After two years of scandals and deregulatory schemes that rival the machinations of Captain Planet villains, we thought we were immune to being shocked by the actions of Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the agency has managed to genuinely surprise us—by doing something that could actually benefit the environment.
Today @EPAAWheeler Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler launched the Cleaner Trucks Initiative to help modernize hea… https://t.co/DliQMlrYLp— U.S. EPA (@U.S. EPA)1542150212.0
The announcement won the agency rare praise from environmental and public health groups, The Washington Post reported.
"This is a positive step and may be the first thing this EPA has done that will actually reduce air pollution," American Lung Association Senior Vice President for Public Policy Paul Billings told The Washington Post.
Heartened to see @EPA announcement today on the Cleaner Trucks Initiative. This announcement is a positive step tow… https://t.co/s1Y9tkv3p3— American Lung Assoc. (@American Lung Assoc.)1542144145.0
The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which has reason to mistrust this EPA due to its plans to weaken the fuel efficiency standards California has championed, also saw Tuesday's announcement as a positive development.
"It's good that they are moving forward, because heavy-duty NOx is a huge problem, both as a precursor to ozone and fine particles," CARB spokesperson Stanley Young told The Washington Post in an email. "CARB petitioned EPA to begin this process, as have many other state and local agencies, so we are pleased that the agency is moving forward to address the next generation of new heavy-duty engines."
The EPA last updated its NOx standards in 2001, the agency said, so many felt a new push was long overdue. Twenty state and local regulators asked the Obama EPA to update the standards two years ago, and the agency agreed. Tuesday's announcement makes reducing NOx emissions the rare Obama-era commitment the agency has actually moved to honor.
"The U.S. has made major reductions in NOx emissions, but it's been nearly 20 years since EPA updated these standards. Through rulemaking and a comprehensive review of existing requirements, we will capitalize on these gains and incentivize new technologies to ensure our heavy-duty trucks are clean and remain a competitive method of transportation," Wheeler said.
This doesn't mean the agency has seen the light when it comes to the need for regulations to protect the environment. At the same time as he announced the initiative in a call with reporters, Wheeler bragged about the more than two dozen rollbacks Trump's EPA had set in motion, The Washington Post reported.
And there's a chance that the final proposal on NOx emissions―which probably won't be released until 2020―could sneak in some deregulations as well. This language from the EPA announcement is not encouraging:
In addition to NOx emissions standards, the CTI will cut unnecessary red tape while simplifying certification of compliance requirements for heavy-duty trucks and engines. Areas of deregulatory focus will include onboard diagnostic requirements, cost-effective means of reassuring real world compliance by using modern and advanced technologies, the deterioration factor testing process, and concerns regarding annual recertification of engine families.
Still, it's a welcome surprise to hear that Wheeler told reporters that the EPA was doing something "because it's good for the environment."
For the first time in two years, the agency has made a move towards doing its job.
Now, a study from University of Southern California researchers suggested that early exposure to traffic pollution increases the risk of childhood obesity in later life, adding more evidence that dirty air is a public health threat to children.
As the Guardian reported from the study, babies exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the first year of life gained weight much faster, according to the analysis of 2,318 children in southern California. By the age of 10, those children were on average 2.2 pounds heavier than those with low exposure.
The researchers came to this conclusion after adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, parental education and other factors.
"Beyond mid-childhood exposures, early life periods like in utero and first year of life represent critical windows of air pollution exposure that may significantly alter childhood growth trajectories," the study states.
Nitrogen dioxide is produced as a result of road traffic and when fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gas or diesel are burned at high temperatures.
The researchers were unable to exactly explain how air pollution causes weight gain in children.
"The most common thought is inflammation of body systems like the lungs which may spill over into the entire body [and] the brain, which regulates appetite and changes in fat metabolism," Jennifer Kim, who led the research, told the Guardian.
This is not the first study to make this connection. Last month, the World Health Organization issued a report that said that air pollution kills an estimated 600,000 children every year and causes a range of symptoms, including obesity and insulin resistance in children, Reuters reported.
This is alarming! According to a new @WHO report, air pollution kills an estimated 600,000 children every year & ca… https://t.co/2xwVe3snHF— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice)1541437201.0
"This study showing an association between increased body mass in children and exposure to air pollution from roads is important since it is compatible with previous studies showing an association between type 2 diabetes and air pollution in adults," Jonathan Grigg, a professor at Queen Mary University of London who was not involved with the research, explained to the Guardian.
"However, more research is needed to explain how toxins inhaled into the lungs affect fat cells throughout the body," Grigg added.
Babies in Strollers Breathe Up to 60 Percent More Dangerous Air Pollution Than Adults https://t.co/UPdRmw8eW9— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1534675812.0
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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.
Greenpeace has revealed the world's largest nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution hotspots across six continents, and identified Mpumalanga, South Africa as the biggest NO2 hotspot, even outranking areas in China, India and the U.S.
The lush, green province is home to the southern half of Kruger National Park and the iconic Blyde River Canyon. At the same time, it's home to a dozen coal fired power plants owned and operated by the power utility Eskom.
NO2 is a dangerous pollutant that's emitted when fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gas or diesel are burned at high temperatures, and also comes from transportation, forest fires and crop burning. The gas can react to create smog, acid rain and is central to the formation of fine particles and ground ozone, which are both linked to adverse health effects.
"The health toll from these emissions shows the need for an energy revolution that eliminates our reliance on fossil fuels: renewable power generation, energy efficiency, transport and mobility systems that rely less on private cars, as well as electric vehicles," Greenpeace explained in a report.
Burning coal releases NO2 into the air. NO2 is a dangerous air pollutant that causes asthma and lung cancer. Reside… https://t.co/GKdmnGtfBc— Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)1540817959.0
Greenpeace's new analysis is based on data produced by the European Space Agency's Sentinel 5P satellite, which measures air pollution in the atmosphere, between June to August 2018.
Besides Mpumalanga being the biggest NO2 hotspot, the findings show that China has the world's highest number of individual hotspots, followed by the Middle East, the European Union, India, the U.S. and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Quartz Africa noted from the study.
NO2 pollution in the United States. The colored dots represent a power plant. The colored clouds show the level of NO2 in the area. The darker—or pinker–the cloud, the higher the concentration. Greenpeace
An interactive mapping of global NO2 pollution can be seen here.
"The map also points to the impact of emissions regulations in some places. While there are plenty of coal plants in the U.S., NO2 concentrations near plants in India, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia stand out much more. In these countries, there has been a failure to enforce meaningful pollution standards, or to implement them," Greenpeace's journalism unit, Unearthed, pointed out.
5 Ways Trump Is 'Gaslighting' Us on U.S. Air Pollution Levels #TrumpWatch #TrumpTweets #CleanAir #TuesdayThoughts… https://t.co/a8VIl09yBE— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1540335612.0
Greenpeace researchers noted that the extreme NO2 pollution levels emanating from Mpumalanga blow into the nearby cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
"Because South Africa's coal-belts are hidden from view for the majority of South Africans, it can be easy to pretend that they don't actually exist. The reality is that coal extraction and burning has devastating impacts on the people living in the area," Melita Steele, the senior climate and energy campaign manager of Greenpeace Africa, said in a press release. "This satellite data now confirms that there is nowhere to hide: Eskom's coal addiction in Mpumalanga means that millions of people living in Johannesburg and Pretoria are also impacted by the pollution from coal."
THREAD: @KhuluPhasiwe your tweets seem to be in response to news that Mpumalanga has the world's dirtiest air:… https://t.co/WgBZRJlNqB— Melita Steele (@Melita Steele)1540823503.0
Cities such as Santiago de Chile, London, Paris, Dubai and Tehran were also singled out by the analysis due to transport-related emissions.
"Air pollution is a global health crisis, with up to 95 percent of the world's population breathing unsafe air," Steele continued in the press release. "South Africa is a significant global hotspot with its high concentration of coal power stations and its weak air pollution standards. Our Government urgently needs to come up with an action plan that protects millions of people, instead of dirty coal power stations."
Steele explained the new findings in the video:
Mpumalanga is the world's biggest air pollution hotspot www.youtube.com
A 9-year-old girl's death from asthma has been linked to illegal levels of air pollution in the UK, the first such reported fatality.
Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived just 80 feet from London's busy and highly polluted South Circular Road, died in February 2013 after suffering three years of seizures and nearly 30 admissions to the hospital.
In a report on her death, Stephen Holgate, an expert on asthma and air pollution at the University of Southampton, said there was a "striking association" between the times the child was admitted to the hospital and recorded spikes in air pollution around her home.
A copy of Holgate's report, obtained by the Guardian, determined that the levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted from diesel vehicles, were consistently above the legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic meter.
The report stated there was a "real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution, Ella would not have died."
Ella's family is calling for re-hearing into her death on the basis of the new evidence. If the family is successful, “it will be the first time that air pollution has been cited on a UK death certificate," The Times reported.
Holgate's report was based on records gathered from a government-monitored air pollution monitoring station in Catford, a mile from Ella's house, and another three miles from her home, according to BBC News. Ella often walked 30-40 minutes to school along the South Circular Road. Or she would be driven and had to sit in lengthy traffic jams.
Ella died after one of the "worst air pollution episodes in her locality," Holgate found.
Ella's family has set up a foundation to celebrate Ella's life and to advocate for further research into severe asthma.
"In the UK, asthma is the number one childhood illness and the foundation continues to raise awareness of the dangers of this debilitating illness," the organizers write on their website. "The foundation campaigns for Clean Air in London and for better diagnosis and treatment of asthma and other respiratory illnesses."
Ella's mother Rosamund said she hopes her daughter's death sparks change.
"Children are breathing in dirty air—my dream is that her legacy will be to clean up the air so no child or family will ever, ever have to suffer the way we did," she told LBC in a recent interview.
The latest World Health Organization air quality report, which covers data from 108 countries and 4,300 cities, revealed that air pollution kills 7 million people every year.
Air Pollution Kills 7 Million a Year, Mostly in Poorer Countries https://t.co/3YN54vaDRE #AirPollution… https://t.co/7dEm5I4Wnx— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1525282844.0
- 9-Year-Old Girl’s Asthma Death Officially Linked to Air Pollution in Unprecedented Coroner Ruling - EcoWatch ›
- Teenage Activists Post Signs to Warn of Toxic Air in London Neighborhoods - EcoWatch ›
Volkswagen (VW) cars recalled and fixed after 2015's "dieselgate" emissions cheating scandal are still failing air pollution tests conducted by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), The AFP reported Monday.
AAA tested the cars outside of the laboratory and found that, while they emitted less than before the recall, they still exceeded Australia's legal limits.
"Emissions analysis ... found an affected VW diesel vehicle to be using up to 14 percent more diesel after recall, and still emitting noxious emissions more than 400 percent higher than levels observed in laboratory testing," an AAA statement said.
VW came under fire in 2015 when it was discovered that the company had installed a "defeat mechanism" in up to 11 million cars. The mechanism would ensure that the engine did not pollute during government tests, then enable the car to resume polluting when it sensed the tests were complete. Affected cars emitted up to 40 times the legal amount of nitrogen oxide when driven outside the laboratory.
According to the AAA, the results indicate that it is more accurate to conduct driving tests in real-world conditions than in controlled settings.
VW rejected the findings and told AFP that the updated cars "continue to satisfy European and Australian emissions standards."
Stakes are high for VW, which has already paid out $31 billion due to the scandal, but they are even higher for the health of humans and the environment.
Nitrogen oxide released from diesel combustion engines combines with the oxygen in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide, which can worsen respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis and cause acid rain, Scientific American explained in an article about the 2015 scandal.
However, the scandal also reinforced how much cars pollute even when they are not cheating or failing emissions tests.
Travis Bradford, director of Energy and Environment Concentration at Columbia University, told Scientific American that the modified VW vehicles had not added significantly to global pollution levels.
"Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, this is a drop in the bucket in terms of our aggregate pollution," Bradford said.
But that is more a condemnation of the status quo than a free pass for VW.
When it comes to climate change, data published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that transportation, including cars and trucks, accounted for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.
The era of the electric car can't come fast enough.
Volkswagen Group to Offer Electric Version For All 300 Models By 2030 https://t.co/fjUQC25nmj @ChevyVolt @NissanLeaf— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1505354439.0