Apathy and complacency are two of humankind's most lethal characteristics. In times of crisis most individuals choose not to confront the pertinent issue and, instead, opt to live in a fictitious world where the suffering of others has no effect on their daily lives. Whether it be the plight of the environment or the peril of peoples across the globe; indifference is the main factor in the perpetuation of strife.

The interns of the World Information Transfer recognize the detrimental effects of indifference towards the Earth's most crucial environmental issues. Through their articles, which cover a wide range of environmental health issues from all regions of the globe, they aim to inform the public at large of our planet's most pressing ecological problems.

As you read this issue of the Ecology Enquirer please remember that words on paper alone do not effect change. As Mahatma Gandhi expressed over sixty years ago, "We must be the change we want to see in the world." Essentially, it is the responsibility of each citizen to actively do what they can to ensure that cultural disregard does not signify the doom of our planet and its inhabitants.

--Kyle Waddy, New York University, World Information Transfer

The European Secret: Moderation

To attain unhealthy and unrealistic weight goals has not only become the goal of virtually every young American woman, but one could also characterize it as the obsessive disorder of a generation. Women nationwide constantly compare their physiques with those of contemporary actors, singers and other icons of popular culture. While obesity is harmful to one’s health, starvation and lack of self-esteem are just as destructive. What many individuals fail to understand is that people naturally vary in shapes and sizes. The key to achieving a positive body image is not to obsessively try to reach unrealistic weight goals, rather it lies in how well one takes of their body. Europeans tend to understand this concept of positively maintaining their bodies better than Americans. They live by a code of moderation rather than starvation. In this article I shall compare and contrast the dietary habits (both positive and negative) of Americans and Europeans.

Various studies have shown that Europeans tend to be thinner, on average, than Americans. On the other hand, there have been numerous studies that present findings to the contrary; particularly in regards to Europeans who live in the Mediterranean region (not surprisingly since the cuisines of Italy, Spain and Southern France offer what many esteem to be the richest flavors on the continent). Europeans are notorious for eating anything they like without reflecting on the number of calories they intake. However, the secret to Europeans more trim physiques lies in the fact that they walk far more than their American counterparts. Annually Europeans make 33% of their trips by foot or bicycle, while Americans average only 9.4% of their trips by foot or bicycle per year.

In addition to walking, dietary habits also contribute to Europeans generally slimmer physics. Europeans eat fresh, homemade meals much more often than their American counterparts. Additionally, Europeans (particularly in rural regions) utilize a lot of vegetables and fruits that are grown in their home gardens. Consequently, the average European will have a minimal intake of preservatives or other artificial agents. Also, in many European cultures, the largest meal of the day is served between the hours of 2 and 4PM; as opposed to the American tradition where the biggest meal (dinner) is served around 7 or 8pm. This leaves the digestive system with a longer period to digest the food and burn calories before bed.

As this article has shown, self-imposed starvation and sporadic dieting is not the key to maintaining one’s ideal figure. As is evident in the physiques of Europeans, walking and wiser eating habits are the keys to a healthy lifestyle. By following this model, Americans will no longer have to obsess over counting calories, and, thus, they will be able to enjoy their favorite snacks, boost their energy, feel more relaxed and appreciate a healthier self!



Author Autobiography:

I love food. I choose to write this article because a large number of people, especially women, encounter health and self esteem issues pertaining to their physical appearance. I wanted to prove to people that the best way to stay fit and healthy is by walking…and it really works!

--Lindita Bojdani, Rutgers University, World Information Transfer Intern

Toxic Cleanliness

A clean room is not necessarily a healthy room according to numerous recent studies, which show that, contrary to popular belief, a “clean” room may actually contribute to body pollution. The Western obsession with cleanliness fuels a multi-billion dollar industry whose products are designed to remove clothing stains, freshen homes, and de-grease counters and dishes. However, compulsive cleanliness may take a toll on human health as well as the health of the environment.

Alcohol, ammonia, bleach, formaldehyde, and lye are present in many common household cleaning products. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to nausea, vomiting, inflammation, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system. In addition, such chemicals have been associated with neurological problems, liver and kidney damage, blindness, asthma, and cancer. According to a study conducted by the National Resource Defense Council, fewer than 10% of cancer malignancies are due to inherited mutations. Cancer malignancies, especially those amongst children, are most often the result of exposure to hazardous environmental factors, including many cleaning products.

A “cleaner” is generally categorized under one of the following labels: polisher, deodorizer, spot cleaner, disinfectant, de-greaser, rinse, detergent, and soap. Cleaners do their job, in the simplest terms, by either attracting or repelling particles, thereby removing “dirt.” Although cleaning products have undoubtedly helped the human race in preventing the spread of diseases, cleaning products have also caused much harm to our bodies and our environment.

A recent study from UC Berkley examines the potential hazards associated with small scale yet extensive usage of various cleaning products, many of which contain solvents known as ethylene-based glycol ethers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and California’s Air Resources Board classify these solvents as hazardous air pollutants and toxic air contaminants.

In addition, the study examines the impact on human health of terpenes, a class of chemicals derived from pine, orange, and lemon oils. They are found in many consumer products including solvents or other products that give off “zesty” fragrances. Even though terpenes themselves are not considered toxic, they can react with ozone to produce a number of toxic compounds. Ozone is the major component of smog. Ozone is purposely emitted by so-called “ air purifiers” and also is produced by office machines such as copiers and printers. The usage of air fresheners in a environment filled with ozone particles could lead to exposures to formaldehyde that are at least twenty five percent higher than California's guideline value. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen.

Although most cleaning products are now designed to breakdown quickly into a non-toxic form, many chemicals can still have adverse affects after they go down the drain and through water treatment facilities.

Even though exposure to many common household cleaning products can result in a myriad of health problems, there is no need to panic, for there are many ways to solve this problem. Not-for-profit organizations such as the Deirdre Imus Foundation have been established in order to promote “green living” and combat the risks that commercial cleaners cause to pediatric health. Recently, the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology has helped to make Hackensack University Medical Center more green by consulting with the hospital in building design and helping the hospital convert to environmentally-friendly cleaners.

The toxins in many consumer cleaning products have become so ubiquitous in American society that the task of confronting such an endemic issue seems overwhelming. However there are easy ways in which people can alter their behavior in order to protect their health. The ideal solution would be to make or buy your own environmentally friendly cleaning products. However, because this is not always convenient, there are many “green” cleaning products available at retail stores all over the country. Therefore, green cleaning is possible and there are many viable alternatives for those who are willing.


Homemade Cleaning Products: Recipes that You Can Make Yourself
Source: www.pathnet.org.

Green Cleaning Recipes

Hydrogen Peroxide Solution (Easy to by at any drug store)

All Purpose Cleaner:
Add 1/2 cup ammonia and 1/3 cup washing soda to a gallon of warm water. Use to clean floors, tiles, and painted walls.

Window and Mirror Cleaner:
Put 1/4 cup white vinegar in a spray bottle, and fill to the top with water. Spray on desired surface, and rub with a newspaper or a rag. Squeegee dry.

Toilet, Tub and Tile Cleaner:
Mix 1/2 cup borax and add enough lemon juice to make into a paste. Wet the sides of the surface and add the paste. Let stand for a few minutes, then scrub off and rinse.

Rug Stains:
Dampen stained area with water, and rub in borax. Vacuum when dry.

Oven cleaner:
Mix 1 cup of baking soda with enough water to make a paste. Apply to surface and let stand for a few minutes. Scrub the surface with a scouring pad. Do not use this recipe in self-cleaning ovens. Drain cleaner:
Three words - Use a plunger.
A hand plunger used every time the drain slows down will take care of almost any problem. If you need a cleanser pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, and then 1/2 cup vinegar. Let it fizz for a few minutes. Then pour down a teakettle full of boiling water. Repeat if necessary.

Make a paste from salt and vinegar and rub into affected area.

Furniture polish:
Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to 1 cup vegetable or olive oil. Apply with a soft rag.

General air freshener:
Simmer a pot of water with cloves, an orange peel and cinnamon.

Natural Pesticide:
To naturally keep ants and other insects away, add a few teaspoons of orange oil to your green cleaning products. To kill ants that are already around, just spray them with diluted orange oil.

Instead of buying regular commercial products, you can by “Green” products that contain.

Vendors of “Green” Cleaning Products:
Seventh Generation, www.seventhgen.com

- All-Purpose Cleaner, Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Glass & Surface Cleaner, Citrafresh Multi-Purpose Heavy Duty Cleaner
- Available at King Sooper’s, Albertson’s, Wild Oats, Whole Foods)

• Simple Green, www.simplegreen.com
- All-Purpose Cleaner
- Available at Ace Hardware, Albertson’s, King Sooper’s, K-Mart, Safeway, Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club.

• Ecover, www.ecover.com
- All-Purpose Cleaner.
- Available at Wild Oats, Whole Foods.

• Planet Inc., www.planetinc.com
- All-Purpose Cleaner.
- Available at Safeway, larger health food stores.

Author Autobiography:

My name is Molly Josephs. I am an upcoming sophomore at Brown University. My father’s compulsive cleaning habits provoked me to explore the potential health and environmental effects of many consumer cleaning products.

--Molly Josephs, Brown University, World Information Transfer Intern

After the Storm: Hurricane Health and Hazards

With the official hurricane season (June 1 to November 30) is now upon us, it is critical that people understand the health problems that accompany natural disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently predicted a highly active hurricane season for the year 2006. Following the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005, the Administration believes that there is a strong chance that four to six major hurricanes will develop in the North Atlantic this season. Warmer ocean temperatures, high pressure in the upper atmosphere and weak easterly trade winds are the key environmental factors contributing to the rise in the number of hurricanes.

The economic and social costs of natural disasters are evident by the physical destruction that results, with homes streaming down streets as family members are violently separated from one another. Less known to the general public are the severe dangers that lurk after the storm passes, and that often appear during the reconstruction process.

As more and more people settle in coastal areas, the potential for devastation caused by a hurricane greatly increases. While emergency response and storm forecasting have improved significantly over the last decades, storms are now more likely to cause damage since many more people now live in areas that are at most vulnerable to a hurricane’s fury. Additionally, hurricane’s and tropical storms effect most profoundly the most vulnerable groups: poor women, children and the elderly. This reality was vividly depicted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last September.

An aerial view of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina affected an area of approximately 90,000 square miles and caused the displacement of approximately 1,000,000 people. Weeks after the storm made landfall, many structures remained flooded and became saturated with water. Seven weeks following the disaster, 25% of the population affected by the storm still lacked electricity while 20% of all homes still had no water. These factors combined to create horrible sanitary conditions and opened the door for many major health problems.

There are a few important measures that must be taken following a water-related natural disaster to prevent illness. It is essential to avoid wild or stray animals and insects that sting. To control the growth of bacteria, all homes and buildings must be dried and disinfected. Open cuts and sores need to be covered from any remaining floodwaters to protect against infection. Also, people must be careful about what food and water they consume, since many products will not be safe following a disaster. Following a natural disaster, intestinal disease may occur, while skin and respiratory infections are the most common diseases found in survivors.

When there are significant power outages, other sources of fuel are used and can cause carbon monoxide to build up. Victims must be aware of the carbon monoxide levels in the location that they are staying. Mold is another serious problem in areas affected by a hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina, 46% percent of the homes in New Orleans and the surrounding towns experienced mold contamination. Perhaps as important as preventing physical problems that may occur is the need to protect mental health. Two months after Katrina, 50% of the adults in the region felt heightened levels of emotional distress.

Anytime a natural disaster occurs, there will be tremendous physical and emotional consequences that linger long after the storm has passed. It is very important that victims should be able to protect themselves from the health hazards that await them after the storm passes.

Children are especially at risk for developing severe health problems in water-related natural disasters. Prolonged exposure to mold can lead to serious health problems in children, since their immune systems are not yet fully developed. After being in contact with mold, children are likely to suffer from a long-term decrease in lung function and may face life-threatening circumstances.


Author Autobiography:

I am a rising senior at Millburn High School in Millburn, New Jersey. Friends of mine were affected by Hurricane Katrina and I hope to raise awareness for the victims of the storm who are now faced with the recovery and rebuilding process.

88,117 people worldwide died from January to October 2005 due to natural disasters. With the changing climate, this number is expected to rise in coming years.

--Christina DiStefano, Millburn High School, World Information Transfer Intern

Mercury In Fish…Cause for Concern?

Most people think of mercury as the liquid metal found in glass thermometers that parents tell their children to be careful of. But most people’s parents never warned them to be conscious of the amount of fish they eat. Most individuals are not aware of the high concentration of mercury, an extremely toxic substance, that exists in fish. The dangers of mercury toxicity as a result of dental amalgam fillings has been widely known facts for decades. However, only in recent years has excessive mercury exposure been recognized as a serious environmental problem.

Inorganic mercury enters lakes and rivers as a result of rain and runoff and is changed by bacteria into methyl mercury, the form most likely to infect a fish. The fish then stores the mercury in its muscles and continues to eat mercury-contaminated prey and live in mercury-contaminated water.

Mercury poses health threats to those who eat fish frequently. Poisoning can weaken the human immune system, alter genetic and enzyme systems, and damage the nervous system, including coordination and the senses of touch, taste, and sight. At extremely high levels, mercury exposure can cause dysfunctions similar to traits defining or associated with autism.

In search of areas that are highly concentrated with mercury, Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group, had a laboratory test 164 cans of tuna labeled as being from Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the United States. An analysis of the samples discovered that tuna from Asia had the lowest average levels of mercury while tuna from Latin America had the highest. The lab found even higher levels in light tuna, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers to be low in mercury.

Swordfish can contain dangerous levels of mercury

Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and children are more likely than others to be affected by mercury poisoning. Since 2001, the FDA has advised these sections of the population to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Although tuna is not on this original list, women and children ought to limit their consumption of tuna to a maximum of 1.5 cans of tuna per week. There is no need for Tuna-lovers to worry; the occasional tuna sandwich will not cause any problems.

There is no current solution to the existence of mercury in bodies of water, but the nation can avoid the risk of being poisoned by avoiding fish high in contaminants. Steadily increasing are the number and geographic extent of state advisories against the consumption of fish because of mercury contamination. As a result of The Mercury Health Advisory Act of 2003, forty states plus coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico, northeast, and the south have issued advisories for methyl mercury on selected water-bodies. Thirteen states have statewide advisories for some or all sport fish from rivers and lakes.

Public awareness is imperative to keep the number of victims as low as possible. Next time you are about to eat fish for the third time in a week, imagine small, silver pellets of a liquid metal flowing through your body. The key to preventing mercury poisoning is to limit our intake of high-mercury seafoods and to inform others of the potential risks associated with the consumption of these animals.

Author Autobiography:

As a senior in Millburn High School in New Jersey, I am thrilled to participate in this internship with WIT. I plan to continue to pursue environmental science in college as well as international relations. I wrote this article because while mercury poisoning can lead to autoimmune disease and blindness, both affect my mother. When my mother and I learned about mercury poisoning, my mother got tested for mercury with hope to find a cure to the disease or her partial blindness.

--Jaimee Halpren, Millburn High School, World Information Transfer Intern

Hot Town; Cool Roof

New York is hot. Madrid is sweating. And Marrakesh is boiling. As this summer sets global temperature records, people try to keep cool. But it isn't easy. In the big cities, heat is trapped by and absorbed into the concrete abyss. Air conditioners cool, but actually increase the temperature on the streets. Energy consumption is stretched to the limit. Is there an easier way?

One idea is increasing the number of green roofs - similar to rooftop gardens - within large cities. Developed in Germany in the 1960's, a green roof means that the roof of the building is almost or completely covered in plants and some type of lightweight soil. Green roofs require waterproofing of the roof, and include root barriers, drainage, and irrigation systems. Certain “living roofs” exist without soil: in Egypt, soil-less agriculture is used to grow plants on rooftop wooden tables.

¿Did you know?

The largest "living roof" in the world sits on top of the Ford Motor Company's Rouge Manufacturing Plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

The benefits of a green roof are easy to conceptualize. Depending on the plants selected, green roofs can be used to improve air quality and absorb rain runoff. The less time the water remains on the roof the longer the roofs will last due to less sagging. Green roofs can help control the heating and cooling requirements of the building - and thus save money. And of course, there is the prospect of reaping the rewards of those gardens; which may include flowers, food, or animal species. In London, the rare redstart (a small species of bird with a bright orange-red chest) has reappeared in the city’s green roofs.

Significantly, clusters of green roofs actually reduce urban heat. The "urban heat island effect" occurs because cities have little green space and lots of tall buildings. The Sun's radiation is absorbed by buildings and streets, and is then re-released as heat. As a result, cities are usually 7°F hotter than the surrounding areas. But green roofs reduce this effect by increasing the amount of vegetation in urban areas. When NASA researchers sought ways to decrease the urban heat island effect in New York City, green roofs were listed as a potential solution. Stuart Gaffin, a Columbia University associate research scientist and co-author of the NASA study explained, “We found that vegetation is a powerful cooling mechanism. It appears to be the most effective tool to reduce surface temperatures.”

Green roofs have become an international trend. They can be found in Japan, Switzerland, Austria, Singapore, Greece, Great Britain, Spain, China, Italy, Poland, and more. It is estimated that 10% of all German rooftops have been "greened." In the United States, green roof popularity is still budding. The US lags for numerous reasons: a lack of public awareness, installation costs, limited data as to the benefits, and insufficient technical knowledge. Fear of change could also be a component. But the most important factor for supporting green roof expansion is government funds and encouragement.

¿Did you know?

The Beijing Linked Hybrid project, a self-contained city of linked vertical buildings, includes hundreds of apartments as well as stores and schools, and every roof is green!

In Chicago, Illinois in 2003, the city began to offer financial incentives in exchange for green roof installation. In the central business district if at least 50% of a roof is covered in vegetation, a density bonus is awarded to the building owner. There are over 150 green roof projects being developed in that city. This is also a result of the fact that Chicago now requires any new building benefiting from city financing to install a green roof.

An example of a green roof at Kalke Village shopping center in Vienna


Author Autobiography:

I am a recent Columbia University graduate, and I am excited to begin medical school this fall at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The article on green roofs was inspired by my attempt to develop a rooftop garden for the patients at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx. All people, and especially urbanites, deserve to see some green each day.

--Rebecca Green, Columbia University, World Inormation Transfer Intern

Avian Influenza: Modern-Day Black Plague or Unnecessary Scare?

Old wives’ tales have always told us that getting pooped on by a bird is good luck. However, instead of luck, this interaction may soon bring sickness. Recently, there has been an international panic concerning avian influenza, better known as the bird flu. Many scientists and epidemiologists worry it could turn into a worldwide pandemic, possibly rivaling, or even surpassing, the fourteenth century Bubonic Plague and the 1918 Spanish Flu. Also spread by wild animals, these two epidemics killed tens of millions of people. The Bubonic Plague killed twenty-five million people, or one-third of Europe’s population, in just five years. The Spanish Flu was estimated to have killed one hundred million people in two years.

The avian influenza first appeared in 1997 in China. Out of eighteen human cases, there were six deaths. The entire chicken population of the region was destroyed and the virus was not diagnosed again until mid-2003, when it began to circulate in Southeast Asia, affecting a total of eight countries. By mid-2005, human cases were seen in Central Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Overall, the mortality rates were very high; the highest was 73% in the ten to nineteen-year-old age group. Not only is the bird flu dangerously fatal, but it devastates at an alarming rate as well. The median duration from onset of symptoms until death is nine days.

Man being treated for avian flu

The virus is spread through contact with birds and poultry. Birds migrate over large stretches of the globe, so the bird flu can easily and quickly spread from one end of the world to the other, leaving the human population helpless. Birds hold the virus in their intestines, and then shed it through saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. The virus can be transferred to humans either through direct contact, or from the environment. If the person’s environment is heavily tainted by the foul bird droppings, the person’s health can be greatly affected. The virus has also infected and killed birds. When these corpses are left in the environment, there is an increased possibility for that the humans in that area become infected. Especially when humans make contact with the birds, either to dispose of them or to bring them to the market, the possibility of infection is high.

The bird flu, like all viruses, has the tendency to change and evolve. Currently, scientists are unsure if the virus has yet developed the ability to spread from person to person. However, if the virus mutates and is then able to spread from person to person, then the human population is at an even greater risk. The bird flu could spread faster and farther, without any way to tell who has it or who is a carrier. We would be on the brink of a worldwide epidemic, and with every traveler, there would be the possibility of an explosion of cases. With the modern day travel and commerce, the virus would easily spread. There would be no containing it without large-scale quarantines and the shutdown of all travel, both of which are implausible. And, unlike many other viruses, humans have little or no immunity against the bird flu, because it has not historically infected people. Once an epidemic begins, without natural immunity or the possibility to contain it, the rates of illness and death could be alarmingly high.

The extermination of infected chickens in Indonesia after a poultry worker was found infected

On July 4, 2006, Indonesia had its fifty-second case of human infection with the bird flu. Out of fifty-two cases, forty have been fatal. This only shows that the bird flu has become a formidable, lingering problem, and will not simply disappear. Even though the panic has slightly died down, the potential for devastation still looms. With no vaccination ready to be mass-produced as of now, any small outbreak can turn into an international pandemic, which could result in millions of deaths, and major disruptions of travel and trade. However, the company GlaxoSmithKline Plc has just announced that a vaccine may be ready by 2007. This would protect a great number of people from the bird flu, and potentially destroy any risk of a pandemic. Whether humanity is at the eve of the next Bubonic Plague, or all the panic and worry has been an unnecessary amplification of a few cases, only time can tell.

Author Autobiography:

My name is Jaclyn Willens and I am a rising senior at Millburn High School in Millburn, New Jersey. I am very interested in diseases and epidemics, an interest that moved me to write an informative article on the avian influenza. I aspire to have a career in diplomacy, possibly concentrating in human health and prosperity.


World Health Organization (WHO) Avian Influenza website

--Jaclyn Willens, Millburn High School, World Information Transfer Intern


From right to left:
Front row: Jaclyn Willens, Christina DiStefano, Jaimee Halpren.
Second row: Kyle Waddy, Rebecca Green, Lindita Bojdani, Molly Josephs