KSN - Vol 15, No 3 - America the Beautiful?Volume 15, Number 3 - February 1969

America the Beautiful?

by The 1968 Summer Workshop in Conservation



Published by: The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

Prepared and Issued by: The Department of Biology,
with the cooperation of the Division of Education

Editor: Robert J. Boles

Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Gilbert A. Leisman, Bernadette Menhusen, David F. Parmelee, Carl W. Prophet

Online format by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts, except Vol. 5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas, 66801.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

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KSN - Vol 15, No 3 - America the Beautiful?

THIS ISSUE of The Kansas School Naturalist was produced by a committee of participants in the 1968 Summer Workshop in Conservation. Workshop committee members were (from left to right): Front row: Norman Morray, Madison; Oleva Dannels, Hugoton; Sylvia Grisham, Kansas City; Pauline Hawk, lola. Second row: Irene Batka, Wichita; Ann Phillips, Abbyville; Faye Hathaway, Council Grove; Fsther Morris, Hartford. Third row: Nat KinJund, Garden City; Lyle Schmaus, Emporia; Flossie Olson, Clifton; Ben Eichem, Wamego; Robert Hartup, Junction City. The Workshop was under the direction of Thomas Eddy, of the KSTC biology faculty.

"It is absurd to believe that the races of men who turned an empty, forbidding continent into the most efficient engine of production and distribution ever seen, who created the first mass democracy with essential order and essential freedom will not solve the problems of crowding, poverty, pollution, and ugliness. "-Eric Sevareid

THE COVER DESIGN was drawn by Charles Millbern, as were several other illustrations used in this issue. Additional illustrations were drawn by Robert Boles. The committee also wishes to thank National Wildlife and The Register and Tribune Syndicate for the use of the two cartoons.

America the Beautiful?

by The 1968 Summer Workshop in Conservation



Conservation has taken on a new importance in the last half of the twentieth century. The problems of air and water pollution, chemical and radiation poisoning, and solid wastes, although not new, have become increasingly difficult with the growth of population, industry, and inventive genius. One of the most urgent educational tasks of our time is that of alerting the American public to the gravity of these problems. This task must, in a large part, be accomplished through our schools. With this objective in mind, the Kansas State Teachers College Workshop in Conservation has included the following topics in this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist: (1) water pollution, (2) air pollution, (3) food and soil contamination by pesticides and radioactive wastes, and (4) solid wastes.

KSN - Vol 15, No 3 - America the Beautiful?

We always try to show them as they appear in their natural surroundings!

The Dying Waters

Our country's development over the past fifty years has been marked by tremendous progress in many fields. It has made possible great gains in the health, comfort, and standard of living of the people. These gains have not, however, been without cost. Part of the cost has been the damage to the water resources which has resulted from contaminated water discharged into the streams by our growing cities and industries. All water uses have been affected-public water supplies, recreation, agriculture, industry, fish and aquatic life.

What do we mean by the expression "water pollution"? This term is used to describe water when it contains substances which make it unfit for use by humans and wildlife. There are two main causes of water pollution: (1) unwanted wastes, such as domestic sewage, industrial and agricultural wastes, and (2) silt that washes off the land into rivers and fills up the reservoirs behind our dams.

Basically, water pollution is the upsetting of the balance of nature. An unpolluted lake or stream is an excellent example of Nature's forces in balance. Fishes and other aquatic animal life take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide in their life processes, the same as do land animals. Plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen into the surrounding water.

Up to a certain point water may be said to "purify itself." When organic material, such as sewage, enters the water it is diluted by the large volume of clean water in the waterway. Tiny bacteria in the water and in the sewage itself begin to work on this foreign matter, utilizing the stored energy present and converting the waste to other products. Aerobic bacteria need oxygen for their life processes, so they take some of the dissolved oxygen from the water that the fish and other aquatic life need. With the dissolved oxygen reduced or depleted, fish may suffocate. Pollution has then reached a level lethal to much of the aquatic life. The amount of pollution a stream can absorb is limited by the amount of oxygen available for bacterial action. The oxygen supply depends upon the amount of water in a stream or lake, oxygen production by green plants, and the rate at which the water moves. A large, fast-moving river can tolerate more organic material than a slow-moving sluggish stream.

How much harm does polluti-ol1 really do? Should we be concerned about it? To answer these questions we must find out how pollution affects our lives and our uses of water. We must compare the price we pay for pollution, not just in dollars, but with the loss of aquatic life and the lowering of aesthetic values.

Air Pollution

Air pollution has been with us since time began. An air pollutant may be defined as any suspended particle of foreign matter which is not considered native to the mixture of gases which constitute our atmosphere. At the present time in the United States we pollute our air with 140,000,000 tons of "aerial garbage" each year.

Impurities in the air are classified as aerosols and gases. Aerosols are suspensions of fine solid and liquid particles in the air such as gas, smoke, fog, dust, or mist. Smoke, a product of incomplete combustion, is a leading aerosol. The gases found in fuel combustion emissions include nitrogren oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, acids, and ozones. Automobile exhaust, it should be noted, produces both aerosols and gases.

Natural pollutants in the atmosphere include pollen, plant spores, sands, dusts stirred up by winds, and smoke from fires produced by natural forces, such as lightning. On the other hand, man-made pollutants consist of visible dust, smoke, fumes, and many kinds of invisible gases released through man's activities.

KSN - Vol 15, No 3 - America the Beautiful?

Extent of Air Pollution

Many air pollution incidents are the results of temperature inversion, a recurrent "upside-down" condition of the atmosphere. Normally, air heated at ground level by sunshine and the earth's warmth will rise. As it does, so, its temperature drops several degrees with every 1,000 feet of altitude. Sometimes this upward air current may be blocked when it comes in contact with a thicker and warmer inversion layer which acts as a lid to prevent the polluted air from continuing to rise. The inversion persists until the weather changes, permitting the warm air to rise and allowing the cooler air to escape, carrying the pollutants away.

In recent years the advent of two particularly annoying types of pollution, both of which are loosely called "smog," has focused attention on the fact that the supply of pure air over a number of our larger cities is diminishing. Strenuous efforts are now being made to increase the quantity and improve the quality of air above our cities.

KSN - Vol 15, No 3 - America the Beautiful?

Smog is a combination of smoke and fog. Pollution does not always produce smog, nor does fog have to be present when smog appears. Smog is of two types: (1) the "London" type and the (2) "Los Angeles" or photochemical type.

In London and other areas where coal is the principal fuel used, London type smog blankets the city at night or on foggy days when the temperature drops below 500 F and the air is stagnant. On the other hand, photochemical smog is prevalent around Los Angeles and some other sunny, poorly-ventilated, heavily-motorized urban centers. The current theory is that this smog is caused mainly by the interaction of oxidants and certain hydrocarbons under the influence of sunlight.

Two factors are needed to produce objectionable contamination. These are (1) impurities in the atmosphere and (2) insufficient air movement to carry them away.

Is this pollution countrywide or localized? Air pollution is not confined to large industrial cities, or to places that are smog-prone because of topography. Every city of more than 50,000 has a potential air-pollution problem.

A relatively new arrival on the pollution scene, sound, is becoming an increasing problem. Jet engine noises and "breaking the sound barrier" are sources of noise that are undesirable or even detrimental. A partial solution might include restrictions on pilots and flight operations and soundproofing by insulation. The latter would be very to the homeowner unless assistance from state or federal agencies were available.

Some harmful effects of air pollution air:

A. On human life

a. may cause severe irritation of the eyes
b. may bring on or aggravate respiratory diseases, especially in the very young or elderly
c. may have an adverse psychological effect upon exposed individuals
d. may even reach lethal concentrations

B. On vegetation

a. may affect the aesthetic value of plants and flowers by soot settling from the atmosphere
b. may kill plants in the vicinity of the pollution source

C. On the weather

a. reduced visibility at airports, harbors and highways
b. particles in the air may serve as a nucleus about which moisture many collect
c. may cause a considerable reduction in the amount of light available during the day

D. On buildings and other structures

a. may make it necessary to paint and clean buildings at frequent intervals
b. acid fumes may pockmark some stone surfaces and marworks of air
c. may cause a severe drop in the market value of property in the pollution area

E. On manufactured goods

a. may discolor clothing
b. food products may pick up undesirable odors
c. may form harmful oxides
d. may cause the cracking of rubber tires

Newspapers and television have given considerable publicity to the air pollution problems of the cities and heavily industrialized areas of both the east and west coasts. However, most people have assumed that the atmosphere of Kansas is clean and pure. Unfortunately, there is an air pollution problem in Kansas City, as well as real or potential problems on a lesser scale in other parts of the state. Clean air is necessity for health and enjoyment of the out-of-doors. We must not fail to conserve its quality. With this in mind, the State of Kansas has recently established the Air Quality Conservation Commission to help keep Kansas air clean.

Industry is taking steps to reduce air pollution by altering the operation of their plants in such a way as to reduce the amount of contaminants generated. Another procedure has been to make use of devices that remove contaminants from gases which have been released into the atmosphere.

A Federal law has been passed which requires 1968 and later model cars in the United States to be equipped with a blow-by and tailpipe device to cut down on air pollution from auto exhausts. There is no legislation to take care of older model cars.

The test ban agreement on nuclear weapons testing shows some progress in the right direction toward lessening atmospheric contamination from fallout. It may also be necessary to designate specific areas where specially designed incinerators will be placed to dispose of all things which are to be burned. These would be constructed in such a way as to prevent as much pollution from entering the atmosphere as possible.

Chemical Pollution

The tern "pesticide" was coined approximately 20 years ago as a collective noun to cover all materials used to control or destroy pests. There are now some 900 compounds made into more than 60,000 formulations that come under the heading of pesticides. These can be grouped into several categories. Some of the more common categories are:

Insecticides - to control injurious insects which affect plants, animals, and human beings

Herbicides - to destroy unwanted weeds

Fungicides - to prevent or cure plant diseases caused by fungi

Rodenticides - to control rodent populations

Antibiotics - to cure bacteria caused diseases

Pest control has been with man for a long time. The Greek poet Homer (1000 B.C.) wrote of "pest-averting sulfur," and Democritus (270 B.C.) suggested the use of a product of olives to cure blight.

Major disasters caused by pests have included the bubonic plague, the Great Potato Famine in Ireland (caused by a fungus), and the grasshopper plague of the mid-western section of the United States in 1874.

Ecologically speaking, it may be said that man has been primarily responsible for bringing many disasters upon himself through increased population and migration. If left untouched, nature will normally develop a balance among plants and animals. Under natural selection, those best fitted to live in the area will survive. Natural enemies will prey on the weaker, leaving only the stronger to continue the species. However, man alters his environment and controls his natural enemies. In this process, man upsets the balance of nature, and creates many new problems.

KSN - Vol 15, No 3 - America the Beautiful?In 1963 the President's Science Advisory Committee (P.S.A.C.) issued a pesticide report. The report supported much of the evidence presented by Rachel Carson and other writers and carefully assessed the risks and benefits of many pesticides. The report pointed out that the United States used 350 million pounds of pesticides in 1962, and estimated that one out of twelve acres on the mainland of the United States was treated with pesticides in that year. Some of these pesticides have been found to remain in the soil for several years.

One of the most often used insecticides is D. D. T. (dichlorodiphenyl-trichloro-ethane). It was used in 1944 by the United States Army to halt an epidemic of typhus in Naples. D.D. T. will kill a large variety of insects. The United States Department of Agriculture (u.S. D.A.) estimates it is successful against forty to flfty different kinds, including Japanese beetles, lice, flies, mosquitoes, and termites. However, it is also poisonous to fish and various other animals if they consume too much. The P.S.A.C. report stated: "In recent years, we have recognized the wide distribution and persistence of D. D. T. It has been detected at great distances from the place of application ... (it) has been found in oil of fish that live far at sea, and in fish caught off the coast of eastern and western North America, South America, Europe, and Asia."

Many conservationists and naturalists also point with alarm to the sky-rocketing toll of such chemicals upon fish, birds, and wild .animals. For example, in the remote areas of the Arctic and Antiarctic, duck eggs, ducklings, penguins, and seals have been af~ fected by D.D. T. A dramatic example of the effects of pesticides on fish occurred in 1954 and again in 1956 when millions of young salmon were eliminated in the Maramichi River in New Brunswick, Canada. D.D. T. applications of one-half pound per acre for control of the spruce budworm resulted in the death of almost all of the young salmon in portions of that river.

Many birds - the American Eagle among them - have shown less and less capacity to successfully produce young since the widespread use of modern insecticides. Tests have shown chemicals reduce the fertility of birds, and many scientists believe that this is the result of feeding on spray contaminated worms, seeds, and berries. The chemicals accumulate in the fat, egg yolks, and reproductive organs of animals, increasing the chances of harmful effects. In 1959 in some areas of Michigan the elm trees were sprayed with chemical pesticides. The insects and the earthworms absorbed large quantities of the chemicals but not enough to kill them. When song birds fed on the insects and earthworms, 90 percent of the birds were reported to have been killed.

It is now known that chemicals are stored in the human body and may do damage. D.D. T., a "stable" insecticide, may eventually get into our food supply, primarily as a result of being deposited in the fat of poultry and beef animals. Average American adults now carry 100-200 mg. of D. D. T. around with them in their fatty tissue. Recently scientists of the Food and Drug Administration declared that it is "extremely likely the potential hazard of D. D. T. has been underestimated." This is also true of many other chemical pesticides. It is believed that, if an accumulation in large enough amounts occurs, some damage to the human liver may result.

While the majority of people recognize the dangers involved in the use of chemical pesticides, most will also agree that we are forced to use such chemicals. Much has been said against widespread use of newer chemicals, especially insecticides, but evidence equally as startling can be presented to prove the effectiveness and need for such chemicals in our modern society. Man must contend with 250 animal diseases, 1,500 plant diseases, and 10,000 kinds of insects for his food supply. Weeds, disease, and insect pests would take an extremely heavy toll if chemicals were not used. The yield per acre, the yield per man hour, and the quality of the products produced would all suffer if these chemicals were withdrawn from use.

Modern agriculture is charged with the responsibility of producing ever greater quantities of food for the expanding world population. Every eleven seconds there is a new mouth to feed in the United States. Each year we add enough people to equal three new cities the size of Washington, D. C. This charge is being met through improved farming practices, pesticide chemicals, new and better crops, fertilizers, and new farm equipment.

Many serious animal and human diseases may now be controlled through the use of chemical pesticides. Among such diseases are malaria, typhus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plague, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, and Texas cattle fever.

Regulations governing the use of pesticides are administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). If a proposed pesticide is not intended for use on food crops, the USDA can approve it for use on the basis of the manufacturer's experimental data. If it is intended for food crops, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must establish a tolerance level that is, a concentration above which the pesticide must not accumulate in the product as used by human beings. The FDA tests show that the amount of pesticidal residue will not be harmful to persons, even if they were to eat the food for a lifetime. Further, manufacturers must prove that pesticidal chemicals are effective against destructive pests, and they show which pests the chemical will control. A warning or cautioning statement concerning the hazards that may be involved in handling or using the material is printed on the accompanying instructions and labels.

State laws require labeling to warn the consumer of any possible hazards in using the chemicals, as well as the licensing of professional pesticide applicators. Laws and regulations in most states either duplicate federal requirements or establish similar ones to protect the consumer.

Chemicals may be beneficial as well as damaging, therefore it would be foolhardy to abolish all chemicals or, on the other hand, to permit wholesale, uncontrolled usage. A thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of regulation points out the need for further research and public education.

KSN - Vol 15, No 3 - America the Beautiful?

"...With purple mountain majesty, from sea to shinging sea - America, America, we shed our trash on the...!"

Solid Waste Disposal

As the richest country on Earth, the United States has special problems.

Industries take natural resources, such as iron and wood, change them into finished products, such as toys, automobiles, and magazines, and sell the products to the consumer. But to "consume" means to do away with completely. However, no product is actually "consumed." Instead, everyone is a user. We use a product and then throw it away.

Can we cope with the ever-increasing mass of solid wastes? Waste disposal is a major national problem. It is no solution to shift solid wastes on the ground into the air through the process of burning. There must be a total look at all waste disposal.

The government-sponsored Task Force on Environmental Health and Related Problems is a waste disposal effort to provide by 1973 a grant-in-aid program for solid waste disposal at the local level, a developmental research program to integrate solid and liquid waste disposal and air quality control, and a program for the disposal of nuclear wastes.

We can no longer accept the inadequate ways by which this steadily mounting burden of waste is being handled. Each individual adds to the refuse problem, and it is speeded up by every new product and process. Every new development creates mountains of material to be disposed of by ancient and inefficient methods. No longer are ashes and garbage the chief solid wastes with which to cope. Today rubbish includes everything from dead animals, industrial wastes, demolition refuse, and nonreturnable containers to hazardous special wastes from hospitals and nuclear power plants. The refuse disposal problem has reached such proportions in many metropolitan areas that they have exhausted most of the available land-fill areas.

Americans make more than half of the world's trash. The problem will unquestionably get worse as our present yearly total of 165 million tons of solid wastes increases to 260 million tons in the next decade. In 1920 the average person threw away 2.75 pounds of "junk" a day; now we throw away 4.5 pounds a day. The present 165 million tons would cover Kansas with a layer of debris six feet deep. One year's rubbish would fill 36 lines of box cars stretching from coast to coast. As our world becomes more and more heavily populated there is no longer an "away." One person's trash basket is another's living space.

There are some solutions to at least some of the solid waste problems. In small communities disposal areas can be made to grow trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers which will protect and even beautify the landscape. We can relocate old disposal dumps and select better sites for new ones. Once sites are found, an engineer and a plant-materials specialist are needed to complete the job. Some states have obtained the necessary technical information to assure that future dumping will not result in unsightliness. Kansas can, too.

One of the best solutions is a sanitary landfill. Refuse disposal should never be a permanent land use; it should be a way of making land suitable for permanent use.

Solid waste collection and disposal programs will have to be made a part of every community's comprehensive plan with the long range needs clearly identified. The disposal problem is not a simple one and will not be solved easily. Research remains a basic need not only in heavy material, as auto scrap, but in the entire solid waste field.

The Solid Waste Disposal Act passed by Congress in early 1966 provided technical and financial aid to state and local governments in planning, developing, and managing solid waste disposal.

It has been suggested that the United States may gain the distinction of being the first nation to place a man on the moon, while standing knee-deep in garbage! We must learn to take better care of our resources and to better dispose of our wastes on earth. There is no choice. After all, it is the only earth we have.


Another problem closely related to air and soil pollution is pollution by radioactive materials. This type of pollution usually occurs from accidents associated with the disposal of radioactive wastes or from atmospheric fallout resulting from nuclear bomb tests.

The safe disposal of radioactive wastes from nuclear reactors and uranium processing plants presents one of the more difficult problems associated with the use of atomic materials. Greater knowledge of the behavior of these chemicals with the soil is necessary because soil is often used as a waste disposal medium. Radioactive waste may be stored in vaults, wells, holding ponds, etc., or spread directly on the soil surface, distributed by seepage fields, or disposed of in soil by other means.

The most dangerous element from the atomic test bursts is strontium 90. It comes down mainly in raindrops, fine morning mists, and fog. Radioactive material from the air is deposited and accumulates on the ground, where it may contaminate drinking water, grasslands, or agriculture crops. We know so little of fallout patterns and the safe radioactivity level that no one at present can say whether or not our water supply is being seriously damaged. We are told, however, that the use of nuclear weapons underground may contaminate large underground water supplies used for drinking and irrigation. Scientists have stated that every test of a nuclear weapon increases the potential danger.

Fallout can gain access to man's food chain by becoming part of plant or animal tissues. Plants absorb soluble fall-out compounds that might be present in the soil water. Animals eat plants which have taken radioactive dust. When man eats plant or animal products contaminated with radioactivity, he becomes subject to injury.

A study of the effects of radiation on the human body shows that the organs and tissues most affected by radiation are blood, bone marrow, thyroid gland, lungs, lymphatic system, skin and hair follicles, food tube, urinary track, liver, eyes, and the reproductive organs. Calcium and strontium 90 become concentrated in the bones, and are believed to be responsible for the production of some types of bone cancer and leukemia. Scientists have found that fresh milk, carrying iodine 131, can produce cancer of the thyroid gland.

Babies and growing children are the most affected by radiation. One result is an increase in the chances that something will be wrong with some of the babies born in future generations due to genetic changes. The chances are increased with each new generation.

Scientists know very little about how badly future man will be hurt by the nuclear weapons exploded to date, but they have learned that the potential danger is far greater than originally imagined.

In spite of dangers, we should not overlook the fact that radioactive atoms are put to work by man in doing all kinds of wonderful things to make our lives healthier, longer, and happier. Radiation treatment for cancer h as proved to be successful in many cancer cases. More and more electricity in the future may be produced by nuclear reactors. One of the most recent developments in the use of radiation is converting salt water of the seas to freshwater to provide man with additional water sources.


  1. Use the bulletin board for displaying pictures, pollution topics, and up-to-date articles about air and water pollution.

  2. Conduct a poster contest about the pollution problem and possible solutions. Give some award or recognition for the best or most informative posters.

  3. Field trips: polluted areas, sewage disposal plants, water treatment plants, feed lots, etc.

  4. Invite a speaker from the Public Health Department or the Soil Conservation Department to discuss the pollution problems of your area with your students.

  5. A "smoke" experiment: close the air holes of a bunsen burner to produce a reddish flame. Note the black deposit that collects on the bottom of a porcelain dish when it is held in the flame. What causes the soot formation? Open the air holes and change the flame until it becomes almost invisible. Burn off the soot deposit on the dish. Where did the soot go? What is the cause of most formation?

  6. Bring a dirty furnace filter to class to illustrate the dust and foreign particles found in household air.

  7. Count a specific number of passing automobiles on a busy street. Record all those which produce a visible amount of smoke from their exhausts. Prepare a graph showing the relationship between the number of cars counted and the number that are visibly contaminating the air with smoke and fumes.

  8. Have the class write a skit or prepare a program about pollution problems.

  9. Have members of your class investigate the qualifications needed for various jobs in conservation work.


Pesticides and Radiation

  1. Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin Company. Cambridge.

  2. Hyde, Margaret O. 1955. Atoms: Today and Tomorrow. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. New York.

  3. Lewellen, John. 1949. You and Atomic Energy and Its Wonderful Uses. Children's Press, Inc. Chicago.

Water Pollution

  1. Heffernan, Helen, and George Shaftel. 1963. The Water Story. L. W. Singer Company. Chicago.

  2. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health, Education and vVelfare. 1961. The Living Waters. #382. Washington, D. C.

  3. Federal Security Agency, Public Health Service. 1951. Water Pollution in the United States. if64. Washington, D. C.

Air Pollution

  1. Carr, Donald E. 1965. The Breath of Life. W. W. Norton. New York.

  2. Lewis, Alfred. 1965. Clear the Air! McGraw-Hill Book Company. New York.

Solid Wastes

  1. Mix, Sheldon A. March, 1966. Solid Wastes: "Every Day, Another 800 Million Pounds." Today's Health.

  2. Pringle, Laurence. April, 1968. Spaceship Earth. Nature and Science. Vol. 5, No. 14.

  3. U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. June, 1967. A Strategy for a Livable Environment. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C.

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