Environment: Study shows globalization of pollution

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Haze over eastern China. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory. (LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team).

Researchers say West Coast smog partially caused by pollutants from Chinese factories that export products to the U.S.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Globalization of trade has nibbled away at the gap between the have- and have-not countries, but the massive transfer of manufacturing also had some unforeseen consequences for the environment.

For example, air pollution blowing across the Pacific Ocean from China to the West Coast of the U.S. is often caused by the production of the very goods that end up being bought by American consumers, according to research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is the first to quantify how much pollution reaching the American West Coast is from the production in China of cellphones, televisions and other consumer items imported here and elsewhere. Continue reading

Power plant greenhouse gas emissions drop 23 percent

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Switching to natural gas power generation has helped slow the pace of greenhouse gas emissions. Photo via the Wikimedia Commons.

Coal losing ground, but is still the biggest source of fuel for generating electricity

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The gradual shift to natural gas power plants may not be a panacea for reducing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, but the switch has helped slow the pace emissions.

“Since more and more of our electricity is coming from these cleaner power plants, emissions from the power sector are lower by 20, 30 even 40 percent for some gases since 1997,” said NOAA atmospheric scientists Joost de Gouw. Continue reading

Scientists launch crowdfunding effort to study winter ozone formation in Utah’s fracking patch

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development in eastern Utah  are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Snow may intensify the air quality impacts of energy development

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A team of American and Canadian scientists want to unravel some of the secrets of winter ozone formation related to oil and gas drilling — and they need your help.

University of Washington atmospheric researcher Becky Alexander, who is leading the January research project in Utah’s Uintah Basin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the field work. The team wants to raise $12,ooo in the next three weeks via their project website at mycroriza.com.

“It’s a global outreach effort,” Alexander said, explaining that crowdfunding for scientific research is a new and growing movement. Grassroots funding helps eliminate some of the administrative overhead costs sometimes associated with traditional sources of money. Sometimes, as much as 50 to 60 percent of federal funding ends up going toward overhead, she explained. Continue reading

This year’s Colorado Climate Network conference to focus on local emissions reductions

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Global CO2 emissions continue to increase.

More action needed to meet emissions targets

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With global greenhouse gas emissions headed for a new record high this year, it’s clear that more needs to be done to avert a catastrophic temperature increase.

Leadership from the Obama administration helps set the tone for concerted action at all levels, beginning with individual choices and stepping up through communities, states and regions. In Colorado, many communities have already made great progress in reducing heat-trapping pollutants, but additional measures are needed to meet short- and long term goals.

Next month’s Colorado Climate Network conference (Dec. 12) will focus on local emissions reductions and includes sessions on the results of state and local emissions inventories, as well as spotlighting some successful local programs that could serve as models for other communities. Continue reading

Environment: Study finds airborne carcinogens downwind of tar sands processing area in Canada

Findings suggest that fossil fuel companies are not reporting all of their toxic emissions

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Using data from a NASA satellite, researchers have found that the emission of pollutants from oil sands mining operations in Canada’s Alberta Province are comparable to the emissions from a large power plant or a moderately sized city. The emissions from the energy-intensive mining effort come from excavators, dump trucks, extraction pumps and wells, and refining facilities where the oil sands are processed. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory web page for more information.

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The mines follow the course of the Athabasca River, the dark brown ribbon of water that runs down the center of the image. The river is essential to the operation. Over the course of its very long lifetime, the river has eroded through the sediment that once covered the oil deposit, gradually bringing it close to the surface. Without the river, the oil sands would likely be buried beneath a thick layer of earth. For more information, visit this NASA Earth Observatory web page.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Airborne pollutants, including cancer-causing chemicals, are showing up downwind of Canada’s largest oil, gas and tar sands processing zone, in a rural area where men suffer elevated rates of cancers linked to chemicals like 1,3-butadiene and benzene.

The findings, compiled by researchers with the University of California-Irvine and the University of Michigan, also suggested that, in some cases, companies are not reporting all of the tons of chemicals they release. The sampling found high levels of 1,3-butadiene that could only have come from one facility, but there were no records of the company reporting those emissions.

“Our study was designed to test what kinds of concentrations could be encountered on the ground during a random visit downwind of various facilities. We’re seeing elevated levels of carcinogens and other gases in the same area where we’re seeing excess cancers known to be caused by these chemicals,” said UC Irvine chemist Isobel Simpson, lead author of the paper in Atmospheric Environment. Continue reading

Climate: U.S. Supreme Court eyes greenhouse gas ruling

aggi_figure1By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Supreme Court won’t question the EPA‘s fundamental finding that greenhouse gases are a big environmental threat, but the justices will decide how far the agency’s authority to regulate those gases extends.

At issue is the EPA’s ability to set emission limits on cars, factories and power plants — all key pieces in the Obama administration’s push to get a handle on global warming. Big business, of course, would like to see business-as-usual, and along with several states, legally challenged the EPA’s rule-making authority. Continue reading

Unregulated ammonia emissions from agriculture seen as environmental threat in national parks

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A new study says trees in some national parks in the U.S. are already being damaged by deposition of ammonia and nitrogen compounds stemming from agriculture.

Depositions already exceeding critical thresholds in some parks

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — From the high country of the Pacific Northwest to the hardwood forests of New England, airborne deposition of ammonia and nitrogen are already taking a toll on national parks.

In Great Smoky Mountain National Park, for example, the amount of nitrogen being deposited per hectare already far exceeds the threshold that causes damage, according to a study led by Harvard University scientists.

Hardwood trees start to suffer when nitrogen deposition reaches approximately 3 to 8 kilograms per hectare, per year. According to the new study, the actual rate of deposition is about 13.6 kilograms per hectare, per year. In the forests of Mount Rainier National Park, it’s the lichens that suffer first as the critical limit is passed. Continue reading

Health: Is your vacuum cleaner making you sick?

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‘Bioaerosols’ may pose indoor health risk.

Study finds potential pathogen hotbed vacuum cleaner dust

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As if you didn’t already have enough things to worry about, Australian and Canadian scientists say that vacuum cleaner dust contains bacteria and mold that “could lead to adverse effects in allergic people, infants, and people with compromised immunity.”

The researchers said the findings are worrisome because sampling found resistance genes for five common antibiotics in the sampled bacteria, along with the Clostridium botulinum toxin gene, which may be implicated in sudden infant death syndrome.

The research was done by scientists at the University of Queensland and Laval University and the findings have been published in the October issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Continue reading

Environment: Safeway to pay fine for leaky freezers

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Keeping that ice cream frozen has an environmental cost.

Under settlement with EPA, company agrees to cut emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Under a court-ordered settlement, Safeway will pay a $600,000 fine and upgrade equipment and management practices to cut emissions of ozone-depleting refrigerants by 100,000 pounds.

The improvements will come at a cost of $4.1 million, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which detailed the agreement in a Sept. 5 news release. The settlement affects 659 Safeway stores across the country — the largest number of facilities ever under the Clean Air Act’s regulations governing refrigeration equipment. Continue reading

Environment: Forest Service agrees to study snowmobile impacts on five national forests in California

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The U.S. Forest Service may finally address the environmental impacts of snowmobiles, at least in California, where the agency settled a lawsuit with a promise to do better studies.

Conservation groups say agency has been avoiding detailed studies by approving trail systems under streamlined categorical exclusion permitting process

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service may finally come to grips with the environmental impacts of snowmobiles under a new legal agreement that will require a full assessment of snowmobile impacts on wildlife, plants and quiet recreation in five California national forests — the Stanislaus, Eldorado, Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen.

The agreement settles a lawsuit that challenged the Forest Service’s practice of avoiding detailed environmental review on these national forests in the central and northern Sierra and southern Cascades. In many cases, the agency has used categorical exclusions to authorize snowmobile trail grooming without taking a hard look at impacts like federal environmental laws require. Continue reading

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