More than 1,600 gallons of oil have spilled in the Inglewood Oil Field — the largest urban oil field in the country, where more than a million people live within five miles of its boundaries, the Sierra Club wrote in a statement on Wednesday.
The spill was caused by a human error when a valve was left open, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was also not the field's first spill. Past spills at the Inglewood Oil Field, located in Culver City and Los Angeles County, have occurred in 2019, 2018, 2010, 2006 and 2005, exposing residents in the area to toxins and carcinogens, the Sierra Club added.
After a history of community organizing, Tuesday's spill arms activists with further momentum to fight against this major public health and environmental crisis in California's largest county.
"Yesterday's oil spill is a deadly reminder that the environmental racism that's shaped and harmed Black, Indigenous, and people of color continues to put our health at risk," Martha Dina Argüello, of the STAND-LA Coalition, an environmental justice coalition, and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said in a Sierra Club statement.
Of the people living in the area, 52 percent are Black, which is a much higher percentage than the countywide eight percent, the Sierra Club reported. The oil field is also located alongside homes and schools, putting families at risk for health outcomes from air pollution like lung disease, leukemia, lymphoma, lung cancer and asthma. In Baldwin Hills, asthma related ER visits are 4.4 times higher than the Los Angeles County average.
"A pattern of oil spills and the daily and 'authorized' toxic emissions both demonstrate that oil extraction is [an] inherently dangerous practice that has no place in our region. We look forward to working with Los Angeles County to take immediate steps to phase out oil and gas production," Argüello added, according to the Sierra Club.
Last fall, Culver City approved a resolution to take initial steps to phase out oil in the area, the NRDC wrote in a statement. Similar actions are also occurring citywide in Los Angeles.
In December, the Los Angeles City Council's Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee voted unanimously to pass a motion to begin a citywide phase-out of oil drilling, the NRDC wrote in a statement. "We're not over the finish line, but we're closer than ever," Argüello added, according to the Courthouse News Service.
Currently, there are 1,071 active oil wells in the city — 759 of which are located less than 1,500 feet from homes, schools, churches and hospitals, STAND-LA, which has been leading the fight against oil in the city of Los Angeles, wrote.
Although no injuries were reported at the Inglewood oil spill on Tuesday, environmental groups have expressed concerns about toxins released in the air from the spill that could harm nearby communities, the Los Angeles Times reported, adding to the often unknown and unreported health impacts of oil spills.
"What's terrifying about health dangers like this is that the average person living nearby rarely has any way of knowing it even happened," Ethan Senser, Southern California Organizer with Food & Water Watch told the Sierra Club. "This is an ongoing crisis we can't keep sweeping under the rug - it's time that the County commits to partnering with frontline communities and supporting the real solutions they are putting forward."
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By Christian Brand
Globally, only one in 50 new cars were fully electric in 2020, and one in 14 in the UK. Sounds impressive, but even if all new cars were electric now, it would still take 15-20 years to replace the world's fossil fuel car fleet.
The emission savings from replacing all those internal combustion engines with zero-carbon alternatives will not feed in fast enough to make the necessary difference in the time we can spare: the next five years. Tackling the climate and air pollution crises requires curbing all motorized transport, particularly private cars, as quickly as possible. Focusing solely on electric vehicles is slowing down the race to zero emissions.
This is partly because electric cars aren't truly zero-carbon – mining the raw materials for their batteries, manufacturing them and generating the electricity they run on produces emissions.
Transport is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize due to its heavy fossil fuel use and reliance on carbon-intensive infrastructure – such as roads, airports and the vehicles themselves - and the way it embeds car-dependent lifestyles. One way to reduce transport emissions relatively quickly, and potentially globally, is to swap cars for cycling, e-biking and walking – active travel, as it's called.
Active travel is cheaper, healthier, better for the environment, and no slower on congested urban streets. So how much carbon can it save on a daily basis? And what is its role in reducing emissions from transport overall?
In new research, colleagues and I reveal that people who walk or cycle have lower carbon footprints from daily travel, including in cities where lots of people are already doing this. Despite the fact that some walking and cycling happens on top of motorized journeys instead of replacing them, more people switching to active travel would equate to lower carbon emissions from transport on a daily and trip-by-trip basis.
What a Difference a Trip Makes
We observed around 4,000 people living in London, Antwerp, Barcelona, Vienna, Orebro, Rome and Zurich. Over a two-year period, our participants completed 10,000 travel diary entries which served as records of all the trips they made each day, whether going to work by train, taking the kids to school by car or riding the bus into town. For each trip, we calculated the carbon footprint.
Strikingly, people who cycled on a daily basis had 84% lower carbon emissions from all their daily travel than those who didn't.
We also found that the average person who shifted from car to bike for just one day a week cut their carbon footprint by 3.2kg of CO₂ – equivalent to the emissions from driving a car for 10km, eating a serving of lamb or chocolate, or sending 800 emails.
When we compared the life cycle of each travel mode, taking into account the carbon generated by making the vehicle, fueling it and disposing of it, we found that emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and about ten times lower than driving an electric one.
We also estimate that urban residents who switched from driving to cycling for just one trip per day reduced their carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO₂ over the course of a year, and save the equivalent emissions of a one-way flight from London to New York. If just one in five urban residents permanently changed their travel behavior in this way over the next few years, we estimate it would cut emissions from all car travel in Europe by about 8%.
Nearly half of the fall in daily carbon emissions during global lockdowns in 2020 came from reductions in transport emissions. The pandemic forced countries around the world to adapt to reduce the spread of the virus. In the UK, walking and cycling have been the big winners, with a 20% rise in people walking regularly, and cycling levels increasing by 9% on weekdays and 58% on weekends compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is despite cycle commuters being very likely to work from home.
Active travel has offered an alternative to cars that keeps social distancing intact. It has helped people to stay safe during the pandemic and it could help reduce emissions as confinement is eased, particularly as the high prices of some electric vehicles are likely to put many potential buyers off for now.
So the race is on. Active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles while also providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transportation.
Christian Brand is an Associate Professor in Transport, Energy & Environment, Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford.
Disclosure statement: Christian Brand received funding for this work from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme via the 'Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches' project and UK Research and Innovation via the Centre for Research on Energy Demand Solutions and the UK Energy Research Centre.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Exercise is good for human health, but air quality warnings typically warn against outdoor activity when particulate matter levels rise above certain levels. At what point do the dangers of air pollution outweigh the benefits of physical activity?
To find that out, researchers at the Seoul National University College of Medicine in South Korea conducted a country-wide study of nearly 1.5 million young adults. The study, published in the European Heart Journal Monday, concluded that strenuous exercise in very polluted air could put young people at risk for heart disease and stroke.
"This is an important result suggesting that, unlike middle-aged people over 40, excessive physical activity may not always be beneficial for cardiovascular health in younger adults when they are exposed to high concentrations of air pollution," study first author Dr. Seong Rae Kim told the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
The researchers had previously studied the impacts of air pollution and exercise on middle-aged adults at a single point in time, but this study was the first to look at the issue for young people over several years.
The study considered 1,469,972 adults aged 20 to 39 over a period of nine years. First, researchers considered how much exercise the participants undertook based on exams in 2009-2010 and 2011-2012, then follow ups from 2013 to 2018. Exercise was measured in units of metabolic equivalent task (MET) minutes per week (MET-min/week). Air pollution was based on particulate matter data from the annual average from the National Ambient Air Monitoring System in South Korea and ranked as either low to moderate (less than 49.92 micrograms per cubic metre, or μm/m3, for PM10 and less than 26.43 μm/m3 for PM2.5) and high (49.92 μm/m3 for PM10 and 26.46 μm/m3 for PM2.5).
For participants exposed to low to moderate levels of air pollution, the impact of exercise was about what you would expect.
"We found that in young adults aged 20-39 years old, the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attack, increased as the amount of physical activity decreased between the two screening periods," Kim told the ESC.
However, this was not the case for participants who increased their exercise above 1,000 MET-min/week while being exposed to high levels of air pollution, as Air Quality News explained:
The researchers found that among people exposed to high levels of PM2.5, those who increased their exercise between the two screening periods had a 33% increased risk of cardiovascular disease during the follow-up period compared to those who were physically inactive and did not increase their exercise, although this result was slightly weaker than that needed to achieve statistical significance.
This means an extra 108 people per 10,000 might develop the cardiovascular disease during the follow-up period.
To put these findings in perspective,1,000 MET-min/week is above the ESC's recommended exercise levels of 500-999 MET-min/week, which equates to running, cycling or hiking for 15-30 minutes five times a week, or brisk walking, doubles tennis or slow cycling for 30-60 minutes five times a week.
However, Kim argued for policy changes to allow young people to take full advantage of strenuous exercise.
"Ultimately, it is imperative that air pollution is improved at the national level in order to maximize the health benefits of exercising in young adults," Kim told the ESC. "These are people who tend to engage in physical activity more than other age groups while their physical ability is at its best. If air quality is not improved, this could result in the incidence of cardiovascular diseases actually increasing despite the health benefits gained from exercise."
By Tara Lohan
Mined lands reclaimed for biking trails, office parks — even a winery. Efforts like these are already underway in Appalachia to reclaim the region's toxic history, restore blighted lands, and create economic opportunities in areas where decades-old mines haven't been properly cleaned up.
The projects are sorely needed. And so are many more. But the money to fund and enable them remains elusive.
Mining production is falling, which is good news for tackling climate change and air pollution, but Appalachia and other coal states are also feeling the economic pain that comes with it. And that loss is more acute on top of pandemic-related revenue shortfalls and the mounting bills from the industry's environmental degradation.
Local leaders and organizations working in coal communities see a way to flip the script, though. The Revelator spoke with Rebecca Shelton, the director of policy and organizing for Appalachian Citizens' Law Center in Kentucky, about efforts focusing on one particular area that's plagued coal communities for more than 50 years: cleaning up abandoned mine lands.
Shelton explains the history behind these lands, the big legislative opportunities developing in Washington, and what coal communities need to prepare for a low-carbon future.
What are abandoned mine lands?
Technically an abandoned mine land is land where no reclamation was done after mining. Prior to the passage of Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, coal-mining companies weren't required to reclaim — or clean up — the land they mined.
What SMCRA did, in addition to creating requirements for companies to do reclamation into the future, was create an abandoned mine land fund to distribute money to states and tribes with historic mining so that they could clean up those old sites. The revenue for that fund comes from a small tax on current coal production.
The program has accomplished a lot. It has closed 46,000 open mine portals, reclaimed more than 1,000 miles of high walls, stabilized slopes, and restored a lot of water supplies.
It's been a successful program, but the work is far from done. A conservative estimate is that there's still more than $11 billion needed to clean up existing identified liability across the U.S. [for sites mined before 1977].
What are the risks if we don't do this?
There are safety, health and environmental issues.
Just this spring we've already gotten calls from folks living adjacent to abandoned mine lands that are experiencing slides [from wet weather causing slopes destabilized by mining to give way]. People's homes can be completely destabilized, and if they don't get out in time, it can be really dangerous.
There's also a lot of existing acid mine drainage across coal-mining communities, which is water that's leaking iron oxides and other heavy metals from these abandoned mine lands. This is bad for the ecology of the streams, but heavy metals are also not safe for humans to be exposed to.
Acid mine drainage in a stream. Rachel Brennan / CC BY-NC 2.0
There's legislation in Congress now that could help deal with this issue. What are those bills?
One bill is the reauthorization of the abandoned mine land fund. That bill is absolutely critical because the fee on coal production, which is the only source of revenue for the fund, will expire at the end of September if Congress doesn't take action.
If Congress fails to extend that, we may not see any more funding for the $11 billion needed to clean up abandoned mine lands. If passed, the bill would reauthorize the fee at its current level for 15 more years.
The challenge is that even if the fee is reauthorized, it'll likely generate only around $1.6 billion — based on current coal-production projections — and that's vastly inadequate to cover all of the liabilities that exist.
Also, when the abandoned mine land fund was first started, there were some funds that were not redistributed to states and tribes and have just remained in the fund — [about] $2.5 billion that's not being dispersed on an annual basis.
So another bill, the RECLAIM Act, would authorize [an initial] $1 billion to be dispersed out of that fund that would go to approximately 20 states and tribes over the next five years. This money would be distributed differently than the regular funds in that any kind of project would have to have a plan in place for community and economic development.
So though the funds can only be used for reclamation, they need to be reclamation with a plan. There are so many high-priority and dangerous abandoned mine land sites that exist, and the RECLAIM Act funds would prioritize supporting community and economic development for communities adjacent to these lands.
How much support are you seeing for these bills?
We see momentum in this Congress, and there's a lot of conversation around investing in our nation's infrastructure. We see abandoned mine lands and their remediation as natural infrastructure that we need to invest in to keep our communities safe and prepare them for the future.
But we also see these bills as important pieces of an economic recovery package. COVID-19 has really exacerbated so many of the existing health and economic crises already in coal communities.
When we talk about economic stimulus and job creation, we also see reauthorizing the abandoned mine land fund as contributing to that because it takes a lot of work and creates a lot of jobs to do land reclamation.
Abandoned mines can pose serious health and safety hazards, such as landslides, erosion and surface instability. USGS
We've talked about the legacy issues from lands mined before 1977, but what concerns are there from current or recent mining? Is that reclamation being done adequately?
That's an area that also needs a closer look.
As the industry declines, we've seen coal companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy or reorganization. And when they do this, oftentimes they're granted permission to get rid of liabilities that would affect their solvency. Sometimes those liabilities are reclamation obligations, pension funds or black lung disability funds.
And then what you see is smaller companies taking on these permits that the reorganizing company no longer wants. But many are under-capitalized and they sometimes don't have the ability to even produce coal, or if they do they can't keep up with the reclamation. And it's dangerous for communities if there's environmental violations that aren't getting addressed.
I'll give you a recent example. Blackjewel [the sixth-largest U.S. coal producer] went bankrupt in the summer of 2019. Since then there's been very little done to address any kind of environmental violations existing on their permits.
Because of SMCRA, companies are required to have bonds in order to obtain their mining permits, but these bonds are not always adequate. The Kentucky Energy and Environment cabinet made a statement in the Blackjewel bankruptcy proceedings that it estimated that reclamation obligations on these permits were going to fall short $20 to $50 million.
What else is needed to help coal communities transition to a low-carbon economy?
That's a big question. We have to address these legacy issues in order to help transition these communities into the future. And we have to address the problems right now of folks who are losing their jobs and need to be supported through training programs or through education credits.
But we also need to be thinking about the future more broadly. What will be in place 20 years from now for the younger generation?
There's going to be a lot of gaps in local tax revenues because so much of the tax base has been reliant on the coal industry, which makes it really difficult for communities to continue to provide public services and keep up infrastructure as that industry declines. It's going to be critical to think about that and invest in that.
I think the best approach is to find solutions that work for [specific] places. And to do that we need to listen to community leaders and folks in these communities that have already been working to build something new for many years. There are solutions that I think can apply to all places, but there also needs to be a targeted intention to create opportunities where communities can develop their own paths forward.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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U.S. Military Ordered 'Clandestine Burning' of Toxic Chemicals in Low-Income Neighborhoods, Study Finds
By Kenny Stancil
New research conducted by environmental justice scholars at Vermont's Bennington College reveals that between 2016 and 2020, the U.S. military oversaw the "clandestine burning" of more than 20 million pounds of Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam in low-income communities around the country — even though there is no evidence that incineration destroys the toxic "forever chemicals" that make up the foam and are linked to a range of cancers, developmental disorders, immune dysfunction, and infertility.
"In defiance of common sense and environmental expertise, the Department of Defense (DOD) has enlisted poor communities across the U.S. as unwilling test subjects in its toxic experiment with burning AFFF," David Bond, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, said in a statement earlier this week.
Noting that scientists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and even Pentagon officials have warned that "burning AFFF is an unproven method and dangerous mix that threatens the health of millions of Americans," Bond characterized the decision of the military to dump huge stockpiles of AFFF and AFFF wastewater into "a handful of habitually negligent incinerators" as a "harebrained" operation as well as a manifestation of environmental injustice.
"In effect," he added, "the Pentagon redistributed its AFFF problem into poor and working-class neighborhoods."
After months of compiling and analyzing data — obtained last year from the Pentagon and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation — the team from Vermont launched an interactive website this week that publicizes for the first time the results of their investigation into all known shipments of AFFF to hazardous waste incinerators in the U.S.
The Bennington College researchers summarized their findings as follows:
- Over 20 million pounds of the toxic firefighting foam AFFF and AFFF wastewater was incinerated between 2016-2020;
- The U.S. military, the EPA, and state regulators all expressed serious concern about the ability of incineration to destroy the toxic chemicals in AFFF during this time;
- Six incinerators were contracted to burn AFFF. Each is a habitual violator of environmental law. Since 2017, three of the incinerators were out of compliance with environmental law 100% of the time while the other incinerators were out of compliance with environmental law about 50% of the time;
- 35% of known shipments of AFFF (7.7 million pounds) was burned at the Norlite Hazardous Waste Incinerator in Cohoes, New York, located within a densely populated urban area and less than 400 feet from a public housing complex. Norlite burned 2.47 million pounds of AFFF and 5.3 million pounds of AFFF wastewater, which likely was burned in violation of its Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permit;
- 40% of the national stockpile of AFFF (5.5 million pounds) was sent to "fuel-blending" facilities where it was mixed into fuels for industrial use. It is not clear where the AFFF-laden fuel went next, although the DOD contract stipulates incineration should be the endpoint; and
- 970,000 pounds of AFFF was burned overseas.
AFFF contains contaminants known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); exposure to trace amounts of these synthetic chemicals is associated with a variety of detrimental health effects, and some have argued that PFAS are so risky that they not only endanger public health but threaten to undermine human reproduction writ large.
Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club's National Clean Air team stressed: "We simply must stop burning PFAS compounds."
"Attempting to burn these forever chemicals can generate highly toxic emissions which endanger the health of nearby communities," she said. "Burning also releases gases which are powerful climate forcing chemicals."
According to Williams, "EPA and DOD are both pursuing advanced technologies that can more effectively destroy these compounds without causing these unacceptable impacts."
The pursuit of alternative disposal methods raises the question, posed by the researchers on their website: "If incineration is an unproven means of destroying these toxins, is burning AFFF solving the problem or simply emitting it into the poor communities that so often surround incinerators in the U.S.?"
According to the researchers, the military rushed to burn more than 20 million pounds of AFFF over the past four years because they feared the substance "would be classified as a toxic chemical (and with that designation, would require new safeguards and introduce new liability)."
In a column published Thursday in The Guardian, Bond explained:
While some states file suit against the manufactures of AFFF, the fingerprints of the U.S. Armed Forces are all over the scene of the crime. When federal scientists moved to publish a comprehensive review of the toxic chemistry of AFFF in 2018, DOD officials called that science "a public relations nightmare" and tried to suppress the findings.
Beyond damning internal emails, the military is still in possession of a tremendous amount of AFFF. As the EPA and states around the U.S. begin to designate AFFF a hazardous substance, the military's stockpiles of AFFF are starting to add up to an astronomical liability on the military's balance sheet. Perhaps thinking the Trump administration presented an opportune moment, the Pentagon decided to torch their AFFF problem in 2016.
Despite AFFF's extraordinary resistance to fire, incineration quietly became the military's preferred method to handle AFFF. "We knew that this would be a costly endeavor, since it meant we'd be burning something that was engineered to put out fires," Steve Schneider, chief of Hazardous Disposal for the logistics wing of DOD, said in 2017 as the operation got underway.
As the military was sending AFFF to incinerators around the country, the EPA, state regulators, and university scientists all warned that subjecting AFFF to extremely high temperatures would likely conjure up a witches brew of fluorinated toxins, that existing smokestack technologies would be insufficient to monitor poisonous emissions let alone capture them, and that dangerous chemicals might rain down on surrounding neighborhoods. Weighing out its own liability against the health of these communities, the Pentagon struck the match.
Judith Enck, former EPA regional administrator, said the data compiled by the Bennington College team demonstrate that "we have a national problem on our hands."
"Congress needs to throw cold water on the Pentagon's mad dash to burn toxic firefighting foam. There is no evidence that incineration destroys AFFF," she added, calling for "a national ban on burning these forever chemicals."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Jonathan Levy
During a presidential election debate on Oct. 22, 2020, former President Donald Trump railed against Democratic proposals to retrofit homes. "They want to take buildings down because they want to make bigger windows into smaller windows," he said. "As far as they're concerned, if you had no window, it would be a lovely thing."
What a difference five months makes. While replacing your big windows with small ones is not on the Biden-Harris administration's agenda, increasing home energy efficiency is. Addressing these and other housing issues is critical for three of the new administration's immediate priorities: ending the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing climate change and tackling racial and economic inequality.
As an environmental health researcher, I have studied ways in which inadequate housing influences health and disproportionately affects low-income families and communities of color. In my view, retrofitting low-income housing in particular is a high-leverage way to tackle some of our nation's most pressing health, social and environmental challenges.
Housing Shapes Everything
The pandemic has spotlighted how directly housing affects people's health. It's intuitively clear that physical distancing is hard if your family lives in a few rooms. And studies have shown that crowded indoor environments, including houses and apartments, are high-risk settings for contracting COVID-19.
Housing also is a substantial contributor to climate change. About 20% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from residential energy use. Large homes generally use more energy, but lower-income homes are often less energy-efficient, which makes them costly to heat and cool.
One recent survey found that between spring 2019 and spring 2020, 25% of low-income American households were unable to pay an energy bill. Families may be forced to cut necessities like food or medicine to pay energy bills, or endure unhealthy temperatures. As changing climate lengthens summer, and there are more scorching hot days, those who lack air conditioning or can't afford it are in danger.
Racial inequities in housing aren't random. For generations, discriminatory policies kept Black and other minority households from purchasing homes in many neighborhoods. There are large racial gaps in both homeownership rates and the availability of high-quality housing across the country.
Maintenance is key to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Healthy Home Principles. HUD
Potential Policy Solutions
Now, for all of these reasons, housing is in the political spotlight. The Biden-Harris presidential platform included home energy efficiency retrofits. The new American Rescue Plan Act, which President Biden signed into law on March 11, includes housing provisions meant to forestall an eviction crisis and to reduce energy insecurity. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge has pledged to prioritize fair housing.
These efforts are all related. Energy-efficiency investments in low-income housing have broad ripple effects, including financial relief for residents, lower carbon emissions and healthier indoor environments.
But there are key questions. Will agencies address these issues as siloed challenges or in an integrated way? And will federal leaders and members of Congress see strategic investments in housing as a strategy that offers broad societal benefits?
The State of Low-Income Housing
Data from the American Housing Survey demonstrates some of the challenges low-income households face. Many of the more than 30 million Americans who live below the poverty line crowd into smaller, older homes. Often these dwellings have structural deficiencies like pest infestation, mold, peeling paint and exposed wiring.
Living in these environments creates health risks from exposure to lead paint, allergens and indoor air pollution. The economic challenges of the pandemic, with people spending much more time at home, have heightened these risks.
Poor conditions also plague many chronically underfunded public housing developments. Given how vulnerable many public housing residents are, I see upgrading these buildings as critical.
The Benefits of Energy Efficiency
Well-designed energy-efficiency measures provide economic, health and climate benefits in single-family and multifamily homes, including in low-income housing. My research demonstrates both the promise and potential pitfalls of various measures.
For example, better insulation lowers electricity and fuel consumption. In turn, this saves money, improves outdoor air quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
However, upgrades can be done well or badly. We found that weatherization alone, without other improvements, may actually increase indoor air pollution in low income, multifamily housing, especially in homes where people smoke or cook frequently with gas stoves. That's because steps like adding insulation and sealing cracks trap indoor air pollutants inside. Coupling weatherization with steps such as adding kitchen exhaust fans and high-efficiency particle filters in heating and air conditioning systems produces healthier results.
Welcome @SecFudge! https://t.co/K4Ang2domg— HUDgov (@HUDgov)1615414820.0
Are There Win-Win-Win Scenarios?
If better housing saves money, makes residents healthier and more comfortable, improves air quality, decreases greenhouse gas emissions and reduces racial disparities, why don't we have more of it?
One reason is that those who pay for improvements – landlords or government agencies – often aren't the ones who directly benefit from living in a less drafty home with cleaner air. Likewise, it's rare for health care providers to consider housing upgrades as an approved clinical intervention.
But that could change. A recent study showed that providing stable, affordable housing improved physical and mental health for both children and adults. Green building strategies have been shown to improve health, lessen asthma symptoms and reduce health care costs. Healthier kids miss less school and earn better grades.
Strategic federal investments could ultimately save taxpayers money and improve health. A 2020 study showed that federal rental assistance – which helps families afford better housing – led to reduced emergency department visits for asthmatic children, saving money for the Medicaid system. Subsidized energy efficiency upgrades also increase property values, which helps address long-standing racial disparities in wealth.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development typically gets little notice from the public, especially amid a global pandemic when Americans are focused on vaccinations and the economy. But Secretary Fudge has an opportunity to spotlight housing as a lever for improving health, the environment and economic and racial equity. All without shrinking anyone's windows.
Jonathan Levy is a professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health, Boston University.
Disclosure statement: Jonathan Levy receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Barr Foundation, and Google.org.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Marianne Dhenin
Many Americans learned to ride bicycles as kids. I still remember zipping around a cul de sac in my neighborhood, shrieking with glee and reveling in my newfound freedom after the training wheels came off. But those who did not have the opportunity to learn to ride during their childhood often face uncertainty or anxiety about learning as adults. Bicycle education programs help those who want to become cyclists overcome that fear while also addressing problems in their communities — from pollution to racial injustice.
And biking's popularity has only increased during the pandemic: Bicycle sales skyrocketed in the United States in March 2020 as commuters sought to avoid crowded means of public transportation. Organizations around the world are using bicycle education to empower new riders and advocate for more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive communities.
In 2015, Germany coined a new term, Willkommenskultur, to describe the welcoming culture rolled out to greet arriving refugees, many of whom were fleeing the Syrian war. This culture led to an explosion of new volunteer organizations eager to address the needs of new arrivals. Few groups have had as lasting an impact (or as much fun) as #BIKEYGEES in Berlin. According to Annette Krüger, its founder, the organization teaches "women from all over the world" how to ride bicycles.
For immigrants to Germany, where about nine out of every 10 residents own a bicycle, learning how to ride means becoming part of a community. On bikes, women "can discover areas in their neighborhood" and experience "an improvement in independence, mobility, and security," says Greta Aigner, a trainer at #BIKEYGEES.
Annette Krüger, right, and another #BIKEYGEES coach, left, help a woman balance on a bicycle during a #BIKEYGEES class in Berlin. Deutsche Fernsehlotterie / Jan Ehlers
#BIKEYGEES was awarded the German Bicycling Award in 2018 for its service to the community, its focus on women's empowerment, and its promotion of sustainable transportation. Krüger and her team now give regular riding lessons in 15 locations in Berlin and the neighboring town of Brandenburg. She characterizes the courses as "two hours of happiness."
"You don't have to register," she says. "You can come as you are. We only ask: Do you want to learn how to ride a bike? Or do you want to learn how to teach to ride a bike? We are all learning something." Krüger's advice to anyone looking to make an impact is to start now. "It's so easy to change the world, but we have to do it," she says, "and the bike is the perfect vehicle for it."
Making a More Livable City
Like #BIKEYGEES in Berlin, many bicycle education programs in the U.S. work with immigrants who did not learn to ride as kids. Lana Zitser, a Russian immigrant who has spent most of her life in the U.S., says she only committed to learning in her 30s to set a good example for her 11-year-old son who was also learning to ride. She says that while her older brother learned how to ride when they were kids, her mother was "extremely overprotective" of her. "My girlfriends who also grew up in Russia don't know how to ride bicycles either," she says.
Zitser signed up for classes with an organization called Sustainable Streets, based in Los Angeles County. "I'm grateful for the experience," she says. "Now I ride around the neighborhood with my family."
Ron Durgin, co-founder and executive director of Sustainable Streets, says he loves empowering new riders like Zitser. He co-founded the organization in 2009 with the belief that turning more Angelenos into cyclists would mean turning Los Angeles' urban environment into "a more livable community."
"There's this kind of mindset about Los Angeles," Durgin says. "People come to Los Angeles, and they think they have to buy a car." With millions of cars on its streets, people living in Los Angeles County are exposed to 60% more vehicle pollution than the average Californian, and a whopping 250% more than San Francisco Bay area residents.
Ron Durgin, center in a green shirt, and a group of bicyclists prepare for a Sustainable Streets' social ride in Los Angeles. Sustainable Streets
Los Angeles County's auto-centric urban planning also means its streets are less walkable and its residents have little access to parks or other public spaces. Across Los Angeles County, there is an average of only about 3 acres of parklands per 1,000 residents, which is a meager one-third of the national average.
"Whether it's air quality, water quality, land use, [or] the way we allocate public space," Durgin says, cyclists can have a big impact on city life. Research shows that cities with good bicycle infrastructure and more riders have higher per capita GDPs, less traffic and pollution, and happier citizens.
More than a decade after its founding, Sustainable Streets' adult education programs have helped hundreds learn how to ride, understand the rules of the road, navigate their cities, and perform basic bicycle maintenance. The organization has also had great success influencing bike infrastructure. Sustainable Streets and its allies have lobbied the city of Santa Monica to improve bicycle parking and even establish a dedicated bike campus near its headquarters. At the bike campus, cyclists can practice riding and learn the rules of the road in a safe environment.
"It has always been a goal of mine to learn to ride a bike," says Julie Maharaj, who attended an adult learn-to-ride class on the Santa Monica bike campus last year. "[The class] has definitely given me more confidence and a feeling of accomplishment," she says.
Durgin says his best advice for other groups looking to start bicycle education programs is to lean on community partners. If you can't find partners, make them. Sustainable Streets has gained favor with law enforcement officers, city administrators, and skeptical locals by inviting them on social rides. "We just tried to weave [them] in," Durgin says. "There's just a joy and a feeling of freedom when you're on a bike and getting outside and socializing with other people."
Leveling the Playing Field
Unlike Los Angeles, New York City is known for having its fair share of bicyclists. According to the New York Department of Transportation, nearly 900,000 New Yorkers ride regularly, and more than 50,000 depend on their bicycles to commute. But research shows that the majority of people who choose to commute by bike are wealthy and White. They are often drawn to bicycling for environmental or health reasons.
But for lower-income communities and communities of color, especially for people with disabilities or those who have health limitations, bicycling is not always so feasible or even desirable. Members of these communities often have to live farther from city centers and travel longer distances for work, often on roads that lack the infrastructure for safe cycling.
"When you talk about access… it's not only about providing someone a bicycle," says Hilena Tibebe, board member of Bike New York and founder of Ride to DC, which works to raise awareness of the racial disparity within the cycling community and increase access and inclusion for cyclists who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. It's also about "providing someone a helmet, creating a route that is accessible for all, being able to ride a bike, [and] having the roads to bike on," she says.
Low-income residents and people of color accounted for much of the uptick in cyclists in the 2000s, but they are also often neglected by investments in cycling infrastructure that make roads safer and more accessible. Instead, cities tend to focus on the needs of wealthy White cyclists.
For Bike New York, whose mission is to "transform the lives of New Yorkers through cycling," these disparities are unacceptable. By placing its adult education and after-school classes, summer camps for kids, and bicycle libraries (an innovative program that allows kids to borrow bicycles in public parks for recreational use) in underserved communities, the organization is trying to "level the playing field," says Ken Podziba, the organization's CEO. "There aren't enough people of color riding, and we're trying to help."
A volunteer helps a participant in a "Learn to Ride – Adult Class" organized by Bike New York for adults learning to ride a bicycle on May 3, 2013 in New York. STAN HONDA / AFP via Getty Images
Bike New York now provides bicycle education to 30,000 New Yorkers per year in all five boroughs and has a network of more than 3,000 volunteers.
Podziba says that Bike New York's largest boon has been partnering with the city and placing its education programs in local parks, which provide safe spaces for riders to learn and practice and for Bike New York to store its bikes and helmets. In the future, Podziba says he hopes others will emulate this model and that there will be better communication among bike organizations "so we could all learn together, work together, support each other, build each other up."
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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By Kenny Stancil
Four congressional Democrats on Friday unveiled the BUILD GREEN Infrastructure and Jobs Act, a bill that would invest $500 billion over 10 years in state, local, and tribal projects to galvanize the transition to all electric public transportation — reducing climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions and health-threatening air pollution while expanding clean mass transit and creating up to one million new jobs.
Modeled after the Department of Transportation's BUILD grant program, the bill to provide grant funding to green the nation's public transportation infrastructure while creating good-paying jobs in the process was introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as well as Reps. Andrew Levin (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
"The climate crisis is an existential threat to our planet," Warren acknowledged in a press release, "but it's also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, create a million good new jobs, and unleash the best of American innovation."
The BUILD GREEN Act, she added, "will make the big federal investments necessary to transform our country's transportation system, confront the racial and economic inequality embedded in our fossil fuel economy, and achieve the ambitious targets for 100% clean energy in America."
That assessment was shared by Markey, who said that "we cannot build back better without building back greener." Markey called the bill "our opportunity to invest in a clean energy revolution across our country, transform our transportation sector to be climate-smart, and create millions of good-paying union jobs at the same time."
"We can work together," he added, "to leverage investment in climate action, reduce emissions, and support environmental justice communities through bold infrastructure projects, all while tackling our climate crisis."
Co-sponsors of the proposed legislation — which is supported by almost three in five Americans, according to a new poll (pdf) conducted by Data for Progress—include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), among others.
Alluding to the recent crisis in Texas caused by the collision of a deregulated, fossil-fuel dependent energy system and a climate change-driven winter storm, Ocasio-Cortez said that "we must stop spending billions of taxpayer money on infrastructure systems only for them to fail at the most crucial moment."
"The BUILD GREEN Act," Ocasio-Cortez continued, "helps ensure that our federal dollars are being invested in infrastructure that can sustain the impact of climate change and better prepares our communities for extreme weather events."
"In most of the country," she added, "subways, buses, and other public transit are practically inaccessible or completely overburdened," meaning that "this bill would make a dramatic, material difference in the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people."
Calling the electrification of personal vehicles and mass transit a "central pillar" of the Green New Deal resolution introduced in 2019 by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, Levin said that "the answer to both the climate crisis and the crisis of wealth inequality is to empower working people with the sustainable investments necessary to rebuild the communities devastated by decades of pollution and corporate trade policy."
He added that the bill "will deliver the transformational change demanded by the American people while ensuring that we build the green economy of the 21st century here at home with good-paying, union jobs."
The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development and Generating Renewable Energy to Electrify the Nation's (BUILD GREEN) Infrastructure and Jobs Act would:
- jumpstart the transition to all electric public transportation, expand clean mass transit to underserved communities, and help modernize our crumbling infrastructure by covering up to 85% of costs for eligible state, local, and tribal projects, with an option for the Secretary of Transportation to cover 100% of costs;
- reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 21.5 million metric tons of CO2 annually or the equivalent of taking 4.5 million combustion engine cars off the road;
- prevent an estimated 4,200 deaths annually by reducing significant sources of local air pollution that cause adverse health effects like asthma, and avert $100 billion annually in healthcare costs;
- start to correct decades of health disparities and environmental injustice by dedicating at least 40% of all funding to projects in frontline, vulnerable, and disadvantaged communities; and
- create up to one million good new jobs with strong labor protections.
In its evaluation of the economic and environmental impacts of the bill, which it called "a vital component of tackling the climate crisis," Data for Progress estimated that electrifying the nation's public transportation systems, installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure nationwide, and expanding associated renewable energy generation capacity would save lives and money.
The proposed legislation is endorsed by a slew of progressive advocacy groups, including Data for Progress as well as Sunrise Movement, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, 350.org, Greenpeace, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, Center for Progressive Reform, GreenLatinos, Rewiring America, New Consensus, Zero Hour, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
Given that "transportation represents about 29% of U.S. emissions," said Natalie Mebane, U.S. policy director at 350.org, "we can make huge progress in lowering our greenhouse gas emissions by electrifying the transportation sector and ensuring that it is powered by 100% clean energy."
A recent assessment of President Joe Biden's climate plans found his transportation policies to be inadequate if the U.S. is to reach his administration's goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Mebane added that "this bill will create close to one million jobs at a time when we need a just economic recovery immediately" in the wake of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic crisis.
Robert R.M. Verchick, president of the board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform and professor of environmental law at Loyola University, New Orleans, said that "the transportation networks we build today shape the possibilities for tomorrow."
"If we want our children and grandchildren to thrive in their schools and in their jobs, they will need ways to get there," said Verchick. "If we want neighborhoods free of smog and industrial racket, we will need clean and efficient ways of moving around. Few investments we make today will have as profound an impact on the opportunities available to future generations as our infrastructure choices."
The BUILD GREEN Act was unveiled just two weeks after Sunrise Movement launched its "Good Jobs for All" campaign to put the country on a path toward a Green New Deal; that happened not long after Pressley introduced the Federal Job Guarantee Resolution, which seeks to make "meaningful, dignified work" at a livable wage an enforceable legal right.
Earlier this week, hundreds of local officials across the nation called on the Biden administration and Congress to deliver a bold infrastructure plan that improves the health of communities across the country.
Sanders, for his part, said Thursday that if Republicans try to obstruct progress on green jobs and infrastructure, Democrats "must use our majority to get it done."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
Heavy duty electric trucks (a.k.a. semis) cost so much less to operate per mile than diesel-powered trucks at today's prices that they would pay for themselves in just three years, according to a new report by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UCLA, and UC-Berkeley.
Electrifying heavy-duty trucks would substantially improve air quality.
Semis account for just 11% of vehicles on the road, but more than half of carbon pollution and 71% of deadly particulate pollution.
At today's costs, electric semis could cost 13% less per mile than a comparable diesel-powered truck, and could cost just half as much per mile by 2030 with the right mix of policy.
For a deeper dive:
Beijing skies turned yellow Monday as air pollution reached hazardous levels after the worst sandstorm in a decade coincided with an industrial boom following last year's COVID lockdown.
The sandstorm clouded northern China from Xinjiang in the far west to the Bohai Sea in the east, canceling flights and closing some schools, The New York Times reported. In Beijing, the Air Quality Index (AQI) reached a hazardous 999 at one point, according to The Guardian.
"Beijing is what an ecological crisis looks like," Li Shuo of Greenpeace Asia wrote on Twitter. "After two weeks of smog and static air, strong wind carries a sand storm in, sending AQI off the chart. It's hard to claim we are moving forward when you can't see what's in front."
Beijing is what an ecological crisis looks like. After two weeks of smog and static air, strong wind carries a sand… https://t.co/SkIiTHJvJG— Li Shuo_Greenpeace (@Li Shuo_Greenpeace)1615770468.0
Beijing's air quality had already been poor due to a resurgence of industrial activity as China emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Li told The New York Times that industrial pollutants around the Chinese capital had surpassed the average for the last four years. Authorities in Tangshan, a steel-making city often responsible for pollution in Beijing and Hebei, said Saturday that they would punish companies for not carrying out anti-pollution measures, The Guardian reported.
Then came the sandstorm. It began as a snow storm in Mongolia over the weekend, where it cut power and led to at least nine deaths, according to The New York Times. At least 341 people in Mongolia were also reported missing, The Guardian reported.
The storm then sent the dust south, according to CNN. The concentration of larger PM 10 particles in Beijing passed 8,100 micrograms per cubic meter. The especially dangerous PM2.5 air pollutants, small particles that can infiltrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream and other organs, reached a high of 655 micrograms per cubic meter Monday. The World Health Organization has set the safe level at 25.
"In some places, there are strong sandstorms with visibility of less than 500 meters (1,640 feet)," the China Meteorological Administration said in a statement reported by CNN. "This is also the strongest dust and sand weather affecting China in almost 10 years."
This combination of smog and sandstorm returned Beijing to the type of "airpocalypse" common a few years ago, before the government stepped up anti-pollution efforts, The New York Times reported.
"I couldn't see the building across the street," Wang Wei, a 23-year-old college graduate, told The New York Times. "I didn't think the sky could be this yellow."
Normal vs. today #Beijing https://t.co/koo2f7NjSF— 霍炳宗 (@霍炳宗)1615766702.0
The sandstorm is also a blast from China's pre-regulation past, as they were common in the latter half of the 20th century, CNN reported. The storms used to occur twice in May, largely due to drought, a growing population and desertification in the country's north and northwest.
Beginning in 2000, the government made an effort to implement reforestation projects and improve warning systems. These efforts paid off, and the amount of sandstorm days in Beijing fell from 26 a year in the 1950s to three after 2010.
This round of storms is expected to last through Tuesday.
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A group of teenagers, living in some of London's most polluted communities, are posting roadsigns highlighting the disproportionate impact air pollution has on people of color.
The campaign, organized by Choked Up, a group made up of self-described "Black & brown teens," has posted signs throughout the city which warn "breathing kills" and "pollution zone," The Guardian reported.
Motivated to put an end to early deaths and the negative health impacts toxic air inflicts, Choked Up's co-founder Anjali Raman-Middleton, 17, said: "I'm terrified that my daily commute to school along the South Circular has already had a negative impact on my lungs," according to The Guardian. "I urge London mayoral candidates to commit to transform these roads to give me and my generation a greener future."
Raman-Middleton was also inspired by the recent ruling regarding the nine-year-old Londoner, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, which made her the first person in the UK to have air pollution exposure listed as the cause of fatality on her death certificate, adding it "proved that the road I live less than five minutes from can kill," according to the BBC.
We grew up along the polluted streets of London, breathing illegal air. Our stories have been forgotten and overloo… https://t.co/hAcRUN8yNB— Choked Up (@Choked Up)1614531304.0
The call to action is backed by a group of about 100 health professionals with the NHS, the Environmental Defense Fund reported, who contributed a letter highlighting the daily health impacts Londoners face from toxic air. But this "health burden of dirty air is not equal," the health professionals wrote in the letter, coordinated by Medact, a coalition of health professionals working to mitigate health inequalities in the environment.
The call to action follows recent research by the Environmental Defense Fund Europe, which shows that nitrogen dioxide levels are on average "24-31% higher" in communities where people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to live, the BBC reported.
"Air pollution affects every single one of us from birth to old age, but we know the least well off and marginalised communities, including those from black and Asian backgrounds, are being hardest hit," said Dr. Laura Jane Smith, a respiratory consultant at King's College Hospital and signee of the letter, according to The Guardian.
Research also found in some areas of London, one in five primary schools are near major roads, where children are exposed to high levels of pollution, and schools with the highest percentage of non-white students are exposed to on average 28 percent higher NOx levels than schools with the lowest proportion of students from Black and other ethnic minority backgrounds, according to the EDF.
Exposure to toxic air has a direct impact on health, specifically targeting young people whose bodies are still developing, leading to asthma and heart conditions. Growing research also suggests pollution can increase the risk of depression and dementia, The Guardian reported.
"Like the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution is disproportionately impacting marginalised communities and Black, Asian and minority ethnic people," Oliver Lord, head of policy and campaigns at Environmental Defense Fund Europe said in a statement. "It's clear London's busy roads are a root cause of health inequities and air pollution levels are a major contributor."
The youth group, Choked Up, is putting signs specifically in London's "red routes" which make up five percent of its roads but hold a third of its traffic, according to The Guardian. The teenagers are calling on mayoral candidates to transform these roads, with fewer private cars and walking and biking routes, as well as zero-emissions public transport, according to the EDF.
"We took action so that lawmakers, decision makers and politicians finally take this climate and air quality crisis seriously, for everyone's sake." Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia, a 17-year-old co-founder of Choked Up, said, according to the EDF.
The efforts of the teen activists are also supported by Mums for Lungs, a group of London parents campaigning for clean air.
"The street signs are hard hitting because we want people to take notice of the huge damage being done to their health by air pollution." Jemima Hartshorn, a parent who is part of the Mums for Lungs group, said, according to the EDF. "It is crucial that the message is heeded by politicians that if we do not take action on air inequality there will be more and more hospital admission and sadly more needless deaths of children."
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The research, published in Nature Communications on Friday, found that wildfire smoke could be up to 10 times more harmful than other sources of air pollution, such as from vehicles or industry.
"We know wildfires are going to become more extreme, due to climate change," Rosana Aguilera, study co-author and postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told The Guardian. "And it's important that we start to reckon with the health effects of that."
The researchers examined hospital admission records in California between 1999 and 2012. They found that admissions for respiratory problems increased from around 1.3 percent to 10 percent following an uptick in wildfire-specific air pollution. The same amount of air pollution from other sources led to a smaller admissions increase, topping out around 1.3 percent.
This isn't the first study to suggest that wildfire smoke might be more harmful than other forms of air pollution, the authors noted. Animal studies have suggested the same thing.
Mary Prunicki, a Stanford air pollution researcher who was not part of the study, told The Guardian that evidence also suggested that wildfire smoke could exacerbate heart conditions and respiratory ailments.
She explained that since wildfires engulf homes and businesses, they emit fumes that contain metals, plastic and cleaning supplies. Large fires also suck smoke high into the atmosphere, where it lasts longer and combines with oxygen to become more dangerous.
"We're pretty aware of the physical costs of wildfire, in terms of firefighting costs and damage to property," Tom Corringham, a study co-author also at Scripps, told NPR. "But there's been a lot of work that has shown that the health impacts due to wildfire smoke are on the same order of magnitude, or possibly even greater, than the direct physical cost."
The study comes as this problem is only getting worse. While particulate matter air pollution has been decreasing across most of the U.S. thanks to stricter environmental regulations, that has not been the case in wildfire-prone areas, the study found. Wildfires will likely increase as long as the climate crisis persists. In 2020, California experienced six of its largest fires on record, the Los Angeles Times reported. Those fires choked the Western U.S. with smoke, in some places for weeks. An NPR analysis found that one in seven West Coast residents experienced at least one day of unhealthy air quality last year.
Unfortunately, wildfire smoke is not as easy to regulate as tailpipe or power-plant emissions. Corringham called for providing low-income households with money for air purifiers. But he also suggested a longer-term solution.
"Anything we can do today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the global climate system will have significant benefits," he told NPR.
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