Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
A new image taken by a NASA satellite captures the extent of a major oil spill triggered by the explosion aboard an offshore oil rig about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.
An estimated 42,000 gallons of oil have been gushing into Gulf waters daily since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank to the sea floor last week.
Eleven crew members were killed in the blast, and several others were injured, and experts say the spill threatens the marine environment across the region, particularly on the Chandeleur and Breton barrier islands in Louisiana, where thousands of birds are nesting.
Oyster beds on the eastern edge of the Mississippi River also are threatened. (more…)
Monday, April 26th, 2010
Our high-tech products increasingly make use of rare metals, and mining those resources can have devastating environmental consequences. But if we block projects like the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, are we simply forcing mining activity to other parts of the world where protections may be far weaker?
Every time someone pushes the on-button on an electronic device, there is an expectation that the unit will power up quickly and display images in vibrant color. There is the further expectation, especially when using electronic devices for communications such as email access, web downloading, and texting that the response time will be immediate. We live in an age of technological arms races in which manufacturers gain market edge by creating products that are faster, have more applications, have a broader network reach, and generally do more.
The processing capacity of digital electronic devices doubles about every two years (Moore’s Law), and this capacity increase is enabled by an expanded use of elements. For example, computer chips made use of 11 major elements in the 1980s but now use about 60 (two-thirds of the periodic table!). And the electronics sector isn’t alone. Engine turbine blades for aircraft are made of alloys of a dozen or so metals; motors and batteries of green-technology hybrid vehicles depend on several of the rare earths; advances in medical imaging have come about by the unique band gaps of elements such as gadolinium. It seems that there are no limits to what the imagination can create except for the fact that many of the metals are globally rare and, given the nature of current technology, non-substitutable. (more…)
Monday, April 26th, 2010
Hear Ye, O Haters of Styrofoam: United Parcel Service now gives businesses a little credit for shunning the dreaded packing peanut. Shippers who demonstrate that they regularly send packages in a thoughtful way — subbing shredded paper for styrofoam, using snug boxes, and padding items so they don’t arrive damaged — can get a special label affixed to the box.
Us vs. the Volcano: Boxes and people lurched back into the troposphere this week as the Eyjafjoell volcano stopped spewing and gave planes the chance to fly again from European airports. Eyjafjoell issued 150,000 to 30,000 tons of CO2 per day — as much as a small European country — but its carbon footprint was offset by all those canceled flights. Anxious eyes remained on the skies for another eruption, or perhaps an interruption of another kind. After all, the U.S. military fears massive oil shortages by 2015.
Solar on the Go: Seiko unveiled a series of wristwatches powered by photovoltaic panels built into the face. After getting a full suntan the watch will keep on ticking for six months, at a price of $215 to $283. This summer, Samsonite will roll out a line of luggage embedded with solar panels that transmit enough juice to power mobile devices.
This Time We Mean It: Energy Star, the international standard for energy-efficient appliances, has been stung suckered of late by manufacturers that lied about their specs. As of 2011, makers of fridges, washers and water heaters will need to submit to independent testing in order to win the coveted EnergyStar label. (more…)
Monday, April 26th, 2010
Major business groups representing the food industry, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say they will not support long-awaited food safety legislation if it includes an amendment banning bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in thousands of everyday plastics.
The comprehensive bill, which easily passed the U.S House of Representatives with bipartisan support and is expected to come before the Senate in the next month, would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more authority over food production and place more responsibility on manufacturers and farmers to reduce contamination in their products.
An amendment by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would ban BPA, the primary component of hard and clear polycarbonate plastics — including water bottles, baby bottles, and the linings of canned foods.
“We will not support food safety legislation that bans or phases out BPA from any food and beverage container,” said Scott Faber, vice president for federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. (more…)
Friday, April 23rd, 2010
The New Jersey cities of Trenton, Jersey City, Newark, and Camden are set to receive a total of $2.3 million dollars from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help them assess and clean up contaminated and abandoned sites. The funding will be channeled through the EPA’s Brownfields Program. The clean up projects will help revitalize commercial and industrial properties by removing the toxic pollution that has hindered their redevelopment.
A brownfield site, or brownfield as it is commonly called, is a piece of land that was formerly used for industrial or commercial purposes, but is now abandoned or underused. Brownfield sites are perceived to be contaminated with low concentrations of hazardous waste, but have the potential to contain high concentrations of such waste. The pollutants are usually petroleum products often leaked from underground storage tanks or buried drums, but may include a number of toxic chemicals and organic compounds.
The Brownfields Program has been in existence since the EPA designated its first brownfield site in 1993 in Cuyahoga County in Ohio. Brownfields hold a special status because even though they are contaminated, they are not quite so bad to be included on the EPA’s National Priorities List, otherwise known as Superfund. The Brownfields Program does have a number of benefits including the following: (more…)
Friday, April 23rd, 2010
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has selected $78.9 million in brownfields grants to communities in 40 states, four tribes, and one U.S. Territory. This funding will be used for the assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment of brownfields properties, including abandoned gas stations, old textile mills, closed smelters, and other abandoned industrial and commercial properties.
The brownfields program encourages redevelopment of America’s estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites. As of March 2010, EPA’s brownfields assistance has leveraged more than $14 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funding.
In total, the EPA is selecting 304 grants through the Brownfields Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund, and Cleanup Grants programs: (more…)
Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
The Plastiki, a sailing boat made out of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles and other recycled waste products, has been sailing in the Pacific Ocean for more than 30 days.
Plastiki started its journey March 20 from San Francisco, with the intention to create public awareness about the effects of plastic usage on marine pollution and consequently sea life.
The Plastiki crew aims to explore a number of environmental hotspots, such as soon-to-be-flooded island nations, damaged coral reefs and the challenge faced by acidifying oceans and marine debris, in particular plastic pollution.
Plastiki’s journey is also scheduled to go through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a zone of trash one suspended on the water’s surface, twice the size of Texas, and stretching from the shores of California to the Sea of Japan.
The boat crew consists of six scientists, environmentalists and artists, led by the British adventurer David de Rothschild. The 60-foot boat is sailing with an average speed of five nautical miles per hour and the voyage is set end in Sydney in about three months. (more…)
Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
The number of courts that resolve environmental disputes has nearly doubled in the last five years as the complexity of environmental law and public awareness have increased, according to a new study.
There are 354 environmental courts in 41 countries, with more than 170 created since 2005, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). Only a handful existed in the 1970s.
“While such specialist courts and tribunals have been created from time to time, their accelerated growth is a 21st century phenomenon,” the report says. (more…)
Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjoell volcano is spewing a substantial amount of CO2 into the atmosphere every day, but the grounding of most airplanes in Europe is offsetting the volcano’s carbon emissions.
Scientists estimate that the volcano is emitting 150,000 to 300,000 tons of CO2 per day, an amount equal to the daily emissions of a small- to medium-sized European country.
But according to estimates from the European Environment Agency and other groups, daily CO2 emissions from the aviation industry in the 27 nations of the European Union are 344,000 to 440,000 tons per day. (more…)
Monday, April 19th, 2010
In its 2009 annual report, Cabot Oil and Gas named a field in Texas and another in Dimock, Pa., as its two largest fields of production. But yesterday the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered Cabot to plug at least three of its gas wells in Dimock and pay hefty fines after contaminating local drinking water.
More than 15 months after natural gas drilling contaminated drinking water in Dimock, Pa., state officials are ordering the company responsible — Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas — to permanently shut down some of its wells, pay nearly a quarter million dollars in fines, and permanently provide drinking water to 14 affected families.