Nobel prize awarded for "click chemistry" — an environmentally friendly method of building molecules

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Sunday, October 9, 2022

A Nobel Prize was awarded for creating an efficient and sustainable way to bind chemicals

A Nobel Prize was awarded for creating an efficient and sustainable way to bind chemicals

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Toxic pollutants can build up inside our homes. Here are 8 ways to reduce the risks

Levels of trace metals inside can be higher than the sources of contamination outside. It underscores the need for households to take care to prevent those contaminants being brought indoors.

ShutterstockWe know everything in our homes gathers dust. What you probably don’t know is whether there are toxic contaminants in your house dust, and where these might come from. Our newly published research found most of the dust inside homes came from outside and contains potentially toxic trace metals such as lead, arsenic and chromium. Worryingly, we found some contaminants can accumulate at higher concentrations inside homes than outside. This happened in homes with certain characteristics: older properties, metal construction materials enriched in zinc, recent renovations and deteriorating paint. Fortunately, you take some simple steps to reduce your exposure, which we explain later. Read more: What is dust? And where does it all come from? What’s in house dust? Our study explored the connected sources, pathways and potentially harmful exposures to trace metals at homes across Sydney. We collected and analysed 383 samples from nearby road dust (51 samples) and garden soil (166), as well as indoor dust (166). We found the dust in homes comes from a range of sources including outdoor environments and soil, skin, cleaning products, pet hair and cooking particles. Nearly 60% of dust particles inside the homes originated from their immediate outdoor environment – it was dirt from outside! Wind, your shoes or your pets can carry in soil and dust-related contaminants. Read more: Wearing shoes in the house is just plain gross. The verdict from scientists who study indoor contaminants Wind, your shoes or your pets can all carry contaminants into your home. Shutterstock The remaining 40% of home dust came from indoor sources. These included fibres from clothes, carpets and furnishings, cleaning products, skin and hair. Some dust sources can carry a cocktail of potentially harmful contaminants including: microplastics persistent organic pollutants perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) trace metals bacterial communities antimicrobial resistance genes. The nature of the risk is related to how much of the contaminant you’re exposed to and for how long. The risks are greatest in children under the age of five. This is because they are small, closer to the floor and have frequent hand-mouth contact, which increases ingestion of contaminants. Young children’s size and behaviour leave them more at risk of exposure to indoor contaminants. Shutterstock Read more: Microplastics are common in homes across 29 countries. New research shows who's most at risk How do contaminants build up in homes? Industrial activity has left a marked legacy of contaminants in many city neighbourhoods. We analysed road dust, garden soil and vacuum dust samples from 166 homes in Sydney to see how this risk translated to inside homes. We used high-magnification microscopy and lead isotopic ratios to understand trace metal composition in the samples. On average, concentrations of trace metals arsenic, chromium, copper, manganese, lead and zinc were all higher inside homes than outside. This means homes are not only “accumulators” of trace metal contaminants but also important sources of a significant proportion of harmful contaminants that we can be exposed to. The lead isotopic ratios, or the lead “fingerprints”, of each home and its garden soil matched. This confirms the soil is the main source of lead inside homes. Most of this lead is the result of the pre-1970s use of high concentrations of lead in paints and petrol, which contaminated many garden soils. Even low levels of lead exposure can be harmful. Lead levels in some Sydney backyards pose a risk for urban veggie growers and backyard chickens and their eggs. Read more: Backyard hens' eggs contain 40 times more lead on average than shop eggs, research finds High-magnification images of house dust showed mineral particles that have been blown in or tracked in on shoes. The rest of the dust was elongated fibres and hair from indoor sources. In this high-magnification image of indoor dust, the long particles are fibres and the angular particles are of mineralogical origin from outdoors. Author provided Which homes are most at risk? We also collected information about each house, relevant activities and renovations at the property. We found house age, proximity to the city centre and renovations had the greatest influence on levels of lead and other trace metals in the home. All homes more than 50 years old had higher concentrations of arsenic, copper, lead and zinc in their garden soil and house dust. They are typically located closer to city centres, where early industrial activity has contaminated soils. As older homes in former industrial areas are renovated, trace metal loads in these homes and gardens can increase. Walls and ceilings contain decades of dust. Old paint buried under more recent layers can also be released, causing lead exposure risks. It is critical that home renovators take appropriate remediation steps or employ a qualified paint professional so lead dust isn’t spread across the area. Old lead-based paint is a major source of contamination, especially if it’s deteriorating or proper precautions aren’t taken when removing it. Shutterstock 8 ways to reduce your risk We spend about 70% of our time at home, which the pandemic has increased. Understanding the environmental conditions and contaminants we encounter and their effects on our health is more important than ever. Armed with this knowledge, though, you can take some simple steps to reduce your exposure to contaminants in your home and garden: regularly vacuum carpeted areas with a good vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter wet mop and wet dust hard surfaces mulch areas of exposed soil in your garden use a quality doormat and wash it regularly, which can roughly halve the amount of lead in your home within three months leave your shoes at the door as they can bring all sorts of nasties into the home wash your hands and your veggies thoroughly close windows on windy days when renovating, use dust-mitigation strategies and personal protective equipment (PPE). You can dig a little deeper into what’s in your own home environment by sending your soil to VegeSafe Australia or EPA Victoria’s GardenSafe for analysis. If you live in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom or Australia you can also send your vacuum dust to DustSafe for testing. You will receive a report outlining what was in your sample, with links and advice on what to do next where necessary. Read more: House dust from 35 countries reveals our global toxic contaminant exposure and health risk Mark Patrick Taylor received funding via an Australian Government Citizen Science Grant (2017-2020), CSG55984 ‘Citizen insights to the composition and risks of household dust’ (the DustSafe project). The VegeSafe and DustSafe programs are supported by publication donations to Macquarie University. He is a full-time employee of EPA Victoria, appointed to the statutory role of Chief Environmental Scientist.Carlos Ibañez del Rivero receives funding from Macquarie University and National Council on Science and Technology, Mexico (CONACYT) support number 739570 in the form of graduate stipends for his PhD program and partial funding for his tuition costs.Kara Fry is a Senior Research and Development Officer at EPA Victoria. Previously, Kara was a research assistant for VegeSafe and DustSafe, supported by public donations to Macquarie University and an Australian Government Citizen Science Grant (2017-2020), CSG55984 ‘Citizen insights to the composition and risks of household dust’.

Students prod colleges to let campus greens grow wild

A new environmental movement has college students beseeching school officials to switch to organic lawn care — or let well-manicured campus quads grow wild.Why it matters: Concerns about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and herbicides like Roundup have been upending landscaping, and the students' efforts could boost the move toward natural lawn care.An additional concern: drought, which has people ripping up their lawns in favor of succulents, wildflowers, and native flora.Driving the news: A young, small organization called Re:wild Your Campus is leading the charge.It's offering fellowships and encouraging college students to push administrators and groundskeepers to switch to vinegar-based lawn care products, embrace composting, and more.Its first victory came in 2018, when students convinced the University of California, Berkeley, to switch to organic land management. (It's now 95% organic.)A recent win at Grinnell College in Iowa involved restoring native prairie grasses on a 5,000-square-foot campus plot.Where it stands: Re:wild Your Campus has endowed 11 fellows on campuses in 10 states this year, including at Princeton University, Drexel University, the University of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.Its first cohort of fellowships came from six schools, including Grinnell College, Emory University, and Brandeis University.The group just started offering a green grounds certification to qualifying campuses and released an impact report on its efforts.What they're saying: "Students are enthusiastic about this — they're excited about working on a tangible issue that connects to climate change and biodiversity loss," Sheina Crystal, the group's director of communications and campaigns, tells Axios.The goal is to get schools to "transition to organic land care with the integration of more rewilded spaces on campus."Organic land care "fosters biodiversity; protects the health of students, groundskeepers, and campus communities; supports pollinators; and has the potential to mitigate climate change," the group wrote in its progress report.The other side: School officials are "usually pretty resistant at first" and "have a lot of misconceptions" about the proposed changes, Crystal tells Axios.They perceive alternatives to conventional lawn care as ineffective, expensive, and ugly — potentially ruining the pretty campuses that attract students and alumni dollars.Groundskeepers, too, are skeptical of the students' suggestions and efforts to educate them — highlighting a town/gown divide between the typically young, female undergrads and the seasoned, often male grounds teams.Re:wild has already been skewered by a pro-industry group, which flamed the students' claims of "climate anxiety" and called the chemicals they're attacking "low risk."The backstory: The two founders of Re:wild Your Campus, Mackenzie Feldman and Bridget Gustafson, were beach volleyball players at UC Berkeley who were told by their coach not to chase the ball off-court because the grounds crew had just sprayed the area with toxic chemicals.That galvanized them to get the relevant chemical, glyphosate, banned from campus.In 2019, the year after they graduated, they campaigned to ban glyphosate on all 10 University of California campuses.That successful effort led to the creation of the Systemwide Pesticide Oversight Committee, housed within the president's office at the University of California, which is managing the groundskeeping policies.The big picture: There's a battle over lawns playing out nationally, as homeowners and communities try to balance aesthetics with health and environmental concerns.A first-of-its-kind Nevada law requires that certain patches of grass be replaced with desert-friendly alternatives.Programs like "No Mow May" encourage people to let their lawns go natural for a month to build habitats for pollinators.On the other side, a homeowners association in Maryland demanded that one family "rip out their native plant beds and replace them with grass," as the New York Times reported. Flashback: Harvard College was in the vanguard when it pivoted to organic lawn care in 2008.The effects were noticeable just a year later: "The organically grown grass on campus is now green from the microbes that feed the soil, eliminating the use of synthetic nitrogen, the base of most commercial fertilizers," the Times reported. The bottom line: Movements that start on campus often radiate more broadly into society."We're trying to make this an issue that's really at the forefront of people's consciousness when considering a college," Crystal said.

A new environmental movement has college students beseeching school officials to switch to organic lawn care — or let well-manicured campus quads grow wild.Why it matters: Concerns about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and herbicides like Roundup have been upending landscaping, and the students' efforts could boost the move toward natural lawn care.An additional concern: drought, which has people ripping up their lawns in favor of succulents, wildflowers, and native flora.Driving the news: A young, small organization called Re:wild Your Campus is leading the charge.It's offering fellowships and encouraging college students to push administrators and groundskeepers to switch to vinegar-based lawn care products, embrace composting, and more.Its first victory came in 2018, when students convinced the University of California, Berkeley, to switch to organic land management. (It's now 95% organic.)A recent win at Grinnell College in Iowa involved restoring native prairie grasses on a 5,000-square-foot campus plot.Where it stands: Re:wild Your Campus has endowed 11 fellows on campuses in 10 states this year, including at Princeton University, Drexel University, the University of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.Its first cohort of fellowships came from six schools, including Grinnell College, Emory University, and Brandeis University.The group just started offering a green grounds certification to qualifying campuses and released an impact report on its efforts.What they're saying: "Students are enthusiastic about this — they're excited about working on a tangible issue that connects to climate change and biodiversity loss," Sheina Crystal, the group's director of communications and campaigns, tells Axios.The goal is to get schools to "transition to organic land care with the integration of more rewilded spaces on campus."Organic land care "fosters biodiversity; protects the health of students, groundskeepers, and campus communities; supports pollinators; and has the potential to mitigate climate change," the group wrote in its progress report.The other side: School officials are "usually pretty resistant at first" and "have a lot of misconceptions" about the proposed changes, Crystal tells Axios.They perceive alternatives to conventional lawn care as ineffective, expensive, and ugly — potentially ruining the pretty campuses that attract students and alumni dollars.Groundskeepers, too, are skeptical of the students' suggestions and efforts to educate them — highlighting a town/gown divide between the typically young, female undergrads and the seasoned, often male grounds teams.Re:wild has already been skewered by a pro-industry group, which flamed the students' claims of "climate anxiety" and called the chemicals they're attacking "low risk."The backstory: The two founders of Re:wild Your Campus, Mackenzie Feldman and Bridget Gustafson, were beach volleyball players at UC Berkeley who were told by their coach not to chase the ball off-court because the grounds crew had just sprayed the area with toxic chemicals.That galvanized them to get the relevant chemical, glyphosate, banned from campus.In 2019, the year after they graduated, they campaigned to ban glyphosate on all 10 University of California campuses.That successful effort led to the creation of the Systemwide Pesticide Oversight Committee, housed within the president's office at the University of California, which is managing the groundskeeping policies.The big picture: There's a battle over lawns playing out nationally, as homeowners and communities try to balance aesthetics with health and environmental concerns.A first-of-its-kind Nevada law requires that certain patches of grass be replaced with desert-friendly alternatives.Programs like "No Mow May" encourage people to let their lawns go natural for a month to build habitats for pollinators.On the other side, a homeowners association in Maryland demanded that one family "rip out their native plant beds and replace them with grass," as the New York Times reported. Flashback: Harvard College was in the vanguard when it pivoted to organic lawn care in 2008.The effects were noticeable just a year later: "The organically grown grass on campus is now green from the microbes that feed the soil, eliminating the use of synthetic nitrogen, the base of most commercial fertilizers," the Times reported. The bottom line: Movements that start on campus often radiate more broadly into society."We're trying to make this an issue that's really at the forefront of people's consciousness when considering a college," Crystal said.

Oil Refineries Dumped More Than a Billion Pounds of Chemicals in Our Water in 2021

We are looking down the barrel of a worldwide mass plant and animal extinction. And yet, the U.S. government continues to let fossil fuel interests treat our planet, and us, like garbage. A new report says the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to enforce the Clean Water Act, allowing U.S. refineries to pour half a billion gallons of wastewater every day into waterways. According to the Environmental Integrity Project report, this resulted in upwards of 1.6 billion pounds of chemical waste poisoning American waterways in 2021.These chemicals are incredibly harmful to wildlife—to their reproductive systems, food and oxygen sources, and even biology. In just one example, more than 80 percent of a Bay area minnow were found to have spinal deformities due to selenium pollution, a chemical that has been dumped to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds in American waterways.About 68 percent of the refineries examined in the report dumped into waterways designated as impaired. As in, these waters were already so polluted that they were not permitted to be used for fishing or swimming, or were not healthy for aquatic life.The refineries are also notable sources of so-called “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, that have been linked to things like cancer, endocrine disruption, and fetal development complications. Refineries that have been specifically sampled for PFAS show alarming results: in 2020, a Colorado facility had a concentration of a PFAS variety at 14,000 times higher than the EPA’s limit for drinking water.The Clean Water Act directs the EPA to limit discharge of harmful refinery pollutants, and to tighten those limits at least once every five years if possible. Instead, the report says, those standards have not been revised since 1985. Many chemicals are left unregulated, and many potential new innovations to enforce possible regulations are left untouched. And the EPA is remarkably failing to act in accordance with whatever authority it has now.Records showed that nearly 83 percent of examined refineries exceeded permitted limits on water pollutants at least once between 2019 to 2021; this was a total of 904 violations involving excess dumping of cyanide, ammonia nitrogen, sulfide, oil and grease, and more. Only about 15 violators were penalized. One culprit, the Phillips 66 Sweeny Refinery near Houston, Texas, exceeded its permitted pollution limits 44 times (42 of which involved cyanide) from 2019 to 2021. The facility was penalized just $30,000.“I have personally witnessed the dumping of untreated plant water into the southeast Texas watershed, which unfortunately drains into the Gulf of Mexico. The very waters upon which we depend for jobs, food and recreation become more polluted every passing day,” said John Beard, founder and executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network. “If water truly is life, what will become of us when there’s no more clean, living water?”

We are looking down the barrel of a worldwide mass plant and animal extinction. And yet, the U.S. government continues to let fossil fuel interests treat our planet, and us, like garbage. A new report says the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to enforce the Clean Water Act, allowing U.S. refineries to pour half a billion gallons of wastewater every day into waterways. According to the Environmental Integrity Project report, this resulted in upwards of 1.6 billion pounds of chemical waste poisoning American waterways in 2021.These chemicals are incredibly harmful to wildlife—to their reproductive systems, food and oxygen sources, and even biology. In just one example, more than 80 percent of a Bay area minnow were found to have spinal deformities due to selenium pollution, a chemical that has been dumped to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds in American waterways.About 68 percent of the refineries examined in the report dumped into waterways designated as impaired. As in, these waters were already so polluted that they were not permitted to be used for fishing or swimming, or were not healthy for aquatic life.The refineries are also notable sources of so-called “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, that have been linked to things like cancer, endocrine disruption, and fetal development complications. Refineries that have been specifically sampled for PFAS show alarming results: in 2020, a Colorado facility had a concentration of a PFAS variety at 14,000 times higher than the EPA’s limit for drinking water.The Clean Water Act directs the EPA to limit discharge of harmful refinery pollutants, and to tighten those limits at least once every five years if possible. Instead, the report says, those standards have not been revised since 1985. Many chemicals are left unregulated, and many potential new innovations to enforce possible regulations are left untouched. And the EPA is remarkably failing to act in accordance with whatever authority it has now.Records showed that nearly 83 percent of examined refineries exceeded permitted limits on water pollutants at least once between 2019 to 2021; this was a total of 904 violations involving excess dumping of cyanide, ammonia nitrogen, sulfide, oil and grease, and more. Only about 15 violators were penalized. One culprit, the Phillips 66 Sweeny Refinery near Houston, Texas, exceeded its permitted pollution limits 44 times (42 of which involved cyanide) from 2019 to 2021. The facility was penalized just $30,000.“I have personally witnessed the dumping of untreated plant water into the southeast Texas watershed, which unfortunately drains into the Gulf of Mexico. The very waters upon which we depend for jobs, food and recreation become more polluted every passing day,” said John Beard, founder and executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network. “If water truly is life, what will become of us when there’s no more clean, living water?”

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