Posted by: terrauniversity | April 5, 2012

BP Oil Spill

by Ashley Hardin

April 20, 2012 will mark exactly two years that the Deep-water Horizon oil well exploded where 170 gallons of crude oil rushed into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 workers that worked on the drilling rig. The oil spill damaged some of the most profound fisheries in the world and the damage still continues.

Even after a year after the spill it has left that part of the country still cleaning up the mess, and has changed some peoples lives forever. The harm on the environment has been very harsh and the restoration of that area has been slim to none. It took 87 days for BP to plug the well, and only about 8% of the oil was burned off the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and oil has also washed up onto 1,053 miles of shoreline. This oil spill also killed nearly 230 bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles that have been washing up on shore even two years after the spill happened. (Dean, 2011).
There is a long list of operational mistakes and equipment failings leading up to the explosion of the BP oil well, which Congress is ignoring. The oil industry is resisting reforms that could potentially make drilling safer and more efficient.

If an oil spill like this one were to ever occur again their needs to be more safety precautions and they must be strengthened. Our main goal would be to keep our workers and our wildlife safe; this means we need adequate funding, training and equipment.

Other than just strengthening our safeguards while dealing with oil wells, but if we as American’s reduce our use of oil it would help out our environment and our pockets tremendously. In this country we use 800 million gallons of oil, which is 26 percent of the worlds daily output of oil. (Dean, 2011). This goal can be achieved! If we invest in sustainable resources we can all live better lives.

For educators: Discuss how we can live more sustainable lives and reduce our dependency on oil, and what steps we can take to live a “greener” lifestyle.

The BP Oil Spill Disaster: A one-year assessment and recommendations for restoration and reform. Bob Dean. 2011 Extracted from:

Material Safety Data Sheet, Version 5.

Posted by: terrauniversity | April 1, 2012

PROrganic Foods

By: Sheldon Lucas

Ever since the re-introduction of organic foods into the mass marketplace, people have wondered if its consumption is better than the inorganic food consumed by most of the population. The “going green” campaign is growing in strength day by day and is practically seen everywhere. It strongly promotes the growth and consumption of organic foods. When all the advantages and disadvantages are observed, the choice to stick with inorganic or switch to organic is ultimately up to the consumer.

Nutritional differences between organic and inorganic foods have been a major topic in the population, trying to determine whether to make the jump or stay. On average, organic foods have 21-percent more iron and 29-percent more magnesium than non-organic foods. In a study of vitamin levels, ascorbic acid was most commonly found in higher quantities (Crinnion, 2010). Another study showed that four nutrients were found in significantly higher levels in organic produce; Ascorbic acid averaged 27-percent higher, iron 21-percent higher, magnesium 29-percent higher, and phosphorus 13.6-percent higher (Crinnion, 2010).

How it’s being grown is another hot topic that the public generally inquires about their food. Inorganic foods are grown with the aid of pesticides, which helps the production yield, while organic foods are grown with the help of the green thumb. Although organic farming methods prohibit the use of pesticides, the produce can be exposed to chemicals already in the soil from previous use. In other words, while no pesticides or herbicides can be used to grow crops that are certified organic, these crops are not free of insecticide residues (Crinnion, 2010). Although this is true, the pesticide levels are much less than that of the same foods grown inorganically. Additionally, production and handling standards require that no prohibited chemical or biological substances be used on farm land for at least three years prior to organic production (Baker 2011).

To sum up, organic food consumption continues to increase as consumers look to eat foods that are viewed as healthier. Organic food sales grew from about $1 billion in 1990, to $18 billion in 2006 and to $30 billion in 2009 (Baker, 2011), and will only continue to grow as we move forward. In a time where the health of the environment is dwindling, we need to help preserve the earth in any way possible. If that means promoting organically grown produce, then that’s what must be done.

For educators: Discuss the pros and cons of organic food consumption. Bring in organic and inorganic produce, and compare them physically by way of taste, smell, size etc.

Barker, K., Reinstein, A., Rodrigue, M., & Tarr, S. (2011). Adding Assurance to the Term “Organic.”. Review Of Business, 31(2), 99-109.

Crinnion, W. J. (2010). Organic Foods Contain Higher Levels of Certain Nutrients, Lower Levels of Pesticides, and May Provide Health Benefits for the Consumer. Alternative Medicine Review, 15(1), 4-12.

Posted by: terrauniversity | March 13, 2012

Losing Something Important

By: Rachael Griffitts

Human activities have been the cause of the disappearance of some animals in certain areas. The removal of any organism from an ecosystem can have serious harmful effects to the environment. Real life examples are: the extinction of gray wolves in the western United States in the 1930’s, the decline in the lion population in Africa, and the near extinction of two species of vultures in India. Humans have been the cause of the disappearance of this animals and we are now starting to feel the effects. “The decline of large predators such as big cats, wolves, sharks and giant whales may be ‘humankinds most pervasive influence on the natural world’” (Fears, 2011).

By the 1930’s the gray wolf had become extinct in the western United States. In 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured wolves in Canada and released them into 2.2-million-acre Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho’s wilderness areas (Chadwick, 2010).The return of wolf made it clear that years without the apex of that region had severely hurt Yellowstone’s ecosystem. The elk population had grown exponential and had eaten all of the tree saplings. Songbirds then had no where to nest, beavers couldn’t make dams, and without the tree roots erosion was becoming a major problem. Once the gray wolf had be reintroduced, the ecosystem began to balance out again.

Africa is now facing a similar problem. Farmers and herders are killing off lions because they pose a threat to livestock and potentially humans as well. “Lion populations have fallen from 450,000 to 20,000 in 50 years” (Hance, 2011). With the lion population declining the population of the Olive Baboon is on the rise. “The problem is that baboons carry an intestinal parasite which can be transferred to humans“ (Hance, 2011). The increase of baboon population means that humans and baboons are meeting more frequently and spreading diseases to humans. Another example in Africa is the over fishing in the rivers. Large fish eat mosquitoes and without fish the spread of malaria is more prevalent.

India is also facing a crisis from the lose of an essential animal, the vulture. “Diclofenac is a painkiller for livestock that is sold over the counter across South Asia and in other parts of the world too“(Experts meet to save, 2006). This drug cause visceral gout, which leads to kidney failure, in vultures. “In the past decade more than 90 percent of two species of vulture, the white-backed and long-billed, once among India’s most populous birds, have been wiped out“ (Trivedi., 2001). This poses a big problem in India because now nothing is eating the carcasses of the livestock, and the carcasses are just accumulating into big piles. These piles are an excellent breading places for parasites and diseases. Wild dog populations have grown at an alarming rate. These wild dogs are very aggressive and sometimes attack humans. They also transmit rabies to humans. The loss of vultures also presents a cultural dilemma. People of the Parsi faith need vultures to consume their dead because of religious believes. Without the vultures bodies have been accumulating in burial sites.

The loss of wolves in Yellowstone caused the decline of the ecosystem and erosion of the land, the loss of lions and fish in Africa has put humans at risk of contracting vector born diseases, and the loss of vultures in India has put humans at risk of rabies and other diseases. Apex predators and scavengers are essential to maintaining a healthy environment for everyone, including humans. An organism, no matter how large or small of a part they play in the ecosystem, can be removed without serious consequences. “The irony … is that we often cannot unequivocally see the effect of large apex consumers until after they have been lost”(Fears, 2011).Not being able to detect this problem until it is almost too late, is a very serious to environmental health.

For educators: Discuss how every organism in the environment is important to maintain a healthy environment. A good way to this is to create a food web to show all organisms depends on each other.
Here is a link to an interactive map about the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf


Chadwick, D. (2010, March). Wolf wars. National Geogrpahic

Experts meet to save vultures from extinction. (2006, February 2).

Fears, D. (2011, July 14). Decline of predatory species throws food chains out of whack, report says.

Hance, J. (2011, July 14). Decline in top predators and megafauna ‘humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature’.

Trivedi., B. (2001, December 28). Vulture die-off spurs carcass crisis.

Posted by: terrauniversity | February 26, 2012

Dioxins in the Environment and the Impact on Human Health

By: Lindsey Vinson

The term Dioxin refers to “a group of chemical components that are intentional byproducts of certain industrial, non-industrial and natural processes, usually involving combustion.” (Friis165). Dioxins have been referred to as some of the most dangerous chemicals used on lab animals. There are three families of these chemical compounds: Chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs), Chlorinated bibenzofurans (CDFs) and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) all of these total to 419 known compounds but the World Health Organization only considers about 30 of these to be poison and a threat to human and environmental health (Friis 166).

As mentioned before these chemicals can be produced naturally. Natural causes of these chemicals include forest fires, and volcanic eruptions. Human causation of the release of them include industrial process such as incineration, manufacturing and processing herbicides, and the burning of some fossil fuels. What happens when these chemicals are released? When Dioxins are released into the atmosphere they can travel and spread over vast areas before eventually settling down on the Earth’s surfaces of land and water. Organisms feed on sediments and through the food chain eventually makes contact with humans. Symptoms of exposure include skin rashes, liver damage, Endocrine disruption, possible cancer risks and Reproductive and developmental effects.

In 2003 a pest control company began placing large quantities of highly concentrated Chloropircrin which is the fourth most common soil fumigant around residential areas. A wind drift causing a shift in the area of exposure reached a total of 165 people. Most of the people were experiencing high irritant symptoms that lasted and continued over 11 days after their first exposure most suffered from upper respiratory infections and eye irritations (Friis 165). During the Vietnam War and other campaigns in South East Asia soldiers were sprayed with one of the more dangerous and commonly known dioxin known as “Agent Orange”(Cone). The EPA just released a re-assessment of Dioxins present in the atmosphere and found that on a daily exposure of .7 picograms per kilogram of body was much lower and a safer exposure then what it was twenty years ago. However the exposure is still enough to raise concern based on two different studies men with this exposure were found to have lower sperm counts. Yet another study confirmed that fetuses exposed to the daily limit were experiencing increase in Thyroid hormones which are crucial in the role of normal growth and development (Cone).

For Educators:
How and what can we do in order to prevent our exposure to these potentially dangerous chemicals? We can reduce the output of human production of the chemicals by minimizing and changing the way we produce certain industries along with limiting our dependence and use of fossil fuels. We can also invest monitoring systems in the environment to keep track of the concentration levels of the chemicals to reduce our exposure.

Friis, Robert H. “Chapter 7 Pesticides and Other Organic Chemicals.” Essentials of Environmental Health. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012. 165-67. Print.

Cone, Marla. “Long-awaited Dioxins Report Released; EPA Says Low Doses Risky but Most People Safe.” — Environmental Health News. 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.

Posted by: terrauniversity | February 19, 2012

Go Green or Die Tryin’

by Symfonee Henderson

Disposing of waste improperly has been a habit that most humans commit subconsciously. Have you ever wondered why that is? How can we as humans change this habit? Why don’t we feel the need to take care of the planet we live on? Should we even care?

Littering is an action that is taken very lightly by people who think of it as no big deal! Most people litter because they’re too lazy to dispose of their trash in a proper disposal unit. Others just don’t care or they are not always aware that they’re littering. (Green Eco Services. 2009) About 75% of Americans admit to littering within the last 5 years. (Green Eco Services. 2009) Littering includes leftover debris from garbage collection, leaving empty fast food containers around, and throwing candy wrappers and cigarette butts out the window of cars. Many smokers are big time litters. Most smokers don’t believe that carelessly discarding of cigarette butts in public has an effect on the environment when littered cigarette butts contain toxic chemicals that leak into the air and water. (No More Trash. 2011.) Air borne toxins can affect humans by creating breathing problems such as irregular coughing, allergies and asthma. Littered trash on roads and major highways can cause fatal accidents due to drivers trying to avoid driving over debris from littered objects. Litter can harm plants and reduce the quality of natural areas.(Green Eco Services. 2009) Farmers have to deal with their animals digesting littered objects that can kill them like metal.(Green Eco Services. 2009.) Dumping of hazardous waste is considered littering as well and the waste can leak into soil and water, causing ground water pollution, reduction of water quality and harm to other animals in the area.(Green Eco Services. 2009) A single quart of motor oil that is disposed of improperly can contaminate up to 2, 000,000 gallons of fresh water.(A Recycling Revolution.2011) Litter can also cause flooding and blockage to draining systems. (Blacktown City Council. 2012.) Due to polluted water it’s not safe for people to consume so people purchase bottled water which creates more pollution due to the plastic bottled produced that needs to be disposed of. And the list goes on when it comes to littering and its causes.

Littering is expensive and illegal. (Green Eco Services. 2009) Penalizing people by fining them for littering can only do so much. People become repeat offenders at times, when they should just change their bad habits for their own sake and earth’s sake. People should be more aware of the environment and understand what needs to be done to help keep our environment in good condition. Not only should people make a habit of disposing of waste properly but they should make recycling a habit too.
Recycling can benefit us and the natural resources on earth in so many ways. Rain forests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute. The amount of wood and paper people throw away each year is enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for 20 years.(A Recycling Revolution.2011) If every American recycled one-tenth of their newspapers, we would save 25,000,000 trees a year.(A Recycling Revolution.2011) If plastic was recycled, twice as much energy would be saved instead of burning plastic in an incinerator.(A Recycling Revolution.2011.) An aluminum can takes 500 years or longer to decompose but there is no limit to the amount of times aluminum can be recycled. (A Recycling Revolution.2011) Using cloth napkins instead of paper and reusing plastic bags and cardboard boxes instead of throwing them away reduces the demand of some materials. (No More Trash. 2011) There are so many more ways to recycle things.

Making the effort to dispose of waste properly and taking the time to separate recyclable items from other trash into a recycle bin is the start to saving everyone on earth. It also lessens the measure of harm on the environment from production of new materials, use of natural resources and overcrowded landfills. Think green to make our world a better place. If we don’t take care of our planet who will?

For educators: You may want to discuss the benefits of a litter-free environment and promote a
litter-free environment by practicing recycling. (For example, create art with recycled items and conduct a recycle collection system.)

Blacktown City Council. Littering Information. 2012.
Green Eco Services. Littering Facts and Statistics. Cathy. March 2009.
No More Trash. Litter Facts and Research. 2011.
A Recycling Revolution. Recycling Facts. 2011.

Posted by: terrauniversity | December 2, 2011

How green is green?

This semester I gave my students a link to this article and asked them whether or not they would still support hybrid car technology. Is it better to be a little green than to not be green at all?

Many current “green” technological products, including  computers and hybrid cars  depend on the extraction of rare earths. Rare earths is the name elements that be found at the bottom of the periodic table. Below you can see a visual depiction of how these minerals are used in the Chevy Volt. This image is taken from the website

Unfortunately the extraction of rare earths is an environmentally dangerous process. Many rare earths are found with other radioactive elements, including uranium. In fact, from mining to processing and refining and finally, to disposal, these elements can be dangerous  to the environment and to humans.

Currently the world relies heavily on China to supply the majority of rare earths for our technology needs. However both South Africa and the United States are considering re-opening, or opening rare earth mines to compete for demand and lower prices.

The question is; is it worth it? Molycorp, which operates a rare earth mine in California labels rare earths as “Green Elements” on their website.While Toyota is currently working on electric motors that do not require rare earths. Should we all be moving in the direction that Toyota is taking? Is it even possible to live a modern, technological lifestyle AND be truly green?

For educators: You may want to have your students research the rare earths and examine the pros and cons of current green technology.

Posted by: terrauniversity | November 15, 2011

Remember the Gulf : November, 15, 2011

I am using this post to just post some contacts and pleas for help from the people of the US Gulf Coast. The media are not reporting this. People are still getting sick and the wildlife is showing signs of oil continued contamination. There are also reports that the oil well is still leaking. Please read below and thanks.

Call for medical supplies.

Save the Gulf Facebook page

Government seeks clean up workers to participate in study on exposure to Gulf Oil Spill

Millions of gallons of dispersant used during the spill


We have to keep the pressure up so that justice will be done for the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast.


Posted by: terrauniversity | November 9, 2011

Who gives a frack? Should you?

Recently, environmental activists in the state of New York have been launching an all out war against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking or hydro-fracking. Energy companies have been touting fracking as a new way to obtain natural gas. In this process,  water, chemicals and sand are injected vertically and/or horizontally at high pressures deep underground, releasing natural gas from the cracked rocks. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t require companies to disclose what those chemicals are.

According to Exxon, fracking is a safe and proven method of obtaining natural gas. See a video here.  Notice that the spokeswoman states that drilling does not being until “we” are satisfied that environmental and safety standards have been met. The question is:  who is “we?”

While Exxon claims that fracking is safe, there have been reports of carcinogenic chemical releases and earthquakes, including the recent earthquakes in Oklahoma.

Are earthquakes and exposure to harmful chemicals worth the price for increased domestic natural gas production? Is it ok to frack as long as it isn’t in your neighborhood? Would you want to drink treated water that was the toxic byproduct of fracking?

What is an energy-starved society to do?

For educators:  You might want to show and discuss the film Gasland with your classes. I have not seen this film, but it has been recommended.

Posted by: terrauniversity | November 6, 2011

Is it time to move “Beyond Coal?”

Have you ever wondered why coal mining areas of the US are often some of the poorest areas in the nation? If coal is so good for the economy, then why aren’t coal miners and their families reaping the benefits?

Besides the devastating effects of coal-mining techniques like mountaintop removal mining, and air pollution, coal production has been linked to the spread of coal ash. Coal ash is a byproduct of coal combustion and is created when coal is burned. While coal ash can be recycled and used in the manufacture of products, such as concrete, coal ash is still being dumped and stored in and around communities around the United States. There have even been major environmental and economic disasters from coal ash spills, including spills in  Tennessee, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

Health effects linked from exposure to the arsenic and mercury found in coal ash have been linked to certain cancers, respiratory diseases and developmental problems in children. The Sierra Club has embarked on a Beyond Coal campaign to push local and state governments to regulate coal ash, suspend the building of new coal plants and to move to renewable, alternative energy sources. In light of the recent downturn in the economy, the environmental group always works to bring replacement jobs into communities where coal plants are taken off line. They also work to educate and empower local citizens to pressure their elected representatives to move away from coal.

Are the health risks and medical costs of using coal worth it? Is it time to move “Beyond Coal?”

For educators: I have shown my students the film Coal Country. It details a coal mining area in West Virginia. You can also contact your local Sierra Club chapter for more information on the Beyond Coal campaign.

Posted by: terrauniversity | November 5, 2011

Welcome to terrauniversity!

I hope that this will become a place for the discussion of environmental issues and environmental justice. I will cover topics from climate change to endocrine disruption. I will also post links to environmental groups and charities. Feel free to share ideas of stories you would like to discuss in the comments.

Thanks for visiting!

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