Your shampoo and deodorant are as bad for you as car exhaust

February 16, 2018 by  
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That stuff you use to get ready in the morning? It could be as bad for your health and the planet as car pollution. A new study shows that half of the volatile organic compounds ( VOCs ) in our air come from products like shampoo, perfume, deodorant, as well as household products like paint, bleach and pesticides. Every time you wash your hair, paint your house, clean the toilet, put on deodorant or paint your nails, you are making the air quality in your home and city worse – not to mention the impact on your health. A new study published in Science shows that VOCs from household products has emerged as the “largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions.” The study was done in Los Angeles, but researchers believe that the data can apply to other cities and suburbs as well. It may not seem like it, but this is partially good news. The reason that household products make up such a large part of the VOCs in the air is because we’ve reduced the amount of pollution in the air from cars. The bad news is that air pollution kills up to 29,000 people per year in the UK alone. Air pollution doesn’t discriminate between sources when it comes to harming your health. Related: 7 indoor plants that purify the air around you naturally Pound for pound, cleaning and grooming products actually have a more severe impact on the environment than those coming from cars. That’s because fuel is combusted more efficiently than household products; very little pollution makes it into the air compared to, say, a puff of perfume. “Volatile chemical products used in common solvents and personal care products are literally designed to evaporate. You wear perfume or use scented products so that you or your neighbour can enjoy the aroma. You don’t do this with gasoline,” the HuffPo UK summarized . As if that wasn’t enough to cause you to panic, a new study from Norwegian scientists shows that household cleaning products could be damaging our lungs as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Bottom line: as we push for cleaner cars, we also need to be focusing on cleaning up our household products. via Science News images via Deposit Photos ( 1 , 2 )

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China built the ‘World’s biggest air purifier’ – and it seems to be working

January 17, 2018 by  
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What has been called the world’s largest air purifier by its operators is now up and running in the Chinese city of Xian in Shaanxi province. The 100-meter (328 feet) tall tower has already improved the local air quality, lead scientist Cao Junji told the South China Morning Post , adding that it could prove to be a valuable tool in the country’s fight against urban air pollution . “The tower has no peer in terms of size … the results are quite encouraging,” he said. Greenhouses covering the size of half a soccer field surround the base of the tower, into which polluted air is pulled. The smog is heated in the greenhouse by solar energy, then rises through the tower, passing through several layers of cleaning filters. Because Xian largely relies on coal for heating, smog can become exceptionally thick and harmful during the cold months. Despite the lower level of solar energy available during the winter , a special coating on the tower’s greenhouses allows it to absorb what is available more efficiently and continue to pull smog all year long. To determine the tower’s impact on local air quality, Cao and his team erected over a dozen monitoring stations. The team found that the average reduction in PM2.5, the most harmful particles in smog, was 15 percent during times of heavy pollution. Related: China is planting 6.6 million hectares of new forest — almost the size of Ireland Cao stresses that the results are only initial while further details will be released in the spring. A comprehensive scientific assessment of the tower’s effectiveness is also forthcoming. Nonetheless, what is known is promising. While there have been other similar smog-removing towers, many of which were powered by coal-fueled electricity, the Xian tower is unique in its very limited electricity needs. “It barely requires any power input throughout daylight hours. The idea has worked very well in the test run,” said Cao. While locals have marveled at the tower’s size, it is in fact a miniature version of smog-removing towers that Cao and his team hope to install throughout China’s dense, massive cities . The full-size version could reach as high as 500 meters (1,640 feet) while the surrounding greenhouses could cover nearly 30 square kilometers (11.6 square miles). Via South China Morning Post Images via South China Morning Post and Colin Capelle/Flickr

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China reveals more than 18,000 officials failed to protect the environment

December 28, 2017 by  
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Many of China’s major cities are devastated by pollution – but the nation is making efforts to clean up its skies and waterways. The past year has seen factory closures and the creation of an environmental police force in Beijing – and now a national crackdown has revealed that more than 18,000 officials either didn’t take action or didn’t perform well in their jobs to safeguard the environment since 2016. National Environmental Inspection Office deputy director Liu Changgen told reporters, “We will not let the inspection become a passing gust of wind. It needs to keep blowing all the time.” Beijing inspectors went to some of the most polluted cities in the world, according to Reuters , to discover thousands of officials had failed in their roles to care for the environment. In one example, sewage from 150,000 people in Jingdezhen was dumped straight into rivers because of a lack of treatment plants. Whole cities were blamed for air pollution spikes, and the ministry attributed issues to administrative failures. According to Liu, “The names of the officials, their jobs and their violations will be reported up the chain of command, who will decide how the officials will be punished.” Related: 40% of China’s factories shuttered in pollution crackdown Liu said the next step entails scrutinizing cases from prior inspections to “identify any higher-ranking officials for ill management.” Northern China has launched a program to transition millions of households from coal to natural gas for heating. Per a 143-page plan released in August, the Ministry of Environmental Protection hopes to slash average concentrations of PM 2.5 particles by more than 15 percent in 28 cities during winter in the smog-afflicted provinces of Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, and Hebei, where Beijing is located. They also aim to reduce average PM 2.5 in Beijing to under 60 micrograms per cubic meter. China’s official air quality standard is 35 micrograms – but the World Health Organization recommends levels shouldn’t be greater than 10 micrograms. Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos and Wikimedia Commons

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Delhi residents struggle to breathe as doctors declare air pollution health emergency

November 7, 2017 by  
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Doctors in Delhi, India’s capital region, have declared a public health emergency over the densely populated, metropolitan area’s extremely high level of air pollution , the breathing of which has been described as the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes in a day. The Indian Medical Association has called for the capital city’s upcoming half-marathon to be cancelled to avoid “disastrous health consequences” and urges residents to remain inside to protect themselves from the pollution. Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, described the city as “a gas chamber,” according to the Guardian , while he and other officials work to determine an effective response to the crisis. As the region struggles to breath, state and federal government have been urged to take action to protect its citizens. In response to the public health emergency, schools have been closed while transportation routes have suffered delays under the decreased visibility. While the smog contains a number of noxious chemicals, the most destructive are concentrations of fine pollutants smaller than 2.5 micro-meters, which are so tiny that they are able to slip through natural filters in the human body. These fine pollutants, which include lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, have reached concentrations in the air eleven times the level defined as safe by the World Health Organization. “It has terrible effects on every part of your body,” said Dr. Arvind Kumar, chest surgery chairman at Sir Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi, according to the Guardian . “It can precipitate an acute asthma attack and in the long run it will increase their risk of lung cancer .” Related: India to only sell electric cars by 2030 Delhi’s air is polluted for much of the year due to open burning of trash, road dust, exhaust from vehicles, and byproducts of industrial activity. However, it becomes even more unbearable in winter when seasonal changes trap the pollution closer to the ground. Attempts to improve Delhi’s air quality have included traffic rationing, shuttering of local coal power plants , and even banning fireworks during Diwali. Unfortunately, to truly tackle this urgent problem, local, state, and federal governments will need to examine the complex systems that result in an outpouring of pollution and craft comprehensive policies to discourage unhealthy practices and encourage healthy ones. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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EPA cancels plan to clean up polluting Texas coal plants

October 6, 2017 by  
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Big Brown, a coal -fired Texas power plant, spews out sulfur dioxide at rates as much as 50 times higher than coal plants fitted with newer technology. Under President Barack Obama , the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed to clean up Big Brown and six other Texas plants in three to five years. But President Donald Trump’s EPA, headed by Scott Pruitt , just released a final rule that will enable these polluting plants to keep on pumping lung irritants into the air. Big Brown and the other six plants together generate more sulfur dioxide pollution than power stations from over 25 states combined, according to Sierra Club senior attorney Elena Saxonhouse. She wrote the former EPA had slated the stations for cleanup, “setting emission limits for sulfur dioxide consistent with modern scrubbers,” equipment that can yank out sulfur dioxide before it billows out of a plant’s smokestacks. The two boilers at Big Brown and nine other coal-fired boilers don’t have scrubbers at all. Four other boilers also part of the proposal do have scrubbers, but they’re from the 1970’s and don’t work as well as modern technology. Related: Trump administration halts study on health risks of living near coal mining sites But it seems Pruitt doesn’t care about harmful pollutants. He tossed out the proposed rule for a final rule Sierra Club described as a do-nothing plan, where Big Brown and the other plants can go on polluting as normal. Saxonhouse wrote in an article for Sierra Club, “Pruitt’s decision to scrap the proposed clean air protections fits a pattern of backward-looking decisions in this Administration , which has tied itself in knots trying to prop up the coal industry .” The cleanup plan would have implemented the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze program. The proposed upgrades would have removed over 180,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution a year. One analysis found the proposal could have saved over 600 lives every single year. But the final rule means the coal plants can keep polluting, potentially leading to harmful health impacts for humans. According to Saxonhouse, “In making this about-face, EPA had to shove aside reams of technical and scientific data prepared by the previous administration, and ignore the legal framework of the Regional Haze program. And EPA failed to take any public comment on the new plan, despite the fact that thousands of citizens had written in to support the strong proposal.” Via Sierra Club Images via Larry D. Moore/Wikimedia Commons and Roy Luck on Flickr

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Fixing Earth’s ozone layer has other surprising benefits, new study shows

August 16, 2017 by  
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Dozens of nations signed an agreement nearly 30 years ago to stop the expansion of a massive hole in Earth’s ozone layer. Today, thanks to the Montreal Protocol, the hole in the ozone layer has shrunk as countries reduced, then eliminated, the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). A new study from  Geophysical Research Letters  now shows that the agreement not only achieved its stated aim, but has also been one of the most effective tools for fighting climate change in the United States. The recent study confirms what scientists and policymakers have been observing as the Montreal Protocol was enacted, though it focuses primarily on the United States. “This is something that’s been talked about for a while, this dual benefit of the Montreal Protocol limiting damage to the ozone layer, also curtailing climate change,” said Rachel Cleetus, climate policy manager and lead economist with the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s because all these ozone depleting substances are also very potent global warming gases.” The regulations enacted to fulfill the Montreal Protocol resulted in greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to approximately half of all other climate regulations between 2008 and 2014. Related: Antarctic ozone layer shows “first fingerprints of healing” The near-total removal of CFCs and steep decline in HCFCs in the United States was made possible by the Clean Air Act , a law that was used by the Obama Administration , as approved by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Though CFCs and HCFCs have been replaced by hydroflourocarabons (HFCs), which still contribute to climate change but do not burn a hole in the ozone layer, the signatories to the Montreal Protocol have amended the agreement to reduce HFCs as well in a move that was praised by US Secretary of State John Kerry as the “single most important step” in combating climate change. As the Trump Administration refuses to fulfill its duties under the Clean Air Act to protect public health, the success of the Montreal Protocol is a hopeful reminder of what can be done if dedicated parties work together and take action. Via Gizmodo Lead image via Depositphotos , others via  NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center   and  Rémi Vincent/Flickr

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Swiss grocery store chain will be the first to sell insect burgers

August 16, 2017 by  
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Would you eat a burger made of mealworms? Coop , the second-largest supermarket chain in Switzerland , will start selling food made with insects . The country will be the first in Europe to allow sales of insect-based food for people, thanks to laws changed in May. Coop will sell insect burgers and balls from Switzerland-based startup Essento . Switzerland’s food safety laws allow sales of food made from mealworms, crickets , or grasshoppers. Coop will be selling Essento Insect Burgers and Essento Insect Balls, both made with mealworms. The burgers also contain rice, vegetables like leeks and celery, and spices like chili and oregano. The balls – which could be eaten inside pita bread, for example – are filled out with chickpeas, garlic, onions, parsley, and coriander. Related: BUG BUG cutlery set might just make you want to eat insects Coop Head of Category Management Silvio Baselgia said they’re Switzerland’s first retailer to sell Essento’s insect products, which the company has been developing for more than two years. Essento co-founder Christian Bärtsch said in a statement, “As food, insects are convincing in many respects: they have a high culinary potential, their production saves resources, and their nutritional profile is high quality. Thus insects are the perfect complement to a modern diet.” According to Essento’s website, mealworms don’t produce as many greenhouse gases as animal food sources like pigs or cows. 80 percent of insects are edible, as compared with 40 percent of cows, and raising insects requires less food and water. Insects are a good source of protein and also contain unsaturated fatty acids, the vitamins A, B, and B12, and minerals like zinc, potassium, calcium, and iron. Essento’s products will be on sale on August 21 in seven Coop stores to start, including branches in Zurich and Geneva. + Essento Via The Guardian and Coop Images via Essento Facebook and Coop

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Spectacular ‘Dome of Visions’ greenhouse pushes the envelope for wood construction

August 16, 2017 by  
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Finnish company Metsä Wood is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to building with wood. Their latest greenhouse dome is the largest to date – and it showcases the company’s innovative use of laminated veneer lumber as a sustainable alternative to commonly used building materials. The structure, named Dome of Visions, was designed by Atelier Kristoffer Tejlgaard  as a way to explore green building. The Dome of Visions 3.0 is the third project in a series of experiments that explore the idea of creating sustainable spaces within dome-shaped structures. It has a new system of curved wooden beams , composed of 21 mm strips of Kerto LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber). This made it possible to minimize the amount of steel while achieving both a sleek and elegant grid construction. Related: Architect designs life-sized replica of Empire State Building made of wood Using curved wooden beams, the brackets for the dome’s supports were cut as stars in a five-millimeter steel plate. The custom-made Kerto beams made it possible to avoid the use of complicated and costly welded brackets used in previous versions. Related: Mobile Greenhouse Studio Boasts a Facade of CNC-Cut “Fish Scales” in Copenhagen “Wood as a building material has obvious advantages giving sustainability for the building industry. In principle, wood is a material that comes from a solar-powered factory,” said Kristoffer Tejlgaard, referring to the ability of trees to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in their trunks, solely by means of solar energy . + Atelier Kristoffer Tejlgaard + Metsä Wood

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Pollution cuts solar energy production by up to 35%

June 29, 2017 by  
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We may be sabotaging our efforts to generate clean energy . New research from a team led by Duke University found polluted air may be reducing our solar energy output – by 25 percent. And areas with some of the highest investment in solar power are those impacted the most: China , the Arabian Peninsula, and India . Dust and airborne particles may be harming our ability to generate as much solar energy as we can. Duke University engineering professor Michael Bergin said, “My colleagues in India were showing off some of their rooftop solar installations, and I was blown away by how dirty the panels were. I thought the dirt had to affect their efficiencies, but there weren’t any studies out there estimating the losses. So we put together a comprehensive model to do just that.” Related: Students Create Award-Winning Robot That Cleans Solar Panels Joined by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison , Duke University scientists found pollution accumulation is indeed impacting solar energy output. They measured the decrease in energy from IITGN’s solar panels as they got dirtier. Each time the panels were cleaned after several weeks, the researchers noted a 50 percent boost in efficiency. China, India, and the Arabian Peninsula are the areas of the world impacted the most. Even if their panels are cleaned monthly, they still could be losing 17 to 25 percent of solar energy production. And if the cleanings happen every two months, the losses are 25 or 35 percent. Reduced output costs countries not just in electricity but money as well. Bergin said China could lose tens of billions of dollars yearly, “with more than 80 percent of that coming from losses due to pollution.” He pointed out we’ve known air pollution is bad for health and climate change , but now we know it’s bad for solar energy as well – all the more reason for politicians to adopt emissions controls. The research was published online this month by the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters . Via Duke University Images via Duke Engineering on Twitter and Pexels

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India to only sell electric cars by 2030

June 5, 2017 by  
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India is taking huge strides to escape its dubious distinction as one of the most polluted countries on Earth. The government is taking dramatic measures to clean the country’s air – including the switch to sell solely electric cars in just 13 years. If the amount of diesel and petrol cars dwindles on the streets of India, the country could lower the dangerous levels of air pollution that have led to the deaths of 1.2 million people annually. Energy minister Piyush Goyal said India would financially back the move for the first two to three years; then electric vehicle production will be “driven by demand and not subsidy.” Related: New Delhi has the worst air pollution of any city on earth The move has been praised by environmentalists and, naturally, worried the oil industry. India is the third biggest oil importer in the world – each year they spend $150 billion on oil. Moving to electric cars could save the country $60 billion in energy expenses. Indian car owners would also save money by switching to electric vehicles . Goyal, who presented the government’s plan at the Confederation of Indian Industry Annual Session 2017 in New Delhi, said the government would invest in charging infrastructure, beginning in big urban areas like Delhi. He also said they were considering methods like swapping batteries “so cars don’t have to wait for batteries to be charged,” saying, “Electric cars can then move to petrol pumps, swap their batteries, and drive out, just like they do now. And it will take less time than what it takes to put petrol in your car, like in Formula 1 races!” The transition to electric cars would also help the country slash greenhouse gas emissions. Calculations indicate India’s carbon emissions could decrease 37 percent by 2030 with the move to electric vehicles. Via World Economic Forum and International Business Times Images via Mahindra Electric Facebook

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