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Archive for July, 2016

Canterbury insulation scheme saves $945,000 in hospital stays

Community Energy Action, in collaboration with Canterbury District Health Board, last month published a report, Healthy Homes Investing in Outcomes, into the Canterbury Healthy Homes programme that ran between 2011 and 2014.

The programme’s aim was to keep vulnerable patients out of hospital by providing insulation, heating and advice to those who presented more than once in a year to Christchurch Hospital with health conditions relating to cold and damp. Young families were also targeted for the scheme via general practitioners.

The programme oversaw 1500 insulation installations and 450 heating appliances installed.

The report found that there was a 29% drop in hospital bed days in the year after insulation was put in, compared to the year prior among the 900 people referred to Community Energy Action from the hospital.

healthy homes

This meant 312 fewer people had a hospital stay – a cost saving of $945,000 for Canterbury District Health Board.

A control group of over 20,000 with no intervention showed no reduction in discharges or bed days over the same period.

[Source: Ministry of Health/Canterbury District Health Board]

From the Lancet: Air pollution – crossing borders

A silent killer responsible for more deaths than the number from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and road injuries combined. A killer indifferent to political agendas and that cannot be contained by borders. Air pollution is associated with around 6·5 million deaths each year globally. While premature deaths from household air pollution are projected to decline from 3·5 million today to 3 million by 2040, premature deaths from outdoor pollution are set to rise from 3 million to 4·5 million in the same period. Transformative action is needed to mitigate this death toll.

There is a dearth of information available on the health effects and economic impact of environmental pollution. Proven solutions are available, but implementation remains a challenge that requires coordinated efforts across sectors and nations. A report by the World Wildlife Fund’s European Policy Office, Climate Action Network Europe, the Health and Environment Alliance, and Sandbag has, for the first time, quantified the cross-border health effects of air pollution from coal use in electricity generation in the European Union (EU), estimating total associated economic costs of up to €62·3 billion. The report aims to promote debate on the rapid phase-out of coal-burning power generation and calls for action at the national and EU level. Toxic particles created by burning coal can be carried beyond the borders of the countries where the power plants are situated. In France, where coal burning is low, 1200 premature deaths a year are caused by air pollution from the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Spain, and the UK. The cross border nature of coal pollution highlights the need for governments to work together to urgently phase out coal burning.

The need for cooperation is reiterated in a special report on Energy and Air Pollution from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which campaigns for global action to overcome the negative environmental effects of energy use. The report cites energy production as the most important source of air pollution coming from human activity and presents strategies to tackle energy poverty in developing countries, reduce pollutant emissions through post-combustion control technologies, and promote clean forms of energy.

The Clean Air Scenario presented by IEA uses benchmarks for air quality goals, such as WHO guideline levels, to set long-term targets. Strategies outlined for the energy sector are adapted to different national and regional settings. In developing countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a notable health impact arises from smoky environments caused by use of wood and other solid fuels for cooking; whereas power plants, industrial facilities, and vehicle emissions are the main causes of outdoor pollution in many high-income countries. Cities in particular are susceptible to becoming pollution hotspots due to concentrated populations, energy use, and traffic.

Although the report takes important steps in tailoring policies to local and national conditions, the proposals are not ambitious enough. For example, the report sets out a scenario in which the number of people being exposed to fine particulate matter levels above the WHO guideline in the EU will be less than 10% by 2040. Yet in the USA, average air pollution limits are already below national limits, having declined by 70% since 1970 despite growth in population levels and energy consumption. Setting half-hearted goals as far ahead as 2040 will only widen the gap between the USA and the rest of the world. The report recognises the need for clearly defined responsibilities, reliable data, and a focus on compliance and policy improvement to keep strategies on course. However, long-term goals can be easy to forget or conveniently ignore, particularly if the issue is allowed to slip down the political agenda. Now is not a time to become complacent, but to match the strides being made by the USA in improving air quality.

The Lancet, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with coordination from the UN Environment Programme and the World Bank, have united to produce a Commission on Pollution, Health, and Development. The aim of the Commission is to inform key decision makers globally of pollution’s severe and under-reported contribution to the global burden of disease and to present available pollution control strategies and solutions, dispelling the myth of pollution’s inevitability and combating apathy. In a turbulent political climate, environmental pollution must not be allowed to fall by the wayside. Policies should take centre stage and nations must come together in a spirit of mutual cooperation to tackle air pollution.

[Source: The Lancet, July 2016]

First satellite to monitor industrial GHG emissions launched

A tiny, Canadian satellite the size of a microwave oven that will keep a beady eye on industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has been delivered into orbit this week by an Indian space agency rocket.

Building on research and development by several national space agencies, the ‘nanosatellite’ nicknamed Claire was tested over the last two years by a private company, Montreal-based GHGSat. The firm invented a new type of sensor that can make these measurements from a small satellite, making Claire the world’s first satellite capable of remotely sensing GHGs from industrial sites.

Claire is to orbit the planet daily, travelling at around 7 km per second, taking measurements from some 1000 sites per year, from Canada’s oil sands to Chinese coal mines. It will monitor for the two main GHGs, carbon dioxide and methane, meaning that it can also look for leaks from natural gas projects, methane escaping from landfills and hydroelectric reservoirs, and even rice paddies.

The satellite’s instrumentation takes advantage of the fact that different types of gases absorb light in the visible spectrum at different, unique wavelengths, a sort of spectral ‘fingerprint’ for each gas. Claire use sunlight to measure the brightness of these fingerprints at industrial sites to assess how much of each gas is present in the surrounding area.

This sounds great, but how is the company going to make any money from a satellite that spies on industry? In an era of climate change regulation of companies, emissions trading and carbon taxes, companies need to know how much greenhouse gas they are emitting, both to help them reduce emissions and to offer guarantees when trading offsets and emissions credits. The nanosatellite is relatively low-cost, which will allow the firm to offer its services at much lower prices than existing emissions monitoring services, reducing the reporting costs for the target companies.

The company will initially use the satellite to deliver real-time information to companies and utilities in the oil, gas, mining, power generation, agriculture and waste management sectors, which together produce some 50 percent of all GHG emissions globally.

Claire will operate for five years before burning up in the atmosphere, but the company hopes that it will validate the concept of satellite remote sensing of GHG emissions, and then launch additional satellites targeting other industrial sites and sectors.

[Source: Robyn Cubie, Senior Communications Officer, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions]

Who knew air quality data could look so cool?

Greater Wellington deserves an award for this one:

GWRC NO2 2013

Source: GWRC, (2015). Our Environment at a Glance

Air standards breached in Invercargill and Gore

Invercargill and Gore are now both in breach of the Government’s National Environment Standards for Air Quality (NES), despite being only two months into the winter monitoring period.

Invercargill recorded its sixth exceedance on Friday 1 July of 56 micrograms/m3, while Gore registered its third on Thursday 30 June, recording 55 micrograms/m3. Friday also saw Winton record its first exceedance since 2008, with 53 micrograms/m3. While Winton is not a gazetted airshed, Environment Southland has been monitoring air quality there periodically since 2006.

Environment Southland air quality scientist Owen West said the results were disappointing, especially with so much of the winter period ahead but the recent still and calm weather conditions were likely contributing factors.

For further information on good burning practice and the Proposed Regional Air Plan, go to www.BreatheEasySouthland.co.nz.

[Source: scoop.co.nz]

The soup kitchen putting London’s air quality on the menu

Free colour-coded menu is changed daily according to air pollution levels at pop-up scheme that aims to raise awareness of problem

Cups of soup lined up at Pea Soup House, an installation linking soup to air quality.
Cups of soup lined up at Pea Soup House, an installation linking soup to air quality. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

“I see the air is good today,” says the security guard, as he sips his cup of bright green pea soup. “I can tell by the flavour.”

Staff and visitors here at the central London headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) have been treated to daily free soup from the Pea Soup House, a pop-up installation in the lobby that serves colour-coded soup which matches the government’s Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI).

Pea Soup House menu
Pea Soup House menu Photograph: Pea Soup House

Flavours start with pea soup – green for good air quality, then move to yellow butternut squash or red pepper and chilli as the air gets worse, and an eye-watering purple beetroot and horseradish flavour when the pollution is high.

Since its launch last week, the kitchen has given away around 50 cups a day, and so far they’ve all been green. “I need to find a way to jazz it up a bit with this good air,” jokes the chef, Angeletia Clarke.

Prize money from a Riba competition enabled seven young architects from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to design and build the installation, which aims to bring people together through food and raise awareness of air pollution through the unlikely medium of soup.

“People might come to Pea Soup House not knowing much at all about air quality, or just say ‘free soup, brilliant’ – but that for us is a way into a wider discussion,” says architect Chris Allen.

“The soup means people can connect that day to air quality and start to make those links themselves,” explains researcher Joe Jack Williams.

As well as serving as a soup kitchen, the structure is designed to communicate a whole year’s worth of air quality data in a way that people can easily see. It’s clad in brightly coloured horizontal wooden batons that each represent individual days of 2015 air quality readings from Oxford Street, one of the most polluted streets in London. Small plaques indicate the dates and there are information boards with data and research from air quality experts at King’s College London.

“We had all sorts of great data and research and we were trying to work out how we could represent that through architecture,” said Allen. “We had what we felt was a very strong idea – linking soup and the daily air quality index – but how would that be expressed in architecture? We talked about handing soup out on the street but we decided that actually it needed to be grounded in a place, and feel like it’s arrived in a community.”

Chris Allen (left) and Joe Jack Williams (right), two of the team involved in the construction of Pea Soup House.
Chris Allen (left) and Joe Jack Williams (right), two of the team involved in the construction of Pea Soup House. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Inspiration for the project came from “pea souper”, the term coined by John Sartain in 1820 to describe the deadly, thick yellow smogs of London.

“That was the starting point for us when we were thinking about how to engage people,” said Allen. “We can make that connection to air quality today and the history about pea soup fog. Britain was the first country in the world to look at air quality and that first step of [the Clean Air Act] in the 1950s is the start of air quality as we know it.”

A study by King’s College London last year found that nearly 9,500 people in the capital die early annually because of air pollution. Earlier this year it took parts of London just one week to breach annual limits, and a major global study by the World Health Organisation in May found the city breached its guideline limits for two harmful types of particulate pollution.

The UK government is facing renewed court action from campaigners over air pollution, some of which has resulted from the rise in the number of diesel cars on the road, and the repeated breaches of EU limits on pollutants.

London’s air quality is particularly bad on naturally foggy days, as polluting particles tend to increase the intensity of the fog.
London’s air quality is particularly bad on naturally foggy days, as polluting particles tend to increase the intensity of the fog. Photograph: Guy Bell/Alamy Stock Photo

London’s recently elected mayor, Sadiq Khan, has made improving the capital’s air quality a top priority. Within a week of his election last month, he unveiled plans to more than double the size of London’s clean air zone and retrofit 1,000 more buses with clean technology. He has also proposed bringing forward an extra charge on the most polluting vehicles to 2017.

Last month Khan announced he would join the high court challenge against the government over its failure to tackle the problem.

“I think air pollution is an invisible problem and people know it’s there but they don’t quite know the root cause, how it occurs or what they can do,” said Williams. “I think Pea Soup House is really about building that awareness so people can really start to ask for better air quality and say ‘I saw that the soup is purple today, what’s causing it, what can I do about it’?”

Pea Soup House is built using low-cost, carbon-neutral materials, wood from sustainable sources, low chemical paint and varnish, no solvent and with recycling and onward use in mind. The plan is to eventually move it to different pollution hotspots and raise awareness in further communities, possibly engaging schoolchildren by repainting the batons according to their local pollution levels.

“Now we know it works and we know it’s really engaging people we can build it somewhere with a bit more visibility,” said Williams.

Angeletia Clarke serves up pea soup on a day with low air pollution levels.
Angeletia Clarke serves up pea soup on a day with low air pollution levels. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

“At the moment this is the first step for us, we want to reach out to communities and experts and put what we learn back into planning as an architect and complete that cycle,” said Allen.

The soup comes from Clarke’s Kitchen, a small family-run catering company that uses organic, seasonal ingredients, some of which comes from local allotments or food that is destined for waste.

“I came up with all the different flavours I could do according to the colour code,” said Clarke, who is also an architecture student. “Everything is French-Creole inspired, with my own seasoning and recipes.”

Cathy finishes her cup and heads back to work. “The soup is delicious,” she says. “I’m quite uncomfortable to say that I’m looking forward to the air being slightly worse so I can try I a different soup, although I don’t think that is really what the project’s aiming for!”

  • Pea Soup House is at 66 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD until 4 August 2016. Free soup is served daily between 12-2pm and seating open 10am-6pm. #peasouphouse

[Source: The Guardian]