Environment: Independence Day fireworks cause short-term spike in harmful air pollution

July 4 fireworks.

July 4 fireworks can result in short-term spikes of fine particulate pollution. @bberwyn photo.

Research tracks surge in PM2.5 pollution around the Fourth of July

Staff Report

FRISCO — The fallout from Independence Day fireworks can cause air pollution to spike by as much as 370 percent for a few hours, scientists said this week after studying several years worth of data from more than 300 air quality monitors around the country.

Specifically, the researchers looked at the surge in fine particulate matter — particles that are two and one half microns in diameter (PM2.5) on July 4. The data came from 315 measuring sites spanning 15 years, for the first time quantifying the increase in pollution. Continue reading

U.S. Supreme Court nixes EPA’s mercury limits

Conservative majority ruling puts thousands of lives at risk

Mercury from the Craig Station power plant in northwest Colorado pollutes lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Mercury from the Craig Station power plant in northwest Colorado pollutes lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The EPA will have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to regulate toxic mercury emissions from factories and power plants, as the U.S. Supreme Court today voided the agency’s 2012 regulations that were set to take effect this year.

In a divided five-four ruling, the court sided with heavy industry and fossil-fuel burning power plants, saying that the EPA should have considered the costs of the regulations as part of its initial evaluation. The EPA had argued that those costs would be evaluated at the next step of the regulatory process.

Mercury is a global pollutant that has been detected in California’s coastal fogs. In a national assessment, the U.S. Geological Survey found unhealthy mercury levels in 25 percent of all U.S. Streams. And near Hawaii, scientists say mercury concentrations in yellowfin tuna have been increasing 3.8 percent a year. Researchers have even documented signs of environmental stress in Alaskan sled dogs who primarily eat mercury tainted fish. Continue reading

Environment: $160 million cleanup ordered at coal-burning, pollution-spewing Four Corners power plant

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New pollution controls will cut emissions at the Four Corners power plant.

Settlement includes requirements for regional public health and environmental mitigation projects

Staff Report

FRISCO — One of the dirtiest coal-burning power plants in the country will be required to upgrade pollution controls, cutting thousands of tons of harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions.

The $160 million cleanup at the Four Corners Power Plant, located on the Navajo Nation near Shiprock, New Mexico, comes under a court-ordered Clean Air Act settlement between the EPA and several Arizona and New Mexico-based utility companies.

The total combined emission reductions secured from the settlement will exceed 2 million tons each year, once all the required pollution controls are installed and implemented. Continue reading

Environment: Proposed new ozone standards seen as challenge for regulators

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A snapshot of ozone conditions in early June 2015.

Scientists say more monitoring will be crucial for regulators

Staff Report

FRISCO — Proposed new standards for harmful ozone pollution could present a big challenge for air quality managers at the state and local level. More monitoring is needed to help tell apart local sources from ozone that’s generated elsewhere, Boulder-based scientists wrote last week in Science.

Last November, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed lowering the primary ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 or 65 ppb, based on ozone’s known effects on children, the elderly, and people who have lung diseases such as asthma. A decision by the EPA Administrator is expected in October 2015. Continue reading

Study shows need for tighter air pollution standards

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Particulate pollution from coal-fired power plants is harmful to public health at levels far below current standards.

‘No evidence of a safe threshold …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Power plant operators and their Republican allies in Congress may protest every time public health experts propose tighter pollution rules, but a new study shows that tiny soot particles are harmful to human health at concentrations far below the current standards.

After tracking particulate air pollution from satellite data and matching it against regional health data sorted by zip codes, Harvard researchers found a clear link between higher levels of pollution and death rates among people older than 65. The harmful effects from the particles were observed even in areas where concentrations were less than a third of the current standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

Ohio study tracks air pollution from fracking

Fracked nation.

A new study raises more questions about public health risks in oil and gas development zones.

Findings confirm health risks to people living near oil and gas wells

Staff Report

FRISCO — Careful air sampling near active natural gas wells in Carroll County, Ohio showed the widespread presence of toxic air pollution at higher levels than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for lifetime exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The study reinforces the need for more extensive air quality monitoring in fracking zones around the country, where exposure to the poisonous emissions are likely to lead to increased risk of cancer and respiratory ailments. Continue reading

Climate: When good ozone goes bad

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.

Western U.S. counties violating current and proposed ozone air quality standards. Map courtesy Jeremy Nichols/ClimateWest blog.

La Niña weather pattern found to contribute to spikes in western ozone levels

Staff Report

FRISCO — Spring ozone formation in parts of the western U.S. appear to be linked with the hemispheric La Niña weather pattern, when the path of the jet stream forces high altitude ozone down to ground level.

After discovering the link, a team of researchers say their findings may help forecast harmful ozone episodes well in advance, which could have implications for attaining the national ozone standard. Continue reading

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