After Chemical Fires, Texans Worry About Toxic Effects

Read the full story at NPR.

Shannan Wheeler was born and raised in Baytown, Texas, an industrial suburb east of Houston that is part of the so-called chemical coast.

Houses are tucked between chemical storage tanks. Parks back up to refinery smokestacks.

“I grew up around five of the biggest petrochemical facilities on the planet,” Wheeler says. An uncle worked at Chevron. Another worked at Shell. “With my family’s history I’m familiar with every one of them,” he says.

The Wheeler name is synonymous with business in the area. Shannan Wheeler’s mother, Tracey, is the longtime president of the Baytown Chamber of Commerce, and he has spent his entire career as an engineer designing pipe systems for petrochemical facilities.

So Shannan Wheeler, 52, is as surprised as anyone that he’s part of a federal lawsuit against a chemical company, especially one that employs people in the town where he and his family live now.

Children’s environmental health successes

Read the full story in Environmental Factor.

NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers Impact Report — Protecting Children’s Health Where They Live, Learn, and Play provides a comprehensive overview of the research programs each center conducts and their scientific advances, including an extensive reference resource.

Hydroponic Veggies Are Taking Over Organic, And A Move To Ban Them Fails

Read the full story from NPR.

Dave Chapman and dozens of other long-time organic farmers packed a meeting of the National Organic Standards Board in Jacksonville, Fla., this week. It was their last-ditch effort to strip the organic label from a tide of fluid-fed, “hydroponic” greenhouse-grown vegetables that they think represent a betrayal of true organic principles.

One of the issues raised in the NPR story is whether traditional organic farming is less resource intensive than hydroponic growing methods. Because I’m a librarian and I was curious, I did a little bit of digging and found the following articles analyzing the life cycle impacts of hydroponic and conventional agricultural growing methods.

Steven W. Van Ginkel; Thomas Igou; Yongsheng Chen (2017). “Energy, water and nutrient impacts of California-grown vegetables compared to controlled environmental agriculture systems in Atlanta, GA.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 122, 319-325. DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2017.03.003

The Central Valley in the State of California alone produces most of our nation’s fruits and vegetables and represents just 1% of the nation’s farmland. Since California’s recent drought was the worst in the last 1200 years, supply of these products may decrease and new sources are needed. To understand the efficacy of growing fruits and vegetables more locally, the energy, water and nutrient impacts of growing fruits and vegetables in local hydroponic and aquaponic controlled environment agriculture systems are compared to vegetables grown in California and shipped to Atlanta, GA. Hydroponically and aquaponically grown fruits and vegetables have areal productivities 29 and 10 times higher than CA-grown vegetables while hydroponically grown vegetables consume 30 times more energy than the CA-grown vegetables. There appears to be no difference in energy consumption between aquaponically- and CA-grown vegetables. On average, 66 and 8 times more water is used in CA-grown vegetables compared to the hydroponic and aquaponic growing techniques. Approximately double the nitrogen needed by plants is applied to CA-grown fruits and vegetables which suggests nitrogen is lost in runoff causing eutrophication downstream. There are 20, 348 and 10 times twenty times more rainfall, nutrients in domestic wastewater and vacant land needed to supply the water, nutrient and space requirements for vegetable production in Atlanta, GA.

Barbosa, G.L.; Gadelha, F.D.A.; Kublik, N.; Proctor, A.; Reichelm, L.; Weissinger, E.; Wohlleb, G.M.; Halden, R.U. (2015). “Comparison of Land, Water, and Energy Requirements of Lettuce Grown Using Hydroponic vs. Conventional Agricultural Methods.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12, 6879-6891. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph120606879. Open access.

The land, water, and energy requirements of hydroponics were compared to those of conventional agriculture by example of lettuce production in Yuma, Arizona, USA. Data were obtained from crop budgets and governmental agricultural statistics, and contrasted with theoretical data for hydroponic lettuce production derived by using engineering equations populated with literature values. Yields of lettuce per greenhouse unit (815 m2) of 41 ± 6.1 kg/m2/y had water and energy demands of 20 ± 3.8 L/kg/y and 90,000 ± 11,000 kJ/kg/y (±standard deviation), respectively. In comparison, conventional production yielded 3.9 ± 0.21 kg/m2/y of produce, with water and energy demands of 250 ± 25 L/kg/y and 1100 ± 75 kJ/kg/y, respectively. Hydroponics offered 11 ± 1.7 times higher yields but required 82 ± 11 times more energy compared to conventionally produced lettuce. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first quantitative comparison of conventional and hydroponic produce production by example of lettuce grown in the southwestern United States. It identified energy availability as a major factor in assessing the sustainability of hydroponics, and it points to water-scarce settings offering an abundance of renewable energy (e.g., from solar, geothermal, or wind power) as particularly attractive regions for hydroponic agriculture. View Full-Text


The following review article includes a discussion of hydroponic vs conventional growing methods in the context of urban agriculture.

Benjamin Goldstein, Michael Hauschild, John Fernández, Morten Birkved (2016). “Urban versus conventional agriculture, taxonomy of resource profiles: a review.” Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 36 (1), article 9. DOI: 10.1007/s13593-015-0348-4.

Urban agriculture appears to be a means to combat the environmental pressure of increasing urbanization and food demand. However, there is hitherto limited knowledge of the efficiency and scaling up of practices of urban farming. Here, we review the claims on urban agriculture’s comparative performance relative to conventional food production. Our main findings are as follows: (1) benefits, such as reduced embodied greenhouse gases, urban heat island reduction, and storm water mitigation, have strong support in current literature. (2) Other benefits such as food waste minimization and ecological footprint reduction require further exploration. (3) Urban agriculture benefits to both food supply chains and urban ecosystems vary considerably with system type. To facilitate the comparison of urban agriculture systems we propose a classification based on (1) conditioning of the growing space and (2) the level of integration with buildings. Lastly, we compare the predicted environmental performance of the four main types of urban agriculture that arise through the application of the taxonomy. The findings show how taxonomy can aid future research on the intersection of urban food production and the larger material and energy regimes of cities (the “urban metabolism”).

The Future of Data Justice Under Trump

Read the full story in Pacific Standard.

Communities need hard data to prove they’re been affected by pollution. But the government databases that keep track of those numbers are now under threat.

Enviros and Developers: A Love Story

Read the full story in Grist.

Environmentalists are usually thought of as folks who are trying to stop something: a destructive dam, an oil export terminal, a risky pipeline. But when it comes to housing, new-school environmentalists — like Wiener — understand that it’s necessary to support things, too. To meet California’s ambitious goals to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, regulators say the state must build dense, walkable neighborhoods that allow people to ditch their cars.

How Aquaculture Is Threatening the Native Fish Species of Africa

Read the full story in e360.

Africa has long looked to fish farming to help feed its burgeoning human population. But scientists are warning that a new aquaculture push is introducing invasive species that could devastate such natural jewels as Lake Malawi and the Okavango Delta.

What Miami taught me about climate gentrification

Read the full story in the Columbia Journalism Review.

I wrote in the Color of Climate series that climate is “a threat multiplier” that intensifies the challenges facing those individuals and communities “marginalized by race, income level and immigration status, just to name a few.” Climate gentrification expands upon conventional gentrification by focusing on environmental concerns, like rising sea levels, as central factors in driving out, and oftentimes pricing out, people living in areas that were previously thought to be less valuable.