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Raul Arboleda, AFP/Getty Images
Raul Arboleda, AFP/Getty Images

Scientists Suggest an Environmentally Conscious Way to Deal With Land Mines: Blow Them Up

Raul Arboleda, AFP/Getty Images
Raul Arboleda, AFP/Getty Images

Land mines left over from conflicts can have disastrous consequences for the environment. Most of these bombs contain volatile TNT, and when these chemicals are released they contaminate the surrounding soil and water, poisoning the plants and animals that depend on those natural resources [PDF]. A lot of time and money is invested in deactivating leftover land mines in a clean and safe way, but new research published in PLOS ONE suggests that bomb squads may be better off blowing them up.

As Gizmodo reports, the study, conducted by Australian and Scottish researchers, shows that detonating land mines ends up causing less harm to the environment than deactivating them and removing them from the ground. At first this might seem counterintuitive: How can a large explosion do less damage to the environment than a bomb that never goes off? But the violent impact of the bomb is ultimately what allows for cleaner soil.

When a land mine is detonated, that explosion disrupts the surrounding soil, causing it to become loose and porous. The new air pockets in the dirt leave room for bacteria to squirm through and consume pollutants, a process called bioremediation. Researchers found that the site of a detonated land mine had lower levels of TNT after six weeks than the site of a deactivated one, thanks to greater activity from these toxin-munching bacteria.

Previous research had mainly examined the effect of detonation on the exterior of soil aggregates. This study is the first to investigate the effects of landmine blasts on the soil's interior structure, and the findings could lead to better methods of bioremediation in polluted sites, the authors note in the study.

Land mines are a major threat in areas touched by war. There’s still no one technique used by bomb squads to sniff them out (drones and rats are just a couple of the tools currently in play), but when they are located, the new research may change the way these explosives are handled.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Health
Watch a Tree Release a Massive "Pollen Bomb" Into the Air
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In case your itchy, watery eyes hadn't already tipped you off, spring is in the air. Some trees release up to a billion pollen grains apiece each year, and instead of turning into baby trees, many of those spores end up in the noses of allergy sufferers. For a visual of just how much pollen is being released into our backyards, check out the video below spotted by Gothamist.

This footage was captured by Millville, New Jersey resident Jennifer Henderson while her husband was clearing away brush with a backhoe. He noticed one tree was blanketed in pollen, and decided to bump into it to see what would happen. The result was an explosion of plant matter dramatic enough to make you sniffle just by looking at it.

"Pollen bombs" occur when the weather starts to warm up after a prolonged winter, prompting trees and grasses to suddenly release a high concentration of pollen in a short time span. Wind, temperature, and humidity levels all determine the air's pollen count for any given day, but allergy season settles down around May.

After determining that your congestion is the result of allergies and not a head cold, there are a few steps you can take to stave off symptoms before they appear. Keep track of your area's pollen report throughout the week, and treat yourself with antihistamines or nasal spray on days when you know it will be particularly bad outside. You can also keep your home a pollen-free zone by closing all the windows and investing in an air purifier. Check out our full list of seasonal allergy-fighting tips here.

[h/t Gothamist]

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environment
The UK Wants to Ban Wet Wipes, And Parents Aren't Happy About It
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The United Kingdom has grown determined in recent years to reduce consumption of single-use products that pollute the environment. In April, fast food restaurant fans were dismayed to hear that plastic drinking straws are being phased out; plastic cotton swabs are also on the chopping block. Now, users of wet wipes that remove makeup and clean infant bottoms are looking at a future where reaching for one of the disposable cloths may not be so easy.

The BBC reports that wet wipes containing non-biodegradable plastic are being targeted for elimination in the coming years. The wipes contribute to “fatbergs,” giant impactions of waste that can slow or block movement in sewage systems. By some estimates, 93 percent of blockages are caused by consumers flushing the wet wipes into toilets despite package instructions to throw them in the garbage.

Not everyone is backing the move, however. Jeremy Freedman, who manufactures the wipes under the name Guardpack, says that the wipes are useful to health care workers and food preparation employees. He argues their use also conserves water normally reserved for handwashing.

The most vocal critics might be parents, who use the wipes to clean their baby’s bottom following a diaper change. Sentiments like “ban the fools that flush them!” are circulating on Twitter. The UK is looking to phase out the wipes and other problematic plastic products over the next 25 years.

[h/t BBC]

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