Sierra Club Annual Report

Explore. Enjoy. Protect.

How bad has this year been for our environment?    Here are 60 things in the last 12 months:

29 rules overturned 24 rollbacks in progress 7 rollbacks in limbo

Michael Brune
Executive Director
Sierra Club


Where Does a Used Plastic Cup Go?

A plastic cup that was used once for probably less than a minute?  About 450-1000 years will pass before it decomposes in the ground.  That’s if it made it to a landfill.

Plastic is made from petroleum or natural gas.  Plastic production is estimated to use 8 percent of yearly global oil production—both as the raw material and for energy in the manufacturing process.  Because plastics embody energy from fossil fuels (and actually have a higher energy value than coal), leaving so much of it in landfills is not only an environmental hazard, it’s an unconscionable waste of a valuable resource.

If it ends up in the water, it will keep breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces that our marine life will ingest.  And eventually end up back in you.  If the plankton are eating plastic then you are eating plastic.

Start saying, “NO!” to that plastic cup.  You will feel tons better!

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Drive Your Car Or Eat?

Global temperatures increasing steadily at their fastest rates in millions of years? Glaciers calving and collapsing into the sea?  The Atlantic Ocean lapping down the streets of Miami?  Extreme weather and massive flooding. Front page news everyday.

Declining soil health may be less dramatic, but it is equally impactful and even more far-reaching. Over time, erosion, pollution, losses in organic matter, and other climate change impacts on the soil will imperil a very basic human need.  Eating.

Founded and chaired by former US Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, The Climate Reality Project is dedicated to catalyzing a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society.

One of the project authors, Chris Clayton, is the agriculture policy director of DTN/The Progressive Farmer and the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change.  He examines the conflict in rural American farming communities over climate change.  “The idea that you could have millions of migrants moving all over the world because they can’t eat, and the disruption and instability created by that doesn’t get enough appreciation around the world.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council has the following guidelines:

1. MESS WITH IT LESS   No-till is a method of farming or gardening successfully while minimizing any physical disturbance of the soil.   Overworked, compacted soil is a hostile environment for important soil microbes.  Chemical or biological additives can damage long-term soil health, disrupting the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots.

2. DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY   Diversity creates a better, more productive environment for everything.  Different plants release different carbohydrates through their roots, and various microbes feed on these sugars, returning all sorts of different nutrients back to the plant and the soil.  Planting the same plants in the same location can lead to a buildup of some nutrients and a lack of others. By rotating crops, and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can be more productive and produce more nutrient rich crops, while avoiding erosion, disease and pest problems.

3. LEARN TO LOVE THE RHIZOSPHERE    Every living plant has a rhizosphere; the area near the root where microbial activity in the soil is concentrated.  It’s the most active part of any soil ecosystem.  Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them supply nutrients that plants need to grow.  Alternating long-season crops or a succession of short-season crops followed by a cover crop and a healthy dose of fresh compost will build out a healthy and diverse rhizosphere environment for your plants.

4. COVER IT UP   Bare soil is bad soil.  It’s important to both allow crop residues to decompose so their nutrients can be cycled back into the soil and to keep the soil protected with cover, because left exposed to the elements, soil will erode and the nutrients necessary for successful plant growth will either dry out or quite literally wash away.  Additionally, the rhizosphere discussed above will starve and diminish without plants to feed it.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering , “Society gains from no-tillage systems on both large and small farms by:

  • much-diminished erosion and runoff
  • less downstream sedimentation and flood-damage to infrastructure
  • better recharge of groundwater, more regular stream-flow throughout the year, and the drying of wells and boreholes less frequent
  • healthier ponds and lakes with reduced phosphorous nitrates leaching into the water from flooding over fertilized fields
  • cleaner civic water supplies with reduced costs of treatment for urban/domestic use
  • increased stability of food supplies due to greater resilience of crops in the face of climatic drought
  • better nutrition and health of rural populations, with less call on curative health services.

After years of severe drought, the state of California, led by Governor Jerry Brown, has developed programs that place a financial incentive on the adoption of no-till techniques and healthy, soil practices.  Exposed, compacted, soil would have washed away during the intense rains California recently experienced.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Don’t Waste Earth Day This Year


April 22nd is Earth Day.   In connection with Arbor Day,  April is Earth Month.  Events happen all over the globe to support initiatives that will make living on our planet more beneficial for all of us.  A good place to get information about activities is through the Earth Day Network.  Their goal is to build the world’s largest environmental movement.

The mission for Earth Day Network is to broaden and diversify the environmental movement worldwide, mobilize the movement to build a healthy and sustainable environment, address climate change, and protect the Earth for future generations.

Many climate change experts would suggest that green initiatives and public policies are moving too slowly in the wrong direction to make any meaningful impact on our current survival challenge.  NPR reporter and author, Wen Stephenson unpacks the issue in his book What We Are Fighting For Now Is Each Other.

He’s calling for a radicalization of the mainstream.  “At this late hour, to be serious about climate is to be radical, because it’s really a radical situation. It requires us to go to the root of the systems that have created this. That’s not going to happen until enough people come to terms with and face up to the radical nature of the situation.”

In 1970, the first Earth Day activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement.  Passage of landmark, groundbreaking, environmental laws such as the Clean Air ActClean Water ActEndangered Species Act soon followed and Richard Nixon became known as the Environmental President by setting up the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1990,  Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage.  Today, more than 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities each year.  This is the largest civic observance in the world.

Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 50,000 partners in 196 countries, (the total of all countries in the world) to build environmental democracy working through a combination of education, public policy, and consumer campaigns.  They broaden the definition of “environment” to include issues that affect our health and our communities, such as greening deteriorated schools, creating green jobs and investment, registering voters and promoting activism to stop air and water pollution.

With partner organizations, EDN provides civic engagement opportunities at the local, state, national and global levels around the world.  Recognizing that climate change impacts our most vulnerable citizens first and most severely, EDN often works with low income communities to bring their voices and issues into the movement.

When the global population reached four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, six billion in 1999 and seven billion in October 2011, according to United Nations, we have an enormous challenge ahead of us.  Our population is expected to grow to 10 billion by the end of this century.  Yet the earth’s capacity to provide space, produce food, supply energy and water all remain limited.

How You Can Help:

Until next week,178696_beers-outer-space-earth-relaxing-carlsberg-moon-landing-astronaut-1920x1200-wallpaper_wallpaperbeautiful_41

Garbage Girl

Coal Tar Waste Sites~Surprise!

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 9.33.18 AM

Many areas of the country have sites that are a serious health concern and we don’t even know about them.  Some of them are your driveway.  Coal tar is the reason.

A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology is one of the first steps in understanding how this widely used carcinogen is impacting human health.  Further information can be obtained from the blog Coal Free America.

Coal tar is a thick, black or brown liquid byproduct of carbonized coal for the steel industry.  Coal-tar used for pavement sealants is the viscoelastic polymer resin that has 50% or more PAHs by weight and is known to cause cancer in humans.

PAHs are a group of chemical compounds (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) that form whenever anything with a carbon base is burned.   PAHs are of environmental concern because several are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic (causing birth defects) to aquatic life, and seven are probable human carcinogens.  Of all known PAH sources, the highest concentrations are in coal tar and the related compound creosote. The International Agency for Research on Cancer states that up to one-third of the contents of coal-tar sealants is cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

PAHs are substances that remain in the environment for a long time, do not decompose and bioaccumulate in the human body.   Substances that combine these characteristics represent a particular level of environmental concern labeled PBTs.  (Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic substances)

images-1And!  PAHs don’t stay put.  Wear and tear from tires and sneakers on coal tar sealed pavement breaks down the dried sealant allowing tiny PAH particles to be tracked into homes or blown through open windows. The small particles from tire abrasion can be washed off by rain and carried down storm drains into streams.  Other sealcoat particles adhere to tires and get transported to other surfaces or blown offsite by wind.

Sealcoat in high traffic areas wears down within a few months and manufacturers recommend a new application every 2 to 4 years.


Partners for a Healthier Community

Black house dust is a source of human exposure to many contaminants, including PAHs.  Small children, who spend time on the floor and put their hands and objects into their mouths and active kids playing ball games are most vulnerable.   In 2008, the United States Geological Society measured PAHs in house dust from 23 ground-floor apartments and in dust from the apartment parking lots.   PAH concentrations in the dust from the parking lots with coal tar seal coats were an average of 530 times higher than parking lots with other surface types.  The indoor concentrations were 25 times higher.

Anything above 1.0 is considered a mutagen.  Coal tar sealants average 450.  Mutagens are physical or chemical agents that change the genetic material of an organism and  increase the frequency of mutations that can cause cancer.

Motor oil, a product that’s illegal to pour down storm drains, contains about 500 milligrams per kilogram of PAH chemicals.  Coal tar contains about 50,000 mg/kg, but we’re still spreading it on our parking lots, driveways and playgrounds with the potential for rains to wash it down storm drains.

Oddly enough, coal tar is rated Category I (safe and effective) for over the counter products to treat dandruff, seborrhoea, eczema, and psoriasis, according to the Food and Drug Administration.   Because of its use in medicines, as well, many studies have been performed over nearly a century to see if the patients who intentionally expose themselves to high level doses of coal tar for long periods of time have increased risk of cancer.  All the studies have reached the same conclusion – there is no evidence of cancer.

Brand name products using coal tar to treat  skin disorders are Betatar Gel, Cutar Emulsion, Denorex, DHS Tar, Doak Tar, Duplex T, Fototar, Ionil-T Plus, Medota,  MG 217, Neutrogena TDerm, Neutrogena TGel.

How You Can Help:

  • Create a no-shoes policy.  PAHs are easily tracked into the home, so shedding shoes before entering the home can cut back on exposure.
  • Close your windows.  Coal-tar-treated surfaces continually shed dangerous PAH chemicals, but the air levels are extremely high in the hours and days following a fresh coal-tar application.
  • Don’t trust labels.   Coal tar may not appear on the sealant bucket.  There are dozens of names for coal tar, including RT12, distilled tar, or refined tar. “Tar,” is the word you want to avoid.
  • Do your homework.  An online search of the product name plus Material Safety Data Sheet will reveal the number unique to coal tar as 65996-93-2.
  • Shop where it’s not.   Home improvement chains like Lowes, Home Depot, Ace, or Menards have all banned coal tar sealants nationwide.
  • Know the product.  Find out the exact name of the sealing product your driveway company uses.   Warn neighbors.  Applicators typically try to sell their services to an entire neighborhood.
  • Alert store managers and playground officials of the dangers of carcinogenic coal-tar sealants, and let them know that alternatives containing thousands of times fewer PAHs are readily available.
  • Speak up.  For broad-sweeping protection in your city, borough, or township, consider joining forces with concerned neighbors and lobby your local and state governments to ban the sale and application of coal-tar sealants.  These bans are popping up all over the country, from Washington, DC, to Washington state.  Look at Austin, Texas!
  • Go for gravel.  Consider building a blacktop-free driveway.  Healthier driveways made of gravel or permeable pavers helps reduce harmful motor oil runoff from your property.  That helps keep pressure off of water treatment plants and helps reduce flooding in your community.
  • Make driveway art safe!

Until next week,images

Garbage Girl





Our Wasted Infrastructure Gets a Better Grade


Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.18.19 PM

What the civil engineers’ ranking really shows is that the United States can create an opportunity to surpass our competition, succeed at “A” levels in the global economy  and improve our quality of life if we understand the needed improvements at all local levels.  Our country continues to demonstrate an ability to compete and innovate at high levels when we grasp the problems we face.

How You Can Help:

Until next week,    highway-infrastructure

Garbage Girl






The Most Environmentally Wasteful Design


When one considers how magnificent the human design is, one has to wonder why our needs and desires became so wasteful.

Wasteful design begins with the creator not considering the full impact their creations have on the surrounding environment, both in the making of the design and the finished life of the design.

So, should we fault our creator for making us the most wasteful design on our planet?

Probably not.  Whether we were created by God or evolved from bacteria, we have cumulatively turned into a real threat to the only place we can live.

We are unable to mobilize defenses against this threat.  We consciously or unconsciously ignore it.  We are misinformed about it.  We cannot avoid it because the threat is us.  So, what we have become is so big and so destructive that it hijacks our own sense of common good and responsible choice.

The symptom is not being able to full cycle everything we desire and need.  And our desires and needs are never ending.

We produce pervasive contaminants, harmful pollutants, damaging particles, poisonous atmospheres, everything we use, eat, and do everyday takes something from the earth and does not give back.  The waste is inescapably part of everyday life.

Could our planet reject us?  Could we change?  What is required of each of us to affect a change that is large enough to reverse the direction we are heading?

Spiritual communities may have the answers.  For the first time in human history, our continuing existence depends on our ability to unify with one another.  Our fractious political systems have not produced that unity, so we need to do it ourselves.  We need to inspire each other to tackle change.  The effort we put forth to unify humanity and protect the planet can have an enormous impact.


What you can do to help:

  • Become knowledgeable of how your choices affect the planet and the communities you make choices with.
  • Join or create a community of people and unite for changes that protect the environment.
  • Let businesses know they need to be responsible for the complete life of the product they put into the life of our planet.
  • It’s not about us.  It’s about the planet we live on.
  • Buy less.  Use less.  Be more magnificent.

Until next week,images-1

Garbage Girl




Philadelphia Zoo Rethinks Waste


This summer, the Philadelphia Zoo is featuring  an exhibit of animals and nature sculptures made from used materials.  “Second Nature–Junk Rethunk”  features works of art to show the connection between human behavior and animal endangerment.

This is so well done that I have to devote most of my blog to sharing this work with you.  So!  Let’s go to the Zoo!


White rhino made from 250 silver serving trays by local artist Leo Sewell.  Silver was used to process photographs, leading to the nature awareness message, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”.


An eight-foot long crocodile made from chewing gum by Italian artist Maurizio Savini.   Chewing gum is a worldwide problem, costing businesses and taxpayers millions of dollars per year to clean up if not properly disposed.  Chewing gum cannot typically be recycled or composted.


Gigantic gorilla made from cardboard collected onsite at the zoo by Montreal artist Laurence Vallieres.  The sculpture emphasizes our HUGE use of trees for paper and packaging that destroy forest habitats.


Polar bear cubs by Australian artist James Corbett made from  used spark plugs that came from auto workshops.  This brings our carbon emitting car culture into the climate change debate that threatens their environment.


Massive roots made from plastic water bottles by Aurora Robson raises awareness about how so much plastic gets into our oceans.


Great ape made from car doors by New Mexico artist, Don Kennell,  makes the connection to the future of mountain gorillas in Virunga Preserve and SOCO Oil’s efforts to undo the protection this last habitat offers our cousins.


Butterflies and flowers made from car hoods, kitchen tools, traffic signals, heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts, artificial turf and road plate by the collaborative artist group FLUX  establishes a connection between our lifestyle and the imbalance of pollination in our shared environment.


A shadow “Thinker” by Rodin contemplates a gorilla skull made from lighting an assembled pile of discarded electronics by Diet Wiegman from the Netherlands.  It suggests that we should  think more about the possible extinction of our fellow primates.


Precious Few is animals carved from crayons by Vietnamese artist Diem Chau to bring specific attention to many of our endangered species.  An Amur tiger, a Sumatran orangutan and a Panamanian golden frog .

According to the World Wildlife Fund, “destructive human activities” have increased the rate of species extinction from 100 to 1000 times the natural rate.  Since all animal and plant life is part of a complex ecosystem, our disregard for removing one or more of these parts damages the ecosystem, sometimes beyond restoration.

Destructive human activities that endanger species are unsustainable hunting, illegal hunting, trophy hunting, killing large predators that threaten our domestic animals,  introducing invasive species, introducing diseases, pollution and habitat destruction from greed, our unsustainable lifestyles, and over populating our shared home.

This brings us to the discussion about whether zoos are sanctuaries of education and entertainment or unnecessary imprisonment of our fellow residents.

The first modern zoo, the Imperial Menagerie in Vienna, Austria  was established in 1752 and continues to attract visitors to this day.  In Germany, the world’s largest animal collection, Zoo Berlin (formerly The Berlin Zoological Gardens) houses more than 15,000 animals from almost 1,700 species according to online encyclopedia, Encarta.

All U.S. animal exhibitors, like the 265-acre,  Bronx Zoo, must apply for and receive a license from the Department of Agriculture.

175 million people visit the over 10,000  zoos around the world every year, proving that we never grow tired of observing wildlife.

Good zoos play an important role in conservation, education and research and have helped get a few endangered species back in the wild.   They engage local populations in species preservation efforts.  Membership and admissions funding supports animal conservation and preserve management.  All wildlife conservation organizations work with zoos.

How You Can Help:

  • Donate money or time to The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Sierra Club, International Crane Foundation, Friends of Haleakala National Park, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Oceana, or Conservation International.  These organizations all spend 80% or more of their funding toward conservation so your money goes a long way.
  • Discover your local wildlife preserves and help to keep them viable.
  • Watch and share Virunga: The Movie.   They really need a lot of help!
  • Adopt an animal symbolically with WWF
  • Donate time.  All zoos and preserves have volunteers.  Imagine actually helping The Smithsonian’s National Zoo, The Bronx Zoo or the San Diego Zoo do their work!
  • Let the Philadelphia Zoo know how great their showcase is.
  • Most zoos have reciprocal memberships so visit your favorite animals in your favorite cities.
  • Learn how your waste affects our world.
  • Take a nature vacation and discover how extraordinary wildlife is in a healthy environment.

Until next week,  images-10

Garbage Girl






Church and Waste


On June 18th, Pope Francis gave an unprecedented encyclical.

In the modern Catholic Church, the Pope can send a letter concerning Catholic doctrine to his bishops, patriarchs, primates, and archbishops to influence the faithful on decisions determining matters of faith or discipline.

For years many faith-based religious communities have opposed the idea that humans are responsible for environmental damage causing climate change and that even the idea of climate change is not real.  Pope Francis stated that it is real.  It is caused by humans.  And he stresses that everyone has a moral duty to work towards correcting the effects of climate change in order to avert a worldwide disaster.

He labels us a “Culture of Waste” and places emphasis on our throw away consumerist economies.  He states the need for an economic model which is not a function of capital and production, but which works for the common good.  Our future must be “faced with solidarity and broad vision” and a “social and generational pact” that pools our resources in a collective effort for positive outcome.

Pope Francis threw the full weight of Catholic teaching, and his considerable moral standing, behind the fight for our environment, making the Catholic Church a major player in one of the most important and contentious debates of our times.

The following excerpts are from a variety of religious and non religious news sources:

  • “The Earth, our home, increasingly seems to be transforming itself into an immense garbage dump.” (Reuters)
  • “Never have we mistreated and offended our common home as we have in the last two centuries.” (ThinkProgress)
  • “Unfortunately, if we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations.” (ThinkProgress)
  • “If the current trend continues, this century could see unheard-of climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with grave consequences for all of us.” (Reuters)
  • “Humanity is called to consciousness of the need for changes in styles of life, of production and consumption, to combat this warming, or, at least, the human causes that produce and exacerbate it.” (Crux)
  • “We grew up thinking we were the earth’s owners and dominators, authorized to pillage it.  Violence in the human heart wounded by sin shows itself also in the symptoms of disease that we see in the soil, the water, the air, and living creatures.” (Crux)
  • The reduction of greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, especially by the most powerful and the most polluting countries.” (The New York Times)
  • “There is in fact a true ‘ecological debt,’ overall between the North and the South, connected to commercial imbalances with consequences in the ecological sphere, surely like the disproportionate use of natural resources historically done by some countries.” (National Catholic Reporter)
  • “We know that it is impossible to sustain the current level of consumption in the more developed countries and the wealthiest parts of society, where the habit of waste and of throwing things away is reaching unprecedented levels.” (ThinkProgress)
  • “An economic and technological development that does not leave the world a better place and with an integral superior quality of life cannot be considered progress.” (The New York Times)
  • “Because of us, thousands of species can no longer give glory to God with their existence, nor can they communicate to us their message.” (National Catholic Reporter)
  • People strongly refute the idea of a Creator on political or intellectual grounds, however, science and religion, which offer different approaches to reality, can enter into an intense and productive dialogue with each other.” (ThinkProgress)

Ah!  Science And Religion in a conversation with each other!

Science And Religion both entail the relationship between man and creation of the world around us.  They also concern humans relating to each other.  Dominion over the earth became a human misstep that developed into a fast moving world economy deeply rooted in more is better and lacking in ethics.   If God gave us the task of protecting the earth, then we misunderstood this task!

Our cultural divisions make us insensitive to waste.  One example: throwing out excess foodstuffs is especially condemnable when people suffer from hunger and malnutrition in every part of the world.  There was a time when our grandparents were very careful not to throw away leftover food.  Consumerism has accustomed us to excess.  Our daily waste of food goes far beyond financial parameters making us unable to judge its value correctly.

In a “Culture of Waste”, Pope Francis argues that natural ecosystems manage to create closed loops of nutrients and energy, while human systems have not yet succeeded in adopting a circular pattern of production which ensures resources for current and future generations.

The encyclical also pays particular attention to the role of toxins and their risk for human health, the environment and climate change.  In both cases, the Pope highlights how our most vulnerable communities tend to be affected the worst by environmental problems so he stresses that we also have a social justice problem.

His letter states that the pollution produced by residue of dangerous waste must be accounted for.  Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources.  The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.   Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low like when pollutants concentrate from water into fish or plastics end up in the digestive system of birds.  Frequently no measures are taken until after the contamination has irreversibly affected the system.

These problems are closely linked to our throwaway culture.  Natural ecosystems serve as a desirable model: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.  But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.  We do not adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations.  Pope Francis calls our attention to the fact that non-renewable resources need limits on their use, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficiency, repurposing and recycling them.   A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects our entire planet.

“The time to find global solutions is running out”.  “There is a clear, definitive and urgent ethical imperative to act”.

This Papal encyclical teaches us the importance of collectively nourishing the planet and ourselves.  Science teaches us to use our intelligence and analytical observations to understand the planet and ourselves.  Both can teach us to reach into our higher selves and succeed in the task we were given.

Until next week,    1590709_orig[1]

Garbage Girl

Wonderful Waste

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.35.01 PM

Oh!  You are all going to hate me for this one!

Fireworks!  That wonder of wonders that has entertained us as spellbound kids every Fourth of July and every New Year requires a little more attention than oohing and ahhing over the beautiful patterns and colors.  This chart shows us what creates that magic.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.47.46 PM

The “stars” encase various metal coated pellets floating in an arranged pattern in black powder.  Each star is strategically placed in a shell with more black powder, a bursting charge, and an ignitor.  The shell is placed in a semi-buried mortar with more black powder, a fuse and an ignitor.

When lit, off it goes!  Exploding black powder, chemicals and metal everywhere!  And now they are micro sized.

All fireworks contain small packets filled with metal salts and metal oxides, which react to produce an array of colors.  Those wonder producing colors are created by varying amounts of copper chloride to make blue, barium chlorate to make green,  and strontium and lithium salts to make red.  Secondary colors are made by mixing the ingredients of their primary-color relatives.

When heated, the atoms of each element in the mix absorb energy, causing its electrons to rearrange from their lowest energy state to a higher “excited” state.  The most common elements are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2).  After exploding, it all becomes (PM10), which are particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter.   Ten micrometers is less than the width of a single human hair, small enough to get into our lungs.

The beautiful image introducing this week’s blog is a Green Bee Formation.  Its toxic green sheen comes from randomly packed  barium chlorate filled stars in small tubes within a spherical shell.   As the heat increases, the pressure in the tubes sends the stars zipping out haphazardly in different directions for different amounts of time and distances.

Jim Souza of Pyro Spectaculars has a really fun site that describes how many of the different formations are designed.  Check out his photo gallery!  Its not quite like being under the stars but its really cool!

Hmmm… what should we do?  Awareness or wonder?

The EPA has never made an issue out of fireworks pollution because we are only exposed to it once or twice a year.  They consider it of little harm.  However, air quality standards after a fireworks display show extremely elevated levels of  PM10, CO, NOx, SO2,  which are banned and routinely monitored by The Clean Air Act.

Some environmental groups have caused the cancellation of fireworks shows held over water because the fallout remains on the surface and travels downriver.  Now, The Clean Water Act comes into play.

How You Can Help:

  • Contact your local officials if you are concerned.
  • The Clean Air Act permits state and local governments to enact laws relating to the prevention and control of outdoor air pollution so your concerns will be heard.
  • The Clean Water Act regulates pollutants discharged by fireworks.
  • Your local police department can enforce any laws pertaining to fireworks.
  • Educate others by sharing the pollution dangers of fireworks especially to elders and young children.
  • Fireworks can be air-launched utilizing compressed air instead of gunpowder.  They can also be made with low-gunpowder formulations.
  • Low-smoke pyrotechnics produce practically none of the smoke or ash that traditional black powder fireworks do.
  • Avoid fireworks made in China.  There is a pattern of using banned or toxic chemicals without regard for safety.
  • Firework drones are capturing the sparks upclose!
  • Position your viewing upwind.  Or, view them from your kayaks in the middle of a salt pond in Rhode Island!
  • Happy Fourth of July!  The commemoration of July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted our Declaration of Independence.

Until next week,   Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.32.46 PM

Garbage Girl