By Julie Dermansky for Nation of Change - It doesn’t take carefully calibrated measurements to realize there is something wrong with the air around the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. From a small plane, I photographed the petrochemical manufacturing facility, until recently owned by DuPont, noting its proximity to the community around its fence line. The emissions were horrible. Breathing them while circling the plant twice left me with a headache that lingered for hours. The surrounding communities and I were inhaling emissions of chloroprene and 28 other chemicals, which the plant uses to make the synthetic rubber commonly known as Neoprene. Chloroprene is nasty stuff. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2010 toxicological review of the chemical resulted in the agency reclassifying chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen. Also according to the EPA, short term exposure to high concentrations of chloroprene can affect the nervous system, weaken immune systems, and cause rapid heartbeat, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes, among other health issues.
By Kathryn Blackhurst for The Associated Press - A Florida man who flew a small gyrocopter through protected Washington airspace before landing outside the U.S. Capitol last spring was seconds away from colliding with a Delta flight that had taken off from Reagan National Airport, prosecutors said. In a court filing Friday, prosecutors said Douglas Hughes flew his one-person aircraft almost directly into the oncoming flight path of the 150-person Airbus turbojet last April. Hughes came within 1,400 yards of Delta Flight 1639, while safety rules require aircraft to remain separated by more than 3,000 yards.
By Tony Barboza for The Los Angeles Times - Community groups and environmentalists filed suit Wednesday over Southern California air quality regulators' adoption of oil industry-backed smog regulations, saying the measures are so weak they violate state law and will hurt public health. The lawsuit seeks to negate the South Coast Air Quality Management District board's vote in December that rejected a staff recommendation to overhaul a cap-and-trade program for smog-forming emissions from oil refineries, power plants and other major polluters and instead adopted a proposal by the Western States Petroleum Assn.
Fracking's impacts on air quality took the spotlight this year, fueled by new research and broad media coverage. The modern shale boom has created a massive influx of oil-and-gas wells, compressor stations and other infrastructure that spew toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the air. The consequences for public health and climate change are increasingly recognized as serious issues, on par with the water contamination concerns that once dominated debates over the pros and cons of fracking. In mid-December, New York banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, within its borders, effectively closing off the state's shale gas resources to producers. New York's decision was based on a public health review which cited various health risks including "air impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals."
What if you could simply look at the leaves on the plants in your garden to find out about the air quality in your neighborhood? Theoretically you can, if you plant a National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) inspired ozone garden (pdf). NCAR recently planted a garden full of plants that react visibly when ozone levels are high. Such plants include green shoots of milkweed, snap bean, potato and cutleaf coneflowers. Like humans, plants can be sensitive to ozone issues. Some plants, when exposed to high levels of the gas for extended periods of time, develop tiny, colored, evenly spaced spots on their leaves or their leaves may turn black or yellow. NCAR isn’t the first to plant an ozone garden. NASA has one and the new NCAR garden is based on the St Louis ozone gardens (pdf) set up by AQAST member Jack Fishman. Other ozone sensitive plants include flowering dogwood, buttonbush, soy beans, and milkweed. Planting an ozone sensitive garden is a realistic project you can implement at your own home with your kids, allowing your little ones to not only learn how to garden but also about ozone monitoring and wildlife that thrives around these plants. For example, milkweed is the monarch butterfly caterpillar’s primary food source. If you’d like to plant your own ozone garden check out the guides below. No time to plant a garden? Check out your neighborhood ozone situation at OzoneAware.