March 19, 2012
January 12th 2010 marks the date of one of the most devastating earthquakes in history: the Haiti earthquake. Claiming nearly 100,000 lives, this earthquake which one could classify as an involuntary risk, leveled almost the entire nation. The devastation though, did not end there. Not even a year later, the country was hit by a nationwide cholera epidemic. Contaminated water due to improper waste management, in addition to a weak public health system, is what lead to the spread of cholera across the country.
Cholera is a water-borne disease caused by the bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Its toxin induces profuse diarrhea, leading to extreme dehydration and death. Spread mainly by drinking or eating food cooked with contaminated water, cholera thrives in countries like Haiti, which are plagued by poor sanitation and crowding. Treatment for cholera involves the ingestion of an “electrolyte rich solution” made of water, salt, and sugar; tragically, the lack of clean water needed to make the low cost treatment is the same reason that the disease thrives and is able to claim countless lives. Inadequate health care along with the rapid urbanization and unsanitary living environments set up prime conditions for an outbreak of this water-borne disease; this is an environmental risk challenge that many developing countries still face today.
Inadequate waste management practices in Haiti allowed for the rapid spread of cholera. A 2009 study of waste management in Port au-Prince revealed that 87.7% of poor households use mainly gullies to dispose of waste, which are large ditches in hillsides created by centuries of water flow following rains. These gullies then flow into streams, and the cholera bacteria found in the waste is easily transported downstream, infecting all who come in contact with or use the stream water. According to a 1993 study, “the inadequate supply of drinking water combined with nonexistent drainage networks for domestic and industrial waste-water, and inefficient solid waste collection, contributes considerably to the development of infectious diseases in Haitian urban areas” (Bhatia & Falkenmark, 1993). Close quarters living, a forced result of the Haitian earthquake, exacerbated this problem considerably. Lacking government purified water, safe for drinking and cooking, Haitian citizens consumed any water that was publicly available and were infected as a result. Waste disposal presented a moderate problem when population density was low, but when the thousands of people displaced by the earthquake were put into high density Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, water and sanitation systems broke down, increasing the chances of fecal-oral transmission of bacteria and exasterbating the already present challenge of this environmental risk.
While there are fortunately many solutions to this challenge, it will still be an enormous obstacle to surmount in applying them. Cholera continues to cause illness and death and the best way to fight it is prevention through global access to clean water and sanitation. But when such outbreaks happen, oral rehydration therapy is one of the best solutions to save lives. Sips of salt and sugar solution are given and the patient recovers after few hours. While packets of oral rehydration solution are given to cure the patients, some long term approaches still need to be applied through education, sanitation and hygiene. According to the article A Sugar and Salt Solution for Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic, the short term techniques seem to be temporary, but at least they will give the aid workers enough time to “make the investments that would avoid this type of outbreak in the future”.
One of the easiest and yet effective sanitary approaches to this outbreak is by providing hand soaps to the residents; because it decreases the risk of diarrheal diseases, which will be even more effective through continuous public education. Other effective and sustainable ways to prevent cholera transmission and sanitation include construction of sewage system for the entire community, waste monitoring to decrease the spread of waterborne diseases and prevention through vaccination.
CDC, UNICEF and Haiti’s National Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, established water chlorination programs to increase the access to safe water for drinking, hand-washing, and cleaning. They also provided water storage tanks, soap and large quantities of emergency water treatment supplies for homes and piped water systems.
Bras, A, C. Berdier, E. Emmanuel, and M. Zimmerman. “Waste Management.” Elsevier. (2009): 1-3. Web. 11 Oct. 2011.
Bhatia, Ramesh , and Malin Falkenmark. “Water Resource Policies and the Urban Poor: Innovative Approches and Policy Imperatives.” World Bank Group. World Bank, 1993. Web.
Walton, David A, and Louise C. Ivers. “Responding to Cholera in Post-Earthquake Haiti.” The New England Journal of Medicine 364.1 (2011): 3-5. Web.
WebMD. “Cholera.” WebMD.com. National Organization of Rare Disorder, 11 May 2011. Web.
Kristof, Nicholas. “A Sugar and Salt Solution for Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic.” NYTimes. Web. 09 Mar. 2012. <http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/a-sugar-and-salt-solution-for-haitis-cholera-epidemic/>.
Lauren Otaguro and Angineh Shahnazarian are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
The term “emissions trading” refers to the principal of cap and trade pollution/emission credits being sold for profit from corporations that have reduced their emission levels, to companies that are polluting more than the amount of emission credits they have been allotted. This practice provides economic incentive for companies to invest in more efficient technologies, create more sustainable products, or develop remediation strategies such as stack scrubbers or carbon filters. This blog has nothing to do with emissions trading. We are going to discuss another alternative many corporations have chosen to reduce their economic burden from the pollution they are producing. Rather than buy emission credits, or use green technologies, which in some cases can be more costly, it has become standard for industrial corporations to simply relocate their factories to parts of the world. These countries will not charge the company for their emissions, because they cannot afford to lose this new source of jobs and therefore economic stimulus. The countries are trading poverty for poison.
Before 1970, there were a series of ecological disasters that raised huge concern to the general public of industrialized nations. Incidents of killer smog, the disturbing health conditions experienced by the families living over the hazardous chemical dump site Love Canal, nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, acid rain, the exposure of the environmental impact of the miracle chemical DDT by Rachel Carson, and images of rivers engulfed in flames opened the world’s eyes to the severity of environmental risks they were being exposed to everyday. This fear was the trigger that launched what became the Stockholm Era named after the location of the very first United Nations Conference on the Environment (1972). The U.S. and other Annex 1 countries took a front seat in passing environmental regulations, limitations, and funding. OSHA, NOAA, the EPA, the very first Earth Day, CERCLA and the Clean Air and Clean Drinking Water Acts were just a few of the results.
Things seemed to get better quick. The problems did not disappear though, just went into hiding. Factories started popping up in some of the most fragile and most ecosystems in the world due to their access to resources and inexpensive labor. A perfect example is the Bhopal Disaster. People are still suffering from effects of that toxic gas leak, and few have received any sort of compensation. The people of developing nations do not have the power or the voice to say not in my backyard to the hand that is feeding them, albeit feeding them toxic waste.
Factories are not the only environmental risks that have been exported. Millions of tones of hazardous waste are shipped off every year to countries that do not properly store or dispose of it. E-waste is also becoming a huge issue, the classic example being the waste site located in Guiyu China. The Basel Convention in 1989 sought to limit this trade, however now that developed nations have lost interest in problems that are out of sight, out of mind, international environmental governance has lost much of its momentum. The U.S. failed to ratify the Basel Convention, or the Kyoto Protocol, took a backseat in Rio(1992) and did not even attend the conference in Johannesburg(2002).
Although the risks may not be as visible as a burning river, developing nations are not the only ones paying for the unsustainable practices occurring within their borders. Rivers, the ocean, and the air are shared resources that are constantly carrying pollutants to new homes. Climate change from green house gas emissions is also blind to economic territories and will affect the entire world. The destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and acidification of the ocean due to higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide both reduce photosynthesis and therefore are a positive feedback loops for climate change. The solution is simple. There needs to be international organizations that can enforce global regulations and make sure the “polluter pays” model and precautionary principals are being adhered to regardless of location.
Kimberly Knabel and Justin Bodga are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Recent discoveries indicate that the effects of drugs like birth control may indeed be spinning out of control. Americans are using more drugs than ever, and the amount of pharmaceuticals in the water supply has greatly increased in the past decades. The baby boomer generation is aging, which causes the intake of more drugs. People have been disposing of unwanted medications by flushing them down toilets without thinking of where that pipe leads – back into the water. In the past, the culprits have even included hospitals and nursing homes, as these facilities are required by federal law to dispose of any leftover medicine to avoid misuse. However, one of the main ways pharmaceuticals are entering our water supply is not through direct dumping, but rather human excretion. This is the case for birth control.
Birth control is not entirely absorbed by our bodies and currently, water treatment plants do not adequately remove these compounds. Therefore, some quantities of birth control come out in our urine and can contaminate water in a flush. 17α-ethinylestradiol, a synthetic estrogen found in birth control, has been found to cause the feminization of male fish, with some found containing both male and female parts or even producing eggs. The estrogen is causing fish species to become infertile, with the reproductive organs becoming so deformed the fish can no longer reproduce. In a study conducted at the Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, two months after adult trout were continually exposed to the synthetic estrogen, they were half as fertile as the unexposed fish.
The contaminated water quality affects humans as well as organisms living in the water. Although it is believed that low concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water will have little to no impact on human health, there is little information known on their long-term effects. However, there is evidence that these pharmaceuticals become concentrated in the fish that humans eat. A study by the University of Pittsburg showed that when the estrogen levels in catfish were exposed to breast cancer cells, the cells grew twice as fast. The south branch of the Potomac runs through Hardy County, Virginia, where the rate of cancer has risen because of the polluted river. A recent study in the county found that the rate of liver, gallbladder, ovary, and uterine cancer is higher than the state average. As with most environmental contaminants, the effects of pharmaceuticals on humans are not certain. However, we can be sure that people will be greatly affected by the decrease in fish populations and lingering risk that prolonged exposure to these contaminants could be detrimental to human health.
Although many municipal filtration systems cannot filter out these emerging contaminants, there are several ways to decrease their consequences. According to “Scientific American,” personal water filters that use reverse osmosis and carbon filters may help. In terms of eliminating the compounds through treatment, scientists are also looking into new technologies that will allow treatment plants to use membranes to pull out contaminants. Also, because lined landfills are more capable of handling contaminants, one of the best ways to reduce the impact of pharmaceuticals in water is not to flush them in the first place, but rather dispose of them in the trash. However, the issue with birth control is that it is released into the environment through human excretion, something we cannot prevent we want to continue to use these drugs. We need to keep researching and monitoring the effects of pharmaceuticals like birth control to try to find ways to filter out these contaminants in treatment plants. While there is no definite solution, we can do our best to reduce develop new technologies, keep a close eye on the effects, and limit the amount of pharmaceuticals that end up in the water that we share with millions of species.
Juliana Duran and Judy Fong are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.
Two years after BP oil spill at Gulf of Mexico, even though the water is no longer covered with red brownish crude oil, the threat of potential environmental risks does not fade away. Does billions of dollars of investment into restoration and cleaning programs eliminate the probability of future disasters? The observation results now may have given a negative answer. People living on the coastal area of Louisiana and Texas may have to face long term damages.
Recent research shows that threats put on marine animals have not been diminishing. In 2011, USF scientists reported that the oil spill area has the highest level of diseased fish. In 2012, another government-granted survey showed the same result. This is a quite disturbing result. A large number of diseased fish in the population not only is going to increase the death rate but also reduce the reproduction ability. The overall effect may be the sharp drop of population size of local fish and limit their future growth. At the same time, the cause of diseases among fish is still unknown. That is, marine animals may not be able to heal themselves due to the existence of unknown pollutants.
BP oil spill may also have long-term impacts on some coastal habitats, including several marshes and wetlands, which are significant refuges for wildlife. USFWS has published a federal list of wildlife refuges that are facing great threat from the oil spill, including a sanctuary for migratory birds. The pollution of those important refuges would bring damages to many land animals. Researchers from University of Houston suggest that the crude oil has entered the marshes near the coast of Gulf of Mexico, with 50% reduction of crabs, insects and spiders that are exposed to the oil. Even though the health plants may be able to restore the marshes in several years, they need continuous observations to make sure the success of restoration because potential risks exist that the oil spill may initiate a vicious cycle.
The long-term threat to the environment is not the only concern for local people to worry about. Fishing industry has suffered millions of dollars of loss due to the loss of faith in the quality of local marine products, and it is expected to affect the future industry growth. The Louisiana charter boat and marina operations have stated that their incomes are down 40 to 60 percent as a result of the spill. Hundreds of oystermen had to close down their businesses, putting an end to a local industry.
The cleaning programs themselves are carrying considerable environmental risks. BP has been using two oil dispersants that were banned in UK due to the dispute of its impacts on the environment over a decade ago. Although they are EPA approved, concerns still exist that they may be toxic to marine creatures and human beings. Studies have shown that both chemicals have the ability to cause fish illness. In the long term, they may show its effects through not only the health of marine animals but also the quality of underground water.
Conclusively, BP oil spill cast several long term environmental risks on Gulf of Mexico coastal area. Although the severity levels are unknown, close observations are needed for regulators to have a better understanding to the future threats.
Hongxi Zhao and Jay Bahayani are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Some critics would argue that feedlots are required by society in order to keep up with the growing population and increasing demand for food. Even though this statement is debatable, the real question is whether or not feedlots are worth the environmental risk? Specifically, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs pose an extremely high risk to the environment with their impact on air, water, and land quality.
Water quality is heavily affected by the discharge and waste that comes from thousands of animals confined on a small farm. Often, companies deal with manure and urine from livestock by channeling it into a lagoon or cesspool. The risk of a tear, leak, or break is highly probable at feedlots. Pollution in the form of nitrates, microbes, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and many more are flooded into nearby water systems and threaten human health, not only the environment. High levels of nitrates, for instance, can increase spontaneous abortions and increase the risk of blue baby syndrome—a disease that causes infant deaths. Antibiotics are heavily used in CAFOs and when those enter our drinking water, it makes it more difficult for us to effectively combat bacteria that progressively become more genetically resistant. The risks of CAFOs are high as not only water is threatened, but the overall environment’s health is compromised.
Contrary to what one might expect, air quality is also at risk due to the broad impact CAFOs have on the environment. Specifically, many hazardous gases are emitted from CAFOs as biological material biodegrades. Methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide are just a few of the gases that pollute the air. Also, cow burps and flatulence produces about one-quarter of the methane released in the USA each year, further contributing to the contamination of our atmosphere. If there is any hope in reducing the risk associated with CAFOs in order to make them a more viable option for livestock farming, society must address the growing air quality issue associated with them.
Any land used by CAFOs immediately faces threats to its quality. Manure is one of the biggest threats to soil quality, and the process of over-fertilization of land causes nitrogen and phosphorus levels within soil to become imbalanced. With these imbalances, the threat of leaching or runoff into groundwater greatly increases. This runoff contains bacteria found in manure but also contains the chemicals and substances given to livestock. In fact, most feedlot runoff is high in salinity and can leave behind salt deposits, which causes farmers to use even more water which is then exposed livestock waste. CAFOs pose an interconnected problem amongst land, water, and air resources which makes the issue difficult to deal with.
After looking at all of the evidence surrounding CAFOs and their operation, one must answer the question posed at the beginning of this post: are feedlots worth the environmental risk? After characterizing and assessing this issue, CAFOs are too hazardous to the environment; consequently, other farming alternatives and actions must be pursued. One solution is through public awareness and participation, where consumers purchase meat that has been produced exclusively by farms practicing sustainable farming. Other solutions are alternative farming practices and new technology. Specifically, the government should promote pollution reducing efforts by farmers and further regulate dangerous practices that can impact the environment. If society and the government both advocate for change, the environmental impact of CAFOs can be greatly reduced. If this were to occur, the environment would not only benefit but humans would as well.
Connor Schroeder and Albert Perez are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.