As many communities across the country remove lead water lines following the Flint, Michigan, crisis, there’s concern they may be “leaping from the frying pan into the fire” if they replace those pipes with ones made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC. A report by the nonprofit organization Beyond Plastics says using plastic pipes made from polyvinyl chloride can threaten human health. They identify dozens of dangerous chemicals leaching from pipes including benzene, styrene, and other volatile organic compounds.
You’ve probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is made up of plastics and other debris collecting between California and Hawai’i. That patch is not like a solid island, and you can’t even see it on satellite images. Rather, it’s more like a cloudy soup of plastic and debris that circulates in a gyre or vortex about twice the size of Texas. It’s dotted with things like shoes and fishing gear and extends from the surface to the ocean floor. Those pieces of plastic are teeming with life—not what one would expect to see in the open ocean.
Floating plastics collected in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre during The Ocean Cleanup’s 2018 expedition. | Credit: The Ocean Cleanup
As we marked Earth Day on April 22, millions of people around the world rolled up their sleeves to clean up beaches, plant gardens, or commit to living more sustainably on the planet to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. While the most crucial thing humans can do is to stop burning fossil fuels, a growing number of methods—from planting trees to carbon capture—are attempting to remove the tons of greenhouse gases already pumped into the atmosphere.
Credit: Institute for Carbon Management (ICM), UCLA
Hiking through a desert might give the impression of a mostly barren space with just patches of shrubs, but the craggy surface beneath your shoes is actually a living skin called “biocrust,” and it’s teeming with life that’s performing remarkable feats.
In a proof-of-concept study, ASU researchers adapted a suburban solar farm in the lower Sonoran Desert as an experimental breeding ground for biocrust. During the three-year study, photovoltaic panels promoted biocrust formation, doubling biocrust biomass and tripling biocrust cover compared with open areas with similar soil characteristics. | Graphic Credit: Shireen Dooling