Phthalate-free plasticizers in PVC

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This Healthy Building Network (HBN) Research Brief examines replacements for phthalate plasticizers in Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) building materials.

Modeling Climate-Water Impacts on Electricity Sector Capacity Expansion: Preprint

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Climate change has the potential to exacerbate water availability concerns for thermal power plant cooling, which is responsible for 41% of U.S. water withdrawals. This analysis describes an initial link between climate, water, and electricity systems using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) electricity system capacity expansion model. Average surface water projections from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 3 (CMIP3) data are applied to surface water rights available to new generating capacity in ReEDS, and electric sector growth is compared with and without climate-influenced water rights. The mean climate projection has only a small impact on national or regional capacity growth and water use because most regions have sufficient unappropriated or previously retired water rights to offset climate impacts. Climate impacts are notable in southwestern states that purchase fewer water rights and obtain a greater share from wastewater and other higher-cost water resources. The electric sector climate impacts demonstrated herein establish a methodology to be later exercised with more extreme climate scenarios and a more rigorous representation of legal and physical water availability.

Healthy buildings: why workers are demanding sustainable offices

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Companies that ignore the environmental and social impacts of their buildings could risk miserable workers and low productivity.

Carbon benefits of homeworking under the spotlight

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Carbon costs of heating a home office are offset only if replacing a four-mile journey by car or a 16-mile train journey, says report.

Caught on video: is internet streaming greener than a DVD?

Read the full story from EnvironmentResearchWeb.

Watching videos streamed online could be more environmentally friendly than using DVDs, according to a team in the US.

USGS iCoast – Did the Coast Change?

Read the full post from the USGS.

Hurricane season starts again this June. Do you know what happens to our coasts after these extreme storms? The U.S. Geological Survey has launched a new crowdsourcing application called “iCoast – Did the Coast Change?” to show you these coastal changes from extreme storms.

iCoast allows citizen scientists to identify changes to the coast by comparing aerial photographs taken before and after storms.

Crowdsourced data from iCoast will help USGS improve predictive models of coastal change and educate the public about the vulnerability of coastal communities to extreme storms.

Is green design ready to take root in neighborhoods?

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

Greening one building at a time is just a start. Here’s what leaders in design and architecture envisioned at last week’s UnConference in Portland.

EPA Report Shows Impact of Changing Climate on Americans’ Health and Environment

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the third edition of a report, Climate Change Indicators in the United States. The report pulls together observed data on key measures of our environment, including U.S. and global temperature and precipitation, ocean heat and ocean acidity, sea level, length of growing season, and many others. With 30 indicators that include over 80 maps and graphs showing long-term trends, the report demonstrates that climate change is already affecting our environment and our society.

“These indicators make it clear that climate change is a serious problem and is happening now here in the U.S. and around the world,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “Everything we do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the changes that are already underway will help us safeguard our children’s future.”

The third edition of the Indicators report, which was last published in 2012, adds additional years of data and four new indicators: Lyme disease, heating and cooling degree days, wildfires, and water level and temperature in the Great Lakes. In addition, the report adds four new features that connect observed data records to local communities and areas of interest, including cherry blossom bloom dates in Washington D.C., timing of ice breakup in two Alaskan rivers, temperature and drought in the Southwest, and land loss along the mid-Atlantic coast.

Consistent with the recently released National Climate Assessment, this report presents clear evidence that the impacts of climate change are already occurring across the United States. The report shows evidence that:

  • Average temperatures have risen across the contiguous 48 states since 1901, with an increased rate of warming over the past 30 years. Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
  • Tropical storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico has increased during the past 20 years.
  • Along the U.S. coastline, sea level has risen the most along the Mid-Atlantic coast and parts of the Gulf Coast, where some stations registered increases of more than 8 inches between 1960 and 2013.
  • Glaciers have been melting at an accelerated rate over the past decade. The resulting loss of ice has contributed to the observed rise in sea level.
  • Every part of the Southwest experienced higher average temperatures between 2000 and 2013 than the long-term average dating back to 1895. Some areas were nearly 2°F warmer than average.
  • Since 1983, the United States has had an average of 72,000 recorded wildfires per year. Of the 10 years with the largest acreage burned, nine have occurred since 2000, with many of the largest increases occurring in western states.
  • Water levels in most of the Great Lakes have declined in the last few decades.

The report also looks at some of the ways that climate change may affect human health and society using key indicators related to Lyme disease incidence, heat-related deaths, and ragweed pollen season. For example, unusually hot summer temperatures have become more common which can lead to increased risk of heat-related deaths and illness. Warmer temperatures and later fall frosts also allow ragweed plants to produce pollen later into the year, potentially prolonging allergy season for millions of people.

EPA compiles decades of observed data in cooperation with a range of federal government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, universities, and other institutions. The Indicators report focuses on long-term trends for key measures of our environment for which high-quality data exist. Each indicator and the report itself were peer-reviewed by independent experts, and extensive technical documentation accompanies the report.


Changes in the global value of ecosystem services

Robert Costanza, Rudolf de Groot, Paul Sutton,Sander van der Ploeg, Sharolyn J. Anderson, Ida Kubiszewski, Stephen Farber, R. Kerry Turner (2014). “Changes in the global value of ecosystem services.” Global Environmental Change 26, 152-158. [Online at and publications/2014_Costanza_ GlobalValueUpdate.pdf].

Abstract: In 1997, the global value of ecosystem services was estimated to average $33 trillion/yr in 1995 $US ($46 trillion/yr in 2007 $US). In this paper, we provide an updated estimate based on updated unit ecosystem service values and land use change estimates between 1997 and 2011. We also address some of the critiques of the 1997 paper. Using the same methods as in the 1997 paper but with updated data, the estimate for the total global ecosystem services in 2011 is $125 trillion/yr (assuming updated unit values and changes to biome areas) and $145 trillion/yr (assuming only unit values changed), both in 2007 $US. From this we estimated the loss of eco-services from 1997 to 2011 due to land use change at $4.3–20.2 trillion/yr, depending on which unit values are used. Global estimates expressed in monetary accounting units, such as this, are useful to highlight the magnitude of eco-services, but have no specific decision-making context. However, the underlying data and models can be applied at multiple scales to assess changes resulting from various scenarios and policies. We emphasize that valuation of eco-services (in whatever units) is not the same as commodification or privatization. Many eco-services are best considered public goods or common pool resources, so conventional markets are often not the best institutional frameworks to manage them. However, these services must be (and are being) valued, and we need new, common asset institutions to better take these values into account.

EPA Funds University Research on Cleaner Fuel Burning to Improve Air Quality

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new funding for six universities to research cleaner technologies and fuels for cooking, lighting, and heating homes that will help improve air quality and protect the health of Alaska Natives and people across the developing world.

“Health and environmental impacts of air pollution and climate expand beyond the borders of any one country,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “This research funding seeks to provide new tools to reduce health risks for the nearly three billion people around the world who are exposed to household air pollution from crude stoves.”

Researchers at universities in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota will receive $9 million in grant funding. Researchers are evaluating the climate benefits of cleaner cooking methods. Traditional cookstoves are a major source of black carbon, an air pollutant that not only has serious human health impacts, but also affects climate, including increased temperatures, accelerated ice and snow melt and changes in the pattern and intensity of precipitation.

This Science to Achieve Results (STAR) funded research will focus on measuring and communicating the benefits of adopting cleaner cooking, heating, and lighting practices.

Grants were awarded to the following universities:

  • $1,495,454 to University of California, Berkeley, Calif. – will explore the relationship between household and village-scale pollution to understand the effectiveness of cookstove interventions.
  • $1,500,000 to University of Colorado Boulder, Colo. will use small, inexpensive sensors to better monitor human exposure to residential burning pollution. They will also collect data through health assessments and outdoor air quality measurements in Ghana.
  • $1,500,000 to Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. – will use cookstove interventions in China, India, Kenya, and Honduras to explore the emissions, chemistry, and movement of indoor cookstove smoke, as well as conduct health assessments and model exposures to improve understanding of climatic impacts of stove interventions.
  • $1,499,998 to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ill. – will investigate how local resources affect community acceptance of heating stove interventions, and how measurements will help understand air quality and climatic benefits of cookstove interventions in Alaska, Nepal, Mongolia, and China.
  • $1,489,388 to University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn. – will measure changes in air quality and health outcomes from cleaner cooking and heating technologies and will conduct modeling to assess regional weather, air quality impacts, human exposure and health impacts of a rural cookstove intervention in China.
  • $1,499,985 to Yale University, New Haven, Conn. – will use socioeconomic analyses, emissions and pollution measurements, and global climate modeling to investigate the impacts of cookstove interventions in India.

The announcement was made by Administrator Gina McCarthy at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves reception, an initiative led by the United Nations Foundation. As a founding member of the Alliance, EPA plays an important role in the organization’s activities.

EPA is a leader in cleaner cookstove research, helping to support the development of international cookstove standards, conducting research on emissions and performance of cleaner cookstoves and improving our knowledge of the health effects from exposure to cookstove emissions.

The Alliance is a public-private partnership that seeks to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. Its goal: 100 million homes adopting clean cooking solutions by 2020.