Burning Trash Adds to Air Pollution Problems

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Trash burning around the globe is worsening air pollution, pumping more emissions into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to a new study. 

More than 40 percent of the world’s garbage is burned in such fires, emitting gases and particles that can substantially affect human health and climate change, estimates the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which led the study. 

The study looked at pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, and mercury that are emitted by the fires, as well as carbon dioxide – the most common greenhouse gas produced by human activity.

With trash burning causing such harmful health and environmental effects, you would think the practice would get more attention. But reality is emissions from burning trash in open fires often go unreported to environmental agencies and are left out of many national inventories of air pollution. As a result, there are currently no policies regulating the act.

“Air pollution across much of the globe is significantly underestimated because no one is tracking open-fire burning of trash,” NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “The uncontrolled burning of trash is a major source of pollutants, and it’s one that should receive more attention.”

To estimate emissions from trash fires, Wiedinmyer and her co-authors compared population numbers and waste production to official tallies of trash disposal for each country in the world. They found that approximately 1.1 billion tons, or 41 percent, of the world’s waste is disposed of through unregulated burning every year.

China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and Turkey are the countries guilty of producing the greatest amount of emissions from trash burning. But, it’s not just a problem in developing nations. Many people right here in Middle Tennessee still burn their garbage. 

As much as 29 percent of particulates, 10 percent of mercury, and 40 percent of gases known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) comes from trash burning fires – pollutants linked to such significant health impacts as decreased lung function, neurological disorders, cancer, and heart attacks.

“This study was a first step to put some bounds on the magnitude of this issue,” Wiedinmyer added. “The next step is to look at what happens when these pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere – where are they being transported and which populations are being most affected.”

The results were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

AP: EPA Staff Says Agency Needs to Be Tough on Smog

By Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer

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i-65 rush hour traffic in nashville

 

The Environmental Protection Agency’s staff has concluded that the government needs to tighten smog rules by somewhere between 7 and 20 percent.

In its final recommendation in a 597-page report, the agency staff agrees with EPA’s outside scientific advisers that the 6-year-old standard for how much smog is allowed needs to be stricter, saying it will save a significant number of lives and cut hospital visits. An earlier version of the report came to a similar conclusion.

Industry representatives criticized the recommendation as way too costly, while environmental activists hailed it as a public health measure.

Since 2008, the standard has allowed up to 75 parts of ozone per billion parts of air. The staff report recommends between 60 and 70 parts per billion. The report says it will provide more health protection for higher risk populations, including the elderly, very young, outdoor workers and people with asthma and lung disease. And it estimated that there are tens of millions, if not more than 100 million people, in that at-risk category.

When the agency tried to make a similar rule a few years ago, it estimated it would cost up to $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever proposed. After industry and Republicans in Congress criticized it, President Barack Obama withdrew it in 2011.

Ross Eisenberg, a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, said Friday the rule that staff recommends would cost up to $270 billion a year. In a written statement, he said “the current standard of 75 parts per billion protects public health” and added that there is much “financial risk evident in this new regulation.”

Industry for four decades has exaggerated the costs of cleaning up air, countered Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, saying the current rule is too weak.

“EPA’s ultimate decision is literally a matter of life and death,” said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local air regulators. “While the costs may be significant, the costs of inaction, including billions of dollars of health and welfare impacts are overwhelming.”

A 2011 EPA study looked at the history of air pollution regulations and found that the benefit of clean air in better health and reduced deaths “vastly exceeds” the costs of air pollution rules going back to 1990. It said that by the year 2020, overall costs of air pollution rules would be $65 billion a year, while savings would be worth almost $2 trillion a year.

Federal law requires that air quality rules be updated every five years. A federal judge ordered the EPA to have a new rule by December after environmental groups sued to get the government to tighten existing rules.

Learn More Online:

The EPA staff report: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/ozone/data/20140829pa.pdf

The EPA report on costs of air pollution rules: http://www.epa.gov/cleanairactbenefits/feb11/summaryreport.pdf

First Air Quality Alert of 2014 Issued for Tomorrow, August 5, 2014

OZONE PREDICTED TO REACH UNHEALTHY LEVELS TOMORROW

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – An ORANGE level Air Quality Alert for ozone has been issued for Middle Tennessee for TUESDAY, AUGUST 5, 2014. This is the first Air Quality Alert of the 2014 ozone season, which is unusual for the Middle Tennessee area where Air Alert Season officially begins in April.

“Cooler than average temperatures for most of the summer helped keep the air quality in check,” said Becky Taylor, CAP Program Director. “But with hot dry weather moving into the area, this air alert was not a surprise.”

The Air Quality Alert means that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is forecasting tomorrow’s ozone levels to be unhealthy for sensitive groups. People with lung disease such as asthma, children and older adults, and people who are active outdoors should limit prolonged exertion outdoors tomorrow.

“Children are especially susceptible to ozone because their lungs are still developing and they breathe more for their body size compared to adults,” said Melissa Stevens, CAP Communications Director. “We recommend trying to limit children’s strenuous outdoor activity tomorrow. The same is true for adults who like to exercise outside.”

To help lessen the effects of tomorrow’s ozone levels, the Clean Air Partnership of Middle Tennessee encourages citizens to incorporate smarter driving habits into their daily routines.

“Ozone is a very reactive pollutant, so individuals can actually help reduce the ozone tomorrow by making a few simple changes,” said Stevens. “We recommend trying your best to reduce your driving — take public transit, avoid driving during peak traffic periods if you can, and skip the drive thru at fast food restaurants and banks.”

The Clean Air Partnership is urging citizens to consider taking the following steps on Air Quality Alert days:

  • Carpool or take the train or bus at least once a week and on air alert days.
  • Combine errands into a single trip, and reduce or postpone trips in your car.
  • Reduce idling: Schedule your day to avoid driving during peak traffic times, and skip the drive-thru and go inside.
  • Refuel your car after dusk, when it’s cooler and ozone production has tapered off.
  • Postpone the use of gas-powered lawn equipment until the air quality improves.

About Ozone

Ozone is a gas created from chemicals in the air that react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Ozone pollution is more prevalent in the summer months because the strong light from the sun “cooks” the chemicals emitted by cars, power plants, chemical plants and other sources. Cars and trucks commuting to and from metropolitan areas are a major source of the ozone problem. The emissions from thousands of cars – paired with warm weather – lead to Air Quality Alert days and diminished air quality.

About the Clean Air Partnership of Middle Tennessee

The Clean Air Partnership of Middle Tennessee is a nonprofit organization focused on air quality in the eight-county area that falls under the Nashville-area Early Action Compact agreement (Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties). CAP works to encourage lifestyle changes by promoting concepts like carpooling, mass transit and regular car maintenance. From issuing Air Quality Alert notices to matching rideshare partners, CAP is a one-stop information source connecting people with the resources they need to make smart transportation choices. Visit the Clean Air Partnership at http://www.itscleartome.org.

Air quality monitoring, regulations credited for cleaner air

The following excerpt originally appeared on the Discovery News website. 

Satellite data shows a 32 percent decrease in nitrogen dioxide levels over New York City since the mid-2000s. Credit: NASA

 

If you get depressed about the plethora of news about environmental woes, here’s a bit of news that should make you breathe easier.

NASA has just released new images from its Aura satellite, which was launched back in 2004 to study the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere. They show that over the past decade, the amount of nitrogen dioxide — a yellow-brown gas produced by gasoline-burning car engines and coal-burning electrical power plants that can cause respiratory problems — has decreased. That’s true, even though the U.S. population has increased and there are more cars on the road.

The satellite observations show that even New York City, the most densely populous area in the United States, is making major progress in reducing N02 pollution. The city that never sleeps has been working aggressively over the past decade to monitor and reduce air pollution.

In the late 2000s, New York began mounting portable air-sampling devices on light poles in all five boroughs. Last year, the city began a pilot program to test quick-charging electric-powered taxis.

 

Read the full article here.

 

 

Marketplace.org – LA Smog: the battle against air pollution

by Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.org

“If you have to live with smog, you might as well capitalize on it. In downtown Los Angeles in 1954, you could buy a balloon-full of “clean air.” Today it’s sold by the can-full in smoggy Beijing.” – Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

When we see photos of Beijing shrouded in a veil of thick smog, we’re horrified. How can the Chinese live with such terrible air pollution?

One answer is: Americans did. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, people in Los Angeles breathed some of the dirtiest air in the world.

Los Angeles still has smog, of course, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. How did the city get its act together?

It took decades. Los Angeles had its first real smog attack during World War II, a smog strong enough that some people suspected a Japanese chemical attack. But it wasn’t until 1975 that the U.S. required new cars to have catalytic converters, “the key piece of technology that allowed everything to change,” according to Mary Nichols, chairman of California’s Air Resources Board. In between, there were frustrating years of scientific research, industry denial, politics, protest and an unwavering attachment to the automobile.

Los Angeles, like Denver and Mexico City, is a natural pollution trap. The surrounding mountains combine with temperature inversions to trap dirty air. Early on, smoke and fumes from steel and chemical plants, oil refineries and backyard trash incinerators – legal until the late 1950s – plagued the city.

As did pollution from automobiles. Los Angeles County had more than a million vehicles on the road as early as 1940. Just 10 years later, that number more than doubled as the post-war LA population and economy boomed. City leaders, including the Chamber of Commerce, realized that air pollution threatened tourism, real estate and agriculture.

“They’d promoted Los Angeles as this clean, healthy place,” said historian Sarah Elkind, author of “How Local Politics Shape Federal Policy: Business, Power, and the Environment in Twentieth Century Los Angeles.” So in 1947, the county established an Air Pollution Control District, the first of its kind.

Continue reading this article here.

Curbing air pollution, one bamboo bike at a time

This article was originally posted at http://www.dw.de/curbing-air-pollution-one-bamboo-bike-at-a-time/a-17700515.

 

Manila is known more for its gridlocked traffic jams and air pollution than for green spaces or pedestrianized walkways. Bamboo bikes could change that by curbing emissions and helping pave the way to go green.

 

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Visitors on bikes cycle past Manila’s historical area of Intramuros – from the secret gardens scattered between Fort Santiago to lookout points to hear tales of pirates and revolutions. For the next two and a half hours, people ride on bikes made from bamboo.

Bryan McClelland, a 29-year-old Filipino-American, is the man behind the concept of Bambikes, the company that creates bikes made from bamboo in the Philippines. He founded Bambikes in 2010, but has just recently launched his bamboo bike tours in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

“There’s a growing global trend of biking. A lot of different cities now have bike tours because it’s a great way to interact with the environment and city,” McClelland explained. “Intramuros seemed like the natural place in Manila to start the tours. It is the oldest part of the city has some cultural heritage and is a preserved environment.”

Continue reading here. 

REUTERS: Air pollution linked to cognitive decline in later years

BY SHEREEN LEHMAN FOR REUTERS

(originally posted to http://www.reuters.com)

(Reuters Health) – The tiny particles in vehicle exhaust and other sources of air pollution may hasten cognitive decline in older adults, according to a new U. S. study.

 

“We decided to examine the link between air pollution and cognitive function in older adults because there is growing evidence that fine particulate matter air pollution affects brain health and development, but relatively little attention has been given to what this means for the aging brain,” said Jennifer Ailshire, who co-wrote the report.

 

Ailshire is with the Center for Biodemography and Population Health and the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

 

She, along with Philippa Clarke of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, say that based on their results, improvements in air quality may be an important strategy for reducing age-related cognitive decline.

 

Continue reading the full article on Reuters. 

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