Thursday, January 11, 2007

Small World

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is attempting to get American businesses exempted from the Clean Air Act by blaming local air pollution on China:

“This boils down for me to a pretty patent attempt by the Chamber to shift responsibility for clearing up air pollution from its members to sources offshore,” said the director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, John Walke.

He insisted that most of the areas in non-attainment would fail to meet the federal standards regardless of the foreign-born pollution within their borders, an assertion that the Chamber disputes.
Here's one of the Chamber's counterarguments:
“When an area is in non-attainment [of the Clean Air Act], no manufacturer in the U.S. will work there and companies already there leave the state: They go to China,” William Kovacs, who heads up environmental lobbying for the Chamber, said.
Well, if American companies are setting up shop in China because they can't or won't comply with U.S. air standards, then it's pretty goddamn obvious that we have to weaken those regulations. Otherwise, increased pollution in China could adversely affect U.S. air quality. Right?

I discussed the problem of Chinese desertification a couple of weeks ago; it takes approximately five days for dust from Mongolia to cross the ocean. Apropos of which, Lawrence Berkeley Lab is conducting a fascinating census of airborne microbes:
An airborne bacterial census will also enable scientists to track how climate change impacts the microbial composition of the atmosphere. This process is already occurring. Wind-blown dust and biomass from Africa’s expanding Sahara desert are reaching North America in significant quantities.
A primary goal of this research is to measure normal fluctuations in airborne pathogens, so that the hundreds of bioterror sensors currently deployed in American cities will properly:
“Almost all of the bacterial bioterror pathogens are in the environment and in the air naturally, so we need to find their natural backgrounds,” says Andersen.
In Austin, Texas - which happens to have been the site of LBL's recent microbe census - there was reportedly a small mishap with a container of genetically engineered avian flu:
Rather than waiting for the aerosolized flu to settle, the centrifuge had been immediately opened. In an invisible puff of air, virus particles wafted out of the machine. Now, the virus was floating around the whole lab, stirred by air movements, then slowing settling on exposed surfaces or being sucked out the exhaust which, hopefully, had effective HEPA filtration (the UT documents are silent on this item).
The recent die-off of Austin's birds is probably just a coincidence, but I'm guessing that people will get plenty of mileage out of that coincidence in the event of a flu pandemic.

It's very odd how nothing seems to stay where you put it. Through a process that can only be described as supernatural, pesticides in Costa Rica have traveled from one place to another:
Researchers say that a meteorological quirk created by mountain ranges carries the pesticides to destinations previously considered too far from agricultural areas to be of concern.
You can talk all you want about "meterological quirks," but I know the handiwork of goblins when I see it.

On the bright side, Norway has figured out what to do about a sunken U-boat that carried 65 tons of mercury intended for the Japanese munitions industry:
[T]he plan is to pour up to 300,000 tons of sand down a vertical chute to create a burial mound. The mound would rise about 10 meters feet above the surrounding sea floor, enough to cover the highest points of the wrecked vessel. The sand would then be covered by a half-meter-thick layer of rocks to prevent erosion.

"There is nothing temporary about such a solution," Gjellan asserted. "We have been told it would last forever, with zero leakage."
In an unrelated story, zircon doesn't work as well for nuclear waste storage as some people had hoped:
[R]esearchers have argued that zircon, or similar synthetic ceramics, could trap nuclear waste within their crystalline structures for at least 241,000 years, the time plutonium-239 takes to become relatively safe.

Now a study shows that this is unlikely. It turns out that alpha particles released as plutonium decays knock the atoms in zircon out of position faster than originally predicted, impairing the material's ability to immobilise waste (Nature, vol 445, p 190).
Other than that, things are going pretty well, wouldn't you say?


Anonymous said...

Oh gawd. Just oh damn gawd.

But I'm a better person for reading that.

I think.


Anonymous said...

So were the lab staff wearing anti-viral protective gear?

And I presume the dead birds in Austin will be tested for H5N1. Right?

Phila said...

And I presume the dead birds in Austin will be tested for H5N1. Right?

It was "ruled out," whatever that means:

Health officials quickly ruled out environmental hazards to humans, including bird flu and West Nile virus, but they have not come up with an answer to how the birds died. Test results are not expected before Friday, and they could take a week or more, officials say.

I vaguely remember a case where a pile of dead birds around a puddle of liquid alarmed people in some city or other. Turned out they'd all flown into the reflective window of an office block, and fallen in the same spot. The liquid was water; it just happened to be there.

@whut said...

And the bad smell in NYC is being attributed to deep-water methane releases pulling along hydrogen sulfide. Conjecture only.

Anonymous said...

i'd been wondering if it was friday yet.

clearly not, as this was most un-hopeful.

oh wait, it is friday, as i see the garbage men have come. a day late and a dollar short.