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Are Diesel Exhaust Fumes to Blame for Honeybee Colony Collapse?


Tests show that diesel pollutants reduce bees’ ability to smell flowers, potentially playing a role in the alarming disappearance of the pollinating insects

The importance of bees in our food system often goes unappreciated. Just by going about their daily business, these insects are responsible for pollinating three-quarters of the 100 crop species that provide roughly 90 percent of the global food supply. The most recent estimate for the economic value of this bee activity is that it’s worth over $200 billion.

But in recent years, an alarming number of bee colonies across North America and Europe have begun to collapse. As part of the phenomenon, formally known as Colony Collapse Disorder, worker bees fail to return to the hive after their pollen-collecting trips nearby. We still don’t fully understand what’s driving this trend, but the list of culprits likely includes pesticides, viral infections, intensive agriculture and perhaps even the practice of feeding bees high fructose corn syrup in place of the honey we take from them.

New research, though, suggests there may be an overlooked problem: the exhaust fumes produced by diesel-powered engines. As described in a study published today in Scientific Reports, a group of researchers from the UK’s University of Southampton found that the pollution produced by diesel combustion reduces bees’ ability to recognize the scent of various flowers—a key sense they use in navigating and finding food sources.

“Honeybees have a sensitive sense of smell and an exceptional ability to learn and memorize new odors,” Tracey Newman, a neuroscientist who worked on the study, said in a press statement. “Our results suggest that that diesel exhaust pollution alters the components of a synthetic floral odor blend, which affects the honeybee’s recognition of the odor. This could have serious detrimental effects on the number of honeybee colonies and pollination activity.”

To come to the finding, the group used extract from rapeseed flowers to create a scent that mimics the natural smell of several different flowers that the bees normally pollinate. In a sealed glass vessel, they mixed the scented air with diesel exhaust at a variety of concentrations, ranging from those that meet the EPA’s standards for ambient air quality to worst-case scenarios—concentrations of diesel pollutants (specifically the highly reactive NOx gases, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) that greatly exceed these standards but are commonly detected in urban areas.

At all concentrations, just one minute after they added the pollutants, gas chromatography testing revealed that two of the main flower-scented chemicals in the original blend were rendered undetectable, degraded by the nitrogen dioxide. Previously, they’d trained 30 honeybees to remember the flowers’ scent—by rewarding them with a sip of sucrose when they extended their proboscis in response to smelling it—but when the scent had been altered by the exposure to diesel fumes, just 30 percent of the bees were still able to recognize it and extend their proboscis. They confirmed that the NOx gases in particular were to blame by repeating the experiments with isolated versions of them, instead of the whole range of diesel pollutants, and arriving at the same results.

It’s a small study on one bee population using one flowers’ scent, but it’s a concern. That’s because, although the study specifically looked at NOx gases that resulted from the burning of diesel, the gases are also produced by your car’s gasoline-burning engine. When NOx measurements are averaged out, few areas exceed the EPA’s standards, but in many urban locales during periods of high traffic, NOx levels can be much higher—high enough, this testing suggests, to disrupt bees’ ability to smell flowers.

It follows that diesel fumes could play a role in Colony Collapse Disorder: If bees are less effective at navigating and finding nectar, they might be more likely to get lost in large numbers. Colony collapse is typically characterized by the continual disappearance of worker bees during their travels—so it’s possible that the effects of engine exhaust plays a role.

“Diesel exhaust is not the root of the problem,” said Newman said in a press briefing. “But if you think of a situation where a bee is dealing with viral infections, mites, all the other stresses it has to deal with—another thing that makes it harder for the bee to work in its environment is likely to have detrimental consequences.”

Original Article Courtesy of: Smithsonian Magazine (

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Diesel exhaust fumes ‘definitely’ cause cancer – should we be worried?

Today the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – part of the World Health Organisation – announced that it had reclassified diesel exhaust as a ‘definite carcinogen’ – putting it in its highest category (Category 1).

In other words, IARC’s expert panel assessed all the available scientific evidence and decided that exposure to diesel exhaust fumes can, and does, cause cancer in humans – specifically lung cancer (although there’s weak evidence they’re also linked to bladder cancer).

But what does this mean in practice? Is this something the general public should be worried about?

We spoke to Professor David Phillips – a Cancer Research UK-funded carcinogen expert from King’s College London – to ask him what he thought of the announcement.

What does this mean?

Just because something is in IARC’s top level category, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s public health enemy number one – it’s more complex than that. As Professor Phillips explains, “IARC does ‘hazard identification’, not ‘risk assessment’.

“That sounds quite technical, but what it means is that IARC isn’t in the business of telling us how potent something is in causing cancer – only whether it does so or not”, he says.

To take an analogy, think of banana skins. They definitely can cause accidents – but in practice this doesn’t happen very often (unless you work in a banana factory). And the sort of harm you can come to from slipping on a banana skin isn’t generally as severe as, say, being in a car accident.

But under a hazard identification system like IARC’s, ‘banana skins’ and ‘cars’ would come under the same category – they both definitely do cause accidents.

“So, going back to diesel fumes – yes they’re in the same IARC category as, for example, mustard gas and asbestos. But saying diesel fumes are ‘as bad’ as asbestos is not what IARC categories are about,” says Phillips.

So IARC is saying that diesel fumes are able to damage DNA in our cells in a way that leads to cancer, and that this happens in real life. But it doesn’t say anything about how much exposure is needed to cause this, nor how big a problem this is in society.

“IARC categories are designed to flag things up to policy makers, so they can then analyse the scale of the problem, weigh the risks against the benefits, and bring in appropriate legislation,” Phillips adds.

How do diesel exhaust fumes cause cancer?

When diesel burns inside an engine it releases two potentially cancer-causing things: microscopic soot particles, and chemicals called ‘polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons’, or PAHs. According to Phillips, there are three possible ways these can cause cancer:

“Firstly, inhaled PAHs could directly damage the DNA in the cells of our lungs – leading to cancer.

“Secondly, the soot particles can get lodged deep inside the lungs, causing long-term inflammation, and thirdly this can increase the rate at which cells divide. So if any nearby lung cells pick up random mutations, this inflammation could, theoretically, make them more likely to grow and spread.

“Diesel exhaust may be carcinogenic by a combination of these effects – we know the particles are coated with the PAHs, delivering them deep into the lungs where they get stuck and, potentially, cause damage. I should stress, though, that we don’t know for certain which of these mechanisms is most important in practice.”


Was IARC’s decision expected?

Yes, according to Phillips, describing the IARC evaluation process as “thorough, rigorous and independent”.

“The last time IARC looked at diesel fumes was back in the late 1980s, and there’s been a lot more research since then – the strength of the epidemiology has really changed a lot,” he says.

Most of the recent evidence comes from studies looking at cancer rates amongst populations that have high levels of exposure to diesel fumes – for example, miners, railroad workers and truckers.

But the real game-changers, according to Phillips, were two papers published earlier this year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. These looked at exposure levels and cancer rates in a population of over 12,000 miners at eight non-metal mines in the US, and found substantially higher lung cancer rates amongst those with the highest exposure.

“These are good, large studies, and consistent with previous findings,” he says – and probably pivotal, he speculates, in IARC’s decision to move diesel exhaust to Category 1.
Who does this affect? And where does diesel fit into the bigger picture?


This is where things start to get complicated.

“The data we have relate to so-called ‘occupational exposure’”, says Phillips, “in other words, people whose jobs bring them into regular contact with high levels of diesel fumes. These people are much easier to study, because their exposure is so strong, and effects are easier to spot. But as a result, it’s harder to generalise as to how this affects the rest of us.”

However, Phillips feels the strength of the effect in people working regularly with diesel fumes is enough to suggest that there will be a smaller impact on people at lower exposure levels – particularly those who live in cities. “The main thing to bear in mind, though, is that the size of the effect is likely to be small compared with things like smoking.”

In fact, estimates suggest that 85 per cent of lung cancers are linked to smoking, making it by far the biggest cause of the disease. Set against this huge figure, the number of cases caused by air pollution is likely to be many times smaller.

Are UK regulations sufficient?

Professor Phillips is reluctant to get drawn into discussing the finer detail of air quality and emissions regulations – “something for policy makers, not scientists,” he says. “But the Government needs to look at the current regulations and make sure they’re sufficient – urban air pollution has changed over the last few decades,” he adds.

The contribution to air pollution from diesel exhausts has grown. For example in 1994, just 7.4 per cent of UK vehicles ran on diesel. According to 2011 data from the Department for Transport, that’s now 31 per cent.

“In London, that’s going to include all taxis and most buses,” Phillips points out. This means that spikes in urban pollution levels seen during the UK’s occasional hot days might be cause for measured concern. “The drive towards more diesel has had its benefits, but it also has its costs, and politicians need to balance the environmental, medical and economic implications.”

On an individual level, it’s trickier. “Obviously it’s sensible to minimize your exposure, but this needs to be balanced against the practicality of getting around – diesel is a useful way of powering vehicles, it can be better in terms of carbon emissions, and the risk for most people is going to be pretty small, especially if you don’t live in the city.”

But it’s also important to look at the bigger picture: lung cancer rates are actually on the way down, as smoking prevalence decreases. This again confirms the importance – and dangers – of smoking as the number one cause of lung cancer.

That said, since cancers can take decades to develop, rates can lag behind observed changes in environmental factors like smoking and diesel emissions. So it will be important to keep a close eye on things as smoking rates decline and diesel consumption increases.

What about petrol engines?

Notably, IARC hasn’t reclassified petrol exhaust in the same way – that’s still sitting down in Category 2B, along with coffee, pickled vegetables, and mobile phones as merely ‘possible’ causes of cancer. What’s the difference?

“Petrol exhaust contains similar chemicals to diesel, but petrol engines emit much lower amounts of fine particles,” says Phillips, “so it’s much less able to get stuck in the lungs in the same way as diesel exhaust.”

On top of this, he adds, it’s harder to study exposure to petrol exhaust as it’s so common in society, and finding an ‘unexposed’ group to compare with is harder.

Healthy living

So, in the final analysis, diesel exhaust does cause cancer, but the overall risk to society is low compared to other things like tobacco, excess bodyweight, and alcohol. There’s more info about the causes of cancer, and how you can reduce your risk, in the ‘healthy living’ section of our website (which has a page on air pollution), and – for context – it’s worth revisiting the post and graphic we produced last year, ‘The causes of cancer you can control’, which looks at how different lifestyle and environmental factors are linked to linked to different types of cancer.

Original Article Courtesy of: Cancer Research UK (

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Filthy India air cutting 660 million lives short by 3 years

FILE- In this Oct. 17, 2014, file photo, a thick blanket of smoke is seen against the setting sun as young ragpickers search for reusable material at a garbage dump in New Delhi, India. India’s filthy air is cutting 660 million lives short by about three years, while nearly all of the country’s 1.2 billion citizens are breathing in harmful pollution levels, according to research published Saturday, Feb. 21. While New Delhi last year earned the dubious title of being the world’s most polluted city, the problem extends nationwide, with 13 Indian cities now on the World Health Organization’s list of the 20 most polluted. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, File)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s filthy air is cutting 660 million lives short by about three years, according to research published Saturday that underlines the hidden costs of the country’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels to power its economic growth with little regard for the environment.

While New Delhi last year earned the dubious title of being the world’s most polluted city, India’s air pollution problem is extensive, with 13 Indian cities now on the World Health Organization’s list of the 20 most polluted.

That nationwide pollution burden is estimated to be costing more than half of India’s population at least 3.2 years of their lives, according to the study, led by Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago and involving environmental economists from Harvard and Yale universities. It estimates that 99.5 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people are breathing in pollution levels above what the WHO deems as safe.

“The extent of the problem is actually much larger than what we normally understand,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Anant Sudarshan, the India director of the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago. “We think of it as an urban problem, but the rural dimension has been ignored.”

Added up, those lost years come to a staggering 2.1 billion for the entire nation, the study says.

While “the conventional definition of growth has ignored the health consequences of air pollution, this study demonstrates that air pollution retards growth by causing people to die prematurely,” Greenstone said in a statement.

For the study, published in Economic & Political Weekly, the authors borrowed from their previous work in China, where they determined that life expectancy dropped by three years for every 100 micrograms of fine particulate matter, called PM2.5, above safe levels. PM2.5 is of especially great health concern because, with diameters no greater than 2.5 micrometers, the particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs.

The authors note, however, that their estimations may be too conservative because they’re based in part on 2012 satellite data that tend to underestimate PM2.5 levels. Meanwhile, India sets permissible PM2.5 levels at 40 micrograms per cubic meter, twice the WHO’s safe level.

India has a sparse system for monitoring air quality, with sensors installed in only a few cities and almost unheard of in the countryside. Yet rural air pollution remains high thanks to industrial plants, poor fuel standards, extensive garbage burning and a heavy reliance on diesel for electricity generation in areas not connected to the power grid. Wind patterns also push the pollution onto the plains below the Himalayan mountain range.

Sarath Guttikunda of the independent air quality research group Urban Emissions called the study a solid effort to quantify some of the economic costs of pollution, given “what information is available.”

“Everything comes down to a lack of monitoring data in India,” said Guttikunda, who was not involved in the study. “If you don’t have enough monitoring information, you don’t know how much is coming out in the first place.”

India developed extreme air pollution while relying on burning fossil fuels to grow its economy and pull hundreds of millions of people up from poverty. More than 300 million Indians still have no access to electricity, with at least twice that number living on less than $2 a day.

While India has pledged to grow its clean energy sector, with huge boosts for solar and wind power, it also has committed to tripling its coal-fired electricity capacity to 450 gigawatts by 2030. Yet there still are no regulations for pollutants like sulfur dioxide or mercury emissions, while fuel standards remain far below Western norms and existing regulations often are ignored.

To meet its goal for coal-fired electricity, the Power Ministry says the country will double coal production to 1 billion tons within five years, after already approving dozens of new coal plants. That will have predictable consequences for the country’s already filthy air, experts say.

The coal expansion plans through 2030 will at least double sulphur dioxide levels, along with those of nitrogen oxide and lung-clogging particulate matter, according to a study published in December by Urban Emissions and the Mumbai-based nonprofit group Conservation Action Trust.

Original Article Courtesy of: AP News (

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Beijing Airpocalypse



The scene could be straight from a science-fiction film: a vision of everyday life, but with one jarring difference that makes you realize you’re on another planet, or in a distant future era.

A sports class is in full swing on the outskirts of Beijing. Herds of children charge after a football on an artificial pitch, criss-crossed with colourful markings and illuminated in high definition by the glare of bright white floodlights. It all seems normal enough – except for the fact that this familiar playground scene is taking place beneath a gigantic inflatable dome.

“It’s a bit of a change having to go through an airlock on the way to class,” says Travis Washko, director of sports at the British School of Beijing. “But the kids love it, and parents can now rest assured their children are playing in a safe environment.”

The reason for the dome becomes apparent when you step outside. A grey blanket hangs in the sky, swamping the surroundings in a de-saturated haze and almost obscuring the buildings across the street. A red flag hangs above the school’s main entrance to warn it’s a no-go day: stay indoors at all costs. The airpocalypse has arrived.

Beijing’s air quality has long been a cause of concern, but the effects of its extreme levels of pollution on daily life can now be seen in physical changes to the architecture of the city. Buildings and spaces are being reconfigured and daily routines modified to allow normal life to go on beneath the toxic shroud.

Paper face masks have been common here for a long time, but now the heavy-duty kind with purifying canister filters – of the sort you might wear for a day of asbestos removal – are frequently seen on the streets. On bad days, bike lanes are completely deserted, as people stay at home or retreat to the conditioned environments of hermetically-sealed malls. It’s as if the 21-million-strong population of the Chinese capital is engaged in a mass city-wide rehearsal for life on an inhospitable planet. Only it’s not a rehearsal: the poisonous atmosphere is already here.

The British School is the latest of Beijing’s international colleges to go to the drastic lengths of building an artificial bubble in which to simulate a normal environment beneath the cloak of smog. Earlier this year, the nearby International School of Beijing lavished £3m on a pair of domes covering an area of six tennis courts, with hospital-grade air-filtration systems, following the lead of the Beijing satellite of exclusive British private school Dulwich College, which opened its own clean-air dome last year.

“Pollution is what all the parents are talking about,” says Nicole Washko, Travis’s wife, who also works at the school where their two daughters go, too. “More and more ex-pat families are leaving this country for the sake of their kids’ health. So if all the other schools have a dome, then we’ve got to have a dome.” A non-toxic learning environment is perhaps the least parents might expect, when they’re paying £20,000-a-year fees.

The British School has recently undergone a complete filtration overhaul, as if preparing for atmospheric armageddon, with new air curtains installed above the doors and almost 200 ceiling-mounted air purifiers put in to complement the floor-standing kind in each classroom. Windows must remain closed, and pupils must adhere to the strict air safety code. Reception classes stay indoors when the air quality index (AQI) hits 180 – measured on an official scale of 500 by various sensors across the city. For primary kids the limit is 200, while the eldest students are allowed to brave the elements up to 250. Anything above 300 and school trips are called off. The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, recommends a safe exposure level of 25.

“We were finding our sports fixtures were being cancelled so often, and kids were getting cabin fever from being kept in doors so much of the time,” says Travis Washko. “But now we have the dome, it’s perfect weather all year round.”

The day I arrive in Beijing, the AQI hits 460, just 40 points away from maximum doom. It’s the kind of air that seems to have a thickness to it, like the dense fug in an airport smokers’ cubicle. It sticks in the back of your throat, and if you blow your nose at the end of the day, it comes out black. Pedalling around the city (I am one of the only cyclists mad enough to be on the road) is an eerie experience – not just for the desolation, but for the strange neon glow coming from signs at the top of invisible buildings, like a supernatural, carcinogenic version of the northern lights. The midday sun hangs in the sky looking more like the moon, its glare filtered out by the haze.

Daily talk of the AQI has become a national pastime amongst ex-pats and Chinese locals alike. Air-quality apps are the staple of every smartphone. Chinese microblogs and parenting forums are monopolised by discussions about the best air filters (sales of the top brands have tripled over the last year alone) and chatter about holidays to “clean-air destinations” like Fujian, Hainan and Tibet.

This year’s Beijing marathon, held on a day that exceeded 400 on the scale, saw many drop out when their face-mask filters turned a shade of grey after just a few kilometres. Some said it felt like running through bonfire smoke. With such hazardous conditions increasingly common, it’s not surprising that foreign companies are now expected to pay a “hardship bonus” of up to 20 or 30% to those willing to work in the Chinese capital.

And yet denial still persists. Many Beijingers tend to use the word “wumai” (meaning haze), rather than “wuran” (pollution), to describe the poor air quality – and not just because it’s the official Newspeak of weather reports. It’s partly because, one local tells me, “if we had to face up to how much we’re destroying the environment and our bodies every day, it would just be too much.” A recent report by researchers in Shanghai described Beijing’s atmosphere as almost “uninhabitable for human beings” – not really something you want to be reminded of every day.

When I first came to Beijing in 2003, as a volunteer English teacher, my students told me that the city’s air wasn’t nearly as bad as London’s. “We know about your ‘pea-soupers’,” they would say, conjuring images of ye olde England shrouded in Dickensian gloom, happily ignoring the murky haze outside their own classroom window (then more often caused by sand storms than coal-burning power plants). Ten years later, the same former students are all too aware of the problem.

“We never used to have days as bad as this,” says Li Yutong, who has recently returned to Beijing after several years studying in Australia and working in Hong Kong. “I used to play football outside and go running, but you just can’t do that any more. School kids seem to get sick more often now – and they’re much fatter because they don’t play outside.”

Our school was sited across the street from the national Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which proved to be an alarming neighbour when SARS broke out and we watched the constant train of ambulances. Now its attentions have turned to an airborne threat of a different kind. In June, the centre released data which suggested that the average 18-year-old Beijinger will spend as much as 40% of their remaining years in ill-health – potentially suffering from cancer, cardiovascular or respiratory disease. Breaking the usual government silence on the issue, China’s former health minister, Chen Zhu, spoke out in January to reveal that between 350,000 and 500,000 people die prematurely each year here as a result of air pollution.

In response to mounting pressure, the government has introduced a host of new laws and regulations, increasing fines for environmental violations, and attempting to shut down high carbon-emission factories. But there is little to suggest any of their measures are having an effect.

“To be able to monitor these factories, local officials are supposed to visit them in person,” says Zhang Kai, lead campaigner on air pollution at Greenpeace East Asia. “But there is just no capacity to do that, and no policy in place to punish the polluting factories effectively.”

The national “airmageddon” has spawned a host of other attempts to solve the problem, ranging from the miraculous to the madcap. In the western city of Lanzhou, officially deemed by the World Health Organisation to have the worst air in China, officials have proposed digging great gullies into the surrounding mountains in the hope of trapping polluted air in a gigantic landscape gutter, like an atmospheric ha-ha. But Lanzhou’s poor air quality is caused less by burning coal and car fumes than by the local penchant for blowing up mountains with dynamite. More than 700 peaks are being levelled to provide swathes of flat land for development, and blowing out a huge gulley would only add to the problem.

Other solutions proposed in Beijing have a more futuristic air. Environmental scientist Yu Shaocai has proposed fitting water sprinklers to the tops of tall buildings, to try and “wash” the smog out of the sky. “Water should be sprayed into the atmosphere like watering a garden,” Yu wrote in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, noting that most urban pollution hangs below 100m, so it could be caught by an artificial shower from the city’s taller towers. An expert in “wet deposition” (how rain can clean particles from the air), he thinks he’s got the science sorted, and the main challenge is just to “design the specific spray system that can spray a good raindrop size and [ensure] the most scavenging efficiencies for the air pollution.” But his hastily Photoshopped visuals of garden sprinklers stuck on top of skyscrapers don’t do much to inspire confidence.

In fact, wet deposition has long been hailed as a possible solution by higher powers, with their lofty pretensions to control the elements. China’s Meteorological Administration issued a paper last year which ambitiously declared all local officials would be able to use artificial rain to clear away smog by 2015. And as the Washington Post reported, the idea might not be so far from reality: because of chronic water shortages, China has invested heavily in artificial rain since the late 1950s. The country now boats a battery of 7,000 cloud-seeding artillery guns, the same number of launchers for chemical-bearing rockets, and more than 50 planes – all manned by an army of 50,000 employees, ready to launch full-scale warfare on the weather.

At the other end of the scale are the initiatives that aim to affect people’s attitudes on the ground. Driven by an effort to raise awareness of the smog problem and spur the government into action, a host of critical art projects have been spawned. British artist Matt Hope has designed a “breathing bicycle”, a home-made Heath Robinson-style contraption that filters air as you pedal along and feeds it through a tube into a fighter-pilot breathing mask. Cycling around the hutong alleys, looking like Darth Vader being attacked by a hoover, he’s certainly attracted some funny looks.

“It’s a provocational prototype,” Hope says. “It’s pretty archaic, but then burning coal is pretty archaic too. It’s an intentionally ridiculous solution to a ridiculous problem.”

Another plucky Dutch designer thinks he can turn the pollution into a lucrative commodity. Over the past few months, Daan Roosegaarde has been meeting with the mayor of Beijing to talk through his plan for “electronic vacuum cleaners” to be installed in parks across the city, to suck smog from the skies. It might sound far-fetched, but he says his working prototype should be ready by next summer.

“I want to move away from statistics and the usual factsheet discussion,” says Roosegaarde, talking at excitable break-neck speed, a man on a mission. “If you create a place that’s 75% cleaner than the rest of the city, you create a powerful incentive for people to clean the whole city.”

His proposal, developed in partnership with scientists at the Technological University of Delft in the Netherlands, uses buried coils of copper to create an electrostatic field that attracts smog particles, creating a kind of halo of clean air above it. “It’s similar to how static electricity attracts your hair,” Roosegaarde says. “We charge the smog particles and suck them to the ground.”

He has also developed a mobile version which uses the same technology, but housed in a vertical totem-pole structure that sits atop a small temple-like pavilion, akin to those found in Beijing’s parks. It’s here where the real alchemy will happen. “We’re going to turn dust into diamonds,” Roosegaarde says. “We will condense a 1,000 cubic metres of smog down into a millimetre-cube carbon crystal – which we will set like a diamond on a ring.” When you buy a smog ring, he says, you’re effectively donating 1,000 cubic metres of clean air to the city.

“I like the idea that you can take a problem and turn it into something desirable,” Roosegaarde adds. “Of course it’s not a practical solution, but I’m hoping that smog jewellery will get people talking about the problem – and when they see these clear circles of blue sky above the parks, they’ll demand clean air for the whole city.”

The volume of discontent has been rising since Beijingers got a chance to see exactly what clear blue skies looked like last month, when miraculous weather was laid on for visiting world leaders, in town for the high-profile Apec summit. With the kind of draconian measures unseen since the 2008 Olympics, the entire region was locked down to guarantee clear skies for the precious week. Production in all factories within a 125-mile radius of the city was suspended, half the cars were banned from the roads, schools were closed, and public-sector workers were given compulsory holidays. No weddings were registered, no passports issued, no taxes paid, no fresh products delivered, and no banks open. Bodies went uncremated and burials were partly suspended.

The result? A climatic Potemkin facade of perfect blue skies – which soon became an internet meme, coining the term “Apec blue”.

“It’s not sky blue or ocean blue. It’s not Prussian blue or Tiffany blue,” wrote one user of the microblogging site, Weibo. “A few years ago it was Olympic blue, and now it’s Apec blue.” It quickly came to mean something of fleeting, artificial beauty, probably too good to be true. “He’s not really into you,” went one recurring online saying. “It’s just an Apec blue.”

Returning to Beijing during the Apec week was like arriving in a completely different city. What had been a ghostly world of streets that disappeared if more than a block away, became a wide-open place of grand avenues terminating at distant mountains, visible for the first time.

And back at the British School, the smog dome was empty. Pupils were enjoying a rare outdoor lesson beneath a different kind of artificial roof – the crystal clear canopy of Apec blue.

Original Article Courtesy of: The Guardian (

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Backyard burger and wiener roasts targeted by EPA

r620-s_c883a454217e315c762d8677632940dbThe Environmental Protection Agency has its eyes on pollution from backyard barbecues.

The agency announced that it is funding a University of California project to limit emissions resulting in grease drippings with a special tray to catch them and a “catalytic” filtration system.

The $15,000 project has the “potential for global application,” said the school.

The school said that the technology they will study with the EPA grant is intended to reduce air pollution and cut the health hazards to BBQ “pit masters” from propane-fueled cookers.

Charged with keeping America’s air, water and soil clean, the EPA has been increasingly looking at homeowners, especially their use of pollution emitting tools like lawn mowers.

The school is proposing two fixes to reduce emissions from barbecues. First, they want to cut back on grease flare-ups. The idea: “A slotted and corrugated tray is inserted immediately prior to meat flipping, and removed immediately after. This short contact time prevents the tray from over-heating and volatilizing the collected grease. This collected grease will then drip off into a collection tray and can be used at the pit master’s discretion.”

But, total capture isn’t “practical,” so a filter and fan are proposed for installation. “The secondary air filtration system is composed of a single pipe duct system which contains a specialized metal filter, a metal fan blade, a drive shaft, and an accompanying power system with either a motorized or manual method. This system can be powered by either an exterior electric motor with a chain-driven drive shaft, directly spinning the fan blade, or a hand-powered crank,” said the project write-up.

The grant is part of the EPA’s “National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014).”

The EPA also said that it does not regulate backyard barbecues. Research conducted by the University of California Riverside is part of the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program, which is a student design competition for sustainability.

The expected results, according to the proposal:

“We expect to limit the overall air pollution PM [particulate matter] emissions from barbecuing and to alleviate some of the acute health hazards that a barbecue pit master can experience from inhalation. The particulate matter present during cooking with and without the grease diverter and PM2.5 filters will be tested and compared to that of current data using a conventional propane barbecue using a fumehood chamber with detectors at CE-CERT. Personal exposure of PM2.5 will also be monitored throughout the experimentation period to determine the degree of acute exposure of particulates to the cook.”

Original Article Courtesy of: Washington Examiner (

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