Arsenic, once used in pesticides, has been a worry across the U.S. for many years. Food production pollution and natural contamination (arsenic is found in certain rock) has contaminated water and food across the country, from Maine to California's Central Valley.

But one recent scientific breakthrough could help clean up water for good.

Image via iStock.


Meet the arsenic-eating power of warnstarfia fluitans, better known to the outdoorsy as floating hook moss.

Aquatic moss in Stockholm University greenhouse. Photo by Arifin Sandhi, used with permission.

It's mostly found in the Great Lakes region, but floating hook moss also has a home in northern Sweden. That part of Sweden has been the home of iron mining for years, and a type of iron pyrite called arsenopyrites piles up and leaches arsenic out into water supplies. Researches at Stockholm University observed the floating hook moss living in the contaminated water, in water no plant should be able to survive in.

"We thought that this plant could be used as an arsenic phytofilter plant species in a constructed wetland system," says Arifin Sandhi, a doctoral candidate at the university.

Could this moss clean up the water?

In general, plants are extremely effective at cleaning up heavy metals and poisons, which they evolve as a defense mechanism. They take it out of their environment, bind it up in their tissues, and essentially bury it inside themselves. As long as we don't eat it for a snack, and as long as the plant stays alive, it's effectively gone.

The researchers discovered that the floating hook moss not only sucks up arsenic, it sucks it up faster than you can watch your favorite TV show.

When introduced into a container of water with dangerous levels of arsenic, the moss filtered 80% of the chemical out of the water in less than an hour.

[rebelmouse-image 19346900 dam="1" original_size="700x364" caption="Image via Hermann Schachner/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]Image via Hermann Schachner/Wikimedia Commons.

Even more surprising was that the moss seemed to thrive in the arsenic. It continued to live and grow with as much as double the arsenic it takes to kill other types of moss.

Why does it suck up so much arsenic so fast? Theories abound, and we'll have to wait for molecular biologists to weigh in for any clear answers. The most likely theory, at the moment, is that the moss does it as a form of immunization. By taking in the arsenic and incorporating it into its tissues, it both reduces the chances of the arsenic damaging it externally and gives every branch of the moss a better chance to survive.

This mighty moss has the potential to quickly clean up water sources far beyond northern Sweden.

With it's poison-sucking abilities, the floating hook moss could be used in special gardens planted and grown near sources of pollution. In several towns in France, for example, these handpicked gardens are so good at their jobs that when you reach the final outlet for their sewage treatment plants, you can take a nice dip in the water and never even know where it came from.

The moss is found across the planet, so there's not a huge risk of introducing an invasive species to natural waterways. That said, care will have to be taken that the moss doesn't run out of control, but its speed means that it can be introduced and removed far faster than machine-based solutions.

We don't have to accept the pollution of the past (or present) as the way of the future.

We can do our part by petitioning to build pollution-guzzling gardens and, in places where we can grow aquatic gardens and where we know they won't be invasive, growing them ourselves.

We can make changes, often faster and more powerfully than we thought possible with a little help from the Earth itself.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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