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The Pacific Ocean is becoming caffeinated

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The whole “people in the Pacific Northwest drink too much coffee” thing has gotten to be a pretty crusty, lazy old joke. But it turns out they drink so much coffee that in areas where waste systems are less regulated, the ocean is becoming a mildly caffeinated beverage, National Geographic News reports.

Caffeine levels off the potentially polluted areas were below the detectable limit, about 9 nanograms per liter. The wilder coastlines were comparatively highly caffeinated, at about 45 nanograms per liter ...

"Caffeine is pretty darn ubiquitous, and there is growing evidence that this and other understudied contaminants are out there,"  said [hydrologist Dana] Kolpin, of the USGS's Toxic Substances Hydrology Program in Iowa City, Iowa.

Read more: Pollution


Instead of cleaning up lake, dumbasses dye it blue

Photo by herbrm.

Lake Delton, in the Wisconsin Dells, has been looking a little like your mom: hard-used and fungusy. Algae overgrowth gave the lake a greenish cast, and made it appear less-than-healthy to swim in. The solution, according to the company that maintains Lake Delton: Just dump a whole lot of blue dye in there and call it a day.

It cost Aqua Engineering over $30,000 to dye the 267-acre lake, which to be fair is a lot less per square foot than it costs me to dye my hair. But locals are still thinking it might not have been the best use of their tourism dollars, mainly because it doesn't actually do a damn thing to solve the lake's algae problem. It's the aquatic equivalent of spray-on hair in a can from QVC. (Or, perhaps more accurately, of spray-painting your lawn green in a drought.)

Read more: Pollution


Romney suggests EPA worry about symptoms of pollution, not causes

The problem here is the white stuff in the sky, not the white things on the ground.

Last night, fresh off a day crackling with one diplomatic success after another, Mitt Romney attended a fundraiser and said this:

"The EPA has an important responsibility, and that is to keep clean and make more clean our air and our water. ... My view is that the EPA, if it keeps to its mission and does not use its power to foster or further an anti-carbon energy agenda, would be a more effective department," Romney told the crowd when asked about the agency. "I believe the EPA has to see itself as being responsible for our air and water and not take action which can prevent us from taking advantage of the extraordinary energy resources we have, such as coal, oil, natural gas.

Emphasis added.

Romney's absolutely correct. I mean, this is basically how doctors treat illnesses. You do absolutely nothing preventative nor even to treat the illness itself. All you do is clean up after symptoms. It's why all the best medical schools specialize in the proper use of vomit buckets and Band-Aid application.

Read more: Politics, Pollution


The environment is trying to ruin the Olympics again

The carbon footprint of the Olympic torch is unknown. (Photo by Nicholas Heasman-Walsh.)

Before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, there was broad concern about the impact that air pollution would have on the athletes. The city's well-documented problems with ozone and fine particles were not the sort of thing conducive to fast sprint times and/or not having a stroke. So authorities cracked down, greatly reducing vehicle traffic, closing factories, and inducing rain. It worked. They curbed ground-level pollutants and improved cardio-vascular health for residents and athletes alike (and brought down CO2 emissions along the way). A team at the University of Rochester noted a "direct correlation" between reduced pollution and an immediate health impact.

Unfortunately for England, the environment has taken up a new strategy for ruining the Olympics: rain.

"My biggest worry is actually the weather," said [London 2012 Chief Executive] Paul Deighton, adding that much of the construction was carried out in torrential rain in recent months.

"We've got a lot of events that are outside. I think the impact the weather has on people's mood, how they enjoy the games, is very big.

"So for me, if I have a prayer I could make, it's every extra day of sunshine just makes for a better experience for everybody here in town."

Deighton has cause for concern. An unusually static southward shift in the jet stream combined with increased atmospheric moisture has meant one of the rainiest summers in recent memory.


Are more colorful lobsters a bad sign?

A rare-but-getting-less-rare calico lobster. (Photo courtesy of AP/New England Aquarium, Tony LaCasse.)

Weird things are happening to lobsters.

In June, we brought you the story of a blue lobster, Old Blue (a name I gave him just now), found by a fisherman in Nova Scotia who'd never before seen a blue lobster in his many years of lobster-hunting.

The odds he finds another one are getting better every day.

Reports of odd-colored lobsters used to be rare in the lobster fishing grounds of New England and Atlantic Canada. Normal lobsters are a mottled greenish-brown.

But in recent years, accounts of bright blue, orange, yellow, calico, white and even split lobsters -- one color on one side, another on the other -- have jumped. It's now common to hear several stories a month of a lobsterman bringing one of the quirky crustaceans to shore.

It's not clear why there are more reports of colored lobster. It could be that more people have cameras to back up their tall tales. But it's also possible that overfishing is to blame.

Read more: Animals, Food, Pollution


Jeremy’s iron will: On-screen villain plays the good guy in anti-waste doc

Jeremy Irons has played some serious douchebags: Scar, Claus von Bülow, Simon Gruber, the ultimate caricature of the 1% in Margin Call, the cauldron in Once Upon a Halloween (oh, did you miss that one?). The point is, it’s a little disconcerting to see him tromping around a Lebanese dump in rubber boots and a sad little straw hat, empathizing with a Palestinian refugee who picks trash for a living. But just because he’s so good at being villainous onscreen doesn’t mean that he can’t have his concerned celebrity cause movie. And the cause Irons chose is garbage.

Trashed, a documentary directed by Candida Brady and executive-produced by and starring Irons (with a score by Vangelis), looks at the toxic effects an endless worldwide buildup of waste has on our health and environment. To be honest, I kind of wish such a powerhouse of film-industry talent had tackled a slightly more cutting-edge or original issue -- I mean, Jeremy Irons’ voice over a Vangelis theme is a surefire way to lend gravity to any situation, and it just seems a bit of a waste (ahem) to use such drama to approach what I see as a pretty broad, old-school environmental issue: We throw too much shit away! We should recycle instead! Yeah, and did you know there’s a hole in the ozone layer?

Read more: Pollution


Seriously mindblowing photo of toxic spill damage in Hungary

Photo by Palíndromo Mészáros.

Photographer Palíndromo Mészáros has a whole series of photographs documenting the aftereffects of a 2010 toxic aluminum spill in Hungary. They're all pretty staggering, but this one in particular really messed with our heads. This is not a before photo and an after photo stitched together. This is just what this forest looks like now, two years after being flooded with aluminum-heavy sludge that killed underbrush and left a red stain on trees. 

Read more: Pollution


Fox News thinks pollution is good for the planet

Not that it's a HUGE surprise that Fox News has beliefs about the environment that are the opposite of true, but just FYI, they are now apparently telling viewers that pollution is good for forests. That means the REAL pollution is CLEAN AIR! It's like you environmentalists don't even WANT trees to grow.

Read more: Media, Pollution


Scientists make depressing discovery about oceanic plastic pollution using depressing research technique

An as-yet unhelpful scientific indicator. (Photo by Jason Crotty.)

One of the best ways to determine how much plastic is polluting a region of the ocean is, unfortunately, to autopsy dead birds in the region. One species of bird in particular, the Northern fulmar, eats nearly anything, rarely regurgites plastic, and is populous enough to die in large numbers over a broad area. So scientists scour the beach for dead Northern fulmars and cut them open. Fun.

What they've found recently suggests a massive increase in the amount of plastic these birds are ingesting in the Pacific Northwest. From the Globe and Mail:

Necropsies of 67 of the beached gull-like seabirds collected between October 2009 and April 2010 from the coasts of B.C., Washington and Oregon indicated nearly 93 per cent of them had bellyfuls of plastic, she said.

One bird had 454 pieces of plastic in its gut, said [University of British Columbia researcher Stephanie] Avery-Gomm, the study’s lead author and graduate of the university’s zoology department.

Not only are more birds ingesting plastics, they're ingesting more of it.

The mass of plastic that’s eaten also increased dramatically -- from 0.04 grams in 1969-1977 to 0.385 grams in the current study, she said, adding the average northern fulmar weighs about 800 grams.

Read more: Animals, Pollution


Date with disaster: Adventurers sail through wave of tsunami debris

Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen

The Pacific Ocean is a pretty darned big place. The hull of the 72-foot former racing yacht Sea Dragon, not so much, especially when crammed full of research equipment and 14 full-sized human-type people not necessarily accustomed to the rigors of the open ocean. But that’s just what the intrepid team of oceanic avengers from the 5 Gyres Institute are up against as they race across the Pacific on a collision course with the great field of debris washed away from Japan by last year’s devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Imagine cramming into an RV and driving from Nome, Alaska, to Tierra Del Fuego with the cast of Road Rules Season 9. (That would be the Maximum Velocity Tour, but I’m sure you knew that, gentle reader.) Now try to imagine that the I-5 is heaving 30 to 40 feet into the air, is full of sharks, and generally wants you dead. Add to that, Theo won’t stop spraying you with the super soaker he brought for some reason, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the potential horror involved here.

Scientist, adventurer, and Gulf War veteran Marcus Eriksen previously floated the length of the Mississippi on a raft made of plastic bottles and sailed from California to Hawaii on a boat made of trash to raise awareness of the pollution problem facing us all. What he saw changed his life. “I couldn’t believe how much waste was littering our coastlines,” he says.

Read more: Pollution