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Going with the Flow: Exploring Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Park

Alec Kissoondyal
News Feed
Friday, June 11, 2021

The streams near the trail pass through wetlands, which play a vital role in filtering out pollution from the water. Despite the sanitary start, the creek collects pollutants as it leaves the wetlands and flows further into the city. Runoff carrying chemicals, animal waste, and even trash seep into the creek as it travels, and these pollutants eventually end up in the aquifer, which Gainesville relies on for its drinking water.

The aptly named Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Park marks the starting point of Hogtown Creek, which cuts through the city of Gainesville and flows for miles until it reaches the Floridan Aquifer.

Visitors can witness the beginning of Hogtown Creek by exploring the nature trail located in the park. The trail forms a loop that circles back to the trailhead and passes through areas containing an abundance of thriving wildlife and vegetation. A web of small streams of water flow along the trail, and although they are small trickles of water in this early stage of the journey, they will eventually merge with other bodies of water downstream to form Hogtown Creek.

The streams near the trail pass through wetlands, which play a vital role in filtering out pollution from the water. Despite the sanitary start, the creek collects pollutants as it leaves the wetlands and flows further into the city. Runoff carrying chemicals, animal waste, and even trash seep into the creek as it travels, and these pollutants eventually end up in the aquifer, which Gainesville relies on for its drinking water.

The Gainesville Clean Water Partnership official website addresses the dangers of pollution, and Hogtown Creek is listed as one of the creeks that have been impaired by  "high levels of fecal coliform bacteria exceeding state criteria".

The contamination of Hogtown Creek is a major source of concern, and an educational sign on the trail lists several ways that people can avoid polluting the water:         

  • Properly discard oil, gasoline, or other chemicals
  • Keep lawn debris away from ditches and storm drains
  • Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly. Landscaping with native plants can help
  • Pick up pet waste from the yard.

The issue of pollution adds to the importance of learning about the creek. By exploring the path of the creek from its place of origin, visitors to the Headwaters Nature Park can develop a better understanding of the creek's vital role in providing drinking water to the community and the dangers of contamination as the water moves further away from the wetlands.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of
Alec Kissoondyal
Alec Kissoondyal

Alec Kissoondyal is an intern at Cinema Verde and a student at the University of Florida currently pursuing a degree in English. He is also a writer for Narrow Magazine and an ambassador for the Florida Hemingway Society. His poetry and fiction have been published in Zephyr literary journal. In his spare time, Alec enjoys reading, creative writing, exploring nature parks, and listening to anything released by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

At COP28, a raft of initiatives to reduce methane include a long-awaited EPA rule

The EPA rule could trim 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Methane concentrations in the atmosphere are rising, and the oil and gas industry is responsible for nearly a third of global methane emissions. The greenhouse gas is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere, and it’s responsible for a quarter of the temperature increase that has already taken place. At COP28, the annual United Nations climate conference taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the United States announced that it has finalized regulations to tackle this pressing problem.  On Saturday, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule to reduce methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry, which is responsible for about 12 percent of global methane emissions from the sector. Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it leaks from every phase of oil and gas production, from extraction to transport to refining. The new rule requires oil field companies to monitor for leaks, fix them promptly, and phase out the practice of burning off natural gas into the atmosphere — a process called flaring. They must also minimize venting, the deliberate release of natural gas, during certain processes. The rule allows third parties, including environmental and watchdog groups, to monitor oil and gas sites and report violations.  The EPA estimates that the long-awaited rule will prevent 58 million tons of methane emissions between 2024 and 2038, the emission reductions equivalent to taking 28 million cars off the road every year. Ali Zaidi, the White House national climate advisor, said the rule will slash almost 2 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, which the Biden administration has committed to halving by 2030.  The rule will help “close that gap even further and mov[e] us along the trajectory we need to be on,” said Zaidi at a press conference at Expo City in Dubai, where world leaders and climate negotiators have gathered to eke out new climate agreements. “Even as we try to phase out our reliance on fossil fuels, we must work to clean up existing operations rapidly and rigorously, and today’s announcement does just that.” The International Energy Agency estimates that more than two-thirds of the methane released from fossil fuel operations can be eliminated. The requirements in the new EPA regulation will help achieve those reductions. They’re also expected to have profound effects on public health. Nearly 18 million people live within a mile of an oil and gas field in the U.S., breathing in a host of toxic chemicals that are released along with methane. Proximity to oil and gas sites has been linked to a host of health effects, including lower lung function, high-risk pregnancies, and preterm birth. “It’s especially important to recognize that a lot of that public health burden in the United States is falling on low-income communities and Black and brown communities,” said Rachel Cleetus, a policy director and lead economist with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. “On both fronts — public health and climate — this is a win.”  The Biden administration’s rule is one of several methane-related announcements at COP28. Separately, COP28 president Sultan Al-Jaber, who is also the head of the UAE’s national oil company, announced that 50 oil companies responsible for 40 percent of global oil production had signed onto a pledge to reduce emissions directly tied to their operations by 90 percent. The companies include ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, as well as the national oil companies of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brazil, and about two dozen other countries. Al-Jaber has positioned himself as a dealmaker who can bring oil and gas companies to the table and convince them to make or strengthen climate pledges. “Methane is the low-hanging fruit,” said Al-Jaber at a summit announcing the pledges. “It is an easy and quick way.” Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 president and chief of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company, announces a raft of climate initiatives, including methane pledges by oil and gas operators. Sean Gallup / Getty Images In concert, the International Energy Agency, the United Nations Environment Programme, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and a group of other nonprofit organizations launched a new effort to track oil and gas companies’ methane emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit that has produced a body of research on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, is planning to launch a $90 million satellite that will detect emissions from fossil fuel production sites around the world. Data from the satellite will be made available “to every human on the planet who has access to the Internet,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said on a press call. “We need comprehensive, real-time awareness of specific sources of methane,” Krupp said. “Getting that information is indispensable for holding the oil and gas industry accountable for the pledges that they’ve made.” Other environmental groups have dismissed such pledges as “a trojan horse for Big Oil and Gas greenwash” because none of the corporate commitments announced so far address the emissions that come from burning fossil fuels. Cleetus, the Union of Concerned Scientists economist, warned that corporate commitments are voluntary and inadequate. “This is an industry that has actively fought against climate action,” she said. Companies have an economic incentive to cut methane emissions. The natural gas that doesn’t leak away can be used to power equipment on-site or sold on the market. In fact, the EPA expects an estimated $820 to $980 million worth of natural gas will be recovered each year as a result of its new rule. Jason Arceneaux, president of ARC Energy, a Louisiana-based company that works with oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions, told Grist that operators are increasingly seizing those cost savings. They’re also responding to market signals, he said.  “The ultimate belief of a lot of industry is that there’s going to be carbon footprint measurements,” said Arceneaux. “Some of the customers in Europe and others are wanting those measurements, and so I think customers are driving that decision.”  This is the first year since the Paris Agreement was ratified in 2016 that countries are formally measuring their progress against the climate goals they agreed to — a process referred to as “global stocktake” in negotiation parlance. Most countries’ commitments only quantify carbon dioxide reductions, but negotiators are beginning to raise the need to include specific targets for methane and other greenhouse gases in national emission reduction pledges.  The EPA’s methane rule is also being finalized as climate negotiators hash out whether all 198 countries party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change can agree to language on transitioning away from fossil fuels. Options include “phasing out” or “phasing down” fossil fuel use or the “substitution” of renewables for fossil fuels. “We can’t at this moment when the climate crisis is spiraling out of control avoid addressing the root cause,” said Cleetus. “It’s not just emissions, but it’s the use of fossil fuels, and we can’t dodge that issue. That’s the crux of it.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline At COP28, a raft of initiatives to reduce methane include a long-awaited EPA rule on Dec 2, 2023.

Unveiling Earth’s Hidden World: Scientists Map Vast Subsurface Microbial Universe

A former goldmine serves as a gateway to explore microbial life deep within the Earth’s crust. If you totaled the mass of all microbes dwelling...

Prof. Magdalena Osburn removes a sample during a site visit in August. Credit: Sanford Underground Research Facility A former goldmine serves as a gateway to explore microbial life deep within the Earth’s crust. If you totaled the mass of all microbes dwelling beneath the Earth’s surface, their combined biomass would surpass that of all life in our oceans. However, due to the challenge of accessing these depths, this teeming underground life remains largely unexplored and poorly understood. Utilizing a repurposed goldmine in South Dakota’s Black Hills as a laboratory, researchers from Northwestern University have crafted the most comprehensive map yet of these elusive and unusual microbes beneath our feet. In total, the researchers characterized nearly 600 microbial genomes — some of which are new to science. Out of this batch, Northwestern geoscientist Magdalena Osburn, who led the study, says most microbes fit into one of two categories: “minimalists,” which have streamlined their lives by eating the same thing all day, every day; and “maximalists,” which are ready and prepared to greedily grab any resource that might come their way. The study was recently published in the journal Environmental Microbiology. An exterior view of the former goldmine, which is now the Sanford Underground Research Facility. Credit: Sanford Underground Research Facility Not only does the new study expand our knowledge of the microbes living deep within the subsurface, it also hints at potential life we someday might find on Mars. Because the microbes live on resources found within rocks and water that are physically separate from the surface, these organisms also potentially could survive buried within Mars’ dusty red depths. “The deep subsurface biosphere is enormous; it’s just a vast amount of space,” said Osburn, an associate professor of Earth and planetary science at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “We used the mine as a conduit to access that biosphere, which is difficult to reach no matter how you approach it. The power of our study is that we ended up with a lot of genomes, and many from understudied groups. From that DNA, we can understand which organisms live underground and learn what they could be doing. These are organisms that we often can’t grow in the lab or study in more traditional contexts. They are often called ‘microbial dark matter’ because we know so little about them.” A portal into the Earth’s crust For the past 10 years, Osburn and her students have regularly visited the former Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, to collect geochemical and microbial samples. Now called the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), the deep underground laboratory hosts a number of research experiments across a range of disciplines. In 2015, Osburn established six experimental sites, collectively called the Deep Mine Microbial Observatory, throughout SURF. “The mine is now a facility dedicated to underground science,” Osburn said. “Researchers mostly perform high-energy particle physics experiments. But they also let us study the deep biospheres that live within the rocks. We can set up experiments in a controlled, dedicated site and check on them months later, which we would not be able to do in an active mine.” By boring holes into rocks inside the mine, Osburn and her team capture fracture fluids, composed of water and dissolved gases. Some of these fluids are up to 10,000 years old and are teeming with microbial life that is otherwise isolated and ignored. In the new study, Osburn and her team collected eight fluid samples, gathered at various points throughout the mine — spanning depths from the surface all the way to about 1.5 kilometers deep. The range of samples provides a window into a gradient of microbial life with depth. Minimalists v. maximalists Back in Osburn’s lab at Northwestern, she and her team sequenced the microbial DNA held within the samples. Of the nearly 600 genomes characterized, microbes represented 50 distinct phyla and 18 candidate phyla. Out of this diverse community of microbes, Osburn discovered that, at some point, each lineage gravitates to a life-defining trajectory: become a minimalist or a maximalist. “Man of the microbes we found were either minimalists: ultra-streamlined with one job that it does very well alongside a close consortium of collaborators, or it can do a little bit of everything,” Osburn said. “These maximalists are ready for every resource that comes along. If there is an opportunity to make some energy or transform a biomolecule, it is prepared. By looking at its genome, we can tell it has many options. If nutrients are scarce, it can just make its own.” Prof. Magdalena Osburn collects fracture fluids, composed of water and dissolved gases. Credit: Sanford Underground Research Facility The minimalists, Osburn explained, typically share resources with friends, which also have specialized jobs. “Some of these lineages don’t even have genes to make their own lipids, which blows my mind,” Osburn said. “Because how can you make a cell without lipids? It’s sort of like how humans can’t make every amino acid, so we eat protein to get the amino acids that we cannot make on our own. But this is on a more extreme scale. The minimalists are extreme specialists, and all together, they make it work. It’s a lot of sharing and no duplication of effort.” Insights on Earth and beyond As we imagine life beyond our Earth, Osburn said these underground microbes might provide clues for what potentially could be living elsewhere. “I get really excited when I see evidence of microbial life, doing its thing without us, without plants, without oxygen, without surface atmosphere,” she said. “These kinds of life very well could exist deep within Mars or in the oceans of icy moons right now. The forms of life tell us about what might live elsewhere in the solar system.” And, they have implications for our own planet. As the industry looks for locations for long-term carbon storage, for example, many companies are exploring the possibilities for injecting carbon dioxide deep into the ground. As we explore those options, Osburn reminds us not to forget the microbes. “We need to be cognizant of life in the deep subsurface and how human activity, like mining and carbon storage, could affect it,” she said. “If we store carbon dioxide underground, there are microbes that could metabolize it to make methane, for example. There is a biosphere underground that, depending on how it’s perturbed, has the potential to affect the surface.” Reference: “A metagenomic view of novel microbial and metabolic diversity found within the deep terrestrial biosphere at DeMMO: A microbial observatory in South Dakota, USA” by Lily Momper, Caitlin P. Casar and Magdalena R. Osburn, 14 November 2023, Environmental Microbiology.DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.16543 The study was supported by NASA Exobiology (grant numbers NNH14ZDA001N, NNX15AM086), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Research — Earth 4D.

Invisible Danger in Your Bathroom: Alarming Chemical Emissions Found in Common Hair Products

The average morning routine for many Americans involves inhaling several milligrams of potentially harmful chemicals, according to Purdue University researchers. In a newly-published paper in Environmental Science &...

A Purdue University study reveals that daily hair care routines expose individuals to harmful chemicals, particularly D5 siloxane, found in many hair care products. This exposure poses unknown long-term health risks and contributes to environmental pollution, especially in urban areas. The study suggests avoiding these products or using ventilation to reduce exposure, highlighting the need for further research and potential regulation. The average morning routine for many Americans involves inhaling several milligrams of potentially harmful chemicals, according to Purdue University researchers. In a newly-published paper in Environmental Science & Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Nusrat Jung, an assistant professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering, discovered that several chemicals, particularly cyclic volatile methyl siloxanes — which are ubiquitous in hair care products — linger in the air after use. On average, Jung’s team reports, a person can inhale a cumulative mass of 1-17 milligrams of potentially harmful chemicals in a single hair care session in their home. “We found the results to be extremely alarming,” Jung said. “We did not expect to see such significant emissions of volatile chemical mixtures from off-the-shelf hair care products during typical hair care routines that many people perform each and every day.” The Main Culprit: D5 Siloxane The often greatest — and most concerning — chemical inhaled, Jung said, is decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (aka D5 siloxane). It is an organosilicon compound and is often listed first or second in the ingredient lists of many hair care products, indicating it can be among the most abundant ingredients. It has become a common ingredient over the past few decades in many personal care products due to its low surface tension, inertness, high thermal stability, and smooth texture. “D5 siloxane has been found to lead to adverse effects on the respiratory tract, liver, and nervous system of laboratory animals,” Jung said. “The use of the chemical in wash-off cosmetic products has already been restricted in the European Union because of this. Many of these products are scented, too, and some of the chemicals used to make these fragrances are potentially dangerous to inhale as well.” Within a residential architectural engineering laboratory, Purdue researchers studied how various hair care products can release chemicals that linger in the air after use. Credit: Purdue University photo/Drew Stone According to the European Chemicals Agency, D5 siloxane is classified as “very persistent, very bioaccumulative.” And while the test results on laboratory animals are already concerning, Jung said, there is little information on its human impact. “There has not been much in-depth research into this, so we really have no idea to what extent the threat these chemicals pose when inhaled over a long period of time,” Jung said. “There have been tests into ‘wash-off’ products like shampoos, but almost none for ‘leave-on’ products like hair gels, oils, creams, waxes and sprays.” Jung’s research also noted that applying high heat to these chemicals, such as through curling irons and hair straighteners, serves to further release the chemicals into the air. When met with temperatures of 210 degrees Celsius, researchers found the chemical emissions from the hair care products increased anywhere from 50% to 310%. Widespread Urban Impact To make matters worse, Jung said, these airborne chemicals do not merely remain in a single room — or even just the home. “Home ventilation is likely a major pathway of indoor-to-outdoor siloxane transport,” Jung said. “In urban environments, this is especially significant as you will have hundreds — even thousands — of homes ventilating out potentially harmful chemicals into the urban atmosphere all in a short span of time as people get ready for work and school in the morning. These chemicals are then collectively piped back into buildings through ventilation systems once more. So even if using products with harmful chemicals is not part of your hair care routine, you will still be impacted due to your surroundings in an urban environment.” Surveys on different population groups indicate that 16% to 70% of participants use leave-on hair care or hair styling products, Jung’s research reported. Considering an average use frequency of hair care products between two and five times per week, based on surveys on hair care product usage patterns, and assuming that 10% of leave-on hair care products are siloxane-based, the total indoor-to-outdoor emission of D5 could reach 0.4 to 6 metric tons per year in the U.S. So, how can people protect themselves from inhaling these chemicals? Nusrat Jung, a Purdue assistant professor of civil engineering, reviews data showing the chemicals emitted into the air from using a hair styling tool. Credit: Purdue University photo/Drew Stone “The best solution is to simply not use these products,” Jung said. “I used to use similar products myself to straighten my hair, but after we analyzed the data, it became immediately clear that the best thing I could do to protect my own health was to stop using them.” If one must use these products, the next best thing is to have an exhaust fan running to minimize the amount of chemicals inhaled, said Purdue civil engineering PhD student and researcher Jinglin Jiang. “Ventilation can be an effective way to reduce siloxane exposures during indoor hair care routines,” Jiang said. “Our model shows that turning on the bathroom exhaust fan can reduce D5 inhalation exposures by over 90%.” That, however, further contributes to its environmental impact. Jung’s research reports that the cumulative indoor-to-outdoor D5 emission with the exhaust fan always off reaches 710 milligrams within three hours, while the indoor-to-outdoor D5 emission with the exhaust fan always on reaches 900 milligrams within only one hour. “There’s a good reason why these chemicals are restricted from being used in wash-off hair care products in certain parts of the world,” Jung said. “The effects on people and the planet need to be studied further and regulatory action needs to be taken.” Gathering the data Jung’s experimental research was conducted in a residential architectural engineering laboratory that she designed: the Purdue zero Energy Design Guidance for Engineers (zEDGE) Tiny House. zEDGE is a mechanically ventilated, single-zone residential building with a conditioned interior. A state-of-the-art proton-transfer-reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer (PTR-TOF-MS) from Jung’s laboratory was used to measure D5 siloxanes and other volatile chemicals in the indoor air in real-time, second-by-second. The hair care routine emission experiments were conducted during a measurement campaign in zEDGE over a period of several months, including three experiment types: realistic hair care experiments that replicate actual hair care routines in the home environment, hot plate emission experiments that explore the relationship between the temperature of the hair care tools and volatile organic compound emissions, and surface area emission experiments that investigate how hair surface area impacts volatile organic compound emissions during hair care events. For the realistic hair care routine emission experiments, participants were asked to bring their own hair care products and hair styling tools to replicate their routines in zEDGE. Prior to each experiment, the participants were instructed to separate their hair into four sections. The hair length of each participant was categorized as long hair (below the shoulder) or short hair (above the shoulder). The sequence of each experiment consisted of four periods, to replicate a real-life routine. After hair styling, the participants had two minutes to collect the tools and leave zEDGE; this was followed by a 60-minute concentration decay period, in which zEDGE was unoccupied, and the high-resolution PTR-TOF-MS monitored the decay in indoor volatile organic compound concentrations. The experiments and subsequent analysis focused on indoor volatile organic compound concentrations and emissions during and after active hair care routine periods. Reference: “Siloxane Emissions and Exposures during the Use of Hair Care Products in Buildings” by Jinglin Jiang, Xiaosu Ding, Satya S. Patra, Jordan N. Cross, Chunxu Huang, Vinay Kumar, Paige Price, Emily K. Reidy, Antonios Tasoglou, Heinz Huber, Philip S. Stevens, Brandon E. Boor and Nusrat Jung, 16 November 2023, Environmental Science & Technology.DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.3c05156 This research was funded and supported by Purdue University, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Jung’s team plans to investigate the many other chemicals detected in these experiments that were not reported in this study.

UN declares PFAS pollution in North Carolina a human rights violation

Its declaration marks the first time the international body has used such a framework to address the threat of “forever chemicals” in the US.

The United Nations says the ongoing PFAS contamination of the Cape Fear watershed in North Carolina violates residents’ right to a clean and safe environment, and it has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to hold the polluters accountable.  Its declaration marks the first time the international body has used a human rights framework to address the pervasive threat of so-called “forever chemicals” in the United States. That, in turn, could bolster national and international efforts to reckon with the public health and environmental dangers of the 12,000 common compounds classified as PFAS, which do not break down in the environment or in the body. The Cape Fear River provides water to 500,000 people. For more than three decades, unbeknownst to residents, the Fayetteville Works chemical plant owned first by DuPont and then by the Dutch company Chemours slowly contaminated the river and local wells with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are carcinogenic. In 2017, the public, long confused by the commonplace occurrence of rare illnesses, learned who was responsible when a local newspaper broke the story.  In April, a grassroots organization trying to bring Chemours to account wrote a detailed letter to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, asking it to consider the contamination a violation of international human rights law. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Special Rapporteur Marcos Orellana did just that in letters sent to DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva — the three companies associated with Fayetteville Works — and the governments of the United States and the Netherlands. The letters say the Fayetteville Works plant contaminated more than 100 miles of the river for 40 years and counting, and allege that Chemours knew about the harmful effects of PFAS pollution and likely suppressed that information. The missive to the U.S. government urges the EPA to hold the company accountable, while the document sent to Dutch officials demands an end to the export of PFAS waste to the region. Chemours has been sending such material to the plant for processing and disposal because U.S. laws are more lenient than those in Europe.  Cape Fear residents are relying on the U.N.’s action to bring them some redress after years of fighting for epidemiological studies by the EPA and a shutdown of Fayetteville Works. “We’re hoping this helps the U.S. government find the political courage it needs,” said Emily Donovan, cofounder of community organizing group Clean Cape Fear. “No one wants to be labeled as harboring a human rights violator.” Read Next The landmark trial that could determine who pays to rid America’s drinking water of PFAS Zoya Teirstein In the letter to Chemours, Orellana expressed discomfort and alarm at what he called the company’s long-term disinformation campaigns, which included obfuscating the true danger of PFAS chemicals and proferring them as a climate solution with no peer-reviewed science backing the claim. “In one study,” Orellana wrote in the letter to Chemours, “Certain PFAS were found in 97 percent of local residents tested.” Other peer-reviewed studies cited in the letter linked per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the bloodstream to several forms of cancer, fertility and endocrine disorders, and lung diseases.  The letters follow a series of lawsuits against the same companies over water contamination issues, including one that was recently settled for $110 million in Ohio.  In a statement to Grist and a response to the U.N. letter, Chemours denied wrongdoing, adding that its products are vital to the green transition. “At Chemours, we support science-based regulation, and our remediation activity and emissions control technologies are grounded in the best available science and proven approaches,” said the company. However, it has sought a permit from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to expand PFAS production, particularly of a chemical called GenX that is particularly difficult to filter out of municipal water systems. Claudia Polsky, the environmental director of the University of California-Berkeley Law Clinic, helped write the letter seeking U.N. intervention. She said most of the work the companies have done to address the problem has focused on avoiding liability, not controlling emissions. She hopes a human rights framing could pave the way for more sweeping reforms. “The great thing about framing this accurately as a violation of human rights,” said Polsky, “is that framing is capacious enough to include stories about PFAS health harms, ecological harms, corporate responsibility, about lack of regulatory vigor, about inadequate legal remedies for people who are coming out injured.” It also connects the injustices in North Carolina with similar stories elsewhere in the world, bolstering the case for an international movement to address PFAS as a global problem, and regulate them as a class of chemicals rather than one by one. The U.N. declaration is the first of its kind in the United States. It is preceded by a similar, though less detailed, action by the U.N. Special Rapporteur in Veneto, Italy, which inspired the residents of Cape Fear to believe they might be able to catch the international body’s attention. PFAS, they say, is a problem with global consequences. Community members and officials in North Carolina castigated the EPA last month for approving a permit for Chemours to import 4 million additional pounds of GenX PFAS waste from the Netherlands, despite a 2019 EPA order requiring the company to reduce its pollution in the Cape Fear watershed. The EPA put the import on pause after local media uncovered it, causing community outcry. The federal government has not yet responded to the rapporteur’s letter. Harper Peters, a former mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina, and state senator for the region, is a founding member of the Clean Cape Fear Coalition. He hopes this international attention will force the EPA to adopt tougher drinking water standards, generate enough public outrage for the state to deny Chemours’ expansion permit, and trigger what he calls much-needed epidemiological studies into the harms of PFAS. The challenge, he said, has been proving to legislators that blowback from their constituents will cost them more than corporate pressure to do nothing.  If the U.S. fails to address the issue, the special rapporteur said, it will be viewed as negligent in ensuring the rights of its own citizens. “We remain preoccupied that these actions infringe on community members’ right to life, right to health, right to a healthy, clean, and sustainable environment, and the right to clean water, among others,” Orellana said in the letter. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline UN declares PFAS pollution in North Carolina a human rights violation on Dec 1, 2023.

Ultrasound – A New Way To Get Rid of Toxic “Forever Chemicals”

The new method breaks up dangerous chemicals into harmless substances. New findings indicate that ultrasound technology could be effective in treating per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances...

Recent research suggests that ultrasound technology could be effective in treating PFAS, harmful chemicals found in contaminated groundwater. This method contrasts with traditional treatments as it degrades smaller PFAS compounds more efficiently. The study, extending previous work on pharmaceutical degradation, demonstrates ultrasound’s ability to break down the stable carbon-fluorine bonds in PFAS. Though costly and energy-intensive, this method may be vital for protecting water sources, and it indicates a potential direction for future water treatment technologies. The new method breaks up dangerous chemicals into harmless substances. New findings indicate that ultrasound technology could be effective in treating per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” to purify contaminated groundwater. These chemicals, developed almost a hundred years ago, were extensively utilized in the manufacturing of various products like non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, and personal care goods. Today, scientists understand that exposure to PFAS can cause a number of human health issues such as birth defects and cancer. But because the bonds inside these chemicals don’t break down easily, they’re notoriously difficult to remove from the environment.  Such difficulties have led researchers at The Ohio State University to study how ultrasonic degradation, a process that uses sound to degrade substances by cleaving apart the molecules that make them up, might work against different types and concentrations of these chemicals.   Ultrasound Degradation: A Potential Solution By conducting experiments on lab-made mixtures containing three differently sized compounds of fluorotelomer sulfonates – PFAS compounds typically found in firefighting foams – their results showed that over a period of three hours, the smaller compounds degraded much faster than the larger ones. This is in contrast to many other PFAS treatment methods in which smaller PFAS are actually more challenging to treat.  “We showed that the challenging smaller compounds can be treated, and more effectively than the larger compounds,” said co-author of the study Linda Weavers, a professor of civil, environmental, and geodetic engineering at The Ohio State University. “That’s what makes this technology potentially really valuable.”  The research was published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry A.   One of only a few studies to probe into how ultrasound might be used to rid our surroundings of toxic PFAS chemicals, this paper is an extension of previous research of Weavers’ that determined that the same technology could also degrade pharmaceuticals in municipal tap and wastewater.   Ultrasound vs. Traditional Methods “PFAS compounds are unique because many of the destruction technologies that we use in environmental engineering for other hard-to-remove compounds don’t work for them,” Weavers said. “So we really need to be developing an array of technologies to figure out which ones might be useful in different applications.”  Unlike other traditional destruction methods that attempt to break down PFAS by reacting them with oxidizing chemicals, ultrasound works to purify these substances by emitting sound at a frequency much lower than typically used for medical imaging, said Weavers. Ultrasound’s low-pitched pressure wave compresses and pulls apart the solution, which then creates pockets of vapor called cavitation bubbles.  “As the bubbles collapse, they gain so much momentum and energy that it compresses and over-compresses, heating up the bubble,” said Weavers.   Much like powerful combustion chambers, the temperatures inside these tiny bubbles can reach up to 10,000 Kelvin, and it’s this heat that breaks down the stable carbon-fluorine bonds that PFAS are made of and renders the byproducts essentially harmless. Unfortunately, this degradation method can be costly and extremely energy intensive, but with few other options, it may be something the public needs to consider investing in to protect groundwater for drinking and other uses, said Weavers.   Regulatory Responses and Public Awareness While manufacturing industries are starting to move away from making use of PFAS, regulatory agencies are working to heighten public awareness about how to avoid them. Earlier this year, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency proposed the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR), which would require public water systems to monitor for certain PFAS, notify the public of these levels, and take measures to reduce them if they’re over a certain limit.   Because ultrasound is so effective at cleaning PFAS from solutions, the study concludes that scientists and government agencies should consider using it in future treatment technology development as well as along with other combined-treatment approaches.   Though Weavers’ research is not ready to be scaled up to aid in larger anti-contamination efforts, the study does note that their work could be the opening move toward creating small, high-energy water filtration devices for public use inside the home.   “Our research revolves around trying to think about how you scale to something bigger and what you need to make it work,” said Weavers. “These compounds are found everywhere, so as we learn more about them, understanding how they can degrade and break down is important for furthering the science.” Reference: “Kinetics and Mechanism of Ultrasonic Defluorination of Fluorotelomer Sulfonates” by William P. Fagan, Shannon R. Thayer and Linda K. Weavers, 25 July 2023, The Journal of Physical Chemistry A.DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpca.3c03011  

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