Pollution

Selecting the right house plant could improve indoor air
August 24, 2016 07:30 AM - American Chemical Society via EurekAlert!

Indoor air pollution is an important environmental threat to human health, leading to symptoms of "sick building syndrome." But researchers report that surrounding oneself with certain house plants could combat the potentially harmful effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a main category of these pollutants. Interestingly, they found that certain plants are better at removing particular harmful compounds from the air, suggesting that, with the right plant, indoor air could become cleaner and safer. 

The researchers are presenting their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world's largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. A brand-new animation on the research is available at http://bit.ly/ACSindoorairpollution.

"Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them," says Vadoud Niri, Ph.D., leader of the study. 

Nanofur for oil spill cleanup
August 23, 2016 10:51 AM - Karlsruher Institut Für Technologie (KIT) via EurekAlert!

Some water ferns can absorb large volumes of oil within a short time, because their leaves are strongly water-repellent and, at the same time, highly oil-absorbing. Researchers of KIT, together with colleagues of Bonn University, have found that the oil-binding capacity of the water plant results from the hairy microstructure of its leaves. It is now used as a model to further develop the new Nanofur material for the environmentally friendly cleanup of oil spills. (DOI: 10.1088/1748-3190/11/5/056003)

Damaged pipelines, oil tanker disasters, and accidents on oil drilling and production platforms may result in pollutions of water with crude or mineral oil. Conventional methods to clean up the oil spill are associated with specific drawbacks. 

Fixing America's Waste Problem
August 19, 2016 04:14 PM - Nithin Coca, Triple Pundit

America’s massive, growing landfills are the result of many decades of bad policies and decisions. And it will take a concerted, society-wide effort to solve this problem. Let’s dive deeper into just how big our landfill waste problem is and how we can begin to shift toward a circular economy.

New Study Challenges Assumption of Asbestos' Ability to Move in Soil
August 19, 2016 03:23 PM - University of California - San Diego via EurekAlert!

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego scientist Jane Willenbring challenges the long-held belief that asbestos fibers cannot move through soil. The findings have important implications for current remediation strategies aimed at capping asbestos-laden soils to prevent human exposure of the cancer-causing material.

Willenbring, along with University of Pennsylvania postdoctoral researcher Sanjay Mohanty, and colleagues tested the idea that once capped by soil, asbestos waste piles are locked in place. Instead they found that dissolved organic matter contained within the soil sticks to the asbestos particles, creating a change of the electric charge on the outside of the particle that allows it to easily move through the soil.

Cloth masks offer poor protection against air pollution
August 19, 2016 11:12 AM - University of Massachusetts at Amherst via EurekAlert!

Results of a new study by environmental health scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggest that inexpensive cloth masks worn by people who hope to reduce their exposure to air pollution vary widely in effectiveness and could be giving users a false sense of security, especially in highly polluted areas.

Researchers Richard Peltier, Kabindra Shakya and colleagues believe theirs is the first study to rigorously test disposable surgical masks and washable cloth masks, which are widely used in Asia and Southeast Asia for personal protection against airborne particulate matter. Their study shows that "wearing cloth masks reduced the exposure to some extent," but "the most commonly used cloth mask products perform poorly when compared to alternative options available on the market."

Mapping the health threat of wildfires under climate change in US West
August 16, 2016 03:08 PM - Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies via ScienceDaily

A surge in major wildfire events in the U.S. West as a consequence of climate change will expose tens of millions of Americans to high levels of air pollution in the coming decades, according to a new Yale-led study conducted with collaborators from Harvard.

The researchers estimated air pollution from past and projected future wildfires in 561 western counties, and found that by mid-century more than 82 million people will experience "smoke waves," or consecutive days with high air pollution related to fires.

The regions likely to receive the highest exposure to wildfire smoke in the future include northern California, western Oregon, and the Great Plains.

Today's electric vehicles can make a dent in climate change
August 16, 2016 02:51 PM - Massachusetts Institute of Technology via ScienceDaily

Electric cars that exist today could be widely adopted despite range constraints, replacing about 90 percent of existing cars, and could make a major dent in the nation's carbon emissions, new research indicates.

The study, which found that a wholesale replacement of conventional vehicles with electric ones is possible today and could play a significant role in meeting climate change mitigation goals, was published today in the journal Nature Energy by Jessika Trancik, the Atlantic Richfield Career Development Associate Professor in Energy Studies at MIT's Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), along with graduate student Zachary Needell, postdoc James McNerney, and recent graduate Michael Chang SM '15.

Methane leaks: A new way to find and fix in real time
August 16, 2016 10:07 AM - University of Michigan via ScienceDaily

Researchers have flown aircraft over an oil and gas field and pinpointed -- with unprecedented precision -- sources of the greenhouse gas methane in real time. The technique led to the detection and immediate repair of two leaks in natural gas pipelines in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest.

The technique led to the detection and immediate repair of two leaks in natural gas pipelines in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest. The approach could inform strategies for meeting new federal limits on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Methane emissions have spiked in recent decades along with the boom in natural gas drilling.

Warming climate likely to have 'minor' impact on power plant output
August 15, 2016 02:15 PM - Duke University via EurekAlert!

Future climate warming will likely cause only minor cuts in energy output at most U.S. coal- or gas-fired power plants, a new Duke University study finds.

The study -- the first of its kind based on real-world data -- rebuts recent modeling-based studies that warn rising temperatures will significantly lower the efficiency of power plants' cooling systems, thereby reducing plants' energy output. Those studies estimated that plant efficiencies could drop by as much as 1.3 percent for each 1 degree Celsius of climate warming.

SLAC, Stanford gadget grabs more solar energy to disinfect water faster
August 15, 2016 11:39 AM - DOE/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory via EurekAlert!

In many parts of the world, the only way to make germy water safe is by boiling, which consumes precious fuel, or by putting it out in the sun in a plastic bottle so ultraviolet rays will kill the microbes. But because UV rays carry only 4 percent of the sun's total energy, the UV method takes six to 48 hours, limiting the amount of water people can disinfect this way.

Now researchers at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have created a nanostructured device, about half the size of a postage stamp, that disinfects water much faster than the UV method by also making use of the visible part of the solar spectrum, which contains 50 percent of the sun's energy.

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