Monday, December 2, 2013

Trees Capture Particulate Matter From Road Exhaust

Naomi Lubick, Chemical and Engineering News, November 22, 2013

Trees planted along a city street screen residents from sun and noise—and from tiny particles that pollute urban air. A new study shows that tree leaves can capture more than 50% of the particulate matter that’s a prime component of urban pollution and a trigger for disease (Environmental Science and Technology).

In urban settings, particulates come primarily from car exhaust, brake pad wear, and road dust and can contain metals, such as iron and lead. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies particulates in three size ranges: less than 1 μm (PM1), up to 2.5 μm (PM2.5), and up to 10 μm (PM10) in diameter. These particles are tiny enough for people to inhale and can exacerbate heart disease, asthma, and other health conditions.

By examining silver birch leaves with a scanning electron microscope, researchers confirmed that the hairy surfaces of the leaves trapped metallic particles. Like the particles measured inside homes, these metallic particles are most likely the product of combustion and brake wear from vehicles passing by. Previous work has indicated a strong correlation between the amount of material identified by magnetic remanence and benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon found in particulates.

Read more here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Air is Giving Us Cancer

Air Pollution Is a Leading Cause of Cancer
Kate Kelland and Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, October 17, 2013

The specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), announced that it has classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.  Particulate matter, a major component of outdoor air pollution, was evaluated separately and was also classified as carcinogenic to humans.

The IARC cited data indicating that in 2010, 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution, and said there was also convincing evidence it increases the risk of bladder cancer. 

Depending on the level of exposure in different parts of the world, the risk was found to be similar to that of breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke, said Kurt Straif, head of the agency's section that ranks carcinogens.

Air pollution, mostly caused by transport, power generation, industrial or agricultural emissions and residential heating and cooking, is already known to raise risks for a wide range of illnesses including respiratory and heart diseases.  Research suggests that exposure levels have risen significantly in some parts of the world, particularly countries with large populations going through rapid industrialization, such as China.  Although the composition and levels of air pollution can both vary dramatically from one location to the next, IARC said its conclusions applied to all regions of the world. 

"Our conclusion is that this is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths," Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC, told reporters in Geneva.

Read the press release here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Northgate Proud to Support TechWomen

As part of Northgate’s commitment to empowering women engineers, our Oakland office welcomes Michelle Sesay from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Michelle is a participant of TechWomen, a mentoring initiative sponsored by the US Department of State that pairs women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from Africa and the Middle East with their counterparts in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The field of environmental engineering is nearly nonexistent in Sierra Leone. Michelle wants to change that. She is priming herself to become a leader in her country’s first generation of environmental engineers, and has a long-range objective of owning her own engineering company. Her plans for the future don’t stop there. She also wants to form a coaching and mentoring program that would provide girls with the encouragement they need to complete school and pursue rewarding technical careers. Inspired by these ambitious goals, she is learning as much as she can about environmental engineering while at Northgate, as well as the ins and outs of developing and operating a business.

As a women-owned company, Northgate is excited and proud to be part of a program that supports women engineers in a global context. Our seasoned staff finds it fulfilling to share its considerable reservoir of knowledge and experience with emerging young leaders eager to contribute to social change in their communities. The State Department asserts that programs such as TechWomen, which cultivate the participation of women in local and global economies, further the possibility of world peace.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connection and Governance Linkages

As the government sector works hard to ensure sufficient fresh water, food, energy, housing, health, and education for the nation without limiting resources for the future generations, it's clear that there is no sufficient organization to deal with sustainability issues. Each federal agency appears to have a single mandate or a single area of expertise making it difficult to tackle issues such as managing the ecosystem. Key resource domains, which include water, land, energy, and nonrenewable resources, for example, are nearly-completely connected yet different agencies exist to address only one aspect of these domains.

In order for the nation to be successful in sustaining its resources, "linkages" will need to be built among federal, state, and local governments; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); and the private sector. The National Research Council (NRC) was asked by several federal agencies, foundations, and the private sector to provide guidance to the federal government on issues related to sustainability linkages. Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connection and Governance Linkages is the committee's report on the issue. The report includes insight into high-priority areas for governance linkages, the challenges of managing connected systems, impediments to successful government linkages, and more.

Read or download the report here. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sustainable Remediation Basics :: Online Education Opportunity

CL:AIRE introduces a new e-learning module titled "Sustainable Remediation Appraisal".

This online course delivers approximately four hours of learning with two assessments per module. On completion of the course and passing the assessments, a personalised PDF certificate will be issued for your continuing professional development.

This course presents an overview of sustainable remediation. In the first instance looking at the emergence of sustainable remediation as a topic and defining what it means. Secondly, by introducing the frameworks and guidance that have been developed and examining how these may be applied in practice. Finally, it looks at the range of tools and techniques that may be applied through the life-cycle of the process.

The course costs £50 + VAT and payment is possible via PayPal.

More details about the course content is available on the attached flyer, or you can visit CL:AIRE's website

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Happy 150th Birthday, Academy of Sciences!

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Despite the contentious times in which they lived, President Lincoln and Congressional leaders recognized the value of science and the importance of an independent, nonprofit organization that could advise the government on scientific and technical matters.

It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and -- with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council -- provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

President Obama helped the National Academy of Sciences celebrate its 150th year of service, and reiterated his strong support for science and technology, by giving a speech yesterday at the group’s annual meeting.

"That’s our inheritance, and now the task falls to us. We, too, face significant challenges — obviously not of the magnitude that President Lincoln faced, but we’ve got severe economic and security and environmental challenges. And what we know from our past is that the investments we make today are bound to pay off many times over in the years to come. So we will continue to pursue advances in science and engineering, in infrastructure and innovation, in education and environmental protection — especially science-based initiatives to help us minimize and adapt to global threats like climate change."

More here and here.

Did you know...?
The National Academies Press (NAP) publishes the reports of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. NAP publishes more than 200 books each year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and medicine, providing authoritative information on important matters in science and health policy. NAP offers more than 4,000 titles online as PDFs, which may be downloaded in full or by chapter.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Iraqi Engineer and Conservationist Azzam Alwash Wins Goldman Prize

Azzam Alwash has received the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to reflood the marshes fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and bring back the Marsh Arabs. It's one of six $150,000 awards that go to grass-roots environmental activists each year.

In 2003, this civil engineer and Iraqi immigrant living in Orange County moved back to Iraq to launch his ambitious environmental engineering project. Some say the marshes, an ecosystem twice the size of the Everglades, are the "historical" Garden of Eden. But during his 30-year reign in Iraq, Saddam Hussein transformed the marshland into a battleground. To punish political enemies, Hussein built canals with names such as Mother of Battles to drain water from marshlands and sap the lifeblood of the Marsh Arabs, a community of indigenous Iraqis who depended on the swamp to survive.

As a professional engineer, Alwash admits to having been in awe at what Saddam's men had done. "To drain 6,000 sq km of wetlands is an incredible engineering feet. It was an immense job. They had dug new rivers, intercepted the Tigris and rerouted the Euphrates away from the marsh. They had set fire to the reedbeds … It was sold by the regime as making more land available for agriculture when in fact he was trying to deprive his opposition of a base of operations. 70,000 refugees went to Iran, 30,000 to the US. The rest were displaced."

Alwash set up Nature Iraq as an NGO to focus on the restoration of the marshes and he offered his technical skills to tear down the giant embankments to flood the land. To gain the support of officials and sponsors, Alwash said he couched his argument in terms of the intrinsic value of services the marshlands could provide.

"This is environment in the service of humanity," Alwash said. "The marshes are an engine of economy."

Read more here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Beyond LEED: The Living Building Challenge

The Bullitt Center will be the greenest, most energy efficient commercial building in the world, firmly planting Seattle at the forefront of the green building movement. The vision of the Bullitt Center is to change the way buildings are designed, built and operated to improve long-term environmental performance and promote broader implementation of energy efficiency, renewable energy and other green building technologies in the Northwest.  The building is seeking to meet the ambitious goals of the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most strenuous benchmark for sustainability.  For example, a solar array will generate as much electricity as the building uses and rain will supply as much water, with all waste water treated onsite.

Living Building Challenge was endorsed by both the US Green Building Council and the Canada Green Building Council in 2006.  Living Building Challenge is a certification based on a demonstrated level of rigor: projects can be certified as "Living" if they prove to meet all of the program requirements after 12 months of continued operations and full occupancy. It is also possible to achieve Petal Recognition, or partial program certification, for achieving all of the requirements of at least three Petals when at least one of the following is included: Water, Energy and/or Materials.

The Living Building Challenge is premised on a belief that the 21st century will require a rapid, worldwide movement to ultra-high performance buildings. But for this movement to realize its full potential, these buildings must also be a source of beauty, joy, well-being and inspiration. They will marry architectural titan Louis Sullivan’s “form follows function” precept with the highest levels of efficiency currently achievable. Learning from nature’s preoccupation with maximizing return from scarce resources, they will also be beautifully functional.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2011 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study Results

For the third consecutive year, MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group have conducted a survey of managers and executives from companies around the world, asking how they are developing and implementing sustainable business practices.

More than 4,000 managers from 113 countries responded to the survey.  According to the respondents, 70% of companies have placed sustainability permanently on their management agendas.  Two-thirds of the resondents said that sustainability was necessary to be competitive in the marketplace.  And, many companies are increasing their commitments to sustainability inititiaves despite a lackluster economy.

On the other hand, respondents indicate that sustainability ranks eighth in importance among other management agenda items.  Economic growth continues to deplete the planet's stocks of natural capital, despite the efforts of many companies to minimize their impacts, decrease their carbon footprints, and cultivate closed-loop production systems.

The authors believe that these mixed results are overall positive, however.  They suggest that the sustainability movement is nearing a tipping point, at which a substantial portion of companies are seeing sustainable business practices as a necessity and are also deriving a financial benefit from sustainable activities.  Leading the charge are a group of organizations that are not merely implementing individual initiatives -- such as lowering carbon emissions and investing in renewables -- but are also changing their operating frameworks and strategies.  The report explores what sets these organizations apart and lessons that other organizations can take from these innovators.

Download the report here.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Is Environmental Contamination Responsible for Violent Crime?

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, January/February 2013 Issue

Across the US, violent crime peaked in the early 1990s and then began a steady and significant decline. Not unique to a particular city, this declining trend is seen nationwide, including in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Newark.  This article explores the reasons behind this trend, and in the process, researched a myriad of criminology theories: crime goes down when the economy is booming and goes up when it's in a slump; crime drops in big cities are mostly a reflection of the crack epidemic of the '80s finally burning itself out; demographics (as numbers of young men increases, so does crime); prison expansion; guns and gun control; family dynamics; race; parole and probation policies; raw number of police officers; and legalized abortion.

The author found a growing body of research linking lead exposure in small children with complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and juvenile delinquency. A large body of evidence suggests that the use -- and discontinuation -- of tetraethyl lead in gasoline may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past 50 years. And this relationship seems to hold true for cities of different sizes, both within the US and internationally.

Read the article here.

And several of the cited studies:
How Lead Exposure Relates to Temporal Changes in IQ, Violent Crime, and Unwed Pregnancy
Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime
Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure
The urban rise and fall of air lead (Pb) and the latent surge and retreat of societal violence
Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood