Groups Challenge EPA for Clean Air Delays
Several groups filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue letter Oct. 6 against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the agency’s failure to identify communities throughout the nation that have unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution. The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the EPA to formally identify the areas that are not meeting the ozone standards set in 2008 which limits ozone in the air to 75 parts per billion (ppb). Identifying these areas is essential to triggering clean-up plans for those regions with unsafe pollution levels.
Based on recent data, regions that should be designated as violating standards include Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Los Angeles; Sacramento, Calif.; San Diego; San Francisco; Dallas; New York City; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Atlanta; and more than two dozen additional communities across the U.S. The EPA was originally required by law to identify these areas by March 12, 2010, in a formal process called designating nonattainment areas. It missed that legal deadline. While the agency granted itself a one-year extension for designating ozone nonattainment areas, until March 12, 2011, it also failed to meet this deadline.
The public interest law firm Earthjustice is representing the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association and Appalachian Mountain Club in this action.
“These delays are intolerable when people are breathing dangerous levels of ozone in these cities,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “The longer the EPA puts off getting these cities on the cleanup track, the more lives are at risk.”
Ground-level ozone, a component of smog, is linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year. Ozone is especially dangerous to small children and senior citizens, who are often warned to stay indoors on polluted days.
“Curbing smog is one of our most urgent tasks and it’s way past time for our government to take decisive action,” said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It is the EPA’s responsibility to protect and clean up the nation’s air, and its failure to meet the March 2011 deadline is inexcusable,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. “This delay jeopardizes the health of millions of Americans, as breathing smog-polluted air can lead to coughing and wheezing, restricted airways, hospitalization and for some, death.”
“In 2011, national parks experienced hundreds of exceedances of the ozone standards, more than in any of the past three years,” said Mark Wenzler, vice president for Climate & Air Quality Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “Without EPA action to enforce the ozone standards, Americans will continue to be put needlessly at risk when they visit our national parks.”
“Clean air needs to be a priority if we are going to be successful at reconnecting American families with healthy outdoor activities,” said Georgia Murray, air quality staff scientist with the Appalachian Mountain Club. “The EPA must move quickly to improve outdoor air quality for our nation’s health.”
“Our families and our communities have a right to know whether the air is unhealthy to breathe,” said Peter Zalzal, an attorney with Environmental Defense Fund. “Identifying the communities with unhealthy smog levels is a critical first step to putting in place smart clean air solutions. States have already submitted information required by the Clean Air Act, and the EPA must now act to help protect public health from harmful smog pollution.”
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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