Open Source, 3D Printed, Pollution Monitoring

Efforts to monitor pollution levels around the world aren’t new, but what is new is a system created by MIT’s Senseable City Lab that anyone can make. Called Flatburn, the system is designed to be put on a vehicle to monitor pollution levels throughout a city, which will provide more coverage than standard monitors. Flatburn can be 3D printed and assembled by people the world over so it will hopefully get more participation in the majority of the world.

The goal is for community groups or individual citizens anywhere to be able to measure local air pollution, identify its sources, and, ideally, create feedback loops with officials and stakeholders to create cleaner conditions,” says Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab.

“We’ve been doing several pilots around the world, and we have refined a set of prototypes, with hardware, software, and protocols, to make sure the data we collect are robust from an environmental science point of view,” says Simone Mora, a research scientist at Senseable City Lab and co-author of a newly published paper detailing the scanner’s testing process. The Flatburn device is part of a larger project, known as City Scanner, using mobile devices to better understand urban life.

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Make Big Oil Care by Cutting Profits

industry

We’ve heard lots of big claims from oil companies about their commitment to sustainable energy production, but those are all words. Their actions are still to extract fossil fuels which undercut all their efforts to produce renewable energy. The simple reason oil companies are still killing the environment is profit. So to get them to actually live up to their words we need to ensure that oil makes little money. Step one should be to cut market-manipulating subsidies governments give to oil companies.

The best way to hurt oil companies in the meantime is to cut back on your use of gas. Also, remember to vote for politicians that support public transit and clean air.

In terms of electricity generated from clean energy sources, BP has made the most progress of any of the oil companies — but even then, its global renewables capacity only adds up to 2,000 megawatts, the equivalent of about two gas-fired power plants.

Mei Li, a co-author of the report, suggested that the ability to continue profiting from fossil fuels was the chief reason that oil companies haven’t lived up to their climate promises. Wall Street is more likely to reward quarterly profits than moves to overhaul a business over the long-term. “They do not have the incentives to force them to make a clean energy transition,” Li said.

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Reducing Traffic Pollution Greatly Increases Health

Intersection

It’s well known that vehicular traffic is deadly no matter where it is and how much of it exists. Even with all the evidence cities in North America put cars first with the occasional protections like bike lanes and pedestrian crossings. What we also need to talk about is the threat cars bring to our lungs.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment have released a report outlining how many health gains come from eliminating cars from our streets. Electric cars aren’t the solution because they are still only focused on single occupants and give off particulate matter when braking.

Recommendations for achieving those benefits include stronger fuel content and vehicle-type rules, restrictions on idling and the use of vegetation barriers along busy roads. Cities can also implement low-emission zones that favour electric vehicles, bicycles and public transit. Ventilation systems in buildings, which became a focus during the pandemic, can play an important role in preventing traffic-related pollutants from infiltrating indoor spaces.

But like many pollution issues of the past century, effective solutions typically require governments to motivate change.

“Problems like this just cannot be tackled at the individual level,” Dr. Green said. “If an individual is concerned about this issue, then they need to demand that their politicians take action.”

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They mapped the thousand places in America where you’re breathing poison

industry

The Trump administration in the USA cut funding for their Environmental Protection Agency which led to an increase in pollution that harms people and nature. The pollution problem isn’t all thanks to Trump though, it comes from years of negligence around policies and procedures to protect communities from dangerous industrial waste. For example, in the early 2000s the Bush administration stopped a few NASA efforts to observe greenhouse gas emissions in the nation.

Despite government inaction, ProPublica decided to map out the most poisoned places in the States. Why is this on a good news site? If we don’t look at where the emission are coming, and what the combined impact is of those emissions then we won’t be able to adequately fight climate change. Knowledge is power.

At the map’s intimate scale, it’s possible to see up close how a massive chemical plant near a high school in Port Neches, Texas, laces the air with benzene, an aromatic gas that can cause leukemia. Or how a manufacturing facility in New Castle, Delaware, for years blanketed a day care playground with ethylene oxide, a highly toxic chemical that can lead to lymphoma and breast cancer. Our analysis found that ethylene oxide is the biggest contributor to excess industrial cancer risk from air pollutants nationwide. Corporations across the United States, but especially in Texas and Louisiana, manufacture the colorless, odorless gas, which lingers in the air for months and is highly mutagenic, meaning it can alter DNA.

In all, ProPublica identified more than a thousand hot spots of cancer-causing air. They are not equally distributed across the country. A quarter of the 20 hot spots with the highest levels of excess risk are in Texas, and almost all of them are in Southern states known for having weaker environmental regulations. Census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color experience about 40% more cancer-causing industrial air pollution on average than tracts where the residents are mostly white. In predominantly Black census tracts, the estimated cancer risk from toxic air pollution is more than double that of majority-white tracts.

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Thanks to Tom Scott for the title!

Plastics are Toxic in Canada

The advertising around plastics highlights how recyclable it is, but in reality plastics are a pollutant that barely get recycled in a meaningful way (this is why the 3Rs are in a particular order: reduce, reuse, recycle). Plastics come in all sorts of densities, colours, and strength, but are traditionally made using petroleum. The source of most plastics is unsustainable and the waste generated by plastics after use is equally unsustainable. In fact, the waste produced by plastics has led Canada to categorize plastics as toxic!

By declaring plastics toxic more rules and regulations will need to be followed to ensure that the damage done to the plant (and people) are limited.

A 2020 government science assessment found ample evidence that plastic harms the environment, choking seabirds, cetaceans and other wildlife. The findings form the basis of the government’s decision, as substances can be considered toxic under CEPA if they harm the environment and biodiversity, human health, or both.

In October 2020, ECCC released a proposal to deal with the problem. Under the proposed rules, Canada will ban six single-use plastic items, like straws and six-pack rings, create incentives for companies to use recycled plastic, and force plastic producers to pay for recycling.

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