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Keeping yourself clean may pollute the environment

Keeping yourself clean may pollute the environment

Shower

Knowing the source of pollution is an important first step toward preventing further contamination.
Getty Images

THE GIST:

  • Taking showers and doing laundry could wash pharmaceuticals into the water supply.
  • Babies and people with compromised immune systems could be most at risk.
  • Although the health consequences are still unclear, knowing the source of pollution could help reduce its impact.


With every shower you take, you may be unwittingly polluting the environment.

As you scrub off dirt, you also wipe off medicines from your skin and pharmaceuticals excreted in sweat, according to a new study. Those chemicals pass through the sewage system and might even end up in our drinking water.

“We are raising an alarm in that pharmaceuticals are not meant to be in our water,” said Ilene Ruhoy, director of the Institute for Environmental Medicine at the Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Henderson, Nev. She presented her work this week at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco.

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“If you think about other people exposed to these drugs that are intended for a particular population,” she said, “that could be a concern.”

Scientists have already recognized toilets as the biggest source of pharmaceuticals in the environment. After swallowing and digesting medicines, our bodies excrete metabolized versions of them through urine and feces. Often, people flush unwanted or unused pills as well, without thinking about where the drugs will end up.

Ruhoy suspected that toilets weren’t the only way that pharmaceuticals escape from the medicine cabinet. For the first time, she and colleagues considered overlooked sources of drugs in the environment.

Their research revealed that human skin fails to absorb much of the medicine that is applied topically, such as antibiotic ointments and steroid creams. Showers, baths and laundry wash those drugs directly into the sewage system. Chemically, these compounds often remain whole, unlike the broken-down versions in feces and urine.

The scientists also found that a significant percentage of the medicine we swallow end up coming out in our sweat. Those chemicals go down the drain, too.

It’s not yet clear how pharmaceutical residues in the environment will affect the health of animals or people, especially because concentrations for now are low. Still, tiny doses can add up after years and years of exposure. It’s a phenomenon that scientists have become increasingly worried about.

Studies have already found female features, such as eggs, in male fish that live near sewage effluents. Among the concerns, the migration of antibiotics into the environment could lead to more drug-resistant infections. Babies and people with compromised immune systems would be most at risk.

“There’s potential for an incredible number of compounds to be entering the environment, and we don’t really know what mixtures of those chemicals can do, either individually or together,” said Michael Fulton, an environmental toxicologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Charleston, S.C.

“Work is really just sort of beginning,” he added, “to try and identify what compounds are getting into the environment in high enough concentrations to produce an effect in some animal living out there.”

Knowing where pollution is coming from is an important first step toward preventing it from entering the environment in the first place, Ruhoy said. She recommends using the minimal necessary dose of topical ointments instead of slathering them on. Precautionary measures like wiping down with a towel before stepping into the shower might help, too.

“Let’s just be aware that what we do has an effect on the environment,” she said. “The environment and human health are intricately connected.”

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Filed under: Article of Week, Climate/Environment, , ,

The Copenhagen Treaty – Environment Summit

The Copenhagen Treaty – Environment Summit


February 3rd, 2010


The Copenhagen Accord, the first global agreement of the 21st century to comprehensively influence the flow and share of natural resources, was agreed upon by 26 most influential countries in the wee hours of December 19, 2009, in the capital of Denmark.

Major Highlights of the treaty

  • The final draft after the Copenhagen summit has agreed to cuts in emissions and hold increase in global temp below 2°C.
  • A proposal attached to the accord calls for a legally binding treaty by the end-2010.
  • Developed countries to provide adequate financial resources and technology to support developing countries. A goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries has been set.
  • Details of mitigation plans are included in separate annexure, one for developed countries and one for voluntary pledges from developing countries. These are not binding, and describe the current status of pledges—ranging from ‘under consideration’ for the United States to ‘adopted by legislation’ for the European Union.
  • Emerging economies have been asked to monitor their efforts and report the results to the United Nations every two years, with some international checks to meet transparency concerns of West but ‘ensure that national sovereignty is respected’.
  • The accord agrees to provide positive incentives to fund afforestation with financial resources from developed world
  • Carbon Markets are mentioned in the accord, but not in detail. The deal promises to pursue various approaches, including opportunities to use markets to enhance the cost-effectiveness and promote mitigations actions.

Filed under: Climate/Environment, ,

Controversy over Himalayan glaciers hots up

Controversy over Himalayan glaciers hots up

 

N. GOPAL RAJ

 

Water scarcity, which could affect more than a billion people, is the most serious threat that Asia faces from climate change

— Photo: AFP

Himalayan crisis: The Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than those in any other part of the world.

 

An official discussion paper on the status of Himalayan glaciers is coming under fire. The paper, issued recently by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, argued that the glaciers, which nourish several great rivers such as the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, have not retreated abnormally. It also questioned the link between climate change and the glaciers’ decline.

Releasing the paper, the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, remarked that there was no conclusive evidence to show that global warming was responsible for the glacial retreat.

Contradictory views

 

Such views completely contradict the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel-Prize-winning international body of scientists that weighs up the scientific evidence. Two years back, the IPCC released its comprehensive Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change.

The report pointed out that glaciers and ice caps provided the most visible indications of the effects of climate change. The Himalayan glaciers were receding faster than in any other part of the world.

If these glaciers continued to recede at the present rate, there was a very high risk of their disappearing by the year 2035, perhaps sooner, if the earth kept warming at the current rate.

Biggest threat

 

It warned that water scarcity, which could affect more than a billion people, was the most serious threat that Asia faced from climate change.

The Ministry’s riposte has been prepared by V.K. Raina, a retired Deputy Director-General of the Geological Survey of India. In the discussion paper, he agreed that glaciers in the Himalayas, barring a few exceptions, have been in constant retreat since observations started in the mid-Nineteenth Century. Moreover, studies showed all glaciers under observation to have lost mass during the last three decades of the last century.

However, “Himalayan glaciers, although shrinking in volume and constantly showing a retreating front, have not in any way exhibited, especially in recent years, an abnormal annual retreat of the order that some glaciers in Alaska and Greenland are reported [to have shown].” It would be premature to state that these glaciers were retreating abnormally because of global warming.

Glacier movements are primarily due to climate and snowfall. But then Mr. Raina goes on to state that movements of the ’snout’, the visible end of a glacier, “appear to be peculiar to each particular glacier.” The Gangotri glacier, which fed the Ganges River, was practically at a standstill for the last two years.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, has criticised both the discussion paper and the Minister. He did not understand why the Minister was supporting such unsubstantiated research, he told the Guardian newspaper.

The discussion paper was unscientific and biased, said Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a leading glaciologist who is currently with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi. It had ignored scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals after the 1980s when the impact of long-lived greenhouse gases became more visible. These papers clearly showed that warming of the climate was leading to the Himalayan glaciers melting at an exceptionally high rate, he said in an email.

The discussion paper had been sent to him a month back by the Minister’s office for review and he had responded with detailed comments. He had also provided the Minister with all recent papers published by Indians in peer-reviewed journals on the subject. But the paper had been unfortunately been released without any change.

Short-lived pollutants

 

Himalayan glaciers were not only affected by long-lived greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide but also by short-lived pollutants like black carbon, methane and atmospheric ozone, according to Prof. Hasnain.

In the eastern part of the Himalayas, the excessive melting of glaciers had led to lakes being formed in Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, remarked Shresth Tayal, another glaciologist at TERI.

Just recently, the prestigious science journal Nature carried a report on how the mountain kingdom of Bhutan was trying to drain such glacial lakes. Otherwise these lakes might burst their embankment and flood neighbouring areas.

In a paper that appeared in the journal Current Science in 2001, geologists from the HNB Garhwal University in Uttarakhand pointed out that the Gangotri glacier had retreated by two kilometres in the past 200 years. Over 40 per cent of that retreat had occurred in just the last 25 years.

Satellite images

 

A group led by scientists at the Indian space agency’s Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad used satellite images to study 466 glaciers in the Chenab, Parbati and Baspa basins.

They found that the glaciers had shrunk by 21 per cent since 1962. The glaciers had also become more fragmented, which was likely to profoundly influence their sustainability, said Anil Kulkarni and others in a 2007 paper.

In recently published research, the space scientists used a model to study how loss of glaciers could affect water flow in a tributary of the Sutlej River.

They estimated that a one degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2040 would more than halve the area occupied by the glaciers that fed the tributary. The runoff in the tributary could therefore come down by between eight per cent and 28 per cent, depending on the season.

Filed under: Climate/Environment, , ,

AMU scientist delivers lecture on Climate Change and Health

AMU scientist delivers lecture on Climate Change and Health
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Aligarh: “Climate change currently contributes heavily to the global burden of disease and premature deaths and there shall be an increase in the frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to increases in ground level ozone related toclimate change,” said CSIR Emeritus Scientist Prof. Rais Akhtar during a lecture on “Climate Change and Health” at the Department of Orthopaedics Surgery, JNMC, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

Prof. Rais Akhtar further said that the adaptive capacity needs to be improved everywhere as the impact of hurricanes and heat waves show that even high income countries are not well prepared to cope with extreme weather events.

The climate change has altered the distribution of some infectious disease vectors.

It has also increased the dangers of heat wave related deaths, increased malnutrition and consequent disorders, change in the range of infectious disease vectors and the burden of diarrheal diseases.

“Adverse health impacts of such changes will be greatest in low-income countries,” he added.

Those at greater risk include in all countries (urban poor, the elderly and children, traditional societies, subsistence farmers and coastal population). He said that the manner in which economic growth occurs and the growth benefits are distributed would be very important in shaping the health of populations such as education, health care and public health infrastructure.

Prof. Khalid Sherwani, while introducing the guest speaker said that Prof. Rais Akhtar, currently Emeritus Scientist CSIP, Geography, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU, New Delhi has also taught at JNU, the University of Zambia, Lusaka and University of Kashmir, Srinagar.

Prof. Akhtar has received several highly prestigious awards including Liverhulme Fellowship (University of Liverpool), Henry Chapman Fellowship (University of London), Visiting Fellowship, University of Sussex, Commonwealth Secretariat Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London, Visiting Professor, University of Paris.

Prof. Sherwani said that, “A number of highly acclaimed research papers of Prof. Rais Akhtar have been published in international journals of high repute and has already delivered a number of lectures around the world.”

Prof. S. Abrar Hasan, Dean Faculty of Medicine, Prof. A. A. Iraqi, Dr. Mohammad Zahid, Prof. M. Amanullah Khan, Prof. Imran Ghani, Prof. H. S. Khan, Prof. Rana Sherwani, Dr. Mazhar Abbas, Dr. Nayyar Asif, Dr. M. Aslam and a number of senior and junior residents, attended the lecture.

Filed under: Climate/Environment, , , ,

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