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Stronger Air Protections Needed In North Carolina

Stronger Air Protections Needed In North Carolina

Southern Environmental Law Center

North Carolina's air permit for the proposed Titan America cement plant in New Hanover County must reduce pollution to the maximum extent possible to protect public health and satisfy federal and state law, according to comments on the draft air permit filed by conservation groups. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed comments on behalf of the N.C. Coastal Federation and Cape Fear River Watch.

“Titan’s proposed plant would be a major source of pollution that would affect air and water quality in southeastern North Carolina for decades to come,” said Geoff Gisler, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This draft permit fails to meet state and federal law and would allow the company to emit unnecessary and harmful levels of pollution.”

Emissions from the plant must be further reduced if the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is to meet its legal obligation to require pollution reductions to the maximum extent possible. The draft permit fails to require Titan to implement proven pollution controls that have been applied to existing cement kilns domestically and abroad. If installed, those controls could significantly reduce Titan’s pollution levels.

Proposed on the Northeast Cape Fear River in Castle Hayne, the cement kiln would be the fourth-largest cement plant in the country and a significant source of toxic emissions, such as mercury and hydrochloric acid, as well as sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to ozone pollution. The mine for the limestone to make the cement would destroy about 1,000 acres of wetlands.

“Now is the time for the Division of Air Quality to start putting our citizens’ health first and to protect the community from Titan’s pollution,” said Mike Giles, a coastal advocate for the N.C. Coastal Federation. “Human health and the protection of our state's natural resources should come first.”

“The Northeast Cape Fear River is a significant part of the watershed that defines this region,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper, Cape Fear River Watch. “The Division of Air Quality should step back and reconsider this draft permit, which would cause long-term harm to the river and the communities that depend on it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 percent of American women of childbearing age have mercury in their bodies at levels high enough to put their babies at risk of birth defects, loss of IQ, learning disabilities and developmental problems. Toxic mercury accumulates in people and wildlife that breathe contaminated air and eat contaminated fish.

Sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and ozone are known to aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions and can be particularly harmful to sensitive populations, including children and the elderly.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, North Carolina Coastal Federation, and Cape Fear River Watch are part of the Stop Titan Action Network.

For more information, click here.

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The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 40 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

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.

Hoy agreed.

"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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