Category: Environmental health

Despite cleaner air, pollution disparities for people of color remain across the US

Read the full story from the University of Washington.

Researchers investigated disparities in exposure to six major air pollutants in 1990, 2000 and 2010 by comparing models of air pollution levels to census data. While overall pollutant concentrations have decreased since 1990, people of color are still more likely to be exposed to all six pollutants than white people, regardless of income level, across the continental United States.

Pilsen environmental group calls on city to deny new permit for Sims Metal shredder

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago.

A Pilsen environmental group is calling on the city to deny a new permit for a controversial metal shredder in the neighborhood over concerns about air pollution.

The Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization has been working for years to raise awareness about Sims Metal Management, 2500 S. Paulina St., and the impact it has on the surrounding neighborhood, said data scientist and PERRO volunteer Troy Hernandez. Now, the metal scrapper’s permit is up for renewal.

Hernandez and PERRO volunteer Donald Wink, a University of Illinois Chicago chemistry professor, posted a video to YouTube last week detailing alleged issues with Sims’ application and argued the facility should be shut down until it can prove it’s operating appropriately. 

‘Forever chemicals’ can ‘boomerang’ from ocean waves to shore: study

Read the full story at The Hill.

Many of the “forever chemicals” that end up in the ocean can “boomerang back to shore” after crashing waves reemit the compounds into the air, a new study has found.

This “sea-to-air transport” mechanism is polluting the air in coastal regions with toxic compounds called PFAS, according to the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology on Wednesday.

A key tool for cleaning up oil spills is more hazardous than helpful

Read the full story at Hakai Magazine.

In the decade since the record-breaking use of oil dispersants in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, science shows they’re dangerous, potentially deadly, and rarely useful. A new court case is forcing the US EPA to reconsider their use.

Offshore Oil Spills: Additional Information is Needed to Better Understand the Environmental Tradeoffs of Using Chemical Dispersants

Download the document.

What GAO Found

When an oil spill occurs, responders have several options to manage the environmental effects, including using chemical dispersants (see figure). Chemical dispersants used on a surface oil slick can be effective at breaking up floating oil, which can help prevent the oil from reaching shore and harming sensitive ecosystems, according to studies GAO reviewed and stakeholders GAO interviewed. However, the effectiveness of applying dispersants below the ocean surface—such as in response to an uncontrolled release of oil from a subsurface wellhead—is not well understood for various reasons. For example, measurements for assessing effectiveness of dispersants applied at the subsurface wellhead during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had limitations and were inconclusive. In addition, there are limited experimental data on the effectiveness of subsurface dispersants that reflect conditions found in the deep ocean.

Application of Chemical Dispersants at the Surface by Aircraft and Boat
Application of Chemical Dispersants at the Surface by Aircraft and Boat

Chemically dispersed oil is known to be toxic to some ocean organisms, but broader environmental effects are not well understood. Dispersants themselves are considered significantly less toxic than oil, but chemically dispersing oil can increase exposure to the toxic compounds in oil for some ocean organisms, such as early life stages of fish and coral. Other potentially harmful effects of chemically dispersed oil, especially in the deep ocean, are not well understood due to various factors. These factors include laboratory experiments about the toxicity of chemically dispersed oil that use inconsistent test designs and yield conflicting results, experiments that do not reflect ocean conditions, and limited information on organisms and natural processes that exist in the deep ocean.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies have taken some actions to help ensure decision makers have quality information to support decisions on dispersant use. For example, the Coast Guard and EPA have assessed the environmental effects of using dispersants on a surface slick. However, they have not assessed the environmental effects of the subsurface use of dispersants. By assessing the potential environmental effects of the subsurface use of dispersants, the Coast Guard and EPA could help ensure that decision makers are equipped with quality information about the environmental tradeoffs associated with decisions to use dispersants in the deep ocean.

Why GAO Did This Study

In April 2010, an explosion onboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in 11 deaths and the release of approximately 206 million gallons of oil. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, responders applied dispersants to the oil slick at the ocean surface as well as at the wellhead more than 1,500 meters below the surface. The subsurface use of dispersants was unprecedented and controversial.

GAO was asked to review what is known about the use of chemical dispersants. This report examines, among other things, what is known about the effectiveness of dispersants, what is known about the effects of chemically dispersed oil on the environment, and the extent to which federal agencies have taken action to help ensure decision makers have quality information to support decisions on dispersant use. GAO reviewed scientific studies, laws, regulations, and policies. GAO also interviewed agency officials and stakeholders from academia and industry.

Building Community Resilience to Disasters: A Review of Interventions to Improve and Measure Public Health Outcomes in the Northeastern United States

Abrash Walton, A.; Marr, J.; Cahillane, M.J.; Bush, K. (2021). “Building Community Resilience to Disasters: A Review of Interventions to Improve and Measure Public Health Outcomes in the Northeastern United States.” Sustainability 13, 11699.

Abstract: Climate change-related natural disasters, including wildfires and extreme weather events, such as intense storms, floods, and heatwaves, are increasing in frequency and intensity. These events are already profoundly affecting human health in the United States and globally, challenging the ability of communities to prepare, respond, and recover. The purpose of this research was to examine the peer-reviewed literature on community resilience initiatives in one of the most densely populated and economically important regions, the Northeastern United States, and to identify evidence-based interventions and metrics that had been field-tested and evaluated.

This paper addresses two critical gaps in the literature:

  1. What strategies or interventions have been implemented to build or enhance community resilience against climate change-related natural disasters
  2. What metrics were used to measure community resilience as an outcome of those strategies or interventions?

This review provides a succinct list of effective interventions with specific health outcomes. Community or state-level health officials can use the results to prioritize public health interventions. This review used existing database search tools to discover 205 studies related to community resilience and health outcomes.

Methods set criteria to assess if interventions were able to measure and change levels of community resilience to the health impacts associated with a changing climate. Criteria included: (a) alignment with the United States’ National Preparedness Goal for reducing risks to human health and for recovering quickly from disasters; (b) derived from publicly available data sources; (c) developed for use by communities at a local scale; and (d) accessible to modestly resourced municipalities and county health agencies. Five (5) peer-reviewed, evidence-based studies met all of the selection criteria.

Three of these articles described intervention frameworks and two reported on the use of standardized tools. Health-related outcomes included mental health impacts (PTSD/depression), mental stress, emergency preparedness knowledge, social capital skills, and emergency planning skills. The paper recommends the COAST project, COPEWELL Rubric for self-assessment, and Ready CDC intervention as examples of strategies that could be adapted by any community engaged in building community resilience.View resource

‘A trash heap for our children’: How Norilsk, in the Russian Arctic, became one of the most polluted places on Earth

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

A smelting company has poisoned rivers, killed off boreal forest and belched out more sulfur dioxide than active volcanoes. Now it wants to produce more metal for the “green economy.”

City partners up to monitor particulate matter in the air

Read the full story at Austin Monitor.

Austin has begun working to better monitor the quality of its air. The Clean Air Force of Central Texas is working in partnership with the city of Austin’s Office of Sustainability and the Austin Independent School District to install PurpleAir monitors – a low-cost device that measures particulate matter in the air – in public schools across town as part of the Regional Air Quality Plan.

Contaminated drinking water from Peoples Gas leak persists, funds to fix frozen as lawsuit continues

Read the full story from C-U Citizen Access.

A 2016 gas leak into the drinking water supply north of Mahomet continues to be a hot topic, embroiled in regulatory action and lawsuits even five years after the leak.

The first official report of a methane leak from the underground holding wells of Peoples Gas was reported on December 20, 2016. The problem location was at County Rd 350 E. in the township of Newcomb, just north of Mahomet and near Fisher, IL. 

Peoples Gas claims to have capped off the well that was leaking and terminated its use. However, residents in homes in the vicinity said they were still affected by the leak. 

The situation also has led to several initiatives and prompted legislation to solve the problem. However, it took nearly a year before a case was brought to the Illinois Attorney General’s office in October 2017. 

EPA denies extension for Ameren to stop dumping coal ash, gypsum at two power plants

Read the full story in the Missouri Independent.

The move was part of a series of steps the agency said it would take to protect communities from harmful coal ash contamination.

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