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Here’s what fracking can do to your health

coughing-mjmaster_0
Daniel Foster | Shutterstock | Tim McDonnell

If you know one thing about fracking, it might be that the wells have been linked to explosive tap water. Of course, a tendency toward combustion isn't the biggest problem with gas-infused water; it's what could happen to you when you drink it.

Although the natural gas industry is notoriously tight-lipped about the ingredients of the chemical cocktails that get pumped down into wells, by now it's widely known that the list often includes some pretty scary, dangerous stuff, including hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze). It's also no secret that well sites release hazardous gases like methane and benzene (a carcinogen) into the atmosphere.

So just how dangerous are fracking and other natural gas extraction processes for your health (not counting, for the sake of argument, explosions and earthquakes)? Is it true, as an activist-art campaign by Yoko Ono recently posited, that "fracking kills"?

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This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle

velomobile-elf-quest-solar-tricycle

If the words “recumbent trike” make your lip curl, we understand. Weird bikes often seem to perpetuate the myth that cyclists are fringey oddballs disconnected from reality. But the ELF deserves a second glance:

A team from Durham, N.C., designed the semi-enclosed, three-wheeled contraption to marry the best aspect of bikes and cars. The result is a low-impact EV that gives you some protection from the elements and plenty of room for groceries. Pedal when you can, but let the solar-powered battery kick in if you’re hauling bags of kitty litter uphill.

The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles -- farther if you put your thighs to work.

The ELF’s main problem is its $5,495 price tag. Then again, if you’re basically getting 1,800 mpg, it could be worth it -- more than 300 ELF owners seem to think so. If, like moi, your wimpiness forever prevents you from turning cyclist, velomobiles like the ELF just might be the gateway drug.

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Power plants lose legal bid to douse you with mercury

coal power pollution
Shutterstock

When it proposed strict pollution rules in late 2011, the EPA paid no heed to the $9.6 billion worth of costs that coal-burning power plants would have to swallow. Its only concern in drafting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards was keeping mercury and other poisons out of the environment  and away from Americans  by demanding that power plants use scrubbers and other clean-air technology.

And on Tuesday, over the legal whimpers of the coal industry, federal judges said that's just fine.

Coal power plants are responsible for half of the country's mercury pollution and two-thirds of its arsenic emissions. By cracking down on this health-harming, brain-damaging, ecosystem-ruining pollution, the EPA has estimated that the standards will prevent 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks -- every single year. Thousands of lives will be saved.

The power plant owners felt it was unfair that the government cared about public health but didn't care about their bottom lines. More mercury in your air means more money in their pockets. So they sued. And they were joined in their battle by the governments of conservative-led states like Alaska, Kansas, and Michigan.

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Here’s a wind turbine you can toss in your purse

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© Skajaquoda

Hate it when a strong breeze musses your hair without generating any electricity? Same. So the Trinity portable wind turbine is a welcome invention, in addition of reminding us of The Matrix.

trinity-portable-wind-turbine
© Skajaquoda

Trinity will love he who is The One is only 12 inches tall when collapsed, so it can slip into your bag or backpack. Whip it out and it extends to 23 inches high, with three aluminum legs. Adds Treehugger:

The device has three wind blades (a Savonius design) that can be folded into the body of the device for transport, and open up when deployed, which spin a 15W generator and charge a 15,000 mAh battery when the wind is blowing.

It can charge your phone and other gadgets via a USB port, and at four pounds, the thing probably weighs less than your laptop. Donating $249 to the Kickstarter campaign will get you a Trinity of your very own come January, if Minnesota research firm Skajaquoda meets its $50,ooo goal:

It also has a little hole in each leg for stakes so Trinity won’t, you know, blow away. Speaking of which, does that mean we can make electricity just by blowing really hard? Someone get a Trinity so we can test this out. I, at least, am full of hot air.

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This guy is taking the world’s longest road trip in an electric car

Click to largify.
Norman Hajjar
Click to embiggen.

Have you ever driven cross-country? What about twice, AND down both coasts? That’s what Normal Hajjar is doing in a Tesla Model S: covering almost 12,000 miles in an EV, just to prove it can be done.

You’d think it’d be a pain, what with charging it all the time, but he told Fast Co. Exist the infrastructure is there:

“The reality is that it’s not difficult at all, other than the whole ordeal of driving which is the same with any gasoline vehicle. The key to this is fast-charging infrastructure.”

But the varying availability of permits, land, and electricity means charging stations are often located conveniently for the automaker, rather than strategically based on potential drivers’ routes. Tesla is one company Hajjar thinks is doing it right:

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With “Netflix for LEGOs,” the sharing economy just went preschool

pley-lego-rental

Kids don’t usually like to share, but the founder of Pley is betting she can change that. When an overabundance of toys was “turning [her son] into a little monster,” Elina Furman launched the LEGO-rental company to give all those little plastic bricks new life.

Once you join Pley, you can choose a monthly subscription of $15, $25, or $39, depending on how fancy and expansive you like your LEGO world. In the same vein as Netflix, your kids (or you -- no judgment) get to play with one set at a time, ship it back for free, and then eagerly await the next set in your queue. Both germaphobes and recycling junkies will admire Pley’s cleanliness routine, writes Fast Company:

Cautious parents need not fear the downside of many tiny, bacteria-laden fingers on the bricks. The company says that 15 million bricks have been washed and dried in Pley’s eco-cleaning solution, a strategy that’s reduced waste by eliminating 90,200 pounds of ABS plastic from our landfills.

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Let's get ready to not rumble!

Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes

seismometer
Shutterstock

Ohio officials have linked fracking in the state to an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes that struck last month. Following its investigation, the state is imposing new rules to help reduce frackquake hazards.

It's well-known that frackers can cause earthquakes when they shoot their polluted wastewater into so-called injection wells. But a swarm of earthquakes that hit Mahoning County, Ohio, last month was different -- it occurred not near an injection well, but near a site where fracking had recently begun. State officials investigated the temblors and concluded that there was a "probable connection" between them and hydraulic fracturing near "a previously unknown microfault."

On Friday, following the discovery, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that frackers will need to comply with new permit regulations. Under the tougher rules, frackers operating within three miles of a known fault or seismically active area will need to deploy sensitive seismic monitors. And if those monitors detect an earthquake, even if the magnitude is as small as 1.0 on the Richter scale, fracking will be suspended while the state investigates.

Meanwhile, the fracking operation linked to the recent quakes will remain suspended until a plan is developed that could see drilling resumed safely, an official told Reuters.

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WINDË Power

IKEA makes big investment in wind energy (some assembly required)

Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.
Shutterstock
Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.

IKEA -- though not exactly a friend to forests, and way too fond of dubious meatballs for our taste -- still wins greenie points for having a Scandinavian way with alternative energy. Ninety percent of its massive warehouse stores will soon host rooftop solar panels, including sunny south Florida's largest solar array, and Brits will be able to buy solar panels in U.K. stores starting this summer. On Thursday, the company one-upped its own clean cred by announcing its investment in a giant wind farm in Illinois.

Hoopeston Wind is the most recent in a series of wind investments by IKEA, including several farms in Canada, where the furniture behemoth is the largest retail wind investor. The Illinois farm will produce 98 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in 2015, or enough to power 34,000 Expedit-enhanced homes. That's more than twice the electricity that all of IKEA's U.S. operations consume, and about 18 percent of the company's global consumption. All of those megawatts will be sold locally, and IKEA will count them toward its overall renewable energy goal: to be totally carbon-free by 2020.

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Walmarts and all

Why you should be skeptical of Walmart’s cheap organic food

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Walmart

Out on the mean streets of the U.S. organic foods industry, Walmart has stepped onto the corner with both guns drawn. On Thursday, the superstore behemoth announced its plan to partner with Wild Oats (which you may recognize as a former subsidiary of Whole Foods) to offer a line of organic goods at unprecedentedly low prices in 2,000 of its U.S. stores. To start, the line will offer primarily canned goods and other pantry staples that will cost up to 25 percent less than those of other organic brands.

At first blush, this appears to be great news. Cheaper, more accessible organic food -- isn’t that one of the prerequisites for the kind of healthy food system we’ve all been waiting for? The New York Times notes that Walmart’s big move could ultimately create a larger supply of organic goods, pushing down organic prices in the long run.

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GMO labeling would be outlawed by new bill in Congress

GMO labeling march
mikescottnz

State-led efforts to mandate GMO labels are blossoming like a field of organic tulips, but members of Congress are trying to mow them down with legislative herbicide.

Maine and Connecticut recently passed laws that will require foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly marked as such -- after enough other states follow suit. And lawmakers in other states are considering doing the same thing. The trend makes large food producers nervous -- nervous enough to spend millions defeating ballot initiatives in California and Washington that also would have mandated such labels. They worry that the labels might scare people off, eating into companies' sales and profits.

So a band of corporate-friendly members of Congress has come riding in to try to save the day for their donors. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday that would run roughshod over states' rules on GMO labels. Reuters reports:

The bill, dubbed the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act," was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.

The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.