New flame retardant threat documented in Great Lakes

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

A flame retardant has been discovered in sediment of the Great Lakes for the first time, and researchers say it may be here to stay.

Researchers sampled sediment from lakes Michigan, Ontario and Superior to track organophosphate esters, a group of chemicals that are used as flame retardants.  All three locations showed that the concentration of one of them—TCPP—has increased rapidly since 2000. It has replaced a more toxic flame retardant that was phased out.

Full research article: Dandan Cao, Jiehong Guo, Yawei Wang, Zhuona Li, Kang Liang, Margaret B. Corcoran, Soheil Hosseini, Solidea M. C. Bonina, Karl J. Rockne, Neil C. Sturchio, John P. Giesy, Jingfu Liu, An Li, and Guibin Jiang (2017). “Organophosphate Esters in Sediment of the Great Lakes.” Environmental Science & Technology 51 (3), 1441-1449.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b05484

Abstract: This is the first study on organophosphate ester (OPEs) flame retardants and plasticizers in the sediment of the Great Lakes. Concentrations of 14 OPEs were measured in three sediment cores and 88 Ponar surface grabs collected from Lakes Ontario, Michigan, and Superior of North America. The sum of these OPEs (Σ14OPEs) in Ponar grabs averaged 2.2, 4.7, and 16.6 ng g–1 dw in Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Ontario, respectively. Multiple linear regression analyses demonstrated statistically significant associations between logarithm concentrations of Σ14OPEs as well as selected congeners in surface grab samples and sediment organic carbon content as well as a newly developed urban distance factor. Temporal trends observed in dated sediment cores from Lake Michigan demonstrated that the recent increase in depositional flux to sediment is dominated by chlorinated OPEs, particularly tris(2-chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCPP), which has a doubling time of about 20 years. Downward diffusion within sediment may have caused vertical fractionation of OPEs over time. Two relatively hydrophilic OPEs including TCPP had much higher concentrations in sediment than estimated based on equilibria between water and sediment organic carbon. Approximately a quarter (17 tonnes) of the estimated total OPE burden (63 tonnes) in Lake Michigan resides in sediment, which may act as a secondary source releasing OPEs to the water column for years to come.

Should we power ahead with very large wind farms?

Read the full story at EnvironmentalResearchWeb.

In the North Sea, clusters of smaller wind farms may be more efficient than single very large wind farms, according to a team from Denmark. But onshore or in offshore areas with very strong winds, very large wind farms are an option.

Electricity: Status of Residential Deployment of Solar and Other Technologies and Potential Benefits and Challenges

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What GAO Found

Federal and state policymakers have used a range of policies to encourage the deployment of solar systems and other technologies that allow residential customers to generate, store, and manage their electricity consumption. For example, federal tax incentives—such as the investment tax credit—have reduced customers’ up-front costs of installing solar systems. In addition, a Department of Energy funded database of renewable energy incentives identifies 41 states with net metering policies that require electricity suppliers to credit customers for electricity sent from their solar systems to the grid, providing an additional incentive. Moreover, in 14 states, customers can also receive state tax credits for installing solar systems, according to the database, which further reduces the up-front costs.

According to GAO’s analysis of Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, deployment of solar systems has increased significantly in some states, with the total number of residential customers with solar systems increasing sevenfold from 2010 to 2015. However, customers with solar systems represent a very small portion of overall electricity customers—about 0.7 percent of U.S. residential customers in 2015, according to EIA data. Every state experienced growth in the number of customers with residential solar systems, although certain states, such as California and Hawaii, accounted for most of the growth and have had more widespread deployment. For example, about 14 percent of residences in Hawaii have installed a solar system, according to EIA data. Although comprehensive data on the deployment of electricity storage systems and smart devices are not available, the data and information provided by stakeholders GAO interviewed suggest their deployment is limited.

The increasing residential deployment of solar systems and other technologies poses potential benefits and challenges, and some policymakers have implemented or are considering measures to address these, as GAO found in its analysis of reports and stakeholder interviews. Specifically, these technologies can provide potential benefits through more efficient grid operation, for example, if customers use these technologies to reduce their consumption of electricity from the grid during periods of high demand. Nonetheless, grid operators GAO interviewed said they have begun to confront grid management and other challenges in some areas as solar deployment increases. For example, in some areas of Hawaii, solar systems have generated more electricity than the grid was built to handle, which resulted in the need for infrastructure upgrades in these areas. However, grid operators reported that challenges generally have been manageable because overall residential solar deployment has been low. Policymakers in some states have implemented or are considering measures to maximize potential benefits and mitigate potential challenges associated with the increasing deployment of these technologies. For example, two states’ regulators have required electricity suppliers to identify areas of the grid where solar and other technologies would be most beneficial to grid operation. In addition, several state regulators recently have allowed electricity suppliers to adopt voluntary time-based electricity prices that increase when demand for electricity is high, providing customers with an incentive to reduce consumption at these times, potentially by using solar, storage, and other technologies.

Why GAO Did This Study

Traditionally, electricity has moved in one direction—from electricity suppliers to customers. Today, solar systems allow electricity to be generated at a customer’s home and sent to the grid for electricity suppliers to use to meet other customers’ electricity needs. Storage systems allow residential customers to store electricity from the grid or their own solar system for use at a later time. Furthermore, customers can use smart devices, such as thermostats, to manage their electricity consumption.

GAO was asked to provide information on the deployment and use of technologies that give customers the ability to generate, store, and manage electricity. This report describes (1) key federal and state policies used to encourage the deployment of these technologies, (2) the extent to which these technologies are being deployed, and (3) the benefits and challenges of deploying these technologies. GAO analyzed available data on technology deployment from EIA and reviewed relevant reports and regulatory documents. GAO interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 46 government agencies and stakeholder organizations. This sample included state regulators and at least one electricity supplier from each of five states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, and New York, which were selected based on state policies and having high levels of technology deployment.

GAO is not making recommendations in this report.

Antibiotic Resistance: More Information Needed to Oversee Use of Medically Important Drugs in Food Animals

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What GAO Found

Since 2011, when GAO last reported on this issue, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has increased veterinary oversight of antibiotics and, with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), has made several improvements in collecting data on antibiotic use in food animals and resistance in bacteria. For example, HHS’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulation and guidance for industry recommending changes to drug labels. However, oversight gaps still exist. For example, changes to drug labels do not address long-term and open-ended use of antibiotics for disease prevention because some antibiotics do not define duration of use on their labels. FDA officials told GAO they are seeking public comments on establishing durations of use on labels, but FDA has not clearly defined objectives for closing this gap, which is inconsistent with federal internal control standards. Without doing so, FDA will not know whether it is ensuring judicious use of antibiotics. Moreover, gaps in farm-specific data on antibiotic use and resistance that GAO found in 2011 remain. GAO continues to believe HHS and USDA need to implement a joint on-farm data collection plan as previously recommended. In addition, FDA and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) do not have metrics to assess the impact of actions they have taken, which is inconsistent with leading practices for performance measurement. Without metrics, FDA and APHIS cannot assess the effects of actions taken to manage the use of antibiotics.

Three selected countries and the European Union (EU), which GAO reviewed, have taken various actions to manage use of antibiotics in food animals, including strengthening oversight of veterinarians’ and producers’ use of antibiotics, collecting farm-specific data, and setting targets to reduce antibiotic use. The Netherlands has primarily relied on a public-private partnership, whereas Canada, Denmark, and the EU have relied on government policies and regulations to strengthen oversight and collect farm-specific data. Since taking these actions, the use or sales of antibiotics in food animals decreased and data collection improved, according to foreign officials and data reports GAO reviewed. Still, some U.S. federal officials and stakeholders believe that similar U.S. actions are not feasible because of production differences and other factors.

HHS and USDA officials said they have not conducted on-farm investigations during foodborne illness outbreaks including those from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animal products. In 2014, USDA agencies established a memorandum of understanding to assess the root cause of foodborne illness outbreaks. However, in 2015 in the agencies’ first use of the memorandum, there was no consensus among stakeholders on whether to conduct foodborne illness investigations on farms and the memorandum does not include a framework to make this determination, similar to a decision matrix used in other investigations. According to a directive issued by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, foodborne illness investigations shall include identifying contributing factors and recommending actions or new policies to prevent future occurrences. Developing a framework, in coordination with HHS’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other stakeholders, would help USDA identify factors that contribute to or cause foodborne illness outbreaks, including those from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animal products.

Why GAO Did This Study

According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health. CDC estimates antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause at least 2 million human illnesses in the United States each year, and there is strong evidence that some resistance in bacteria is caused by antibiotic use in food animals (cattle, poultry, and swine). HHS and USDA are primarily responsible for ensuring food safety, including safe use of antibiotics in food animals. In 2011, GAO reported on antibiotic use and recommended addressing gaps in data collection. GAO was asked to update this information. This report (1) examines actions HHS and USDA have taken to manage use of antibiotics in food animals and assess the impact of their actions, (2) identifies actions selected countries and the EU have taken to manage use of antibiotics in food animals, and (3) examines the extent to which HHS and USDA conducted on-farm investigations of foodborne illness outbreaks from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animal products.

GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials and stakeholders. GAO selected three countries and the EU for review because they have taken actions to mitigate antibiotic resistance.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making six recommendations, including that HHS address oversight gaps, HHS and USDA develop metrics for assessing progress in achieving goals, and USDA develop a framework with HHS to decide when to conduct on-farm investigations. USDA agreed and HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendations.

Biofuels can slash aircraft particle emissions and reduce contrails

Read the full story at New Atlas.

By collecting and analyzing the contrails created by planes running on a biofuel mix, a NASA study has found that biofuels can cut particle emissions by as much as 70 percent. The benefits come not just from reducing carbon emitted directly into the atmosphere but by also cutting down the chance of contrails forming, which can have an even bigger impact on the Earth’s atmosphere.

Scientists Now Know Exactly How Lead Got Into Flint’s Water

Read the full story from Smithsonian Magazine.

New report published in Environmental Science & Technology blames corrosion and warns that fixing lead poisoning nationwide will require more work than we hoped.

Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals can Adversely Affect Brain Development

Read the full story from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Findings published today provide evidence that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) causes changes in thyroid hormone signalling, which disturbs brain development.

The results are published by Nature in a peer-reviewed paper in Scientific Reports entitled “Human amniotic fluid contaminants alter thyroid hormone signalling and early brain development in Xenopus embryos”.