Ecologically Sustainable Development


ESD is the term used to describe “development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. Australia’s National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (1992) defines ecologically sustainable development as:

‘using, conserving and enhancing the community’s resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased’.

To estimate the impact that YOU have on our environment, you may like to complete an ecological footprint calculator, which will give you a result in terms of the number of earths we would need if everyone on earth lived in the same way that you do.

Please watch the “Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard and let me know in the comments what you think. Do you think that over-consumption is a problem in Australia? How can you make changes to reduce your consumption?

More about Mercury – Minamata disease


Image source

Read the following article and answer the questions below: Ten things you should know about Minamata disease

  1. What were the first signs of something wrong at Minamata?
  2. How many people were estimated to be affected by these symptoms?
  3. Why should pregnant women be especially careful about their diet and exposure to pollutants?
  4. What is the difference between organic and inorganic mercury?
  5. What was the source of mercury and how did people come into contact with this heavy metal?
  6. How was the mercury transported through the environment?
  7. What was the sink?
  8. How did authorities try to reduce the risk to people in the Minamata area?
  9. Minamata disease cannot be cured – what can be done to avoid future catastrophes such as this?


Mercury and Heavy Metal pollution

SEMCO Mercury Switch 106MS

Image source

Heavy metals include a range of elements with high density and atomic weight, such as arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), mercury (Hg), lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn). Mercury is the main heavy metal that we concentrate on in this course, but they all have similar properties as pollutants, in that they are fat-soluble and tend to bioaccumulate. This article, from the “Soil and Environment” blog has a good summary of the properties and health effects of the common heavy metals found in soil. Using the following websites, make sure you understand the following about mercury:

  • Characteristics and properties of mercury
  • Natural and anthropogenic sources
  • Transport mechanisms (mobility?)
  • Sinks (persistence?)
  • Human health effects (at what dosage?)
  • How mercury is taken in (ingested, absorbed or inhaled?)
  • Environmental health effects
  • Management strategies to prevent emissions and/or exposure

Mercury -

Extension work – choose one or more of the following:

Arsenic - NPI Fact sheet

Cadmium - NPI web page

Chromium - NPI web page

Lead – NPI Fact sheet

Zinc – NPI web page

ABC Catalyst – “Toxic Sediments” video (Zinc and other heavy metals)

ABC Catalyst – “Ibis Eggs” video (Persistent Organic Pollutants)


Air Pollution and SO2


Image source

After completing the work on the Great Smog of London (see previous post) you may think that pollution from coal burning is a problem from history that we have largely been able to manage. However, earlier this year, as bush fires raged around Gippsland, the Hazelwood coal mine caught alight and burned for over a month. Firefighters were warned that too much water would interrupt the state’s electricity supply and smoke from the fire inundated Morwell and Taralgon. Read the following articles and do some research to answer the following questions:

  1. What organisation is responsible for monitoring air quality in the state?
  2. What are at least five pollutants mentioned that have effects on human health?
  3. Look up these pollutants on the National Pollutant Inventory and draw a table showing the characteristics of the pollutant and the human health impacts.
  4. What are the health effects of exposure to these pollutants?
  5. What groups of people are particularly vulnerable to these pollutants?

This term we will be doing an experiment to observe the effects of sulfur dioxide on various materials (YouTube video). Please organise a time with your supervising teacher to complete this practical work. You will be required to write up and submit the experimental report.



Grampians Study Camp

Nine students from the VCE Environmental Science class of 2014 have just returned from three days at Halls Gap in the Grampians. We arrived at the YHA EcoLodge and then set off for the Brambuk Cultural Centre, where we watched the indigenous creation story and a documentary about the geology, flora and fauna of the region. We then had a presentation from Ben Holmes, a National Parks Ranger, who spoke about the fox baiting program in the Grampians, including data about the number of 1080 baits taken and the positive effect on native marsupial species, including the smoky mouse, dusky mouse, bettongs and Antechinus.

On Tuesday morning we were up early for a fully guided tour of the 25 hectare Halls Gap Zoo, where they have a valuable captive breeding program for the brush-tailed rock wallaby, Tasmanian devils and Bush Stone-curlews. Naline, the Zoo keeper from New Zealand, via the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, spoke about the importance of genetic diversity, international co-operation and animal enrichment in their captive breeding programs. After spending the past four years looking after cheetahs, she is passionate about these beautiful big cats. We learned about the limited genetic diversity of cheetahs across the globe, with scientists believing that all the current cheetah are descendants of a small group of about ten, possibly with only one female. Following our tour through the Zoo, spending time with only a few of the 160 native and exotic species, we climbed to the top of Mt William, the highest point in the Grampians National Park. Well, the students climbed to the top – I didn’t quite make it – I might need to work on the fitness levels for next time!

The following morning we drove to Bunjil’s Cave, near Stawell, for a view across the plateau. This is a sacred indigenous site, widely regarded as one of the most significant cultural sites in south eastern Australia.

Bunjil’s Shelter sits within the Gariwerd, a cultural landscape that supports our people both physically and spiritually. Bunjil’s created our land, our people, the plants and animals, our religion and the laws by which we live. He is the leading figure in our spiritual life, essential in teaching our young people the importance of our laws and beliefs ~ Levi Lovett, local custodian, Parks Victoria.

Traditionally the lakes, swamps and fertile plains of Gariwerd provided groups of up to 50 people with emu, fish, eels, reptiles, yabbies, water birds, eggs, vegetables and fruit. The relatively easy collection of food left plenty of time for spiritual ceremonies and education. People would return to the shelter seasonally to repaint the images of Bunjil and his helpers, two dingoes, with red and white ochres.

Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification


Image source

Heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium), pesticides and herbicides (such as DDT) and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (PCB’s and BPA’s) do not readily biodegrade. These are fat-soluble substances that are stored in organisms and are not quickly broken down by bacteria or other decomposers. Bioaccumulation is the process by which persistent pollutants accumulate in the fatty tissues of organisms. These pollutants are absorbed at a greater rate than they are released and therefore build up within the individual organism. Biomagnification is the process by which persistent pollutants increase in concentration up a food chain. So secondary and tertiary consumers have higher concentrations than producers and primary consumers.

This phenomena has been observed with DDT, causing the thinning of eggshells in raptors, such as the threatened Peregrine Falcon. Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and conservationist,  made the American public aware of the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides, such as DDT, in her famous book, “Silent Spring”. DDT is now prohibited in most developed countries.

Mercury has been shown to bioaccumulate in marine food webs, affecting higher order consumers, such as dolphins, sharks and swordfish. As such, Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand recommend that the intake of certain types of fish is limited.

Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification video on YouTube

Human Health and the Environment


Image source

If you were organising a huge rock concert at a remote venue, what sort of things would you need to consider to ensure the health and safety of your patrons? You might come up with the following list:

  • Drinking water
  • Food
  • Toilets and sewerage disposal
  • Rubbish bins and waste disposal
  • Shade and shelter
  • Washing facilities
  • First aid station
  • Security

The World Health Organisation and Aid agencies need to consider the same issues after natural disasters and in refugee camps, when large numbers of people gather in one place. One of our local heroes, Bob Handby, was recognised as an Australian of the Year state nominee in 2011 for his work with the Red Cross in disaster response. Bob worked for the Moyne Shire in Port Fairy as an environmental health officer for many years and dedicated 25 years of service to the Red Cross as an expert in water and sanitation. Despite now being semi-retired, Bob still works three days a week and is often deployed at a moment’s notice across the Asia– Pacific region to advise on water and sanitation issues following disasters. He has worked in many conflict areas and disaster zones from Uganda and Rwanda to Iraq and Papua New Guinea.

“Environmental health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviours. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments. This definition excludes behaviour not related to environment, as well as behaviour related to the social and cultural environment, and genetics.” ~ World Health Organisation

Please leave a comment below about you have learned in today’s lesson.

The Great Smog of London


You may have heard about the dreadful smog that descended on London in 1952, killing up to 12,000 people. It wasn’t the first time that smoke and fog had combined to create a ‘pea soup’ smog, but it was perhaps the most deadly, resulting in many deaths from pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis and cardiac arrest. Read more about the event here:

Watch the three part documentary here:

Answer the questions (Question 1a to 1g) on Page 163 of “Issues of Sustainability”.

There’s something in the air tonight….

Image source

Ongoing research has confirmed that air pollution can be a serious risk to human health, causing thousands of premature deaths each year in Australia. In addition to the emissions from coal power stations, pollution from vehicle exhausts is a major contributor to the ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter that pollutes our atmosphere. Fine and ultra-fine particles are significant contributors, as demonstrated by the ABC Catalyst program, “Dirty Little Secrets”.

Medical studies have shown that air pollution contributes to respiratory distress, aggravating asthma and emphysema, especially in pregnant women, children and the elderly. Ultimately, air pollution can cause lung cancer and cancer of the bladder and urinary tract. It can also cause thickening of the carotid artery, heart arrhythmia, strokes and heart attacks. Read more about the health effects of air pollution at the World Health Organisation. There is also evidence that air pollution contributes to cognitive decline, as described in the following article: Is Air Pollution Aging Your Brain?

So, what can be done to reduce the effects of toxic air pollution? The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria’s role is to be “an effective environmental regulator and an influential authority on environmental impacts”. They investigate and regulate pollution issues across Victoria, working with government, industry and the community to reduce the human and environmental health impacts of pollution. The State Environmental Protection Policies (SEPPs) are legislation that protects Victorians from pollution and waste, including human health and wellbeing, ecosystem protection, visibility, useful life and aesthetic appearance of buildings, structures, property and materials, aesthetic enjoyment and local amenity.

Different vehicles produce different amounts of pollution (diesel, petrol, hybrid) and measures have been taken over several decades to reduce emissions, including compulsory catalytic converters and unleaded fuel. Poorly maintained vehicles can contribute up to 25% more pollution than a well maintained vehicle – read more here. What can you do to reduce the amount of pollution your car emits?

Students Show Common Compound Breaks Down Air Pollution