Very Stressful time for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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US-EPA Environmental topics page cover photo

I read a post (copied below) on a friend’s Facebook page and as she’s a serious environmental scientist I believe this is actually happening. Since reading the post I searched other recent news on the subject and found an article in the Independent Newspaper online on the subject, which suggests this is actually happening.

This is the post I read on Facebook

Worth knowing.
From an EPA staff:
“So I work at the EPA and yeah it’s as bad as you are hearing:

The entire agency is under lockdown, the website, facebook, twitter, you name it is static and can’t be updated. All reports, findings, permits and studies are frozen and not to be released. No presentations or meetings with outside groups are to be scheduled.

Any Press contacting us are to be directed to the Press Office which is also silenced and will give no response.

All grants and contracts are frozen from the contractors working on Superfund sites to grad school students working on their thesis.

We are still doing our work, writing reports, doing cancer modeling for pesticides hoping that this is temporary and we will be able to serve the public soon. But many of us are worried about an ideologically-fueled purging and if you use any federal data I advise you gather what you can now.

We have been told the website is being reworked to reflect the new administration’s policy.

Feel free to copy and paste, you all pay for the government and you should know what’s going on. I am posting this as a fellow citizen and not in any sort of official capacity.”

If you share, please do so with copy and paste.”

A recent Washington post article confirms that “Trump administration tells EPA to freeze all grants, contracts”

Carbon Brief has posted on the subject

“The world is now into the seventh full day of Donald Trump’s presidency and there is little sign of any rest from the unrelenting news cycle it has fuelled. Fresh developments and controversies are dropping by the hour. But, as yet, we still don’t have much in the way of firm policies relating specifically to climate change.There has been talk of funding cuts and reform to the US’s relationship to the United Nations, but still nothing firm on Trump’s campaign pledge to pull out of the Paris Agreement. However, a major cloud still hangs over the future of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the anti-science rhetoric and threats coming from Trump’s team have sparked some extraordinary online resistance since last week’s inauguration. A “March for Science” is already being organised.”

I checked the US-EPA website and most of the staff are listed as ‘acting’ this and that. I think this is very alarming news to environmental scientists not just in the US, but globally and I hope, for the sake of our already fragile Earth, that Trump and his team who agrees with his crazy ideas won’t last their term in office.

 

Controlling legionella in a UK hospital using copper and silver ionisation—A case study

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legionella – shutterstock.com

 

This is a summary of my recently published paper based on legionella control data from a hospital in the UK. The paper presents data from before and after using a copper and silver ionisation (CSI) system, comprising 99.99% copper and 99.99% silver electrodes, installed as a replacement to a low performing chlorine dioxide system. The CSI system was used in conjunction with the existing temperature regime and was installed upstream of the water storage tanks to allow adequate build-up of copper and silver in tanks so that good levels were available for distribution to outlets.

Samples were taken monthly and analyzed for legionella, by the culture method, and for copper and silver by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy/Mass Spectrometry over a four-year period. Temperature was also measured.

Table 1 below shows the results for legionella counts and water temperature before the CSI was installed. The highest count was observed in the cold water supply to a Thermostatic Mixing Valve (TMV) at 19.6 °C. This shows that keeping cold water temperatures below 20 °C at outlets as recommended by the Health Safety Executive (HSE) did not control L. pneumophila s1 at this outlet. The variation in the hot water temperature recorded (52.0–59.4 °C) showed the difficulty of keeping hot water temperatures above 55 °C, as recommended by the HSE HSG274.

Figure 1 below shows the number of samples tested as well as number and percentage positives for legionella (fail). The CSI system was installed in October 2011 and the system had initial problems during the commissioning stage and up to four months after commissioning, owing to deadlegs, deadends and low-use outlets. However, the highest number of contaminated samples observed after commissioning was in May 2012, when a total of 10 outlets out of 140 tested showed legionella counts ranging from 100 to 500 cfu/L, except for one count of 1300 cfu/L. Once these problems were solved, legionella was controlled consistently, with only low positives counts occurrences in 2013. Monthly monitoring of outlets has showed no positive result for 15 months, between January 2014 and April 2015.

Figure 1 – Number of samples tested and number and percentages of positive samples for legionella between Aug 2011 and April 2015 in a UK hospital.

It was concluded that: legionella could not be effectively controlled using a temperature regime alone, even when temperature was maintained at below 20 °C or at above 55 °C; and that copper and silver ionisation was effective for legionella control provided the system was regularly monitored to ensure the required concentration of ions was maintained, so that potential legionella sources, such as build-up of biofilms in rubber-lined hoses, were dealt with as soon as detected.

The Copper & Silver Ionisation System

I have also published this as a LinkedIn article.

Link to abstract of the original peer reviewed article

 

Keeping the lights on and saving the planet

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I finally found some time to write about an event organised by the South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth branch, which took place in Leighton Buzzard on Saturday, 26th November 2016. The event was very well attended and the presentation by Neil Witney, Senior Policy Advisor for the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy entitled ‘Keeping the lights on and saving the planet’ was informative and gave the audience a good idea of the steps the government in the UK is taking to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emission.

Neil talked about the problem at a global level, what is going well in the UK, where the UK need to take further action, and how local action can help. I have given below some of the points he discussed  in his presentation. This is by no means a comprehensive account of the whole presentation, but some of the points raised.

At a global level, 2016 saw the extent of the Arctic wintertime sea ice hit another record low and 2015 was the warmest year on record yet. To make matters worse, the next two decades will see global energy consumption increase substantially, which will mean an increase in CO2 emissions considering fossil fuel is still the main source of energy in many industrial countries.

What is the UK doing to reduce CO2 emissions

Diagram 1 below, from the presentation, shows CO2 emitted by the different sectors from 1990 to 2015. Decreases in UK CO2 emissions was greatest in industry, power and waste sectors, while transport, buildings and agriculture have not shown much decrease.
 CO2 emissions by sectors.pngDiagram 1 – CO2 emitted by various sectors in the UK

The  data below, also from the presentation, shows how much electricity was generated from renewable sources in the UK in 2015. Of a total of 337,700 GWh only 66,460 GWh (less than 20% of the total) came from renewables, which isn’t great, but it is a step in the right direction. It can be seen that energy from wind was the main source, followed by plant biomass.

Renewables electricity generation in 2015:

Total wind generation – 40,310 GWh

Plant biomass 18,587 GWh

Solar photovoltaics 7,561 GWh

Shoreline wave/tidal 2 GWh

Of total of : 337,700 GWh


Where does the UK need to take further action?

The UK managed to reduce CO2 emissions from 103 Mt in 1990 to 85 Mt in 2015. However, the target for 2050 is to lower CO2 emissions much further to 19 Mt CO2. Space heating accounts for around 38% of CO2 emissions in the UK and, in 2013 space and water heating accounted for 66% of the energy used in households. This means that if we are to meet the UK’s 2050 obligations, we will need to achieve complete decarbonisation of heat and this will be achievable only if we act now. Renewables sources are clearly one way to achieve this and another suggested way to help achieve this is smart-grid and smart meters. smart-gridSee this video

The Committee on Climate Change stated that:

“Progress in improving the energy efficiency of buildings has stalled since 2012:… Take-up of heat pumps and low-carbon district heating remains minimal…

Clear, consistent and credible policies are needed across these areas that are attractive to owners and landlords of both homes and workplaces, that overcome behavioural barriers and that can build up skills and supply chains…”

How can local action help?

  • Local action in relation to planning – engaging with the local plan.
  • Looking at the needs of the building stock as a whole, including energy efficiency, low carbon heating and electricity generation.
  • Building by building – planning to improve individual buildings next time they are reviewed.

During questions at the end, which was chaired by Andrew Selous, MP, it became clear that some action is being taken locally and a few people also gave suggestions on how to reduce emissions locally. For example, making sure new housing development use electricity from renewables. It appears that Leighton Buzzard is fortunate to have one of the largest capacity to store electricity compared to other UK towns. We also have a windmill and the solar farm nearby generating electricity. Victoria Harvey, from the local Friends of the Earth even suggested we might be in a position to export our renewable energy to other parts of the UK and Neil thinks this might be a possibility. One point which was made by Neil and Andrew Selous was that if people have ideas or concerns, they should let the council or MP know, by writing to them or doing petitions, because they are not psychic.

How do we power the UK?

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If you live in Central Bedfordshire, UK, and you care about environmental issues, this is a must-attend event, ‘How do we power the UK’. The event was organised by the South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth and it will be chaired by the South West Bedfordshire MP, Andrew Selous. The guest speaker is Neil Witney, Senior Policy Advisor for the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The local energy expert Esther Clarke will speak about what we can do locally.

The event takes place this coming Saturday, 26th November 2016, and we are hoping that many locals from Leighton Buzzard, Central Bedfordshire, and the surrounding area will attend. I certainly will.

Keeping the Buzz in Leighton Buzzard – Part 2

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bees-flowers

Most of us know that bees are under threat in many parts of the world, including the UK, where pesticides are the main threat. Without bees to pollinate our crops and flowering plants, our entire food system would also be under threat. There are many groups around the UK doing a lot of work to save bees from extinction. In my town, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, Friends of the Earth (FoE) local group has led a very successful campaign to increase our bees’ population (see my previous blog). On 29th September 2016, Paul De Zylva from national FoE, who designed and led the Bee Cause Campaign came to talk to the Leighton Buzzard local group, who has been working hard to create bee-friendly habitats.

Summary of Paul De Zylva’s talk by Ken Barry from local FoE

Paul de Zylva of national FoE gave an enthusiastic talk to a gathering of 15  people who have all been working on South Beds Friends of the Earth Bee-friendly Campaign.

Paul started his FoE career in a local group in Croydon. He stressed that FoE are very reliant on local groups and we should never underestimate what we are doing or what we can achieve just because our actions may be local. The work of FoE is all about the accumulation of little connections, not about numbers. Paul has stressed this in meetings with government ministers. The more local the actions, the more credible and successful they are.

We are in an area where more bee habitats have been created than anywhere else in the country. This does not just benefit bees but lots of other species. Plants can also be pollinated by ladybirds, hoverflies, and moths. We should help all species to thrive. FoE has always been involved in protecting and saving wildlife, starting with their campaign to save the Whales. Paul suggested that, as well as our other important campaigning, we should all get back to supporting nature. If we look after natural resources we look after ourselves. The best example of this is in alleviating flooding, by protecting natural habitats.

Bees have become a fantastic proxy for the whole of nature. Our urban areas can be improved and the small things we do can help. Signing petitions is great but this also needs to be backed up by local action by groups such as ours. FoE has achieved great things nationally such as the Climate Change Act and the National Pollinator Strategy, which set out a 10-year plan to help pollinating insects survive and thrive, but we are not reliant on the government. We need to work for our local environment and tell people and show them what we are doing. As we know, small town politics can be a bind but we should not be put off. We should expect officialdom to be very tricky at times, but we can work round it, with clever use of social media.

As cuts hit we may have to fill the gap and should not do this for nothing. We need to maintain a power to bargain. We can have the advantage and negotiate real partnerships but working to our definitions.

FoE is still working to guess what the future holds as a result of Brexit. Even the government does not know what will happen. What will be the future for CAP and the Common Fisheries Policy, Habitats Directive and the Defence of Nature. All the other NGOs dealing with wildlife are in the same position e.g. RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, but they are continuing to work with their European colleagues.

Nature is very much under threat at the moment and this has been highlighted by the recent State of Nature Report. Three out of five species are in long-term decline including many species of bees. We need more subsidies to encourage wildlife-friendly farming. This is a chance for us to make reasonable demands. People,in general, want to see more and better nature on a daily basis.

Protecting nature is just as important as decent healthcare and public transport. We may be in the majority but we have not convinced everybody yet. We need to talk more to people and be more persuasive. The third anniversary of the neonicotinoids ban is approaching and FoE is to publicize this. A report is expected from the government’s Food Safety Committee in January/February 2017. Nature is not a luxury, it is everyone’s right!

Many people across Leighton Buzzard are involved in helping create and maintain habitats for bees and were present at Paul De Zylva’s talk including: Tony Tompkins from the Narrow Gauge railway who are replanting their wildflower area with help from the local FoE and a grant from national FoE; Pippa Sandford who looks after the Linslade Memorial Gardens; Roy who looks after the orchard and the river and also does all the publicity and printing; Daphne who does all the photography;  Rory who is the local wildlife expert and who has done wildlife surveys; Gennaore Borrelli,  who has a bee-friendly garden behind his shop ‘A touch of Class’ on Bridge street; and  Peter Hanley who looks after the site by Woodman Close.

Follow this link to join Friends of the Earth Bee Cause.

Legionella and Environmental Action Platform – LEAP3 Event

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It is well known that Legionella is potentially deadly, especially to immune-suppressed hospitals’ patients, such as the very young and the elderly and hence together with other pathogens it has to be kept under control in hospitals.  I had the pleasure of attending the LEAP 3 event last Thursday, 23 June 2016, at the Discovery Centre in Milton Keynes, UK. This is the second time that I have attended the LEAP one-day event since I started a research consultancy on Legionella control in water of large buildings.

As I mentioned in the blog post I wrote about my first impressions last year, this is such a nice change from the usual conference setting. The set up is a sort of roundtable discussion with experts on various aspects of Legionella and this year there were discussions on the new updated version of the HTM 04-01 as well. There were a couple of presentations by sponsors of the event, but these were short and sweet.

The five tables provided opportunities to discuss biofilms, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Legionella and other hospital-acquired infections, chemical and microbial analysis, Estates and compliance, which included the new addition of the hot topic that is the new HTM 04-01. Since each table session lasted for 45 minutes, there was an opportunity to have in-depth discussions too.

Below are some facts, figures and information I gathered at the various tables:

  1. A study on aeruginosa contamination in a UK hospital found different strains in different patients affected, suggesting the contamination did not come from the same source, which makes it very hard to find the sources. The study also found that a water strain was the same as that found in a patient affected by Pseudomonas.
  2. If patients are admitted with community acquired pneumonia, they’re treated with antibiotics and are not tested for Legionella or Pseudomonas.
  3. Mono-block taps are for residential use only and shouldn’t be fitted with rubber-lined hoses, since rubber-lined hoses are not allowed in drinking water supply.
  4. Estates officers have to make sure systems fitters have a WRAS certificate and present it.
  5. The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors lists approved plumbers (http://www.aphc.co.uk/find_an_installer.asp).
  6. The HTM 04-01 asks hospitals to appoint someone to carry out day to day maintenance. The HTM Part A says you have to appoint a person to evaluate the risks and put a system in place to address the risks identified.
  7. Wholesome water is water fit for human consumption which is supplied by your water companies.
  8. Water coming into a hospital to a storage tank should be consumed with 24 hours.
  9. Pseudomonas will grow at 4 ⁰C, so even though water temperatures between 5 and 20 ⁰C may be safe with regard to Legionella, it might not be safe in regard to Pseudomonas. I know, though, from my analysis of hospital data, that Legionella will survive and even grow at water temperatures between 5 and 20 ⁰C (see the abstract of my paper in Press – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213343716302275).
  10. Coffee seems to taste better from a quaint mobile tricycle outlet.

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From the above, it is clear that most of my notes were made during my visit to the Estates and Compliance table, chaired by Mile Ralph and John Murray from Sodexo. This is because I was planning to share it here and I know this is the topic a lot of people are more concerned about and some of it may be new information for some people if they’re new to compliance.

I like attending this event, not just for the lovely tranquil country setting, excellent hospitality and great food and coffee, but especially because it is informal and great for networking with experts working and studying the subject of control of hospital-acquired infections, especially Legionella and Pseudomonas, which is an area I’ve been researching in the past couple of years, with the view to publishing my research results whenever I discover new findings.

Link to the L.E.A.P 03 website for future enquiries on how to take part. http://www.mantaworkshops.co.uk/#!blank/ft30a

 

How do trees sleep at night?

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DSC_0144-birchTrees were observed overnight and their branches become droopy, which the scientists making the measurements compared to a sleep/awake pattern just like that seen in humans.

The study was carried by Hungarian scientists, from the Centre for Ecological Research in Tihany, Hungary, who observed branches of birch trees drooping by as much as 10 centimetres at the tips towards the end of the night. They used laser beams to scan trees in Austria and Finland between sunset and sunrise. From the time it takes beams to bounce back from branches and leaves, they could measure the movements of each tree, in three dimensions and at resolutions of centimetres.

“It was a very clear effect, and applied to the whole tree,” said one of the scientists,  András Zlinszky to the New Scientist “No one has observed this effect before at the scale of whole trees, and I was surprised by the extent of the changes.”

Scanning was done on calm nights to avoid wind effects, and at the solar equinox in both countries to ensure the length of night were roughly the same. “We’re certain it’s not caused by some other effect, added Norbert Pfeifer of the Technical University of Vienna in Austria, another team member.

Studies had only been done before in small plants, so this is the first time the phenomenon was seen in fully grown trees. The drooping effect is probably caused by loss of internal water pressure within plant cells, a phenomenon called turgor pressure. “It means branches and leaf stems are less rigid, and more prone to drooping under their own weight,” says Zlinszky. Turgor pressure, in turn, is influenced by photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to create sugar from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis stops in the dark, so this in itself may explain why the branches droop, explained Zlinszky.

The trees may also be “resting” their branches. During the day, branches and leaves are angled higher, allowing leaves to catch more sunlight, but this is energy-intensive and serves no purpose at night, when there’s no light.

So is the drooping deliberate, dictated by an active sleep-night cycle, or passive, dictated by differences in the availability of water and light? “This remains to be decided,” says Zlinszky.

Hmm, I think the drooping at night time is dictated by differences in light availability, but I still like the idea of saying the trees are asleep when their branches are droopy at night!

Link to original article in the New Scientist.

 

 

Earth Day 2016 – What is the single most effective thing we can do for the environment?

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Photo: Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland – Photo by VL Barbosa

As today is Earth Day, I looked through my blog posts in typepad and found a suitable one from 2009, but still relevant today, to share here to mark Earth Day 2016. It was the last in a series of blogs to answer some pressing eco-questions.The main question/message of the series of eco-quations was “what is the single most effective thing we can do for the environment?” Other questions answered in the blog are:

How long does it take for a micro-windmill to pay for itself?

Will washing my clothes at 30 oC really get them clean?

What does the circling-arrow logo on European packaging mean?

To find out the answers click on the link below to the original blog post and read on.

http://cabiblog.typepad.com/hand_picked/2009/04/earth-day-what-is-the-single-most-effective-thing-we-can-do-for-the-environment-my-final-batch-of-ec.html

 

World Water Day – 22 March 2016

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BarbosaPhotos-DSCN4762-WestCapeSeaThis blog post is to mark World Water Day, which this year was on the theme ‘water and jobs’ – a theme quite appropriate for me, since I have been working in water-related jobs for the past 16 years, including my work for a PhD on water treatment. As a water specialist, I have been posting blogs on World Water Day since 2008, when I started blogging as part of my job in publishing.

Water is essential for life and an important resource to virtually all economic activities, including food production, energy and industrial outputs. Clean water is an indispensable natural resource for a healthy life for humans and for freshwater ecosystems and, therefore, demands careful management. World Water Day is about highlighting the need to make sure that every person in the world has access to clean water, which is a basic human right.

Some important water facts and figures

  • It takes between 2000 and 5000 litres of water to produce the food consumed by one person in a single day.
  • So no wonder that, of all our economy’s activities, agriculture consumes the most water, being responsible for 70% of worldwide consumption.
  • Meat production is particularly costly to water resources because the livestock drinks and eats cereals grown using water. As a result, it takes 5 to 20 times more water to produce 1kg of meat than 1kg of cereal.

How can we help to save water – our most precious resource?
Here are some simple starting steps:

  • Turn off the taps when not in use.
  • Detect and fix water leaks around premises and homes.
  • Re-use water for activities that do not require clean water.
  • Eat less meat by having meat-free days or become a vegetarian for at least a period of time. If more people became vegetarians, there would be less demand for meat and, eventually, supply would reduce too and so would agricultural water use. An organisation called Water Footprint Network provides data on the water footprint of our everyday foods. For example, approximately 300L of water is required to produce 1 Kg of vegetables; 1600L to produce 1 Kg of cereal and 15400L to produce 1 Kg of beef.
  • Cook only the right amount of food: every food thrown away is water wasted, which could have fulfilled other needs.
  • Support WaterAid by donating to the charity or getting involved in their events and campaigns. WaterAid has been working for more than 30 years to transform the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people by improving their access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • And one for governments: implement legislation with regard to pollution control and efficient water use to all sectors of the economy. The UK government has the Water Act 2014, which is a start.

Everybody should be able to stop water wastage, as long as we keep in mind that while we’re taking water availability for granted, there are regions of the world where access to clean water is so limited that people, especially children, are dying of diseases acquired due to the lack of potable water. Even the USA has started to worry about water scarcity; the Obama Administration hosted the first-ever White House Water Summit to highlight the importance of creating solutions to solve the water challenges of today. The outcome of the summit was published in this report.

Be also aware that water functions as the link between the climate system and human society; most natural catastrophes are water related, e.g. floods and droughts. If we manage water, we can, to a large extent, manage climate variability and thus also be better prepared for climate change.

How to deal with British Gas prices increases in one easy step

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When I heard in thouse-icon-clip-arthe news recently that British Gas had made a huge profit last year, I thought they might for once do the decent thing and share a bit of it with their loyal customers, rather than give most of it to their senior management through big fat bonuses. As it turned out I was wrong, of course, because earlier this week I received a renewal for my Homecare 400 service from British Gas, and I was surprised to be informed that my payments are to be increased by 15% as of the next renewal.

The first and only step I took was to phone them the next day to cancel the service because I wasn’t prepared to pay a 15% increase to any service, when inflation was actually negative last year and fuel prices has been coming down steadily in the past year, hence the huge profit for energy companies like British gas. As a result of the phone call, they offered me a 20% discount so that I would stay with them, but I said no thanks because I was so fed up with them already.

If you don’t know this already, here is one piece of good advice, always phone the company and tell them you’re leaving them because their prices are too steep and you’ll find most of them will offer to lower their prices to keep your custom, especially if you pay by direct debt. I do this all the time. This time even though British Gas did offer a discount, I actually found, through the Uswitch website that there are a lot of better deals for the same service than British Gas.

The Homecare 400 service is a maintenance and breakdown cover insurance for your boiler and main central heating system. The policy also covers other plumbing, drains and electrics, including the cost of all call-outs and repairs to the whole central heating and hot water system, electrics and an annual service of the boiler. It is ideal if you haven’t the expertise or the time to fix your own system. You pay an amount per year and you can spread the payment monthly to lighten the load.

The comments from my friends, when I posted about my cancellation of the service from British gas on Facebook, were:

“Good on yer, Vera”

“Bigger companies are even more greedy”

“Such a lot of money isn’t it? And if the boiler conks out you still have to pay!!

“Wish most people had the guts to do the same. They would beg for your business. Good girl!”

I totally agree with my friends’ comments and I too wish more people would take this simple step, phone them and threaten to cancel or actually cancel the service, so that the balance of power is readdressed and they, the big corporations, will be begging you for your business!

Link to comparison website http://www.uswitch.com/boiler-cover/application/