Stories tagged EPA

It is estimated that two-thirds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) air pollution in North America comes from coal power plants. In a recent scientific article published in Geophysical Research Letters, a team of scientists have confirmed that SO2 levels in the vicinity of U.S. coal power plants have fallen by nearly 50% since 2005. .Mean SO2 values for 2005-2007
Mean SO2 values for 2005-2007Courtesy NASA
This finding, using satellite observations, confirms ground-based measurements of declining SO2 levels. In many parts of the world, ground-based monitoring does not exist or is not extensive; therefore, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on the Aura satellite could potentially measure levels of harmful emissions in regions of the world where reliable ground monitoring is unavailable..Mean SO2 values for 2008-2010
Mean SO2 values for 2008-2010Courtesy NASA
Key: Yellow to violet colors correspond to statistically significant enhancements in SO2 pollution in the vicinity of the largest SO2 emitting coal-burning power plants indicated by the black dots.
Key: Yellow to violet colors correspond to statistically significant enhancements in SO2 pollution in the vicinity of the largest SO2 emitting coal-burning power plants indicated by the black dots.Courtesy NASA

Previously, space-based SO2 monitoring was limited to plumes from volcanic eruptions and detecting anthropogenic emissions from large source regions as in China. A new spatial filtration technique allows the detection of individual pollution sources in Canada and the U.S.

"What we’re seeing in these satellite observations represents a major environmental accomplishment," said Bryan Bloomer, an Environmental Protection Agency scientist familiar with the new satellite observations. "This is a huge success story for the EPA and the Clean Air Interstate Rule," he said.

Article: NASA Satellite Confirms Sharp Decline In Pollution From US Coal Power Plants


Lisa Jackson: The head of the EPA met with House Republicans recently to discuss carbon regulation.
Lisa Jackson: The head of the EPA met with House Republicans recently to discuss carbon regulation.Courtesy EPA
I'm assuming that you aren't at home watching dense legal proceedings related to the regulation of molecules in our atmosphere. So here's the timeline of a recent important story.

  1. Humans figure out how to turn things (engines, turbines) by burning coal and petroleum. This makes like life a whole lot better in lots of ways.
  2. Scientists figure out that, all that burning is causing some problems. When we burn that stuff, we put carbon in the atmosphere and that's disrupting the natural climate system leading to all kinds of problems.
  3. Some different humans hear about this science and think we should pass a law. This law should put some limits on how much carbon we put into the atmosphere.
  4. The humans in the Republican controlled House don't like this idea, because they think these limits would cripple the economy. Oh, and some of them don't even believe the scientists. Since these Republicans are in charge right now, no new law.
  5. The humans over at the Environmental Protection Agency, who are mostly scientists, notice that they should already be regulating all this carbon, because of an existing law, the Clean Air Act.
  6. The Supreme Court agrees
  7. The House Republicans, disagree and call a hearing with the head of the EPA.
  8. Who knows what's next...

OK, you're up to date. Unfortunately the media is framing this issue in military terms. "The coming battle." "EPA and Republicans spar over climate change." "EPA blocks Republican rocket launcher with sweet ion science shield." Yeah, I made that last one up. But we don't need battles, we need conversations and action.

My point is that this issue is a great opportunity to have a discussion about how science is used in our public policy decisions. Do you think the EPA is too focused on the scientific findings related to climate change? Are they ignoring the economic impacts? Are you frustrated with some of the Republican views that outright deny the scientific findings on what's causing climate disruption? Are they ignoring real facts? Could this issue be alleviated by better science education?


BP oil spill projection for May 3, 2010
BP oil spill projection for May 3, 2010Courtesy uscgd8
Chemicals known as dispersants are now being used against the ever increasing amount of oil leaking out of a deep water well head. Dispersants help break the larger masses of oil into smaller droplets which will mix into the water. These dispersants are being sprayed onto the surface slicks and are also being injected directly into the oil flowing out almost a mile under the surface.

Officials said that in two tests, that method appeared to be keeping crude oil from rising to the surface. They said that the procedure could be used more frequently once evaluations of its impact on the deepwater ecology were completed. New York Times

How do chemicals disperse the oil?

Dispersant chemicals contain solvents to assist it in dissolving into and throughout the oil mass and a surfactant which acts like soap. Surfactant molecules have one end that sticks to water and one end that sticks to oil. This, along with wave action, breaks masses of oil into droplets small enough that they stay suspended under water, rather than floating back to the surface.

Are these chemicals safe?

Such cleanup products can only be used by public authorities responding to an emergency if they are individually listed on the National Contingency Plan Product Schedule.

Many of the first dispersants used in the 70s and 80s did show high toxicity to marine organisms. However, today there is a wealth of laboratory data indicating that modern dispersants and oil/dispersant mixtures exhibit relatively low toxicity to marine organisms.
On occasions the benefit gained by using dispersants to protect coastal amenities, sea birds and intertidal marine life may far outweigh disadvantages such as the potential for temporary tainting of fish stocks. ITOPF

Here is a link to one product on their list (Oil Gone Easy Marine S200

Hard choices

According to National Geographic News, "Dispersants only alter the destination of the toxic compounds in the oil." Moving the oil off the surface protects the birds and animals along the shoreline but will increase the oil exposure for fish, shrimp, corals, and oysters. I hate to mention what hurricanes will do to this situation.

My mom just sent me an E-mail. Why's that worthy of a Buzz post? Well, it just so happens that she's on board the OSV Bold, the US Environmental Protection Agency's only ocean and coastal monitoring ship. (It's crawling along the coast of Maine right now.) From the boat, scientists are able to sample the water column, ocean bottom, and sea life to get a sense of how the ocean is being impacted by human activities, and how we can better manage what goes into it. If you're curious, you can follow the adventures of the OSV Bold on Twitter, or read the daily observations log. (There's a photo of Moms in the batch posted for day 4, but her face isn't visible. Just trust me: she's the beautiful on the Bold. Oh, and lest you think this is a completely frivolous and nepotistic post, check it: picked up the story, too.)


Awesome fireworks require a chemical bath

Fireworks color
Fireworks colorCourtesy Camera Slayer
Awesome Fourth of July fireworks can be viewed from our Science Museum of Minnesota each year during the Taste of Minnesota celebration. Fireworks are often shot over water to minimize fire danger. Ever wonder what kind of chemicals rain down into the Mississippi River during a fireworks display?

Chemical coloring

Part of learning chemistry is to understand what is called the flame test. Unknown chemical compounds, when heated in a flame, will generate different colors. Lithium yields red, copper gives blue or blue-green, sodium gives yellow, aluminum and titanium produce the whites.

Making fireworks more green

Chemists are attempting to make fireworks less harmful to the environment.

Perchlorates, which are used to help the fireworks’ fuel burn, were named in an EPA health advisory earlier this year (which recommended a maximum of 15 micrograms per liter of drinking water), as they have been linked to disruption of the thyroid gland.Scientific American

A 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that perchlorates spiked by up to 1000 times normal after the fireworks display and took 20 to 80 days to return to normal depending on surface temperatures.

How to make fireworks whistle, crackle, and pop

Click this link where Live Science explains some of the strange ingredients in fireworks like:

"chemists add bismuth trioxide to the flash powder to get that crackling sound, dubbed "dragon eggs." Ear-splitting whistles take four ingredients, including a food preservative and Vaseline.
Tubes, hollow spheres, and paper wrappings work as barriers to compartmentalize the effects. More complicated shells are divided into even more sections to control the timing of secondary explosions.


Cargo ships carry invasive species in ballst water
Cargo ships carry invasive species in ballst waterCourtesy AviatorDave
A recently released report warns that the Great Lakes have been invaded by foreign aquatic species resulting in ecological and environmental damage amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Monitor, detect, and take required action

The findings support the need for detection and monitoring efforts at those ports believed to be at greatest risk. The report identified 30 nonnative species that pose a medium or high risk of reaching the lakes and 28 others that already have a foothold and could disperse widely.

The National Center for Environmental Assessment issued the warning in a study released (Jan 5, 09). It identified 30 nonnative species that pose a medium or high risk of reaching the lakes and 28 others that already have a foothold and could disperse widely. (click here to access report)

Flush out ship's ballast tanks with salt water

One preventive measure that works 99% of the time is to flush out the ballast tanks with salty sea water. This usually kills any foreign marine life hitch hiking a ride in the ballast tank water. Both Canada and the United States have made this a requirement for almost two decades now. Both nations also recently have ordered them to rinse empty tanks with seawater in hopes of killing organisms lurking in residual pools on the bottom.

Learn more about invasive species in the Great Lakes


Robin Low: What will he think about new regulations?  Robin Low makes textiles using nanotechnology.  Ask him what he thinks about these new regulations.
Robin Low: What will he think about new regulations? Robin Low makes textiles using nanotechnology. Ask him what he thinks about these new regulations.

Nanotechnology research is kicking into full gear the world over but almost everyone agrees that we simply don't know how to properly regulate its use. What will particles billions of times smaller than a meter do to our bodies and the environment? Well...they might cure our cancers and clean up our water. But they also might penetrate our blood brain barriers and stick in our gray matter or cause ecosystems to decline due to tiny tiny pollutants.

EPA takes a step in the right direction

Well, at least our government is beginning to look at this stuff. The EPA announced on Thursday that they will be regulating all use of nano-silver in US commercial products. If you make odor eating socks with nano-silver you now have to make sure that it won't get out into the environment and cause harm.

The city of Berkeley, California is also looking at creating the first local government nanotech regulations. This isn't surprising for two reasons.

  1. Berkeley has long history of being environmentally conscious and has a very active political community, often leading detractors and jokesters to dub this enclave The Socialist Republik of Berkeley
  2. They actually play host to a great deal of research into nanotechnology at UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They have a vested interest in protecting their communities from the potential harmful effects of nanotech research.

I will be watching this closely and hope that the concerned community members and the scientists can come to some middle ground where research isn't totally crippled by massive regulation but where unknown safety risks are considered.

Fun times in the nanoworld.