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A tire fire so big it can be seen from space

Tire fires are a nasty business, and in Kuwait yesterday, a fire broke out at a dump that held more than 5 million tires. The fire was so big that the smoke plume was visible from space:

A tire fire this big is an environmental disaster. It won't just pollute the air with hazardous materials -- it will create a small oil spill as well. Burning just one passenger car tire can produce two gallons of oil, according to the EPA, and 5 million tires could spill about 275,000 gallons of oil on the ground.

Read more: Pollution


America’s best-known nuclear family gets mural at world’s best-known nuclear disaster

Street artists have started covering walls within the no-go zone of Chernobyl with advertising from the world's nuclear power companies -- and a portrait of America’s favorite family with a nuclear safety officer dad.


America’s largest urban Superfund site gets cute new mascot

Now that gentrification has come to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, N.Y., it's time to clean it up! The EPA is on the case, although it's going to take decades to cleanse this narrow cul-de-sac of a waterway so foul that nothing can live in its opaque waters.

In order to get people excited about the process of turning the canal into something that will stop depressing local property values, the Gowanus Community Advisory Group has decided that the project needs a mascot, reports Gary Buiso at the New York Post.


Why going green during a recession actually creates jobs

Economists have long known something that politicians apparently do not: If you need to impose expensive environmental regulations, there’s no better time than during a recession. Or so says macroeconomist Josh Bivens, writing in New Scientist.

In fact, says Bivens, when the economy is sucking wind, environmental regulations actually create jobs, for three reasons:


Diving deep: Susan Shaw, ocean crusader and environmental health pioneer

Cross-posted from Urbanite.

In 1983, with the encouragement and support of iconic landscape photographer Ansel Adams, Susan Shaw wrote Overexposure, a research book on the dangers of photographic chemicals. With an M.F.A. from Columbia University already in hand, she completed a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences from Columbia's School of Public Health. She was among the first researchers to document and study the presence of perfluorinated chemicals, flame retardants, and cancer-causing chemicals -- many found in consumer products -- in the tissue of harbor seals and marine fishes.

Shaw is the founder and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, and a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the State University of New York in Albany. A well-known figure in the fight against ocean pollution, she has provided commentary in several documentary films on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, including Animal Planet's Black Tide: Voices of the Gulf and Green Planet's The Big Fix, which was an official selection documentary at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Last year, the Society of Women Geographers named Shaw its Gold Medal Award recipient, the organization's highest honor, first given to Amelia Earhart in 1933.

Read more: Animals, Oil, Pollution


Flame retardants can turn a burning room into a gas chamber

The Station nightclub fire at 40 seconds. (Photo by Daniel R. Davidson.)

You know brominated and chlorinated flame retardants are bad when when even Walmart bans them from its products. Unfortunately, some fire codes require them. But we’ll see how long that lasts, says Environmental Health News, given that new research indicates burning flame-retardant items makes them emit the same poisons used in Nazi gas chambers.


Fungi can eat pollution right out of the soil

Fungi are freaking amazing: Give them enough time and they will eat anything, even the toxins spread over polluted sites around the world. Mohamed Hijri, a professor at the University of Montreal, figured -- why wait for nature to take its time neutralizing the damage we've done to the planet? Why not urge it along? And so he started identifying the fungi and microorganisms that do the best job at cleaning up toxins.

Read more: Pollution


What’s the deal with EPA carbon rules for existing power plants?

Photo by Karen Eliot.

In my post on the new EPA carbon pollution rule, I drew attention to an important distinction: The rule issued today governs new power plants only; carbon pollution from existing power plants has not yet been regulated.

This matters a great deal. Today's rule effectively means there will be no more coal plants built in the U.S., but that was more or less a fait accompli due to market forces. What to do about existing plants is in many ways a more fraught and important question. It could have much larger effects on near-term pollution from the power sector.

On a conference call with reporters this morning, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "We have no plans to regulate existing sources." That caused me a few moments of panic (and, um, a few outbursts on Twitter). If there are really not going to be any existing-source regulations, that would make this whole process a massive, massive fail.

But I've talked to a few people and gotten a better sense of the lay of the land, and I'm here to tell you, in the words of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Don't panic.


Raging hormone disruptors: Common chemicals cause trouble even in small amounts

Cigarettes and old Nalgene bottles: both are hazardous. (Nalgene began phasing out water bottles with BPA in 2008. This photo, by Regan Walsh, was taken in 2007.)

The BPA in your water bottle may be even more dangerous than you think.

A major new paper is raising the alarm about low-level exposure to endocrine disruptors, substances like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates that interfere with hormones in the human body. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are found in a vast array of everyday products like plastics, household cleaners, cosmetics, pesticides, upholstery, and paper receipts.

“The dose makes the poison” is a widely accepted tenet in the field of toxicology, suggesting that a substance’s impact on the body increases with the amount of exposure. Case in point: A drop of arsenic in a well may not produce any noticeable health problems; a generous pour mixed into lemonade can kill a man.

Get ready for a change in accepted dogma: A paper published in the journal Endocrine Reviews found that low doses of EDCs — amounts that average people are exposed to through consumer products every day — can have serious negative health impacts.

Read more: Food, Living, Pollution


McDonald’s ditches Styrofoam … maybe

McDonald’s may be getting a little less evil … maybe … I guess … if consumers really, really want it to. The fast food behemoth recently announced plans to swap out Styrofoam cups for paper ones at 2,000 of its stores. If customers respond well to drinking their bargain coffee out of greener vessels, the Golden Arches will start using paper cups at all of its 13,000+ restaurants.

In the stores where the paper cups are being used, customers who order a hot beverage will now get it in a double-walled fiber hot cup. McDonald’s will be looking at “consumer acceptance, operation impact, and overall importance.”