Was Your E-Waste Sent to a Landfill?

September 24, 2018
The owner of two recycling businesses illegally landfilled potentially hazardous electronic waste as part of a scheme to re-sell the materials and avoid paying income taxes, according to his guilty plea in federal court in Chicago.
Brian Brundage owned Intercon Solutions Inc. and EnviroGreen Processing LLC, which purported to recycle electronic waste on behalf of corporate and governmental clients. Brundage represented to the clients that the materials would be disassembled and recycled in an environmentally sound manner. In reality, from 2005 to 2016, Brundage caused thousands of tons of e-waste and other potentially hazardous materials to be landfilled, stockpiled, or re-sold at a profit to companies who shipped the materials overseas, according to a plea agreement filed recently in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Brundage admitted evading $743,984 in federal taxes by concealing the income he earned from re-selling the e-waste and from paying himself funds that he falsely recorded as Intercon business expenses. Brundage spent the purported expenses for his own personal benefit, including wages for a nanny and housekeeper, jewelry purchases, and payments to the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, the plea agreement states.
Brundage, 46, of Dyer, Indiana, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and one count of tax evasion, which is punishable by up to five years. U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow set sentencing for February 27, 2019, at 2:00 p.m.
The guilty plea was announced by John C. Kocoras, First Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Brad Ostendorf, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago; Gabriel L. Grchan, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division; James M. Gibbons, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; and Carol Fortine Ochoa, Inspector General of the U.S. General Services Administration. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sean J.B. Franzblau and Kelly Greening of the Northern District of Illinois, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Crissy Pellegrin of the EPA.
According to the plea agreement, Brundage caused employees of Chicago Heights-based Intercon and Gary, Ind.-based EnviroGreen to sell some of the e-waste and other materials to vendors whom Brundage knew would ship the materials overseas. Some of the materials contained Cathode Ray Tubes, which are glass video display components of computer and television monitors, and which contain potentially hazardous amounts of lead. Brundage admitted causing multiple tons of CRT glass and other potentially hazardous materials to be destroyed in environmentally unsafe ways and later landfilled.
Hazardous Waste Training
Annual hazardous waste training is required for anyone who generates, accumulates, stores, transports, or treats hazardous waste. Learn how to manage your hazardous waste in accordance with the latest state and federal regulations. Learn how to complete EPA’s new electronic hazardous waste manifest, and the more than 60 changes in EPA’s new Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule. Environmental Resource Center’s Hazardous Waste Training is available at nationwide locations, and via live webcasts. If you plan to also attend DOT hazardous materials training, call 800-537-2372 to find out how can get your course materials on a new Amazon Fire HD10 tablet at no extra charge.
Whole Foods to Pay $1.6 Million in Hazardous Waste Settlement
Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announced that Yolo County Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Warriner has ordered Whole Foods Market California Inc. and two related entities to pay $1,643,500 as part of a settlement of a civil-environmental prosecution. Over $200,000 of this amount will help support various environmental projects, including the prosecution of environmental violations. This resolution was a direct result of the work of local regulatory agencies, including Contra Costa County Health Services Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA), 21 other California District and City Attorneys, and Whole Foods.
According to the District Attorneys’ complaint, Whole Foods Market California Inc., Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Markets Inc., and WFM-WO Inc., handled various hazardous wastes and materials throughout the state over a five-year period. These hazardous wastes and materials included batteries, electronic devices, ignitable liquids, aerosol products, cleaning agents, and other flammable, reactive, toxic, and corrosive materials. The settlement resolves the allegations made in the District Attorneys’ complaint.
“Today’s settlement resolves this matter with Whole Foods. I would like to mention that the Whole Foods companies were cooperative throughout our investigation and prosecution while we worked toward a fair resolution to their previous deficiencies,” said District Attorney Becton. “The terms of this settlement require these companies to improve the training of their staff and the management of their hazardous waste.”
The judgment was designed to prevent Whole Foods stores from committing similar hazardous-waste violations in the future. The judgment requires Whole Foods Market California Inc., Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Markets Inc., and WFM-WO Inc. to properly label, package, and store hazardous waste to minimize the risk of exposure to employees and customers, and to ensure that incompatible wastes do not combine to cause dangerous chemical reactions. The judgment also requires the companies to properly document their hazardous waste and dispose of their hazardous waste at authorized disposal facilities.
Under the settlement, the Whole Foods entities must pay $1,202,800 in civil penalties, $202,800 to reimburse the costs of the investigation, and $237,900 to fund supplemental environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California. The Whole Foods entities must also hire an employee to strengthen the companies’ hazardous-waste programs.
Cancer Hot Spots in Florida May Be Associated with Hazardous Waste Sites
Studies have shown that hazardous waste sites have the potential to adversely affect human health and disrupt ecological systems. Florida has the sixth highest number of hazardous waste sites, known as Superfund sites, in the United States. In 2016, the state was projected to have the second largest number of new cancer cases in the country. Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine and the University of Florida studied cancer incidence rates in relation to Superfund sites and found a possible association. Researchers believe this discovery could help direct public health efforts in the state.
“We reviewed adult cancer rates in Florida from 1986 to 2010,” said Emily Leary, Ph.D., assistant professor at the MU School of Medicine and co-author of the study. “Our goal was to determine if there were differences or associations regarding cancer incidence in counties that contain Superfund sites compared to counties that do not. We found the rate of cancer incidence increased by more than 6 percent in counties with Superfund sites.”
Florida is home to 77 sites that currently are or have been classified as Superfund sites by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Using cancer incidence data collected by the Florida Department of Health, the researchers looked for cancer clusters, or “hot spots,” of cases that were higher than normal. Because pediatric cancers often are genetic and not attributed to environmental factors, only adult cancers were included in the study. The researchers did not distinguish between different types of cancer.
“The findings show spatial differences—as well as gender differences—across Florida in adult cancer incidences,” Leary said. “This work is novel because it is another piece of evidence to support an environmental cause of cancer. While it would be premature to say these differences are attributed to Superfund sites, there does appear to be an association. More research is needed to determine what this relationship is and why it exists but identifying that a difference exists is a necessary first step.”
“Our results can help public health agencies adjust policies and dedicate more efforts to areas with cancer hot spots,” said Alexander Kirpich, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate at the University of Florida and co-author of the study. “These results support the link between toxic environmental waste and adverse health outcomes, but more efforts are needed to better understand this link and what it means for residents in these counties.”
The study, “Superfund Locations and Potential Associations with Cancer Incidence in Florida,” recently was published online in Statistics and Public Policy. Research reported in this publication was supported by the University of Florida and the University of Missouri School of Medicine. The researchers have no conflicts of interest to declare related to this study. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agency.
Chemists Demonstrate Sustainable Approach to Carbon Dioxide Capture from Air
Chemists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a practical, energy-efficient method of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from air. They report their findings in Nature Energy. If deployed at large scale and coupled to geologic storage, the technique may bolster the portfolio of responses to global climate change.
“Negative emissions technologies—for net removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere—are now considered essential for stabilizing the climate,” said Radu Custelcean of ORNL, who conceived and led the study. This opinion echoes conclusions of a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences. “Our direct-air-capture approach provides the basis for an energy-sustainable negative emissions technology,” he added.
The accomplishment builds on a proof-of-principle study the chemists conducted last year, which was improved through a two-cycle process that dramatically enhanced the speed and capacity of CO2 absorption and that completely recycles both the amino acid sorbent and the guanidine compound.
It’s cheaper and easier to cut CO2 emissions at their source than to recapture emissions from the atmosphere. Regardless, large-scale deployment of technologies such as direct air capture of CO2 is now considered necessary to limit the rise in average global temperature to 2 °C (~4 °F).
Limiting warming to 2 °C would require grabbing billions of tons, or gigatons, of CO2 from the atmosphere. In principle, trees could do it. However, to capture CO2at this scale, “you’d need to plant trees on a surface the size of India,” Custelcean said. Capturing a gigaton of CO2 per year with industrial scrubbers would require only approximately 7,000 square kilometers (~2,700 square miles)—an area less than the big island of Hawaii, said co-author Neil Williams.
For the recent ORNL study, Williams and Flavien Brethomé mixed amino acids with water to make an aqueous sorbent to grab CO2 from air. Amino acids are safer than caustic sodium or potassium hydroxides or smelly amines, the sorbents used in industrial CO2 scrubbers.
The scientists put their aqueous sorbent in a household humidifier to maximize contact between air and sorbent and thus speed CO2 uptake. Once absorbed into the liquid, the CO2 formed a bicarbonate salt.
Colleague Charles Seipp had designed and synthesized an organic compound containing guanidines, chemical groups common in proteins that can bind negatively charged ions. Williams and Brethomé added Seipp’s guanidine compound to the loaded amino acid sorbent solution containing bicarbonate, creating an insoluble carbonate salt that precipitated out of solution and regenerating the amino acid sorbent, which could be recycled.
A critical part of the study was a thorough thermodynamic analysis of the process by Custelcean and Michelle Kidder, who determined how much energy was needed to drive each chemical reaction. The last step—releasing CO2 from the carbonate crystals so it can be stored long-term—is especially important for developing an energy-sustainable process. Because the CO2 is bound in a guanidine carbonate solid, it can be liberated at much lower temperatures (80–160 °C, or 176–320 °F) than from the inorganic salts used in current capture technologies, which require temperatures over 800 °C (1,472 °F) to release the CO2. Nevertheless, the analysis showed the heat needed to release the CO2 from the guanidine carbonate crystals is still significant.
To make the overall process energy-sustainable, Custelcean decided to employ concentrated solar power. He acquired a solar-powered oven, normally used to cook foods using a parabolic mirror to concentrate the sun’s rays. The guanidine carbonate crystals were placed on a tray inside the solar oven, and the CO2 was liberated in as little as 2 minutes, in a process regenerating the guanidine compound for recycling.
“Using renewable energy is important because as much as possible you want to avoid producing more CO2 in the process of trying to capture it,” Custelcean said. This experiment used solar heat, but waste heat—such as from air conditioners and power plants—would work as well, he said.
Moving forward, the researchers would like to design simpler, more efficient guanidine-based sorbents and gain a better understanding of the structural, thermodynamic and mechanistic aspects of the direct air capture process.
“All crystals that we’ve made so far include water that hydrates the carbonate anions,” Custelcean explained. “When you try to release the CO2, you have to desorb the water as well, and that takes most of the energy. We are trying to design next-generation guanidine ligands that bind the CO2 as ‘dry’ carbonate.”
ORNL’s bench-scale process currently can capture as much as 100 grams of CO2 in 24 hours.
The researchers have applied for patents describing the process. For the next stage, they seek an industrial partner to scale up the process from benchtop demo to pilot plant and, eventually, full-scale industrial plant. For information on collaborating with ORNL, contact www.ornl.gov/partnerships.
New Battery Gobbles Up Carbon Dioxide
A new type of battery developed by researchers at MIT could be made partly from carbon dioxide captured from power plants. Rather than attempting to convert carbon dioxide to specialized chemicals using metal catalysts, which is currently highly challenging, this battery could continuously convert carbon dioxide into a solid mineral carbonate as it discharges.
While still based on early-stage research and far from commercial deployment, the new battery formulation could open up new avenues for tailoring electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion reactions, which may help reduce the emission of the greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
The battery is made from lithium metal, carbon, and an electrolyte that the researchers designed. The findings are described in the journal Joule, in a paper by assistant professor of mechanical engineering Betar Gallant, doctoral student Aliza Khurram, and postdoc Mingfu He.
Currently, power plants equipped with carbon capture systems use up to 30% of the electricity they generate just to power the capture, release, and storage of carbon dioxide. Anything that can reduce the cost of that capture process, or that can result in an end product that has value, could significantly change the economics of such systems, the researchers say.
However, “carbon dioxide is not very reactive,” Gallant explains, so “trying to find new reaction pathways is important.” Generally, the only way to get carbon dioxide to exhibit significant activity under electrochemical conditions is with large energy inputs in the form of high voltages, which can be an expensive and inefficient process. Ideally, the gas would undergo reactions that produce something worthwhile, such as a useful chemical or a fuel. However, efforts at electrochemical conversion, usually conducted in water, remain hindered by high energy inputs and poor selectivity of the chemicals produced.
Gallant and her co-workers, whose expertise has to do with non-aqueous (not water-based) electrochemical reactions such as those that underlie lithium-based batteries, looked into whether carbon-dioxide-capture chemistry could be put to use to make carbon-dioxide-loaded electrolytes—one of the three essential parts of a battery—where the captured gas could then be used during the discharge of the battery to provide a power output.
This approach is different from releasing the carbon dioxide back to the gas phase for long-term storage, as is now used in carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. That field generally looks at ways of capturing carbon dioxide from a power plant through a chemical absorption process and then either storing it in underground formations or chemically altering it into a fuel or a chemical feedstock.
Instead, this team developed a new approach that could potentially be used right in the power plant waste stream to make material for one of the main components of a battery. While interest has grown recently in the development of lithium-carbon-dioxide batteries, which use the gas as a reactant during discharge, the low reactivity of carbon dioxide has typically required the use of metal catalysts. Not only are these expensive, but their function remains poorly understood, and reactions are difficult to control.
By incorporating the gas in a liquid state, however, Gallant and her co-workers found a way to achieve electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion using only a carbon electrode. The key is to preactivate the carbon dioxide by incorporating it into an amine solution.
“What we’ve shown for the first time is that this technique activates the carbon dioxide for more facile electrochemistry,” Gallant says. “These two chemistries—aqueous amines and nonaqueous battery electrolytes—are not normally used together, but we found that their combination imparts new and interesting behaviors that can increase the discharge voltage and allow for sustained conversion of carbon dioxide.”
They showed through a series of experiments that this approach does work, and can produce a lithium-carbon dioxide battery with voltage and capacity that are competitive with that of state-of-the-art lithium-gas batteries. Moreover, the amine acts as a molecular promoter that is not consumed in the reaction.
The key was developing the right electrolyte system, Khurram explains. In this initial proof-of-concept study, they decided to use a nonaqueous electrolyte because it would limit the available reaction pathways and therefore make it easier to characterize the reaction and determine its viability. The amine material they chose is currently used for CCS applications, but had not previously been applied to batteries.
This early system has not yet been optimized and will require further development, the researchers say. For one thing, the cycle life of the battery is limited to 10 charge-discharge cycles, so more research is needed to improve rechargeability and prevent degradation of the cell components. “Lithium-carbon dioxide batteries are years away” as a viable product, Gallant says, as this research covers just one of several needed advances to make them practical.
But the concept offers great potential, according to Gallant. Carbon capture is widely considered essential to meeting worldwide goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but there are not yet proven, long-term ways of disposing of or using all the resulting carbon dioxide. Underground geological disposal is still the leading contender, but this approach remains somewhat unproven and may be limited in how much it can accommodate. It also requires extra energy for drilling and pumping.
The researchers are also investigating the possibility of developing a continuous-operation version of the process, which would use a steady stream of carbon dioxide under pressure with the amine material, rather than a preloaded supply the material, thus allowing it to deliver a steady power output as long as the battery is supplied with carbon dioxide. Ultimately, they hope to make this into an integrated system that will carry out both the capture of carbon dioxide from a power plant’s emissions stream, and its conversion into an electrochemical material that could then be used in batteries. “It’s one way to sequester it as a useful product,” Gallant says.
“It was interesting that Gallant and co-workers cleverly combined the prior knowledge from two different areas, metal-gas battery electrochemistry and carbon-dioxide capture chemistry, and succeeded in increasing both the energy density of the battery and the efficiency of the carbon-dioxide capture,” says Kisuk Kang, a professor at Seoul National University in South Korea, who was not associated with this research.
“Even though more precise understanding of the product formation from carbon dioxide may be needed in the future, this kind of interdisciplinary approach is very exciting and often offers unexpected results, as the authors elegantly demonstrated here,” Kang adds.
MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering provided support for the project.
Tyree Oil Fined for Clean Fuels Program Violation
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has fined Tyree Oil $275 for failing to submit its Clean Fuels Program quarterly report for the first quarter of 2018 to DEQ on time.
The program requires importers of transportation fuels to reduce the carbon intensity of such fuels by 10% from 2016 to 2025. Under the program, importers are required to file quarterly reports that show all fuel transaction for the quarter. First quarter reports were due July 2. The company submitted the report on July 20.
Timely and accurate reporting by all transportation fuel providers is critical to monitoring and determining compliance with the Clean Fuels Program.
More than a third of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector. Use of cleaner fuels can improve public health and increase energy security. The Clean Fuels Program is a critical component of Oregon’s plan to reduce greenhouse gases in the transportation sector by supporting the use of cleaner fuels, vehicles that run on electricity and other alternative fuels, and reducing vehicle miles traveled.
The program has been in place since 2016 and had 100% compliance over its first two years.
Maryland Protests on EPA’s Decision Regarding Maryland’s Section 126 Petition
EPA issued a final agency decision denying Maryland’s petition for relief under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act. Filed in December 2016, the petition asked EPA to require out-of-state power plants to run their already installed pollution control equipment in order to place tighter controls on out-of-state emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to ground-level ozone problems downwind in Maryland in violation of the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision.
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh issued the following statement in response to EPA’s decision:
“Late in the day on Friday, EPA denied Maryland’s petition for relief under Section 126. Although EPA evidently wants to bury this decision to let out-of-state power plants continue sending pollution to Maryland, we won’t let it go unchallenged.
As the climate continues to change, it is all the more imperative to control emissions that lead to high levels of ozone on the hottest days of the year. Maryland can do its part to control NOx emissions and keep ozone levels down, but other states need to do theirs as well.
EPA’s decision is wrong. If it is allowed to stand, the air Marylanders breathe will be dirtier, especially on the hottest days of the summer—through no fault of ours. Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems feel the consequences of high ozone levels most acutely.
Maryland strictly controls NOx emissions within its own boundaries. We intend to appeal EPA’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, so that Marylanders do not have to continue suffering the consequences of other states’ pollution.”
Maryland, through its Department of the Environment, petitioned for relief under Section 126 in December 2016. In May 2018, EPA issued a proposed decision denying the petition. Attorney General Frosh testified at a public hearing to oppose the denial, and later submitted detailed written comments. The state of Delaware is also considering its options.
Emissions from Most Diesel Cars in Europe Greatly Exceed Laboratory Testing Levels
In September 2015, the German automaker Volkswagen was found to have illegally cheated federal emissions tests in the United States, by intentionally programming emissions control devices to turn on only during laboratory testing. The devices enabled more than 11 million passenger vehicles to meet U.S. emissions standards in the laboratory despite producing emissions up to 40 times higher than the legal limit in real-world driving conditions.
Now a new MIT study reports that Volkswagen is not the only auto manufacturer to make diesel cars that produce vastly more emissions on the road than in laboratory tests. The study, published this month in Atmospheric Environment, finds that in Europe, 10 major auto manufacturers produced diesel cars, sold between 2000 and 2015, that generate up to 16 times more emissions on the road than in regulatory tests — a level that exceeds European limits but does not violate any EU laws.
What’s more, the researchers predict these excess emissions will have a significant health impact, causing approximately 2,700 premature deaths per year across Europe. These health effects, they found, are “transboundary,” meaning that diesel emissions produced in one country can adversely affect populations in other countries, thousands of kilometers away.
“You might imagine that where the excess emissions occur is where people might die early,” says study author Steven Barrett, the Raymond L. Bisplinghoff Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. “But instead we find that 70 percent of the total [health] impacts are transboundary. It suggests coordination is needed not at the country, but at the continental scale, to try to solve this problem of excess emissions.”
The 10 manufacturers’ excess emissions may not be a result of unlawful violations, as was the case with Volkswagen. Instead, the team writes that “permissive testing procedures at the EU level and defective emissions control strategies” may be to blame.
The researchers report a silver lining: If all 10 auto manufacturers were to improve their emissions control technologies to perform at the same level as the best manufacturer in the group, this would prevent up to 1,900 premature deaths per year.
“That’s pretty significant in terms of the number of premature mortalities that would be avoided,” Barrett says.Barrett’s co-authors at MIT are Guillaume Chossière, Robert Malina (now at Hasselt University), Florian Allroggen, Sebastian Eastham, and Raymond Speth.
The study focuses on emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, a type of gas that is produced in diesel exhaust. When the gas gets oxidized and reacts with ammonia in the atmosphere, it forms fine particles and can travel for long distances before settling. When these particles are inhaled, they can lodge deep in the lungs, causing respiratory disease, asthma, and other pulmonary and cardiac conditions. Additionally NOx emissions cause the formation of ozone, a pollutant long associated with adverse health outcomes.
“There are many times the number of diesel cars in Europe compared to the U.S., partly because the EU started pushing diesel for environmental reasons, as it produces less carbon dioxide emissions compared with [gasoline],” Barrett says. “It’s a case where diesel has probably been beneficial in terms of climate impacts, but it’s come at the cost of human health.
Recently, the EU started tightening its standards for diesel exhaust to reduce NOx emissions and their associated health effects. However, independent investigations have found that most diesel cars on the road do not meet the new emissions standards in real driving conditions.
“Initially manufacturers were able to genuinely meet regulations, but more recently it seems they’ve almost tweaked knobs to meet the regulations on paper, even if in reality that’s not reproduced on the road,” Barrett says. “And that’s not been illegal in Europe.”
In this study, Barrett and his colleagues quantified the health impacts in Europe of excess NOx emissions—emissions that were not accounted for in standard vehicle testing but are produced in actual driving conditions. They also estimated specific manufacturers’ contributions to the total health impacts related to the excess emissions.
The researchers considered 10 major auto manufacturers of diesel cars sold in Europe, for which lab and on-road emissions data were available: Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot-Citroën, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, BMW, Daimler, Toyota, and Hyundai. Together, these groups represent more than 90% of the total number of diesel cars sold between 2000 and 2015, in 28 member states of the EU, along with Norway and Switzerland.
For each manufacturer, the team calculated the total amount of excess emissions produced by that manufacturer’s diesel car models, based on available emissions data from laboratory testing and independent on-road tests. They found that overall, diesel cars produce up to 16 times more NOx emissions on the road than in lab tests.
They then calculated the excess emissions associated with each manufacturer’s diesel car, by accounting for the number of those cars that were sold between 2000 and 2015, for each country in which those cars were sold. The team used GEOS-Chem, a chemistry transport model that simulates the circulation of chemicals and particles through the atmosphere, to track where each manufacturer’s excess NOx emissions traveled over time. They then overlaid a population map of the EU onto the atmospheric model to identify specific populations that were most at risk of exposure to the excess NOx emissions.
Finally, the team consulted epidemiological work to relate various populations’ NOx exposure to their estimated health risk. The researchers considered four main populations in these calculations: adults with ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.
Overall, they estimated that, each year, 2,700 people within these populations will lose at least a decade of their life due to exposure to excess NOx emissions from passenger cars. They broke this number down by manufacturer and found a wide spread of health impact contributions: Volkswagen, Renault, and General Motors produced diesel cars associated with the most yearly premature deaths, each numbering in the hundreds, while Toyota, Hyundai, and BMW were associated with fewer early deaths.
“The variation across manufacturers was more than a factor of five, which was much bigger than we expected,” Barrett says.
For each country, the team also compared the excess emissions that it produced itself, versus the number of premature deaths that its population incurred, and found virtually no relationship. That is, some countries, such as Poland and Switzerland, produced very little NOx emissions and yet experienced a disproportionate number of premature deaths from excess emissions originating in other countries.
Barrett says this transboundary effect may be due to the nature of NOx emissions. Unlike particulate matter spewed from smokestacks, such as soot, which mostly settles out in the local area, NOx is first emitted as a gas, which can be carried easily by the wind across thousands of kilometers, before reacting with ammonia to form particulates, a form of the chemical that can ultimately cause respiratory and cardiac problems.
“There’s almost no correlation between who drives [diesel cars] and who incurs the health disbenefits, because the impacts are so diffuse through all of Europe,” Barrett says.
The study ends with a final result: If all 10 manufacturers were to meet the on-road emissions performance of the best manufacturer in the group, this would avoid 1,900 premature deaths due to NOx exposure. But Barrett says ultimately, regulators and manufacturers will have to go even further to prevent emissions-associated mortalities.
“The solution is to eliminate NOx altogether,” Barrett says. “We know there are human health impacts right down to pre-industrial levels, so there’s no safe level. At this point in time, it’s not that we have to go back to [gasoline]. It’s more that electricification is the answer, and ultimately we do have to have zero emissions in cities.”
Trivia Question of the Week
Environmental News Links