Remote Sensing Information Gateway

The Remote Sensing Information Gateway (RSIG) allows for quick and easy access to subsets of multi-terabyte environmental datasets, including satellite, modeled, and in-situ sensor data. The old process of downloading and parsing data (taking days, weeks, or months) is reduced to minutes with RSIG.

There are two different user interfaces to RSIG. The first, RSIG2D, is a Java applet which runs inside your web browser. To use it, simply click “Launch RSIG2D Applet” in the Quick Links. You will need to have Java enabled in your browser. See the “Tips for Running RSIG” Quick Link for help.

The second and newest user interface is RSIG3D. It is a standalone application which must first be downloaded to your computer and unzipped. It offers the same basic subsetting functionality as RSIG2D, while also providing a richly immersive and interactive visualization capability.

Two north metro cities scramble to upgrade water plants to filter out emerging contaminant

Read the full story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

A potentially cancer-causing chemical recently detected in the groundwater of two north metro cities has officials using stopgap measures to ensure the water supply is safe until they can make multimillion-dollar upgrades to their treatment plants.

Those measures include shutting off some wells, temporarily connecting to a Minneapolis water main, and shutting down splashy kids’ parks to conserve water.

The industrial chemical — 1,4 dioxane — comes from the long-closed Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) in Arden Hills and only recently emerged as a contaminant.

Now it’s showing up in the groundwater supply used by New Brighton and St. Anthony.

Electronic Waste: DOD Is Recovering Materials, but Several Factors May Hinder Near-Term Expansion of These Efforts

Download the document.

What GAO Found

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) processes tens of millions of pounds of Department of Defense (DOD) electronic waste annually and recovers some materials from this waste, including precious metals and one material—germanium—that is being added to the National Defense Stockpile. DLA contracts with recyclers to handle DOD’s electronic waste, a process that includes separating out recyclable materials and disposing of what remains. For more than 30 years, DLA has recovered precious metals from excess and surplus property, including electronic waste, for DOD’s Precious Metals Recovery Program. The recovered metals are made available to DOD and other federal government agencies. During fiscal year 2016, DLA began to add germanium, a strategic and critical material recovered from night vision devices and other items, to the National Defense Stockpile. In December 2015, DLA changed its electronics disposal process and began selling electronic waste directly to recyclers, instead of paying for the processing and recovery of recyclable materials. Based on GAO’s analysis and discussions with DLA officials, this new approach will likely reduce the amount of precious metals that DLA recovers but is expected to streamline the process and increase DLA’s revenues.

DOD has assessed potential opportunities to recover certain materials found in its electronic waste, including rare earth elements, but a number of factors may hinder near-term expansion of its recovery efforts. These factors involve a combination of economic conditions, technological challenges, limitations on the types and amounts of materials that can be added to the National Defense Stockpile, the administrative capacity to initiate additional recovery efforts, and tradeoffs between selling electronic waste and recovering materials. Another factor that could hinder expansion of recovery efforts is that DOD does not have information on the material content of items, including the content found in electronic waste. According to DOD, current guidance does not facilitate the collection of this information from suppliers. DOD has begun to take steps toward the development of material declaration standards. A DOD study recommended that DOD coordinate with industry and other federal agencies to develop national-level material declaration standards that suppliers would follow to provide information on the material content of the items. It also recommended that DOD incorporate new material declarations standards into acquisition policies when appropriate. According to an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the department is planning to take actions to develop these material declarations standards. However, the focus of this current effort is identifying materials that present potential health or environmental risks, and DLA therefore does not have reasonable assurance, consistent with federal internal control standards, that the resulting material declaration standards and guidance will also include strategic and critical materials.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD routinely disposes of electronics, including items such as computers, cell phones, and copiers, as well as electronics in weapon systems and other equipment. While some usable items are reused, transferred, or donated to other entities, the remaining electronic waste is sent to recyclers. Electronic waste may contain materials that can be recovered, which can reduce the need to procure them through other sources. DLA disposes of DOD’s electronic waste.

Senate Report 114-49 and House Report 114-102 include provisions for GAO to review matters related to the disposal of DOD electronics and efforts to recover materials from them. This report discusses (1) the extent of DOD’s electronic waste that is processed and the types of materials that are recovered from it and (2) DOD’s efforts to assess potential opportunities to expand its recovery efforts and factors that could affect expansion. GAO reviewed guidance on electronics disposal, analyzed data on the amount of waste processed and materials recovered, obtained information on efforts to expand material recovery, and interviewed officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DLA take steps to ensure that strategic and critical materials are included in the development of DOD material declaration standards and guidance. DOD concurred with GAO’s recommendation.

Clean Power Plan implementation decisions affect CO2 emissions and electricity prices

Read the full story from the Energy Information Administration.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) regulates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at existing fossil-fueled electric power plants, but the ultimate energy-related emissions effect depends to an important extent on how the rule will be implemented by states. Because the CPP provides the flexibility to choose different compliance options for reducing CO2 emissions, EIA has produced an Issues in Focus analysis that considers several compliance paths.

One of the most significant options is the compliance metric itself. States may choose between mass-based standards, which impose an absolute cap on the amount of CO2 allowances, or rate-based standards, which limit the amount of CO2 per unit of electricity generated. Each state’s choice may have implications for other states, as the CPP provides the flexibility for states choosing the same compliance option to cooperate. For example, for two states complying with mass-based standards, a state with relatively low compliance costs could reduce CO2 emissions below its target level and sell the excess allowances to another state with comparatively high compliance costs.

Instead of modeling each state individually, EIA’s analysis considers 22 electricity market regions, which reflect electricity markets better than state borders.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Tree Bark near Former Manufacturing and Incineration Facilities in Sauget, Illinois, United States

Mark H. Hermanson, Richard Hann, and Glenn W. Johnson (2016) “Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Tree Bark near Former Manufacturing and Incineration Facilities in Sauget, Illinois, United States.” Environmental Science & Technology 2016 50 (12), 6207-6215. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b01053

Abstract: We collected 27 tree bark samples near Sauget, IL, where 373 000 mt of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) was produced between 1936 and 1977 and 10 245 mt was incinerated from 1971 to 1977. Our goal was observe PCB distribution and apparent movement to residential sites, where 24 of 27 samples were collected. Only one of several waste sites was accessible for sampling. We analyzed for 209 PCB congeners, and 85 peaks are reported (other congeners either coeluted or were near or less than the detection limit). Concentrations of ∑PCB ranged from 190 952 to 2 383 988 pg g lipid–1; 24 of 27 samples had less than 50% of the maximum concentration. Two samples with the highest ∑PCB concentrations were downwind from the plant site in residential areas, but both were among the farthest away from the production facility. One high-concentration sample was near the waste site. The three highest concentrations were in trees that were less than 20 years old, showing recent atmospheric PCB mobility. The percentage of ∑PCB distributions showed a consistent but variable pattern of diCB to nonaCB congeners. DecaCB was inconsistent, because PCB-209, which was manufactured at the site in Aroclor 1270 and 1271, was the most abundant congener in 10 of the samples but lower in others.

Looking for Input: Displaying Data from Fenceline Monitors for Refinery Pollution

Read the full post at EPA’s Environmental Justice blog.

Have you ever wondered what’s in the air you breathe? Is it clean? Is it dirty?

At EPA, we think about those questions all the time and we’ve made it our mission to improve the quality of the air we breathe in order to protect public health and the environment. We’ve worked for decades with states, local governments, tribes and other stakeholders to improve air monitoring technology to expand our monitoring networks and to update our regulations to ensure that they are protecting public health and the environment.

And that’s why I’m excited that this month we’re starting conversations with communities and other stakeholders with environmental justice concerns about the information we’re going to be getting from fenceline air toxic monitors at petroleum refineries.

During EPA’s public outreach on the 2015 petroleum refinery standards, we heard that communities wanted to know more about the emissions located in their neighborhoods. Taking this into account, EPA set a standard that will significantly improve air quality in neighborhoods near petroleum refineries because we now require fenceline monitoring of the toxic air pollutant benzene – a chemical that can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues and can increase the risk of developing cancer. This is the first time that a rule will require companies to provide data to the public about toxic air emissions at the fenceline.

The monitoring and data collection requirements are outlined in our 2015 rule, but right now we’re focused on finding the best way to share this data.

So, we want to hear from you!

Garbage in, energy out: creating biofuel from plastic waste

Read the full story in The Guardian.

An Australian startup has found a way to transform end-of-life plastics into bio-crude fuel. But is this a sustainable solution or just pollution displacement?

Why Tech Companies Design Products With Their Destruction in Mind

Read the full story in the Wall Street Journal.

Apple introduced a piece of technology recently that will likely never be used by any consumer. Instead, it kind of cleans up after them: a robot that breaks down iPhones for recycling…

The company spent more than three years building Liam, of which there are currently two. Each carefully separates iPhone components such as the camera module, SIM card trays, screws and batteries. Instead of tossing the whole device into a shredder—the most common form of disposal—Liam separates materials so they can be recycled more efficiently.

Other electronics makers take a different recycling approach, designing products that simplify disassembly by replacing glue and screws with parts that snap together, for instance. Some also have reduced the variety of plastics used and avoid mercury and other hazardous materials that can complicate disposal.


The Circuit: Tracking America’s Electronic Waste

This international undercover investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting reveals what really happens to America’s discarded TVs, phones and computers.