Backyard Talk
CHEJ Intern

How Real is Governor Cuomo’s Ban on Fracking?

By CHEJ Intern : July 27, 2015 11:03 am

By: Rachel Oest

The recent celebrations over New York Governor Cuomo’s ban on hydraulic fracking have come to an end. A group of farm families in Tioga County, NY have filed for a state permit for a natural gas well that uses gelled propane and sand instead of water mixed with chemicals. The process is still fracking, but it would skirt the state’s ban.

When announcing the ban, Cuomo recognized the emotionally charged nature over the debate and then stated, “I will be bound by what the experts say.” He then turned all attention to state health and environmental officials. The officials said the potential health and environmental impacts are too great to allow fracking to proceed in the state, and pointed to studies regarding the long-term safety of hydraulic fracturing. DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens explained that fracking in New York is “uncertain at best” and the economic benefits are “far lower than originally forecasted.” Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker revealed that in other states where fracking is happening, he found that state health commissioners were not even present when decisions about the process were being made. Based on these finding, Governor Cuomo announced “I think it’s our responsibility to develop an alternative … for safe, clean economic development.”

Shortly after these announcements though, a drilling application was filed with the state DEC by Tioga Energy Partners- a contracting company working with the Snyder Farm Group. The five families leasing their land for natural gas development claim to be outside of the state’s ban and want to tap in to the Utica Shale formation by developing a 53-acre natural gas well in the town of Barton. Since the process avoids the need for millions of gallons of fresh water and doesn’t result in the enormous volumes of polluted wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, proponents call propane fracking a more environmentally benign method. But there is no such thing as environmentally friendly fracking. All types of drilling inherently carry serious public health and environmental risks. Instead of entertaining the idea of workarounds, the focus should be on building a cleaner, healthier energy supply.

The DEC will review the application as required by law, but let’s hope Governor Cuomo is serious about this ban.

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CHEJ Intern

Are E-Cigarettes Truly Harmless?

By CHEJ Intern : July 24, 2015 11:40 am

By: Dylan Lenzen

In recent years, e-cigarettes, or vaporizers, have been increasingly marketed as a safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes are classified as electronic nicotine delivery systems and operate through the use of a heating element that heats fluid contained in the device and creates a vapor which is then inhaled by the user. While research has not yet been able to conclude for certain if using e-cigarettes is safer than smoking tobacco, there may be reason to believe that they pose a risk to public health.

For those using e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, or in an effort to quit smoking all together, there is some information that should be considered. While the nicotine-containing fluid that is converted to vapor contains far fewer toxic ingredients than tobacco products, e-cigarettes are not yet regulated by the FDA and much about the devices remain unknown. There may be less overall toxins in e-cigarette vapor, but the concentrations of certain dangerous compounds that users can be exposed to have caused concern among scientists. Just recently, a study showed that levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen generated by vaporizers at a high voltage greatly exceeds that contained in traditional cigarettes.

Beyond the chemicals produced through the use of e-cigarettes, the vapor particles they produce are similar to the size found in traditional cigarette smoke. This allows them to reach small, deep airways much like cigarette smoke. These particles could also pose a risk to those exposed to secondhand vapor. Exposure to secondhand vapor is also more likely than tobacco smoke as there is currently little regulation of e-cigarette use, allowing many to use them indoors where traditional smoking bans exist. One study has shown that among other nanoparticles, a high concentration of heavy metals has been observed in e-cigarette vapor. The same study suggested these concentrations were derived from the heating element that consists of nickel-chromium wire, coated in silver, and soldered with tin.

Another possible risk associated with e-cigarettes concerns the nicotine refill cartridges, which can be unintentionally consumed, particularly by children. The number of these unintentional consumption events has been increasing in recent years according to a study by tobacco control. The amount of nicotine in some refill solutions could potentially be lethal to children.

While e-cigarettes could potentially be safer than traditional cigarettes, they certainly deserve regulatory action in order to ensure that human health is protected. For those that are looking for a safe method to quit smoking, e-cigarettes should be avoided until definitive research concludes they are safe. Until that time, it is probably wise to utilize other methods that are FDA-approved.

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CHEJ Intern

Climate Science vs Public Education

By CHEJ Intern : July 20, 2015 12:11 pm

By: Carmen Mann

The No Child Left Behind Act, a George W. Bush-era law that had been in place for the last 14 years, is currently being revised by the House and the Senate. This Act is the main law when considering K-12 education in the U.S., and efforts by Congress in the past to revise the Act have repeatedly failed. The House and the Senate recently passed their own perspective bills to revise No Child Left Behind, setting up a showdown between the two chambers of Congress once again and leaving the fate of a final revision in doubt.

During debate over legislation to replace No Child Left Behind, Edward Markey, a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, proposed a program that would encourage schools to teach more about climate change and climate science. The proposal by Senator Markey would include a competitive grant program for public schools to apply for that would provide federal funds to help teach about climate change. Arguably, this program would help equip the next generation to deal with the effects of climate change, through improved scientific education.

However, many concerns were voiced over the idea that the federal government would have power over what schools would be required to teach concerning climate change. The most prominent concern was that the curricula would be vulnerable to the shifting politics of the federal government. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the co-author of the main bill to replace No Child Left Behind, articulated this when he said “Just image what the curriculum on climate change would be if we shifted from President Obama to President Cruz and then back to President Sanders and then to President Trump.”

Imagine having to re-write or change textbooks every time there was a presidential election. It would be a waste of paper and, ironically, bad for the environment. The proposal was ultimately defeated by the Senate in a 53-44 vote this past Wednesday.

The failure of this program to pass the Senate does not mean that schools are not allowed to teach the science of climate change, it means that the federal government will not provide incentives or extra financial support for those that do. What public schools can and cannot teach is usually decided upon by the states themselves.

So far, 13 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), meant to develop greater interest and provide students with an internationally benchmarked science education. These standards recommend climate change education beginning in middle school. However, other states have resisted efforts to include climate science in public school curricula. For example, Wyoming rejected the NGSS after the Board of Education chairman for the state said he did not accept that climate change was a fact.

Including climate science in public education can help a younger upcoming generation better understand and address the impact of climate change. Education could be an avenue to encourage and change attitudes to help the next generation become more environmentally aware and involved in climate-change related trends. The inclusion of climate change in public education will continue to be a hot spot of debate when considering American education in the future.

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CHEJ Intern

Will Roads Made of Recycled Plastic Be the Future?

By CHEJ Intern : July 16, 2015 1:38 pm

By: Katie O’Brien

Earlier this week Dutch Construction Company, VolkerWessels, announced in partnership with the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, their plan to replace roadways using recycled plastic in as soon as three years. While it is still in the conceptual phase, there is a possibility that plastic can be the future of building materials for streets.

There are many benefits for the new plastic design. The design, known as PlasticRoad, is greener, stronger, easier to maintain, and less vulnerable to temperature extremes than asphalt. It will also help reduce our carbon footprint. According to Science Alert, the process of creating asphalt produces 1.45 million tons of global carbon dioxide emissions yearly. Switching to recycled plastic to “pave” roadways can greatly reduce our green house gas emissions.

PlasticRoad can also have a large impact on traffic patterns. Since the road can be constructed in an off- site location and easily delivered, there will be much less time needed to install the new infrastructure. This will result in less traffic, as installing and maintaining it will take significantly less time. The roadway is also designed to be hollow to allow for utility cables to be installed. Future plans are to develop integrated heating within the roadways to help melt snow during snowstorms, resulting in safer roads and less potholes. The hollow center can also be used as a rainwater displacement system, potentially keeping roads drier.
There is still a long way to go before PlasticRoad is implemented. There are a slew of tests that must deem the roadway safe to drive on. Prototypes are going to begin being created once VolkerWessels finds more partners in the project. This can be a game changer for plastic waste. Currently the United States alone generated more than 33 million tons of plastic waste in 2013, of that, only 9% of it was recycled. Recycled plastic roadways can make a big difference in our landfills. While it is still “just an idea on paper”, PlasticRoad can change the way we construct our roadways for the better.

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CHEJ Intern

Red Meat and Climate Change

By CHEJ Intern : July 15, 2015 2:49 pm

By: Amelia Meyer

Climate change is a serious issue for the health and the future of our ecosystems and society. Most of the focus from politicians, media, and scientists is on pollution from coal, cars, and sources of energy. Also the focus for the future is on renewable energy, conserving water, sea level rise and electric cars. But a significant contributor to climate change and the future of our food resources is the consumption of red meat. Red meat contributes a significant amount of more CO2 than vegetables, chicken, and pork.
One way to make a large difference is to actually involve society in making a change towards climate change. People are not educated about how the raising of cattle destroys forests worldwide. Including being the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon destroying over 700 thousand km2 so far. The amount of manure produced and resources needed to care for cattle is enormous as you can see in the graphic below it emits almost four times the amount of greenhouse gasses than chicken does and over thirteen times the amount that broccoli does. Producing one ¼ pound hamburger uses about a hundred and ten gallons of water. People are informed that showering for a less amount of time is good for the environment and water supply but eating less red meat would make a larger impact.
The consumption of red meat worldwide is excessive but in America alone we eat three times more than the global amount of meat intake a day. This is not only negative for the environment but also for the health of our society. Research has proven that red meat can lead to breast cancer, heart issues, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. A way to make a significant difference would be to become a vegetarian. However I know this would be a hard switch for a lot of people. Another way to make an impact is to eliminate your meat intake besides chicken because as you can see chicken is significantly lower on the amount of CO2 that it emits. In addition even a small change such as reducing the amount of red meat that you eat every week from four times to two times can help the environment significantly and the health of yourself and society.
Food shortage is already a serious issue worldwide and it will be a more significant problem by 2050. By that time in order to provide food for the projected population at that time our food production needs to increase 40 percent from what we currently have right now. This is not an easy goal to reach because of changes in landscapes, climate change, and agriculture that are occurring now and will continue to happen for the next fifty years.

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