Tag Archives: pollution

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Green mango peel nanoparticles: a slick solution

For the petroleum industry remediating oil sludge is a costly and an ongoing challenge, particularly when 3-7 per cent of oil processing activities are irreversibly lost as oily or sludge waste.

Lead researcher, UniSA’s Dr Biruck Desalegn says without treatment oil contaminated soil presents a massive risk to ecosystems and the environment.

“Last year, global oil production reached a new record of 92.6 million barrels per day, but despite improvements in control technologies, oil refineries unavoidably continue to generate large volumes of oil sludge,” Dr Desalegn says.

“Oil contamination can present cytotoxic, mutagenic and potentially carcinogenic conditions for all living things, including people

“What’s more, the toxicity and physical properties of oil change over time, which means the process of weathering can expose new, and evolved toxins.”

The new nanoparticles, synthesized from green mango peel extract and iron chloride, provide a novel and effective treatment for oil contaminated soil. They work by breaking down toxins in oil sludge through chemical oxidation, leaving behind only the decontaminated materials and dissolved iron.

Dr Desalegn says the new plant-based nanoparticles can successfully decontaminate oil-polluted soil, removing more than 90 per cent of toxins.

“Plant extracts are increasingly used to create nanomaterials,” Dr Desalegn says.

“In this study, we experimented with mango peel to create zerovalent iron nanoparticles which have the ability to breakdown various organic contaminants.

“With mango peel being such a rich source of bioactive compounds, it made sense that zerovalent iron made from mango peel might be more potent in the oxidation process.

“As we discovered, the mango peel iron nanoparticles worked extremely well, even outperforming a chemically synthesized counterpart by removing more of contaminants in the oil sludge.”

Dr Desalegn says this discovery presents a sustainable, green solution to address the significant pollution generated by the world’s oil production.

“Ever since the devastation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the petroleum industry has been acutely aware of their responsibilities for safe and sustainable production processes,” Dr Desalegn says.

“Our research uses the waste part of the mango – the peel – to present an affordable, sustainable and environmentally friendly treatment solution for oil sludge.

“And while the world continues to be economically and politically reliant on oil industries as a source of energy working to remediate the impact of oil pollution will remain a serious and persistent issue.”

Source: University of South Australia

Taming toxic pollution

CRC CARE is addressing the significant growing issue of toxic environmental pollution with innovative and effective real-world solutions.

Recently, major concerns have emerged across Australia about sites contaminated by chemical pollutants known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Potentially harmful to human health and the environment, some PFAS are active ingredients in firefighting foam. These include PFOS, which is listed in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. PFAS contamination has become a big problem near some firefighting training areas, where it has contaminated soil and water.

“There are more than 100,000 potentially toxic chemicals and five million potentially contaminated sites globally, so there is a real need for innovation,” says Professor Ravi Naidu, CEO of the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE).

One of CRC CARE’s innovations is a product called matCARE, a modified natural clay that can irreversibly lock up PFAS so polluted soil and water can be decontaminated. Naidu says matCARE is 50% more efficient – and thus cheaper – than similar technologies, and does not leach PFAS over time.

Four firefighting training sites have successfully cleaned up the pollution with matCARE and CRC CARE is now looking to partner with companies to broaden its use beyond the safe storage of the chemical. “The technology that’s available at the moment can only immobilise PFAS and unfortunately there is still a contaminated product at the end,” explains Naidu. “We have developed a technology that breaks down PFAS into carbon dioxide and fluoride. Companies are looking for technology that decomposes PFAS into safe products and we have been able to do that.”

Cherese Sonkkila

crccare.com

L’Oréal women in science

L’Oréal Women in Science 2016

Featured image above: L’Oréal Women in Science fellow Dr Camilla Whittington. Credit: University of Sydney

Four researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of Wollongong and the University of Auckland were announced as the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowships at a ceremony held in Melbourne on Tuesday.

Early-career veterinary scientists Dr Camilla Whittington and Dr Angela Crean joined chemists Dr Jenny Fisher and Dr Erin Leitao to receive $25,000 each towards a one-year project.

According to L’Oréal, the Women in Science fellowships were established to “support and recognise accomplished women researchers, encourage more young women to enter the profession and to assist them as they progress their careers”. The fellowships began in 1998, and have recognised over 2,000 women around the world since then.

From the University of Sydney:

“Both Dr Whittington and Dr Crean are early career researchers in the Faculty of Veterinary Science, working in the area of reproduction; both are in research positions funded through the Mabs Melville bequest in excess of $7.2m – one of the biggest gifts ever received by Veterinary Science.

Dr Crean’s work with sea squirts and fly sperm

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Dr Angela Crean. Credit: L’Oréal

Dr Crean’s initial research, using the sea squirt as a model organism, showed males can adjust their sperm quality and quantity in response to a perceived risk that their sperm will have to compete against another male’s sperm to fertilise an egg. The sperm quality also had adaptive consequences for both fertilisation and offspring survival.

Similar work using the neriid fly showed sperm quality could be adjusted by the father’s diet and social environment.

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship will allow Crean to conduct a proof-of-concept study supporting her transition from pure evolutionary research to practical applications in human reproductive health and medicine.

Dr Whittington’s research into pregnant lizards, fish and mammals

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Dr Camilla Whittington. Credit: L’Oréal

Dr Whittington, who last year was one of five University of Sydney researchers who won a 2015 NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award, is using cutting‐edge techniques to identify pregnancy genes – the instructions in an animal’s DNA causing them to have a live baby rather than laying an egg.

‘Pregnant lizards, fish and mammals face complex challenges, like having to provide nutrients to their embryos and protect them from disease,’ Whittington says.

‘My research suggests that these distantly related animals can use similar genetic instructions to manage pregnancy and produce healthy babies.’

Whittington’s fellowship will allow her to investigate how the complex placenta has evolved independently in mammals, lizards, and sharks to transport large quantities of nutrients to the fetus.”

This information on the L’Oréal women in science was first shared by the University of Sydney on 25 October 2016. Read the original article here.

From the University of Wollongong:

Dr Fisher’s research into compounds that contribute to climate change and air pollution

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Dr Jenny Fisher. Credit: University of Wollongong

“Dr Jenny Fisher from UOW’s Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry studies how different emissions interact with one another.

‘When I was little, I was intrigued by outer space and I knew I wanted to work for NASA. As my career progressed I felt that understanding my own planet was more important to me, so I made the change to researching the chemistry of our atmosphere,’ Fisher says.

Through the financial support provided by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship, Dr Fisher plans to develop an Australian atmospheric chemistry model, similar to those already successfully used in North America and Europe. Australia provides a unique globally-relevant lens for examining these processes due to the nation’s much lower presence of nitrogen oxides, pollutants that mainly come from human activities like driving cars and burning coal in power plants.

As stricter emission controls are enforced globally, the level of nitrogen oxides elsewhere in the world are predicted to decrease and Australia serves as a window to the expected future pollution outcomes.

The information provided from the model Dr Fisher works on will assist in predicting pollution amounts and their responses to future change. Australia’s much lower nitrogen oxide levels means this atmospheric model will also provide a novel insight into the pre-industrial atmosphere.

Currently, Dr Fisher can only investigate the Australian atmosphere by looking at large areas (~5 million hectares); however with the funding she will work on a more accurate ‘nested’ model, which can show what is occurring within an area more than 60 times smaller. This will enable her to increase the complexity of her atmospheric chemistry research and findings.

‘Winning the fellowship means I will finally be able to apply tools I have used in other global environments to problems that are specific to Australia. This work will help advance scientific understanding of the atmosphere on a global scale — while also providing new insight into what affects our local air quality,’ she says.

Dr Fisher’s work highlights her passion for communities to understand the impact we have on the environment. Her work in unlocking information about the chemistry of our atmosphere will improve our ability to make informed decisions in order to live in a sustainable way.”

This information on the L’Oréal women in science was first shared by the University of Wollongong on 25 October 2016. Read the original article here.
If you enjoyed the L’Oréal women in science, you might also enjoy: Prime Ministers Prizes for Science
Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef cleanup

In 2015, the Australian and Queensland governments agreed on targets to greatly reduce the sediment and nutrient pollutants flowing onto the Great Barrier Reef.

What we do on land has a real impact out on the reef: sediments can smother the corals, while high nutrient levels help to trigger more regular and larger outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish. This damage leaves the Great Barrier Reef even more vulnerable to climate change, storms, cyclones and other impacts.

Dealing with water quality alone isn’t enough to protect the reef, as many others have pointed out before. But it is an essential ingredient in making it more resilient.

The water quality targets call for sediment runoff to be reduced by up to 50% below 2009 levels by 2025, and for nitrogen levels to be cut by up to 80% over the same period. But so far, detailed information about the costs of achieving these targets has not been available.

Both the Australian and Queensland governments have committed more funding to improve water quality on the reef. In addition, the Queensland government established the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce, a panel of 21 experts from science, industry, conservation and government, led by Queensland Chief Scientist Geoff Garrett and funded by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

New work commissioned by the taskforce now gives us an idea of the likely cost of meeting those reef water quality targets.

This groundbreaking study, which drew on the expertise of water quality researchers, economists and “paddock to reef” modellers, has found that investing A$8.2 billion would get us to those targets by the 2025 deadline, albeit with a little more to be done in the Wet Tropics.

That A$8.2 billion cost is half the size of the estimates of between A$16 billion and A$17 billion discussed in a draft-for-comment report produced in May 2016, which were reported by the ABC and other media.

Those draft figures did not take into account the reductions in pollution already achieved between 2009 and 2013. They also included full steps of measures that then exceeded the targets. A full review process identified these, and now this modelling gives a more accurate estimate of what it would cost to deliver the targets using the knowledge and technology available today.

A future for farming

Importantly, the research confirms that a well-managed agricultural sector can continue to coexist with a healthy reef through improvements to land management practices.

Even more heartening is the report’s finding that we can get halfway to the nitrogen and sediment targets by spending around A$600 million in the most cost-effective areas. This is very important because prioritising these areas enables significant improvement while allowing time to focus on finding solutions that will more cost-effectively close the remaining gap.

Among those priority solutions are improving land and farm management practices, such as adopting best management practices among cane growers to reduce fertiliser loss, and in grazing to reduce soil loss.

While these actions have been the focus of many water quality programs to date, much more can be done. For example, we can have a significant impact on pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef water catchments by achieving much higher levels of adoption and larger improvements to practices such as maintaining grass cover in grazing areas and reducing and better targeting fertiliser use in cane and other cropping settings. These activities will be a focus of the two major integrated projects that will result from the taskforce’s recommendations.

A new agenda

The new study, produced by environmental consultancy Alluvium and a range of other researchers (and for which I was one of the external peer reviewers), is significant because nothing on this scale involving the Great Barrier Reef and policy costings has been done before.

Guidelines already released by the taskforce tell us a lot about what we need to do to protect the reef. Each of its ten recommendations now has formal government agreement and implementation has begun.

Alluvium’s consultants and other experts who contributed to the study – including researchers from CQ University and James Cook University – were asked to investigate how much could be achieved, and at what price, by action in the following seven areas:

  1. Land management practice change for cane and grazing
  2. Improved irrigation practices
  3. Gully remediation
  4. Streambank repair
  5. Wetland construction
  6. Changes to land use
  7. Urban stormwater management

Those seven areas for potential action were chosen on the basis of modelling data and expert opinion as the most feasible to achieve the level of change required to achieve the targets. By modelling the cost of delivering these areas and the change to nutrient and sediments entering the reef, the consultants were able to identify which activities were cheapest through to the most expensive across five catchment areas (Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary).

Alluvium’s study confirmed the water science taskforce’s recommendation that investing in some catchments and activities along the Great Barrier Reef is likely to prove more valuable than in others, in both an environmental and economic sense.

Some actions have much lower costs and are more certain; these should be implemented first. Other actions are much more expensive. Of the total A$8.2 billion cost of meeting the targets, two-thirds (A$5.59 billion) could be spent on addressing gully remediation in just one water catchment (the Fitzroy region). Projects with such high costs are impractical and highly unlikely to be implemented at the scale required.

The Alluvium study suggests we would be wise not to invest too heavily in some costly repair measures such as wetland construction for nutrient removal just yet – at least until we have exhausted all of the cheaper options, tried to find other cost-effective ways of reaching the targets, and encouraged innovative landholders and other entrepreneurs to try their hand at finding ways to reduce costs.

The value of a healthier Great Barrier Reef

The A$8.2 billion funding requirement between now and 2025 is large, but let’s look at it in context. It’s still significantly less than the A$13 billion that the Australian government is investing in the Murray-Darling Basin.

It would also be an important investment in protecting the more than A$5 billion a year that the reef generates for the Australian economy and for Queensland communities.

The immediate focus should be on better allocating available funds and looking for more effective solutions to meet the targets to protect the reef. More work is still needed to ensure we do so.

If we start by targeting the most cost-effective A$1 billion-worth of measures, that should get us more than halfway towards achieving the 2025 targets. The challenge now is to develop new ideas and solutions to deliver those expensive last steps in improving water quality. The Alluvium report provides a valuable tool long-term to ensure the most cost-effective interventions are chosen to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

– John Rolfe

This article was first published by The Conversation on 12 April 2016. Read the original article here

Data discoveries

In the environment, big data can be used to discover new resources, and monitor the health of the resources we rely on, such as clean water and air. ANSTO is at the forefront of big data analysis and precision modelling in environmental studies at both national and international scales.

Particle accelerators are used to analyse samples at a molecular level with extremely high precision. At ANSTO, they have been integral to identifying a potential water source in the Pilbara area in northern WA, as well as measuring air quality in Australian and Asian cities.

Despite its remoteness, the Pilbara contains major export centres, such as Port Hedland, which rely heavily on sustainable use of water. In March 2014, ANSTO’s Isotopes for Water project released the results of their investigation into water quality, sustainability and the age of groundwater in the arid Pilbara region, to determine its viability as a future water resource to support the growth of the area.

“A large, potentially sustainable resource was verified by using nuclear techniques,” explains Dr Karina Meredith of ANSTO, who leads the project investigating water sources. “The outcome of this seven-year study provides a greater degree of certainty of water supply for the Pilbara.”

By calculating the age of water, ANSTO researchers can determine whether it can be drawn off sustainably, and where replacement (known as ‘recharging’) will be sufficient to maintain reservoir levels. Levels of carbon-14 in groundwater decay naturally over time, and by measuring minute traces of this radiocarbon in the groundwater with ANSTO’s STAR accelerator, scientists like Meredith can tell how old the water is. “We’ve found it’s about 5000 years old, and what was really interesting is that one of the areas had waters that were approximately 40,000 years old,” says Meredith.

Her calculations show it will be OK to drink the 5000-year-old water, as the reservoir is sufficiently recharged by water from cyclones. The 40,000-year-old vintage won’t be flowing through kitchen taps, however, as this region isn’t recharged fast enough, she says.

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ANSTO’s particle accelerators are being used to analyse air pollution in cities such as Manila in the Philippines.

For more than a decade, Dr David Cohen of ANSTO has used the same accelerators to track down the sources of fine particle air pollution in Australian and Asian cities. Air pollution particles come in different sizes, but fine particles are the most damaging to human health – they penetrate deep into the lungs and have been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Cohen is the data coordinator of an international study of fine particle air pollution that takes samples in cities across 15 countries in Asia and Australasia. Combining the fingerprints detected using STAR with wind back trajectories, he’s shown that the air in Hanoi, for example, can contain dust from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and pollution from Chinese coal-fired power stations some 500–1500 km away.

In addition, to reveal the sources of air pollution nationally, Cohen’s team has recently completed a study of the Upper Hunter region of NSW, which found significant fingerprints from domestic wood burning.

“In winter, up to 80% of the fine particles were coming from wood,” says Cohen. “So the most effective way to reduce winter air pollution would be to regulate burning wood.”

www.ansto.gov.au