Cookies help us run our site more efficiently.

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information or to customize your cookie preferences.

"How will the Earth look when pollution decreases?"

News Feed
Friday, April 19, 2024

HOUSTON — This week EHN is publishing letters from eighth grade students at YES Prep Northbrook Middle School in the Houston-area neighborhood of Spring Branch, Texas.English educators Cassandra Harper and Yvette Howard incorporated the environment into a series of lessons in December last year. Each student conducted their own research to begin drafting letters to EHN about their concerns or hopes. EHN reporter Cami Ferrell visited their classrooms to share information about her personal reporting experiences in Houston. The collection of letters, some of which were lightly edited, do not represent the opinions of YES Prep Northbrook or EHN, but are offered here as a peak into the minds of children and their relationship with environmental issues. Read the first, second, third and fourth set of letters.Diana MezaClimate change is changing our planet day by day. If we do not do anything about it, who knows what could happen in the future. Climate change has really affected our environment, from wildfires to extreme weather. People have experiences with climate change and so do I. One day during the summer, I went out with my family. It was really hot that day, but no one had expected what would happen next. Suddenly, I began to have a heat stroke. It lasted about 15 minutes, and it scared us all. And this wasn’t the first time this has happened. This heat stroke in particular worried me that maybe one day something worse could possibly happen. Since the heat is increasing every year, it is possible that in the future, my body will no longer be able to take the heat.I believe it is important we do something about this to prevent harming any more people. I think some way we can help is by trying to stop pollution. Pollution is one of the main reasons why our Earth is heating up more than ever. If we reduce the pollution we let out in our air, it could possibly make a big difference. Another thing I believe we can do to help our Earth is if we stop cutting down our trees. We need our trees to have fresh air and without them, our air quality could worsen.Thank you for taking time out of your day to read about ways we can improve our environment. With your help, we can make this a better place.- Diana MezaAzhael MedranoI am writing to discuss the status and my opinion of climate change. I want to talk about this issue because it is currently not just affecting us but also affecting all other living and nonliving things. This letter expresses my feelings about climate change and how it is dangerous in multiple ways.Climate change is now affecting everyone, and it changes the way we live life. The issue affects me and my community because the pollution we breathe in can harm us. An example of climate change that was near where I live was the Spring Branch fire on Hollister Road. This situation makes me feel that soon we are going to need some form of facial protection because of all the pollution. The thing I am mostly worried about when it comes to climate change is the pollution and the extreme temperature. To address climate change, it is important that we humans limit the number of times we use our daily vehicles such as cars, planes, and boats. A message I would like to give the government is to change the way most things are powered because as of right now most of our vehicles are powered by oil which creates more pollution for us to breathe in causing more sicknesses to happen and more deaths to experience. I want all the readers to understand that climate change is caused by certain jobs we take part in such as refineries and cargo sending ships across the world just to spread the pollution even more. Thank you for hearing me out on how we can make the world a better place for the future leaders of the world. - Azhael Medrano Felix PerezClimate change is one of the biggest worldwide problems. People think that climate change is the world just heating up and that is one of many (things) going on.For example, sea levels are going up and severe storms are currently happening and freezes could happen. In February 2021 Houston had one of the biggest freezes making people lose their homes. This is rare for Texas to freeze, since Texas is hotter than (other) states. This affected families by making them lose (their) homes for not being able to pay for the damage caused by the storm. (Some) families had less food than others. (Some) were stocking up on food to make sure that they can feed their family. People were in the streets starving (and freezing) to death in the cold. To address climate change, it is important that the people and government act. The government should turn off gas companies once a week every month while the workers still get paid to make sure we decrease the amount of natural gas being put out in our atmosphere. I want people to know that it is not just heat but people (will be) losing their homes and animals losing their natural habitats. People should attend meetings and protest to try to end climate change. Thank you for taking your time to read on how I feel about climate change and why I think we should find ways to end how bad it is so my generation can have a future and for our species to not go extinct. - Felix PerezCarolina GonzalezI believe that climate change is a tremendous problem because climate change is affecting humans. For example, hurting their lungs and causing them to have asthma, heart diseases, and more. But climate change can also cause (the) losing (of) resources like trees or food. This issue affects me and my community because I had asthma but it came back not that long ago. So the pollution has affected me.Some examples of climate change near my area was that it was flooded by a hurricane named Hurricane Harvey, and this year we’ve experienced a huge fire. Many trees were destroyed. The air was toxic to adults, but (especially) toxic for young children. This worries me for my future because I believe that possibly the citizens here would want to leave because of what the pollution is causing. It also worries me (that) the hospitals won’t have enough room for everyone that is having health problems from the pollution.Humans need to take control of climate change and try to fix it in any way possible. In Houston,Texas we had one of the hottest summers ever, no one is taking action and caring about our Earth. Parents need to be careful when their children are outside breathing those toxic chemicals and hurting their lungs. I would like to see a change, before and after, especially to those kids' futures. How will the Earth look when pollution decreases? - Carolina GonzalezDaniel MendozaClimate change is a real problem that is happening around the world, not just here. It has affected many lives, and it will keep on affecting many more lives if it isn’t stopped. The issue with climate change is that it isn’t taken that seriously and it has become a big problem because it has worsened over time. This issue affects me or my community because it can affect our health and how we live here in Houston. This year’s summer was the hottest ever recorded here in Houston, and it might be getting hotter each year. Also, this summer there has been some smog in the air, mostly what I think has been created by refineries or cars releasing gas into the air. In order to address climate change, it is important that we, as a community, act upon this by using less electricity and gas, using transportation without gasoline- like a bicycle or walking - and using an electric car instead of a gasoline car. What the government should do (something) too. From what I have heard, they have reduced greenhouse gasses, which is another factor for hot temperatures like this summer’s. The government should keep at it so there could be less hotter summers over the years. We people from Houston should know about this and must make a change from converting our gasoline car to electric, or to use less gas and electricity in our homes. We can make a change, even if it seems impossible. know we can, so that I and many other people can have a bright future ahead of us.- Daniel Mendoza

HOUSTON — This week EHN is publishing letters from eighth grade students at YES Prep Northbrook Middle School in the Houston-area neighborhood of Spring Branch, Texas.English educators Cassandra Harper and Yvette Howard incorporated the environment into a series of lessons in December last year. Each student conducted their own research to begin drafting letters to EHN about their concerns or hopes. EHN reporter Cami Ferrell visited their classrooms to share information about her personal reporting experiences in Houston. The collection of letters, some of which were lightly edited, do not represent the opinions of YES Prep Northbrook or EHN, but are offered here as a peak into the minds of children and their relationship with environmental issues. Read the first, second, third and fourth set of letters.Diana MezaClimate change is changing our planet day by day. If we do not do anything about it, who knows what could happen in the future. Climate change has really affected our environment, from wildfires to extreme weather. People have experiences with climate change and so do I. One day during the summer, I went out with my family. It was really hot that day, but no one had expected what would happen next. Suddenly, I began to have a heat stroke. It lasted about 15 minutes, and it scared us all. And this wasn’t the first time this has happened. This heat stroke in particular worried me that maybe one day something worse could possibly happen. Since the heat is increasing every year, it is possible that in the future, my body will no longer be able to take the heat.I believe it is important we do something about this to prevent harming any more people. I think some way we can help is by trying to stop pollution. Pollution is one of the main reasons why our Earth is heating up more than ever. If we reduce the pollution we let out in our air, it could possibly make a big difference. Another thing I believe we can do to help our Earth is if we stop cutting down our trees. We need our trees to have fresh air and without them, our air quality could worsen.Thank you for taking time out of your day to read about ways we can improve our environment. With your help, we can make this a better place.- Diana MezaAzhael MedranoI am writing to discuss the status and my opinion of climate change. I want to talk about this issue because it is currently not just affecting us but also affecting all other living and nonliving things. This letter expresses my feelings about climate change and how it is dangerous in multiple ways.Climate change is now affecting everyone, and it changes the way we live life. The issue affects me and my community because the pollution we breathe in can harm us. An example of climate change that was near where I live was the Spring Branch fire on Hollister Road. This situation makes me feel that soon we are going to need some form of facial protection because of all the pollution. The thing I am mostly worried about when it comes to climate change is the pollution and the extreme temperature. To address climate change, it is important that we humans limit the number of times we use our daily vehicles such as cars, planes, and boats. A message I would like to give the government is to change the way most things are powered because as of right now most of our vehicles are powered by oil which creates more pollution for us to breathe in causing more sicknesses to happen and more deaths to experience. I want all the readers to understand that climate change is caused by certain jobs we take part in such as refineries and cargo sending ships across the world just to spread the pollution even more. Thank you for hearing me out on how we can make the world a better place for the future leaders of the world. - Azhael Medrano Felix PerezClimate change is one of the biggest worldwide problems. People think that climate change is the world just heating up and that is one of many (things) going on.For example, sea levels are going up and severe storms are currently happening and freezes could happen. In February 2021 Houston had one of the biggest freezes making people lose their homes. This is rare for Texas to freeze, since Texas is hotter than (other) states. This affected families by making them lose (their) homes for not being able to pay for the damage caused by the storm. (Some) families had less food than others. (Some) were stocking up on food to make sure that they can feed their family. People were in the streets starving (and freezing) to death in the cold. To address climate change, it is important that the people and government act. The government should turn off gas companies once a week every month while the workers still get paid to make sure we decrease the amount of natural gas being put out in our atmosphere. I want people to know that it is not just heat but people (will be) losing their homes and animals losing their natural habitats. People should attend meetings and protest to try to end climate change. Thank you for taking your time to read on how I feel about climate change and why I think we should find ways to end how bad it is so my generation can have a future and for our species to not go extinct. - Felix PerezCarolina GonzalezI believe that climate change is a tremendous problem because climate change is affecting humans. For example, hurting their lungs and causing them to have asthma, heart diseases, and more. But climate change can also cause (the) losing (of) resources like trees or food. This issue affects me and my community because I had asthma but it came back not that long ago. So the pollution has affected me.Some examples of climate change near my area was that it was flooded by a hurricane named Hurricane Harvey, and this year we’ve experienced a huge fire. Many trees were destroyed. The air was toxic to adults, but (especially) toxic for young children. This worries me for my future because I believe that possibly the citizens here would want to leave because of what the pollution is causing. It also worries me (that) the hospitals won’t have enough room for everyone that is having health problems from the pollution.Humans need to take control of climate change and try to fix it in any way possible. In Houston,Texas we had one of the hottest summers ever, no one is taking action and caring about our Earth. Parents need to be careful when their children are outside breathing those toxic chemicals and hurting their lungs. I would like to see a change, before and after, especially to those kids' futures. How will the Earth look when pollution decreases? - Carolina GonzalezDaniel MendozaClimate change is a real problem that is happening around the world, not just here. It has affected many lives, and it will keep on affecting many more lives if it isn’t stopped. The issue with climate change is that it isn’t taken that seriously and it has become a big problem because it has worsened over time. This issue affects me or my community because it can affect our health and how we live here in Houston. This year’s summer was the hottest ever recorded here in Houston, and it might be getting hotter each year. Also, this summer there has been some smog in the air, mostly what I think has been created by refineries or cars releasing gas into the air. In order to address climate change, it is important that we, as a community, act upon this by using less electricity and gas, using transportation without gasoline- like a bicycle or walking - and using an electric car instead of a gasoline car. What the government should do (something) too. From what I have heard, they have reduced greenhouse gasses, which is another factor for hot temperatures like this summer’s. The government should keep at it so there could be less hotter summers over the years. We people from Houston should know about this and must make a change from converting our gasoline car to electric, or to use less gas and electricity in our homes. We can make a change, even if it seems impossible. know we can, so that I and many other people can have a bright future ahead of us.- Daniel Mendoza



HOUSTON — This week EHN is publishing letters from eighth grade students at YES Prep Northbrook Middle School in the Houston-area neighborhood of Spring Branch, Texas.


English educators Cassandra Harper and Yvette Howard incorporated the environment into a series of lessons in December last year. Each student conducted their own research to begin drafting letters to EHN about their concerns or hopes. EHN reporter Cami Ferrell visited their classrooms to share information about her personal reporting experiences in Houston.

The collection of letters, some of which were lightly edited, do not represent the opinions of YES Prep Northbrook or EHN, but are offered here as a peak into the minds of children and their relationship with environmental issues. Read the first, second, third and fourth set of letters.

Diana Meza


youth climate change

Climate change is changing our planet day by day. If we do not do anything about it, who knows what could happen in the future. Climate change has really affected our environment, from wildfires to extreme weather. People have experiences with climate change and so do I. One day during the summer, I went out with my family. It was really hot that day, but no one had expected what would happen next. Suddenly, I began to have a heat stroke. It lasted about 15 minutes, and it scared us all. And this wasn’t the first time this has happened. This heat stroke in particular worried me that maybe one day something worse could possibly happen. Since the heat is increasing every year, it is possible that in the future, my body will no longer be able to take the heat.

I believe it is important we do something about this to prevent harming any more people. I think some way we can help is by trying to stop pollution. Pollution is one of the main reasons why our Earth is heating up more than ever. If we reduce the pollution we let out in our air, it could possibly make a big difference. Another thing I believe we can do to help our Earth is if we stop cutting down our trees. We need our trees to have fresh air and without them, our air quality could worsen.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read about ways we can improve our environment. With your help, we can make this a better place.

- Diana Meza

Azhael Medrano


youth climate change

I am writing to discuss the status and my opinion of climate change. I want to talk about this issue because it is currently not just affecting us but also affecting all other living and nonliving things. This letter expresses my feelings about climate change and how it is dangerous in multiple ways.

Climate change is now affecting everyone, and it changes the way we live life. The issue affects me and my community because the pollution we breathe in can harm us. An example of climate change that was near where I live was the Spring Branch fire on Hollister Road. This situation makes me feel that soon we are going to need some form of facial protection because of all the pollution. The thing I am mostly worried about when it comes to climate change is the pollution and the extreme temperature.

To address climate change, it is important that we humans limit the number of times we use our daily vehicles such as cars, planes, and boats. A message I would like to give the government is to change the way most things are powered because as of right now most of our vehicles are powered by oil which creates more pollution for us to breathe in causing more sicknesses to happen and more deaths to experience. I want all the readers to understand that climate change is caused by certain jobs we take part in such as refineries and cargo sending ships across the world just to spread the pollution even more. Thank you for hearing me out on how we can make the world a better place for the future leaders of the world.

- Azhael Medrano

Felix Perez


youth climate change

Climate change is one of the biggest worldwide problems. People think that climate change is the world just heating up and that is one of many (things) going on.

For example, sea levels are going up and severe storms are currently happening and freezes could happen. In February 2021 Houston had one of the biggest freezes making people lose their homes. This is rare for Texas to freeze, since Texas is hotter than (other) states. This affected families by making them lose (their) homes for not being able to pay for the damage caused by the storm. (Some) families had less food than others. (Some) were stocking up on food to make sure that they can feed their family. People were in the streets starving (and freezing) to death in the cold.

To address climate change, it is important that the people and government act. The government should turn off gas companies once a week every month while the workers still get paid to make sure we decrease the amount of natural gas being put out in our atmosphere. I want people to know that it is not just heat but people (will be) losing their homes and animals losing their natural habitats. People should attend meetings and protest to try to end climate change.

Thank you for taking your time to read on how I feel about climate change and why I think we should find ways to end how bad it is so my generation can have a future and for our species to not go extinct.

- Felix Perez

Carolina Gonzalez


youth climate change

I believe that climate change is a tremendous problem because climate change is affecting humans. For example, hurting their lungs and causing them to have asthma, heart diseases, and more. But climate change can also cause (the) losing (of) resources like trees or food. This issue affects me and my community because I had asthma but it came back not that long ago. So the pollution has affected me.

Some examples of climate change near my area was that it was flooded by a hurricane named Hurricane Harvey, and this year we’ve experienced a huge fire. Many trees were destroyed. The air was toxic to adults, but (especially) toxic for young children. This worries me for my future because I believe that possibly the citizens here would want to leave because of what the pollution is causing. It also worries me (that) the hospitals won’t have enough room for everyone that is having health problems from the pollution.

Humans need to take control of climate change and try to fix it in any way possible. In Houston,Texas we had one of the hottest summers ever, no one is taking action and caring about our Earth. Parents need to be careful when their children are outside breathing those toxic chemicals and hurting their lungs. I would like to see a change, before and after, especially to those kids' futures. How will the Earth look when pollution decreases?

- Carolina Gonzalez

Daniel Mendoza


youth climate change

Climate change is a real problem that is happening around the world, not just here. It has affected many lives, and it will keep on affecting many more lives if it isn’t stopped.

The issue with climate change is that it isn’t taken that seriously and it has become a big problem because it has worsened over time. This issue affects me or my community because it can affect our health and how we live here in Houston. This year’s summer was the hottest ever recorded here in Houston, and it might be getting hotter each year. Also, this summer there has been some smog in the air, mostly what I think has been created by refineries or cars releasing gas into the air.

In order to address climate change, it is important that we, as a community, act upon this by using less electricity and gas, using transportation without gasoline- like a bicycle or walking - and using an electric car instead of a gasoline car. What the government should do (something) too. From what I have heard, they have reduced greenhouse gasses, which is another factor for hot temperatures like this summer’s. The government should keep at it so there could be less hotter summers over the years. We people from Houston should know about this and must make a change from converting our gasoline car to electric, or to use less gas and electricity in our homes.

We can make a change, even if it seems impossible. know we can, so that I and many other people can have a bright future ahead of us.

- Daniel Mendoza

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows worsens due to ongoing pollution

A recent study highlights that industrial pollution is increasing methylmercury levels in the Grassy Narrows region, exacerbating a decades-old environmental health crisis.Sarah Law reports for CBC News.In short:New research indicates that wastewater discharge from the Dryden Paper Mill has intensified mercury contamination in northwestern Ontario’s English-Wabigoon River.The methylmercury, more toxic than other forms, accumulates in fish and affects the health of Grassy Narrows residents who rely on fish as a dietary staple.The federal government has committed $77M to build a Mercury Care Home, with construction starting this summer, to support affected individuals.Key quote: "We continue to be poisoned." — Rudy Turtle, Chief of Grassy Narrows First NationWhy this matters: Mercury poisoning poses severe health risks, including neuromuscular problems and cognitive dysfunction. Addressing this ongoing pollution is crucial for the well-being of the Grassy Narrows community and reflects broader environmental justice issues. Read more: Whose job is it to reduce toxic mercury in the Ohio River?

A recent study highlights that industrial pollution is increasing methylmercury levels in the Grassy Narrows region, exacerbating a decades-old environmental health crisis.Sarah Law reports for CBC News.In short:New research indicates that wastewater discharge from the Dryden Paper Mill has intensified mercury contamination in northwestern Ontario’s English-Wabigoon River.The methylmercury, more toxic than other forms, accumulates in fish and affects the health of Grassy Narrows residents who rely on fish as a dietary staple.The federal government has committed $77M to build a Mercury Care Home, with construction starting this summer, to support affected individuals.Key quote: "We continue to be poisoned." — Rudy Turtle, Chief of Grassy Narrows First NationWhy this matters: Mercury poisoning poses severe health risks, including neuromuscular problems and cognitive dysfunction. Addressing this ongoing pollution is crucial for the well-being of the Grassy Narrows community and reflects broader environmental justice issues. Read more: Whose job is it to reduce toxic mercury in the Ohio River?

Congestion Pricing Could Bring Cleaner Air. But Maybe Not for Everyone.

Officials expect New York City’s new tolling system to reduce air pollution, as well as carbon emissions. The impact may be uneven.

When congestion pricing takes effect in New York City next month, officials say it will create an array of benefits: The system’s tolls will generate revenue for improving mass transit while prompting some drivers to avoid Manhattan, potentially reducing traffic and air pollution, as well as carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.Some of those goals are already within sight: Devices that will monitor cars and send bills to drivers are in place, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which will operate the system, has begun to detail the transit repairs and upgrades it plans to spend its windfall on.For now, though, it is unclear how much the program will contribute to New York State’s ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse emissions 85 percent by 2050. And some people worry that less air pollution in some areas will be offset by more in others, despite efforts to keep that from happening.According to an environmental assessment by the authority, congestion pricing could decrease air pollution overall in three boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The concern is that rerouted traffic could increase it in the Bronx and on Staten Island.“It’s safe to say the direct air-quality benefits would be modest but measurable overall,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a senior attorney and New York City environment director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The plan, he added, is worthwhile because of its benefits for public transit, whose health is crucial for luring people away from private vehicles.“If you look at London and Stockholm, they had improved traffic, modest air quality, and jolts of adrenaline to their transportation systems,” he said, referring to similar programs in those cities.Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Cape Cod Weighs Big-Ticket Pollution Solutions

Toxic algal blooms are forcing Cape Cod communities to consider expensive sewer and septic system projects.

This story was co-published with WBUR in Boston and produced with assistance from the Pulitzer Center. Read WBUR’s coverage of efforts to improve Cape Cod’s water pollution, including a “pee-cycling” project being considered by one innovative town. And check out a documentary short exploring these issues that was co-produced by WBUR and Scientific American.[CLIP: Theme music]Rachel Feltman: Cape Cod’s ponds and bays have suffered from decades of pollution. But scientific detective work has finally pinpointed the worst culprit: human urine. When household septic systems flush nitrogen and other nutrients into the water, they provide an all-you-can-eat buffet for algae blooms. More algae means less sunlight and oxygen for other marine life, which means trouble for the people of Cape Cod.On supporting science journalismIf you're enjoying this article, consider supporting our award-winning journalism by subscribing. By purchasing a subscription you are helping to ensure the future of impactful stories about the discoveries and ideas shaping our world today.For Science Quickly, I’m Rachel Feltman. Today we’re bringing you the second installment in our three-part Fascination series on Cape Cod’s yellow tide. In this episode WBUR environmental correspondent Barbara Moran looks at some of the big-ticket pollution solutions up for consideration—and unpacks why they’re so controversial.So without further ado, here’s part two: “Sticker Shock.”[CLIP: Gerard Martin speaks at a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) hearing: “All right, excuse me, everybody, I think we’re gonna get going.”]Barbara Moran: Starting in late 2022 and continuing into the next year, concerned residents gathered for a series of public meetings with representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The residents were there to share their thoughts.[CLIP: Martin continues to speak at the hearing: “The hearing is being recorded and conducted in a hybrid format.”]Moran: The state was proposing new rules that would require communities to reduce their nitrogen pollution. In some places that meant people would potentially have to install new $35,000 septic systems. Here’s what Frank King of Brewster, Massachusetts, had to say about that.[CLIP: Frank King speaks at the MassDEP hearing: “If that is correct, you are looking at a massive protest on the scale of another Boston Tea Party.”][CLIP: Chris Shanahan speaks at the MassDEP hearing: “Thirty or thirty-five thousand dollars a year? That’s a complete misrepresentation.”]Moran: That’s Chris Shanahan of Falmouth, Massachusetts.[CLIP: Shanahan continues to speak at the hearing: “You can buy a system for that. You gotta maintain it. You gotta fix parts. It just never ends. So lifetime expense is more like eighty or a hundred thousand over 30 years.”][CLIP: Joan Hutchings speaks at the MassDEP hearing: “I’m not somebody that has a McMansion. I’ve got a three-bedroom home that’s been in my family for a bazillion years.”]Moran: Joan Hutchings of North Truro, Massachusetts. She said her town already made her upgrade her septic system.[CLIP: Hutchings continues to speak at the hearing: “Now the state’s gonna have me do something else? I don’t know, I might put an outhouse out back—seriously.”]Moran: People are concerned about the cost, as you heard. But they’re also concerned about whether these new systems even work. Can they actually prevent water pollution? I wondered the same thing. So I went to see an expert.Brian Baumgaertel: My name is Brian Baumgaertel. I’m the director of the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center.Moran: You met Brian briefly in Episode One. Now we’re on his home turf: a two-and-a-half acre outdoor laboratory on Cape Cod known as MASSTC.Brian’s team is on a mission to find the best septic systems in the world—and it’s not a job for the squeamish.[CLIP: Sound of wastewater channel]Moran (tape): All right, so I’m looking into this hole, and there’s, like, water pouring in and some scummy stuff floating around there.Baumgaertel: Yeah, that’s the raw wastewater coming in from Joint Base Cape Cod. And it doesn’t look like what most people would think of when—you know, when you’re thinking of wastewater, you think it’s pretty disgusting. I—you know, maybe I’ve just gotten so used to it. I don’t know.Moran (tape): It is a little disgusting. [Laughs]Baumgaertel: It’s got kind of a smell. You know, it’s one of the less glorious parts of MASSTC, but it’s a necessity. [Laughs] It’s brown gold, brown gold for us.Moran: MASSTC uses that brown gold to test prototype septic systems from all over the world. I ask Brian to show me one—although it’s hard to see much at the facility.Baumgaertel: A lot of what we do here is underground because of course, for the most part, septic systems in homes would be underground.Moran: Brian walks over to a grassy mound that looks weirdly like a burial site—which it is, actually. He says that buried underneath our feet is a new kind of septic system that removes nitrogen from wastewater.Here’s how it works: Wastewater flows into a tank, and all the solid stuff sinks to the bottom. The liquid left floating on top includes our pee, which is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients. This liquid flows out of the tank …Baumgaertel: And then flows into the actual unit itself …Moran (tape): Another tank that’s under our feet.Baumgaertel: Yep, yep. There’s another tank that’s about 12 feet long right here.Moran (tape): Okay.Baumgaertel: And inside that tank are a number of compartments.Moran: The compartments contain limestone rocks and wood chips. These ingredients create a breeding ground for bacteria that eat nitrogen. They convert it into harmless nitrogen gas before it gets into the groundwater.Other systems remove nitrogen in different ways. Brian and his team test the water coming out of each system to see how well it works. And he says this one has been working pretty well.Baumgaertel: So far the data look very encouraging. Every day we get a little bit more data, we get a little bit more confidence that the technology can work.[CLIP: “We Are Giants,” by Silver Maple]Moran: Others are also heartened by the data, including Zenas Crocker, who goes by Zee. He’s executive director of the nonprofit Barnstable Clean Water Coalition.Zenas Crocker: And this system is so successful that in the data that we’re seeing now, it will remove between 95 and 97 percent of nitrogen going into the groundwater.Moran: Zee’s group was so impressed with how well these systems remove nitrogen that it launched a pilot project. The group is installing more than a dozen in a neighborhood by Shubael Pond in Barnstable, Massachusetts—including one when I visited last September.[CLIP: Sound of chains being attached to a tank, followed by it being lifted]Moran: As we watch, a crane operator uses chains to lift a concrete tank and lower it into a hole in the ground.[CLIP: Sound of the tank being lowered and men talking]Moran: Zee’s group is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor how well the new systems keep nitrogen out of the groundwater.Crocker: We chose this location in particular because these are all small lots. We’re also in a working-class community. Generally we’re looking at full-time residents here and people who really can’t afford, necessarily, to upgrade their septic systems.Moran: The Barnstable Clean Water Coalition paid to install the systems in this neighborhood; the homeowners paid nothing—which won’t be an option for the whole cape.But there is another approach to stopping wastewater pollution: switching from septic tanks to sewage pipes, which would bring the waste to a treatment plant. And that’s what Barnstable is doing in other parts of the town.I went to Barnstable’s town hall to meet the guy in charge.Moran (tape): Hi, how’re you doing? I have a nine o’clock interview with Mark Ells.Receptionist: Okay, sure, he’ll be right with you.Moran: Mark Ells is Barnstable’s town manager.Mark Ells: We’ve seen a significant deterioration of our bays to the point where we don’t have shellfish, we don’t have finfish. So we want to make sure that we put in place solutions that help us to address not only what we know today but what we’re anticipating tomorrow.Moran: Barnstable is the largest town on the cape, and parts are pretty urban, with houses and commercial buildings relatively close together. In places like this, sewer systems are a practical and cost-effective choice.So the town has begun a massive expansion of its sewer system, planning to extend service to almost 12,000 properties.[CLIP: “Let There Be Rain,” by Silver Maple]It’ll take 30 years and cost more than $1 billion. The town got local, state and federal funding to help cover the expansion costs. But homeowners will still have to pay.First there’s a town assessment of up to $10,000. Then homeowners have to pay to get their house hooked up to the sewer line and pay for someone to deal with their old septic tank. And then they’ll have a monthly sewer bill. The final cost, spread over decades, is probably in the range of $20,000 to $30,000—or more—per house.[CLIP: Construction sounds]Moran: And there’s another cost to installing sewer lines: seemingly constant roadwork and traffic jams.One day last fall cars crawled along as superintendent Mike Donovan’s crew dug up the main road into Barnstable.Moran (tape): Is this going to be, like, what your company does for, like, the next three decades?Mike Donovan: We—well, hopefully, yeah. That’s what we do for a living. We’re installing sewer all over the cape right now.Moran: But even this ambitious, expensive sewer expansion will take decades to reach some neighborhoods in Barnstable.Pat Uhlman lives across the street from Shubael Pond. And she’s seen it turn green with toxic algae. She says a few decades is too long to keep polluting the water.Pat Uhlman: If we don’t start cleaning it up now, you know, you might not even want to walk down by that pond by then.Moran: Luckily Pat is part of the neighborhood pilot project that got new septic systems installed for free. She says she understands that other homeowners are feeling sticker shock, but the pollution has to stop.Uhlman: The cape economy is still people coming here in the summer. So if they can’t swim in our ponds, they can’t swim in our ocean, they can’t boat, there’s not gonna be any reason for them to come here.[CLIP: Theme music]Moran: There may be another solution, a cheaper one. It won’t solve all the cape’s water problems, but it could help—a lot. We’ll talk about that next week in the final part of this Scientific American–WBUR Fascination miniseries.Feltman: Thanks for listening. Tune in next Friday for the final installment in this miniseries—which, spoiler alert, involves a little something called “pee-cycling.” You don’t want to miss it.Can’t wait for next Friday to get here? Don’t worry. We are taking Monday off for Memorial Day, but we’ll be back in your feed on Wednesday with some tips for protecting wildlife from the comfort of your own backyard.This series is a co-production of WBUR and Scientific American. It’s reported and hosted by WBUR’s Barbara Moran.Science Quickly is produced by Jeff DelViscio, Kelso Harper, Madison Goldberg and Rachel Feltman. Our theme music was composed by Dominic Smith. Shayna Posses and Aaron Shattuck fact-checked this series, and Duy Linh Tu and Sebastian Tuinder contributed reporting and sound. WBUR’s Kathleen Masterson edited this series. Additional funding was provided by the Pulitzer Center.For Scientific American’s Science Quickly, I’m Rachel Feltman.

New Plant-Based Plastic Releases 9 Times Less Microplastics

Recent research shows that plant-based plastics release far fewer microplastics than traditional plastics in marine environments, suggesting they could be a more environmentally friendly option....

A study by the University of Portsmouth and the Flanders Marine Institute has found that a plant-based plastic material emits significantly fewer microplastics than traditional plastic when subjected to sunlight and seawater. The research highlights the resilience of bio-based plastics and emphasizes the need for further investigation into their environmental impact, particularly in marine settings. Despite the promising results, the release of any microplastics remains concerning, pointing to a continued need for innovation and stricter environmental policies.Recent research shows that plant-based plastics release far fewer microplastics than traditional plastics in marine environments, suggesting they could be a more environmentally friendly option. However, continued research is crucial to fully assess their impact.A recent study has discovered that a new plant-based plastic material releases nine times fewer microplastics compared to traditional plastic when subjected to sunlight and seawater. Conducted by researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium, the study examined the degradation of two different types of plastic under harsh conditions.A bio-based plastic material made from natural feedstocks held up better when exposed to intense UV light and seawater for 76 days – the equivalent of 24 months of sun exposure in central Europe – than a conventional plastic made from petroleum derivatives. Environmental Impacts of Bio-Based PlasticsProfessor of Mechanical Engineering, Hom Dhakal, from the University’s School of Mechanical and Design Engineering, and a member of Revolution Plastics said: “Bio-based plastics are gaining interest as alternatives to conventional plastics, but little is known about their potential source of microplastics pollution in the marine environment.Professor Hom Dhakal. Credit: University of Portsmouth“It’s important to understand how these materials behave when they’re exposed to extreme environments, so we can predict how they’ll work when they’re used in marine applications, like building a boat hull, and what impact they might have on ocean life.“By knowing the effect of different types of plastics on the environment, we can make better choices to protect our oceans.”According to the Plastic Oceans International Organization, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic is poured into the oceans every minute of the day. When this plastic waste is exposed to the environment, it breaks down into smaller particles that are less than 5mm in size.These particles are known as ‘microplastics’ and have been observed in most marine ecosystems, posing a serious threat to aquatic life.“We wanted to look at a conventional industrial polymer, polypropylene, which is non-biodegradable and difficult to recycle, against polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable polymer,” Professor Dhakal explained.“Although our findings show that the PLA released fewer microplastics, which means using plant-based plastics instead of oil-based ones might seem like a good idea to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean, we need to be careful as microplastics are still clearly being released and that remains a concern.”Research Findings and Future DirectionsThe research also found that the size and shape of the tiny plastic pieces released depended on the type of plastic. The conventional plastic released smaller pieces and had fewer fiber-like shapes compared to the plant-based plastic.Professor Dhakal added: “Overall our research provides valuable insights into the behavior of different plastic types under environmental stressors, which is important for our future work to tackle plastic pollution. There is a clear need for continued research and proactive measures to mitigate the impact of microplastics on marine ecosystems.”Reference: “Accelerated fragmentation of two thermoplastics (polylactic acid and polypropylene) into microplastics after UV radiation and seawater immersion” by Zhiyue Niu, Marco Curto, Maelenn Le Gall, Elke Demeyer, Jana Asselman, Colin R Janssen, Hom Nath Dhakal, Peter Davies, Ana Isabel Catarino and Gert Everaert, 19 January 2024, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2024.115981Professor Dhakal is a member of the Revolution Plastics initiative that has been instrumental in informing national and global policies on plastics, pioneering advanced enzyme recycling techniques, and contributing to critical discussions on the UN treaty to end plastic pollution.The study was led by experts from the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), in Belgium, under collaborative international work within the SeaBioComp project, which received funding from the Interreg 2 Seas Programme co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Suggested Viewing

Join us to forge
a sustainable future

Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!

CONTACT US

sign up for our mailing list to stay informed on the latest films and environmental headlines.

Subscribers receive a free day pass for streaming Cinema Verde.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.