New database demonstrates benefits of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic energy efficiency programs

The Regional Energy Efficiency Database (REED), a project of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), provides a one-stop resource to readily access energy efficiency program data, including energy and peak-demand savings, costs, avoided emissions, and job impacts. The REED database allows users to generate reports and download underlying data showing the impacts of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. REED will help inform a broad range of policy issues, including energy, economic, and air quality planning, and help demonstrate the long-term, money-saving benefits of energy efficiency investments. Specifically, policymakers, program administrators and other industry stakeholders can use the REED data for a variety of purposes, including comparing efficiency program impacts across states to help identify best practices in efficiency policy and program design, as well as informing progress toward clean air and climate change goals.

The database currently includes 2011 electric and gas energy efficiency program data and will expand this fall to include 2012 data from Delaware and the District of Columbia, as well as the states currently in the database. Access the REED Database.

Impact of biochar and hydrochar addition on water retention and water repellency of sandy soil

Stefan Abel, Andre Peters, Steffen Trinks, Horst Schonsky, Michael Facklam, Gerd Wessolek (2013). “Impact of biochar and hydrochar addition on water retention and water repellency of sandy soil”. Geoderma 202-203, 183–191. Online at


Application of biochar (BC) and hydrochar (HTC) in soils is being increasingly discussed as a means to sequestrate carbon and improve chemical and physical properties for plant growth. Especially the impact on physical properties is not well investigated so far.

We study the impacts of biochar (BC) and hydrochar (HTC) on water retention characteristics (WRC) as well as on the wettability of sandy soils, using lab and field studies. Sandy soils with different amounts of organic matter were mixed with BCz (feedstock maize) and HTC (feedstock maize silage). Added amounts were 1, 2.5, and 5 wt.%, respectively. The mixtures were packed in 100 cm3 soil columns. In a field campaign identical amounts of BCf (feedstock beechwood) were added to the soil. Six months after incorporation undisturbed soil samples were taken. For these field samples available water capacity (AWC) was determined. For the packed soil columns the WRC was measured in the pressure head range from saturation to wilting point (− 15,848 cm). The extent of water repellency was determined for all samples using the water drop penetration time test.

Addition of biochar leads to a decrease in bulk density, an increase in total pore volume as well as an increase in water content at the permanent wilting point. An increase in AWC could be observed for all sandy substrates used, except for the highly humic sand. Notable differences in the effects on the AWC could be measured among the three chars used. Particle size distribution of the chars as well as their consistency had different impacts on the pore size distribution of the soil matrix.

No direct impact of the chars on the wettability of the soils could be observed. Local spots with hydrophobic character were detected among the samples with hydrochar, attributed to fungal colonisation.

Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, and EKO Asset Management Partners release Creating Clean Water Cash Flows report

This report provides guidance on key strategies that cities can deploy to attract private capital to fund green infrastructure development. Municipalities and state governments can potentially direct billions of dollars of private investment to modernize broken, aging stormwater systems and keep stormwater pollution out of waterways. Natural infrastructure, such as porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain barrels, addresses stormwater pollution by capturing rain on or near where it falls.

The report, developed in collaboration with the Philadelphia Water Department and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, focuses on Philadelphia’s innovative Green City, Clean Waters program as a model for stimulating investment in natural infrastructure. The report was produced by the NatLab Consortium, a partnership consisting of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Nature Conservancy, and sustainable asset management firm EKO Asset Management Partners. View the report.

Occupational Exposure to Carbon Nanotubes and Nanofibers

Download the document.

NIOSH issues Current Intelligence Bulletins (CIBs) to disseminate new scientific information about occupational hazards. A CIB may draw attention to a formerly unrecognized hazard, report new data on a known hazard, or disseminate information about hazard control. CIBs are distributed to representatives of academia, industry, organized labor, public health agencies, and public interest groups, as well as to federal agencies responsible for ensuring the safety and health of workers. NIOSH is the leading federal agency conducting research and providing guidance on the occupational safety and health implications and applications of nanotechnology. As nanotechnology continues to expand into every industrial sector, workers will be at an increased risk of exposure to new nanomaterials. Today, nanomaterials are found in hundreds of products, ranging from cosmetics, to clothing, to industrial and biomedical applications. These nanoscale-based products are typically called “first generation” products of nanotechnology. Many of these nanoscale-based products are composed of engineered nanoparticles, such as metal oxides, nanotubes, nanowires, quantum dots, and carbon fullerenes (buckyballs), among others. Early scientific studies have indicated that some of these nanoscale particles may pose a greater health risk than the larger bulk form of these materials.

How 3 academics developed brilliant green marketing plans

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Commercializing a business in an emerging field is a messy enterprise. No matter how systematically the process begins, charting a new course inevitably involves throwing stuff against a wall to see what sticks. In such instances when you cannot control the outcome, focus on what you can control: marketing.

Biochar: A possibility for solid waste disposal

Read the full article in Leather International.

The aim of this work was to investigate whether biochar could be used in the leather industry to safely and cost-effectively dispose of wastes. The study was broken down into two parts; firstly, could leather wastes be used to form biochars; and if so were the biochars safe, cheap to produce, and stable.

Toxic Substances: EPA Has Increased Efforts to Assess and Control Chemicals but Could Strengthen Its Approach
Highlights –

What GAO Found

Since 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made progress implementing its new approach to managing toxic chemicals under its existing Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) authority; particularly by increasing efforts to obtain chemical toxicity and exposure data and initiating chemical risk assessments–which EPA uses, along with other information, to decide what regulatory or other actions, if any, are warranted. The results of EPA’s data collection activities, in most cases, have yet to be realized, and it may take several years before EPA obtains much of the data it is seeking. Also, EPA has not pursued some opportunities to obtain chemical data that companies submit to foreign governments or to obtain data from chemical processors that prepare chemical substances after their manufacture for distribution in commerce–some of which could help support the agency’s risk assessment activities. Of the 83 chemicals EPA has prioritized for risk assessment, it initiated 7 assessments in 2012 and plans to start 18 additional assessments in 2013 and 2014. However, it may take several years to complete these initial risk assessments and, at the agency’s current pace, over a decade to complete all 83, especially as EPA does not have the toxicity and exposure data needed for 58 of the 83 chemicals prioritized for risk assessment. In addition to its risk assessment activity, EPA has initiated other actions–such as increasing review of certain new uses of chemicals–that may discourage the use of these chemicals, but it is too early to tell whether these actions will reduce chemical risks.

It is unclear whether EPA’s new approach to managing chemicals within its existing TSCA authorities will position the agency to achieve its goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals. EPA officials said that the agency’s new approach, summarized in its 2012 Existing Chemicals Program Strategy, is intended to guide EPA’s efforts to assess and control chemicals in the coming years. However, EPA’s strategy, which largely focuses on describing activities EPA has already begun, does not include leading federal strategic planning practices that could help guide its effort. Specifically, EPA has not defined strategies that address challenges–many of which are rooted in TSCA’s regulatory framework–that may impede EPA’s ability to meet its long-term goal of ensuring chemical safety. Specifically, EPA has not clearly articulated how it will address challenges associated with obtaining toxicity and exposure data needed for risk assessments and placing limits on or banning chemicals under existing TSCA authorities. In addition, EPA’s strategy does not describe the resources needed to execute its new approach. For example, EPA’s strategy does not identify roles and responsibilities of key staff or offices or identify staffing levels or costs associated with conducting the activities under its new approach. Without a plan that incorporates leading strategic planning practices, EPA cannot be assured that its new approach to managing chemicals, as described in its Existing Chemicals Program Strategy, will provide a framework to effectively guide its effort. Consequently, EPA could be investing valuable resources, time, and effort without being certain that its efforts will bring the agency closer to achieving its goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 1976, Congress passed TSCA to provide EPA with the authority to obtain more information on chemicals and to regulate those chemicals that EPA determines pose unreasonable risks of injury to human health or the environment. GAO has reported that EPA has found much of TSCA difficult to implement–hampering the agency’s ability to obtain certain chemical data or place limits on chemicals. Of the thousands of chemicals listed for commercial use in the United States, EPA has used its authority to limit or ban five chemicals since TSCA was enacted. In 2009, EPA announced TSCA reform principles to inform ongoing efforts in Congress to strengthen the act. At that time, EPA also initiated a new approach for managing toxic chemicals with the goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals using its existing authorities.

GAO was asked to evaluate EPA’s efforts to strengthen its management of chemicals. This report determines the extent to which (1) EPA has made progress implementing its new approach and (2) EPA’s new approach positions it to achieve its goal of ensuring the safety of chemicals. GAO examined agency documents and TSCA rulemaking and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders from industry and environmental organizations.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that EPA develop strategies that address challenges impeding its ability to ensure chemical safety and identify the resources needed to so. EPA neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendations.