A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Taking out the rivers' trash, one piece at a time

By Kathleen Toner and Erika Clarke, CNN
published April 18, 2013

CNN Hero: Chad Pregracke

  • Chad Pregracke is dedicated to cleaning the Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways
  • He and his staff organize community cleanups across the country
  • They have a fleet of boats to get the job done, and they try to make cleanup fun for volunteers
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2013 CNN Heroes
Memphis, Tennessee (CNN) -- In the past 15 years, Chad Pregracke has helped pull more than 67,000 tires from the Mississippi River and other waterways across the United States.
But that's just scratching the surface.

He's also helped retrieve 218 washing machines, 19 tractors, 12 hot tubs, four pianos and almost 1,000 refrigerators.

"People intentionally dumped (these) in the river and also littered," Pregracke said. "Even 100 miles away, (trash) will find its way into a creek or a storm drain and into, ultimately, the Mississippi River."

For Pregracke, removing this debris has become his life's work. Sometimes called "The Rivers' Garbageman," he lives on a barge about nine months out of the year with members of his 12-person crew. Together, they organize community cleanups along rivers across the country.

"The garbage got into the water one piece at a time," Pregracke said. "And that's the only way it's going to come out."

It's a dirty job, but Pregracke, 38, took it on because he realized that no one was doing it. It began as a solo effort, and over the years his energy, enthusiasm and dedication have helped it grow. To date, about 70,000 volunteers have joined his crusade, helping him collect more than 7 million pounds of debris through his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters.

Growing up, Chad Pregracke was sick of seeing trash in the Mississippi River.
Growing up, Chad Pregracke was sick of seeing trash in the Mississippi River.

Pregracke grew up in East Moline, Illinois, where the Mississippi River was in his backyard. As a teenager, he worked as a commercial shell diver and began to notice the heaps of debris in the fabled waterway -- one that supplies drinking water to 18 million people in more than 50 U.S. cities.

"I saw thousands of barrels, thousands of tires, cars, trucks and tops of school buses. ... I got sick of seeing it and just wanted to do something about it," he said.

With persistence, sincerity and a lot of chutzpah, Pregracke got a small grant from Alcoa in 1997 and spent that summer cleaning a 35-mile stretch of the river by himself. He would transport the trash by boat and sort it on his parents' lawn to be recycled. By year's end, he had single-handedly pulled around 45,000 pounds of trash out of the river.

His operation has become much more sophisticated since those early days, as his nonprofit now has a fleet of boats. And while he has resources and know-how, he depends on each community he visits to supply the manpower needed to get the job done.

On average, Pregracke says he organizes 70 cleanups a year in 50 communities. The cleanups are posted on the nonprofit's website, Facebook and other outlets so people know where and when they can volunteer.
At the cleanup sites, Pregracke's passion for the work is contagious, and his humor creates an upbeat atmosphere -- something he knows is necessary for the work that they do. His team uses skits, mock motivational speeches and music to get the volunteers amped up, and sometimes they might find themselves doing a little karaoke on their DJ boat.

Picking up garbage, it's tough, miserable and hot. We try to make it fun.

"We do everything in our power to get people excited about it," Pregracke said. "We want people to leave feeling good about what they did so they'll come back."

Teams also compete to see who can find the "best" garbage -- a poker-like game in which two bowling balls tops three refrigerators and a message in a bottle trumps everything. Pregracke has actually accumulated what he believes is the world's largest message-in-a-bottle collection, having found 63 over the years.
"Picking up garbage, it's tough, miserable and hot. We try to make it fun," he said.

At the end of the day, the volunteers head back to shore and make a human chain to bring the day's haul onto the barge and sort it out. Close to 90% of what they recover is recycled; Pregracke says the rest gets disposed of properly.

He believes that volunteers get a huge sense of accomplishment from seeing the garbage piled up at the end of the cleanup, and he considers that just as important as the amount of trash they help collect."

(I'm) creating a chance for people to go out there and do something positive," he said. "Talking is great, but it doesn't do much at all. Action is what I'm about."

Throughout the year, Pregracke's flotilla travels on rivers throughout the Midwest. For the past three years, the group has visited Memphis, Tennessee, each spring to help clean up a harbor on the Mississippi River where the waters are thick with debris. During their most recent visit, they collected more than 120,000 pounds of garbage in 14 working days.

"It's a really negative deal, the worst thing I've ever seen ... (but) I've never been to a city that's had more people coming out saying, 'Let's do something about this.' It's a cool thing," Pregracke said.

Volunteers in Memphis, Tennessee, sort out the garbage from a recent Mississippi River cleanup.
Volunteers in Memphis, Tennessee, sort out the garbage from a recent Mississippi River cleanup.

In addition to the river cleanup, Pregracke has launched a floating classroom barge, where his staff educates high school students and teachers about the damages of pollution on river ecosystems. And in 2007, his nonprofit implemented a program to plant 1 million trees along river shorelines to protect and restore the natural environment. The group is halfway to its goal.

Pregracke says his nonprofit has already held more than 700 cleanups on 22 rivers, but he says that he's just getting started. He views his work as a different kind of service to the country.

"A lot of people call me a conservationist or an environmentalist, but the thing is I'm no different than anybody else," he said. "I just want to be known (as) a hardworking American."

Ultimately, Pregracke says, his message is about much more than cleaning rivers. He believes his story is proof that anyone can make a difference:

"If I had one thing to say, it wouldn't even be about rivers necessarily. It would be about finding (a) cause that's dear to you and taking action. ...

"Change is slow, like a barge or train, (but) once it builds momentum, it's hard to stop."

Want to get involved? Check out the Living Lands & Waters website at www.livinglandsandwaters.org and see how to help.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

BPA levels in fetal livers higher than adult exposures.

Published Apr 18, 2013 in environmentalhealthnews.org

Nahar, MS, L Chunyang, K Kannan, DC Dolinoy. 2012. Fetal liver bisphenol A concentrations and biotransformation gene expression reveal variable exposure and altered capacity for metabolism in humans. Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1002/jbt.21459.


A new study shows bisphenol A can cross the placenta and get into the developing livers of fetuses. Even more importantly, 80 percent of the BPA measured in the fetal livers was the more active type of BPA -- free BPA -- which is thought to cause health effects. Results from one of the first studies of its kind show the fetal livers had higher levels than adult livers. The chemical is found in food can linings, some thermal paper receipts and polycarbonate plastics.


Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in many industrial applications as components of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. BPA is commonly found in consumer products, such as the linings of beverage and food cans, dental sealants and thermal receipt paper.

Because of its wide use, exposure is ubiquitous in people. The chemical has been measured in human urine, blood, placental tissue, amniotic fluid and breast milk.

Animal and human studies link BPA to cancer, cardiovascular disease, reproductive health problems and childhood behavior changes.

The U.S. National Toxicology Program and the Food and Drug Administration consider BPA as a chemical of some concern because of its possible effects on pregnant women, the fetus, infants and children. Last month, California announced its intent to list BPA as a reproductive toxin.

The total BPA level measured in urine or blood contains two important parts: free BPA and conjugated BPA. Free BPA is the part that is potentially harmful. It is biologically active and can mimic estrogen hormones.

Conjugated BPA is formed when the liver processes free BPA. This part is not active and is considered less likely to have health effects. It is excreted from the body in urine.

In adults, BPA is rapidly transformed – usually in less than a day – from free BPA to conjugated BPA and then excreted. Therefore, free BPA usually comprises a small fraction – about 10 to 30 percent – of the total BPA when measured in urine or blood.

BPA can pass from a mother into the developing fetus. Because of differences in the way fetal and adult livers process the chemical, the fetus may be exposed to higher doses of free BPA than adults.

Aside from one study that measured BPA in fetal livers, little is known about fetal exposure, including how well fetal livers can process free BPA and the resulting exposure levels.

































What did they do?

Researchers analyzed 50 liver samples from first- and second-trimester fetuses. Fetal tissues were collected with permission from women choosing to terminate pregnancies. Two adult liver samples from autopsies were used as controls.
Free and conjugated BPA levels were measured in each sample. Samples were also tested for four genes known to affect liver function. If the genes were "expressed," then they had been activated and were presumably performing the function of processing BPA.

What did they find?

BPA was detected in the fetal liver samples, and the majority found – close to 80 percent – was the more harmful free BPA. BPA levels in the adult liver controls were either very low or too low to measure.
Other studies that measure BPA in adult blood or urine report the proportion of free BPA typically as 10-20 percent – the opposite of what was found in the fetal livers.
Three of the four metabolism genes had reduced expression when compared to adults. The fourth gene was not different. This suggests that fetal livers are not functioning in the same way as adult livers would.
However, reduced gene expression was not directly associated with higher free BPA levels in the tissue samples, so more questions remain about how BPA is processed in fetal livers.

What does it mean?

Fetuses may be exposed to much higher doses of the more harmful free BPA variety than adults. This may be a result of differences in the way adult and fetal livers function.
The results are important because exposure to BPA during critical developmental stages may alter fetal development and have health effects later in life.
The study is the first attempt to identify possible mechanisms that may result in higher fetal exposures to BPA. Surprisingly, levels of free BPA were much higher in the fetal liver tissues than adult controls or what is typically measured in adult blood or urine.
It is possible that differential gene expression played a role in these differences. The results from this study did not provide a clear connection. One of the limitations of the study, acknowledged by the authors, is that only two adult livers were used for comparison.
This is one of only two studies to directly assess fetal exposures to BPA by measuring the two parts of the chemical in the livers. The results of this study are in line with the handful of other studies that measure BPA in the placenta and amniotic fluid.

Monday, April 1, 2013

19-year-old Dutch student develops ocean cleanup technology

Posted By Brett Wilkins published March 27, 2013 in Digital Journal.com

Delft - A 19-year-old Dutch engineering student has devised what he claims is a profitable way to remove millions of tons of plastic waste from the oceans.

Boyan Slat, an aerospace engineering student at the Delft University of Technology, started the Ocean Cleanup Foundation to tackle the daunting task of removing the massive plastic garbage patches, called gyres, that blanket enormous spreads of the earth's oceans and threaten the planet's marine ecosystems.

The largest of the garbage patches, the North Pacific Gyre, is believed to be twice the size of the United States. It is believed to contain more than 100 million tons of garbage and continues to grow. The plastic contained within the gyres is made up mostly of small bits and pieces which appear to be food to birds and fish, many of which are found dead with stomachs full of plastic. The plastic bits also contain dangerous chemicals such as PCBs and DDTs that, once consumed, make their way up the food chain to humans.

To clean up these gyres, Slat has come up with a concept he calls the Ocean Cleanup Array, a solar-and sea-powered system of 24 sifters anchored to the ocean floor that use the ocean's own currents to channel plastic pieces into miles of interconnected booms. The booms would also allow marine life to avoid becoming trapped. The collected plastic would then be transported to shore and sold.

Slat claims that the Ocean Cleanup Array will be able to remove 7.25 million tons of plastic from the earth's oceans within five years.

"This concept is so efficient, that we estimate that by selling the plastic received from the five gyres, we would make in fact more money than the plan would cost to execute," Slat writes. "In other words, it's profitable."

Slat's design was awarded Best Technical Design at Delft University, and came in second in the iSea Clash of the Concepts sustainable innovation contest sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. He is currently looking to partner with plankton biologists, engineers and philanthropists to realize his ambitious design.

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