Building the World

May 31, 2019
by buildingtheworld
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WATER: antibiotics on tap

Pills of antibiotic cefalexin. Photographer: Sage Ross, 2014. Image: wikimedia commons.

Feeling sick? It may the drugs you just took when you drank a sip of coffee or a glass of water. Affecting not just humans but aquatic life, medications are entering the water as fast as plastic – they’re just harder to see.

Antibiotics have been found in 65% of over 70 world waterways tested. For example, a site in Bangladesh showed Metronidazole present at levels 300 times the safe limits (20,000 to 32,000 nanogram per liter (ng/l) guidelines set by AMR Industry Alliance). The most frequent contaminant? trimethoprim found at 301 of 711 river testing sites. Most prevalent antibiotic found at dangerous levels: Ciprofloxacin, in 51 of the 72 countries tested.

Chao Phraya River Drainage Basin. Image: wikimedia.

Rivers all over the world show similar results: Chao Phraya, Danube, Seine, Thames.  Some areas of the world suffer infected water more: Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan ranked highest of sites monitored. In general, Asia and Africa frequently exceeded safety limits for antibiotics but problems were also found in Europe, North and South America. In other words, it’s global.

Of course, antibiotics save lives. But that’s just the problem: growing global resistance to antibiotics, anti fungals, antivirals caused 700,000 deaths yearly due to drug-resistant diseases, among them tuberculosis. The United Nations’ Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance predicts that by 2030, over one million people will die every year due drug-resistant diseases.

PROBLEMS: Individuals are in no small part responsible: a study in California revealed half of all medications are discarded, often into the water supply. Another problem: even if we don’t intend to, individuals deposit drugs into the water supply.  People take a lot of drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter; our bodies metabolize only a percentage of the intake, excreting the rest into wastewater systems. And then there are the larger systemic depositors: hospitals try to return unused drugs to manufacturers obtaining a credit or at least assured safe disposal, but care and nursing facilities may not have such arrangements. Certainly drug manufacturers generate highly concentrated waste; downstream of a New York State pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, antibiotic concentrations showed levels 1,000 times higher than normal. And then there’s agriculture: poultry and livestock farming are responsible for two trillion pounds of animal waste filled with the hormones and antibiotics fed to the animals to optimize growth and marketability.

Antibiotics harm fish and aquatic life. Image: Giant Group, Georgia Aquarium, Wikimedia.

Other ways animals are affected? Aquatic life itself is changing: so much estrogen has entered rivers and ponds that male fish are showing genetic changes including the development of intersex fish, especially downstream of wastewater treatment plants: notable is Washington’s Potomac River.

Filters are one approach: water treatment plants have been successful at filtering out ibuprofen but couldn’t catch diclofenax, another pain reliever. Chlorine used in drinking water treatment does reduce bacteria and also degrades acetaminophen and the antibiotic sulfathiazole, and also carbamazepine (by 75%). Still, chemicals are getting into our bodies simply by turning on the tap: Southern Nevada Water Authority found antibiotics, antipsychotics, beta blockers, and tranquilizers in the drinking water as far back as 2010. It is only getting worse.

SOLUTIONS

Pharmaceutical systems include manufacturing, distribution, consumption, disposal, and waste treatment: each step of the process offers opportunities for intervention and innovation. Regulations, at a national, local, or global level, can be effective: compliance is now an industry with consultants like Stericycle with programs “designed to meet regulatory requirements.” Of course, pharmaceutical businesses have in-house programs and systems, including segregating hazardous waste pharmaceuticals that are then sent to a Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility (TSDF). It’s a big business: UBS and Vanguard are investors, along with 500 other financial funds. Stericycle has 22,000 employees: competitors include Republic Services with 36,000 and Waste Management with 42,000 employees. It’s a business of the future: pharmaceutical use shows no sign of decreasing, although there is a movement to encourage safer drugs.

Jardine Water Purification Plant, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Image: wikimedia.

Nations and cities can take action. Water facilities such as the Jardine Water Purification Plant in Chicago, Illinois, world’s largest by volume, draws water from the American Great Lakes for distribution to 390 million urban residents. Research and innovation here could lead the way. In Europe, Germany invested one billion euro in the last two decades to water infrastructure including wastewater collection and treatment, in some ways advancing beyond the EU’s Council Directive 98/83/EC.1

Waterways themselves can innovate. When the Roman Aqueducts were built, it was due to an increasingly polluted Tiber River. When London’s water supply from the Thames became problematic, a public-private system was developed: the New River. Will the Grand Canal of China, part of the Belt and Road Initiative, lead research and action to improve the aquatic environment ? Might Inland Waterways International champion ways to improve the health of rivers and other created waterways?

SOLUTION: YOU – What can you do?

Don’t purchase bulk or volume packaging, avoiding accumulation of unused or expired chemical formulations.

Never flush unused medications, vitamins, or supplements down the drain.

When you must dispose, trash/landfill is preferable to flush/water. First, remove pills from container (recycle container),  then crush the pills, add a bit of water, and seal the result in a strong plastic bag before placing in trash.

MORE

Boxall, Alistair. York Environmental Sustainability Institute, and SETAC Helsinki 2019: https://helsinki.setac.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/SETAC-Helsinki-programme-book.pdf; and .https://www.york.ac.uk/yesi/news/pharmaceuticals/

Craft. “Stericycle Competitors and Alternatives.” https://craft.co/stericycle/competitors/

Fox, Kara. “The world’s rivers are contaminated with antibiotics, new study shows.” 27 May 2019, CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/27/health/antibiotics-contaminate-worlds-rivers-intl-scli/index.html.

Harvard University. “Drugs in the water.” June 2011, Harvard Health Letter. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/drugs-in-the-water.

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). https://www.setac.org

Stericycle.com NASDAQ: SRCK

University of York. “Antibiotics found in some of the world’s rivers exceed ‘safe’ levels, global study finds.” 27 May 2019. https://www.york.ac/uk/news-and-events/news/2019/research/antibiotics-found-in-some-of-worlds-rivers/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

February 20, 2019
by buildingtheworld
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Building Better Coasts

Climate change is causing sea rise resulting in coastal erosion, flooding, and threatening ports and cities. Jakarta is in extreme danger: thirteen rivers run through the city, causing frequent flooding. The mega-city of 10 billion is doubly endangered: urban land is suffering subsidence, parts of Indonesia’s capital  (some predict 95%) could be deluged by 2050.

Reed beds revitalize polluted waters. Image: wikimedia

Even rivers like the Thames and Lea in London are not immune. But the city of London Bridge is responding. Thames21 is planting reeds that oxygenate rivers, restoring the habitat marred by pollution; reeds convert toxic ammonia to nitrate. Reed beds also provide habitat for aquatic life. In an echo of the Canal des Deux Mers, the canalized section of the River Lea will receive new reed beds every 300 meters over the length of the river coursing through London.

Indonesia, image: wikimedia.

Meanwhile, Jakarta is exploring response including artificial recharge, a method used a half-century ago by Tokyo in a time of subsidence; to support the program, groundwater extraction was halted and businesses were required to utilize reclaimed water. Jakarta would need to use only rainwater; could catchment systems help? The Dutch, formerly involved in the region, have returned: Institute Deltares reported on the efficacy of the current plan to build the Great Garuda Sea Wall (32 km) along with 17 artificial islands at the cost of (US$) 40 billion. Included in the plan is a new lagoon waterway that can be lowered during floods allowing water to drain. Another method: biopori – digging a hole of 100cm depth to allow rainwater to more easily absorbed into the land, replenishing groundwater. Indonesia may offer an example to many places in the world surrounded by water; how can we build better coasts?

“Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world.” 12 August 2018. By Tom de Souza, with interactive elements by Arvin Surpriyadi, Davies Surya, and Leben Asa.

“Project Reed Beds.” Thames 21. https://www.thames21.org.uk/project-reedbed-2/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

February 2, 2018
by buildingtheworld
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90% of Ocean Plastic comes from 10 Rivers

Plastic is a relatively recent innovation but disastrously successful. In 1950, 2.5 billion people on the planet generated 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, 7 billion of us produced 300 trillion tons. Five trillion is now in the oceans, with toxic effects. But there is hopeful news. The United Nations will soon meet to empower Communities of Ocean Action, furthering Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14. On the agenda may be a recent study finding that improving ten rivers could reduce ocean plastic by half. Here are the rivers, please see map:

Rivers near cities carry the most plastic. Will Los Angeles lead an effort to reduce microbead pollution? Image: wikimedia.

Yangtze

Indus

Yellow

Hai

Nile

Ganges

Pearl River

Amur

Niger

Mekong

Inland rivers near cities are the major delivery systems of plastic to the oceans. If the trend continues, by 2050 the oceans will have more plastic than fish. Will the Yangtze River, part of the Grand Canal of China, develop a pioneering model to address the 727 million pounds of plastic carried by its water, perhaps creating a program in honor of the Grand Canal? The Yangtze is home to half a billion people: would a school-based program raise awareness and offer ways to reduce plastic? Also part of the Grand Canal: Hai and Yellow rivers. China may include the issue in the Maritime Silk Road. The United States is also a contender: it won the dubious honor of being the only industrialized western country to make the top twenty plastic polluters list.

Best, Shivali. “Shocking report reveals that 95% of plastic polluting the world’s oceans comes from just TEN rivers including the Ganges and Niger.” Daily Mail. 11 October 2017.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4970214/95-plastic-oceans-comes-just-TEN-rivers.html

Sahagun, Louis. “Microbes a major problem in L.A. River.” Los Angeles Times. 25 January 2014. www.latimes.com/science/la-me-0126-microbeads-20140126-story.html.

Schmidt, Christian, Tobias Krauth, Stephen Wagner. “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, Germany. 11 October 2017. Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 51, Issue 21, Pages 12246-12253. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est7b02368. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.7b02368.

United Nations. “UN’s mission to keep plastics out of oceans and marine life.” 27 April 2017. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56638#.WnR75GaZPvw

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

January 26, 2018
by buildingtheworld
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Make Your Next Straw, The Last Straw

Make your next straw, the last straw. Image: wikimedia commons.

Americans use 500 million plastic straws – every day. Just to get the picture: that’s enough to fill 127 school buses. Every day. Each person in the United States will statistically use 38,000 plastic straws between the ages of 5 to 64. Most straws end up in the oceans. Why? Even when recycled, most plastic straws are too light, dropping undetected through recycling sorting filters. All waters, even with straws and microbeads, flow to the oceans where 70% of seabirds now have plastic in their stomachs. Plastic bags have been the subject of concern for decades, but plastic straws are among the top ten items found in marine debris. It’s easy to say NO. Mention your preference during your order: “And, no straw, please.” If a straw is required (there are many important medical and special needs), compostable plastic straws may offer a sustainable choice.  Individually, many people carry a personal water bottle or coffee cup; why not consider BYO straw choices like bamboo or stainless steel? A personal straw could address the safety of sips. Here are some straw styles suggested by Strawless Ocean.

Grenier, Adrian. “The Strawless Ocean Initiative.” Interview with Project Earth correspondent Nicholas Ibarguen on how individuals and restaurants could stop using plastic straws. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvGL89HDKE.

Schmidt, Christian, Tobias Kraut, S. Wagner. “Export of plastic debris by rivers into the sea.” Environmental Science & Technology 2017, 51 (21), 12246-12253. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.7b02368

“Strawless in Seattle” demonstrates how a city can go strawless. Enter your town in the competition https://www.strawlessocean.org/seattle/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

March 24, 2017
by buildingtheworld
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Rivers are people, too

“Reflection of the Taj Mahal on the Yamuna River.” Image: wikimedia.

The first country in the world to give rights to a river was New Zealand: the Whanganui, the country’s longest, has received the environmental protection long sought by the Maori. Now, India has given human status and rights to two sacred rivers. The Ganges is protected, as is the river of the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan acquired the land near the Yamuna to use the river as a ‘keel’ to balance the massive iconic monument. How are the rights of a river represented? New Zealand’s river will be represented in legal matters by one of the Maori people and one representative of the crown government. India anticipates environmental rights will now be protected, having declared the Ganges and Yamuna are “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities.” Bolivia decreed the rights of Earth in Ley 071 de Derechos de la Madre Tierra.

For New Zealand’s Whanganui River’s legal status:  www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-zealand-river-just-got-legal-rights-person-180962579/ and To hear the Maori chant: “Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au.”: https://vimeo.com/76390994

For India’s Ganges and Yamuna Rivers and rights: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/court-gives-2-indian-rivers-same-rights-as-a-human/2017/03/21/fccb440

For Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, Law 071 of Bolivia: comunicacion.presidencia.gob.bo/docprensa/pdf/20121015-11/53-28.pdf.

For Pope Francis and environmental ethics: http://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2015/07/09/environmental-wholiness/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

December 16, 2014
by buildingtheworld
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Voice of the Future: River Communities

083_VSFP_Bridge_Photo

“Ceres,” vessel of Vermont Sail Freight Project, found resonance in many river communities and in New York City. Image: Vermont Sail Freight Project.

While the tiny nature of this initiative was evident to us as we passed under the huge Hudson River bridges like the George Washington and Tappan Zee, each of which was carrying thousands of times our cargo capacity per minute over the river in trucks, we still found it meaningful, and discovered that our initiative had surprising resonance in many river communities and in New York City. The river and harbor were once the preeminent conduit of life and trade, yet are now almost entirely overlooked for everything except recreation. With the addition of fairly modest docks and warehouses suited to this type of trade, we can envision not so much a re-enactment of our past, but more a carrying forward to meet contemporary challenges. The Vermont Sail Freight Project is now exploring avenues for the continuation and expansion of this work in the 2015 season, with some exciting new partnerships.

– Eric Andrus, founder of Vermont Sail Freight Project

Voice of the Future, 2014

November 19, 2014
by buildingtheworld
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Voice of the Future, 2014: Erik Andrus

 

“An about-face on the subject of transportation and infrastructure,” Erik Andrus, founder of Vermont Sail Freight Project. Photo above: vessel “Ceres.” Image: courtesy of www.vermontsailfreightproject.com.

Infrastructure. The word implies awesomeness, technical complexity, hard hats, and the oversight of engineers. For those not involved in its planning or creation, our built environment can seem largely the individual’s ability to participate or comprehend. The Vermont Sail Freight Project was conceived as an about-face on the subject of transportation and infrastructure, an attempt to borrow heavily on historical patterns and to utilize public commons to perform a service of contemporary economic relevance, and in so doing to set a mold for an alternate way of transporting and doing business that is more in tune with the limitations of our planet.

~ Erik Andrus, Founder, Vermont Sail Freight Project

Voice of the Future, 2014

Voice of the Future

 

 

April 15, 2014
by buildingtheworld
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Wedding of the Waters

DeWitt Clinton pours water from Erie Canal into Atlantic Ocean, marking “the wedding of the waters.” Artist: C.Y.Turner, 1905. Image credit: eriecanal.org

Connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River, the Erie Canal created a trade route from the Great Lakes region to the Atlantic coast. The waterway facilitated development of the Midwest and accelerated leadership of New York City, located at the mouth of the Hudson on the Atlantic Ocean, as a world urban center. Credit for building the canal goes to DeWitt Clinton, political leader who served as a state senator, U.S. senator, and mayor of New York City, before becoming governor of New York State. On April 15, 1817, the New York State Legislature provided funding for Navigable Communications between the Great Western and Northern Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. How does the Erie Canal link to Atlantic Studies and to the Atlantic Rim Network, whose mission serves “global issues, local solutions, and regional connections?” What other areas of the world, with powerful lakes and rivers that could be connected to oceans, might arrange a beneficial “wedding of the waters?”

For more on the Atlantic Rim Network:

James H. Barron, Jessica C. McWade, “Toward a New ‘New Atlanticism’,” Parallax: Journal of International Perspectives, Vol. No 1, Fall 2003, pp. 75-89.

On the Erie Canal:

eriecanalmuseum.org

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

April 2, 2014
by buildingtheworld
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45.3N x 34.4E: Power of Ports

The Crimea. Image courtesy of wikimedia.

Popular with the ancient Greeks, who called its main river Borysthenes, favored by the Romans, Bulgars, Goths and Huns, the Crimea offers port access on the northern border of the Black Sea, with the advantage of also being on the western shores of the Sea of Azov. In medieval times, the Crimean Khanate united the area, but later it became the Taurida Oblast in 1783, and still later the Soviet Crimean Oblast, transferred to Ukraine in 1954. Finally, in 1991, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was born, only to be challenged in 2014. Why so many changes ? Advantageous port territory, milder winters, access to the Dnieper River (fourth largest in Europe). Today operating more than 12 seaports, the Crimea demonstrates the power of ports. The importance of waterways and ports can also be seen in the Canal des Deux Mers and the Erie Canal. Another famous port,  St. Petersburg, once the capital and Russia’s largest seaport, still carries the cultural imprint of its founder, Czar Peter the Great, in 1703. Can present day Crimea take inspiration from aspects of St. Petersburg’s success, including business monopolies? Perhaps in partial explanation of why the game’s greats are often Russian, St. Petersburg was once the only source of chessboards. What strategies for economic and cultural success should the Crimea envision for coordinates 45.3N by 34.4E?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

December 23, 2013
by buildingtheworld
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Baghdad: Madinat-as-Salam

Peace Symbol. Courtesy: wikimedia commons.

Riding a white horse, Caliph al-Mansur lept from his steed, unsheathed his sword, and drew three concentric circles in the sands of the land shining before him, proclaiming: “Here we will build the City of Peace, Madinat-as-Salam.” Calendar year 145 (or A.D. 762) proved auspicious; the Caliph had indeed found advantageous terrain. On the Tigris River, a trade nexus was born, at one time the wealthiest in the world and one of the most beautiful. Since then, the world has known that city under a different name: Baghdad. It is a place now rebuilding: new infrastructure, new water and energy systems, and perhaps a new vision. New Baghdad has an opportunity to claim its destiny of Madinat-as-Salam, City of Peace.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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