global environmental problems

10 Real-Life Monsters that Threaten the Planet

Blood-sucking bugs! Evil ooze! Freaky Frankenfish! Our annual list of environmental monsters is more frightening than any ghost story…because these horrors are real!

By Emily Maim, Lethal Zerbe, and Ethan "Frankenstein" Feinstein

RODALE NEWS, EEEEEEEK!!MAUS, TRANSYLVANIA—Sure, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are fun. But in the real world, there are even bigger, scarier monsters on the loose. Which is why compiles this annual Halloween list of 10 Monsters that Threaten the Planet. Some are creepy, some are kookie, some are altogether ookie. But don't worry, we also tell you the best ways to put these fearsome fiends to rest.

Boudoir Bloodsuckers

Children of the Corn (Lobby)

Sinister Superweeds

Terror at the Till

Deadly Red Residue

Crashing Boars

Unnatural Gas

Mysterious Bee Killer

Black Beast of BP

Freaky Frankenfish

Boudoir Bloodsuckers

Photo by Piotr Naskrecki/CDC/Harvard University.

They come out at night, stealthfullly traveling as far as 20 feet from their daytime hiding places just to suck your blood while you sleep. With tiny fangs, they inject a saliva into your skin that makes you ignorant of their feast—the only marker of their visit, a trademark line of three itchy welts that appears the morning after. Slowly but surely, tiny bedbugs have made a Transylvanian trek around the world, aided by travelers, their luggage, and people's incurable desire for free furniture scavenged from dumpsters and roadside garbage heaps. These vampiric villains emerged first in large cities, but have since multiplied at astounding rates in towns across the country.

How to kill the beast: Killing the odious bedbug isn't easy, as it has outwitted nearly every pesticide at our disposal (so don't be tempted to douse your boudoir with toxic bug spray). Fearful humans must prevent this monster from invading:

• Leave secondhand upholstered furniture in the garbage, and vacuum thoroughly any vintage tables, dressers, or nightstands you buy before bringing them into the house.

• Launder all clothing immediately after your travels, and vacuum your luggage before storing it.

• Root them out at their favorite hiding places: lowly hotels. Inspect mattresses and bed frames thoroughly when checking in, scouring for bedbugs hidden underneath frames and in the seams of mattresses. Chances are, hotel staff haven't—out of two dozen hotels called by investigators, just two said they have a plan in place to control the spread of the ravenous bedbug.

Children of the Corn (Lobby)

It came without warning—invading Washington, DC, and casting a spell that caused policy makers to abandon all logic. It was…the Corn Lobby!! And now the creature that spawned "corn sugar" has somehow compelled the Environmental Protection Agency to approve its latest offspring, E15 ethanol, for use in vehicles not designed to burn gas goosed with the extra ethanol (like your car, if it's more than a few years old).

Banding together to repel the invader: a surprising coalition of environmentalists, car manufacturers, and gas-station owners (the last two could get sued by car owners for wrecking their engines). Not to mention the marine industry, and all makers of gas-powered snowblowers, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers. Aside from engine damage, burning of E15 (a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) lowers gas mileage and increases pollution. It may also lead to more GMO corn being grown.

How to kill the beast: This gas-mileage killer isn't being injected into gas tanks just yet, so drivers need to be alert and not get caught off-guard when it starts appearing at the pump. Pay attention to labels on gas tanks that now pump out E10, a blend of 10 percent ethanol and gasoline. And if you can find a gas station selling ethanol-free gas, stop in: Ethanol gasoline has 30 percent lower fuel efficiency that ordinary gasoline.

Ethan Feinstein Sinister Superweeds

Gigantic superweeds with stalks that look more like young trees are infesting millions of acres of farmland all over the country, rendering fields useless. The towering weeds, which have also been sneaking into people's backyards, smother out crops and native plants vital to all life. Don't expect help from RoundUp or other pesticides; the weeds—including varieties of ragweed and pigweed—have been so overexposed to the chemical farming that they've grown pesticide resistant as well as huge. They've even been known to break farm equipment.

Perhaps the scariest part? As these weeds spread, farmers around the country are sometimes forced to use up to tenfold the amount of pesticides initially required, polluting water and putting neighbors and workers at risk. And what happens when the weeds become resistant to that level of pesticide?

How to kill the beast: Support organic growers, especially local ones, who use crop rotation, cover crops, mulching, and soil fertility to fight pests to manage weeds. Because when farmers try to control nature instead of managing it, trouble strikes. And use organic methods in your own lawn and garden so you won't add to the problem (or to your family's toxic load). Superweeds laugh at the man who tries to control weeds because they know when it's man versus nature, nature always wins.

Terror at the Till

The most insidious monsters are the kind that lurk in unexpected places and harm an unsuspecting populace. Such is the case with ATM and cash-register receipts. So innocuous and so ubiquitous, you may never have stopped to pay them any mind. But these tiny slips of paper harbor a dark secret: They're coated with bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical linked to all manner of ills, ranging from infertility and cancer to diabetes and heart disease.

Used to help receipt paper hold ink, the chemical sits like a powdery coating on the paper and rubs off when you hold it, exposing you to a chemical that interferes with hormones and may even promote obesity. When you recycle those receipts, the chemical intermingles with other recycled-paper products—like toilet paper, for heaven's sake!

How to kill the beast: Save yourself! The Canadian government recently designated BPA as toxic, giving authorities greater control over regulating its use in receipts and its other common applications as a plastic additive and a coating inside canned food. But aside from a few local and statewide bans on BPA's use in baby bottles, Americans have no such protection. Avoid taking a receipt whenever you don't need one, and store those receipts in an envelope or somewhere else where you won't need to handle them unnecessarily. If you work in retail, consider wearing gloves and/or washing your hands frequently when at the register. Also worth noting: Most canned foods have a lining that contains BPA. Many plastic bottles and food containers contain BPA—even some that say they don't—so favor glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and other nonplastic materials.

Deadly Red Residue

It's likely the residents of western Hungary never saw this monster coming. On October 4th, a retaining wall holding millions of gallons of toxic mud, the by-products of converting bauxite ore into alumina for aluminum production, gave way, flooding surrounding towns with a red sludge of death filled with caustic mercury soda, zinc, and iron. The toxic sludge killed nine people and injured 150 more with caustic chemical burns, and left the Marcal River devoid of life as it flowed into the small tributary on its way to the Danube.

How to kill the beast: In the U.S., a similar form of toxic red sludge exists, but rather than being stored as red mud, the sludge is dried and becomes a dust, which blows from alumina plants onto surrounding towns. This red dust of death wouldn't exist if it weren't for our demand for aluminum. Keep the sludge and its dusty spawn out of our environment by recycling aluminum and choosing recycled-aluminum products. Reusing aluminum requires 95 percent less energy to make than products manufactured from raw aluminum, and produces no toxic by-products.

Crashing Boars

Ethan Feinstein

Stealthy and able to live in all different types of conditions, invasive wild boars native to Eurasia are proliferating and mating with escaped farm hogs in the wild, creating a diverse-genetic army that is decimating forests throughout the U.S. (including Pennyslvania, home of headquarters, which is one reason these critters are on our list!). These menacing hogs crash through forests, scarfing up acorns that could have one day become mighty oak trees and ripping out precious forest-floor flora, including endangered native plants that keep the ecosystem healthy and able to support life. These ravenous hogs also have a sweet tooth. A report found they are responsible for up to 40 percent of sugar cane destruction on Southern farms. Highly adaptive and able to hide from humans, these wild boars sneak into fields and forests at night to feed when it's too hot out during the day. The creatures also love coastal areas and threaten endangered amphibians' reproduction sites. Their coat and skin are also a haven for parasites and other diseases that can kill humans if left untreated.

How to kill the beast: In some states, you can literally legally kill the beast while hunting. If that's not your cup of tea, the United Wildlife Control says one of the only ways to keep the beast off your property is to install heavy metal or electric fencing around gardens. By the way, always cook pork well to kill bacteria that may have been passed to livestock from wild boars.

Unnatural Gas

Far beneath 34 U.S. states, abundant deposits of natural gas lurk deep within deep, dark layers of the Earth, where they've been for millions of years. That is, until the unregulated gas industry recently started tapping into them using the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," process, which injects water mixed with 200 or more different carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals underground to unearth the fossil fuel. The process turns clean drinking water into a sickening slurry of toxic and potentially radioactive substances. (Toxic uranium is also brought up from thousands of feet underground.)

Think you're safe? Beware: Leaving a trail of sick neighbors, fatal natural gas well explosions, a daylong toxic eruption in one Pennsylvania state forest, rural air quality worse than polluted cities', and flammable tap water, drillers may try to set up shop in your neighborhood before the process is subject to regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws that protect citizens' health.

How to kill the beast: Spook your federal reps into supporting the FRAC Act, which would at least force companies to disclose the chemicals they're using, and would remove some exemptions from laws that protect human health. Call on state officials and river basin commissions to issue a drilling moratorium until independent researchers can figure out whether this novel way of getting fuel is even safe. (By the way, the carbon footprint of natural gas fracking is on par with coal, so it's not a clean form of energy even if you overlook the pollutants it brings up.)

Mysterious Bee Killer

Little kids like to dress up as honeybees for Halloween, and while that's cute, what's going on in the real bee world is a true horror story. For years, scientists through out the world have been trying to pinpoint the thing that's slaying honeybees faster than you can collect a jar of honey. But that "thing," is likely a bunch of things, according to a growing consensus among scientists. Earlier this year, Penn State scientists found unprecedented levels of pesticides in honeybee hives. Researchers found 121 different pesticides and metabolites in 887 wax, pollen, bee, and hive samples. (Hmm. Wonder if that's related to farmers stacking pesticides to fight superweeds?) Perhaps because of weakened immune systems, the bees may be more susceptible to mites, viruses, and other pests. Another 2010 study, in the journal Science, suggests loss of habitat is another factor. Since most farmers have abandoned diverse gardens and fields and turned to all corn, soy, cotton, or canola, honeybees are losing foraging ground.

How to kill the beast: Vote to save honeybees with your wallet. Buy organic and support local, organic farmers that don't spray toxins on food crops that can hurt bees and humans. Native bees, ones that are largely solitary and live in the ground, are picking up some of the pollination slack. To help feed them, practice organic gardening with native plants and leave bees undisturbed if they visit. Native plants are less fussy, they're beautiful, and they help keep nature running smoothly, even in your own backyard!

Black Beast of BP

Even though the Deepwater Horizon well was permanently sealed on September 19, images of oil-drenched birds and turtles, waves and surf filled with black sludge, and thousands of workers attempting to prevent more oil from spreading are still fairly common sights in affected states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

And 420,000 gallons of oil a day continue to contaminate the ocean. Not only has this killed local wildlife, there are negative long-term effects still to come. Disrupted food chains, warming water temperatures, and contaminated shorelines, are only a few of the negative repercussions. The damage still continues, with a sense of the unknown and worry for the future.

How to kill the beast: BP’s monster has been slain, or at least mortally wounded. But you can help with the damage control. Donate to reputable charities like the “American Bird Conservancy” ( or the “Environmental Defense Fund” (
Ethan Feinstein Genetically Altered FrankenFish

With so many genetically modified (GMO) crops in our food system, and little data on their effects on us or the environment, we're all lab rats in an ongoing science experiment. This year the stakes were raised when Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Farms sought approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market what would be the first genetically modified animal sanctioned for human consumption: a genetically modified Atlantic salmon. Genes from Chinook salmon and ocean pout cause the GMO salmon to grow faster than, and twice the size of, the original species. Critics worry that should they find their way into the wild, the GMO salmon will out-compete other salmon species.

How to kill the beast: The FDA didn't reach a conclusion during their hearings on this matter, so this bit of mad science will remain in regulatory limbo for now. In the meantime, choose wild-caught Atlantic salmon at markets and restaurants. They come from environmentally responsible fisheries, and are low in the contaminants found in farm-raised salmon. Check out the Environmental Defense Fund's seafood guide for more healthy choices.


Published on: October 27, 2010

I think human is also one of

I think human is also one of the real life monsters that threaten the planet. -Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm

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