The 2019 Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference (ECEC19) will be held on May 21-22, 2019, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, IL. The call for abstracts will open in mid-October and registration will open in February.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois co-hosted the 2018 Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference (ECACE18) which was held on June 5-6 in Champaign, IL. The third annual conference highlighted research, education, and policies related to recently detected emerging contaminants and chemicals that are re-emerging as concerns.
This year’s conference focused on a variety of specific issues ranging from PFASs and microplastics to pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), as well as many other types of emerging contaminants found in water and the environment.
PFASs, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals that are typically found in fire-fighting foams, water- and stain-resistant textiles, and non-stick cookware. They were described by one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Rainer Lohmann who is professor of oceanography at University of Rhode Island and director of a new Superfund Research Center on PFASs, as being “an even bigger environmental problem than PCBs”. PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyl compounds have been a major contaminant in soil, water, and air since the 1970s and are still being cleaned up from old industrial sites and other areas. PFASs are as persistent as PCBs, bioaccumulate, and are even more soluble in water than PCBs. Dr. Lohmann went on to discuss how PFASs have been found hundreds of feet below the surface of the oceans and have moved through air and water to remote areas such as the Arctic.
The conference not only featured national speakers such as Dr. Lohmann and presenters from as far away as Florida and California, but also international speakers. They included:
keynote speaker Dr. Stefan Krause from the University of Birmingham in the UK who discussed multi-contaminant interactions between aquifers and rivers;
keynote speaker Dr. Xuefei Zhou from Tongji University in China, who gave an overview of the problem of pharmaceutical pollution in China and potential advanced technology treatment options; and
Dr. Matt Taylor from the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute in New South Wales, Australia, whose research examines PFAS contamination in estuarine fisheries.
Prairie Research Institute scientists from ISTC, the Illinois State Water Survey, and the Illinois State Geological Survey also presented their research results on microplastics and PPCPs detected in karst groundwater in Illinois. This widespread participation of researchers, educators, and policy makers from across the globe illustrates the ubiquitous nature of emerging contaminants in water throughout the world and emphasizes that it will take a collective effort by all of us to solve these pollution issues.
The videos of the 3 keynote presentations will be available on the ISTC website within the next two weeks.
Today is an important “holiday” of sorts for those of us who are sustainability professionals. On this day in 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm Sweden, began (June 5-16, 1972). The purpose of that conference was to discuss human interactions with the environment, as well as encouraging governments and international organizations to take action related to environmental issues and providing guidelines for such action. This was the UN’s first major conference on international environmental issues, and it culminated in what’s commonly called the “Stockholm Declaration”—the first document in international environmental law to recognize the right to a healthy environment. Two years later, in 1974, the first World Environment Day was held on June 5 with the theme of “Only One Earth.” Since then, World Environment Day has been celebrated annually on June 5th. Each year has a theme around which activities center, and beginning in the late 1980s, the main celebrations began to rotate to different cities around the globe. Learn more about the UN Conference on the Human Environment at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/milestones/humanenvironment and the history of World Environment Day at http://worldenvironmentday.global/en/about/world-environment-day-driving-five-decades-environmental-action.
This year’s World Environment Day theme, chosen by the host nation, India, (New Delhi is the host city) is “beating plastic pollution,” with the tagline “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” According to the World Environment Day web site: “While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use. Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates. Plastic also makes its way into our water supply – and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still aren’t sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides.”
Choose which type of single-use plastic you’re ready to give up.
Take a selfie (photo or video) showing yourself with the reusable alternative that you’re ready to embrace.
Share your selfie on social media and “tag” three friends, businesses or high-profile people to challenge them to do the same within 24 hours. Be sure to use the #BeatPlasticPollution hashtag and mention @UNEnvironment.
When we think of chemicals that could be on our food, we usually think of the pesticides that are used to eliminate pests. We rarely think of the cookware that we use to prepare it. Maybe we should start.
One of the most common ways that people come in contact with chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) is through nonstick cookware. PFASs are a collection of man-made chemical compounds that include PFOA, PFOS, and newer GenX chemicals. They were created in the mid-twentieth century and have been used in manufacturing of various products ever since. They’re popular because they don’t degrade and can make products stain-resistant, waterproof, or non-stick. Because of their popularity, they have managed to make their way into water systems and living organisms through leaching and contamination. In addition to cookware, you can find PFASs in a variety of food packaging, household products, clothing items, fire-fighting foams, industrial waste, and drinking water. They also accumulate in the tissue of living organisms, including humans.
The prevalence of PFASs in the environment is a concern because they have been proven to harm both the environment and human health. PFASs are stable molecules, which make them resistant to most treatment methods. This resistance to breakdown means they stay in any living organisms that they come in contact with and can accumulate in the body over time. Additional research has shown that these chemicals can lead to a wide range of adverse health effects, which include immune system deficiencies, low infant birth weights, cancer, thyroid hormone distribution, developmental and liver problems, and potentially many more. Water contamination specifically is becoming a large concern. Drinking water in two Detroit suburbs has tested positive for PFAS contamination. PFASs also have been detected in several other of Michigan’s drinking water sources such as waterways and lakes. It is clear that PFAS are increasingly becoming more of a problem for our health and the environment.
Thanks to the PFOA Stewardship program, most PFASs production has been phased out in the United States. However, people can still come in contact with them through imported goods because they are not yet banned internationally. In addition, companies in the U.S. are still producing next generation PFASs, called GenX. These compounds are found in firefighting foams and food packaging. Because of that, further research on these chemicals is being done all over the country and world.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) has teamed up with researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the University of California at Riverside to combat this issue and work toward a solution. Researchers from each university are currently investigating the effects of cobalt (Co)-catalyzed defluorination to degrade PFASs. ISTC is working to connect the PFAS research community and increase public awareness through seminars and conferences surrounding research findings.
A ban on the use of 24 antiseptic ingredients, including triclosan, for use in health care settings will take effect at the end of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last month. That extends a 2016 ban on Triclosan, and other active ingredients, from use in consumer products.
The action is the latest development in a long road of coping with the competing rights and responsibilities of marketplace innovation, regulatory power, public health, and rapid advances in our scientific ability to detect such compounds.
Since then triclosan and other antibacterials have continued to find their way into many consumer products. For example, Hasbro, the maker of Playskool toys, was fined in 1997 for false advertising because they claimed their toys made with antibacterials were safer for kids than those without.
Present in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, and body washes, triclosan is considered a Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Product (PPCP), which the Water Quality Association defines as “products used by individuals for personal health/well-being or for cosmetic purposes.” PPCPs have been identified as emerging contaminants of concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because little is known about their impact on the environment or their risks to human health when released into the ecosystem.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the FDA in 2010 to force a decision on triclosan and other antibacterials. Four years later, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) supported the FDA’s original findings by reporting triclosan as one of the top contaminants of emerging concern detected in biosolids. The FDA finally made the decision to ban triclosan in consumer products in 2016; now in 2018, this ban will be extended to the medical industry.
Why all the concern? They are pervasive. The widespread use of triclosan and other antibacterials has left residues in our environment, as well as in our bodies. Using bio-monitoring, triclosan residue was detected in 75 percent of Americans over six years old. Thought to be absorbed through the skin, tests have found traces of triclosan in human blood, urine, and breast milk.
Also research at ISTC and elsewhere have shown PPCPs can act as endocrine disruptors (EDCs), which alter hormone functions. Animal studies have shown that triclosan alters the way hormones work in the body, which is alarming considering potential impacts on human health. To spread awareness of the most recent emerging contaminant research, policies, and education, ISTC is hosting its third conference on emerging contaminants this June 5-6.
ISTC has also sponsored research to study the impact of triclosan on the environment. A three-year study ran from 2009 to 2012 and involved researchers analyzing two rivers in the Chicago area receiving effluent from wastewater treatment plants. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants can serve as a point source for a range of pollutants, including PPCPs. When analyzing the rivers, researchers found that increased exposure to triclosan was linked to both an increase in triclosan resistance and a decrease in biodiversity within the benthic bacterial communities. These results show that the common and widespread use of triclosan could have negative ecological consequences.
Further laboratory studies have matched ISTC’s suggestion that triclosan may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has significant impacts to human health, as it could diminish the effectiveness of some medical treatments, including antibiotic treatments.
Despite being used for the past four decades, manufacturers have proven neither the effectiveness nor the safety of long-term use of triclosan. The FDA has determined that antibacterial soap is no more effective than plain soap and water and challenged the industry to demonstrate otherwise.
Excluded from the new regulative action are six antiseptic active ingredients: ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, povidone-iodine, benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol. The FDA said further research is needed before commenting on the safety or effectiveness of these six ingredients.
The new FDA rule will go into effect Dec. 20, 2018.
This annual upbeat reminder that “we use too much, buy too much, and toss too much” shines a light on a society that more and more gets it.
At our homes and schools, the interest and the opportunities for recycling keep growing, slowly. Here in Champaign, IL, two collection events this year gathered 146 tons of electronics for recycling.
But as much as we waste at home — over-consuming our disposable goods — that is a small fraction of the estimated volume of non-household waste (i.e. industrial, manufacturing, commercial, construction, mining, etc.).
A new analysis of winners of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award suggests many of those big players get it too. The number one sustainability initiatives by ISA winners was for waste reduction. When AbbVie took down three buildings on its North Chicago campus they wasted nothing. All of the metal was recycled and all of the masonry and concrete was crushed for current and future use.
Caterpillar, Inc. knows big. When its Surface Mining and Technology site in Decatur committed to a Zero Landfill goal, they created a by-product catalog, devising a “plan for every waste.” The result has been an average recycling rate in the 90s.
Dynamic Manufacturing Inc. in Melrose Park is in a recycling business of sorts. They restore used automotive transmissions and torque converters for reuse “as-new.” By installing a solvent recovery system, they now recycle 35,000 gallons for reuse on-site rather than transporting it for disposal.
What was number two? Maybe better news – process upgrades, optimization, and planning. These achievements eliminate waste before it exists. Here is where sustainable supply chains, sustainable product design, and better packaging open doors to easier recycling and hopes of a circular economy.
The third most prevalent achievement leading to a 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award was community involvement. That brings us back home. These companies value recycling and that is reinforced by employees and their communities. Marion automotive parts maker Aisin Manufacturing Illinois purchased four collection trailers for the Recycle Williamson County program. Caterpillar in Decatur encourages its employees to reduce waste and recycle by donating all recycling proceeds to local charities and agencies, also nominated by those workers.
Join us in celebrating the recipients of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award! Register now for the Illinois Sustainability Awards Ceremony and Technical Symposium! Don’t miss the event, held on October 24th at the Union League Club of Chicago, for an excellent opportunity to learn new trends in sustainability and connect with organizations who are on the cutting edge of implementing environmental change. The morning Technical Symposium will feature keynote Rich Berger, Vice President of Engineering, Food Supply for Clif Bar & Company. Luncheon keynote is Nancy Liaboe, Director, Global EHS Governance & Product Stewardship, Abbott. Opportunities for sponsorship and exhibiting may be found at www.istc.illinois.edu/istcawards.
Registration starts at $50 for the morning session only, $95 for the luncheon only and $130 for all-day admission. Additional registration opportunities are available for exhibitors and sponsors. Note that the symposium begins at 8:30 AM and the luncheon and awards ceremony begin at 12:00 PM (noon).
The next Champaign County residential electronics collection event has been scheduled for October 14, 2017. The event will occur from 8 AM to noon at Parkland College. Registration is required for participation; online registration (at www.ecycle.simplybook.me) opens on September 5, 2017 at 8 AM.
On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.
The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream. The Illini Gadget Garage is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.
Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/ and http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.