The US has ruled all taxpayer-funded research must be free to read. What’s the benefit of open access?

Eugenio Mazzone/Unsplash

by Virginia Barbour, Queensland University of Technology

Last week, the United States announced an updated policy guidance on open access that will substantially expand public access to science not just in America, but worldwide.

As per the guidance, all US federal agencies must put in place policies and plans so anyone anywhere can immediately and freely access the peer-reviewed publications and data arising from research they fund.

The policies need to be in place by the end of 2025, according to President Biden’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

A substantial step

The new guidance builds on a previous memo issued by then president Barack Obama’s office in 2013. That one only applied to the largest funding agencies and, in a crucial difference, allowed for a 12-month delay or embargo for the publications to be available.

Now we’re seeing a substantial step forward in a lengthy effort – extending back to the beginning of this century – to open up access to the world’s research.

We can expect it to act as a catalyst for more policy changes globally. It’s also especially timely given UNESCO’s Open Science Recommendation adopted in 2021. The new OSTP guidance emphasises the primary intention is for the US public to have immediate access to research funded by their tax dollars.

But thanks to the conditions for opening up said research, people worldwide will benefit.

A discriminatory system

It might seem obvious that with our ubiquitous internet access, there should already be immediate open access to publicly funded research. But that isn’t the case for most published studies.

Changing the system has been challenging, not least because academic publishing is dominated by a small number of highly profitable and powerful publishers.

Open access matters for both the public and academics, as the fast-moving emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic amply demonstrated.

Even academics at well-funded universities can mostly only access journals their universities subscribe to – and no institution can afford to subscribe to everything published. Last year, estimates suggest some 2 million research articles were published. People outside a university – in a small company, a college, a GP practice, a newsroom, or citizen scientists – have to pay for access.

As the new guidance notes, this lack of public access leads to “discrimination and structural inequalities… [that] prevent some communities from reaping the rewards of the scientific and technological advancements”. Furthermore, lack of access leads to mistrust in research.

The accompanying OSTP memo highlights that future policies should support scientific and research integrity, with the aim of increasing public trust in science.

COVID-19 is not the first rapid global emergency, and it won’t be the last. For example, doctors not being able to access research on Ebola may have directly led to a 2015 outbreak in West Africa.

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House led calls for publishers to make COVID-19 publications open to all. Most (but not all) did and that call led to one of the biggest databases of openly available papers ever assembled – the CORD-19 database.

But not all of those COVID-19 papers will be permanently openly available, since some publishers put conditions on their accessibility. With the current spread of monkeypox, we are potentially facing another global emergency. In August this year, the White House once again called for publishers to make relevant research open.

The OSTP guidance will finally mean that, at least for US federally funded research, the time of governments having to repeatedly call for publishers to make research open is over.

The situation in Australia

In Australia, we don’t yet have a national approach to open access. The two national research funders, the NHMRC and ARC, have policies in place similar to the 2013 US guidance of a 12-month embargo period. The NHMRC consulted last year on an immediate open access policy.

All Australian universities provide access to their research through their repositories, although that access varies depending on individual universities’ and publishers’ policies. Most recently, the Council of Australian University Librarians negotiated a number of consortial open access deals with publishers. Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, is also considering a national model for open access.

So what’s next? As expected, perhaps, some of the larger publishers are already making the case for more funding for them to support this policy. It will be important that this policy doesn’t lead to a financial bonanza for these already very profitable companies – nor a consolidation of their power.

Rather, it would be good to see financial support for innovation in publishing, and a recognition that we need a diversity of approaches to support an academic publishing system that works for the benefit of all.

Virginia Barbour, Director, Open Access Australasia, Queensland University of Technology

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

Greenland ice sheet set to raise sea levels by nearly a foot, study finds

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Human-driven climate change has set in motion massive ice losses in Greenland that couldn’t be halted even if the world stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, according to a new study published Monday.

The findings in Nature Climate Change project that it is now inevitable that 3.3 percent of the Greenland ice sheet will melt — equal to 110 trilliontons of ice,the researchers said. That will trigger nearly a foot of global sea-level rise.

The predictions are more dire than other forecasts, though they use different assumptions.While the study did not specify a time frame for the melting and sea-level rise, the authors suggestedmuch of it can play out between now and the year 2100.

To excavate or not to excavate: With toxic coal ash, that is the question

Read the full story at Energy News Network.

North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are proving it is possible for utilities to remove massive quantities of coal ash from ponds where it endangers groundwater, placing it in safer lined landfills. This could be a model for other states, but challenges remain.

EPA releases Draft Revised Risk Determination for Carbon Tetrachloride for public comment

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released for public comment a draft revision to the unreasonable risk determination for carbon tetrachloride pursuant to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) section 6(b). The draft revised risk determination proposes to find that carbon tetrachloride, as a whole chemical substance, presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health under the conditions of use.

The carbon tetrachloride draft revised risk determination incorporates policy changes announced in June 2021 to ensure the public is protected from unreasonable risks from chemicals in a way that is supported by science and the law. EPA’s proposed revisions will ensure that, if finalized as proposed, the carbon tetrachloride risk determination better aligns with the objectives of protecting health and the environment under the amended TSCA.

Carbon tetrachloride is used in commercial settings as a raw material for producing other chemicals like refrigerants, chlorinated compounds, and agricultural products. EPA did not identify any intended, known, or reasonably foreseen consumer uses for this chemical.

EPA’s carbon tetrachloride risk evaluation identified adverse human health effects from inhalation and dermal exposures to carbon tetrachloride. Cancer effects include adrenal gland, brain, and liver tumors,  and non-cancer effects include liver toxicity.

The draft revised risk determination for carbon tetrachloride does not reflect an assumption that workers always and appropriately wear personal protective equipment (PPE). This decision should not be viewed as an indication that EPA believes there is widespread non-compliance with applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. In fact, EPA has received public comments from industry respondents about occupational safety practices currently in use at their facilities. EPA will consider these comments, as well as other information on use of PPE and other ways industry protects its workers, as potential ways to address unreasonable risk during the risk management process.

Not assuming use of PPE in its baseline exposure scenarios reflects EPA’s recognition that certain subpopulations of workers exist that may be highly exposed because they are not covered by OSHA standards, because their employers are out of compliance with OSHA standards, or because OSHA’s chemical-specific Permissible Exposure Limits (largely adopted in the 1970’s) are described by OSHA as being “outdated and inadequate for ensuring protection of worker health” (as is the case for carbon tetrachloride).  

As EPA moves forward with a risk management rule for carbon tetrachloride, the agency will strive for consistency with existing OSHA requirements or best industry practices when those measures would address the identified unreasonable risk. EPA will propose occupational safety measures in the risk management process that would meet TSCA’s statutory requirement to eliminate unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment.

Overall, 13 of the 15 conditions of use EPA evaluated would drive the carbon tetrachloride whole chemical unreasonable risk determination due to risks identified for human health. Removing the assumption that workers always and appropriately wear PPE when making the whole chemical risk determination for carbon tetrachloride would not alter the conditions of use that drive the unreasonable risk determination for carbon tetrachloride. However, without the assumed use of PPE, inhalation exposures to workers would now also drive the unreasonable risk and dermal exposures would also drive the unreasonable risk due to non-cancer effects (specifically liver toxicity). In addition, the November 2020 Risk Evaluation contained a typographical error in the acute dermal point of departure (POD). This error was corrected in an errata memorandum dated July 2022 and posted to docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2019-0499 at www.regulations.gov. The changes to the risk estimates for acute dermal exposures are reflected in the draft revision to the risk determination. The corrections do not alter the conditions of use that drive the unreasonable risk determination for carbon tetrachloride.

Two out of the 15 conditions of use do not drive the unreasonable risk: when carbon tetrachloride is processed as a reactant in reactive ion etching and in distribution in commerce. However, EPA is not proposing to make condition of use-specific risk determinations for those conditions of use or to issue an order under TSCA section 6(i)(1).

Following finalization of the revised risk determination for carbon tetrachloride, consistent with the statutory requirements of TSCA section 6(a), EPA will propose risk management regulatory action to the extent necessary so that carbon tetrachloride no longer presents an unreasonable risk. EPA expects to focus its risk management action on the conditions of use that drive the unreasonable risk. However, it should be noted that, under TSCA section 6(a), EPA is not limited to regulating the specific activities found to drive unreasonable risk and may select from among a suite of risk management requirements in section 6(a) related to manufacture (including import), processing, distribution in commerce, commercial use, and disposal as part of its regulatory options to address the unreasonable risk. As a general example, EPA may regulate upstream activities (e.g., processing, distribution in commerce) to address downstream activities (e.g., consumer uses) driving unreasonable risk, even if the upstream activities do not drive the unreasonable risk.

Separately, EPA is conducting a screening approach to assess potential risks from the air and water pathways for several of the first 10 chemicals, including carbon tetrachloride. For carbon tetrachloride, the exposure pathways that were or could be regulated under another EPA administered statute were excluded from the 2020 risk evaluation. This resulted in the ambient air and ambient/drinking water pathways for carbon tetrachloride not being assessed. EPA’s screening approach will identify if there are risks that were unaccounted for in the risk evaluation for carbon tetrachloride. While this analysis is underway, EPA is not incorporating the screening-level approach into this draft revised unreasonable risk determination. If the results suggest there is additional risk, EPA will determine if the risk management approach being contemplated for carbon tetrachloride will protect against these risks or if the risk evaluation will need to be formally supplemented or revised.

Note that EPA has not conducted new scientific analysis on carbon tetrachloride as part of today’s actions. The carbon tetrachloride risk evaluation (as corrected by the errata memorandum) continues to characterize risks associated with individual conditions of use. EPA will continue to rely on the evaluation of each condition of use to support any determination of unreasonable risk for carbon tetrachloride as a whole chemical substance.

EPA will accept public comments on the draft revised risk determination for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2016-0733 at www.regulations.gov.

Read the Draft Revised Unreasonable Risk Determination

Carbon Rivers makes wind turbine blade recycling and upcycling a reality with support from DOE

A large amount of recycled glass fiber placed in a cardboard box.
Carbon Rivers has achieved 99.9% recycled glass fiber purity from different end-of-life waste streams like wind turbine blades. The complete elimination of contaminants, along with high recoverable fiber aspect ratio and performance allows recycled glass fiber to displace virgin fiberglass in different composite applications. The high purity also opens the potential for remelting—allowing recycled glass fiber to be incorporated into virgin fiberglass, thereby closing the material loop and creating a circular economy. Photo from Carbon Rivers via DOE

Read the full story from U.S. DOE.

A new fiberglass recycling technology is helping to develop a circular wind turbine economy while creating jobs and revitalizing a historic site.

Carbon Rivers, a company that produces advanced material and energy technologies, has commercialized a process to recover clean, mechanically intact glass fiber from decommissioned wind turbine blades. Glass fibers are a key part of the composite—a material made up of multiple constituents such as polymers and fibers—used to create wind turbine blades. Typically, turbine blades are 50% glass or carbon fiber composite by weight. However, Carbon Rivers upcycles all components of the blade, including the steel.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, the Carbon Rivers project team, led by Ryan Ginder, Bowie Benson, and Eva Li in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, successfully scaled up a recovery process that has the capability to divert thousands of tons of waste that would otherwise be destined for landfills. To date, Carbon Rivers has upcycled a few thousand metric tons and is building capacity in their new facility to take in over 50,000 metric tons annually.

U.S. EPA announces Phase 1 winners of Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students

U.S. EPA recently announced the Phase 1 winners of the Environmental Justice (EJ) Video Challenge for Students. The challenge is intended to enhance communities’ capacity to address environmental and public health inequities. Its goals are to: 

  1. Inspire students at accredited colleges and universities in the United States and its territories to work directly with communities in the identification and characterization of EJ challenges using data and publicly available tools, and
  2. Help communities (including residents and other stakeholders) address EJ challenges and/or vulnerabilities to environmental and public health hazards using data and publicly available tools. 

In Phase 1 of the competition, students created a video to demonstrate innovative approaches to identify and characterize an EJ issue(s) in a select community using data and publicly available tools.

Phase 2 of the challenge will be open to eligible applicants (with at least one student participating from Phase 1 per team) and is expected to launch in September 2022. Phase 2 will focus on enhancing communities’ capacity to address the EJ issue identified in Phase 1. Students will work collaboratively with community-based organizations to develop a strategy that demonstrates effective community engagement and advocacy and/or a proposal to address the EJ issue.

Watch the winning Phase 1 videos.

A better way: An application for risk characterization of HABs on the Ohio River

Read the full story from U.S. EPA.

When you think of water, you might imagine deep blue ocean waves crashing against a shoreline or perhaps the still calm of a forested lake, but on an August morning in the summer of 2015, the lockmaster at the Pike Island Lock and Dam saw something much different. That day, EPA’s regional office in Wheeling, WV, received a concerned phone call from the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) notifying them of what was described as “antifreeze-green colored paint” flowing down the Ohio River. But this was no paint spill. Rather, Microcystis, a naturally occurring species of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, known to produce toxins harmful to animals and humans, was quickly taking over one of the most influential rivers in the continental U.S.

By mid-September of that same year, the Ohio River harmful algae bloom (HAB) was affecting over 700 miles of the 981-mile-long river. Advisories for recreational boaters remained in place until November. After the bloom ended, EPA began pulling together a team of professionals to address this safety concern in anticipation of future HABs events. By early 2017, the project team was forming a specific plan to address the need for a cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom (cyanoHAB) risk management tool for the Ohio River. An interdisciplinary team of EPA scientists began working together with ORSANCO to address this need.

Genetic alterations let plants capture more carbon

Read the full story at Centered.

Plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and transform it into essential chemicals via photosynthesis. Some of these natural chemicals, called aromatic compounds, are also used in a plethora of products for humans, including fuel, industrial materials, and medications like aspirin and morphine. But it’s difficult to get plants to make enough aromatic compounds for economical harvesting, and most of these chemicals for human use, therefore, are derived from fossil fuels.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered a way to alter plants’ genes so they produce more aromatics. Plus, the genetic change prompts plants to absorb 30% more CO2 than usual without negatively affecting the plants.

What makes dissolving detergent pods hold together, and are they safe for the environment?

Read the full story at Chemical & Engineering News.

They’re cute, they’re colorful, and they’re gobbling up market share in both home and personal cleaning.

Pods packed with detergent for laundry machines and dishwashers have been around for more than a decade, but in the past few years they’ve gone from niche product to mainstream. Beyond laundry and dishes, pods are starting to take root in personal care items such as shampoo. They are even rolling out as concentrated refills for products like window cleaner. But what are pods, and are they safe for the environment?

Should DC’s empty office buildings get turned into apartments?

Read the full story at Washingtonian.

It’s clear workers will never return in full force. Developers and local officials see an opportunity.