An Underappreciated Danger of the New Space Age: Global Air Pollution

An Underappreciated Danger of the New Space Age: Global Air Pollution

SOURCE: Scientific American DATE: November 6, 2020 SNIP: The space industry is growing and innovating at a pace not seen since the days of the moon landings. Fifty years ago, nearly everything related to space was a government-sponsored project. In 21st-century space, launch vehicle and satellite finance are most often bottom-line corporate investments or public-private partnerships. Untethered from government leashes, the global space industry looks and operates increasingly like global aviation. Sustainability has not much been a concern for space systems development. Just like their jet engine cousins, rocket engines emit a variety of gases and particles into the atmosphere that can have regional and even global consequences. Even so, launch vehicle environmental impacts are typically disregarded by comparing jet and rocket fuel consumption in an overly simplified way. The argument goes like this: Rockets burn only 0.1 percent of the fuel that aircraft burn each year and are therefore only 0.1 percent of the emissions problem that aviation presents. But this is a case of false equivalence. Careful understanding of every phase of space flight shows that space emissions can impact the atmosphere in ways that are wholly different from, and in some cases larger than, aviation emissions. Unlike with aviation, every layer of the atmosphere sees space industry emissions. While jet emissions into the troposphere are quickly washed away to the surface by precipitation, rocket emissions into the stratosphere clean away only slowly. Stratospheric emissions accumulate year over year, adding up exhaust from all of Earth’s launches and reentries over the past four or five years. In fact, the fragile ozone layer resides in the stratosphere, near...
Ignoring Scientists’ Advice, Trump’s EPA Rejects Stricter Air Quality Standard

Ignoring Scientists’ Advice, Trump’s EPA Rejects Stricter Air Quality Standard

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: April 15, 2020 SNIP: Sweeping aside a broad body of evidence that air pollution is killing as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year, the Trump administration on Tuesday rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for fine soot. The proposal to maintain the current standard for PM 2.5—microscopic particles known as fine particulate matter—in the face of alarming new science documenting its potentially deadly health effects, is a win for the fossil fuel industry. It comes amid a frenzy of major decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say is designed to secure the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy in the face of an uncertain future. The Trump EPA has raced to loosen or reject a slew of clean air protections, even as the nation has been brought to a virtual standstill by a highly contagious virus that can produce serious or even fatal respiratory symptoms. In the last month, the Trump EPA has weakened fuel economy standards, advanced a proposal to discount the findings of scientific studies on health in rulemaking and announced a blanket suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws. The decision to maintain the status quo on PM 2.5 was especially striking in the context of the pandemic, and came just days after Harvard researchers released preliminary results of a study showing that U.S. counties with high PM 2.5 levels have higher coronavirus death rates. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, dismissed that study, saying it had not yet been peer reviewed and published. But he also decided to give little...
Cloud of Cancer-Causing Chemical Hangs Over the Houston Channel

Cloud of Cancer-Causing Chemical Hangs Over the Houston Channel

SOURCE: Bloomberg DATE: March 22, 2019 SNIP: Oil byproducts from a damaged storage facility contaminated the Houston Ship Channel and created a cloud of cancer-causing benzene over the waterway, the latest mutation of one of the worst Gulf Coast chemical disasters in more than a decade. The U.S. Coast Guard is forbidding vessel traffic on a stretch of the key industrial shipping route after a wall collapse and fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s already-damaged chemical storage complex on Friday. A mix of toxic gasoline ingredients, firefighting foam and dirty water flowed from the site into the channel, and a benzene plume above the water poses a threat to ship crews, said Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt. The channel … is the newest victim of a calamity that began unfolding almost a week ago when tanks holding byproducts of the oil-refining process at ITC’s facility erupted in flames. A mile-high plume of inky black smoke towered over the fourth-largest American city for days until crews extinguished the blaze on March 20. That was followed by benzene alerts that shut down Deer Park and other suburbs for half a day, the collapse of a containment wall and Friday’s new fires in three wrecked storage tanks and a drainage ditch. Nausea, headaches and other symptoms drove about 1,000 people to seek treatment at a pop-up clinic, with 15 of the most-severe cases loaded onto ambulances and hauled to hospital emergency rooms. “It’s been a never-ending, re-occurring case of things not working out as planned,” Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton said during a media briefing on Saturday. “There’s more tanks in there. Is...
Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates

Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 12, 2019 SNIP: The number of early deaths caused by air pollution is double previous estimates, according to research, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking. The scientists used new data to estimate that nearly 800,000 people die prematurely each year in Europe because of dirty air, and that each life is cut short by an average of more than two years. The health damage caused by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. Its dense population and poor air results in exposure that is among the highest in the world. The new research, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that while air pollution hits the lungs first, its impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases. The analysis builds on research published in September and confirms that calculation of 8.8m early deaths a year from outdoor air pollution around the world, double previous estimates. The EU’s PM2.5 limit is more than double the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline used by Canada and...
90% of world’s children are breathing toxic air, WHO study finds

90% of world’s children are breathing toxic air, WHO study finds

SOURCE: The Guardian, WHO DATE: October 29, 2017 SNIP: Poisonous air is having a devastating impact on billions of children around the world, damaging their intelligence and leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to a report from the World Health Organization. The study found that more than 90% of the world’s young people – 1.8 billion children – are breathing toxic air, storing up a public health time bomb for the next generation. The WHO said medical experts in almost every field of children’s health are uncovering new evidence of the scale of the crisis in both rich and poor countries – from low birth weight to poor neurodevelopment, asthma to heart disease. “Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director of public health and the environment. The study found that 600,000 children die from acute lower respiratory infections caused by dirty air and 93% are exposed to one of the most damaging pollutants – PM2.5. Particulates are the deadliest form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood streams unfiltered, causing permanent DNA mutations, heart attacks, respiratory disease, and premature death. PM2.5 were particularly deadly, with a 36% increase in lung cancer per 10 μg/m3 as it can penetrate deeper into the lungs. Globally, with smoking on the decline, air pollution now causes more deaths annually than tobacco. However, researchers think the harm known to be caused by air pollution, such as heart attacks and lung disease, is only “the tip of the...