EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

Methane in atmosphere hits new high, rising at fastest rate recorded


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Simone Garza | April 11, 2022

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the amount of methane is rapidly increasing. This is an air pollutant and greenhouse gas resulting in 1 million premature deaths yearly. 

Methane is a colorless and odorless flammable gas. While it is an important element of natural gas, methane emissions are responsible for 30 percent of climate change. Methane emission is associated with raising livestock and organic matter decaying.

Greenhouse gasses ,like carbon dioxide, are more potent and a secondary contributor to global warming, but break down faster and are temporary. The greenhouse gasses absorb infrared heat in the form of heat. Greenhouse gasses can also be released into the atmosphere when oil, coal, and natural gas are mined and transferred. 

On April 7, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the atmospheric methane levels for 2021 have spiked 17 parts per billion. 2021 has the biggest recorded annual increase since the development of systematic measurements in 1983.

The Earth System Science Data journal found human activities made up about 60 percent of global methane emissions last year alone. In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported about 18 percent  were responsible for all greenhouse gas emissions. 

Jae Edmonds, a chief scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Joint Global Change Research Institute and contributor to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, said methane symbolizes both a barrier and advantage for smoother progress to maintaining climate change. 

“It’s both good news and bad news. Its human-related sources are quite varied, many of which are relatively straightforward to tackle,” Edmonds said in an interview about the newest IPCC findings.

New study shows air pollution across U.S. reflects racist policies


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 23, 2022

New data shows discriminatory housing practices in the 1930s led to disparities in the health of residents as a result of air pollution in various California neighborhoods in 2022.

The study, entitled “Historical redlining is associated with present-day air pollution disparities in U.S. cities,” analyzed California and the impacts housing policies from the 1930s had on air pollution. It focused on 202 cities and their exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a gas associated with vehicle exhaust and industrial facilities, and microscopic particles known as PM 2.5. When looking at Berkeley and Oakland, the two communities were redlined and saw higher levels of nitrogen dioxide that were twice as high as was safe in the 1930s. According to The New York Times, the two neighborhoods are lower-lying land that are closer to industrial businesses and major highways, increasing pollution.

Redlining is racial discrimination in any kind of housing, specifically regarding governmental maps that outline areas where Black residents lived in communities, deeming those areas as risky investments. The cities analyzed in the study were listed as “D” neighborhoods in the 1930s, designating them as the least desirable places to live because of air pollution exposure. The result of redlining in Oakland and Berkeley included many children having asthma related to the traffic and industrial pollution.

The study overall found well-documented health disparities between redlined and better-rated districts in terms of air pollution. It furthers a 2019 study that found there were twice as many residents visiting emergency rooms for asthma in eight California redlined cities. The study was partially funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

WHO sets tougher regulations for air quality


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 28, 2021

The World Health Organization set new standards for air quality guidelines for the next 15 years on Sept. 22.

The standards are set for policymakers across the world to lower pollutants that impact air quality. According to the Associated Press, more research and monitoring has cleared up previous questions regarding the impacts pollutants have on the health of human beings and animals. The United Nations health agency said 90 percent of the global population currently live in environments with at least one harmful type of pollutant.

Pollution of the air is concerning to global health advocates, as it becomes comparable to smoking tobacco. The guidelines are not legally binding, and they ask policy makers to focus on reducing the concentrations of six pollutant. The concerning pollutants include two types of particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

Some of the guidelines also encourage individuals to do their part to improve air quality by changing their behaviors through reducing use of plastics and using public transportation instead of driving cars. Air pollution is decreasing in several countries and has over the past few years, especially in Europe and North America. The change of guidelines could see improvements across many other continents.

Air quality, climate bulletin highlights quality patterns, shifts


Screenshot from YouTube.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 7, 2021

The World Meteorological Organization published its first Air Quality and Climate Bulletin on Sept. 3, discussing where air patterns are improving and deteriorating across the globe.

The report discusses the strong connection air quality and climate change have because of the chemical species that impact both. One of the similarities is the affect the combustion of fossil fuels has on air’s breathability and on global warming. A large problem when it comes to air quality is wildfires, according to the bulletin. The report said the fire seasons expose people to “varying levels of pollutants” alongside putting millions of people at high or very high health risks as a result of being downwind from wildfires.

Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research co-director Greg Carmichael assisted in the creation of the organization’s bulletin. He serves on the editorial board for the bulletin and chairs the Environmental Pollution and Atmospheric Chemistry Scientific Steering Committee of the World Meteorological Organization, the group that inspired the report.

Iowa saw poor air quality this summer because of the wildfires in Western states. In late June, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued air quality alerts due to winds from the West Coast changing the air quality in some Midwestern states. The alert specifically focused on warning sensitive groups to limit their outdoor exertion within the state. According to the Des Moines Register, these alerts also signaled several towns in the state having “unhealthy” air based on the Air Quality Index. Poor air quality returned later in the summer to Iowa, as residents saw more alerts in August.

The bulletin by the World Meteorological Organization included a section on how COVID-19 and air quality have impacted one another — something that has worried some health officials in Iowa. During various lockdowns of differing degrees, international emissions of air pollutants fell drastically, improving air quality across the world. The report showed nitrogen dioxide emissions dropped nearly 70 percent as a result of COVID-19.

The World Meteorological Organization intends to continue putting out bulletins with more air quality information in the future.

EPA increases funding for air quality, environmental justice initiatives


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 8, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its funding to monitor air pollution and improve air quality in low-income communities and communities of color.

On June 25, the agency announced an additional $50 million will be set aside for the department’s environmental justice initiatives. The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by President Joe Biden in March. The funding will be split between several projects, including environmental justice grants, expanding civil and criminal enforcement through monitoring, community assistance programs, and advancing environmental data analytics work.

Environmental justice—the promise of the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment—is a major focus for the Biden administration. People of color are more likely to die of environmental causes due to a variety of factors, including an increased likelihood of living in proximity to hazardous waste. According to a 2020 Princeton University study, low-income and African American communities are more likely to be affected by air pollution in the United States. The governmental response to air quality concerns is also disproportionate based on race, said the study, with white citizens’ complaints receiving more action and attention than people of color’s.

The funding will go to monitoring air in low-income communities, specifically looking for particles that have been linked to harmful illnesses. The agency hopes to ensure it is “adequately protecting all communities” regardless of who lives there, according to CNN.

Three Conservation Groups Intend to Sue the EPA for Failing to Enforce Pollution Rules in Poor Communities


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Nicole Welle | June 4, 2020

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release on May 28 announcing a lawsuit against the EPA for delaying the reduction of sulfur dioxide air pollution in a number of communities.

Areas of Missouri, Louisiana, Indiana, Puerto Rico and Guam were included in the lawsuit issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health and the Sierra Club. The cities and counties listed in the lawsuit are being exposed to dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide, an air pollutant produced by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA by law to set air quality standards, determine when and where air pollution exceeds the national limit, and ensure that plans are in place to clean up that pollution by a set deadline. In the current affected areas, the EPA has missed these deadlines by anywhere from two months to over four years.

The EPA has already determined that exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution can lead to health problems in humans and trigger ecological harm. The people in the areas listed are currently at a higher risk of heart and lung disease, asthma and contracting COVID-19 due to constant exposure to the pollution. Sulfur dioxide pollution also contributes to acid rain and damages lakes, rivers and entire ecosystems.

Young children and the elderly are more vulnerable and at a higher risk, and the problem is made worse by the fact that the areas in the lawsuit include large minority and indigenous populations that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and air pollution.

Air pollution may impact mental health, study says


Photo by AJ Nakasone on Pexels.com

Tyler Chalfant | August 27th, 2019

Air pollution may be linked to bipolar disorder and depression, according to a study recently published in PLOS Biology Journal. Researchers examined the health data of millions of patients in the United States and Denmark and found that patients exposed to poor quality air were more likely to be diagnosed with each of these conditions. 

Research conducted on dogs and rats had previously shown that air pollution can cause brain inflammation and symptoms resembling depression, and scientists say it is likely that human brains can be exposed to pollution in similar ways. 

Some critics claim that this study raises an “intriguing possibility” in linking air pollution to psychiatric disorders but fails to make a clear case. Besides bipolar disorder and depression, the study also tested for links between pollution and schizophrenia, personality disorder, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease, and failed to find a significant correlation. 

While potential links between pollution and mental health remain largely unexplored, the negative effects of air pollution on physical health have long been known. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution causes about 3.8 million premature deaths annually through heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses, and cancers. 

Air pollution has grown worse in most low and middle-income cities over the past several years as demand for power and the use of private motor vehicles have increased, putting many people at risk of long-term health problems.

EPA announces $40 million for diesel emission reductions


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Commercial trucks are a huge source of diesel emissions and a major target of the EPA DERA grant program (flickr). 

Julia Poska | December 27th, 2018

Regional, state, local and tribal agencies currently have the opportunity to clean up their air on the Environmental Protection Agency’s dollar. The EPA announced last week that it plans on awarding approximately $40 million in grants as part of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act. 

These grants will fund projects that reduce diesel emissions from school buses, commercial vehicles, locomotives and non-road equipment and emissions exposure for local communities. The EPA is especially looking to benefit communities that currently have poor air quality and for projects that will engage locals even once the project has ended.

This program began in 2008 and has awarded funds to the Iowa Department of Transportation in the past. The state matched the 2018 DERA allocation of $275,123 with funds from the Volkswagen settlement to put over $500,000 towards cleaning Iowa’s air.

Interested agencies have until March 6 to apply. Those in EPA region 7, including Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska can apply for projects up to $1.5 million.

Smog-producing air pollution declining more slowly


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Catalytic converters have decreased the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by cars dramatically since they were first introduced in the 1970s. (Chris Keating/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 1, 2018

A new study found that levels of two primary pollutants in the U.S. atmosphere have not been declining as rapidly during recent years as they once were.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studied satellite data and ground level measurements of two smog-forming pollutants: nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Levels of these air pollutants decreased dramatically following the implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Requirements of that act pushed automakers and energy-producers to develop new technology which curbed the emissions of these two pollutants.

The study found that concentration of these two pollutants in the atmosphere decreased by seven percent each year between 2005 and 2009. However, from 2011 through 2015, the pollutants’ levels only shrunk by 1.7 percent annually.

Helen Worden is a scientist at NCAR and one of the study’s authors. She said to Phys Org, “Although our air is healthier than it used to be in the 80s and 90s, air quality in the U.S. is not progressing as quickly as we thought. The gains are starting to slow down.”

The study noted that the slower decrease in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides was especially severe in the eastern part of the U.S. This finding dispels notions that the slower pace can be attributed to traveling air pollution from countries like China. The positive news is that the slower decline in carbon monoxide, which is primarily emitted by vehicles, is likely due to the fact that major strides have already been made to reduce vehicle emissions. In short, clean air technology related to cars may have reached a kind of plateau.

This study was funded by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The full journal article can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.