Working together with The Harris Poll, National 4-H Council wanted to better understand how teens feel about the environment. Nationally, we surveyed a diverse group of 1,500 teens from 13-19 years old exploring their concerns about — and commitment to — protecting the environment. Our goal was to represent their unique voice and create a conversation about their evolving relationship with the outdoor world.
Read the full story from the University of Amsterdam.
With many human-made chemicals, problems regarding public health and the environment become apparent only years after their widespread use. A team of researchers from the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University now propose a way to change that. In an article in the journal Chemosphere they present a method for (re)designing safe and sustainable chemicals. Their paper is part of a special issue on hazardous substances in the circular economy, to be published in June.
Read the full story at the National Law Review.
In less than six months, L’Oreal has now found itself to be the target of PFAS lawsuits related to its mascara products. The latest L’Oreal PFAS lawsuit was filed in the New Jersey federal court on April 8, 2022. Cosmetics and PFAS is a topic that saw increased scrutiny from the scientific community, legislature, and the media in 2021. As we predicted in early 2021, the increased attention on the industry presented significant risks to the cosmetics industry, and our prediction was that the developments made the cosmetics industry the number two target for future PFAS lawsuits. In less than three months, four industry giants – Shiseido, CoverGirl, L’Oreal and Burt’s Bees – were hit with lawsuits related to their cosmetics and PFAS content in some of the companies’ products. The industry, insurers, and investment companies interested in the consumer goods vertical with niche interest in cosmetics companies must pay careful attention to the cosmetics lawsuits and the increasing trend of lawsuits targeting the industry.
Read the full story at Great Lakes Now.
PFAS research is still in the early stages, which means issues with PFAS crop up all the time to surprise researchers like Michigan State University professor Cheryl Murphy.
PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are known as Forever Chemicals because of their reluctance to break down in humans. They can be in the food chain, drinking water and are found in common items in everyday commercial use like water-repellent clothing, dental floss and non-stick cookware.
Murphy directs MSU’s Center for PFAS Research. Great Lakes Now contributor Gary Wilson recently talked with her about how scientists are approaching PFAS research.
Murphy, originally from Canada, explained the different approaches the U.S. and Canada are taking to deal with PFAS and why it is a threat to Michigan’s vast supply of groundwater, also referred to as the sixth Great Lake.
In January, MSU received a $1.9 million grant to look at toxicity in PFAS, and Murphy will lead the multi-institutional team of researchers conducting the study.
Read the full story in the New York Times.
Based on nothing more than their name, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances certainly don’t sound like something you’d want to find in your burger wrapper. But according to a recent investigation by Consumer Reports, they’re very much there — as well as in your salad bowl, fry bag and sandwich wrap.
So what are these virtually indestructible compounds, created in a lab in 1938 by a 27-year-old chemist? And how worried do you need to be about them?
This is what you should know about PFAS.
Should domestic cats be allowed to roam freely outdoors? It’s a contentious issue. Those who say yes assert that they’re defending outdoor cats and the people who care for them. Critics respond that free-roaming cats kill so many birds, reptiles, mammals and important insects like butterflies and dragonflies that they threaten biodiversity on a global scale.
As conservation biologists familiar with these clashing viewpoints, we wondered whether there was room for a more nuanced strategy than the typical yes/no standoff. In a recently published study, we used camera traps at hundreds of sites across Washington, D.C., to analyze the predatory behavior of urban free-roaming cats. The cameras recorded all cats that passed them, so our study did not distinguish between feral cats and pet cats roaming outdoors.
Our data showed that the cats were unlikely to prey on native wildlife, such as songbirds or small mammals, when they were farther than roughly 1,500 feet (500 meters) from a forested area, such as a park or wooded backyard. We also found that when cats were approximately 800 feet (250 meters) or farther from forest edges, they were more likely to prey on rats than on native wildlife.
Since the average urban domestic cat ranges over a small area – roughly 550 feet (170 meters), or one to two city blocks – the difference between a diet that consists exclusively of native species and one without any native prey can be experienced within a single cat’s range. Our findings suggest that focusing efforts on managing cat populations near forested areas may be a more effective conservation strategy than attempting to manage an entire city’s outdoor cat population.
Cats on the loose
Professionals on either side of the free-roaming cat debate largely agree that cats are safest when kept indoors. An outdoor cat’s lifespan generally peaks around 5 years, compared with 10 to 15 years for an indoor cat. Free-roaming cats face numerous threats, including vehicle collisions and contact with rat poison. Acknowledging these risks, most animal welfare organizations encourage an indoor-only lifestyle.
Similarly, there is little disagreement that cats hunt; for centuries humans have used them for rodent control. But invasive rats, which are often the target of modern rodent control, can grow too large to be easy prey for cats. In response, cats also pursue smaller species that are easier to catch. Studies have linked cats to 63 extinctions globally and estimated that cats kill 12.3 billion wild mammals annually in the U.S. alone.
Disagreements arise around handling cats that already live outside. Population management programs often utilize trap-neuter-return, or TNR – a process in which cats are trapped, spayed or neutered and re-released where they were caught.
In theory, TNR limits population growth by reducing the number of kittens that will be born. In reality it is rarely effective, since 75% of individual cats must be treated every year to reduce the population, which is often not feasible. Regardless, reproduction itself is not what most worries conservation biologists.
Today the Earth is losing wild species at such a rate that many scientists believe it is experiencing its sixth mass extinction. In this context, free-roaming cats’ effects on wildlife are a serious concern. Cats have an instinctual drive to hunt, even if they are fed by humans. Many wildlife populations are already struggling to survive in a rapidly changing world. Falling prey to a non-native species doesn’t help.
Cats aren’t picky hunters but will pounce on the easiest available prey. This generalist predatory behavior contributes to their reputation as one of the most damaging invasive species. In our view, however, it could also be a key to limiting their ecological impact.
Managing cats based on their behavior
Since cats are generalist predators, their wild-caught diet tends to reflect the local species that are available. In areas with more birds than mammals, like New Zealand, birds are cats’ primary prey. Similarly, cat diets in the most developed portions of cities likely reflect the most available prey species – rats.
While cats top the list of harmful invasive species, rats aren’t far behind. In cities, rats spread disease, contaminate food and damage infrastructure. There aren’t many downsides to free-roaming cats preying on rats.
City centers have no shortage of rats, which can live anywhere, including parks, subways, sewers and buildings. But native animals tend to stay in or near areas with sufficient outdoor habitat, like parks and forested neighborhoods. When cats hunt in these same spaces, they are a threat to native wildlife. But if cats don’t share these spaces with native species, the risk declines dramatically.
Conservation funding is limited, so it’s critical to choose effective strategies. The traditional approach to cat management has largely consisted of attempting to prohibit cats from being loose altogether – an approach that’s incredibly unpopular with people who care for outdoor cats. Despite calls for outdoor cat bans, few have been enacted.
Instead, we suggest prioritizing areas where wildlife is most at risk. For example, cities could create “no cat zones” near urban habitats, which would forbid releasing trap-neuter-return cats in those areas and fine owners in those areas who let their cats roam outdoors.
In Washington, D.C., this would include forested neighborhoods like Palisades or Buena Vista, as well as homes near parks like Rock Creek. As we see it, this targeted approach would have more impact than citywide outdoor cat bans that are unpopular and difficult to enforce.
Hard-line policies have done little to reduce outdoor cat populations across the U.S. Instead, we believe a data-driven and targeted approach to cat management is a more effective way to protect wildlife.
3D printed concrete may lead to a shift in architecture and construction. Because it can be used to produce new shapes and forms that current technologies struggle with, it may change the centuries-old processes and procedures that are still used to construct buildings, resulting in lower costs and saved time.
However, concrete has a significant environmental impact. Vast quantities of natural sand are currently used to meet the world’s insatiable appetite for concrete, at great cost to the environment. In general, the construction industry struggles with sustainability. It creates around 35% of all landfill waste globally.
Our new research suggests a way to curb this impact. We have trialled using recycled glass as a component of concrete for 3D printing.
Concrete is made of a mix of cement, water, and aggregates such as sand. We trialled replacing up to 100% of the aggregate in the mix with glass. Simply put, glass is produced from sand, is easy to recycle, and can be used to make concrete without any complex processing.
Demand from the construction industry could also help ensure glass is recycled. In 2018 in the US only a quarter of glass was recycled, with more than half going to landfill.
We used brown soda-lime beverage glass obtained from a local recycling company. The glass bottles were first crushed using a crushing machine and then the crushed pieces were washed, dried, milled, and sieved. The resulting particles were smaller than a millimetre square.
The crushed glass was then used to make concrete in the same way that sand would be. We used this concrete to 3D print wall elements and prefabricated building blocks that could be fitted together to make a whole building.
If used in this way, waste glass can find a new life as part of a construction material.
The presence of glass does not only solve the problem of waste but also contributes to the development of a concrete with superior properties than that containing natural sand.
The thermal conductivity of soda-lime glass – the most common type of glass, which you find in windows and bottles – is more than three times lower than that of quartz aggregate, which is used extensively in concrete. This means that concrete containing recycled glass has better insulation properties. They could substantially decrease the costs required for cooling or heating during summer or winter.
We also made other changes to the concrete mixture in order to make it more sustainable as a building material, including replacing some of the Portland cement with limestone powder.
Portland cement is a key component of concrete, used to bind the other ingredients together into a mix that will harden. However, the production of ordinary Portland cement leads to the release of significant amounts of carbon dioxide as well as other greenhouse gases. The cement production industry accounts for around 8% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the environment.
Limestone is less hazardous and has less environmental impact during the its production process than Portland cement. It can be used instead of ordinary Portland cement in concrete for 3D printing without a reduction in the quality of the printing mixture.
We also added lightweight fillers, made from tiny hollow thermoplastic spheres, to reduce the density of the concrete. This changed the thermal conductivity of the concrete, reducing it by up to 40% when compared with other concrete used for 3D printing. This further improved the insulation properties of the concrete, and reduced the amount of raw material required.
Using 3D printing technology, we can simply develop a wall structure on a computer, convert it to simple code and send it to a 3D printer to be constructed. 3D printers can operate for 24 hours a day, decrease the amount of waste produced, as well as increase the safety of construction workers.
Our research shows that an ultra-lightweight, well insulated 3D building is possible – something that could be a vital step on our mission towards net zero.
Seyed Ghaffar, Associate Professor in Civil Engineering and Environmental Materials, Brunel University London; Mehdi Chougan, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow, Brunel University London, and Pawel Sikora, Associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin
This resource outlines a nine-step process to help teams develop Framework-aligned assessment tasks in science focused on justice-centered phenomena and scenarios. It builds on the thinking about 3D assessment design from STEM Teaching Tool #29 (from March 2020), but has been significantly revised.
Justice-focused assessments are assessments where students use science knowledge and engineering design practices to solve problems involving matters related to the unequal distribution of consequences (e.g., benefits, harms) to communities that result from human-nature interactions and/or unequal voice of communities in matters affecting their thriving and sustainability. Justice-centered assessments are pertinent when assessing performance expectations that require students to engage in engineering practices, because such practices involve developing and testing solutions that address human needs. In addition, justice-centered assessments engage students with the idea of science as a human endeavor, as called for in the Nature of Science connections of the NGSS.