startling statistics and has made economic development its priority. In fact, India has announced its intention to double the country’s use of coal over the next five years, which will worsen the country’s air pollution.

air pollution

Figure 1. http://www.globalgujaratnews.in/uploads/news/02_2013/1360751992_07TH_AIR_POLLUTION_886689f.jpg

This pollution causes serious health issues. According to the World Health Organization, India has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases, and more deaths from asthma than any other nation. Air pollution also contributes to both chronic and acute heart disease, which happen to be the leading cause of death in India. In addition to human health problems, the air pollution may also cut agricultural production by a third.


Figure 2. http://airpollutionindia.weebly.com/uploads/2/0/3/0/20303009/489667946_orig.jpg?448

This graph shows the PM(particulate matter) in the air. The amount in the air is clearly over a healthy limit.

What is being done to help? Since the Indian government shows little signs of helping with air pollution, the country needs help from the international community. The United States says it will expand air-quality monitoring. This program will help other countries develop their own air-quality monitoring through training and advise with American experts. This will also benefit the U.S. because it will help United States citizens abroad reduce their exposure to pollution. The program is also run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It will begin to operate in India in a few months. American diplomatic missions will also monitor air quality Vietnam and Mongolia.





The Science Behind Batteries

Considering how widespread batteries are, it is surprising how little the average user knows about them. Batteries power many wireless electronic devices around the world. There are two general categories of batteries, disposable, or dry cell, and rechargeable. All batteries store electrical energy in chemical form. A cell is the working chemical unit within the battery. Disposable batteries use primary cells, while rechargeable batteries use secondary cells. Some batteries have more than one cell. There are three components in all cells, the positive electrode, the negative electrode, and the electrolyte. The electrolyte is either a liquid or a dry powder. The positive and negative electrodes are also known as the cathode and anode respectively. Figure 1 shows a primary cell.

Figure 1.


Electricity is the flow of electrons through a wire or any conductive path. Batteries produce electricity through multiple chemical reactions. The types of reactions depend on the type of battery. There are many varieties of batteries that contain different materials in their electrolytes and electrodes. Some examples of disposable batteries with primary cells include zinc-chloride, alkaline, and button. No matter the specific reaction, all the reactions achieve the same goal of moving ions. In a primary cell, the chemical reactions generate positive and negative ions. As you can see in figure 1, the positive ions move through the electrolyte towards the positive electrode. At the same time, the negative ions, or electrons, flow around the outside circuit. Primary cells cannot be used again because as they generate energy, they convert the original chemicals into different chemicals. Once the cell runs out of reactants, it can no longer generate electricity. Below, Figure 2 shows a secondary cell.

Figure 2.

Screen shot 2015-03-08 at 11.51.09 PM

In figure 2 you will see pink circles and arrows. Those represent the movement of electrons in the small circuit with a light bulb. This small circuit demonstrates the flow of electricity. Without the connection to the light bulb, the flow of ions does not occur. The chemical reactions within the battery cause a build up of electrons in the anode. When the battery is not being used, the electrons become very tightly packed. Electrons repel each other. They would like to go to a place with fewer electrons, like the cathode, but the only way they can do that is through some sort of outside circuit. When the electrons have the opportunity, they will move away from the anode, through the circuit to the cathode. This kind of battery is used in cellphones, computers, and cars. Running a current through them in the opposite direction recharges it. By running it in reverse, the chemical reactions are also reset. Some examples of rechargeable secondary cell batteries include nickel cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium ion batteries. A lithium ion battery is the kind that is most commonly used in cell phones and computers.  

Figure 3.


It is great what batteries enable us to do. Without batteries, we would not be able to enjoy the convenience of wireless phones, laptops and much more. However, they do take a toll on the environment. There are pros and cons to using either type of battery. For a while it was better to use disposable batteries because even though more of them went to the landfill, the chemicals in them were much less harmful than the chemicals in the rechargeable ones. However, since the creation of the nickel metal hydride battery and the advancement of the lithium ion batteries, it has become increasingly beneficial to use rechargeable batteries. Next time you are changing the batteries in your flashlight, consider using rechargeable batteries. It will not only be better for the environment, but it will also save you money!





Love Your Wood

Everyone knows someone who owns a guitar, some people know someone with multiple guitars. Every guitar, except for the more abstract ones, has a wood neck and most have wood body as well. At least one million guitars have been sold every year since 1999, and that is just online. All of these guitars are created with wood that has been taken from a forest. For nicer guitars there are “choice woods” that give better acoustics to the guitar, and are less likely to warp. The three most used “choice woods” are rose wood, mahogany, and maple. Some prefer Mahogany in their guitars, because of its ability to give the clearest note. Rose wood makes the higher frequencies of the sounds more reverberation which is a very unique sound. Maple is favored by some because of its versatility in terms of its sounds; it can sound clear, dark, and light all depending on how you play it. Mahogany generally comes from the Caribbean and Central and South America. In Peru, the amount mahogany trees has shrunk by 50%, and, within ten years a further 28% will be logged out.

Rose wood and Mahogany are both on the Globaltrees.org’s vulnerable conservation status due to their over logging. Guitar manufacturing may not be the largest reason as to why these trees are on the vulnerable list, but when online guitar sales have been as high as the past 15 years it is apparent that the amount of wood needed to build such a vast amount is very high. Green peace has started a campaign called Music Wood, to lessen the amount of wood taken from protected forests to manufacture musical instruments. Greenpeace are currently working on bringing the forestry of south east Alaska up to FSC standards so that American guitar manufacturers will have a more accessible, and more eco friendly place to get their wood from. Currently 0 acres of forest are FSC certified, and the majority of logging is done to clear space for other businesses or to clear space for people to live in. If the Music Wood program works it will benefit the economy of Alaska, bring down the amount of wood taken from protected forests for musical instruments, and it will bring more jobs to the native people and will help their economy as well.

Renewable Energy in Your Backyard?

The main types of renewable energy are wind, solar, and hydroelectric. Energy companies around the world capture the energy available in these renewable sources and turn them into electricity. There are many of companies that turn renewable energy into electricity. Since 1995 the amount of companies that deal with renewable energy sources such as wind power, and solar power has increased by over 100% in the past 20 years.

This picture shows the industry growth of companies that deal directly with renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy is certainly on the come up and because of it less fossil fuels are being consumed and there is less pollution than there would be with out the renewable energy. The following graph shows the green house gas emissions of various energy types. On the far right the green house gas emissions of the fossil fuels is significantly higher than that of the renewable energy sources on the left.

In 2013 About 67% of the electricity generated was from fossil fuels. Nearly every house in america is connected to the national power supply, and this means that the majority of the houses in America are largely powered by fossil fuels. The companies who are converting natural renewable energy into electricity use large scale equipment to harvest the energy, but is it possible small scale? What if we could harvest our own energy in our back yards? Between 2000 and 2013 there had been 2,261 MW of residential solar installed. Many people have solar panels, but they only really work if your house gets a lot of sunlight. If you lived in the woods what could you do? You can set up your very own hydro electric dam if you have a stream!

It could be challenging to build a large scale hydro electric dam like the one in the picture above, but even a small scale hydro electric dam that you build your self out of spoons and neoprene magnets would be better than nothing. If every one in America that had access to a good spot to build a hydro electric dam, install solar panels, or build a wind turbine we could slowly increase the amount of renewable energy that is turned into electricity to power homes by a lot!

A Green Antarctica?

There’s a bit of a dilemma happening in the Antarctic. That is, besides the fact that the glaciers are melting at a rate of 49 billion tons of ice each year. 

The issue is more of a moral one. Scientists largely agree that global warming is real, and it is a problem that will have catastrophic impacts on our world if left unchecked. The glaciers in Antarctica are certainly melting: it is entirely possible that in the next 200 years, the sea levels could rise up to 10 feet. In the past 200 years, sea levels rose by only 7 inches, and that was considered drastic. Coastal cities such as Venice, Boston, Miami, New York, and Mumbai would incur significant economic and physical damage, mostly stemming from a chronic flooding issue that would be difficult to control. Global warming, and therefore the melting of the glaciers, is caused by the greenhouse effect. The two major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO₂) and methane, and they form a layer of our atmosphere. As the light from the sun hits Earth, it reflects as infrared Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.02.40 PMradiation. Most of this then exits the atmosphere, but some of the energy is contained by the greenhouse gases and continues to warm our atmosphere. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the more energy is contained and the warmer our atmosphere becomes. Obviously the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has become overwhelming, as the glaciers in Antarctica are melting at a pace over five times faster than was predicted by scientists, when they should not be melting at all. The glaciers melt from the bottom up: first the water beneath them warms from the general temperature increase in the atmosphere at large. This, in turn, warms the ice and causes portions to break off, which then continue to melt in the water. The newly exposed ice then makes contact with the warmer water, and the glacier continues to melt.

So what is the dilemma? Surely all scientists would prefer that the glaciers stopped melting, even refroze. However, for botanists and plant biologists, the melted glaciers and warmer climate have some other affects that might even make global warming a bit alluring: plants are growing more, and better. This provides an opportunity to study the plant life of Antarctica in a way that has been previously impossible. Therein lies the conundrum: melting glaciers would increase the plant and animal life in the Antarctic, an exciting prospect for scientists in that area. The repercussions, however, would devastate many heavily settled cities as well as the ecosystems of both the ocean and the coastal areas.

Antarctica Glacial MeltingI think that while the prospect of finding out more about the ecosystems that could arise in the melted absence of the Antarctic glaciers, the damages to our civilization and other ecosystems would be too great a blow to justify even hoping that the glaciers continue to melt. The fortuitous discovery of further information on the Antarctic plant life is possibly something to ease the pain of the devastation of global warming, but it certainly does not justify perpetuating our current cycle of CO₂ emissions and pollution. We must continue to work towards a greener, healthier, less melty world.

Its Hard Not To Care When There Is So Much Smog In The Air

Living in New England, we have all encountered several blizzard warnings in which we are advised not to leave our homes. But can you imagine not being able to leave your home due poor air quality. For many of us this is unimaginable. How could the air quality within a whole country be so poor that one could not leave their home? For me, I actually lived through a smog epidemic during the summer of 2013 (Figure 1). This epidemic was so bad that the government made it illegal for individuals to leave their homes for about 3 days. Smog and excess air pollution is a chronic problem in Asian countries. This week I decided to dive in deeper and truly understand how smog build up occurs and why we see it so often in Asia.

Figure 1

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.23.09 PM

Smog by definition is the combination of smoke and fog. Smog is a black haze comprised of a mixture of pollutants (Figure 2). But how exactly is smog created? As previously mentioned, smog is essentially a combination of pollutants in the air. When these pollutants are burnt the fumes are then released into the air.  These fumes come directly from things such as heavy traffic, high temperatures, sunshine and calm winds.The smog we see today is called photochemical smog. Photochemical smog is when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere. Examples of nitrogen oxides include car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions. Examples of VOCs are include gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents. When the sunlight hits these particles it sparks the creation of fumes thus creating smog. Asian countries tend to have high populations thus resulting in an increase in the number of automobiles and heavy traffic. In addition, Asia being located near the equator makes for high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. These factors double the effects of smog and amplifies the effect. 

Figure 2


Smog can be extremely detrimental to ones health and in some cases it can be fatal. Smog gives off an immediate effect and theres no gradual build up. Smog can cause minor health issues such as a cold and pneumonia. Although this is the case, smog can also be responsible for major health issues such as lung cancer. Smog is most commonly known for causing irritation  in the eyes and increasing the difficulty to breathe (figure 3). Smog also deteriorates plant life. With several pollutants in the air, this makes it difficult for plant life to prosper and continue to grow. More often than not plant life can completely die as a result of smog. 


So what can you do to help? There several small actions one can do to reduce the amount of smog emitted in urban areas. First and for most, avoid driving if it is not necessarily. Try walking, carpooling, and or using bikes if everyone tries to do this smog emissions will slowly begin to decrease. In addition, fill your automobile with gasoline during the cooler hours of the day; this prevents gas fumes from heating up and producing ozone. Finally, if one cuts down on gas powered appliances and uses electrically powered appliances in stead this will also reduce the amount of smog.

The smog epidemic personally effected me and I am fearful that the problem will increase if we dont do anything about it. This problem can be reduced as long as we are aware and try and put forth our best effort to reduce the number of gas powered appliances we use!!! What will you do to reduce the effects of smog on our community?