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Golden Brown

California is home to six of the 10 most polluted metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to national smog rankings released today by the American Lung Association. In fact, the top four areas were all in the Golden(Brown) State: Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Visalia-Tulare-Porterfield. Those rankings mask the fact that California’s air quality has actually improved on the whole, but the state faces “such a large hill to climb that it’s hard for that [improvement] to show at this point,” according to ALA National Policy Director Janice Nolen. Almost half of all U.S. residents live in counties with …

Umbra on peeing al fresco

Dear Umbra, If I am going to pee outside, is it more environmentally sound to squat in the back yard where the pee salinates the soil, or next to the road where the liquid runoff can enter sewers, or in the woods where there are no ornamental plantings to disturb, but there might be snakes? Cop-a-squattingly yours, Sarah M.Howeville, Vt. Dearest Sarah, I strongly suspect that this question may be some type of prank, but our motto here in the basement, “Per Omnia Respondea,” calls on me to treat your query with respect. Urine is not the human effluent with …

Gone With the Flow

The Khasi Hills of northeastern India are one of the wettest places on Earth, typically experiencing torrential rains throughout the monsoon season and laying claim to the world record of 1,000 inches of rainfall in just one year. Now, though, the Khasi Hills are drying up due to environmental changes wrought by pollution, deforestation, the development of industry, and a growing population. In recent winters, the rains have almost stopped and springs have run dry, forcing villagers to bring in water from neighboring areas. The Khasi Hills city of Cherrpunji, which is particularly hard hit, received less rainfall in all …

Otter Destruction

In true whodunit style, there are many suspects in the puzzling deaths of sea otters up and down the California coast, but, as yet, no clear solution to the mystery. By yesterday, 44 dead sea otters had washed ashore from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, well above the 10-year high for the month of April of 29 deaths, and the high for any month of 34. This month’s deceased sea otters brought to 91 the total death toll since Jan. 1 of this year. Possible culprits include parasites, boating accidents, a shortage of sea urchins and abalone (staples of the …

Urinetown

Speaking of water conservation, a waterless urinal designed by a Los Angeles company could save some 40,000 gallons per year for each model installed — but plans for expanding use of the urinals are plugged up in the L.A. bureaucracy. The device resembles a conventional urinal except that atop the drain is a plastic cartridge with an oil-like liquid seal that prevents unsavory odors from escaping while urine flows to the sewer system. No flush needed. Happy customers include the Rose Bowl, which installed 259 of the fixtures last year. But the L.A. plumbing code requires that all sanitary devices …

Tribe-ulations

Oil and gas development on Indian lands in the U.S. could move forward unimpeded by environmental concerns if Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) gets his way. The only Native American in the Senate, Campbell wants to exempt energy projects on Indian lands from federal environmental regulation — and as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he’s in a position to get what he wants. Campbell is pitching his plan as a way to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and boost economic self-sufficiency of tribes, but even some …

Caffeine Buzz Kill

Wild tigers, orangutans, and other megafauna in Sumatra, Indonesia, are being pushed out of their native habitat as lowland forests are clear-cut to make room for coffee plantations. The cheap robusta beans grown in this region end up in instant coffee. From 1996 to 2001, land cleared for coffee production in the Lampung region of Sumatra jumped by 28 percent, according to a new study published in the journal Science. Local populations of tigers, elephants, and rhinos are now in decline due to the loss of forestland. “If we do not act soon, our next cup of java may have …

Beverly Hills Flop

Erin Brockovich, the tenacious eco-crusader made famous by Hollywood, is back in the news: She says that many former Beverly Hills High School students have been stricken with cancer because of exposure to toxic fumes from an active oil field on school property. Brockovich and her boss, attorney Ed Masry, yesterday filed 25 personal injury claims for damages against the city of Beverly Hills and its school district — and they say that hundreds more claims could be forthcoming. They also plan to go after three oil companies and two government entities. The duo argues that contamination on the campus …

Well Done

With many makeshift wells in New Delhi, India, running dry, and many more in danger of following suit, citizens are turning to an old-fashioned solution: rainwater harvesting. Five pilot projects in the city have successfully tested out an inexpensive system for collecting monsoon rainwater and directing it underground to replenish over-tapped aquifers. New Delhi officials have become enthusiastic cheerleaders for the concept and recently started requiring builders to include rain-collection systems on new homes and other buildings. Solutions to the city’s water crisis couldn’t come too soon; New Delhi has 14 million residents and adds another 500,000 every year. Conservationists …

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