How the graying of society threatens climate action

Read the full story from Anthropocene Magazine.

The share of the population over 65 in wealthy countries is projected to double by 2050. Investigating the carbon implications of this trend, researchers discovered some surprising patterns.

Lead exposure in last century shrank IQ scores of half of Americans, study finds

by Dan Vahaba, Duke University

In 1923, lead was first added to gasoline to help keep car engines healthy. However, automotive health came at the great expense of our own well-being.

A new study calculates that exposure to car exhaust from leaded gas during childhood stole a collective 824 million IQ points from more than 170 million Americans alive today, about half the population of the United States.

The findings, from Aaron Reuben, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Duke University, and colleagues at Florida State University, suggest that Americans born before 1996 may now be at greater risk for lead-related health problems, such as faster aging of the brain. Leaded gas for cars was banned in the U.S. in 1996, but the researchers say that anyone born before the end of that era, and especially those at the peak of its use in the 1960s and 1970s, had concerningly high lead exposures as children.

The team’s paper appeared the week of March 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead is neurotoxic and can erode brain cells after it enters the body. As such, there is no safe level of exposure at any point in life, health experts say. Young children are especially vulnerable to lead’s ability to impair brain development and lower cognitive ability. Unfortunately, no matter what age, our brains are ill-equipped for keeping it at bay.

“Lead is able to reach the bloodstream once it’s inhaled as dust, or ingested, or consumed in water,” Reuben said. “In the bloodstream, it’s able to pass into the brain through the blood-brain barrier, which is quite good at keeping a lot of toxicants and pathogens out of the brain, but not all of them.”

One major way lead used to invade bloodstreams was through automotive exhaust.

To answer the complex question of how leaded gas use for more than 70 years may have left a permanent mark on human health, Reuben and his co-authors Michael McFarland and Mathew Hauer, both professors of sociology at Florida State University, opted for a fairly simple strategy.

Using publicly available data on U.S. childhood blood-lead levelsleaded-gas use, and population statistics, they determined the likely lifelong burden of lead exposure carried by every American alive in 2015. From this data, they estimated lead’s assault on our intelligence by calculating IQ points lost from leaded gas exposure as a proxy for its harmful impact on public health.

The researchers were stunned by the results.

“I frankly was shocked,” McFarland said. “And when I look at the numbers, I’m still shocked even though I’m prepared for it.”

As of 2015, more than 170 million Americans (more than half of the U.S. population) had clinically concerning levels of lead in their blood when they were children, likely resulting in lower IQs and putting them at higher risk for other long-term health impairments, such as reduced brain size, greater likelihood of mental illness, and increased cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

Leaded gasoline consumption rose rapidly in the early 1960s and peaked in the 1970s. As a result, Reuben and his colleagues found that essentially everyone born during those two decades are all but guaranteed to have been exposed to pernicious levels of lead from car exhaust.

Even more startling was lead’s toll on intelligence: childhood lead exposure may have blunted America’s cumulative IQ score by an estimated 824 million points – nearly three points per person on average. The researchers calculated that at its worst, people born in the mid-to-late 1960s may have lost up to six IQ points, and children registering the highest levels of lead in their blood, eight times the current minimum level to initiate clinical concern, fared even worse, potentially losing more than seven IQ points on average.

Dropping a few IQ points may seem negligible, but the authors note that these changes are dramatic enough to potentially shift people with below-average cognitive ability (IQ score less than 85) to being classified as having an intellectual disability (IQ score below 70).

Moving forward, McFarland is analyzing the racial disparities of childhood lead exposure, hoping to highlight the health inequities suffered by Black children, who were exposed more often to lead and in greater quantities than white children.

Reuben’s next step will be to examine the long-term consequences of past lead exposure on brain health in old age, based on previous findings that adults with high childhood lead exposure may experience accelerated brain aging.

“Millions of us are walking around with a history of lead exposure,” Reuben said. “It’s not like you got into a car accident and had a rotator cuff tear that heals and then you’re fine. It appears to be an insult carried in the body in different ways that we’re still trying to understand but that can have implications for life.”

This story first appeared on the Duke Today website. Read the original story.

Circular ‘mining’ reaches for the mainstream

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Cobalt. Copper. Lithium. Nickel. Platinum. Zinc. And don’t forget the rare earth elements, especially neodymium. These and dozens of other metals and minerals are critical for technologies central to the clean economy transition — especially electric vehicles. And none are in particularly abundant supply, at least not in the places where they are needed.

That reality, coupled with growing pains related to the semiconductor shortage and supply chain disruptions that dragged down the electronics and automotive sectors throughout 2021, is the catalyst for a marked rise in initiatives aimed at “mining” materials from products already in circulation and out of the waste streams associated with virgin extraction of natural resources.

The loss of insects is an apocalypse worth worrying about

Read the full interview at Vox. Oliver Milman is the author of a new book, The Insect Crisis.

A world without insects is a world we don’t want to live in, Milman told Vox. Yet we don’t seem to pay these critters much attention — even as many of them slip toward extinction. Science is increasingly showing that insects, on the whole, are declining quickly, he said. Some populations have fallen by more than 70 percent in just a few decades.

Averting an insect apocalypse starts with understanding why these famously uncharismatic critters matter — that’s one lesson he hopes his book can convey. Then there’s the question of how to help them. Fortunately, he writes, it’s pretty simple: We don’t need an action plan, we need an inaction plan. Insects love overgrown lawns, empty lots, and other untended spaces.

How the pandemic remade science journalism

Read the full story at Scientific American.

Reporting on COVID has fundamentally changed the way I approach science journalism. I have gained a deeper appreciation for scientific knowledge as a process, not merely an end result. I have seen that it is not enough to simply follow the science—that skepticism of authority is warranted even when that authority comes from respected public health experts. And I have learned that science is always political—despite what many scientists like to think. These lessons have been won at a terrible expense. But failing to heed them could doom us to repeat this tragedy when the next pandemic comes.

Meijer advances sustainability efforts with solar power project

Read the full story at Grocery Dive.

Meijer announced on Thursday that it has signed a renewable energy power purchase agreement with developer Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions that will remove more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from its operations.

The solar energy project just broke ground in Navarro County, Texas, and is slated to be finished by the end of 2022. With the agreement, the Midwest retailer has signed onto buying a portion of the energy generated from the project for its first 15 years of operation.

Meijer said the project with Duke Energy is the first of “multiple strategic partnerships” for the retailer to achieve its carbon reduction goal.

Food manufacturer finds £20,000 energy saving from pumps

Read the full story at Food Manufacture.

One food manufacturer has discovered savings of £20,000 by giving the pumps that form part of its cooling system a thorough health check.

Carbon dioxide chiller provides ample cold for dairy and replaces propane heat for hot water

Read the full story at Food Engineering.

With the approaching HFC phasedown, the demand for environmentally friendly cooling systems is driving chiller manufacturers to innovate. Washington-based Pro-Refrigeration, Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of chillers for the industrial and beverage processing market, developed the idea of a CO2 chiller that brought big dividends to a California dairy farm and ultimately, to the environment.

Your data initiatives can’t just be for data scientists

Read the full story in Harvard Business Review.

Without buy-in from your company’s rank and file, even the cleverest AI-derived model will sit idle and “data-driven decision-making” will just go around in circles. Companies need to start seeing regular people as part of their data strategy. Data teams must work with regular people every day, develop a feel for their problems and opportunities, and embrace their hopes and fears surrounding data, then focus on equipping people with the tools they need to formulate and solve their own problems. They should also ask two questions with each data project: 1) Who will this effect? And 2) How can we get them involved as soon as possible?

Microplastics found in human blood for first time

Late last week, The Guardian reported on research from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam that examined blood samples from 22 anonymous, healthy volunteers and found microplastics in nearly 80 percent of them

The study, published Thursday in Environment International, found that half of the blood samples showed traces of PET plastic, widely used to make drink bottles, while more than a third had polystyrene, used for disposable food containers and many other products.

Read the coverage in The Guardian.