A pesticide is a substance used to control or repel animals or plants that are considered to be pests. There are different types of pesticides for different purposes:
What's in a pesticide?
Pesticide products contain active ingredients and inert ingredients. The active ingredient is the main chemical that kills the target -- whether it's a plant, insect, or animal. Inert ingredients are less important, but help with product performance and usability.
There are several categories of active ingredients, including biopesticides (derived from natural compounds) and antimicrobial (supress growth of harmful microorganisms).
Some functions of inert ingredients are to improve safety for the applicator, extend the product's shelf life, and act as a solvent.
Effects of pesticides
Pesticides can cause immediate health effects, or long-term ones that may not be apparent until years later. Immediate health effects include irritation and nausea, and long-term ones include cancer, birth defects, reproductive issues, and brain damage. Children are more susceptible to the effects of pesticides because they're still developing.
In addition to affecting humans, pesticides also have a major impact on the environment. Events like the bat and frog die-offs and the collapse of bee colonies have been directly linked to the usage of neonicotinoid pesticides. These pesticides accumulate in the soil and harm animals' immune systems and limit soil nutrients.
What you can do
Though the effects of pesticides are globally recognized, their usage is not slowing down anytime soon. To reduce your risk of harm from pesticides, there are some steps you can take:
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of marine debris on the planet, and is located between the west coast of the U.S. and Japan. It is made up of two smaller garbage patches -- the Eastern Garbage Patch, which is between Hawaii and California, and the Western Garbage Patch, off the east coast of Japan. There is approximately 79,000 tons of plastic floating in this area.
What do garbage patches contain?
Some of the debris is made up of microplastics, which are very small pieces of plastic. Since plastic is not biodegradable, it never fully breaks down but instead splits into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics often make the water look like a cloudy soup because they're so small! Microscopic organisms such as plankton are at risk of ingesting microplastics.
Other debris found in garbage patches include larger pieces of plastic that have drifted out to sea from land activities, or that have broken off of boats or oil rigs.
A study conducted by researchers at the Ocean Cleanup Foundation surveyed the patch to determine the amount and types of plastic in the GPGP. To do this, they attached sensors to an aircraft to take 3D scans of the plastic samples. Once the scans were completed, they calculated that there were approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, and estimated that 92% of the mass is larger pieces of plastic, with 8% being microplastics. They then compared their measurements with past studies of the GPGP, finding that plastic pollution levels have increased exponentially over the years and that the amount of plastic being deposited into the water continues to exceed the plastic being taken out.
Impacts of garbage patches
Ingestion: Marine animals often eat plastic and other debris by mistake. In addition to being toxic, these items also take up room in their stomachs, preventing them from eating food they should. One example is the Laysan albatross chicks residing in Oahu, Hawaii: 45% of their wet mass is composed of plastics from the GPGP.
Plastic is especially harmful for sea surface feeders migrating through the GPGP, since there is 180x more plastic floating above the ocean in this patch than marine life. 84% of this plastic is found to contain at least one toxic biochemical.
Entanglement of animals: Fishing nets make up a significant portion of garbage patches. These nets can become tangled around dolphins, seals, turtles, and other animals in a way known as "ghost fishing," which can often drown them.
Bioaccumulation: Microplastics accumulate inside small organisms through ingestion and make their way through the marine food chain, eventually ending up on our plates. This can affect food safety and different food industries.
Multiple organizations are dedicated to working towards cleaner oceans and preventing the patch from expanding. However, cleaning up the plastic is not as easy as it may seem. Microplastics are too small to be caught in nets, and the sheer size of the patch makes it challenging to contain all the debris. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program estimates that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than 1% of the North Pacific Ocean.
While cleanup efforts are difficult, scientists are working towards sustainable solutions. Many recommend limiting your use of plastic bottles, or moving to using more biodegradable plastics. Organizations like the Plastic Pollution Coalition are using direct action campaigns to support businesses in their transition to biodegradable plastics.
Forest fires are important in wooded ecosystems because they help the regeneration of healthy plants and growth. However, too much fire can destroy biodiversity and the smoke can contribute to air pollution. Forest fires are caused by many different factors such as lightning strikes and brush fires sparks, but human error is the leading cause of these devastating wildfires.
The main causes of forest fires
85% of wildfires are caused by humans. While natural activities such as lightning and brush/grass fires can spark a raging fire, they are much more likely to come from human activities like abandoned campfires and arson.
Prominent historical fires
Throughout history, there have been thousands of major wildfires. However, there are five that stand out for their size and/or impact:
Saddleworth Moor Fire - United Kingdom (2018)
Over the years, the number of forest fires in the U.K. have been increasing. The recent fire in Saddleworth Moor was one of the most impactful in the country's history, resulting in 150 people being evacuated from their homes. The fire was reportedly started by a group of bikers early in the day, and although it was responsibly put out, smoldering peat hidden under the ground's surface caused a reignition of the flames. The military was brought in to contain the blaze, and the leftover ash and other particles created a low-hanging haze that swept across the nearby city of Great Manchester, resulting in a spike in respiratory issues of the area's inhabitants and increased air pollution levels.
Wallow Fire - U.S.A. (2011)
The Wallow Fire was sparked by two men camping in Arizona's Bear Wallow Wilderness. The campfire accidentally blew out of control, burning through half a million acres of land. 6,000 people had to be evacuated and over $100 million was spent on cleanup and recovery efforts.
Brandenburg Fire - Germany (2018)
Across Europe, wildfires have been rapidly increasing due to longer, hotter, and drier summers. The Brandenburg Fire's cause was never determined, but local authorities linked it to a likely case of arson. Three villages had to be evacuated, and the smoky haze drifted all the way to Berlin, causing residents to lock themselves inside to avoid the toxic smoke. To make matters worse, there were leftover undetonated munitions from WWII around the area, which began to explode from the heat of the fire.
Uttarakhand Fires - India (2016)
Uttarakhand is a forest-covered region in northern India. Throughout 2016, these forests were plagued with man-caused fires -- over 1,600, to be exact. This drastic number was suspected to be due to people concealing illegal timber activity or seed collectors attempting to scare away animals.
Impact of forest fires
Fires often bring ecological and infrastructure damage, such as buildings burning down or forest devastation. Thousands of people die every year to these fires, but the damage and death often brings important policy discussions to the tables of local and federal government agencies. One example is the Black Saturday fires of 2009, which led to a reconsideration of landscape-related fire policies. Forest fires often come with hefty financial costs that are placed on cities or the government, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to contain and cleanup.
Fires also may lead to health effects for people who were involved with them, a reduction in tourism near the affected area, decreasing nearby home values, and disruption to local traffic.
While forest fires are a concerning issue and are becoming more prominent around the world, there are things that you as an individual can do to make sure you do not contribute to the statistics by starting an accidental fire. Ensure that you never start a fire on a windy day, or leave one unattended. If you're burning waste, never burn anything highly combustible near brush or other flammable material.