Urban Flooding A Big Problem In Illinois

Listen to the interview from WUIS. Researchers are from the Illinois State Water Survey.

A new report details urban flooding problems in Illinois.  The report from the Department of Natural Resources says damage from urban flooding (flooding on higher ground outside a flood plain) cause more than $2 billion worth of damage between 2007-2014 in Illinois.

The report offers 33 recommendations to address the problems including more awareness, more local government oversight and a tax on homeowners insurance to help fix problems.

Urban flooding is most notable for flooded streets and flooded basements, especially due to storm sewer backups.   This type of flooding occurs in all of the counties in Illinois and usually happens in older sections of town where the infrastructure is old and also in subdivisions that were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

How Widely Used Sustainability Metrics Distort Actual Performance — And a Solution to This All-Too-Common Problem

How Widely Used Sustainability Metrics Distort Actual Performance—And a Solution to This All-Too-Common Problem (2015). Environmental Quality Management, 31 July 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/tqem.21400

Because of their ultimate relevance to measuring a corporation’s impact on the environment, absolute measures, specifically total quantities of key sustainability aspects (e.g., total liters of water used, total tons of GHG emitted) are the primary metrics recommended for disclosure. However, absolute quantities almost always provide distorted measures of a corporation’s progress in improving its sustainability performance. Moreover, use of absolute quantities can even signal improvement—or the lack thereof—when the opposite is true. For example, it is widely recognized that changes in the level of business activity distort the evaluation of a company’s improvement in sustainability performance when only total quantities are evaluated. As a result, most disclosure guidelines identify intensity ratios as supplemental measures that corporations may want to report. Intensity ratios, which are typically reported as average intensities for business units or for the entire company, normalize total quantities of a sustainability aspect by a rate of activity (e.g., total liters of water used per ton of output produced or per dollar of revenue).

Intensity is an appropriate construct for measuring sustainability performance as it is commonly understood—as how efficiently a company utilizes resources or minimizes waste and negative environmental impacts produced in the delivery of its goods and services. Unfortunately, nearly all companies are calculating average intensity measures in a manner that fails to measure accurately improvements in sustainability performance, just as a change in the total quantity of a sustainability aspect may not reflect actual sustainability performance. In this article, we will explain the fundamental errors with the standard calculation of changes in rates of intensity (e.g., 5% reduction in total liters of water used per ton of product) and demonstrate a solution to avoid these errors.

Just Say ‘No’ to Drugs – in Water

Read the full story from the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA).

Remember the science fair?

For some of us it was an exciting time of creative experimentation. For others it was a time of botched and badly displayed data. For 16-year-old Maria Elena Grimmett, it’s a blast. And she isn’t peddling baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.

Grimmett is tackling serious water quality issues that threaten the health of rivers, streams and groundwater. When she was just 14 years old, Grimmett was the youngest person published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. Now at 16, she has just put the final touches on her research of a plastic adsorbent that removes pharmaceutical drugs from water sources…

Read the details of Grimmett’s research in her article, published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Three recent biochar research articles

“Biochar Supported Nanoscale Iron Particles for the Efficient Removal of Methyl Orange Dye in Aqueous Solutions.” PLOS One, July 23, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0132067.

Abstract: The presence of organic contaminants in industrial effluents is an environmental concern of increasing global importance. One innovative technology for treating contaminated industrial effluents is nanoscale zero-valent iron supported on biochar (nZVI/BC). Based on Transmission Electron Microscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, and Brunauer-Emmett-Teller characterizations, the nZVI was well dispersed on the biochar and aggregation was dramatically reduced. Methyl orange (MO) served as the representative organic contaminant for verifying the effectiveness of the composite. Using decolorization efficiency as an indicator of treatment effectiveness, increasing doses of nZVI/BC yielded progressively better results with 98.51% of MO decolorized by 0.6 g/L of composite at an nZVI/BC mass ratio of 1:5. The superior decolorization efficiency of the nZVI/BC was attributed to the increase in the dispersion and reactivity of nZVI while biochar increasing the contact area with contaminant and the adsorption of composites. Additionally, the buffering function of acid-washed biochar could be in favor of maintaining the reactivity of nZVI. Furthermore, the aging nZVI/BC for 30 day was able to maintain the removal efficiency indicating that the oxidation of nZVI may be delayed in the presence of biochar. Therefore, the composite of nZVI/BC could represent an effective functional material for treating wastewater containing organic dyes in the future.

“Sorption of arsenate onto magnetic iron-manganese (Fe-Mn) biochar composites.” RSC Advances Accepted 28 Jul 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/C5RA12137J.

Abstract: Bimetal adsorbents attract much attention because of their good sorption ability to arsenate (As(V)). In this work, biochar-supported bimetal adsorbents were prepared through either direct pyrolysis of Fe and Mn ions treated pinewood biomass (FMM) or co-precipitation of Fe and Mn ions onto pinewood biochar (FMB). The two Fe-Mn biochar composites were characterized using X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and energy-dispersive X-ray (EDS) analyses. Characterization results suggest that maghemite (γ-Fe2O3) and manganosite (MnO) are dominant metal crystals in FMM, while manganese ferrite (MnFe2O4) is the dominant bimetal crystal in FMB. Batch sorption experiments showed that maximal As(V) sorption of FMB and FMM were 3.44 and 0.50 g kg-1 respectively, which were higher than that of the unmodified biochar. As(V) sorption by FMM and FMB decreased with increasing solution pH (between 3-9). Results of this work suggest that co-precipitation is more effective in preparing magnetic Fe-Mn biochar composites for As(V) removal.

“The effect of paper sludge and biochar addition on brown peat and coir based growing media properties.” Scientia Horticulturae 193, 225–230. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scienta.2015.07.032.

Abstract: Peatlands are crucial sinks for carbon in the terrestrial ecosystem, but they are jeopardized by their use as fuel or as growing media. Much research has been performed aiming to find high quality and low cost substrates from different organic wastes, such as coir, compost, sewage or paper sludges, and thus decrease peat consumption. The main objective of this work is to study the effect on peat and coir-based growing media of deinking sludge (R) and biochar obtained by pyrolysis of deinking sludge at 300 °C (B300). For this reason, mixtures of peat or coir with deinking sludge and corresponding biochar were prepared mixing them at 50/50 v/v ratios. The results showed that it is possible to improve the chemical and hydrophysical properties of peat and coir with addition of biochar and deinking sludge. Indeed, biochar increased air space, water holding capacity and total porosity of peat-based growing media whereas for coir, the best hydrophysical properties were obtained after deinking sludge addition. Finally, the use of biochar plus peat as growing media can increase lettuce yield by more than 100% with respect to peat growing media, which can be related with the improvement of hydrophysical growing media properties. This yield increment along with the reduction of the over-exploitation of peat can justify the use of biochar as growing media in spite of the cost associated to the pyrolysis process.

Stop trying to put climate change in a box

Read the full story at Grist.

In the story of the blind men and the elephant, the trunky mammal is misidentified as a spear, a tree, a wall, a rope; the men are too siloed from one another to fully discern the animal they’re patting down. Today, the old metaphor from the Indian subcontinent is mostly used in corporate retreats and master’s of public policy programs to demonstrate the gains of synergy (or something thereabouts). There’s a new elephant lurking in the room, though, and its name is climate change.

A new report on the global risks of a changing climate, commissioned by the U.K. Foreign Office, suggests that we’re still mistaking the elephant for a spear. “In public debate, we have sometimes treated it as an issue of prediction, as if it were a long-term weather forecast,” writes Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Foreign Office, in her introduction to the report. “Or as purely a question of economics — as if the whole of the threat could be accurately quantified by putting numbers into a calculator.”

It can’t, she argues. At the systemic level, we ought to be as serious about preventing climate change as we are about “preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.” In fact, taking systemic risks into account is the only responsible way to prioritize a national agenda in the face of competing goals (say, economic growth or reducing unemployment), writes Anelay.

Playing ‘tag’ with pollution lets scientists see who’s It

Read the full story from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Using a climate model that can tag sources of soot from different global regions and can track where it lands on the Tibetan Plateau, researchers have determined which areas around the plateau contribute the most soot — and where. The model can also suggest the most effective way to reduce soot on the plateau, easing the amount of warming the region undergoes.

The work, which appeared in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in June, shows that soot pollution on and above the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau area warms the region enough to contribute to earlier snowmelt and shrinking glaciers. A major source of water, such changes could affect the people living there. The study might help policy makers target pollution reduction efforts by pinpointing the sources that make the biggest difference when cut.

Life cycle air quality impacts of light-duty transportation: Video abstract

Video abstract of the article “Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States,” by  Christopher W. Tessum, Jason D. Hill, and Julian D. Marshall. The article was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. Full text is openly available at: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.140685­3111.

Animations of pollutant concentrations for each vehicle option are available
Fine particulate matter (PM2.5): http://youtu.be/3W_ClNKSBTM
Ground-level ozone: http://youtu.be/mEDVQVfVgN8