Gasoline, Magazine Waste and Kids' Minds

Away With Additives, Landfill Clutter and the Buy-and-Spend Mentality

Can you explain the effects of MTBE on drinking water? Do any of the major low-cost water filters remove it from the tap

—John Jacobson, Oakland, CA

Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE) is added to gasoline to reduce the effects of automobile emissions on air pollution. But the ability of MTBE to seep into soil allows it to enter groundwater, creating its own negative environmental effects—particularly on drinking water. Chemist Reynoldo Barreto of Purdue University explains just how potent MTBE can be: “If I were to dilute an ounce of MTBE into a ton of water, you would be able to smell the MTBE.”

According to the Academy of Natural Sciences, the presence of MTBE in drinking water has not yet reached dangerous proportions, but small quantities of this potentially toxic substance have been detected in the wells and reservoirs of 49 states. California plans to ban MTBE by 2003 and other states are close behind. The governors of Iowa, Nebraska, New York and New Hampshire recently wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Robert Smith, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, outlining a plan to eliminate MTBE from gasoline and public water supplies. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also aims to set a “drinking water standard [on the use of MTBE], based on taste and odor by late fall 2000.”

But there’s no need to wait for a healthier tap. Two reasonably-priced in-home water filtration systems are currently available: the Culligan SY-2300 MTBE Filtration System for $135 (filters up to 500 gallons) and the PUR Ultimate Faucet Mount, $44.99 (filters up to 100 gallons). contact: The Academy of Natural Sciences, (215) 299-1108, www.acnatsci.org; EPA, (202) 260-2090, www.epa.gov.

Instead of sending magazines to the recycler after they have been read, is there an organization that re-uses or redistributes quality publications like E?

—Jennifer Johnson, Tulelake, CA

While some used bookstores will take your vintage reading material and give you pennies in return, they tend to be picky about which issues they accept. For those that don’t make the cut, but you can’t bear to toss into your blue bin, there may be another option.

In Orange County, North Carolina, for instance, the Solid Waste Department installed wooden magazine racks at local waste sites so that people who bring in their trash get something in return. Community members are welcome to leave their old periodicals and pick up new reading material as they leave. Solid Waste Program Manager Blair Pollock comments that one person’s trash is often another person’s treasure. “Some people think a two-year old TV Guide is a pretty good read,” he says. Despite a few bumps along the way (including teenage boys who climb through the bins searching for discarded copies of Playboy), Pollock encourages other communities to follow their lead.

Seattle-based magazine distributor, Small Changes, makes an effort to direct excess magazines to schools, a women’s shelter, a food bank and Goodwill stores. Sarah Murfin of Small Changes says that, unfortunately, some magazines request that their extra copies be destroyed rather than given away. To send your own community’s magazines on the road to reuse, contact your local waste department or recycling center. contact: Orange County Community Recycling, (919) 968-2788; Small Changes, (206) 382-1980.

Can you recommend any good environmental sites for young children, parents and teachers that contain fresh information or environmentally oriented science projects?

—Gina Maida, Rootstown, OH

There are numerous kid-friendly environmental web sites. The North American Association for Environmental Education, sponsors www.eelink.net, a major clearinghouse. Site Editor Katy Wang recommends the following frequently visited sites:

For teachers looking to incorporate environmental education into their lesson plans, there’s “Curriculum” from Explorer at http://explorer.scrtec.org/explorer; “Teachers First” at www.teachersfirst.com/matrix-f.htm; and the Center for Environmental Education at www.cee-ane.org. The Acorn Naturalists site at www.acorn-group.com contains a plethora of specialty environmental education resources. From books to audiovisual media to water quality monitoring equipment, Acorn tries to put innovative environmental learning tools in young hands.
At home, parents can take part in their child’s Earth education by visiting Earth Week National PTA at www.pta.org/events/ew/99. Although this site was created specifically for Earth Day in 1999, it gives parents tips on how to organize community activities. Parents will find Ask ERIC Virtual Library at www.askeric.org/virtual and the resources on EELink helpful in finding information on environmental education.

Kids can also take advantage of three outstanding sites that provide engaging experiments, activities, quizzes and age-appropriate information: Berit’s Best Sites for Children at www.beritsbest.com, Bonus/Explore at www.bonus.com, and the EPA’s Explorer Club for Kids at www.epa.gov/kids. These sites are extremely user-friendly and full of excellent tips.