Grist staff

The Smog Monster

Forty-nine years ago, in November 1953, New York City was stricken with a six-day siege of air pollution so fierce that it killed or contributed to the deaths of 25 to 30 residents a day. That was before scientists really understood what was darkening the skies and choking people on the street. In some respects, experts say, that terrible week resembles another one — the week of Sept. 11, 2001. Despite intensive data-gathering, researchers still haven’t fully grasped the human or environmental impacts of the attacks — but some public-health advocates are optimistic that, like the early smog crises that …

Nepa’ed in the Bud

If you’ve been following environmental news lately (or duly reading the Daily Grist), you’ll have noticed an unusual number of stories involving the National Environmental Policy Act. The act, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, requires all federal agencies to assess and limit the environmental impact of their activities. But the Bush administration says NEPA has created a sea of red tape, and it is seeking sweeping changes to the act. The White House has asked Congress to suspend environmental reviews and limit court challenges to logging projects in fire-prone areas; issued an executive order requiring expedited environmental …

And other words from readers

  Re: I’d Like My C, Under the Sea Dear Editor: The article implies that storing carbon in air pockets under the sea floor is the definition of carbon sequestration. However, the technique is just one of many ways to sequester carbon. Carbon sequestration refers to any way that carbon is removed from the atmosphere. A common carbon sequestration technique for soils is reduced tillage, which keeps carbon from being lost from the soil and emitted into the atmosphere. In soil, extra carbon is almost always a good thing, leading to increased ecosystem functioning (such as efficient nutrient cycling, better …

Don’t Send Us the Bill

The Canadian government prorogued its parliamentary session this week, effectively killing a proposed Species At Risk bill. The bill would have banned the harassment, harming, or killing of endangered species on federal land, as well as destruction of critical habitat. The move represented the third time the Parliament has tried and failed to pass legislation to protect endangered species. Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark accused the Liberal government of ending the parliamentary session to hide deep divisions in its own ranks, including over the species bill. Fellow Progressive Conservative Parliament Member John Herron said, “This government has not passed a …

The Fresh Prince of Bad Air

Just two weeks after their births, infants in the Los Angeles area have been exposed to more pollution than the U.S. government considers acceptable over a lifetime, according to a report released this week by the Washington, D.C.-based National Environmental Trust. The report, which looked at pollution levels in the L.A. region, the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Sacramento Valley, and San Diego, found that children in California are at a greater risk than adults of getting cancer from airborne contaminants. Each year, 102,000 tons of toxic emissions are released in the Golden State; in the …

And other words from readers

  Re: Better Living Through French Fries Dear Editor: This is a great story and I’m glad that more folks will be educated about biodiesel, but you missed an even better point. There is another alternative to processed biodiesel: straight vegetable oil. No need to add lye or methanol or anything else. Just filter and pour it into the tank. We did a simple conversion to our diesel Golf (costing less than $300) and now we are running on used vegetable oil from our local restaurant. We take the used oil, heat it to make sure there is no water …

Clothes Call

In yet another trend-setting environmental move by California, Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed into law this week a bill requiring old, inefficient washing machines to be replaced with water-efficient ones by 2007. New washers must now meet a standard of using 9.5 gallons of water to wash one cubic foot of laundry — well below the 13.3 gallons averaged by washers sold in 1994. The measure comes as the Golden State heads into its fourth straight year of drought, and as neighboring states, also hit by a lack of rainfall, clamor for a bigger share of the Colorado River water …

In the Drink

In other news from the Golden State, regulators in California are reviving a campaign to clean up perchlorate, a Cold War-era pollutant that has been showing up in drinking water supplies across the country. Since the 1950s, the substance has been used as an oxidizer in rockets, munitions, and fireworks. It was not considered particularly dangerous to humans until a decade ago, when the U.S. EPA determined that it disrupted thyroid function when consumed. Earlier this year, the agency proposed a maximum perchlorate level of one part per billion, a standard the defense industry and the Pentagon oppose as overly …

Sign of the Thames

New water-quality targets being established by the European Union could radically change the face of farming in Europe, forcing farmers to scale back or even abandon their practices in some traditionally agricultural areas. The Water Framework Directive will require all rivers, lakes, and canals to be restored to “good ecological quality” within 15 years — and the measure of “good” will be far stricter than current standards. Complying with the directive will require wide-ranging changes in land use, from substantial reductions in the number of sheep and cattle that can be kept to restrictions on the size and location of …

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