Sunday, May 15, 2011

Biosolids: A Safe Fertilizer!

In some parts of the world, biosolids from sewage treatment plants are treated and used as a sustainable agricultural fertilizer. Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic materials obtained from wastewater treatment (1). This nutrient-rich organic material can then be used as fertilizer. The question is however, is if biosolids are a realistic alternative to our current agricultural practices? In every situation there are both pros and cons but in this case, do the cons outweigh the pros? In my opinion, I would say no. The EPA promotes the land application of biosolids as a safe recycling method (2). Biosolids can be processed into fertilizers for farms, forests, and landscaping.

Before biosolids can be used on the land they need to go through a sewage treatment in which its harmful compounds are transformed into harmless compounds (3). In order to do this, the solid segments of the sewage must be removed first. Then sewage treatment facilities remove pathogens and other harmful elements. Once the cleansing and processing steps are done, the newly formed biosolids can be put to work.

The idea of using biosolids as a kind of fertilizer is a double-sided topic. The pros to using biosolids as fertilizer are (3):
  • Cost effective way of disposing human waste
  • Recycles waste rather then filling landfills with it
  • Promotes farming and works as a free fertilizer
  • Accepted by the EPA
The cons to using biosolids as a fertilizer are (3):
  • Potential health hazard if the human waste is not treated properly
  • Very foul smell
  • Contamination resulting from an accumulation of industrial waste

Biosolids contain nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus which both improve and increase plant growth. When biosolids are used on agricultural lands it is beneficial to farmers, municipalities, and the community as a whole (2). The only problem with using biosolids as a fertilizer is that the western society views it as an unsanitary and disgusting way to get rid of human waste. Many people find it hard to eat food if it was once grown in biosolids. This taints the view of biosolids and makes people not want to use them. Many also find the strong odor of the biosolids a nuisance due to their musty, ammonia scented odor (4).

Personally, I believe that if the EPA finds biosolids a safe means of reusing human waste then I do not see a problem in it. It gives us an opportunity to put our human waste into good use rather then cluttering up landfills. If we do not take steps to help preserve our environment now, we may not have anything left. So, if biosolids help to improve our environment, then… why not?

Blogs i commented on:

1.)  Caitlin Cosgrove: Biosolids
2.) Dora: Love organic! Then love yourself!


1.) "Dictionary." Define: Biosolids.
2.) "The Biosolids Life Cycle." Benefits. Division of Wastewater Engineering. 1999.
3.) "Sewage Treatment." Water Treatment. 2009.
4.) "United States Environmental Protection Agency." Water: Sewage Sludge (Biosolids). EPA. 13 Aug 2009.
5.) "Northwest Biosolids Management Association." Biosolids Facts. NBMA.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life: Thanks to Technology!

Technology is a wonderful advancement in today’s society. We rely on technology for almost every aspect of our life without even knowing it! This also includes the medical industry which plays a major role in protecting the public‘s health. Along with other nations, Canadians have contributed a vast amount of various technologies to the medical industry which has helped us to further develop our understanding of internal body systems.

Insulin Pen
Insulin is a naturally produced hormone created in the pancreas which changes the metabolism rates of sugar (1). People with type 1 diabetes suffer from a condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin which stops glucose from entering the cells to produce energy. Without insulin shots a person with type 1 diabetes can become very ill. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin so people suffering from this condition will also need insulin shots. Insulin was the first hormone identified in the 1920’s by Frederick Banting when he tied string around the pancreatic duct of several dogs. When they examined the pancreases of these dogs several weeks later, all of the pancreas digestive cells were and the only thing left was thousands of pancreatic islets. They then isolated the protein from these islets, and they discovered insulin (1). Due to this breakthrough discovery of insulin millions of peoples lives are being saved by taking a simple shot of insulin each year.
An endoscope is a device with both a light and a camera attached at the end of a long tube which is used to look inside of a body cavity or organ (2). In order to look inside the body it is inserted through a natural opening. This procedure is also known as endoscopy which can be used to diagnose bleeding, pain and change in bowel habits of a person. Due to this breakthrough discovery we have been able to produce more endoscopes for different purposes like a bronchoscopy (2). Due to the invention of the endoscope we are given an opportunity to have an inside look at our digestive organs which is something we aren’t able to see without this machine.   
Prior to Richard Deslauriers patenting of the first external noise reducing stethoscope in 1999, there were many different stethoscopes invented (3). Stethoscopes allow doctors to listen to the expansions and contractions of the heart muscle also known as the heartbeat. These contractions and expansion feed blood into the circulatory system and provide an oxygen supply for the entire body. They also allow doctors to listen to and study lung, stomach, and other sounds in both humans and animals (4). Our body is very complex and due to this people suffer from many different diseases. With the use of a stethoscope trained doctors can tell the different sounds of any problems you may be facing if its pneumonia, bronchitis or even a heart murmur (4). With the use of a stethoscope, doctors are able to understand what is going on with both our circulatory and respiratory system.
MRI scanner
Dr. Raymond Damadian wanted to create a medical test that helped physicians treat medical conditions so he created the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). An MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bones and more (5). The images can then be examined on a computer monitor and allow physicians to receive more accurate results then with other imaging methods like an x-ray machine. The MRI machine tests the organs of the chest and abdomen, pelvic area, breasts and blood vessels. It helps diagnose tumors, heart problems, diseases of the liver, fibroids, breast cancer, diseases of the small intestine and more (5). This machine allows us to have a more realistic look of our internal body system via digital images. In some cases it has caught diseases early which has helped to save lives!
These technologies along with many more are crucial to the medical industry because they help to research, diagnose and study the digestive, circulatory and respiratory system. Canadians have also made a huge step in helping to discover our internal body and who knows where we would be without their beneficial discoveries.

Work Cited:
1.) Diabetes: What is Insulin? Norman, James. September, 13, 2010.
2.) Medline plus: Endoscope. Vorvick, Linda. 28 February, 2011
3.) Absolute Astronomy: Stethoscope. 2011
4.) Healthline: Stethoscope. Hilton, Lisette. 2002.
5.) MRI: of the body. March 15, 2010.

Blogs commented on :
Caitlin Cosgrove: Importance of various technologies
2.) Grace Elkhechen: Proud to be Canadian

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sustainable Agriculture: The Right Choice!

Do the benefits of relying on a few highly productive livestock breeds and crop varieties outweigh the risks of reducing genetic diversity by allowing less productive breeds to become extinct? That is the question. FAO’S Global Databank for Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture noted that about 20 percent of the 7,616 breeds documented in their research are considered to be under threat of extinction (1). The destruction of this diversity is mainly due to the rapid spread of animal production caused by the high demands for beef, chicken, pork and other livestock products. This will only increase as the worlds population rises as a predicted 6.2 billion people today to a staggering 9 billion people in the next 40 years (2).

Black and white Holstein-Friesian cow
Our demand for highly productive breeds such as black and white Holstein-Friesian cows has caused a drastic drop in the numbers of other breeds of cows such as the Ankole cattle found in Uganda (2). Another example of this is in Kenya due to the introduction of the Dorper sheep the pure-bred Red Maasai sheep has almost completely disappeared (2). A lot of the breeds currently at risk have disease resistance genes that the highly productive livestock breeds we use today don’t have. If this diversity were to disappear many diseases could be created and many species would die off because they wouldn’t be able to fight it. There are two different forms of agriculture: Industrial Agriculture and Sustainable Agriculture.

Industrial agriculture can include both animal production on a large scale but crops as well. They would take one crop and then grow it on hundreds of acres of land (3). Chemical fertilizers are then used to add nutrients back into the crops and pesticides are sprayed to remove insects. This requires heavy machinery and the burning of fossil fuels which leads to the destruction of our environment. Animals are also placed in confined and overcrowded conditions in which their bodies can be genetically modified so that they can fit more animals into the sheds and prevent them from their natural behaviors. Antibiotics and hormones are given to help the animals grow faster and bigger (3).

Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for both the animals, consumers and the environment (4). These types of farms raise different types of animals and crops to help ensure biodiversity and prevent any diseases. The animals are allowed to carry out with their natural behaviors and are fed a proper diet for their species. Sustainable agriculture is much better for the environment as well because they do not use any pesticides or fertilizers. Any waste that is created inside the farm stays within the farm’s ecosystem and is then re-used (4).

Although industrial agriculture sounds easier, is it really? Is it easier harming the biodiversity of our planet just to produce livestock and crops on a large scale basis? To me, Sustainable Agriculture is the right choice and can keep up with the rapid growth of the global human population. Knowing your food was grown in a clean and humane way is very reassuring to anyone. Biodiversity is what the human life depends on and if we continue with our ways will our demise soon follow?

Work Cited:
1.) Practicial Steps to Preserve Barnyard Diversity: CGIAR, September 2007
2.) Farm Animal Diversity Under Threat: Beurkle, Teresa, June 2007
3.) Factory Farming and Industrial Agriculture: April 3, 2009
4.) What is Sustainable Agriculture? April 3, 2009
5.) Life on Earth- The Importance of Biodiversity: April 10, 2010

Blogs Commented On:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Designer Babies: How to meet up with todays standards.

Designer babies is the term being used by the media to describe the future of modifying or selecting our children’s genes for desirable characteristics. This procedure is called In Vitro Fertilization to fertilize eggs with sperm in test-tubes outside the mother’s body in a laboratory (1). This process allows both the doctors and the parents to reduce the chance that a child will be born with a genetic disorder. Today, it is only legal to carry out two types of advances reproductive technologies on embryos which is know as Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis or PGD (1). PGD allows parents to determine the sex and the genes of the baby and screens embryos for any genetic diseases. It isn’t hard to imagine that someday they will select the babies based on their beauty and intelligence.
PGD uses DNA analysis to identify embryos with genetic diseases like Down’s syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease. Cystic fibrosis and many more.Embryos are grown to the eight-cell stage, at which point one or two cells are removed and checked for genetic variants associated with the disease (2). If embryos are tested positive for the genes that cause diseases they are discarded and the genes will then be eliminated from the gene pool.
In 2000, in the United States, the Nash family made medical history by having a baby boy named Adam, who had been selected using PGD. Molly, Adams sister has Fanconi anemia and the transplant of blood from Adam’s umbilical cord raises her odds of survival by about 55% (2). Is this not ethically wrong? Adam, a newly born infant has been forced to donate his stem cells, which in some experts eyes is seen as a form of child abuse. Joel Newman, the assistant director of communications at the United Network for Organ sharing says “Most living donors are over the age of 18, but there’s a few cases of minors donating body parts such as kidneys to siblings.” Adam is not nearly old enough to understand the risks and benefits of this procedure but his parents are. How is it fair that parents would be willing to have another child and put that child in pain, just to save another one?

There are many issues regarding advanced reproductive technologies. Sex determination has turned into a technique for screening and getting rid of the female embryo in countries were parents prefer male children (4). Some people are thinking about checking for “problems” like shyness and homosexuality which is unbelievably wrong. Every person is made differently and when we change personal traits about the person is that person not just a genetically engineered clone to acquire the more “desirable traits” in society like height, eye colour, intelligence etc. If a parent is choosing desirable traits or characterizes for their child, I do not agree with the idea what-so-ever. Although the idea of making designer babies to avoid diseases sounds like a good idea people will eventually get carried away and change their whole Childs appearance and personality. I personally disagree with the whole designer baby concept, not only is it wrong, it takes away our individuality!

Work Cited List:
1.) What is a designer baby? Bionet, November 12, 2010.
2.) Designer Babies: Ethical considerations. Agar, Nicholas, April 2006.
3.) The Nash Family: Breaking New Ground in Medicine. Frankenfield, Gay, October 4, 2000.
4.) Designer Babies: Panse, Sonal.

Blogs commented on:
1.) Grace Elkhechen: Designer Babies.... the future generation
2.) Taylor Lecours: preventing disease or enhancing attributes?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The assortment of life on Earth, or its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity. As humans we have a very large impact on the environment and species that reside on Earth. Attention in the media has been focused on the negative consequences due to human interaction but there are many different people taking steps to help sustain the biodiversity of our ecosystems, such as the Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd is a non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization established in 1977. Its mission is to end the destruction of habitat slaughter of wildlife In the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species (1). The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is led by Captain Paul Watson a Canadian born in Toronto, Ontario. Paul Watson was a co-founder of Greenpeace and has been putting himself in-between whales and harpoon ships for 30 years(2). The Sea Shepherd has done many different campaigns over the years to help preserve our ocean life. On October 6, 2003 Sea Shepherd crew members risked their lives climbing the cliffs to get pictures of the dolphin slaughter in a remote cove in Taiji, Japan. On November 18, 2003 two crew members jumped into the cove and successfully freed 15 dolphins (3). They use direct action to help protect dolphins against threats humans have created such as fishing, entanglement in fishing gear, boat traffic and marine pollution. Since 2000, Sea Sheppard has had a strong presence in the Galapagos Islands from stopping illegal fishing activities to busting shark finner’s. Since 90% of the worlds large shark population is already wiped out they are being depleted faster than they can reproduce(3). If humanity cannot protect such a unique and diverse ecosystem, we will not be able to protect any ecosystem (4). Sea Sheppard has also played a role in using direct action to stop the annual Canadian seal hunt which kills at least 354,344 seals a year as documented in the 2006 Canadian seal hunt (5). One of the Sea Shepherd most devoted and successful campaigns is their defending of whales worldwide. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission put a suspension on commercial whaling but since then Iceland, Norway and Japan have slaughtered over 25,000 whales claming it is for scientific research (3). Sea Shepherd is the only organization who’s mission is to enforce these regulations on the sea. Sea Shepherd uses direct-action tactics (Stink bombs, water cannons, ship jumping, intimidation etc.) to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the seas (3).


                   The above image is of all the ocean wildlife Sea Shepherd helps to protect.
The Sea Shepherd has saved thousands of whales and with their success of each campaign has managed to keep illegal whaling an important issue. Animal Planet has also issued the Sea Shepherd their own show which documents their fight against Japan to protect whales. It documents Captain Paul Watson on his mission to help protect the biodiversity of our ocean ecosystems (6). Although Sea Shepherd uses somewhat violent means to get their message across they still positively affect the biodiversity of our ecosystems. We all must work together to help ensure the survival of our ecosystems for future generations because if we don’t, we’ll have nothing left.

Interested in helping? Click the link to sign the petition to help protect the dolphins being slaughtered in Taiji:

Work Cited:

1. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - Who we are/ mission. Sea Shepherd, 2010.
2. Guardian Environment Network - Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson. Michael Shapiro, Tuesday 21 September 2010.
3. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society- Campaign home. Sea Shepherd, 2010.
4.Ocean Sentry- Galapagos Islands. Friday 02 October 2009.
5. The Humane Society of the United States- About the Canadian Seal Hunt. 2006.
6. Animal Planet- Whale Wars.