Posted by: terrauniversity | April 4, 2013

What the Frack?!

Click HERE to see the post.


Posted by: terrauniversity | March 29, 2013

Toxic Chemicals & Your Health

The following post is a recent presentation. You can access the presentation here.

Take Action

Kentucky Environmental Foundation

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families

The Campaign for Safer Cosmetics

The Center for Environmental Policy and Management


The Toxies

Environmental Health News

Household Products Database

Skin Deep Cosmetics Database


Posted by: terrauniversity | March 7, 2013

Sofia’s New Blog

Sofia's New Blog.

Posted by: terrauniversity | October 1, 2012

The Tragedy of Mossville, LA

This past week, I attended a conference of environmental health and justice leaders from various states. Three of the people there were from the small town of Mossville, LA where there are 14 chemical factories. I had previously heard of “Cancer Alley,” but I have never met anyone from the area.

If you aren’t familiar with the community of Mossville, I will link some videos below.

African-American Community In Louisiana Fights For Health And Life

Toxic town’s advocate sees victory ahead

Breathing Poison: The Toxic Costs of Industries in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana

Environmental justice (also know as environmental racism and environmental disparity) is a tough subject to teach, but it must be taught. People in low-economic areas and people of color of disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals through cheap products, factories and dump-sites in their communities. We must teach about this to empower ALL people to stand up for their health and their lives. No community is completely isolated from another, so these toxins can and do travel.

I will post some links in the “For Educators” section that may help you develop lesson plans. However, I encourage you to seek out the stories of people in your areas that are affected by these toxins on a daily basis. A textbook and news article can only do so much to truly convey the message. Some people in these areas are even doing their own scientific research because people won’t come to help them. (I will write other posts on communities in Alaska and California). If you live in or near these areas, I encourage you to reach out and see how you can help. This is a tremendous intersection between teachable moments and making a positive difference.

For Educators:

The Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals

Mossville Environmental Action Now

Do You Live Near a Chemical Plant?

Posted by: terrauniversity | July 17, 2012

Babies, Bottles and BPA

The Federal Drug Administration banned the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and drinking cups for children. While many are applauding this move, others say it doesn’t go far enough. The FDA still refuses to ban the substance from other products due to, as they claim, “not enough scientific evidence it may cause harm.”

In 2008, Canada banned the substance from baby bottles and in 2010, the Canadian government declared BPA toxic in Canada, potentially leading to further government regulation. The European Union also banned BPA form baby bottles in 2010.

What’s the big deal about BPA?

BPA is an estrogen mimic, meaning that it can bind to our body’s estrogen receptors and elicit a response, similar to that of estrogen. The chemical has been around since 1891 and in the 1930’s, scientist began to use it as a synthetic estrogen pharmaceutical, although it was later replaced by diethylstibestrol (DES). [Note: DES has been linked to numerous adverse health effects] It wasn’t until the 1950’s that plastic manufacturers began to incorporate BPA into their products. [Source: BPA: What, Where, When, How, Why]

Like DES, research has also linked BPA exposure to numerous adverse health effects, leading to the call that further action is required. Adults are still exposed to this chemical through can linings and other plastic products.

Reproductive Failure in Female Rats Given Bisphenol-A Neonatally

Bisphenol A bioaccumulates in the serum of pregnant mice.

Chemical Exposures: Prostate Cancer and Early BPA Exposure

BPA and PXR Activation: Human Receptor Is Affected, Mouse Receptor Is Not

Hormone Impact: BPA Linked to Altered Gene Expression in Humans

For educators:
Have you students discuss the difference between human and animal studies.
Have your students research the history of the drug DES. Is the DES story a warning for BPA?
Have your students look up alternatives to products containing BPA?
Discuss whether the application of the Precautionary Principle towards chemicals like BPA.

Posted by: terrauniversity | May 1, 2012

Pesticides affecting the Earth

by Reilly Poirier

Throughout the years living on this Earth, we as humans have done more to the Earth than it could probably handle. We have littered the streets, cut down the rainforests, put all kinds of chemicals into the air, and we have even used pesticides daily on our crops, that we consume. Narrowing down all the major effects that we as humans have done to this planet, I will talk about the severity and damage that some of these pesticides have caused.
What is a pesticide? A pesticide is a chemical designed to kill insects, fungus, bacteria, and any other vector or insect that is feeding on a crop. In America, one of the largest occupations especially in the Mid-West is farming. These businesses use these pesticides to control the feeding on the plants from the insects because it will decrease their profits, which will decrease their business. There are two types of pesticides, biological and chemical. The biological pesticides are developed from fungi and bacteria; these usually don’t have a more serious toxic effect on the human race or animals. The chemical pesticide has the most risk to our environment and health. I know your probably thinking, why even have these chemical pesticides if they are so harmful? Well, good question. The government will continue to approve these chemicals to make pesticides because they work on the desired job, and they don’t care too much about the other effects as long as the job that it is set out to do is done.
There are two classifications of pesticides as well. There are the Broad-spectrum pesticides and the narrow-spectrum pesticides. The names themselves are very informative. The broad spectrum is targeted to kill many insects, while the narrow is designed to kill certain organisms.
The people that are most risk for exposure from these pesticides are farmers and their families, also anyone who has used the chemicals on a regular basis. You do not have to be in direct contact, as in actually spraying or handling the can of the pesticide to be effected. It can be carried by the wind, residue left on the leaves, remaining inside produce or animals, and also the water runoff and it getting into the public water supply. These pesticides can enter the body of humans or animals through skin, eyes, mouth, and nose.
With being worried enough with it actually just getting in your body, you now have to think what it can do to your body and health once it enters. It can take a small amount of toxins to mess up the equilibrium of the body. Some of the dangers from pesticides are harming the fetuses in the mother’s womb. They could experience behavioral problems and even could inhibit them to grow to their potential height. People could receive lower cognitive scores, fewer nerve cells and lower birth rate. People could also get a much higher risk for getting Parkinson’s disease, statistics show about 70% increase.

With all the possible health effects that could occur from pesticides, people should know the symptoms so that they can get treated immediately. Some of the symptoms to watch for are fatigue, skin irritations, nausea, vomiting, breathing problems, brain disorders, blood disorders, liver and kidney damage, reproductive damage, cancer, and even death. These pesticides are very dangerous chemicals to be handling without extreme precaution. We need to make sure that you do all possible things to prevent pesticides from becoming a huge health crisis in the world today. The best advice is to stop using them. We need to eliminate pesticides from the daily use as much as possible. Also try to find alternative ways to help grow these plants and keep the vectors out of the crop, such as organic pesticides. This way when you spray the crops, you are really just spraying the land back on the land without spraying harmful chemicals into the earth’s soil.

Pesticides can be very harmful to everybody. It is not chemical to just go around and play with. You need to take the correct precautions and measures to make sure you will not hurt yourself or others close to you.


“Effects of Pesticides”. Global Healing Center Health Products & Information. Global Healing Center, May 1998. Web. 03 Mar. 2012.

Helen. “Most Harmful Pesticides.” HelloLife® The Smart Living Network. HelloLife®. Sept. 2011. Web. 3 Mar 2012.

“Pesticides and Water Quality.” Pesticides and Water Quality: How are Pesticides Affecting Water Quality. Statewide IPM Program. 8 Nov. 2007. Web. Mar. 2012.

Posted by: terrauniversity | April 22, 2012

Effects of Metals

by Carol Ruiz-Lopez

Metals and metallic compounds are dispersed and found all over the environment. Our entire human population is exposed to these elements, even if it’s of a low level of exposure. These metals can arise both naturally and by man-made sources. Human exposure can come from a variety of different ways, such as through inhalation of metal fumes and vapors, contact with contaminants leaching from hazardous waste sites, ingestion of contaminated food and water, contact with emissions from smelters and coal-fired power plants, contact with metals in occupations related to metal working, etc. Mercury and Lead are some examples of metals that pose a hazard to human health. Mercury is said to be hazardous to women that bear children or may bear children if ingested in high levels (Friis, 2012). Lead has caught attention in the media because of its potential harm to child development. Metals can be beneficial to humans but if exposed to them at high levels they can be extremely hazardous. Certain metals are essential to human health, such as, copper, zinc, and iron. However, if ingested in excessive amounts these metals can be toxic.

The effects of high levels of metal toxicity can be detrimental to anyone of any age and any gender. However the effects vary greatly from women, to men, to children. These differences are partly because of metabolic and hormonal processes which are related to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Also, women are generally smaller than men, causing women to be more affected by a given amount of metal than men. For example, during pregnancy, exposure to mercury is particularly hazardous to the unborn fetus. As for fetuses, infants, and children, heavy metals can present serious hazards that can cause both physical and mental developmental impairments, forms of cancer, damage to nervous system and internal organs, and even death. Lead paint endangers infants and children when it peels from walls and the exposure form this is associated with serious central nervous system effects. Other ways of exposure can come from when parents, whose work involves exposure to lead, come home from work and handle their children and expose them to those some heavy metals.

Metallic compounds and heavy metals occur naturally and almost universally in the environment. The entire human population is exposed to metals at one point or another. Although some of these metals are essential to human nutrition, those same metals can be toxic if taken in at high levels. Some metals, however, (like arsenic, lead and mercury) are toxic at even low levels. Environmental policy makers have an important role of reducing the level of toxic metals in our environment, and in foods, so that our human population may be safer from the effects of these toxic metals.

For educators: It’s never too early or late to begin learning about the heavy metals that have these toxic effects on our bodies. Essentials of Environmental Health by Robert H. Friis contains a lot of information for any learning level and brings much insight to the toxic metal we are exposed to everyday.


Friis, Robert H. Essentials of Environmental Health. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012. Print.

“Safety and Health Topics | Battery Manufacturing.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.

“Heavy Metal Toxicity – Heavy Metals, Arsenic, Mercury – Life Extension Health Concern.” Web. 21 Apr. 2012.

Posted by: terrauniversity | April 22, 2012

Layin’ Pipe

By: Zack Bailes

In fall of 2008 a company by the name of TransCanada requested permission to build a pipeline (Keystone XL pipeline) that would span from Alberta, Canada to many oil refiners along the Gulf Coast. The crude oil would be extracted from crude oil from tar sands. This has become a highly controversial issue. While the pipeline would create numerous jobs due to the construction, maintenance, and increased oil supplies, there is also a heavy negative side. The pipeline would create a whole new set of problems including possible contamination to the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest fresh water deposits in the world, the pipeline would span across an active seismic zone, and any leaks could prove detrimental to the ‘breadbasket’ of the United States.

The Pro’s:

With the construction of something this big, the obvious gain is the jobs that the construction with create. CEO of TransCanada Russ Girling stated that between manufacturing and construction over 20,000 jobs will be created in the completion of the pipeline. However, the U.S. State Department countered with a figure of 5000 – 6000 jobs being their estimate. With either number, the increased amount of jobs would be a welcome site to many people (Sherter, 2012).
In addition to the jobs that the pipeline will create, there is an estimated 100 million to 600 million dollar net income to come to the United States annually. This would come from the increased efficiency in oil refinery process and transportation benefits (Keystone, 294).

The Con’s:

The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the biggest fresh water deposits in the world. The Keystone Pipeline would span across this underground water source. This is problematic due to the fact that if and when it leaks the excrement will seep into the ground and contaminate this important water source. The leaking will also affect the soil that it infects, making it less fertile therefore reducing the productivity of the crops.

In 2002 there was an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.2 that occurred along part of where the pipeline would be built, adding yet another possible problem. When, not if, there is a leak in the pipeline, the damage that it could cause is astronomical. The Ogallala Aquifer supplies water to about 20 million dollars worth of crops. While the pipeline would create a ton of jobs, are those jobs worth the possibility of harm coming to an area that produces 20 million dollars worth of income? A leaky pipe would truly prove to be detrimental (Anderson).

Another more indirect negative that the pipeline presents is that it will greatly increase the United States’ dependency on fossil fuels. The U.S. has a very good ‘green’ energy program that has been in development for years. However, if the pipeline gets completed, the hype for ‘going green’ will die down due to the surplus of oil we will have obtained.

For Educators: Discuss the pro’s and con’s to the construction of the pipeline. Talk about alternatives to the pipeline and other ways to obtain the energy that we need.

Anderson, M.. “Ed Stelmach’s Clumsy American Romance.” The tyee. Tyee News, 2010. Web. 17 Apr 2012.

“Keystone XL Pipeline Overview.” Congressional Digest 90.10 (2011): 290-295. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Apr. 2012.

Sherter, Alain (2012-01-19). “Keystone pipeline: How many jobs really at stake?”. CBS News.

Posted by: terrauniversity | April 15, 2012

What goes into our drinking water?

by Hagan Goldey

There have been many instances involving contaminated drinking water. Here is one that is recent and quite disturbing.

Over a dozen teenage girls in Le Roy, Ny and two in Corinth, Ny have been struck by a mysterious illness causing tourette-like episodes. These girls and their families are troubled by the sudden onset of these episodes and are in desperate need to find a diagnosis that will ease their minds. Early on, there were two theories that were made. One theory that was ruled almost immediately after the outbreak was mass hysteria. Mass hysteria is the spontaneous occurrence of the same or similar hysterical physical symptoms by more than one person that are in the same environment, such as a classroom or office. Another theory is PANDAS (Pediatric autoimmune neuropyschiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections). PANDAS is a chronic strep infection that causes toxin, tics and tourette’s syndrome.

As desperate parents frantically search for answers one of them receives an anonymous letter in the mail of a train derailment. “In 1971, a train derailed in Le Roy, Ny causing one ton of cyanide and 45,000 gallons of TCE to be spilled” (Schenek, 2012). TCE (Trichloroethylene) is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. Cyanide is a rapidly acting and potentially deadly chemical. With no one to help these families and doctors not very concerned, a parent contacts Erin Brockovich. Brockovich researches the spill and finds many interesting and troubling concerns. One was the derailment was 4 miles from the school. Second, is it was not investigated until 20 years after the derailment, in the 90‘s, by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). By the 90’s it was already spreading through the bedrock and was so dense it had to be diluted just to get a reading. The third thing is as the water rises the bedrock becomes submerged and it pushes the TCE and cyanide out into the groundwater developing a plume that is a mile wide. The fourth discovery was of an orange-yellow substance that oozes from the ground of the athletic facilities at the school. There have been reports of children coming home with orange stains on their clothes. The fifth concern that was found is there is a creek by the school that is now known to have been a dumping site for toxic chemicals and some of the girls with the disorder said to have played in it as a child. Another concern is the gas wells by the school are controlling the migration of the plume and concentrating it under the school. Brockovich also learns in 1999 there were suppose to have been steps taken to rid the community of these toxins but nothing was done. Brockovich sent a team down to the site. Her team was met by officials that would not allow them to run any tests. These girls need help and something needs to be done for prevention of this happening to anyone else.

This is a serious concern for public health and a lesson that needs to be learned worldwide. Safe water is a necessity that is apart of our daily lives. We are exposed to water everyday, whether it be absorbing it through a shower or ingesting it by drinking. “Two million people die each year by just drinking unsanitary water. Most of the people are children under the age of five. It is undocumented but estimated that any where from 500,000 to 70 million people get sick from the water each year. There are 116,000 anthropogenic chemicals in the water alone and forty percent of the “bugs” people say they catch come from water” (Flow: For Love of Water, 2008).

For Educators: Show these video clips to the class. Some of them include videos of the girls with the tourette-like outburts. Stress how important safe water really is and show them the effects of unsafe water.

“A Message from A a Victim to the Nonbelievers.” Anderson. Yahoo! Lifestyles Network, 10 Feb. 2012.
Web. 09 Apr. 2012.

Board, A.D.A.M. Editorial. “Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors.” Conversion Disorder. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Nov. 0000. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.

“Could the Illness in Le Roy Be PANDAS.” Anderson. Yahoo! Lifestyles Network, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 09
Apr. 2012.

“Doctor Predicts PANDAS Syndrome in NY Mystery Illness.” Youtube. Web. 05 Apr. 2012

Flow: For Love of Water. Dir. Zombiehellmonkey. YouTube. YouTube, 29 July 2010. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.

“Impact of Illnesses on Le Roy, NY.” Anderson. Yahoo! Lifestyles Network, 10 Feb. 2012. Web.
09 Apr. 2012.

Schenek, Dan. “Dr. Drew: Possible Break in Medical Mystery.” Turner Broadcasting Systems
Inc., 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.

“When Friends Turn Their Backs on the Ill.” Anderson. Yahoo! Lifestyles Network, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.

Posted by: terrauniversity | April 5, 2012

Beauty on the Brink?

by Brittany Taylor

Today, more than ever, there is a push to conserve some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world: coral reefs. Stephanie Wear, a marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy’s Global Marine Team, explains the extent to which these locations have been damaged. “We have already lost about 20 percent of coral reefs worldwide with another 15 percent in critical condition” (Thornton, 2010). Coral reefs are home to more than 25 percent of the oceans’ plants and animals, yet they cover less than one percent of Earth’s surface.

Reef at PPG Aquarium in the Pittsburgh Zoo. Without effective conservation in the wild, aquariums may be the last refuge for many species. (Photo used by permission)

Despite the “small” amount of the world they cover, these ecosystems are essential to human survival. Coral reefs are a source of food and income for about 500 million people, providing the world with a $375 billion market annually (Nature, 2011). Many reef species have been used in medicine to treat cancers and many other conditions. Every day, as these reefs disappear, so does the hope of finding the next “big medical breakthrough” (Wear, 2011). Coral reefs are being destroyed by an assortment of anthropogenic (man-made) sources including overfishing, pollution, and climate change.

Overfishing results in major loss of biological diversity on reefs. The two main causes of overfishing are the need for food and the desire for aquatic pets (“Fishing impacts”, 2011). As the population grows, so does the demand for food. This is putting strain on fisheries, forcing collections to be taken from reefs. The other cause, the aquarium trade, generates billions of dollars annually on a global scale. However, the rate by which species are harvested and methods used to capture live organisms are damaging reefs at an alarming rate.

No matter the distance from the coast, pollution still ends up in the ocean. “Many major coral reef ecosystem stressors originate from land-based sources” (“Pollution”, 2011). Though there many types of pollutants filling oceans, increased sedimentation is considered a primary cause for reef breakdown (“Pollution”, 2011). The increase in sediment particles suspended throughout the water interferes with the natural processes coral reefs need to stay alive and healthy (“Pollution”, 2011).

Climate change is a major challenge facing coral reefs. The rising ocean temperatures has caused large-scale bleaching of corals. Bleaching a disease in which a coral becomes white due to the loss of its zooxanthellae. These zooxanthellae have pigments that give stony coral its color and aid in photosynthesis (NOAA, 2011).

These causes can all be reduced and regulated through awareness and effort. Every year coral reefs go unprotected, millions of dollars worth of revenue and an invaluable amount of biodiversity are lost. Corals have shown amazing resilience through unusual oceanic events, leading many to believe there is still hope in saving these vital resources (Nature, 2011).

For educators: It’s never too early to begin discovering the threats facing coral reefs. and contain a variety of educational resources for grades K-12. College professors can discuss the current methods of coral reef conservation and potential solutions for saving these precious ecosystems.

For students: Be proactive. Even if you don’t live near the ocean, there are plenty of aquatic areas in desperate need of help. Start a school club that helps bring community awareness to local water ecosystems or hold a fundraiser for an organization.


Fishing impacts. (2011, May 13).

Meihua-stock. (Photographer). (2011). Coral reef 1.1. [Web Photo].

The Nature Conservancy. (2011, August 18). Importance of coral reefs.

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. (2011, May 11). Major reef-building coral disease.

Pollution. (2011, May 13).

Thornton, P. (2010, August 25). Why coral reefs are so important (expert q&a).

Wear, S. (2011, June 1). How endangered coral reefs could potentially cure cancer [Web log comment].

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