Month: March 2013

  • US Hazardous Waste Grade: D+

    Superfund is the common name for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances. Where responsible parties cannot be found, the Agency is authorized to clean up sites itself, using a special trust fund. There has been undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation’s hazardous waste and brownfields sites. However, annual funding for Superfund site cleanup is estimated to be as much as $500 million short of what is needed, and 1,280 sites remain on the National Priorities List with an unknown number of potential sites yet to be identified. More than 400,000 brownfields sites await cleanup and redevelopment. The American Society of Civil Engineers has prepared a report card on the state of the nation on this matter and have given us a D+.

  • The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity

    Some 1.2 billion people—almost a fifth of the world—live in areas of physical water scarcity, while another 1.6 billion face what can be called economic water shortage. The situation is only expected to worsen as population growth, climate change, investment and management shortfalls, and inefficient use of existing resources restrict the amount of water available to people, according to Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online service ( It is estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, with almost half of the world living in conditions of water stress. Water scarcity has several definitions. Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet demand; its symptoms include severe environmental degradation, declining groundwater, and unequal water distribution. Economic water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to meet the demand of people who do not have the financial means to use existing water sources; the symptoms in this case normally include poor infrastructure.Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity.

  • The Red-Dead water conveyer can avoid a dead end

    The Red-Dead canal could take a small step forward in light of projected environmental impacts and other constraints, says Batir Wardam. After a delay of more than six months, the World Bank has finally released the final drafts of the feasibility and environmental assessment studies for the controversial Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance project, designed to channel some 1.2 billion cubic metres of water 180 kilometres from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

  • America has a Horsemeat Problem too

    Few Americans are aware that their country’s horses are being exported and slaughtered abroad – often in appalling conditions – to supply European taste for a meat that’s shunned at home. Andrew Wasley reports. Herded down a concrete shute, the horses — black and brown and grey; fat, healthy, thin, lame — have little idea of the fate that awaits them. But one by one, the horses are separated from those behind, a metal trapdoor swinging down to confine each to a metal box. There’s blood and filth on the walls and floor. Flies buzz.

  • The First Oxygen Poor World Ocean

    A research team led by biogeochemists at the University of California, Riverside has filled in a billion-year gap in our understanding of conditions in the early ocean during a critical time in the history of life on Earth. Over time, the planet cooled and formed a solid crust, allowing liquid water to exist on the surface. The first life forms appeared between 3.8 and 3.5 billion years ago. Photosynthetic life appeared around 2 billion years ago, enriching the atmosphere with oxygen. Life remained mostly small and microscopic until about 580 million years ago, when complex multicellular life arose. It is now well accepted that appreciable oxygen first accumulated in the atmosphere about 2.4 to 2.3 billion years ago. It is equally well accepted that the build-up of oxygen in the ocean may have lagged the atmospheric increase by well over a billion years, but the details of those conditions have long been elusive because of the patchiness of the ancient rock record.

  • Celebrate World Water Day by Reducing Your Water Use

    The United States is one of the world’s biggest users of water—many Americans use as much water as approximately 900 Kenyans. As a result, water resources in the U.S. are shrinking. In the last five years, there have been water shortages in almost every part of the country, including the worst drought in at least 25 years, which hit 80 percent of the country’s farmland in 2012. Even worse, the damaged land won’t fully recover this year, and at least 36 states are expecting local, regional, or statewide water shortages, even without drought. The Natural Resources Defense Council expects water scarcity to affect the American South, West, and Midwest the most. Fourteen states in these regions already have “extreme” or “high” risk of water scarcity. Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Nevada, and Texas face the most danger because they are expected to see some of the largest increases in population by 2030. Water scarcity is about more than lack of water, it’s about lack of drinkable water.

  • Vitamin E to the Rescue

    Vitamin E refers to a group of eight fat-soluble compounds that include both tocopherols and tocotrienols. Of the many different forms of vitamin E, γ-tocopherol is the most common in the North American diet. γ-Tocopherol can be found in corn oil, soybean oil, margarine and dressings. Researchers have identified an elusive anti-cancer property of vitamin E that has long been presumed to exist, but difficult to find. Many animal studies have suggested that vitamin E could prevent cancer, but human clinical trials following up on those findings have not shown the same benefits.

  • Genetic Study of Brown Bear Population Reveals Remarkable Similarities to Polar Bears

    A new genetic study of polar bears and brown bears led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz has overturned prevailing ideas about the evolutionary history of the two species. Brown bears and polar bears are closely related and known to produce fertile ursid hybrids. Previous studies suggested that past hybridization had resulted in all polar bears having genes that came from brown bears. But new research indicates that episodes of gene flow between the two species occurred only in isolated populations and did not affect the larger polar bear population, which remains free of brown bear genes.

  • Warm February

    For those in the northern hemisphere, we are still shivering from our winter. Well it is getting warmer. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for February 2013 tied with 2003 as the ninth warmest on record, at 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 12.1°C (53.9°F). The global land surface temperature was 1.00°C (1.80°F) above the 20th century average of 3.2°C (37.8°F), tying with 2010 as the 11th warmest February on record. For the ocean, the February global sea surface temperature was 0.42°C (0.76°F) above the 20th century average of 15.9°C (60.6°F), making it the eighth warmest February on record. So despite some snow it is warmer than it used to be.

  • World Water Day in the Middle East

    With the region getting drier ‘at an alarming rate’, what is there to celebrate this World Water Day? In the lead up to World Water Day which will take place next Friday, I have gathered some interesting water-based facts on the issue. The Middle East and North Africa region is famously one of the driest regions in the world and things don’t look like they are getting better. So what is there to actually celebrate? Read on for the bad news and also some rather great news. Firstly, the bad news. According to the latest statistics gathered by IRIN, the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) is getting drier at an alarming rate. And whilst trading and importing food brings in ‘virtual water’, it also makes the region extremely vulnerable to trade disruptions caused by dwindling supplies, higher prices or lack of money to pay for the imports. As a report on the issue of climate change and the Arab Spring points out, a winter drought in China contributed to global wheat shortages and skyrocketing bread prices in Egypt, which is the world’s largest wheat importer.