What Portland’s Smoky Summer Can Do for Air Quality Equity Across the Country
By Isabella Garcia
September in Portland, Oregon, usually brings a slight chill to the air and an orange tinge to the leaves. This year, it brought smoke so thick it burned your throat and made your eyes strain to see more than 20 feet in front of you.
As historic wildfires burned more than 1 million acres and displaced more than 40,000 people in Oregon, photos of the red haze cloaking the Pacific Northwest were spotlighted on national newscasts and ogled on social media. Portland's air quality was the worst in the world for several days, peaking at an Air Quality Index of 486 on Sept. 13. In comparison, the mean AQI in September in Beijing, known for its smoggy skies, was 77. Just a year before, in September 2019, Portland enjoyed an average AQI more typical for the city: 22.
The hazardous air of the 2020 fires brought a new awareness of air quality issues in areas that don't normally have to think about them. It prompted fresh conversations about climate change, too: A Multnomah County news release called the wildfires a "full-on disaster siren that climate change is fully here."
But when the rain finally came on Sept. 19 and cleared the air, Portlanders rejoiced in the ability to breathe deeply again. The climate conversation and talk of air quality slowly but surely fell out of the news cycle, replaced with the election and the pandemic.
But what about the communities whose air is filled with dangerous emissions every day without the drama of an apocalyptic glow? What about the people who don't get the reprieve of a breath of fresh air? Poor air quality can be seen in metro areas across the U.S., but the distribution of that burden overwhelmingly falls on communities of color.
Communities in Texas and Michigan are home to some of the most polluted air in the country, but they are also home to groups that are fiercely fighting for — and making — change.
Houston is known as the energy capital of America, but that title comes with industrial refineries and chemical plants that release toxic emissions into the air. Having grown up in East Houston, near smokestacks and petrochemical plants, Bryan Parras knows this particular toxic air well. He now works for the Sierra Club as a healthy communities organizer and environmental justice advocate. His job is to identify local issues and leverage Sierra Club resources to address them most effectively.
"In some ways you're like a triage doctor, stopping the bleeding and dressing wounds," Parras explains. "In that process, you learn about the policy decisions that have led to things to begin with. You begin to understand the dynamics that people are dealing with, and you get a deeper grasp of the intersections of housing, environment, immigration status, and all these things."
Those intersections are clear in an ongoing case against Valero Energy, a midsize oil refinery that produces 235,000 barrels of oil and petroleum products per day in Houston's Manchester neighborhood. Valero applied for a permit to emit poisonous hydrogen cyanide in its refining process in March 2018. To fight back, Manchester community representatives are seeking party status during the permit hearings with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. According to the CDC, exposure to this chemical asphyxiant interferes with nearly every organ in the body, especially the brain, heart, and lungs, and can be fatal in high concentrations.
The toxin is better known in other contexts. Hydrogen cyanide has been used for lethal injection and is the primary component of Zyklon B, the gas used for mass murder in Nazi WWII gas chambers. Parras says Valero has long been emitting hydrogen cyanide into the air in the Manchester community, but the amount is unclear because the emission was only discovered, or revealed, after a change in EPA requirements during the Obama administration.
The permit request is for 512 tons of hydrogen cyanide per year. To put that number in context, community leaders and elected officials in Denver were appalled when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment imposed a new limit that allowed nearly 13 tons of hydrogen cyanide to be emitted in 2018.
The permit request in Houston caught the attention of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), an organization aiming to provide Texas communities with environmental and legislative expertise to advocate for environmental justice. The group's co-directors, Juan and Ana Parras, founded the group in 1995. Bryan Parras is their son and a member of the t.e.j.a.s. board of directors.
"[Valero] were releasing without a permit for over 10 years," Ana says. "These people are just being dumped upon."
Houstonians Can't Breathe
Manchester is one of Houston's oldest neighborhoods. It is surrounded on three sides by a chemical plant, synthetic rubber plant, oil refineries, and a car-crushing facility, all of which belly up to the Houston Ship Channel, one of the busiest sea ports in the world. The fourth side is a train yard.
A 2019 study commissioned by Air Alliance Houston, an environmental advocacy organization, found that the city's polluting facilities are routinely clustered in and around communities where most of the residents are people of color, or where more than 30% of households are considered low-income. Manchester qualifies as both. As of 2015, 82% of Manchester residents are Hispanic, 14% are Black, and 3% are White. Some 41% of residents make $25,000 or less per year.
The Valero Energy plant is just two blocks from nearby residential homes — or "fence line communities" as Ana and Juan Parras describe them. A 2016 study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 90.2% of the Manchester population lives within 1 mile of at least one regulated industrial facility. The EPA estimates that each year, these types of facilities have about 150 catastrophic releases, which can be fires, explosions, or emissions that pose immediate and significant danger to people and the environment.
The same study also found the Manchester neighborhood's respiratory hazard index to be 2.56. That far exceeds the EPA's acceptable level, which is less than 1.0. In comparison, Portland, Oregon, has an average respiratory hazard index of 0.57.
T.e.j.a.s and two other community representatives have received standing in the administrative hearings for the Valero permit moving forward. But Ana Parras anticipates the case lasting well into 2021, and all the while, Valero continues to emit hydrogen cyanide unrestricted.
Pushing Back Against Discrimination
On a faster track is the Title VI language justice case t.e.j.a.s. filed against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin in programs that receive federal assistance. Many of the notifications for the community hearings for the Valero case were in English only, even though 70% of Manchester residents speak Spanish at home. Also, because there weren't adequate translators, Spanish-speaking parents would bring their bilingual children — some as young as 7 years old — to the hearings to translate for them.
In this case, t.e.j.a.s. is asking that all notifications be translated into languages congruent with the community demographics, not just the first notification as stated under the current rule.
"In an unprecedented two weeks, we had a hearing," Ana says.
The case has the potential to change the national EPA rules, in addition to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rule.
"The system is hard to change," Juan says, but if t.e.j.a.s. and other organizers stop fighting these systemic environmental ills, he says, the fence line communities will suffer even greater losses. "Community is always first."
Environmental Justice Hot Spots
In Michigan, organizers with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition are using scientific research to find and calculate the impact of environmental racism in their state's fence line communities. For years, MEJC members had been showing up to permit hearings for industrial polluters, mobilizing and providing support for the various communities that were at risk. After a while, the coalition realized a flaw in the permitting system.
"We recognized that these permits were not being considered in relationship to each other," says Jamesa Johnson-Greer, the climate justice director at MEJC. "So, when an air permit is considered for nitrous oxide, for example, that's only considered for that one entity, and that's not considering the fact that these polluting facilities might by near other polluting facilities that are also emitting the same nitrous oxide." Those facilities are often concentrated in and around low-income neighborhoods of color.
The coalition commissioned a cumulative impact study by the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. Researchers assigned an environmental justice score for each census tract in the state based on social, demographic, and environmental data.
In 2019, the researchers reported hot spots of environmental injustice — communities around the state experiencing compounding impacts from 11 environmental factors, including the respiratory hazard index, diesel exposure, air toxics cancer risks, nearby hazardous waste facilities and regulated industrial facilities, as well as traffic proximity. Unsurprisingly, those hot spots were disproportionately clustered in communities of color that had higher levels of poverty, unemployment, and educational attainment (the percent of the population over 25 without a high school diploma) than the statewide average.
The report confirmed some of what MEJC already knew, such as the intense air pollution in southwest Detroit, particularly the 48217 ZIP code, which is surrounded by more than two dozen industrial polluting facilities. The environmental justice scores around Detroit were as high as 87 out of 100. But there were also surprises, according to Johnson-Greer, like the fact that Grand Rapids, Michigan, had the highest EJ score in the state: 93.99. And despite the egregious water issues in Flint, Genesee County, where the city is located, didn't even make the top 10% of census tracts.
"That actually influenced the way we did our work this year," Johnson-Greer says, "recognizing that we needed to go and talk to people in those areas who have been doing work around environmental justice or social justice and see what the issues were on the ground."
By developing relationships with environmental advocates in Grand Rapids, MEJC learned that the town has a long history of logging and paper mills, considered one of the most polluting industries in the world because of the high concentration of chemicals in the wastewater. Johnson-Greer says that recognizing the patterns and similarities across the EJ hot spots throughout the state can help highlight the weaknesses — and, thus, the starting points for equitable environmental transitions — in statewide and national environmental policies.
In particular, she points to the importance of "prioritizing those communities that are most vulnerable and recognizing that those are the communities that we need to start resourcing immediately, because they have probably also been most under-resourced and have also been left behind in past policies."
A Shift in the Collective Consciousness
For Bakeyah Nelson, the executive director of Air Alliance Houston, putting the most affected communities' needs first means using a diversity of tactics. Air Alliance Houston supports community interests by advocating for long-term legislative solutions, like developing industrial zoning laws in Houston, and by responding as-needed to threats against local communities' air quality, such as monitoring permits for new concrete batch plants so they can alert the nearby residents of their options to fight the permit.
"In advocacy, I would say there is no one size fits all," Nelson says. "It can be proactive; we can work with groups and coalitions to put forth state level legislation to try to prevent concrete batch plants from being placed near neighborhoods. But, on a day-to-day basis, it's more reactive in that we are tracking the permits; we see a permit and then we respond."
With limited time and resources, striking an effective balance of reactive and proactive responses can be a challenge, says Bryan Parras of the Sierra Club. But Parras is inspired by the community he serves, as well as the overall shift in public conversation he's seen around pollution and climate change over the past few years. While affluent White communities are typically untouched by environmental racism, they are now facing the unavoidable sign of climate change, as was the case with Portland in this year's wildfires. That can prompt powerful empathy and is moving the needle toward action on environmental justice.
"Despite all of the problems, you see some real change happening in the collective consciousness," Parras says. "There is a growth, a renaissance of activism and participation in civic life that is really beautiful to see."
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton
Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.
Blackpoll warbler. PJTurgeon / Wikipedia<p>We used this information to determine how the number of migratory bird species varies based on each city's level of <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/light-pollution" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light pollution</a> – brightening of the night sky caused by artificial light sources, such as buildings and streetlights. We also explored how species numbers vary based on the quantity of tree canopy cover and impervious surface, such as concrete and asphalt, within each city. Our findings show that cities can help migrating birds by planting more trees and reducing light pollution, especially during spring and autumn migration.</p>
Declining Bird Populations<p>Urban areas contain numerous dangers for migratory birds. The biggest threat is the risk of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-13-090.1" target="_blank">colliding with buildings or communication towers</a>. Many migratory bird populations have <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1313" target="_blank">declined over the past 50 years</a>, and it is possible that light pollution from cities is contributing to these losses.</p><p>Scientists widely agree that light pollution can <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1708574114" target="_blank">severely disorient migratory birds</a> and make it hard for them to navigate. Studies have shown that birds will cluster around brightly lit structures, much like insects flying around a porch light at night. Cities are the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2029" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">primary source of light pollution for migratory birds</a>, and these species tend to be more abundant within cities <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.13792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during migration</a>, especially in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103892" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">city parks</a>.</p>
Composite image of the continental U.S. at night from satellite photos. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The Power of Citizen Science<p>It's not easy to observe and document bird migration, especially for species that migrate at night. The main challenge is that many of these species are very small, which limits scientists' ability to use electronic tracking devices.</p><p>With the growth of the internet and other information technologies, new data resources are becoming available that are making it possible to overcome some of these challenges. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07106-5" target="_blank">Citizen science initiatives</a> in which volunteers use online portals to enter their observations of the natural world have become an important resource for researchers.</p><p>One such initiative, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird</a>, allows bird-watchers around the globe to share their observations from any location and time. This has produced one of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.04632" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largest ecological citizen-science databases in the world</a>. To date, eBird contains over 922 million bird observations compiled by over 617,000 participants.</p>
Light Pollution Both Attracts and Repels Migratory Birds<p>Migratory bird species have evolved to use certain migration routes and types of habitat, such as forests, grasslands or marshes. While humans may enjoy seeing migratory birds appear in urban areas, it's generally not good for bird populations. In addition to the many hazards that exist in urban areas, cities typically lack the food resources and cover that birds need during migration or when raising their young. As scientists, we're concerned when we see evidence that migratory birds are being drawn away from their traditional migration routes and natural habitats.</p><p>Through our analysis of eBird data, we found that cities contained the greatest numbers of migratory bird species during spring and autumn migration. Higher levels of light pollution were associated with more species during migration – evidence that light pollution attracts migratory birds to cities across the U.S. This is cause for concern, as it shows that the influence of light pollution on migratory behavior is strong enough to increase the number of species that would normally be found in urban areas.</p><p>In contrast, we found that higher levels of light pollution were associated with fewer migratory bird species during the summer and winter. This is likely due to the scarcity of suitable habitat in cities, such as large forest patches, in combination with the adverse affects of light pollution on bird behavior and health. In addition, during these seasons, migratory birds are active only during the day and their populations are largely stationary, creating few opportunities for light pollution to attract them to urban areas.</p>
Trees and Pavement<p>We found that tree canopy cover was associated with more migratory bird species during spring migration and the summer. Trees provide important habitat for migratory birds during migration and the breeding season, so the presence of trees can have a strong effect on the number of migratory bird species that occur in cities.</p><p>Finally, we found that higher levels of impervious surface were associated with more migratory bird species during the winter. This result is somewhat surprising. It could be a product of the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/heatislands" target="_blank">urban heat island effect</a> – the fact that structures and paved surfaces in cities absorb and reemit more of the sun's heat than natural surfaces. Replacing vegetation with buildings, roads and parking lots can therefore make cities significantly warmer than surrounding lands. This effect could reduce cold stress on birds and increase food resources, such as insect populations, during the winter.</p><p>Our research adds to our understanding of how conditions in cities can both help and hurt migratory bird populations. We hope that our findings will inform urban planning initiatives and strategies to reduce the harmful effects of cities on migratory birds through such measures as <a href="https://www.arborday.org/programs/treecityusa/index.cfm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">planting more trees</a> and initiating <a href="https://aeroecolab.com/uslights" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lights-out programs</a>. Efforts to make it easier for migratory birds to complete their incredible journeys will help maintain their populations into the future.</p><p><em><span style="background-color: initial;"><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/frank-la-sorte-1191494" target="_blank">Frank La Sorte</a> is a r</span>esearch associate at the </em><em>Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University. <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kyle-horton-1191498" target="_blank">Kyle Horton</a> is an assistant professor of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the Colorado State University.</em></p><p><em></em><em>Disclosure statement: Frank La Sorte receives funding from The Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation and the National Science Foundation (DBI-1939187). K</em><em>yle Horton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/cities-can-help-migrating-birds-on-their-way-by-planting-more-trees-and-turning-lights-off-at-night-152573" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.
Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.
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