Wind turbine blades could someday be recycled into sweet treats

Read the full story from the American Chemical Society. See also the story in The Guardian.

Centered also has good coverage, including a video and a round-up of similar circular economy technological breakthroughs..

Wind power is an increasingly popular form of renewable energy. However, when it’s time to replace the huge turbine blades that convert wind into electricity, disposal is a problem. Now, scientists report a new composite resin suitable for making these behemoths that could later be recycled into new turbine blades or a variety of other products, including countertops, car taillights, diapers and even gummy bears.

The researchers will present their results today at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop,” says John Dorgan, Ph.D., who is presenting the work at the meeting. “That’s the goal of the circular economy.”

The material could even be upcycled into higher-value products. Digesting the thermoplastic resin in an alkaline solution released poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), a common acrylic material for windows, car taillights and many other items. Raising the temperature of the digestion converted PMMA into poly(methacrylic acid), a super-absorbent polymer that is used in diapers. The alkaline digestion also produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into candy and sports drinks. “We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” Dorgan says.

‘Forever chemicals’ destroyed by simple new method

Read the full story from Northwestern University.

PFAS, a group of manufactured chemicals commonly used since the 1940s, are called “forever chemicals” for a reason. Bacteria can’t eat them; fire can’t incinerate them; and water can’t dilute them. And, if these toxic chemicals are buried, they leach into surrounding soil, becoming a persistent problem for generations to come.

Now, Northwestern University chemists have done the seemingly impossible. Using low temperatures and inexpensive, common reagents, the research team developed a process that causes two major classes of PFAS compounds to fall apart — leaving behind only benign end products.

The simple technique potentially could be a powerful solution for finally disposing of these harmful chemicals, which are linked to many dangerous health effects in humans, livestock and the environment.

The research was published on Aug. 19 in the journal Science. 

How to search for images you can (legally) use for free

Read the full story at The Verge.

If you’re looking for an image that you can repurpose for one of your projects and aren’t able to take a photo yourself, there are a ton of free images you can use online without running into any copyright issues — you just have to know where to look.

Here, we’ll go over different places where you can search for free images on the web. It’s worth noting that when searching for free images, you’ll often come across the Creative Commons (CC) license that lets you use an image for free. But depending on the type of CC license an image has, there may be some limitations that require you to credit the original artist or prevent you from making modifications to the image.

That’s why it’s always important to read up on the license it possesses before using an image. You can find more information on the differences between specific CC licenses here.

Brad Pitt’s apparently defunct foundation reached a $20.5 million settlement with Hurricane Katrina survivors over its green housing debacle

Brad Pitt walks past a house under construction in New Orleans in a 2007 photo. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

by Judith Keller, University of Heidelberg

The six homeowners who sued Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation over the faulty construction of housing it built for them have reached a US$20.5 million settlement with the apparently defunct charity.

According to attorneys who disclosed the settlement in August 2022, all owners of the more than 100 homes Make It Right designed and built are eligible for $25,000 in reimbursements for any previous repairs if a judge approves their request. The rest of the money will be distributed according to the severity of the problems the homes are having.

Global Green, a nonprofit with ties to Brad Pitt that wasn’t named in the lawsuit, is reportedly paying these funds.

As an urban geographer who researches housing development, I’ve been following Make It Right’s travails since 2018, when residents tried to get the New Orleans City Council involved and have municipal authorities inspect the homes. The situation has only deteriorated since then, highlighting the perils that can accompany nonprofit housing development.

A boarded-up house on stilts
This Make It Right home was vacant and boarded up in 2021. Judith Keller, CC BY-SA

After Katrina

Make It Right built a total of 109 eye-catching and affordable homes in New Orleans for a community where many people were displaced by damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The vast majority of the recently constructed homes are now riddled with construction-related problems that have led to mold, termites, rotting wood, flooding and other woes.

At least six are boarded up and abandoned. That is, the nonprofit that built houses with input from Frank Gehry and other prominent architects amid much fanfare for survivors of one disaster then ushered in another disaster.

Structural and other problems are making many residents fear for their health. Make It Right, despite what its name might suggest, failed for years to resolve these issues.

Supposedly sustainable housing

Located in New Orleans’ historically Black and low-income Lower Ninth Ward, this cluster of affordable homes built between 2008 and 2015 was unusual for several reasons. Notably, these residences were sold, rather than rented, to their occupants.

The architects who created these homes also tried to make them green and sustainable following a “cradle-to-cradle” philosophy that centers on the use of safe and reusable materials, clean water and renewable energy. All the homes had solar panels and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

Make It Right reported spending $26.8 million on the housing. To make the homes more affordable, they were sold for less than they cost to build – mostly around $150,000.

The nonprofit housing developer said its mission was to “improve the design and performance of affordable housing” and to “share best practices associated with the construction of such homes.” Make It Right fell short of its original goal of building 150 residences.

Make It Right also sought to revitalize the Lower Ninth Ward and bring people together. For example, it built a community garden and held regular meetings for the new homeowners.

A beige house with a crumbling porch
This Make It Right home’s front porch was crumbling and collapsing in 2021. Judith Keller, CC BY-SA

Although some of these structures are not yet a decade old, my data gathered in late 2021 shows that only six of the original 109 remained in reasonably good shape. Most either have had partial repairs or have been completely renovated because of structural problems. Two were demolished because of severe mold problems.

A house getting completely rehabbed
This Make It Right home underwent major structural repairs in 2018. Judith Keller, CC BY-SA

Many of the houses lacked ordinary, essential features such as rain gutters, overhangs, waterproof painting or covered beams – all of which are necessary to withstand New Orleans’ subtropical climate and heavy rainfall.

Brad Pitt, who took credit for launching this organization in 2007 and often served as its public face in subsequent years, was still listed as a board member as of 2018.

Pitt’s lawyers argued that he could not be sued over the housing development’s failings, but a judge ruled in 2019 that the movie star would remain a defendant because of his role as Make It Right’s founder and chief fundraiser.

‘Completely in shambles’

I interviewed 14 residents, as well as seven urban planning experts who worked on the case. Additionally, I gathered data on the development and the homes by reviewing New Orleans property assessments and building permits. While staying in the Lower Ninth Ward myself, I personally took a census of the development and mapped its current state.

More than one resident told me they were initially very excited to be part of something bigger.

A Make It Right resident I’m calling Harry – I promised anonymity to all the residents I interviewed – had to move out of his home during major renovations that didn’t resolve all the issues he faces.

“They kind of got a second chance to make it wrong, not make it right again,” Harry told me. “They made it wrong twice.”

As of early 2022, six homes were vacant because of mold, rot, flooding and assorted structural issues. Hanna, a young first-time homeowner, walked away from her Make It Right residence, which was later demolished.

Only eight months after she moved in, Hanna recounted to me, her home “was completely in shambles.” Its flat roof could not hold up in the heavy rains of New Orleans, causing massive water intrusion and subsequent termite infestation and mold.

Hanna struggles with health problems caused by toxic mold. “I would like to say that there is always a silver lining, but with this situation, I really don’t see a silver lining because it really changed a lot of my plans that I had for myself in life,” she said.

Most of the residents I interviewed were dealing with a similar state of constant uncertainty.

They don’t know how much longer their home is going to hold up, whether the mold they were exposed to is affecting their health, and, worst, what would happen to their finances if they were to lose their home.

“There is just no turning this off,” Harry lamented. “Sometimes I think I’m sitting on a time bomb in this house.”

Others described always being “on edge,” the situation being “very stressful,” and a feeling of having been “taken advantage of on the biggest scale.”

A web of legal turmoil

Some residents also blame local authorities.

“We also have an issue with the city, because those who inspect (the home) and are supposed to keep it safe, did not,” said Claire, who tried to get New Orleans’ safety and permits department involved.

A moving truck loads up with furniture and other items.
The Make It Right Foundation moved out of its offices on Magazine Street in New Orleans in December 2021. Judith Keller, CC BY-SA

My many efforts to reach out to Make It Right by mail, email and visits in person were unsuccessful. When I went to its New Orleans office in December 2021, I encountered no staff. Instead, I witnessed a moving crew that had been hired by the organization to move its furniture and other property into storage.

The organization has apparently failed to file a 990 form, annual paperwork the Internal Revenue Service requires of all nonprofits, covering any year since 2018.

Who pays in the end?

Make It Right’s 2018 IRS filings indicate that it was spending more by then on legal services than on construction and maintenance.

Before this settlement, many residents had begun to pay for repairs out of their own pockets rather than wait for the nonprofit builder to resolve issues caused by its shoddy construction.

“I did most of the work myself,” Mario told me. “The ceiling tiles on the porch were falling off, and the wood was rotting, so I just replaced it, slowly, you know, so we could afford it.”

Despite their experiences, some residents said they still believe Make It Right’s founder had good intentions. “I don’t blame Brad Pitt,” said David, another resident. “He had a vision to build low-income houses and get people back in the Lower Ninth Ward.”

While nonprofit housing developers can play a vital role in creating affordable housing, many questions remain regarding their accountability in this case and others, in places like Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Mismanaged housing developments, even when constructed with lofty goals, only compound the hardships of the low-income people they purport to serve.

This is an updated version of an article published on Jan. 31, 2022.

Judith Keller, Urban Geogarpher, PhD Candidate, University of Heidelberg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Illinois EPA suspends household hazardous waste collections

Read the full story from NPR Illinois.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has announced a temporary suspension of all Household Hazardous Waste collection events and locations after a fire occurred at the current disposal facility in Ohio. Illinois EPA is working with the current contractor to evaluate alternatives for disposal.

Illinois EPA is suspending the scheduled one-day HHW collections planned for this fall, as well as the long-term HHW disposal facilities in Chicago, Naperville, Lake County, Rockford, and Madison County that Illinois EPA supports, until normal disposal operations can resume.

IEPA currently has a contract for the disposal of collected HHW, which disposes much of the collected waste at an incinerator located in Ohio. The Ohio facility had a fire in July, which required them to cease operations until specifically made parts can be shipped from Germany. It is estimated that the facility will not be operational until mid-November.

Flood risk ratings: Translating risk to future costs helps homebuyers and renters grasp the odds

Repairing storm damage is expensive, and insurance covers less than many people realize. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

by Melanie Gall, Arizona State University; Christopher Emrich, University of Central Florida, and Marie Aquilino, Arizona State University

If you look at homes on real estate websites today, you’ll likely see risk ratings for flooding, hurricanes and even wildfires.

In theory, summarizing risk information like this should help homebuyers and renters make more informed housing choices. But surveys show it isn’t working that way, at least not yet. Housing developments and home sales are still expanding in flood- and wildfire-prone areas.

The problem isn’t necessarily that consumers are ignoring the numbers. In our view, as experts in hazards geography, it’s that the way risk information is being presented ignores long-established lessons from behavioral science.

These ratings tend to appear as a single number for each hazard and lack an intuitive interpretation. What does it mean to have a heat risk of 84 (“extreme”) with 52 hot days in 2050, or a flood risk of 10 (“extreme”)?

We believe that current and future hazard and climate risks can more effectively be translated as costs, savings and trade-offs.

Making risk personal

Studies show that people rely on personal experience as the dominant driver when considering risk. In the absence of having personally experienced a flood or wildfire damage, they need actionable and understandable information.

We belong to a group of more than 20 interdisciplinary researchers at universities in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina who are trying to improve risk rating information. We’re currently testing an online tool for the Gulf Coast that provides residents with actionable resilience information. It is an early model of what residential risk reporting could look like.

Rather than just presenting a score, the tool offers information on the costs annually and over time that one can expect from each hazard, such as flooding or wind damage, and how the home’s census block compares with the local area, county and state. To capture the effects of sea-level rise, for example, we model the number of years it will take for a home to go from outside a high flood risk area to being inside.

Screengrab from HazardAware shows a specific home in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, facing costs of around $5,750 over five years and $34,500 over the life of a 30-year mortgage.
A hazard cost summary for a home in Louisiana shows what risk looks like in dollars. HazardAware, CC BY-ND

Homebuyers’ psychological hurdles

The development of real estate-focused climate and hazard risk metrics, such as those offered by First Street Foundation and ClimateCheck, is a step in the right direction, going beyond government risk maps that provide risk data by county. The next step is to ground those numbers in behavioral science research.

People do not ignore risk ratings per se, but the point at which information motivates people to take protective actions varies.

The motivation hurdle is lower for people with past experience, those who are aware of the risks and receptive to this kind of information, and those who have the financial resources to choose safer communities.

For others, the hurdle can be much higher. They might struggle with common decision biases, such as oversimplifying the severity of the risk, which leads to either an overestimation or underestimation of the threat depending on the type of hazard, focusing on today rather than the future, or simply assuming nothing bad is going to happen. They might just follow what others do – which research finds is what most of us do when deciding on a home.

Many people also have unrealistic beliefs that insurance and government payouts after disasters will fully compensate them for their losses, and a false sense of security that building codes and permitting mean homes are built to withstand any natural hazard.

The combination of these decision biases causes residents to underestimate the risk and impacts from disasters and climate change. Most people then underprepare and don’t consider these risks in their housing choices.

Risk ratings could help overcome those biases by expressing risk information in relatable terms such as the number of assistance requests made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency after disasters, the rejection rate and the average FEMA funds received per applicant in the area.

Next step: Pull it all together in one location

Ideally, homebuyers and renters would have a one-stop shop for all of this risk information about a property. To be prepared for climate change, risk must become a factor in housing choices similar to square footage and number of bedrooms.

Currently, risk data is scattered. For example, people can learn about insurance costs by checking flood insurance rate maps, which outline the areas with a 1% or greater annual chance of flooding. Or they can ask an insurance agent to generate a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report, which lists all flood insurance claims made on a property in the past five to seven years. A handful of states such as California require sellers to disclose the risk of natural hazards to the property.

In our view, the continuing influx of residents into high-risk areas, along with skyrocketing disaster losses, presents an urgent need to give prospective renters and buyers better information about the risks properties face.

Melanie Gall, Clinical Professor and Co-Director, Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Watts College, Arizona State University; Christopher Emrich, Associate Professor of Public Administration, University of Central Florida, and Marie Aquilino, Senior Research Analyst in Emergency Management, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Farmers are fighting over fertilizer as agriculture’s impact on the environment becomes undeniable

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Nitrous oxide is a major greenhouse gas and overuse of fertilizers contribute to it.

Model developed to predict landslides along wildfire burn scars

Read the full story from Northwestern University.

A wildfire followed by an intense rainstorm is often a recipe for disaster. Without vegetation to cushion rainfall, water runoff can turn into a fast-moving, highly destructive landslide, called a “debris flow,” which often has the power to wipe out cars, homes and highways — sometimes resulting in casualties.

Northwestern University researchers have augmented a physics-based numerical model to investigate and predict areas susceptible to debris flows. This augmented model eventually could be used in an early warning system for people living in high-risk areas, enabling them to evacuate before it’s too late. Information from model simulations also could be used to design new infrastructure — such as diversion bars that deflect fast-moving water away from homes and roads — for high hazard zones.

The research was published today (July 27) in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

Extreme weather is soaking New York City. Community gardens can help.

Read the full story in the New York Times.

New York’s network of more than 550 community gardens has long been a refuge for cramped apartment dwellers, offering space to grow fresh vegetables and soak up sun and fresh air. Increasingly, they have also become neighborhood outposts in the city’s efforts to control flooding.

Many have added rain gardens and bioswales (trenches with vegetation designed to absorb water), and collected water from sheds, gazebos, pergolas and even the rooftops of neighboring buildings with “rainwater harvesting systems” like the one installed at Mobilization for Change.

TAMUCC embarks on study to train K9’s to detect oil spills on Gulf Coast beaches

Read the full story from 3News.

With the right training, canines are able to detect many things that can keep us out of harms way.

Everything from drugs to weapons and even missing people, but two canines with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are able to detect crude oil on our beaches.

Bin is a German shorthair pointer, and while he is a good boy, he is also the only dog in the world with the training to sniff out “new” crude oil on Gulf Coast beaches.