A New Study Warns: Cancer Risks Associated with Coal-Tar Sealed Parking Lots

Try to live as far away from the local parking lot as possible, warns a study in Environmental Science and Technology. People who live in proximity to coal-tar sealed pavement have a raised risk of cancer, they report, especially if exposure to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) contained in the asphalt takes place before the age of six.

As quoted in an earlier story on ScienceDaily.com, E. Spencer Williams (the principal author of the report, and a researcher at Baylor University’s Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research) said “The increased cancer risk associated with coal-tar-sealed asphalt (CSA) likely affects a large number of people in the U.S. Our results indicate that the presence of coal-tar-based pavement sealants is associated with significant increases in estimated excess lifetime cancer risk for nearby residents.”

The researchers determined this danger by inspecting the amount of PAHs in house-dust and soil adjacent to parking lots sealed with coal-tar based products. According to the report, concentrations of PAHs were 25 times higher in house dust where the residence was adjacent to coal-tar sealed parking lots.

“Exposure to these compounds in settled house dust is a particularly important source of risk for children younger than six years of age, as they are expected to ingest this material at higher rates,” Williams said. “This indicates that the use of coal-tar-based pavement sealants magnifies aggregate exposures to PAHs in children and adults in residences adjacent to where these products are used and is associated with human health risks in excess of widely accepted standards,” Dr. Williams said.

To read the full story click here,

Nat Geo: Living Green Walls May Cut Pollution in Cities

According to a recent article by National Geographic, living walls are becoming increasingly popular in cities across the world. Not only do they look nice (as the picture above shows), they have environmental benefits as well.

A living wall is an exterior building wall which has been covered with vegetation, much like the famously ‘ivied’ outfield fence at Wrigley Field, in Chicago. Moss, ivy, and other generic vegetation add a certain aesthetic appeal to the walls, but also helps improve the building’s energy efficiency.

However, living walls can also be constructed inside, to help brighten ‘otherwise forgotten space,’ according to the article..

The three major types of green walls are: living walls, green facades, and retaining living walls. Says Paul Erliechman of the Toronto-based group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

The article notes that: “In green facades, vines and climbing plants or cascading ground covers grow into supporting structures, according to the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities website.

Living walls are composed of pre-vegetated panels, modules, planted blankets, or bags that are affixed to a structural wall or free-standing frame. Finally, retaining living walls are engineered living structures designed to stabilize a slope.”

Among other benefits, living walls reduce loud noise reverberation, and cool down both the interior and exterior of the building they grow on. Equally intriguing is that living walls absorb large amounts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter, which are two pollutants harmful to people, according to Thomas Pugh a biogeochemist at the Karlsruhe Institue.

Pugh recently conducted a computer model study which “created a computer model of a green wall with generic vegetation in a Western European city. Then they recorded chemical reactions based on a variety of factors, such as wind speed and building placement,” according to Christin Dell’Amore for  National Geographic.

She continued to note that:

“Compared with reducing emissions from cars, little attention has been focused on how to trap or take up more of the pollutants, added Pugh, whose study was published last year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

That’s why the green-wall study is “putting forward an alternative solution that might allow [governments] to improve air quality in these problem hot spots,” he said.”

To view the entire National Geographic Article click here.



Dr. Garrick Provides Insight at Mayoral City Design Session in New Orleans

CTLS researcher Dr. Norman Garrick joined fellow  specialists providing insight into city design issues at the 55th annual National Session of The Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) from March 6 to 8, in New Orleans, LA.

According to the Institute’s website, mayors of cities such as Spokane, Baltimore, Madison (WI), Anaheim, and Burlington (VT) were on hand to receive “pragmatic advice on how the mayors could approach the urban design challenges facing each of their cities.”

Each mayor brought a different urban design program to the table before a ‘resource team’ of  architects, landscape architects, urban planners, real estate financiers, economists, transportation engineers, and urban designers. This panel of experts – which included Dr. Garrick, an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Connecticut – were on hand to offer advice to the mayors regarding their city design plans.

For example, from the MICD website: “Baltimore, Maryland Mayor Rawlings-Blake presented on her city’s efforts to improve the area around the stadiums and new waterfront casino.  The city is working to ensure that the new casino and corresponding parking facility are integrated into the fabric of the surrounding industrial area and near by stadiums.  The resource team offered suggestions on how to strengthen the pedestrian experience along Warner and Russell Streets through retail opportunities, streetscaping improvements, and waterfront accessibility.”

Dr. Garrick said in a recent phone interview that he was most interested in the project New Orleans’ Mayor Landrieu brought into the session.

“His project is looking to move city hall into an old hospital [Charity Hospital]. It was interesting because it is also a question of how to connect the city to the waterfront.”

They are currently faced with a downtown area and waterfront area divided by a pseudo-highway, Dr. Garrick said. If they want to succeed they must “change the dynamics and characteristics of that road, so that instead of being a divider, it helps the downtown area bleed into the waterfront.” (You can see a piece of CTLS research regarding dividing highways here)

The national session also included a tour of the New Orleans downtown area, and it’s evolution since Hurricane Katrina ravaged its landscape. The tour featured downtown projects which have been “instrumental to New Orleans’ transformation… including  Lafitte Greenway, Iberville housing, the new hospital district, and the Union Passenger Terminal Station.”

Dr. Garrick was joined by the following experts on the resource team: Candace Damon, Vice Chairman of HR&A Advisors; Julie Eizenberg, AIA, Principal at Koning Eizenberg Architecture; Norman Garrick, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Connecticut; Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, AICP, Principal of Gelabert-Sanchez & Associates; Doug Loescher, Principal of Civic Strategies Group; Stephen Luoni, Director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center; Amit Price Patel, AIA, LEED AP, Associate at David Baker + Partners Architects; and David Rubin, ASLA, Founding Partner at Land Collective.

Sponsored in part by the United Technologies Corporation (who also helped fund the UConn fuel cell program), the MICD is a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors, and the American Architectural Foundation. For more information on upcoming events, visit www.micd.org

CTLS Researcher Maria Chrysochoou Receives Marie Curie Fellowship

Dr. Maria Chrysochoou, a University of Connecticut School of Engineering assistant professor, has been awarded the prestigious Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship. This fellowship will send her to the National Technical University of Athens for two years to share her understanding of Chromium contamination and remediation techniques.

Dr. Chrysochoou has worked with the Center for Transportation and Livable Systems in the past, working on a project regarding the remediation of Brownfield sites in Connecticut. A Brownfield site is a former commercial space that has been abandoned by its owners, and poses environmental risks.

The International Incoming Fellowship program intends to bring researchers from outside of the European Union, to Universities within the conglomerate of nations.

According to the UConn School of Engineering Website: “Dr. Chrysochoou explained the invitation was based on her ongoing, 10-year investigations involving chromium contamination of soil and groundwater.  Hexavalent chromium (Cr VI), which is both highly toxic and a known cancer-causing agent, is used commonly in leather tanning, metal plating, cement manufacture and other industries. In an ironic twist, trivalent chromium (Cr III) is required by humans for the metabolism of sugar.”

She also noted that “Chromium is a big problem in Greece because of the natural geology of the land and in many cases, due to industrial pollution. There are high levels of chromium in the groundwater and irrigation water.  I will continue my research there, to assist environmental, civil and materials scientists in understanding the sources and fate of chromium contamination through specialized geochemical analyses and development of models that predict the chromium interaction with soil components. Ultimately, we will be using these tools to optimize remediation treatments for the removal of the chromium.”

“I’m very excited about this opportunity. I have been working on this problem for many years.  It is both scientifically challenging and a practical problem; it will be very rewarding to contribute toward solving the chromium contamination problem in Greece,”

Dr. Chrysochoou plans to begin her fellowship in June.

Federal DOT Projects 2013 to be a Good Year for High Speed Rail

The federal Department of Transportation is optimistic about the future of high speed rail growth in 2013. 2012 was one of the most successful years for high speed rail (HSR), and they expect 2013 to be even better for the transportation system, according to the DOT’s year end review.

High Speed Rail systems have been a major policy platform of the Department of Transportation since 2009, when President Obama took office. He and the DOT envision “safe, efficient, and convenient high-speed intercity train service,” as an idea which could greatly aid a faltering economy, producing jobs and new corporate arenas.

HSR systems offer many advantages to both the environment, and travelers, as well.  Few of these systems operate using fossil fuels directly, and have much better per-passenger efficiency than planes, buses, and traditional trains. In a study by Arpad Horvath and Mikhail Chester (of UC-Berkeley and Arizona State, respectively), data showed that a train moving an average of 80-180 passengers would have equal emissions of a 35 mile per gallon sedan carrying 2.2 people.

A recent New York Times article noted that over distances around 200 miles, HSR would would be a significantly faster mode of transportation for travelers. For arguments sake, the article used a hypothetical line of 240 miles.

“A train going from Dallas to Houston at 150 miles an hour would take 96 minutes. Southwest Airlines takes an hour for the same route, but the need to arrive early could add on an extra hour. I’ll add on an extra 36 minutes for the driving time to the airports, which means that the train saves an hour.”

But the benefits don’t stop there. As far as cost-per-passenger rates, the Times article points out a large discrepancy in cost between planes and HSR. According to their (admittedly simplified formula) a transportation company operating an HSR system for the hypothetical 240 mile trip would save around $70 a per-person per-trip when compared to an airline’s operating cost.

Many of the advances in high speed rail during 2012 have been focused in California, where Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill ensuring $5 billion of state funding for an ambitious HSR project. This investment will be matched by $3 billion in federal aid, according to the DOT’s official website. If all goes well, the DOT says, the California HSR system will be under construction as early as this year.

According to the DOT, passengers traveling between Chicago and St. Louis are already seeing the benefits of HSR, as trains on that line reach speeds approaching 110 mph.

With $10.1 billion dollars of the DOT budget dedicated to high speed rail projects, the department hopes to see a rise in the construction of HSR in the coming year in areas other than California, as well.