Others See Green Differently


The narrative of environmental sustainability throughout society, especially in relation to the greening of existing buildings, is heavily dependent upon the discourse that constructs our view on the subject.  Social construction is after all the idea that anything contains a certain set of characteristics because a societal consensus agrees that it does (Robbins et al., 2014).  Following the ideas of French Philosopher Michel Foucault, he argues that power and knowledge are fundamentally inseparable, which has the ability to construct and maintain a singular means of thinking with respect to one concept or another.  Considering that positions of power have a major influence on nationwide discourses, the transition from one presidency in the United States to the next has the potential to significantly alter society’s view of sustainability and renewable energy resources.  

This was the case in the early 1980’s with the arrival of Republican Ronald Reagan and the departure of Democrat Jimmy Carter.  The Carter presidency was responsible for the addition of 32 solar panels on the roof of the White House, which he himself believed would be the first step to setting the United States on a clean energy path (Wihbey, 2008).  This plan directly impacted the oil and gas industry as it called for a reduction in consumption form these resources and instead sought to utilize renewable energy sources, including solar on buildings across the United States (Carter, 1977).  However, five years into the Reagan presidency they were removed, primarily due to the implementation of a much different national energy consumption plan from that of then-president Jimmy Carter.  The plan stemmed from the 1979 energy crisis due to decreased oil output during the Iranian Revolution, sending shockwaves throughout the oil and gas industry in the United States (Graefe, 1978-1979).  Consequently, the widespread public fear led to questions of whether oil and gas would be suitable to meet the U.S. energy demand.

In order to maintain power, the oil and gas industry developed a close relationship with President Reagan in hopes of winning his support to remove regulations (Jaroslovsky, 1981).  Furthermore, President Reagan believed in “the free market as the best arbiter of what was good for the country [and that] corporate self interest would steer the country in the right direction” (Murse, 2016).  Subsequent executive actions removed regulations and price controls on petroleum resources, effectively removing Jimmy Carter’s steps towards utilizing renewable energy while praising oil and gas as the one solution to the country’s energy crisis.  This is just one example of how powerful institutions (like the oil and gas industry) have attempted to ensure that their objectives and views of the world remain the norm in society.  Utilizing a government to avoid the collapse of the non-renewable energy discourse constrains the knowledge that is available to the public, preventing other discourses from gaining power in their own right.  Thus, it is imperative to search beyond major energy discourses in order to understand the risks and hazards they pose to society and the environment.

President George W. Bush’s terms coincided with a period of heightened concern about US energy usage. At the beginning of his presidency, Bush was pressured to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The protocol strived to bring about proportional reductions by setting a standard of “leadership by the richer and higher-emitting industrialized countries” (Grubb, 2004). Bush refused to sign the protocol, though, citing its failure to include multiple high-polluting nations as a serious dealbreaker (Bush, 2001).  During his 2006 State of the Union address, he did pledge to dedicate funding to emission reduction research and implementation plans (Bush, 2006), but the rest of his term saw a much greater focus on energy efficiency in automobiles than in homes and businesses (Bush, 2008). Although vehicular pollution is a major source of environmental concern, it should not be ignored that the construction industry also contributes harmful emissions and causes “more water pollution incidents than any other industry” (Gray, 2017). Thus, it seems that this focus on cars might reflect Bush’s relationship with ExxonMobil (Vidal, 2005) more than a genuine interest in environmental protection. It is very likely that Exxon was redirecting governmental efforts so that more funding could be given to the automobile industry, even though environmentally harmful building designs have just as much dangerous potential.

Unsustainable building design poses risks to human physical and mental health through both energy usage and building materials.  Energy usage obviously results in an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide from the building which is a hazard to human health.   Given that most energy used in buildings comes from coal and oil, the risks associated with the production and burning of those materials must be taken into consideration.  When coal is burned, sulfur dioxide is produced, which is a hazard as it can cause asthma, along with the potential to worsen any existing lung problems in humans (Kampa and Castanas, 2008).   With time, this health impact will end up being a risk to society as a whole as extensive amounts of money are likely to be spent trying to fix these problems, along with the time lost and transaction costs of those affected being unable to work.   The risks of these types of energy are clear, but they are still the most common sources of energy today.  By changing that and having individual buildings, neighborhoods, and cities work to use less of this type of energy, and more renewable energy resources, a better future can be seen for human health, and society as a whole.

The built environment influences human choices, which in turn affect health and the global climate. Distinct from the natural environment, the built environment is comprised of manmade components of people’s surroundings, from small-scale settings; offices, houses, hospitals, shopping malls, and schools to large-scale settings; neighborhoods, communities, and cities. The structures that connect the two also play an intricate part in human choices, which include roads, sidewalks, green spaces, and connecting transit systems. The development of the built environment involves many sectors, including urban planning, architecture, engineering, transportation design, and more recently environmental psychology. Neighborhood design not only influences both physical and mental health, but many current community design practices also adversely contribute to global climate change (Ewing, 2006).

Various building aspects influence the health of users. For example, design characteristics of hospitals, such as better lighting, layout, and ventilation, have resulted in reduced stress and fatigue in patients and staff, as well as improvement in overall health (Ulrich, 2004).  Similarly, building placement relative to residential and commercial areas influences whether occupants must depend on automobiles or are able to walk, bicycle, and use public transit to other destinations (Handy, 2002). The conditions of a building also affect the health of its occupants. Mold, pests, lack of safe drinking water, inadequate heating or cooling, waste disposal, and ventilation systems result in adverse health effects, including respiratory illnesses, asthma, infectious diseases, injuries, and mental health disorders. These conditions, which are characteristic of substandard housing, predominantly affect vulnerable populations, specifically people of racial minorities (Krieger, 2002).

Improvements in building efficiency have for a long time been at the center of debate by experts and politicians alike.  The existing social construction of energy usage ensures that nonrenewable forms of energy always win out over renewables and maintain that existing power.   This discourse prevents sustainable action from being taken, which includes several long term risks to human health and resource availability, among others.  As an example, the pollution released from most buildings that consume nonrenewable forms of energy, leads to chronic respiratory illnesses including asthma and shortness of breath.  Even though there is extensive evidence of the benefits greening buildings and neighborhoods will have for the environment and society, the prominence of the nonrenewable energy discourse continuously overpower this narrative.  As a result, action must be taken to illustrate the possibility of utilizing renewable energy resources such that greening existing structures can become common practice to improve environmental quality.


Bush, G. W., (2001, June 11). President Bush Discusses Global Climate Change. The White House Archives. https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/06/20010611-2.html

Bush, G. W., (2006, January 31). State of the Union Address by the President. The White House Archives. https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/

Bush, G. W. (2008, July 29). President Bush Discusses Energy and Economy. The White House Archives. https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2008/07/20080729-8.html

Carter, J., (1977, April 20). National Energy Program Fact Sheet on the President’s Program. The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=7373

Ewing R, Kreutzer R. Understanding the relationship between public health and the built environment. A Report Prepared for the LEED-ND Core Committee. Design, Community & Environment, Lawrence Frank and Com- pany, Inc., 2006.

Graefe, L., (2013, November 13). Oil Shock of 1978-1979. Federal Reserve – History. http://www.federalreservehistory.org/Events/DetailView/40

Gray, J., (2017, March 23). Pollution From Construction. Sustainable Build. http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/pollutionfromconstruction.html

Grubb, M., (2004). Kyoto and the Future of International Climate Change Responses: From Here to Where? International Review for Environmental Strategies. http://s3.amazonaws.com/zanran_storage/www.econ.cam.ac.uk/ContentPages/50604489.pdf

Handy SL, Boarnet MG, Ewing R, Killingsworth RE. How the built environment affects physical activity: views from urban planning. Am J Prev Med 2002;23(2S):64–73. 

Jaroslavsky, R., (1981, May 1). Reagan and Big Oil. New Republic. https://newrepublic


Kampa, M., & Castanas, E. (2008). Human health effects of air pollution. Environmental pollution, 151(2), 362-367.

Krieger J, Higgins DL. Housing and health: time again for public health action. Am J Public Health 2002;92:758–68.

Murse, T., (2016, August 23). A Brief History of White House Solar Panels. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-white-house-solar-panels-3322255

Robbins, P., Hi ntz, J., & Moore, S., (2014). Environment and Society – A Critical Introduction. 2nd Edition. West Sussex, United Kingdom. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Ulrich R, Quan X, Zimring C, Joseph A, Choudhary R. The role of the physical environment in the hospital of the    21st century: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Concord CA: Center for Health Design, 2004.

Vidal, J., (2005, June 8). Revealed: how oil giant influenced Bush. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/jun/08/usnews.climatechange

Wihbey, J., (2008, November 11). Jimmy Carter’s Solar Panels: A Lost History That Haunts Today. Yale Climate Connections. http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2008/11/


Image source – http://www.middleeastgreenbuildings.com/10220/green-buildings-market-to-2015-incentives-for-green-initiatives-and-minimum-level-of-standards-to-boost-growth-opportunities-3/


Risks and Hazards: Implications of a Declining Bee Population

There are a number of factors that have been contributing to the alarming decrease in the population of honeybees. This includes our small scale perceptions of the insect as a threat and fear of being stung, to large scale perceptions of entire hives getting wiped out due to a pesticide treatment on the agriculture they may have been pollinating. Additionally, deforestation is another large contributor due to the great loss of habitat for bees. The loss of the worldwide bee population is not only a matter of ecocentrism and saving the species, it is also a large social risk to agriculture on the global scale. Honeybees play a large role in the production of a number of common produce items that U.S. citizens take for granted everyday when they walk into their local grocery store.

The use of pesticides increased dramatically throughout the end of the 20th century and on into the 21st. While Most pesticides do not pose major threats to the environment, there are always unknown risks created as new products are developed. These risks can create new hazards for ecosystems including impacts on runoffs into major waterways and on other species as well. For most of the agriculture sector, these risks get overlooked and the decision is made to use pesticides despite their unknowns, leaving those who are most vulnerable in their wake. Recent studies in the United Kingdom followed a crop known as oilseed rape that has been heavily treated with neonics (McGrath, 2016). It was determined that species that fed on oilseed rape displayed more serious population declines, but the conclusion is that of an association, not a cause and effect (McGrath).

With regards to markets that depend on the survival of bees, a great portion of our food market depends on cross pollination from bees. Cross pollination is the process by which pollinators fertilize flowers by transferring pollen and seeds from flower to flower, allowing the plant to grow and produce food. Cross pollination aides at least 30 percent of our world’s crop production, and 90 percent of our worlds wild plants (Sass).

“Every third bite of food you take, thank a bee or other pollinator” – E.O. Wilson

Every year, over $15 billion in crops are pollinated by bees and $150 million in honey in the U.S. alone. Global economic loss due to the decline in bee population is estimated at about $5.7 billion (Sass). U.S. food production will take a major hit if the decline in bee population continues as it is, and with our new administration we may be not see the proper action taken to help protect them. American citizens need to realize the cost we face with fewer bees and take action into their own hands.

Pesticides are not only contributing to the declining bee colony populations but are also affecting the size of the individual worker bee (Shaun). The use of pyrethroid pesticides has been shown to have a prolonged effect on the growth of worker bees. The main chemical in pesticides being studied and blamed is Neonicotinoids. Scientists have tracked the growth of worker bees over a four-month period and have also monitored the number of queens and males being produced in a colony. They have noticed the decline in size of the bees. When it come to foraging larger bees are more effective. If the colony is producing smaller worker bees than this can affect the success of the colony. Smaller bees are less efficient when it comes to collecting nectar and pollen (Shaun). Bees need to be kept healthy and large to be efficient workers. Knowing which pesticides are most harmful to bees is vital in understanding how to save the declining bee populations.

We are experiencing a decline in the population in bees worldwide but the risk and hazards of this situation are not being brought to light in the manner that they should be. The risk of pesticides has been one of the topics widely discussed as a major threat to bees. A few years ago the European Commission proved how serious they believe the matter is by banning a pesticide they thought to be causing the colony collapse disorder. As mentioned earlier by Erik and Chelsea, the pesticide that seems to be doing the most damage is neonicotinoids.

One crop that we risk losing through dangerous unknown hazards such as pesticides is almonds. California’s almond orchards span across 800,000 acres and require up to 1.6 million bee colonies to pollinate the trees, but with the rapid decline we have been experiencing it is becoming much more difficult to provide the necessary number of colonies to make that happen (Grossman). Tonio Borg, the European Union Health Commissioner said “I pledge to my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion Euros [$29 billion] annually to European agriculture, are protected,”. It is important that we take the necessary steps in order to protect our bee population. We need to implement plans or ideas that have the bees best interest in mind at least until we have been able to decipher the issue at hand.

The decline of bees has had an effect on the honey market. The collapsing of hives is experienced worldwide. Not only are we experiencing the loss of hives, we are also seeing a decrease of them as well. Originally, the average hive weighed around 150 pounds. Currently, hives are only about 50-70 pounds. This is a dramatic decrease that can be observed all over the world (Phipps).

The Canadian Honey Council thought that when the honey prices decreased, the price of production would as well. The statistics showed that it was opposite. This has had a huge impact on the market. With honey prices decreasing and the price of production increasing, a threat to the honey industry overall has become prevalent. Even though honey prices are going down, the wholesale of honey has become increasingly more expensive. This has created a huge gap in the market of honey pertaining to inputs and outputs.The steady declination of honey prices is a direct effect of the worldwide loss of bees. It is no surprise to people that the honey market would experience some type of effect from this, but other markets that people wouldn’t believe to be correlated to bees with are too. (Phipps).

Pesticides, pests, and disease are known to be have a contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which is an elevated loss in the number of bees. Since fall of 2006, beekeepers reported a higher than usual colony loss in bees. It is estimated an average of 30% of colonies have died from CCD (PerfectBee). CCD is not a new disorder and has been seen occurring in bee colonies over the past 50-60 years. It begins with the worker bees “disappearing” and not returning to the bee hive. The hives are then invaded by other pests such as small hive beetles and wax moths. Ultimately, this leads to the collapse of the colony (Ellis). Other risks/hazards that cause Colony Collapse Disorder is chemical toxins in the environment and genetically modified crops. Pesticides used in agriculture come into contact as the worker bees are foraging or they encounter the toxins in contaminated water supplies. Genetically modified crops as seeds are dipped into systemic insecticides which are then seen in the pollen and nectar (Ellis). Again, the worker bees encounter this toxins. Without worker bees a bee colony cannot properly function. This is what is being seen throughout the country. Colony Collapse Disorder needs to be further investigated to find solutions to the root cause of the decline in bees.



Ellis, Jamie. “Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in Honey Bees.” EDIS New Publications RSS. Entomology and Nematology, 01 Oct. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in720

Grossman, Elizabeth. “Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture.” Yale E360. N.p., 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

McGrath, Matt. “Neonic Pesticide Link to Long-term Wild Bee Decline.” BBC News. BBC, 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Phipps, Ron. “International Honey Market Update.” American Bee Journal. 1, July. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://americanbeejournal.com/international-honey-market-update.

“Threats to Bees.” PerfectBee. Perfect Bee LLC, 2017. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. https://www.perfectbee.com/a-healthy-beehive/main-threats-to-bees.

Sass, Jennifer. Why We Need Bees: Nature’s Tiny Workers Put Food on Our Tables. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, 1982. NRDC. Natural Resources Defense Council, 17 Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2017. https://www.nrdc.org/resources/why-we-need-bees-natures-tiny-workers-put-food-our-tables.

Shaun. “Pesticides Have Resulted in Smaller Worker Bees.” Cox’s Honey. N.p., 26 Jan. 2017. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Risks and Hazards of Plastics

Risks and Hazards of Plastics

Image result for lots of plastic tupperware

Plastics can pose many risks and hazards to the environment and to human health both indirectly, by the process of its production, and directly in its day to day use . Chemicals can travel from these plastics into the environment, and the foods and products they carry. Looking at different risks with plastics, including the use of BPA, phthalates, and other plasticizers, can help people understand how they can better protect themselves from the hazards of plastic packaging. By avoiding certain plastics and using alternatives people can better protect their health, while also preserving the environment around them. These hazards with plastics not only affect people everywhere, but also have a great effect on this planet. It is important to comprehend the issues with plastic packaging so that these risks can be avoided in future generations.

Do you frequently buy prepackaged food? Do children in your family often play with plastic toys? Have you ever been to the hospital or the dentist? If so, you have probably come in contact with Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, is a material frequently used to produce plastics food packaging, toys for infants, dental and health equipment, and even the paper commonly used for receipts. Since most of us are so frequently exposed to BPA, it is no surprise that in a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2003, detectable levels of BPA were found in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing. While BPA can be metabolized in the liver, high levels of BPA in the body can cause several endocrine disorders including infertility in males, hormone dependent tumors, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and even breast and prostate cancers.  (Konieczna, Rutkowska, Rachoń, 2015). This is because its chemical structure allows it to weakly mimic the hormone estrogen. High BPA intake therefore causes the body to react as if it were in the presence of excess estrogen, disrupting the endocrine system and hormone levels in estrogen-dependent organs and systems such as mammary glands and the reproductive system.  (Konieczna, et al, 2015). It is concerning this chemical, with which we are in contact on a daily basis has been associated with such severe health risks, yet it is still so frequently utilized and so rarely monitored.

Another group of chemicals of concern are phthalates. These are known plasticizers, materials used in the production of plastics to add flexibility and strength. Though not all phthalates pose significant health and environmental risks, example is di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), a material used to fabricate the PVC used in hospital equipment including tubing and IV bags. DEHP is particularly concerning because it has been known to leach out of the product it forms and into the environment in a matter of hours (Peason, Trissel 1993) Thankfully, the body can rid itself of the chemical almost as fast, so it is not a major hazard for people with infrequent exposure (Erythropel, Leask, Maric, Nicell, and Yargeau 2014). However, people who experience more frequent contact, such as newborns and dialysis patients, are at much higher risk.

Nowadays, the mass production of plastic materials containing phthalates has made modern life impossible to imagine without these products. The widespread use of plastic products is the result of our culture becoming accustomed to the convenience that plastic can provide; it is inexpensive, requires low material costs, and can be efficiently produced. Considering that we live in this type of world, it is important that we understand the potential dangers associated with phthalates and how we can protect ourselves and limit our exposure to this chemical compound.

Although we may never truly be able to avoid phthalates completely, there are simple steps and practices that we can use to lessen the impact it has on our lives. For starters, if you are living in a household it would be in your best interests to replace all plastic tupperware with glass or silicone containers for your food. When shopping, pay attention to the product label of what you are buying and rule out materials that could possibly contain phthalates. If the product label does not clearly specify if it has phthalates or not, one can look at the recycling code. According to Maia James, “plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates or BPA. Look for plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5”. Other techniques used to avoid plastics can involve purchasing stainless steel water bottles to avoid the unnecessary purchasing and consumption of plastic water bottles. Alternatively, one could install a water filter on their faucet to eliminate the potential consumption of different types of phthalates found in water pipes. When it comes to making a choice in terms of food products, look for produce that is organic, considering non-organic produce often contain pesticides and other chemicals that contain phthalate in them. Although switching from plastic materials to more environmentally friendly materials might be more costly or inconvenient, they will improve the health of our lives and our environment.

Aside from the hazards plastics pose on humans there are also numerous negative effects they pose on the environment throughout their entire lifecycle, from production to disposal. “Plastic bags start as crude oil, natural gas or other petrochemical derivatives, which are transformed into chains of hydrogen and carbon molecules known as polymers or polymer resin. By some estimates nearly 12 million barrels of petroleum oil (or fuel equivalents such as natural gas) are used to produce 100 billion plastic bags” (Kazda, 2014). This is a large use of our highly valued resource, natural gas, considering 4 to 5 trillion plastic bags are produced globally each year and 100 billion are thrown away each year by the United States alone. Once they are produced and distributed they also have a very short lifespan of use. Most bags are not made thick enough to reuse more than once so they often are thrown away or recycled. Recycling these bags is a good thought but most recycling plants cannot accept these since they don’t have the correct facilities in place to recycle them so they will either send them to landfills or burn them. Neither of these are great options with regards to sustaining a healthy environment since “burning emits toxic gases that harm the atmosphere and increase the level of VOCs in the air, while landfills hold them indefinitely as part of the plastic waste problem” (Wagner). These volatile organic compounds then contribute to thickening the ozone and contributing to global warming. Bags that end up in the landfill will most likely never go away since the breakdown process is so slow. Other plastics are also blown away by the wind and by weathering broken down into smaller pieces of plastic. These can then end up in our waterways or harm animals when ingested.

In today’s society, plastic is a cheap convenient material commonly found in packaging, containers, toys, and even plumbing amongst other things. Due to plastics being deeply ingrained in our way of life, it is impossible to avoid contact or use of plastics completely. Society’s continuous use of plastics pose many risks to human health and the environment due to harmful chemicals used in the process of plastic production. A synthetic chemical compound known as Bisphenol A, or BPA for short, is one of many plasticizers that are used to add flexibility and strength to plastic materials. If exposed to Bisphenol A, there are many possible health effects to the brain, infants, prostate in fetuses, and is thought to be a link to increased blood pressure. These chemicals, such as BPA, found in plastics can travel to people, the food or product they carry, or the environment. Most plastics are also non-biodegradable, meaning it can take hundreds of years just for one plastic water bottle to biodegrade and in turn causes degradation to the environment. Hazards associated with the use of plastics can be reduced through avoiding certain plastics completely, using alternatives such as reusable metal water bottles, and in general switching to more environmentally friendly materials. Even though plastics are prominent in our daily lives, educating people to understand the risks and associate them with plastics is important to protect human health and preserve the environment.


Aleksandra Konieczna, Aleksandra Rutkowska*, Dominik Rachoń. (2015). “Health Risk of Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA).” Annals of the National Institute of Hygiene. 66. Pp 5-11

Bauer, Brent. (2016). “What is BPA, and What are the Concerns about BPA?” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331

Erythropel H.C., Maric M, Nicell JA, Leask RL & Yargeau V. “Leaching of the Plasticizer de(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) from Plastic Containers and the Question of Human Exposure.” (2014) NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25376446

James, Maia. “How to Avoid Phthalates (Even though you can’t avoid phthalates).” The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maia-james/phthalates-health_b_2464248.html

Kazda, Katrina. (2014). “The Plastic Bag Problem.” Sustainable America. Retrieved from http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/the-plastic-bag-problem/

Koester, Vera. (2015). “Plasticizers- Benefits, Trends, Health and Environmental Issues.” Chemistry Views. Retrieved from http://www.chemistryviews.org/details/ezine/7874391/Plasticizers__Benefits_Trends_Health_and_Environmental_Issues.html

Pearson SD1, Trissel LA “Leaching of diethylhexyl phthalate from polyvinyl chloride containers by selected drugs and formulation components.” (1993) NCBI Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8362871

Wagner, Jamey. “The Effects of Plastic Bags on the Environment.” Health Guidance: Health Guidance for Better Health. Retrieved from http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/14901/1/The-Effects-of-Plastic-Bags-on-Environment.html

Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Doesn’t Plastic Biodegrade?” Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/33085-petroleum-derived-plastic-non-biodegradable.html


Addressing Ethics in Norman Water


When discussing the quality of both potable and sourced water supplies in Norman, few arguments are more relevant than the ethical dilemma presented therein. That is, in this ever-necessary confrontation between the existence of humans and nature, whether a particular action toward nature can be considered justifiably ‘right’ or condemnable and wrong. A substantial issue with this anthropomorphized dilemma, however, is just that: To its roots, any discussion contemplating right or wrong action toward nature is approached through biased and errored human thought. Therefore, any particular individual can see a similar issue from a completely different perspective. The discussion involving acquiring water in Norman can be approached from multiple perspectives, but the following are particularly insightful. First, it is hard to deny a human interest in protecting the health of all the people so dependent on the vitality of potable water. However, the detrimental aspect to this argument lies within the situation of quality control. Whether the responsibility of maintaining safe conditions for any such environmental impact on human health is with government officials, or independent contractors (most likely instituted by the government), a great deal of money must be spent to ensure nothing less than proper and appropriate conditions exist. In a capitalistic society, however, unfortunate shortcuts frequently entail any path that will permit less expenditure. Furthermore, effects of increasing population and the risks and hazards of potential alternative sources must be considered. Water cannot just be considered in light of here-and-now consumption, but must also be approached with respect to the future. There is no better understanding than that offered in Environment and Society, in which authors Robbins, Hintz, and Moore convey the integral notion that as humans, we must understand the ethics of sustainability, or that “we have a moral obligation to sustain the quality and productivity of the environment for future generations” (191). While applicable to many environmental issues, the acquisition of potable water will undeniably be ever-important. This imperative sense of such ethics will emanate throughout the following discussion.

The effects of unregulated contaminants in the Norman water supply go far beyond just the taste, smell, and feel of the water. Two unregulated contaminants that Norman water particularly has a problem with are chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium) and lead. These two contaminants pose a serious risk to residential health in Cleveland County. Cleveland County’s drinking water currently contains the highest levels of chromium-6 of any other county in the state of Oklahoma. Most of the known health impacts of chromium-6 are related to the inhalation of the chemical, but recently strong data has linked the ingestion of chromium-6 to severe health effects. In reference to the health effects of chromium-6, an article on the Clean Water Action website stated, “In addition to cancer and reproductive harm, short and long-term exposures can lead to eye and respiratory irritation, asthma attacks, nasal ulcers, dermal burns, anemia, acute gastroenteritis, vertigo, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, convulsions, ulcers, and damage or failure of the liver and kidneys.”  These possible health effects of chromium-6 display how imperative it is that Cleveland County get these potentially dangerous levels of chromium-6 under control. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level of 100 ug/l for the total chromium level in drinking water sources. This maximum contaminant level is not for chromium 6 (hexavalent chromium), but for the overall chromium content including all three main types of chromium found in water sources, chromium, chromium 3, and chromium 6.

While the research on the health effects of chromium-6 in drinking water are not confirmed yet, we are certain about the residential health hazards that lead in drinking water can lead to. In the previous blog post, we discussed a study in 2015 that found over 60 water samples that contained lead and copper. The EPA limits the amount of lead in water to 15 micrograms per liter. Norman water barely met this mark and will be monitored by the Department of Environmental Quality every three years. Despite meeting this mark, it is still extremely important to understand the health effects that lead in drinking water can have on a community. Flint, Michigan is a great example of a city that has endured the effects of lead in their drinking water. Thousands of children have been exposed to this toxic substance in Flint, as the water supply is still unsafe to drink. Young children are more vulnerable to experiencing the effects of lead in drinking water because a dose that may not effect an adult may have a significant effect on an infant or a child. Alexandra Ossola from Popular Science states, “When cells in the brain absorb lead, it tends to affect the frontal cortex, the area responsible for abstract thought, planning, attention, and the hippocampus, essential to learning and memory.” This results in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, and anemia. Lead is not only harmful to small children and infants, but it can have negative effects on adults as well. Adults exposed to lead may suffer from reproductive issues as well as high blood pressure. Lead is also known to have negative impacts on kidney functions in adults. Exposure to high doses of lead in drinking water have also led to impaired hearing as well as impaired functions of red blood cells. These health effects demonstrate how important it is that Norman continues to eliminate all lead from their water supply.

It’s important to understand that by 2060 the population of Norman will reach approximately 200,000. This is about double the current population according to Hampton. As stated before, Norman gets its water supply from three main sources. Lake Thunderbird provides about 70% of the water supply, 27% comes from the groundwater wells (Garber-Wellington aquifer), and the other 3% comes from Oklahoma City for emergencies. There have been 2040 and 2060 strategic water supply plans that had listed a number of possible water resource alternatives. These alternatives were based on the “…quality, location, storage capacity, yield, cost, policy, etc” (Norman Utilities Authority). For the most part, Norman could use existing sources and consider new regulations and yield. Another option would be to find outside water sources. For example Norman could purchase water in bulk from Oklahoma City. This idea has come into discussion numerous times by the community. One of the main reasons why this plan has been rejected is due to financial reasons. Another option would be to receive bulk raw water from southeastern Oklahoma, Scissortail Reservoir, Kaw Reservoir, and etc. Tom Kovach stated that the plan had the potential to cost millions of dollars and would incorporate a number of legal issues. Other reasons to not go through with the plan was that it wasn’t environmentally sustainable (Cannon).

Although there is clearly a need for Cleveland County to find a cleaner water source, there are also hazards and risks associated with finding and using new sources. In 2014, the city of Norman adopted a plan that involves the reuse of Norman’s wastewater. This process is also known as indirect potable use. In this process, wastewater would be treated for contaminants discussed earlier such as arsenic and chromium-6. After treating the water, it will be re-released into Lake Thunderbird, allowing it to continue to be a source of drinking water for Cleveland County. This plan, however, comes with political opposition. Midwest City, which also sources drinking water from Lake Thunderbird, opposes the plan to reuse wastewater, as it does not want to risk adding “contaminants of emerging concern” to drinking water (Hampton) . Contaminants of emerging concern, according to the EPA, include chemicals that people wash down their drains daily from pharmaceuticals and personal care products. The Midwest City Council fears that treatment centers would not be able to fully discard the water of these unregulated contaminants, risking unknown health issues to residents. Despite disagreements between the cities, the city of Norman continues to claim that the health of its residents is top priority, and that if the plant was not environmentally sound and safe, that they would not move forward.

For now, Norman’s plan for indirect potable reuse is “a decade away from being implemented and would have to be thoroughly vetted first”, according to Norman’s Utilities Director Ken Komiske (Cannon). Norman City Council has a goal to implement indirect potable use by the year 2025, after several tests and studies to ensure safety. This proposed solution to central Oklahoma’s water issues is a great example of the risks and hazards with “the unknown-unknown”, and how as we advance technologically as a society, we open ourselves up to risks from the new technology.






Cannon, Jane. “Norman’s Long-Term Water Solution Relies Heavily on Water Reuse.” NewsOK.

28 June, 2014. Web. Accessed 4 April, 2017.


Hampton, Joy. “Norman Discusses 2060 Strategic Water Supply Plan” Norman Transcript. 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 4 April, 2017.






Norman Utilities Authority. “Planning for Water Reuse” Aug. 2014. Web. Accessed 4 April,

  1. http://envirofdok.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Ken-EnvirFedofOkla-8-14.pdf

Cannon, Jane. “Norman, Midwest City disagree on viability of water reuse study”. NewsOK. 2

May 2015.  http://newsok.com/article/5415662


Hampton, Joy. “Augmentation of Lake Thunderbird with Treated Wastewater is Years Away”. 30

April 2016. Web. Accessed 4 April 2017. http://www.normantranscript.com/news/government/augmentation-of-lake-thunderbird-with-trea




Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore. “11.” Environment and Society: A Critical

Introduction. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley Et Sons, 2014. 191. Print.

Image from: http://www.cawater-info.net/all_about_water/en/?p=2115

Bears Can’t Sustain Themselves

In Chapter 2, we learned about the idea of sustainability.  Sustainability is the ability of something to be maintained at a certain rate.  At the rate we are currently going, our earth is not sustainable for the population that is living on Earth.  Our use of fossil fuels is pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an alarming rate.  Our CO2 concentration recently passed 400 parts per million (ppm).  Our planet has not been above 400 ppm for the last 3 million years (Mason).  Our “business as usual” philosophy is polluting our environment and killing our planet.  This way of doing business is not sustainable and will lead to our destruction.  Climate change is a direct correlation of human activity.  97% of scientists agree that anthropogenic factors are the main cause of changes in our climate.  The fact of the matter is clear, without humans, global warming would not happen due to natural variability.   We are polluting our world and harming things that we hold dear.  But our impact goes much further than affecting other humans.  

Humans are affecting things that have been on this planet for much longer than we have. The loss of sea ice has proved to be an unsustainable situation for polar bears. Sea ice is a critical part of a polar bear’s survival. Since polar bears are unable to outswim their main food source, seals, they sit on top of the ice and break through it to access seal dens (NASA). So, less ice means that polar bears are going for longer periods of time without food, and many are starving. This is causing extreme weight loss among bears, resulting in cannibalistic behavior (“Global Warming and Polar Bears”). Polar bears rely on sea ice not only for hunting purposes, but for a place to live and rest between their hunts (PBS). One example of this is the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. It has been reported that the 3,000-year-old ice shelf split in half in 2002, and it continues to break into smaller sections (Bright Hub). This has caused polar bears to lose a lot of hunting and resting ground, and has also caused a decrease in food supply (Bright Hub). Perhaps one of the most alarming findings, related to polar bears habitat sustainability, is “the trend for an earlier spring ice melt and a later fall freeze up” (NASA). These periods of time are directly related to breeding seasons, and when there is good ice for polar bears to hunt on (NASA). It is reported that there has been seven weeks of total loss of this time over the past 35 years, and there will be another seven week loss within the next 35 years (NASA).  Scientists have predicted that within the next 50 years, the population of polar bears will decrease by two thirds (PBS). This of course is devastating news for polar bears, but it will be the beginning of a much larger problem. Biologists believe that this drastic decrease in the polar bear population will ultimately result in a trophic cascade of the Arctic food chain (PBS).

It is not all doom and gloom when addressing polar bears however.  WWF is committed to helping protect polar bears and their natural habitats in the arctic.  The organization supports research to “identify high value habitat areas – areas where the bears feed, den and give birth – and work with partners to conserve these places (“What WWF is Doing for Polar Bears”).  This relates to chapter 4 in class and “Collective Action” to work to save certain things that are threatened by human actions.  WWF is one of many organizations that are involved in saving polar bears.  

Polar bears also have an impact on the economy.  “Sport hunters pay up to $30,000 for the chance to bag a bear. Inuit hunters can get up to $400 a metre for bear hide” (Rennie).  In addition, many communities rely on polar bears for economic benefits.  Churchill, Manitoba, in Northern Canada refers to themselves as “Polar bear capital of the world.”  Churchill relies on polar bears as a tourist attraction that brings thousands of people per year into the small town (Rennie).  When people come into town for a chance to see polar bears up close, they spend a lot of money around town and helps local businesses.  With the polar bear population decreasing, towns such as Churchill are in danger of losing valuable profits from the bears.  This will have extreme negative economic impacts to the city of Churchill as well as other places in Northern Canada which is home to about two-thirds of the world’s 25,000 polar bears (Rennie).

Another topic from the class that can be tied to the issue of polar bears and climate change is that of environmental ethics, namely the land ethic described by Aldo Leopold. In this line of thinking, actions taken by humans are good considered good actions if they further benefit the wellbeing of an ecosystem, and they are considered bad actions when they degrade the health of the ecosystem (Peppler). This applies directly to polar bears and climate because our decisions and actions have a very direct affect on the wellbeing of the polar bears, whose existence is strongly tied to the wellbeing of the whole ecosystem through trophic levels. They are the predators, which is an extremely vital role in any ecosystem that keeps it balanced. Leopold’s thinking also relates to this issue by addresses the “moral extensionism” with which this ethic encourages us to view our surroundings (Peppler). We must consider the polar bears as individual beings with the ability to suffer. It is not their choice to go extinct. They are fighting for survival. It is however our choices that are harming them, and consequently, their whole ecosystem.

In conclusion, action is needed to be taken to slow the impact of climate change on polar ice caps.  This change is harming polar bear habitats and is unsustainable in regards to both bear and human populations.  Action is being taken by many organizations and there is still a chance to reverse course before it is too late.  Many economies benefit off polar bears and their extinction will cause an enormous blow to many communities that have relied on polar bears for generations. We must consider what is best not only for us, but also for the polar bears.

blog 3 pic

Mason, John. “The Last Time Carbon Dioxide Concentrations Were around 400ppm: A Snapshot from Arctic Siberia.” Skeptical Science. N.p., 14 May 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

“What WWF Is Doing for Polar Bears” WWF. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

“Global Warming and Polar Bears.” National Wildlife Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Rennie, Steve. “Feds Studying Economic Benefit of Polar Bears.” The Globe and Mail. Ottawa — The Globe and Mail, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Peppler, Randy. “Chapter 5 – Environmental Ethics”. Lecture. 2017




HIstory of Microplastics Pollution


In order to understand plastic pollution in the ocean it is important to know the history behind plastic and the special interests that influence the industry. This petro-based material started reaching the height of use after the war, and when the introduction of varied colors of plastics hit the market. This ability to create multicolored plastic lead the the introduction of Tupperware. The oil industry not only had a lock on oil and gas but now household items for everyday use as well as one-time use. We have evolved from using plastic for military and household containers to pop bottles, straws, diapers, cups, plates, almost anything you can think of is made of different types of polymers. Because of this fast-food mentality, when it comes to plastic use, we have begun be enveloped by our one-time use trash that has always meant to be used long term. Old toys and disposable object not only end up on opposite sides other the world they also break down into micro-plastics. These plastics cause an infinite amount of problems on their own.

As microplastics float on top of the ocean and disperse, they are then eaten by marine animals, and the toxins that are stored within the plastic are then are housed in the bodies of the animals. After being eaten, these pollutants enter into the food chain and eventually make their way to our bodies. On the other hand, as long as plastics degrade in ocean, it would exist everywhere and easily leach nutrition away from marine animals which could cause the balance of the hydrosphere ecosystem. Basically, the most direct influence made by microplastic is the damage done to marine organisms. However, whenever it hurts oceanic systems, it tends to hurt our health or even our economy (less fishing and ocean product).

Plastics do not biodegrade, instead they break down into tiny pieces which are then consumed by fish and other sea mammals who mistake these bits of plastic as food. Every year plastic is responsible for killing over 100,000 sea turtles and birds. The chemicals present in plastic are released into the water and the atmosphere. As a result fish are contaminated from the chemicals found in the water. There is a direct correlation between plastic chemicals and how they have entered the food chain. Plastics not only impact the ocean but they also act like sponges, soaking up toxins from outside sources prior to entering the ocean. As the animals in the ocean ingest these chemicals, and we ingest these animals, it does not have a positive impact on human health (Andrews, 2017).

Plastics pose a threat to human health in numerous forms. One of them being direct toxicity, which is from lead, cadmium, and mercury. These toxins have been discovered in a large amount of the fish in the ocean which is hazardous for humans. Another form is Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), which is found in some plastics and is a toxic carcinogen. Many other toxins found in plastics have also been discovered to have a direct link to cancer, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues. BPA or health-bisphenol-A is another toxin present in plastic and is of large concern for human health. BPA is a basic building block of polycarbonate plastics. It has multiple uses such as food packaging or water bottles.  Over a period of time, it’s bonds can break down, like when the plastic is being repeatedly washed or is exposed to other stressors like heat. Which then allows entrance of this toxin into the human body by means of drinking contaminated water or consuming a fish that has been exposed to the broken-down toxins. BPA is a chemical that is known for implicating human and mammal hormonal functions (Andrews, 2017)

According to the UNEP, microplastics are pieces of plastic ranging in size from 5mm to nano proportions and are considered to be an essential piece of the planet’s marine litter issue. There are primary and secondary microplastics.  Primary microplastics are plastics that can be found in personal care and cosmetics products, as well as pre-production plastic resin pellets. Secondary microplastics are made when larger pieces of plastic items break down into smaller pieces, which are then easily ingested by fish, mussels, or any other sea creatures. Additionally, there is a growing body of scientific evidence linking microplastics to the passage of chemicals like the pesticide DDT and toxic PCBs, which makes them more concentrated and toxic when coming in contact with marine animals. Research also has determined that microplastics in the ocean are nearly everywhere, present on ocean surfaces, close to river mouths, coasts, and have even managed to find their way in deep-sea sediments (UNEP). The pollution of these tiny pieces of plastic are so widespread that serious action must be taken out to eradicating the problem source and minimizing any further damage to both human health and to the ecosystems.


Andrews, Gianna. “Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health.” Case Studies. N.p., 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

“Plastic and Microplastics in Our Oceans – A Serious Environmental Threat #UNEnvironment.” UNEP. N.p., 19 May 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.


The History of Plastics

Image result for fruit in plastic packaging

Have you ever returned from a shopping trip or errands without having the need to throw things away when unpacking? Chances are slim since plastics and other non biodegradable materials are intertwined with the products we buy. Supermarkets have groceries in every aisle which are packaged in plastic and even fresh produce have plastic stickers on them and are bagged in plastic. Clothes have plastic tags and stickers on them as well. Even fast food restaurants have placed convenience in front of sustainability since all of their meals are usually packaged in single use disposable items. What led to the development and implementation of these unsustainable materials in our daily life? Many different factors played a key role which led them to become a common material. The turn of the twenty first century has led to a faster pace of life where modernization and efficiency have taken prominence over other factors including our health and the environment. Modernization also led to new technological innovations both good and bad. Plastic was one of many new innovative products that were introduced during this time period. In sum, the development of plastics starting in the late 1860s to the recent market changes of the twenty-first century have led to the development and mass use of unsustainable materials in multiple aspects of our daily lives.

Ever since populations have started to exponentially grow,  humans have only had one limitation: nature. Natural resources are finite. Once they are used we will have to turn to other alternatives. In this sense, synthetic materials like plastic originated as a useful alternative resource. “Plastic was conceived to cut manufacturers free from one of the greatest obstacles in industrial production: the limits of nature” (Rogers).  The first plastic was invented in 1868 when inventor John Wesley synthesized celluloid, a material that was later used in photographic film and even in the first motion picture (History of Plastics).

Once plastic was developed, the contributions of multiple people influenced its structure and led it to evolve to what it is today. Despite its invention in the mid-1800’s, plastics did not attain global popularity until 1909 when Dr. Lee Hendrik Baekeland introduced phenoformaldehyde plastics. Baekland was also able to streamline synthesis by adding the elements of heat and pressure to the reaction. This modification yielded a liquid phenoformaldehyde product, which is much easier to mold than its solid counterpart, and thus increased the potential of the still new material. The third major development in plastics occurred in the 1920s when several new material, including nylon and vinyl, were introduced. Because of its chemical properties, the introduction of cellulose acetate made fabrication and use of plastics much safer. Ureaformaldehyde was also developed during this time. Unlike its dark-colored predecessors, it boasted a light color that could be dyed to make more attractive, and therefore more marketable, products. Resins and polystyrenes, used in paints and packaging respectively,  came shortly after in the 1930’s.

World War II induced rapid growth and technological advancement in many industries, so it is no surprise that a wide variety of plastics were developed during this period and a few years afterward. Here we see the rise of insulating plastics as were needed for military equipment. To fill this need, polyethylene and thermoset polyester were developed. The following decade brought the production of engineering thermoplastics, a subgroup of plastics with an incredible impact strength as well as thermal and dimensional stability comparable to that of metals. This group included materials such as polypropylene, acetal, and polycarbonate. The trend of thermoresistant plastics carried over into the 1960s and 1970s to fill the demands of emerging aircraft and aerospace technologies during the Space Race of the Cold War period. This period also brought polyesters that are now commonly used in packaging because of their impermeability.

History has shown how plastics with favorable properties can be designed to fill a niche in an industry. This convenient truth has made it easy for plastics to rapidly make their way into every corner of our modern lives.

The use of unsustainable materials, specifically for product packaging, was exponentially increased due to the changing manufacturing processes of the industrial revolution. During the mid 1800’s mass production was the goal of many companies in order to increase efficiency and accessibility. America’s changes in product production brought along a shift in culture, it is stated best in this excerpt  “Where once people had grown and prepared their own food and made their own clothes, increasingly they were eating, drinking, wearing, and using things that came from factories. We were fast on our way to becoming a country of consumers” (Freinkel).  Depending on factories and mass production in our daily lives created this consumer culture that relies on efficiency in the factories and accessibility to the consumer. To do this, there had to be a way to quickly package goods. The answer that came to be was with the use of plastics, the first being synthesized celluloid. Celluloid and other similar materials helped mass production in two main ways, “Ample supplies of celluloid allowed manufacturers to keep up with rapidly rising demand while also keeping costs down” (Freinkel). As time went on this trend of using synthetic unsustainable materials took off, and now are frequently used in our daily lives.

The impact of the mass production of plastics during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s has created an everlasting effect on both our consumer lifestyle and our environment. Nowadays, it would seem unimaginable to live in a life without out plastic packaging products such as tupperware, plastic zip-lock bags, and other plastic food containers. As our populations increased over the years, manufacturers of plastic materials had to increasingly produce products to keep up with consumer demand. This increase in production in plastics has riddled our environment with unsustainable materials and has created a variety of issues to be dealt with. Innovation has allowed plastic factories and manufactures to develop new products using different materials at an extremely efficient rate. The problem with this is that when these new products are created, we aren’t likely to know the possible exposure effects of theses products on our environment and health. Plastic materials are extremely harmful to the environment in the way that they are slow to degrade, meaning that their physical presence lasts longer than other materials in our environment. Plastic waste can be found almost anywhere near civilizations, it can end up in the oceans and damage marine life or it could end up burning in a landfill, releasing harmful carcinogens and pollutants into our air. In conclusion, our past history with plastic packaging has led to a long-term, detrimental effect on our environment due to the use of unsustainable materials and change in consumer culture. It is important to understand that consumer demand drives the market for plastic materials, and consumers need to realize that although plastic packaging products may be convenient and cheap, they can led to unfavorable environmental conditions.

Works Cited:

Freinkel, Susan. (2011, May 29). “A Brief History of Plastic’s Conquest of the World: Cheap plastic goods have unleashed a flood of consumer goods.” Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-brief-history-of-plastic-world-conquest/

“History of Plastics”. Polymer Plastic Company LC. Retrieved from http://www.polymerplastics.com/history_plastics.shtml

Rogers, Heather. (2005, May 1). “A Brief History of Plastic.” The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture. Retreived from http://brooklynrail.org/2005/05/express/a-brief-history-of-plastic