Have You Noticed, “The Elephant in the Room is Climate Change”

by Duane Nichols on April 6, 2021

Climate change and excess plastics necessitate major changes in society

The “Story of the Century” is Slowly Gaining in Status

From an Article by Peter Dykstra, Environmental Health News, April 4, 2021

By 2050, many of climate change’s worst projected impacts could be fully upon us — or fully upon our descendants. The question is, will a half-century of sustained manmade upheaval ever dominate the top of the news? ….. I’m skeptical.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has had a lock on Top Story for a year now. In the U.S., two horrid mass shootings, one with strongly racist overtones, prompted a flurry of headlines, and a week of outrage, feigned or otherwise, about arming or disarming the populace.

Reporting on such stories is of course vital. But the press follows the public’s attention span. In his long-awaited first press conference on March 25, President Biden fielded 10 questions from the White House Press corps. It was almost a no-brainer that climate change wouldn’t make the cut. But wait a minute – neither did coronavirus. The shiny objets du jour included immigration, the filibuster, Afghanistan, China, and, of course, whether President Biden will run for a second term in 2024.

The liberal press watchdog group Media Matters for America issues annual tallies of press coverage of climate-related issues. They found 2020 was the sparsest year for climate coverage on U.S. commercial cable news since 2016. Granted, the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic sucked the oxygen out of newsrooms. But the record Atlantic hurricane season, and multiple other extreme weather items, failed to blow any back in.

Plastics problems have become a global crisis

Climate’s not the only perpetual bridesmaid. Plastics as nurdles are the primary feedstock of plastic manufacturing.

The oil and gas industry is keen to remain Big Oil and Big Gas for a long time. They’re taking out a one-word insurance policy: Plastics. Miles downstream from Pittsburgh on the Ohio River, a multi-billion dollar Shell Polymers plant will take the output of fracking and convert it to a million tons annually of “nurdles” — the very stuff of life of plastics manufacturing.

In Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” of more than 150 refineries and petrochemical plants, Formosa Plastics is running into stiff opposition from local environmental justice campaigners, and President Biden tagged the Formosa project as a poster child for environmental justice. They’re arguing against a $9.4 billion construction project and the permanent factory jobs it would bring.

The moral of this part of the story: The plastics industry has for years been building a long-term environmental menace that could rival climate change; it too has little potential for the kinds of headlines that motivate politicians into action.

I haven’t done a scholarly count on this, but I suspect that on TV and in social media during the last week of February, the kidnapping of Koji and Gustav received more national coverage than the staggering impacts of climate change or plastics. But our long national nightmare wrapped up its Top French Bulldog Story run on the first day of March, when K. and G. were returned to Lady Gaga. (Do you remember where you were when you hard the news?)

Plastics and the climate crisis aren’t going away. When it comes to covering the fate of our planet, news organizations owe us all a little more.

(A little more or a lot more crucial news would help. Also, our political leaders owe us rational plans for the future not excuses from the past. DGN)


See also: Atmospheric CO2 Passes 420 PPM for First Time Ever | Common Dreams News, Kenny Stancil, April 6, 2021

The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide surged past 420 parts per million for the first time in recorded history this past weekend, according to a measurement taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii.

When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research station “began collecting CO2 measurements in the late 1950s, atmospheric CO2 concentration sat at around 315 PPM,” the Washington Post reported. “On Saturday, the daily average was pegged at 421.21 PPM—the first time in human history that number has been so high.”


See also: CO2 emissions prices in the Northeast states reached record levels in most recent auction – Today in Energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), March 23, 2021

The most recent Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) quarterly auction, held on March 3, 2021, resulted in a clearing price of $7.60 per short ton of carbon dioxide (CO2), surpassing the previous high price of $7.50 per short ton reached in December 2015. States can reinvest the proceeds from these auctions in consumer benefit programs to improve energy efficiency and accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies in the electric power sector.

The RGGI agreement was the first in the United States to place a cap on power sector CO2 emissions. The original RGGI member states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Virginia is now a member and Pennsylvania is considering.

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Karen Stewart PhD April 7, 2021 at 8:50 am


The Evolving Problem of Microplastics in a PPE Era

An Interview by Karen Steward PhD, Technology Networks News, April 6, 2021

A plethora of research studies have shown that microplastics are now ubiquitous in our lives and environment. From the depths of our oceans to the top of our mountains and even in some of the most untouched corners of the globe, microplastics are being detected everywhere. To compound the problem, the advent of COVID-19 has seen uptake of single-use plastics in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE) skyrocket.

The potentially damaging impacts of microplastics on health and the environment are still far from fully understood. Therefore, arming scientists with the necessary training, techniques and equipment to be able to interrogate and find answers to these issues will be key.

In part one of this two-part series on the state of microplastics testing and analysis, we’re talking with Kathleen A. Young, environmental market leader, PerkinElmer, Inc., on how the microplastics issue has evolved in light of COVID-19, particularly around PPE waste and what gains are being made in the areas of testing and analysis standards.

Karen Steward (KS): Since the surge in plastic-based single-use PPE as a consequence of COVID-19, what impact is this having on the types, locations and quantities of microplastics being identified? What knock-on effects is this having, or is it still too early to say?

Kathleen A. Young (KY): All anyone has to do is spend a little time outside, walking or in shared and public spaces and you see discarded masks and gloves – on the streets, in parks and along shorelines of surface waters where you live. The negative impact of single-use PPE on the environment in general is easy to see.

Medical and non-medical waste has increased tremendously as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some estimates indicate that the volume of medical PPE generated in a year pre-COVID are now produced in just a couple of months. These plastic pollution sources represent what is commonly referred to as macroplastics and through rain, run off and storm drains, can enter fresh waterways and ultimately the oceans. Over a period of several years, when this waste deteriorates and degrades, it can become microplastics, plastic fragments that are less than 5 mm in length. However, it is important to note that if these macroplastics are removed and properly disposed of, a potential additional source for microplastics release into the environment is eliminated.

Due to the nature and classification of PPE medical waste, it cannot be recycled. Gloves are typically comprised of latex rubber, a polymer of isoprene extracted from rubber trees, and will biodegrade fairly easily with a minimal pollution footprint. However, most other PPE, such as surgical gowns and masks, is not sourced from biodegradable materials, typically comprised of oil-based polymers such as non-woven or melt-blown polypropylene (PP), presenting a pollution challenge.

For consumers who use non-medical masks, there has been inconsistent guidance on disposal practices throughout communities worldwide. A common practice for some households is to include gloves and masks with their recycling trash. However, many disposal facilities are not clear on how to handle and process PPE trash, creating process bottlenecks and a higher likelihood of illegal practices.

Lack of standards and inconsistency in disposal policies on consumer PPE and medical COVID-related PPE waste, along with the tremendous increase in volumes of waste, add a large burden to waste handling and disposal entities. And, in some cases, can lead to improper or illegal disposal which can further negatively impact the environment.

Adding to the PPE issue is the loosening of some regulations or practices around single use plastics generally. Since the start of COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, several studies have demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 can spread from person-to-person and through contact with surfaces where droplets and aerosols are deposited. The virus can remain viable and infectious for up to 72 hours (or even longer on certain surfaces). Thus, many countries and state-level governments have rolled back single-use plastic bans and the related financial penalties, out of concern for the potential transmission of the virus through surface contact With the evolution of new mutant strains of SARS-CoV-2, it is reasonable to expect the regulations and scrutiny around single use plastics will continue to be loosened.

The increased generation of waste from PPE, concerns over how contagious SARS-CoV-2 is and the mechanisms that spread it, along with lack of clear guidelines on proper disposal methods, have created the perfect storm, leading to increases in plastic pollution.

It is too soon to tell exactly what the impacts of this increased plastic pollution loading will have on the environment and how much of this waste will contribute to the current microplastics issue; but it is safe to say that the impact will be negative and its full extent not known for years.

On a more positive environmental note, with the various COVID-19 lockdowns that have occurred over the last year, there has been fluctuations in auto usage globally. With synthetic rubber from tire wear contributing up to 28% of the microplastics in the ocean, a major source for microplastics pollution has been reduced, at least in the short-term.

KS: How standardized are detection methods for microplastics? What problems arise from a lack of standardization?

KY: There are volumes of research conducted and underway on microplastics and their impact on the environment reaching back to before one of the first international microplastics conferences, “Workshop on the Fate and Impact of Marine Debris” held in 1984 in Honolulu, Hawaii. However, standardization of analytical methods is still in early development and without standardization you can’t really compare results across various bodies of research.

Today, there is a range of sampling methods, sample preparation and extraction approaches and a diverse set of analytical techniques. These include visual counting with an optical microscope, spectroscopy including Raman and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) for polymer identification and quantification and hyphenated techniques such as thermogravimetric analyzer-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TGA-GC-MS) and pyrolysis-GC-MS methods for qualitative identification and mass quantitation.

For those involved with microplastics –be they providing analytical technologies, performing analytical testing, or developing regulatory frameworks — standardized methodologies for sampling, testing, and reporting are critical. A microplastics method must address detection, characterization and quantification, as well as provide best practices for quality assurance and guidance for minimizing contamination.

Standardized methods enable consistency, provide robust data, deliver more reliable and repeatable results and provide a framework for assessing analytical data. Without the scientific objectivity and thoroughness of validated methods, supporting technologies and standardization, it is difficult to compare data across the scientific community, accurately measure the impact of microplastics on human health and the environment and ultimately develop regulatory guidance, policies and regulations.

Organizations like the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and European Committee For Standardization (CEN) are working to establish standards across microplastics testing and analysis ranging from sample preparation, analysis matrices for drinking water and groundwaters and building analysis method best practices. PerkinElmer will be on working committees with both ISO and ASTM on microplastics. Japan’s Ministry of Environment is also doing interesting work around standardizing monitoring methods.

While further method development and validation of standard methods is needed, it is extremely encouraging to see the progress regional and international standards organizations have made. Further validation and adoption of methods (such as ASTM D8333, providing a microplastic sample preparation standard) is critical to creating accuracy and consistency in research data and for building the foundation for regulations and policies to mitigate and possibly reverse the impact of microplastics on our environment and human health.

[Kathleen A. Young was speaking to Dr Karen Steward, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks.]

Read part two at the link below …..



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