A self-contained, waterless toilet, designed and built using a $777,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has the capability of heating human waste enough to sterilize the waste and create biochar, a highly porous charcoal. The toilet, fueled by the sun, is being developed to help some of the 2.5 billion people around the world lacking safe and sustainable sanitation, and will be unveiled in India this month.
Scarcity of clean water is one of the most serious global challenges. In its spearhead program, a research center in Finland developed energy-efficient methods for reuse of water in industrial processes and means for recovering valuable minerals and materials from waste for recycling. Toward this purpose, rapid membrane-based tools were developed for identification of environmental pollutants.
For 15 years trucks have been hauling decades worth of plutonium-contaminated waste to what is supposed to be a safe and final resting place a half mile underground in the salt beds of the Permian Basin in New Mexico. But back-to-back accidents and an above-ground radiation release shuttered the government's only deep underground nuclear waste dump and raised questions about the $5-billion-a-year program for cleaning up legacy waste.
It has long been known that free, ionic silver particles can be highly toxic to aquatic organisms. Yet we a lack of detailed knowledge about the doses required to trigger a response and how the organisms deal with the stress. To learn more about the cellular processes, scientists in Switzerland subjected algae to a range of silver concentrations. The results are reassuring, but the presence of other stressors could compound the problem.
While taking in the scenery during long road trips, passengers also may be taking in potentially harmful ultrafine particles (UFPs) that come into the car through outdoor air vents. Closing the vents reduces UFPs, but causes exhaled carbon dioxide to build up. Now, scientists have developed a high-efficiency cabin air filter that could reduce UFP exposure by 93% and keep carbon dioxide levels low.
A team of engineers from the Univ. of California, Los Angeles has developed a smartphone attachment and application to test water for the presence of mercury, a toxic heavy metal. The new platform could significantly reduce the time and cost of the testing, and it could be particularly useful in regions with limited technological resources.
More than 2,800 commercially available applications are now based on nanoparticles, but this influx of nanotechnology is not without risks, say researchers at Missouri Univ. of Science and Technology. They have been systematically studying the effects of transition metal oxide nanoparticles on human lung cells and have found that the nanoparticles’ toxicity to the cells increased as they moved right on the periodic table.
Researchers at Oregon State Univ. have discovered novel compounds produced by certain types of chemical reactions, such as those found in grilling meat, that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds which are known carcinogens. These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily polluted urban air or dietary exposure.
Researchers in Switzerland studying a natural wetland near a decommissioned uranium mine in Limousin, France, have shown that under certain circumstances the uranium present in the wetland could be more mobile than previously believed.
For millions of homes, plants, wood and other types of “biomass” serve as an essential source of fuel, especially in developing countries, but their mercury content has raised flags among environmentalists and researchers. Scientists are now reporting that among dozens of sources of biomass, processed pellets burned under realistic conditions in China emit relatively low levels of the potentially harmful substance.
Modern epoxies are frequently made stronger, lighter and more resilient with the addition of multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), a special form of carbon that under a microscope looks like rolls of chicken wire. Few analytical methods have been employed, however, to determine the effect this material has on environmental or health safety. NIST has developed a suite of tests for evaluating the performance of these nanocomposite materials.
Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo. Scientists found “superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010, in wastewater disinfected by chlorination.
Blending ethanol into fuel to cut air pollution from vehicles carries a hidden risk that toxic or even explosive gases may find their way into buildings. The problems would likely occur in buildings with cracked foundations that happen to be in the vicinity of fuel spills. Vapors that rise from contaminated groundwater can be sucked inside; and, once there, trapped pools of methane could ignite and toxic hydrocarbons causing health issues.
Funded by prominent Silicon Valley investors and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Hampton Creek Foods seeks to disrupt a global egg industry that backers say wastes energy, pollutes the environment, causes disease outbreaks and confines chickens to tiny spaces. The company, which just started selling a mayonnaise made without eggs, is part of a new generation of so-called food-tech ventures that aim to change the way we eat.
Chemical engineers at Rice Univ. have found a new catalyst that can rapidly break down nitrites, a common and harmful contaminant in drinking water that often results from overuse of agricultural fertilizers. Nitrites and their more abundant cousins, nitrates, are inorganic compounds that are often found in both groundwater and surface water. The compounds are a health hazard.
Colorado's proposal to curb air pollutants from oil and gas operations got praise from industry representatives and environmental activists Thursday at its first hearing. But both sides warned the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission that there will still be haggling over the particulars of three rule changes introduced this week.
Scientists have long known that phosphorus fuels growth of algae in lakes and streams. Wisconsin Sea Grant researchers have found that nitrogen levels are a factor in whether or not these algae—specifically, blue-green algae—produce toxins. The findings, published in PLOS ONE have parts of the scientific community buzzing.
An instrument on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has learned more than ever before about the high-energy hazards at and around the moon. These dangers are serious but manageable, and human exploration missions will rely on these measurements to know how much radiation to expect in deep space and how best to shield against it.
A new study shows that the reduction of pollution emissions from power plants in the mid-Atlantic is making an impact on the quality of the water that ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. The study confirms a decreased amount of emissions of nitrogen oxide from coal-fired power plants.
Researchers at Purdue Univ. have developed prototypes of a water disinfection system to take advantage of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, which is plentiful in many areas where clean water is lacking. Their water disinfection system pumps water through a UV-transparent pipe placed on a parabolic reflector, effectively magnifying the effect of UV radiation, which damages microorganism DNA.
For those wanting to keep their distance from health threats like E. coli-contaminated lettuce or the flu, there are two upcoming apps for that. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory hosted a competition last summer where graduate students used Android development tools and web-based analytics to design mobile apps that could help fight the threats of food-related illnesses and the flu.
With the rise of the iPhone, Android and other mobile devices has come a flood of applications designed to help people stay healthy. Food and Drug Administration officials say they will now begin regulating applications and gadgets that work with smartphones to take medical readings and help users monitor their health.
A study of data from hundreds of soil samples taken around six old water tower sites in southern Rhode Island finds that even when lead levels on the surface are low, concentrations can sometimes be greater at depths down to a foot. The findings inform efforts to assess the effect of lead paint from old water towers on surrounding properties.
More than one billion people worldwide rely on fish as an important source of animal protein, consuming low levels of methylmercury. Methylmercury compounds specifically target the central nervous system, but now researchers have combined synchrotron x-rays with methylmercury-poisoned zebrafish larvae to learn that they may also affect our vision.
Human activities are changing the basic chemistry of many rivers in the Eastern U.S., with potentially major consequences for urban water supplies and aquatic ecosystems, a Univ. of Maryland-led study has found. Over time spans of 25 to 60 years, two-thirds of the 97 streams and rivers reviewed in the study had become significantly more alkaline and none had become more acidic.