Humans, Health and the Environment


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Air pollution in Singapore has reached record levels, due to wildfires burning in Sumatra. As the smog dispersed in Singpaore, Malaysia declared a state of emergency due to the choking smoke from illegal burning. Such events impact on millions of people, causing respiratory distress, aggravating asthma and other ailments, including death in some cases. What can be done to minimize the harm of such widespread pollution?

Environmental Health officers work in every shire and state to enforce health regulations that protect the community from illness and disease caused by unhygienic food practices,  improper disposal of waste, contaminated water and other sources. Find out more at the Department of Health’s Environmental Health web page. Use the headings on this page to categorize the sources of pollutants according to the type of pollution they cause – air, water or soil. Some will be in more than one column. You can use the linked document here: 2013_three_column_table. This is another document that you can print to match key terms and definitions for this unit of work: Environmental Pollutants worksheet.

The following slideshows may assist to learn more about Humans, Health and Environmental Pollution: Introduction to Pollution slideshow  and Humans, Health and Environment slideshow.

Week 3: The Blue Marble and the Greenhouse Effect

This week your tasks are as follows:
  1. Finish viewing “CRUDE – the incredible journey of oil” and answer the question sheet sent by email.
  2. Complete the energy worksheet and return via email.
  3. Read Chapter 2 and answer the Chapter review questions. Ensure you have a good understanding of the key terms and their definitions.
  4. Attend the online session at 7.30pm on Tuesday evening – bring with you any questions or concerns you may have.

Week 2: Practical experiments and videos

This week we are meeting at Ecolinc Science and Technology Centre to do some practical experiments related to Energy and Greenhouse Gases. Last year, I recorded this short video about the energy efficient features of the Ecolinc building: “Environmentally Sustainable Design Features at Ecolinc”. We also created a slideshow about the six practical experiments that we completed: “Practical Experiments at Ecolinc”.

There are several other practical experiments in the first chapter of your textbook that are worthwhile:

  1. Student Power – Calculate the power required to climb stairs slowly and quickly.
  2. Exothermic and Endothermic Reactions – Six chemical reactions that demonstrate that energy can be released or absorbed when chemicals are mixed.
  3. Heat of Combustion of Candle Wax – Determine how much energy is released when burning candle wax by measuring the difference in the mass of wax before and after heating water.

There is also a good YouTube video that describes how electricity is produced in the USA – “Electricity Generation 101″. Watch the video and compare the information to what happens in Victoria. What fossil fuel is used in most thermal generators in Victoria? What voltage is electricity in Australian homes (not 110V like in USA)? Please leave your answers in the comments section below.

Unit 4 Exam Revision

This is the last post before your last VCE Environmental Science exam. I would like to wish you all the very best for the exam tomorrow and trust that the hard work that you have put in this year, pays off. I was very pleased to meet some of my readers yesterday at the VAEE exam revision lecture at Melbourne Grammar and on the train on the way to the venue. It is lovely to hear that so many of you have developed a passion for this subject and have chosen to continue your studies in this area. Best of luck in the future for those of you choosing courses in environmental engineering, wildlife conservation, land management, urban planning and related fields.

There was some discussion at the lecture about the properties of the different compounds of mercury. To clarify your understanding of this concept there are a couple of links comparing the physical and chemical properties of elemental mercury, inorganic mercury (eg. mercuric chloride) and organic mercury (methyl-mercury):
The National Academies Press – Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury

National Pollutant Inventory – Mercury

Properties of Mercury and compounds

“At 25° C, elemental Hg has a water solubility of 5.6×10-5 g/L. Mercuric chloride is considerably more soluble, having a solubility of 69 g/L at 20° C. In comparison, an organic Hg compound, such as methylmercury chloride, is much less water soluble, having a solubility of 0.100 g/L at 21° C.”

from: (accessed 18/11/12)


Ecotourism – Otway Fly Tree Top Walk

This week, as part of our three day study camp at Apollo Bay YHA, we visited the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk in Beech Forest, SW Victoria. This location is an ideal case study for ecotourism, which may be defined as “ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation”. Other definitions include “tourism in exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife” or “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990)

However you define ecotourism it has three characteristics:

  1. Nature-based (natural location)
  2. Educational (provides information and outdoor experiences)
  3. Ecologically sustainable (in terms of biodiversity, energy, water and waste)

The Otway Fly Tree Top Walk features each of these characteristics by being located in the beautiful, natural, Otway rainforest with guided tours and interpretative signage for education. You can read more about the ecologically sustainable features of this activity in the slideshow above.

The Apollo Bay YHA is also classified as ecotourist accommodation, with special consideration to energy use, water use, reducing waste and increasing biodiversity.


  • Large windows and compact fluorescent globes reduce energy for lighting
  • Energy efficient appliances and ability to zone the building depending on use
  • Solar panels and hot-water system
  • Cement slab for thermal mass to retain winter sunlight as heat
  • Building orientation and window placement reduces exposure to cold southerly winds and allows summer sunshine to warm the building


  • Tank water for native garden with drought tolerant plants
  • Waterless urinal in male toilet
  • Water efficient shower heads and appliances (washing machines)


  • Recycling bins for separation of paper, glass, plastics, aluminium and other recyclables
  • Food scrap bin for composting
  • Herb garden (reduces packaging)


  • Native vegetation to encourage native fauna

EMS at Midfield Meats on YouTube!

The following three links will take you to three YouTube videos, filmed onsite at Midfield Meats with the Environmental Manager, Matt Boyce.

Midfield Meats Introduction

Midfield Meats Geothermal Bore

Midfield Meats Reverse Osmosis

Interesting news in Environmental Science this week:

Trawling ‘ploughs’ the deep sea floor – The Abel Tasman, a giant trawler, has been banned from Victorian waters until a scientific assessment of the environmental impact is completed.

Ocean plastics soak up pollutants – When marine creatures ingest plastics they consume a variety of chemical pollutants in addition to the plastic. Some plastics absorb more toxic chemicals than others.

Nano-fibres to help mercury clean-up – Scientists have created a ‘velcro-fabric’ that attracts mercury and can quickly and cheaply measure pollutant levels, without the need to send samples to the laboratory.

Humans, Health and the Environment

Humans, Health and the Environment

View more PowerPoint from Britt Gow
Organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Environmental Protection Authority take pollutants very seriously, because   even the smallest amounts of some substances can have very serious impacts on human health. Plants and animals can also be badly affected by toxins in their environment, often as a result of human activity. Even though some toxins can be naturally occurring chemicals, in most cases pollution is caused by the concentration of substances due to agriculture, forestry, industry, urbanization, transport or other activities that vastly increase the scale of production, manufacture, distribution and disposal.
For example, arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in the earth’s crust. It has been used in wood preservation (because it is toxic to insects, bacteria and fungi), medicines and glass manufacture. However, arsenic is a serious contaminant of groundwater, believed to cause some cancers and diabetes and contribute to many other causes of mortality. Arsenic is concentrated in the tailings of mining, which can result in contamination of water near mines.

Thanks to Siobhan Flood for the following slideshow about Water Pollution:

Practical Experiments for Unit 3: AoS1

This term you will be required to write reports for five of the following  practical experiments:

  1. Student Power
  2. Exothermic and Endothermic reactions
  3. Heat of Combustion of Candle Wax
  4. Make a Solar Cooker
  5. Rate of Cooling in Model Homes – Testing Insulation Materials
  6. Models of Renewable Power Generators (Ecolinc)
  7. Testing Household globes – Watts vs Lux (Ecolinc)
  8. Testing Household Electrical Appliances (Ecolinc)
  9. Temperature in a Model Home (Ecolinc)
  10. Model Hydrogen Car (Ecolinc)
  11. Model Solar Car (Ecolinc)
  12. Ecologically Sustainable Design at Ecolinc

If you cannot do these experiments in your own school, or you would like assistance, the links take you to YouTube Videos or Slideshare presentations, where you can see how to perform the experiment and compare your results. Our first SAC will be a summary of these experiments that demonstrates your understanding of the Laws of Conservation of Energy, including the principles of energy transformations and energy efficiency.

The last seven (6 to 12) of these practical demonstrations and experiments are outlined in the following slideshow, which we will discuss at this week’s Blackboard Collaborate session. Please have your Ecolinc notes (Ecolinc – Energy and global warming student worksheet) with you when you click on the link to the session at 7.30pm on Tuesday 28th February.


The Blue Marble and Greenhouse Effect

Tonight’s session starts at 7.30pm at the link below:

We will discuss the four ‘spheres’ (biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere) and the layers that make up the gaseous component  of our planet. It is important to understand the differences between the following terms: ‘hole in the ozone layer'; ‘the greenhouse effect’, ‘the enhanced greenhouse effect’, ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’. This session is an introduction to chapter two in your text book and preparation for the excursion to Ecolinc tomorrow. You will be participating in a two-hour program, including a tour of the energy efficient features of the building and several experiments relating to energy transformations and simulations of renewable energy technologies.

Portland Sustainable Homes

This week Anna, Caitlin and Chris had the opportunity to visit Peter Reefman’s eight-star energy rated home in Portland. We joined Greg Twitt and his class of VET students studying “Sustainable and Emerging Technologies” on a tour of the home, on our way to Portland Aluminium. Some of the outstanding energy-efficient features of the home are it’s passive thermal design, insulating properties, ‘green switch’ and photovoltaic array. It also features a water-wise indigenous garden and a fruit and vegetable garden designed with permaculture principles.
What do you think are the most interesting design features of this property?
What do you think prevents people from building more homes like this in Australia?
How can we encourage new home owners to consider building with energy efficiency as a priority?