These Houston residents dream of moving to where the air is clear

By Loren Elliott

HOUSTON (Reuters) – On the east side of Houston, the white plumes of the Texas oil and chemical refineries are a constant backdrop for residents of the Manchester neighborhood.

Late at night or early in the morning when plants burn off excess gases, the flames light up the whole sky in the neighborhood.

Some residents say the air has a chemical-based smell that they find hard to describe but disappears once they drive a few miles away from the homes that stretch along the Houston Ship Channel, a waterway connecting the plants to the ocean. They claim that the pollution is taking a toll on their health, although the scientific evidence does not prove that.

“I want to get out of here and go to the country and find some cleaner air,” said Eugene Barragan, a 56-year-old electrician who has lived most of his life by the refineries. “It would be better for me and the kids.”

Doctors have found four lumps in his lungs and now more growths, according to the chest X-rays and medical records he showed Reuters. The first ones were not cancerous. Barragan says he has not been able to afford imaging of the new growths. He hopes they are benign so he can watch his children grow up.

“When I work hard, I start coughing and coughing and can’t stop,” he said. “I know a lot of people who have problems like that.”

POLLUTION REDUCED

Lillian Riojas, Valero Energy Corp’s chief spokeswoman, said the company has worked to reduce pollution at its refinery since purchasing it in 1997.

In the 22 years since Valero took over the refinery, ambient benzene levels have dropped 63% to 0.34 parts per billion, according to data from 1997 to 2019 from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“There’s a narrative that air quality is getting worse, but that’s not what the emission data is showing,” Riojas said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which enforces federal and state environmental laws, gives Valero’s refinery the top compliance level possible, said Andrew Keese, a spokesman for the agency. The other nearby refineries and chemical plants earned a compliance rating of satisfactory.

Of the other plants bordering Manchester, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co has the second highest-rating for compliance with environmental regulations, Keese said.

Goodyear “implemented several changes that resulted in lower emissions from our facility,” said Connie Deibel, a company spokeswoman.

LyondellBasell Industries, TPC Group [TPCL.UL] and Flint Hills Resources, which operate facilities near Manchester, did not reply to requests for comment about pollution in the area.

NO MONEY TO MOVE

A 2007 study, the most recent available, of nearly 1,000 childhood cancer cases by the University of Texas found children living within 2 miles (3 km) of the Houston Ship Channel had a 56% higher risk of contracting acute lymphocytic leukemia than children living within 10 miles (16 km) of the Ship Channel. Researchers’ analysis suggests an association between childhood leukemia and air pollution. However the study, funded by Houston’s health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could not prove the pollutants caused the illnesses.

For years, Dennys Nieto wanted to leave the neighborhood but was only recently able to afford to move her and her family to a different part of Texas.

“I suffer from asthma and pain in my lungs. It feels like I’m being hit in the lungs,” Nieto said of her old neighborhood. “Headaches, inflammation and pain in my throat. And also I have erratic blood pressure and heartbeat.”

She checks her blood pressure and listens to her heart beat regularly.

“In the air I feel it’s this we’re all breathing. This is why I want to leave from here,” Nieto said of the Manchester area. “I want to go somewhere that is far from the refineries so that I can repair my life, repair my health and live better.”

 

(Reporting by Loren Elliott; additional reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Deadly political calculations: Why India isn’t fixing its toxic smog problem

A boy rides a bullock cart as smoke billows from paddy waste stubble as it burns in a field near Jewar, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

By Neha Dasgupta and Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – As pollution levels surged to “severe” and “hazardous” levels in New Delhi, India this week, there was little sign that residents of India’s teeming capital were doing much to protect themselves.

The smog, which is expected to worsen in the next few days, exposed people to as much as 24 times the recommended limits for dangerous particles on Monday. But unlike in many Chinese cities, where face masks are a common sight when smog levels spike, it is still rare to see locals taking measures to reduce their exposure.

Toddlers stand at school bus stops in crisply ironed uniforms, while security guards, street sweepers, and rickshaw drivers spend many hours outside breathing in filthy air – all without any attempt at protection.

Ask middle-class residents whether they have air purifiers in their homes and the answer is invariably no.

This is despite the extensive coverage of the capital’s pollution crisis by local media, including numerous warnings from doctors about massive health hazards, especially for children, the sick and the elderly.

The apparent lack of concern about the toxic air – whether through ignorance, apathy or the blinding impact of poverty -gives federal and local politicians the cover they need for failing to vigorously address the problem, said pollution activists, social scientists, and political experts.

Neither the governing party at federal level nor the main opposition are in power in the capital, giving them little incentive to cooperate with the city authorities.

And while Delhi may have a population of more than 20 million, its importance at voting time – a national election is due by May next year – is insignificant in comparison with states such as neighboring Uttar Pradesh, which has 220 million.

“The tragedy is that there is no political will at all either on the part of the federal government or the state government of Delhi and, as a result, we can see both blaming each other for the crisis that we are in,” said Yogendra Yadav, a political polling expert. “Whatever little government action you get to see is because of the pressure that environmental activists and the Supreme Court get to exert.”

COCKTAIL OF FUMES

India’s problems with smog extend far beyond Delhi – the nation of 1.3 billion has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.

But in the capital, at least, this was the year the problem was supposed to be addressed.

After a cocktail of toxic fumes enveloped the area in October and November last year, the Delhi city government declared it a public health emergency and its Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described the Indian capital as a “gas chamber”. Officials of the federal government said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office had asked them to ensure that it did not happen again.

But steps taken so far have failed to make much difference, and now there is finger-pointing between Modi’s administration, the Delhi city government, and the governments of states around the capital.

As this year’s crisis has worsened, environment ministers from Punjab and Haryana – whose farmers’ stubble-burning is a major contributor to the haze – failed to turn up for a meeting called by the federal environment ministry last week, sending their civil servants instead.

The farmers have been torching their fields as they get ready for new plantings, despite being offered government subsidies on machinery that would allow them to mulch the material into the ground without lighting fires.

Farmers say the subsidies were not enough to cover the price of the machinery, the cost of running it, and the additional labor needed, especially given higher fuel prices.

India had planned to reduce crop burning by up to 70 percent this year but only a 30 percent drop has been visible so far, according to a government statement last Thursday.

Blaming that as the main reason behind New Delhi’s poisonous air, a spokesman for the city government said: “We can’t take steps in isolation in Delhi; we can’t build a wall.”

The federal government, meanwhile, has attacked the city for doing little to control pollution from dust, vehicles, and industries.

Certainly, there has been little done to reduce the number of heavily polluting vehicles on the roads in and around Delhi despite threats that have been made but not followed through, including one from the Supreme Court-appointed Environmental Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) to ban all private vehicles from the city.

And while the nation’s top court has issued a ruling trying to restrict the use of fireworks on the night of the Hindu festival Diwali, which is on Wednesday, few expect it to be enforced. For one thing, the court’s edict that only “green”, less-polluting firecrackers can be let off between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. is likely to be ignored because there are no “green” fireworks for sale in the city.

People pass by an installation of an artificial model of lungs to illustrate the effect of air pollution outside a hospital in New Delhi, India, November 5, 2018. Picture taken November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

People pass by an installation of an artificial model of lungs to illustrate the effect of air pollution outside a hospital in New Delhi, India, November 5, 2018. Picture taken November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

WAKE-UP CALL?

Most officials expect to wake up to even worse pollution on Nov. 8, as smoke from the festivities mixes with the smog from other sources to create a deadly cocktail. Light seasonal winds and a lack of rain at this time of year means pollution can linger for weeks, as it did last year.

But Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is more concerned about the impact of weak farm incomes, high fuel prices, and whether job creation has been adequate as issues at the polls.

“A holistic approach in the current climate is difficult to envisage as political divisiveness means that politicians are not looking for enduring solutions,” said Pavan K Varma, an official from a regional party in the state of Bihar and former diplomat who lives in Delhi.

Neither is it in the BJP’s interests, or in the interest of the main opposition Congress party, to help Kejriwal’s New Delhi government. In 2015, Kejriwal’s anti-establishment Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, crushed the BJP and Congress to take control of the city.

For Delhi’s doctors it is a nightmare.

This year, the number of patients with severe lung problems has already gone up by up by 25 percent and is expected to increase further after Diwali, said Doctor Desh Deepak, a chest physician at government-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

“It’s tragic that children are suffering and we’ll destroy a whole generation if we don’t take cognizance of the fact that pollution needs to be tackled on a war footing,” said Dr Neeraj Jain, head of chest medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi.

A woman waits to receive treatment for respiratory issues at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in New Delhi, India, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

A woman waits to receive treatment for respiratory issues at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in New Delhi, India, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Dipankar Gupta, a leading sociologist who has written books on Indian society, said only heavy state intervention was likely to solve the problem. He pointed to an improvement in the pollution levels in Beijing last year because of strict government measures to curb polluting industries near the Chinese capital.

But that state crackdown still seems a long way from happening in India. The EPCA has announced a variety of steps between Nov. 1-10 as part of an emergency package, including the use of water sprinklers and a complete ban on construction.

But most environmental experts say it is far too little, too late, and is not addressing the biggest pollution sources.

Modi has not publicly addressed the health crisis that has engulfed the capital.

The grim prognosis means that foreign organizations, including embassies in Delhi, are finding it difficult to get top talent to come to the city.

“Staff with young children are increasingly choosing not to come which wasn’t the case a few years ago,” a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Most of the city’s residents are poor, however, and more worried about making enough money to buy food than pollution.

“The daily grind … leaves no room to think about the haze and smog,” said Vimla Devi, who works as a maid in the suburbs of Delhi.

(Additional reporting by David Stanway in BEIJING; Edited by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson)

Smog chokes Indian capital as emergency measures fail to bring relief

A man covers his face with a handkerchief as he walks ina park on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India, November 9, 2017.

By Rupam Jain

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A thick cloud of toxic smog 10 times the recommended limit enveloped India’s capital, New Delhi, on Monday, as government officials struggled to tackle a public health crisis that is well into its second week.

A U.S. embassy measure showed levels of poisonous airborne particles, known as PM 2.5, had reached 498 on Monday afternoon, compared with the upper limit of “good” quality air at 50.

India’s weather office said rain was forecast over the next three days which could help clear the smog.

“Light rainfall is likely in states surrounding Delhi and in Delhi over the next three days, and this could result in a change in wind pattern in the region,” Charan Singh, a scientist at India Meteorological Department, told Reuters.

“Smog will start to abate starting tomorrow.”

But Skymet, India’s only private weather forecaster, said dense smog would continue over Delhi and the surrounding area for at least the next two days.

The Supreme Court is due to hear a petition filed by a New Delhi lawyer to direct government authorities to tackle the “intolerable and unbearable air pollution”.

The Delhi state government declared a public health emergency last week after pollution levels spiked, a yearly phenomenon blamed on a combination of illegal crop burning in northern states, vehicle exhaust and dust.

Over the weekend, authorities began using fire trucks to spray water in parts of the capital to keep the dust and other air particles down, but it has had little effect.

A senior federal government official said there was little more that could be done.

“We can only do this much, and now we will have to wait for rains to clean the atmosphere,” said Prashant Gargava, an official at the Central Pollution Control Board.

Gargava, who is in charge of monitoring air quality, said Delhi’s air has been consistently in the “hazardous” zone, despite measures such as a halt to construction and increasing car parking charges four-fold to encourage people to use public transport.

A man walks through smog near Delhi, India November 13, 2017.

A man walks through smog near Delhi, India November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

EVERY BREATH

The PM 2.5 airborne particles are about 30 times finer than a human hair. The particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing respiratory diseases and other ailments. Hospitals have seen a surge of patients coming in with respiratory complaints, according to media reports.

“Every second we are damaging our lungs, but we cannot stop breathing,” said Arvind Kumar, the head of the chest and lung surgery department at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital.

United Airlines said it had resumed flights from Newark, New Jersey, to New Delhi on Sunday, after suspending the service temporarily over concern about the bad air.

Authorities decided to reopen schools on Monday after closing them temporarily for a few days last week, but the decision is likely to add more vehicles on the road.

Enforcement agencies said they were unable to impose a blanket ban on the movement of commercial trucks.

Primary school teacher Aarti Menon said her family had been wearing face masks, even when indoors.

“Not everyone can afford an air purifier or air-conditioned car. We are all living in hell,” said Menon, a mother of two teenage daughters.

The National Green Tribunal, an environment court, has directed the city government and neighboring states to stop farmers from burning crop stubble. But the governments have not been able to do so.

New Delhi-based non-government group TARA Homes for Children, which supports 60 poor children, said it was seeking donations to buy at least five air purifiers.

“Some of the children have breathing issues and couldn’t go to school,” said a volunteer at the group.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra, Sudarshan Varadhan, Suchitra Mohanty; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

 

Reign of sewage in biblical valley may be coming to an end

Sewage flows in Kidron Valley, on the outskirts of Jerusalem July 6, 2017. Picture taken July 6, 2017.

By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – There is a foul smell coming from the biblical Kidron Valley.

It’s so bad that King David and Jesus, who are said to have walked there thousands of years ago, would today need to take a detour to reach Jerusalem.

For decades now a quarter of Jerusalem’s sewage has flowed openly in the Kidron valley, meandering down the city’s foothills and through the Judean desert to the east. At its worst, the pollution leaks into the Dead Sea.

The stream runs back and forth between land under Israeli and Palestinian administration, making a fix hard to find. But finally it seems a solution has been reached.

Authorities on both sides have agreed to drain the valley of sewage. According to the plan, a pipeline will be constructed carrying the wastewater directly to new treatment facilities. Each side will fund and build the section that runs through its territory.

Until that happens, however, about 12 million cubic meters of sewage continue to flow through the valley each year.

“Of course it’s damaging the environment and the ecological system,” said Shony Goldberger, director of the Jerusalem district in Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry.

“It’s dangerous and hazardous to the health of the people in many ways.”

Added to Jerusalem’s sewage along the stream’s 30 km (19 mile) descent through the occupied West Bank is effluent from Bethlehem and nearby Arab villages.

Plants grow anomalously in what should be a dry wadi, animals come to drink, and mounds of baby wipes flushed down thousands of toilets sporadically coagulate along the banks. Sewage seeps into the earth, risking contamination of ground water.

Toward the end of the journey it gathers in a makeshift collection pool and much is used to irrigate date trees, which have a high tolerance for pollutants. But every so often gravity pulls the refuse toward the lowest spot on earth, the Dead Sea.

“It’s like a brown stain,” Goldberger said. “It stays disconnected from most of the salty water of the Dead Sea.”

With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at an impasse, projects that require even minor cross-border coordination seldom get done. Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, but under interim peace deals the Palestinians exercise limited self-rule in part of the territory.

“After decades of not being able to solve the problem, for a thousand and one reasons, professional and political, we reached an agreement for building a pipeline in the valley,” Major General Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of the Israeli government’s activities in the West Bank, told Reuters.

The Palestinian Water Authority said the agreement was reached out of an “interest to clean the area,” but emphasized the two sides were working separately.

While they are both are optimistic, some scepticism remains, since similar plans in past never gained traction.

“We were talking about it, planning it, every time it took two, three, four years. You think you have it, and then the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be a truck coming at you,” said Goldberger.

“I hope this solution will reach the stage where it is built.”

 

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

 

Scientists link higher dementia risk to living near heavy traffic

Cars in traffic

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – People who live near roads laden with heavy traffic face a higher risk of developing dementia than those living further away, possibly because pollutants get into their brains via the blood stream, according to researchers in Canada.

A study in The Lancet medical journal found that people who lived within 50 meters (55 yards) of high-traffic roads had a 7.0 percent higher chance of developing dementia compared to those who lived more than 300 meters away from busy roadways.

“Air pollutants can get into the blood stream and lead to inflammation, which is linked with cardiovascular disease and possibly other conditions such as diabetes. This study suggests air pollutants that can get into the brain via the blood stream can lead to neurological problems,” said Ray Copes, an environmental and occupational health expert at Public Health Ontario (PHO) who conducted the study with colleagues from Canada’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

Dementia is caused by brain diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s disease, which result in the loss of brain cells and affect memory, thinking, behavior, navigational and spatial abilities and the ability to perform everyday activities.

The World Health Organization estimates the number of people with dementia in 2015 at 47.5 million, and that total is rising rapidly as life expectancy increases and societies age. The incurable condition is a leading cause of disability and dependency, and is starting to overtake heart disease as a cause of death in some developed countries.

Independent experts said the Canadian study had important implications for public health around the world. Tom Dening of the Center for Old Age and Dementia at Britain’s Nottingham University said the findings were “interesting and provocative”.

“It is unlikely that Ontario has the worst air quality in the world, so the risks might be even greater in cities that are habitually wrapped in smog,” he said.

Chen’s team analyzed records of more than 6.5 million Ontario residents aged 20 to 85 and found 243,611 cases of dementia between 2001 and 2012. Then they mapped residents’ proximity to major roadways using postal codes.

The increase in the risk of developing dementia went down to 4.0 percent if people lived 50 to 100 meters from major traffic, and to 2.0 percent if they lived within 101 to 200 meters. At more than 200 meters, the elevated risk faded away.

The team also explored links between living close to major roads and Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis – two other major neurological disorders – but the findings suggested no increased risk of these from living near heavy traffic.

The scientists said their results could be used to help town and city planners take traffic conditions and air pollution into account as urban areas become more densely populated.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

China wants 23 northern cities put on red alert for smog

Policemen wear protective masks at the Tiananmen Square on an extremely polluted day as hazardous, choking smog continues to blanket Beijing, China

BEIJING (Reuters) – Environmental authorities in China have advised 23 northern cities to issue red alerts, the highest possible air pollution warning, on Friday evening, against the “worst” smog the country has experienced since autumn, state media said.

China issued its first ever red alert for smog in Beijing, the capital, last December, after adopting a color-graded warning system in a crackdown on environmental degradation left by decades of breakneck economic growth.

Officials in Beijing issued a red alert on Thursday after the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) warned of a smog build-up across China’s north, saying the alert was expected to run until Dec. 21.

The ministry has also advised 22 more cities reeling under pollution to issue the red alert warning, the official China Daily said on Friday.

Nine cities, including Jinan in the province of Shangdong were advised to issue the lower-status orange alert, Liu Bingjing, the ministry’s head of air quality management, told the paper.

The notification will be the third joint warning by city governments this month, Liu added.

Regular episodes of smog blanketing northern China this year stem from a combination of local emissions, unfavorable weather and pollutants wafted in from elsewhere, Bai Qiuyong, head of China’s Environmental Monitoring Center, told the paper.

Environmental authorities in Hebei province, which borders capital city Beijing, asked for a level one emergency response from major cities in the region to begin from Friday, according to a post on its official microblog account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service late on Thursday.

The order requires the large number of heavy polluting industries in these cities, including Tangshan, China’s steel capital, to cut back or halt production until Wednesday.

A chimney of a power plant is pictured among smog as a red alert for air pollution is issued in Beijing, China,

A chimney of a power plant is pictured among smog as a red alert for air pollution is issued in Beijing, China, December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Environmental group Greenpeace urged the government in a statement on Friday to “strictly punish” factories and plants in Hebei that flout regulations, as it said they have often done during past alerts.

Red alerts are issued in Beijing when the air quality index, a measure of pollutants, is forecast to break 200 for more than four days in succession, surpass 300 for more than two days or overshoot 500 for at least 24 hours.

At each level, the colour-graded warning system prescribes advisories for schools, hospitals and businesses, as well as possible curbs on traffic and construction.

Thresholds for the issue of alerts vary among cities, as do the cautionary measures urged on local residents and businesses at each stage.

Residents of smaller cities near Beijing have previously complained that local government bodies failed to issue warnings when pollution was just as severe as in the capital.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Tom Hogue)

China to have world’s largest nuclear capacity in 15 years: WNA

Nuclear Reactor in China

By Jessica Jaganathan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China is set to overtake the United States to have the world’s largest nuclear capacity over the next 10 to 15 years as it races to build new reactors to combat pollution, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) said on Tuesday.

It will overtake France to have the second-highest number of nuclear reactors by 2020, Agneta Rising, the WNA’s director general, said at an annual energy conference in Singapore.

“For China, the air pollution is a major driver,” she said on the sidelines of the Singapore International Energy Week.

In Asia, 134 operable reactors generated 400 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2015, making up 16 percent of global nuclear generation, the WNA said in a report released on Tuesday.

Another 39 reactors comprising 47.4 gigawatts (GW) are currently under construction in Asia, which comprises nearly two-thirds of global reactor construction. China makes up the bulk with 20 reactors under construction.

“There is history in the region, where you have high-skilled people with very good university education and they have been working on research reactors … so I think there is basis of knowledge,” Rising said. “The big driver (in Asia) is to have electricity for people.”

There are also plans for more than 50 reactors comprising more than 50,000 megawatts (MW) in nine new countries in the region, with most planning to have their first nuclear reactors enter operation before 2030, the WNA said.

Bangladesh looks likely to have the first reactor online among these new countries in six years, Rising said, which would also be the first for the country.

However, many southeast Asian countries are pushing back the timeline for new reactors to come online, including Malaysia and Thailand.

“It’s a combination of cost as it’s a large infrastructure and also there needs to be more groups involved in discussions and have transparency in plans,” she said.

New reactor construction is mostly led by industrializing countries which have enjoyed high levels of economic growth with an accompanying increase in energy demand, the WNA said in the report.

Four countries are expected to account for 70 percent of reactors commissioned in the period to 2030, which are China, Russia, India and South Korea.

(Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

More than 300 million at risk of diseases from dirty water

A boy searches for coins thrown by devotees as religious offerings in a polluted water channel near a temple in Kolkata

By Magdalena Mis

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than 300 million people in Asia, Africa and Latin America are at risk of life-threatening diseases like cholera and typhoid due to the increasing pollution of water in rivers and lakes, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said.

Between 1990 and 2010, pollution caused by viruses, bacteria and other micro-organisms, and long-lasting toxic pollutants like fertilizer or petrol, increased in more than half of rivers across the three continents, while salinity levels rose in nearly a third, UNEP said in a report on Tuesday.

Population growth, expansion of agriculture and an increased amount of raw sewage released into rivers and lakes were among the main reasons behind the increase of surface water pollution, putting some 323 million people at risk of infection, UNEP said.

“The water quality problem at a global scale and the number of people affected by bad water quality are much more severe than we expected,” Dietrich Borchardt, lead author of the report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

However, a significant number of rivers remain in good condition and need to be protected, he said by phone from Germany.

About a quarter of rivers in Latin America, 10 percent to 25 percent in Africa and up to 50 percent in Asia were affected by severe pathogen pollution, largely caused by discharging untreated wastewater into rivers and lakes, the report said.

Some 3.4 million people die each year from diseases such as cholera, typhoid, polio or diarrhea, which are associated with pathogens in water, UNEP said.

It estimated that up to 164 million people in Africa, 134 million in Asia and 25 million in Latin America were at risk of infection from the diseases.

It said building more sewers was not enough to prevent infections and deaths, adding that the solution was to treat wastewater.

Organic pollution, which can cause water to be completely starved of oxygen, affects one kilometer (0.6 mile) out of seven kilometers (4.4 miles) of rivers in Latin America, Africa and Asia, threatening freshwater fisheries, UNEP said.

Severe and moderate salinity levels, caused by the disposal of salty water from mines, irrigation systems and homes, affect one in 10 rivers on the three continents, making it harder for poor farmers to irrigate their crops, it said.

The trend of worsening water pollution was “critical”, Borchardt said.

“It is much more expensive to clean up surface water from severe pollution than to implement proper management which includes prevention of pollution,” he said. “Tools are available but the challenge is to implement them.”

(Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Researchers find 39 unreported sources of pollution says NASA

Grey plumes of toxic dust from giant nickel smelters in the Siberian city of Norilsk are carried by arctic winds

(Reuters) – Researchers in the United States and Canada have located 39 unreported sources of major pollution using a new satellite-based method, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.

The unreported sources of toxic sulfur dioxide emissions are clusters of coal-burning power plants, smelters and oil and gas operations in the Middle East, Mexico and Russia that were found in an analysis of satellite data from 2005 to 2014, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

The analysis also found that the satellite-based estimates of the emissions were two or three times higher than those reported from known sources in those regions, NASA said.

Environment and Climate Change Canada atmospheric scientist Chris McLinden said in a statement that the unreported and underreported sources accounted for about 12 percent of all human-made emissions of sulfur dioxide.

The discrepancy could have “a large impact on regional air quality,” said McLinden, the lead author of the study published in Nature Geosciences.

A new computer program and improvements in processing raw satellite observations helped researchers at NASA; the University of Maryland, College Park; Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Environment and Climate Change Canada detect the pollution, according to the U.S. space agency.

The researchers also located 75 natural sources of sulfur dioxide in the form of non-erupting volcanoes that are slowly leaking the toxic gas.

Although the sites are not necessarily unknown, many volcanoes are in remote locations and not monitored, so the satellite-based data is the first to provide regular annual information on these volcanic emissions, NASA said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn)

Study Finds Uranium Seeps into Two Major U.S. Aquifers

Researchers have found that about 2 million Americans in the Great Plains and central California are living close to sites that far exceed federal safety guidelines for uranium levels.

A recent study conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found uranium levels in the High Plains and Central Valley aquifers, two of the country’s most significant sources of drinking water and irrigation, are far above thresholds set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The research showed that water in the High Plains aquifer, the largest in the United States, had uranium levels as high as 89 times the EPA-established standards. The water in California’s Central Valley aquifer, a source of irrigation for one of the country’s most important agricultural hubs, showed some uranium levels that were 180 times the guidelines set forth by the EPA.

Uranium is an element whose isotopes were famously used in the production of atomic bombs. Past studies have shown long-term exposure to water tainted by uranium can lead to high blood pressure and kidney damage, according to a news release accompanying the Nebraska study.

The researchers found the uranium contamination in most of the 275,000 water samples they collected was directly tied to nitrate, a more common water polluter that is found in chemical fertilizers and animal waste. The scientists say that nitrate interacts with the uranium that’s naturally present in the ground in a way that makes the material dissolve in groundwater.

About 78 percent of the contaminated sites had nitrates present, the study indicated. The researchers said the data indicated that the uranium levels weren’t predominantly the result of mining or any kind of nuclear fuel, but rather the reactions between nitrate and the element.

“It needs to be recognized that uranium is a widespread contaminant,” one of the Nebraska study’s researchers, Karrie Weber, said in a statement accompanying the research. “And we are creating this problem by producing a primary contaminant that leads to a secondary one.”

The researchers said that facilities to treat water can cost seven figures, which makes it hard for some smaller municipalities to buy them. And there are some people who receive their water from private wells and don’t tap into any kind of regulated municipal water system.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the uranium contamination has been so widely underreported that some people living in the affected areas didn’t even know it was an issue.

The news agency said it conducted its own tests on the private wells of five homes near Modesto, California, where officials spent $500,000 on upgrades to its water system that were designed to bring down uranium levels. The report indicated none of the homeowners knew uranium even had the potential to be a water pollutant, yet two of the five wells showed dangerous levels of it.

The High Plains aquifer supplies drinking and irrigation water to eight states from South Dakota to Texas, according to the Nebraska study. The Central Valley aquifer is a major water source for California and the state’s vital agriculture industry, which the state Department of Food and Agriculture said produces half of America’s domestically-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. In all, the department said California growers and ranchers got $54 billion for last year’s products.

“When you start thinking about how much water is drawn from these aquifers, it’s substantial relative to anywhere else in the world,” Weber said in a statement. “These two aquifers are economically important — they play a significant role in feeding the nation — but they’re also important for health. What’s the point of having water if you can’t drink it or use it for irrigation?”