Environment

Danger to the water we drink

Coal combustion in the US, largely in power plants, generates ~130 million tons of ash each year.  Some ash is collected from the bed of combustion chambers (bottom ash), while other ashes are collected as fly ash from smokestacks and from air pollution control devices, including flue gas desulfurization (FGD) fixtures.  Currently only a small portion of coal ash is utilized as an additive to cement and in road construction. The remainder is often stored dry in large piles exposed to rainfall or in a wet slurry in unlined lagoons near the point of production.

Danger to the water we drink
by Kevin McEneaney

Coal combustion in the US, largely in power plants, generates ~130 million tons of ash each year.  Some ash is collected from the bed of combustion chambers (bottom ash), while other ashes are collected as fly ash from smokestacks and from air pollution control devices, including flue gas desulfurization (FGD) fixtures.  Currently only a small portion of coal ash is utilized as an additive to cement and in road construction. The remainder is often stored dry in large piles exposed to rainfall or in a wet slurry in unlined lagoons near the point of production.

Air Pollution

As I sat in the audience of the NC BREATHE Conference in Raleigh a few weeks ago, I sensed a certain amount of schizophrenia between the science and policy of air pollution in North Carolina. Unfortunately, a similar dichotomy is found in many states across the country.

On the one hand, I was surrounded by a room-full of physicians and scientists who relayed data about the link between air pollution and common human ailments, such as asthma, emphysema and pneumonia, and who talked about the state-led, bipartisan innovation, the NC Clean Smokestacks Act, that connected science and policy and resulted in reduced emissions, cleaner air, and better public, environmental, and economic health.

Smoke and propaganda

Are you a smoker or a former smoker? Chances are, you have been pressured to quit by people who love you.  Or maybe you’re someone who has tried to get a loved one to quit—a spouse, a parent, a friend.

Whether you quit, attempted to quit, or tried to get someone to quit, it is almost certainly because you know that smoking is bad for your health. We know this because of the first Surgeon General’s report in 1964, and extensive and continuing work in the nation’s leading medical schools showing the linkage between smoking and lung cancer.

Science-based analysis of current environmental topics

Biochar (formerly known as charcoal) has attracted a lot of recent attention, owing to increasing interest in carbon sequestration in soils for greenhouse gas mitigation. With the use of biomass fuels, the production and burial of biochar could store significant amounts of carbon that might otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.[1] This sink for carbon is potentially highly resistant to decomposition.

Our lives depend on trees

It is worth reflecting on how trees contribute to our lives—beyond their role as a source of wood and paper. Should we preserve trees?  Are some species better than others? Are large trees better than small trees?  These and a host of other questions must be carefully considered if landscape architects and town planners are to design the best spaces for human habitation.

Plant growth derives from photosynthesis, in which plants take up water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air to produce carbohydrates for their growth. Oxygen is released as a byproduct. About half of all photosynthesis on Earth occurs on land and about half of that occurs in forests.

Our atmosphere

Every now and again someone writes me saying that the real source of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere is not human combustion of fossil fuels but volcanic emissions. There are several reasons why this cannot be the case.

First, the emissions from fossil fuels are well known from economic statistics, meaning we know fairly precisely how much oil, natural gas, and coal are traded annually and that the total emission of CO2 from these contains about 10 billion metric tons of carbon each year.