Preterm birth linked to chemicals found in the vagina, study finds

Read the full story from Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

A new study has found that chemicals that accumulate in the vagina, potentially originating from personal care products, may contribute to preterm birth.

Ruth Olurounbi and Kelechukwu Iruoma report on the health and environmental devastation wrought by oil operations in Nigeria

Read the full story at The Open Notebook.

Crude oil has been a major resource of the Nigerian state since it was discovered in the Niger Delta area in 1956 by a joint venture between Shell and British Petroleum. To this day, oil and gas account for over 80 percent of Nigeria’s total exports and about 65 percent of national revenue.

Shell and other multinational oil companies make billions of dollars in profits annually off the region—at great expense to the host communities. The Ogoni communities in Rivers State in the Niger Delta area have endured decades of oil spills and gas-instigated fires that have led to ecological destabilization and destruction, loss of livelihoods, migration, health hazards, biodiversity loss, and preventable deaths. Nigeria leads the world in volume of oil spilled; between 1976 and 1991, over 2 million barrels of oil polluted Ogoniland in 2,976 separate spills. The people of Ogoniland, to date, are still denied justice as it relates to their damaged environment (including farmland), health, and financial reparations. The Nigerian government has supported resuming oil exploration in the region despite years of protests and justice movements, which have been met with military brutality, court cases that have dragged on for generations, and further destruction of the environment in the form of pipeline vandalism and militancy.

In an award-winning, six-month-long investigation published in Ripples Nigeria and republished in three other outlets, Nigerian journalists Kelechukwu Iruoma and Ruth Olurounbi chronicled the devastating effects of oil development on the health and safety of the people of Ogoniland. Their investigation led them to several communities in the region whose residents spoke about their heart-rending plight living in a place where they can no longer plant crops, fish, breathe clean air, get justice, raise a family, or have a say in their communities as Indigenous people.

The reporters also obtained blood samples from area residents to test for medical evidence of oil spill–related diseases. The analysis revealed unhealthy changes in people’s livers and kidneys, which medical experts that Olurounbi and Iruoma consulted agreed were likely from exposure to oil-associated contaminants in their environment.

Nigerian journalist Amir Sadiq spoke to Olurounbi and Iruoma on the strategies, experiences, and research behind their investigation, which led to improvements in affected communities, including oil cleanup and provision of potable water, and even served as a source of evidence for communities suing the oil companies in court. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

EPA awards research funding to 25 small businesses to develop environmental technologies

In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $2,497,134 in research funding for 25 small businesses to develop technologies that address some of our most pressing environmental problems. Projects include technologies for detecting methane emissions, methods to prolong the shelf life of foods and reduce food waste, software systems to improve recycling and materials management, and a water sampling device to detect the presence of PFAS.

These awards are part of EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program which runs an annual, two-phase competition for funding. The 25 small businesses below are receiving up to $100,000 in Phase I funding for six months for “proof of concept” of their proposed technology. Companies that complete Phase I can then apply to receive Phase II funding of up to $400,000 to further develop and commercialize their technology.

SBIR Phase I winners and their proposed technologies are:

  • Beta Analytic (Miami, Fla.) to develop a novel method to trace fugitive sources of methane in atmospheric gas mixtures.
  • Can I Recycle This, Inc. (Athens, Ga.) to develop a circular economy solution that provides real-time, geospatial materials recovery information.
  • Censys Technologies Corporation (Daytona Beach, Fla.) to develop an innovative system for remote sensing of fugitive methane.
  • City of Roses Disposal and Recycling, Inc. (Portland, Ore.) to develop a real-time recycling inventory aggregation and management software for construction and demolition waste.
  • Cleaned and Green, LLC (Indian Springs Village, Ala.) to develop an enhanced efficiency poultry litter-based fertilizer that is cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
  • Aquarius Systems (North Prairie, Wis.) to develop an in-water collection and removal device to capture floating debris.
  • EIC Laboratories, Inc. (Norwood, Mass.) to develop a novel technique for rapid, on-site analysis of water quality.
  • Forever Analytical Services, Inc. (South Bend, Ind.) to develop a rapid, field-deployable water sampling device to measure PFAS.
  • GoodGames (Freeport, Maine) to develop a social networking platform to help build community resilience to disasters, threats, and extreme weather.
  • HJ Science & Technology, Inc. (San Leandro, Calif.) to develop a portable, on-site technology to detect PFAS in complex water environments. 
  • Hydrova Inc. (San Diego, Calif.) to develop a novel process for complete resource recovery and hydrogen production from secondary aluminum processing waste.
  • Imvela Corp (Brooklyn, N.Y.) to develop a novel, natural ingredient that reduces microbial spoilage and extends shelf life of fresh fruit.
  • Iterant, Inc. (Berkeley, Calif.) to develop an online platform for regional plastic packaging reuse systems.
  • J-Tech LLC (Lakewood, Colo.) to develop a septic tank technology that enables low-cost, sustainable disinfection of wastewater for on-site non-potable reuse.
  • Kamilo, Inc. (San Francisco, Calif.) to develop a digital verification system to confirm the percentage of recycled content in products to advance plastic circularity.
  • Mesa Photonics, LLC (Santa Fe, N.M.) to develop a methane monitoring network for continuous measurement of methane emissions.
  • Optimized Thermal Systems, Inc. (Beltsville, Md.) to optimize a machine for improved recovery of a refrigerant with high global warming potential.
  • LeapFrog Design (Bend, Ore.) to develop a modular ecological water treatment system for onsite capture and non-potable reuse from single-family residences.
  • Seacoast Science, Inc. (Carlsbad, Calif.) to develop a fully automated analyzer to monitor air toxics in indoor spaces.
  • Sporian Microsystems, Inc. (Lafayette, Colo.) to develop a high-speed, low-cost imaging system for improved identification of microplastics.
  • Ourobio (Charlottesville, Va.) to produce sustainable indigoid dyes and bioplastics using byproducts of dairy processing
  • UES, Inc. (Dayton, Ohio) to develop an innovative air toxic monitoring system for neighborhood-level monitoring.
  • VISIMO, LLC (Coraopolis, Pa.) to develop a machine learning toolkit for screening research published outside of commercial or academic publishing to improve systematic reviews for chemical risk assessment.
  • Wisely, Inc. (Wilmington, N.C.) to develop a smart food storage system to reduce household food waste by allowing users to track perishables.
  • Zabble Inc. (Walnut Creek, Calif.) to develop an artificial intelligence-based tagging platform for contamination monitoring audits to improve recycling.

Learn more about the winning companies.

London Underground polluted with metallic particles small enough to enter human bloodstream

Read the full story from the University of Cambridge.

The London Underground is polluted with ultrafine metallic particles small enough to end up in the human bloodstream, according to researchers. These particles are so small that they are likely being underestimated in surveys of pollution in the world’s oldest metro system.

Too many smelly candles? Here’s how scents impact the air quality in your home

Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

by Svetlana Stevanovic, Deakin University

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your home to smell nice and fresh – and from candles to diffusers, there’s no shortage of home scent products to help you achieve that.

But having rampant fragrances in our indoor air can dramatically impact air quality, coming with a host of potential problems.

Indoor air quality is a going concern

People in high- and middle-income countries spend 85-90% of their time indoors. An average person inhales up to 20,000 litres of air daily, and exposure to air pollutants in stagnant air indoors can pose risks to our health and wellbeing, causing symptoms such as eye irritation, respiratory issues and even headaches.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), levels of indoor air pollutants are typically more than three times higher than outdoors.

Sources of indoor pollution can be many: cooking, heating, scented cleaning products, and also the products we use to deodorise our living or working spaces – whether they’re candles, diffusers, room sprays, gels, beads or other products.

The sole purpose of home scents is to make the air smell nice. This means we’re intentionally releasing a mix of chemicals in an indoor environment and potentially lowering the indoor air quality.

Meet the VOCs

Air fresheners emit more than 100 different chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are airborne chemicals that include wide classes of organic compounds: terpenes such as limonene (lemon scent), alpha-pinene (smell of pine trees), and beta-pinene; solvents such as ethanol, formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and xylene, and many other compounds.

These VOCs will react with ozone and other indoor oxidants to generate a range of oxidation products, which are potentially toxic molecules. The level of exposure and concentration determines the potential toxicity.

Fragrances and ozone can also generate pollutants such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and free radicals, all classified as toxic or hazardous by agencies such as the EPA.

The type and amount of pollutants created by your home fragrance will depend on many factors, such as the type of product (does it burn or is it a vapour?), its composition (although ingredients aren’t always known), and the indoor air itself.

All air freshener types produce high emissions of volatile organic compounds in some settings. How scents are delivered into the space is reported to be less important for emissions than the composition of the scent in question.

Legally, the chemicals used in air fresheners do not have to be disclosed. Studies have found vast variation in what gets disclosed on the label.

Apart from fragrance compounds, a home scent can also emit solvents such as ethanol and iso-propanol, or dipropylene glycol and tens of others. Odourless solvents are of specific concern as it is difficult for a consumer to predict the impact and to be aware of higher concentrations present in the air.

Notably, manufacturers of scents can use the words “fragrance”, “perfume” and “essential oil” in the list of ingredients without specifying which chemicals are used to form the fragrance.

Typically, it can be tens or hundreds of different chemicals that were not disclosed.

an amber coloured diffuser with several wooden sticks on a windowsill
Apart from scent, home fragrances like diffusers also contain various solvents. H_Ko/Shutterstock

‘Green’ isn’t always better either

Even when the ingredients are listed on the label, it doesn’t mean the product is entirely off the hook.

For example, consumers can be easily misled by labels such as “green”, “organic” or “natural” on their products, also known as greenwashing.

There is generally a lack of awareness that the scents marketed as green or organic release similar amounts of potentially hazardous materials into the air as other products, as there’s no regulation on what can be labelled “green”.

For example, essential oils are natural aromatic compounds but, once released into the air, can form nanoparticles and pollutants such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.

Keeping it fresh

Our ubiquitous exposure to fragranced products, even at low levels, has been associated with various adverse health effects. In a study across the United States, Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, 32.2% of people were reported to have a sensitivity to fragrance. In those who are sensitive, fragrances are a risk factor for asthma and headaches.

All this doesn’t mean you must throw your scented candles in the bin. But using them in moderation is highly advisable if you care about the overall quality of your indoor air.

Although there is no safe threshold for exposure to particulate matter (such as soot) and VOCs, burning soy, beeswax or other non-paraffin candles in a moderate way – along with proper ventilation and/or indoor air filtration – should be considered generally safe.

That said, removing air fresheners, fragrances and scented candles will likely improve your indoor air quality overall. It will also make your living space safer for your family, pets and friends.

Some other measures you may consider to make your indoor environment cleaner and healthier are frequently ventilating spaces, using vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, using air purifiers, surrounding yourself with greenery, and cleaning regularly.

Svetlana Stevanovic, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering, Deakin University

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

Climate Change and Human Health Lesson Plans

NIEHS has developed Climate and Health learning modules for a variety of student audiences that explore the health impacts of climate change both in the United States and globally. Modules are suitable for use in high school and secondary school courses on earth, life, and environmental science, history, geography, health care or social studies classes. Modules are also available for medical school students and professional students in public health and health sciences.

EPA seeks public comment on National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives for Fiscal Years 2024-2027

U.S. EPA is soliciting public comment and recommendations on the National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (NECIs) for fiscal years 2024-2027 (formerly called National Compliance Initiatives).

EPA proposes to continue four of the six current national initiatives during the FY 2024-2027 cycle and return two of the current national initiatives to the core enforcement and compliance program. In addition, EPA proposes to address environmental justice concerns in all NECIs, and to add two new NECIs on mitigating climate change and addressing PFAS pollution, for the FY 2024-2027 cycle. 

EPA is proposing to continue the following four current NECIs in the FY 2024-2027 cycle:

  1. Creating Cleaner Air for Communities by Reducing Excess Emissions of Harmful Pollutants.
  2. Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities.
  3. Reducing Significant Non-Compliance in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program.
  4. Reducing Non-Compliance with Drinking Water Standards at Community Water Systems.

EPA is proposing to return these two current NECIs to the core enforcement and compliance programs:

  1. Reducing Toxic Air Emissions from Hazardous Waste Facilities.
  2. Stopping Aftermarket Defeat Devices for Vehicles and Engines. 

EPA is proposing to add these two new NECIs in the FY 2024-2027 cycle:

  1. Mitigating Climate Change.
  2. Addressing PFAS Contamination.

EPA is also taking comment on whether to add an NECI to address Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) pollution and/or lead contamination. The Agency is also accepting additional suggestions from the public. 

Comments are due by March 13.

‘All-natural’ Simply Orange Juice has high toxic PFAS levels, lawsuit alleges

Read the full story in The Guardian.

A new class-action lawsuit in the US alleges Coca-Cola and Simply Orange Juice deceived customers with claims of an all-natural, healthy product when the juice has been found to be contaminated with toxic PFAS at levels “hundreds of times” above federal advisory limits for drinking water.

Tyson, others, lose Oklahoma lawsuit over poultry pollution

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

The world’s largest poultry producer, Tyson Foods, is among nearly a dozen poultry companies that have less than two months to reach agreement with the state of Oklahoma on how to clean a watershed polluted by chicken litter.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell in Tulsa ruled Wednesday that Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and other companies polluted the Illinois River, caused a public nuisance and trespassed by spreading the litter, or manure, on land in eastern Oklahoma, and that it then leached into the river’s watershed.

The companies and the state have until March 17 to present an agreement on how to remedy the pollution’s effects, which includes low oxygen levels in the river, algae growth and damage to the fish population.

All in the planning: State policies working to fix Gulf nutrient pollution

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

Tackling nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico is a big job, requiring coordination between dozens of states whose waters flow into the Mississippi. Although a 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency memo set a framework for each state to reduce its nutrient load, it was up to the states to set their own policies in motion.

More than a decade on, critics have questioned the effectiveness of state nutrient reduction strategies, noting the still-massive hypoxic dead zones in the Gulf. In a new University of Illinois-led study, social scientists looked at the process states took to develop and implement their strategies, identifying key strengths and challenges that can inform other large-scale cooperative efforts.