Thursday, November 27, 2014

Time to Pay the “Piper”

WSSC workers closing valve at a water main break 
Last week the Washington Post reported that the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which supplies drinking water to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties (as well as waste water treatment), found that 60% of 350 large valves in their water distribution system that have been inspected this year in the recently revived preventative maintenance program did not work. Years of rust buildup and lack of operation or as it’s called by engineers, exercise caused the valves to freeze and fail to operate. If you do not occasionally exercise a valve it will freeze and fail when it is needed. The WSSC system has almost 64,500 vales in almost 5,600 miles of water pipes. The valves are needed to shut off water to a section of piping and divert water flow for repairs or when a pipe fails.

According to their most recent infrastructure plan WSSC is trying to replace 55 miles of water pipe each year and exercise (turn) 430 valves a year. Though that sounds impressive it is inadequate especially after years of neglect and with more than 350 miles of concrete pipe mains serving as the trunk lines in the system. These concrete water mains were designed to carry high volumes of pressurized water came into use in the United States and other nations in the late 1950’s and continued in use for water systems into the mid 1970’s when they were found to suffer from early failures. In addition, WSSC bought their pipes from the lowest bidder who seems to have had more problems with their piping.

If you will recall, one of these massive water mains in the WSSC system exploded back in March 2013 in Chevy Chase without warning despite sensors being present in that section of piping. According to the Washington Post the March 18, 2013 pipe explosion created a 50-by-70-foot crater in Chevy Chase Lake Drive and adjacent stream bank, and the lack of warning was because the failure occurred in a joint. In 2010 a water main needed to be replaced over the fourth of July weekend forcing water restrictions on Montgomery and Prince George counties as the replacement did not go smoothly due to valve failures. In addition, in late 2008, a concrete main 66 inches in diameter burst in Bethesda, causing a torrent of frigid water that stranded cars and drivers. Other large water-main breaks in the past several years have led to advisories to boil-water for homes, businesses and hospitals as well as the temporary closure of schools and day-care centers.

This type of steel reinforced concrete pipe used for the WSSC trunk lines has begun to fail catastrophically decades before their promised 100-year life expectancy. The life expectancy for steel pipe by comparison is 80 years. Unfortunately, WSSC has 350 miles of this type of pipe. In addition, WSSC ‘s supplier, Interpace, may have produced inferior pipe- the company was successfully sued by WSSC and others and is now out of business. Nine of the WSSC’s concrete mains have blown apart since 1996. After the 2008 blowout and to prevent future catastrophy, WSSC engaged in a a well publicized program to install a sensor system along all the concrete mains that cost more than $21 million to alert WSSC of an impending failure. It costs $1.4 million to replace each mile of water main. Fairfax water was able to replace all their concrete water mains, but with 350 miles of concrete water main the cost to replace all the concrete mains for WSSC was prohibitive.

Fall is the time when the budget cycle for fiscal year 2016 begins and WSSC spells out its needs and the Montgomery and Prince George’s county executives and councils review that material and set rate increases, if any, for the next year. Rates for WSSC water have increased between 7% and 9% percent a year since 2008. However, before 2008, rate increases approved by the counties were below the inflation rate for three years, and for six years beginning in 2000 there were no rate increases at all. During this period approximately one-third of the workforce was cut and several routine and essential maintenance programs were dropped including the valve exercise program. Trying to control the cost of water by freezing rates resulted in the deterioration in the water distribution system. It’s falling apart and WSSC is forced to try to catch up and repair the damage from neglecting maintenance.

Like many public water supply companies, the WSSC's attention has not been on maintaining the water delivery system and water purification standards; instead they have been mired for decades by politics. The commissioners have one job, to oversee the operation and maintenance of the water supply system for the residents and businesses in the area. The WSSC has a dedicated revenue source with a captive market so they can raise funds to maintain the system in an orderly and organized fashion, but they don’t. The six commissioners three from Montgomery County and three from Prince George County fail in their primary job- ensuring the uninterrupted supply of safe and sanitary water to the residents of their counties. Instead they worry about fairness for rate increases as pipes burst and valves fail. There is no room for politics in equipment maintenance. It is not “fair” that WSSC has hundreds of miles of poor quality water mains, it is simply true. The typical life of a steel pipe is 80 years and WSSC needs to pick up the pace of their pipe replacement program to match the life of the pipe.

Monday, November 24, 2014

USGS Study Finds Naturally Occurring Methane in Northeastern Pennsylvania

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has tested well water in Wayne and Pike counties in northeast Pennsylvania and found that contains low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane. The study area has never been developed with oil and gas wells, either by conventional methods or by hydraulic fracturing.

It has long been known that methane gas occurs naturally in groundwater aquifers in many geological sedimentary basins. Methane often gas exists at low concentration dissolved in groundwater underground and will “bubble out” when pumped to the surface. For those on private water well supplies, spurting taps is a typical indication of this phenomenon and can be a hazard without proper venting. . Methane present in groundwater can be a result of biogenic activity or can be from coal gas beds or from deeper shale gas. Biogenic methane is produced by subsurface bacteria and commonly occurs naturally in groundwater aquifers used for water well supplies. The potential presence of methane is why modern sanitary well caps have screened vents.

Scientists have found and investigated methane in drinking water wells near fracked gas wells in the Marcellus Shale, but before now had no baseline study of methane in areas befre they were fracked. Fracking or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known involves the pressurized injection of fluids commonly made up of mostly water and chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released. The fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) are partially recovered and returned to the surface or deep well injected. Natural gas will flow from pores and fractures in the rock into the wells allowing for enhanced access to the methane reserve.

While geologists and engineers believed that in hydraulic fracturing the intervening layers of rock prevent a fissure from extending into the water table, this had not been studied and there were reported instances of contamination of drinking water wells in areas that had been fracked most famously in the less than scientific movie “Gasland.” Only in the past four years has the potential to contaminate drinking water wells been studied. In a small group of studies (see Jackson, et al) that were primarily in the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania, peer-reviewed studies found no evidence of salts, metals, or radioactivity beyond naturally occurring concentrations in drinking water wells near shale gas wells. However, they did find increased levels of methane in groundwater wells.

In Wayne County, about 65% or 22 of the 34 private drinking-water wells tested were found to contain dissolved methane. Most of the methane levels were low, below 100 parts per billion, but levels as high as 3,300 parts per billion were observed.

In the Pike County about 80% or 16 of 20 tested wells contained methane, with two wells having methane concentrations greater than 1,000 parts per billion and as high as 5,800 parts per billion. The concentrations of dissolved methane in about 10 percent of well-water samples in both studies were high enough to allow for isotopic analysis to identify the type of natural gas in the water. In Pike County, the isotopic composition of two methane samples indicated that methane was predominantly microbial in origin. In Wayne County, the isotopic composition of three methane samples indicated a thermogenic origin and a mixture of microbial and thermogenic types of methane.

None of the wells tested in either study were located near currently producing natural gas wells. Both Wayne and Pike counties are within the Delaware River Basin, where a moratorium on shale-gas drilling is in place. These studies show that naturally occurring methane can be found in drinking water wells in areas where no unconventional natural gas development is occurring. The studies also provide background information on other aspects of groundwater quality, such as arsenic, barium, chloride, and radon concentrations so that the impact of shale-gas development on groundwater can be compared to the baseline. Currently, the USGS is continuing to collect data on baseline groundwater quality in areas in Pennsylvania underlain by the Marcellus Shale.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

George Washington National Forest Will Allow Limited Fracking

from Forest Service
On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Regional Forester released the Final Forest Plan for management of the George Washington National Forest. The plan revises the existing 1993 plan and has been long anticipated because of the controversy surrounding the potential of fracking the headwaters of the Potomac and James River. A big sigh of relief as the final plan announced on Tuesday limits oil and gas leasing to the existing 10,000 acres where there are current leases, as well as on 167,200 acres with the mineral rights are privately held, and creates a framework for potential development of gas and oil resources.

The 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest sits atop the eastern portion of the Marcellus shale formation. Now, the U.S. Forest Service has announced that it will allow oil and gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing or any other legal and regulatory approved method, but only in the 16% of the forest with existing leases and privately owned oil and gas rights. This final plan reversed a 2011 Environmental Impact Assessment that recommended allowing drilling in 993,000 acres of 1.1-million-acre forest, but banned hydraulic fracking. The finalized plan will allow drilling on 10,000 acres in the forest now leased for energy development and on 167,000 acres whose mineral rights are privately owned. (The government never owned those rights. When the government acquired the land for the forest the owners retained the mineral rights.) Currently, there are no active gas wells in the forest or in surrounding private tracts.

The George Washington-Jefferson National Forest contains the headwaters of the James and Potomac Rivers, the lifeblood of our region. The Potomac is the major source of drinking water for more than 4 million people in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC, and the James River supplies Richmond. The headlands and watersheds for both rivers are within the eastern edge of the forest along the edge of the Marcellus shale formation. The entire Chesapeake Bay region is under a mandated pollution diet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Heavy equipment, drilling and other activities involved in accessing oil and gas reserves by any method could increase sediment runoff and potentially release pollution to the Potomac River.

This decision by the Forest Service revises the 1993 Land and Resource Management Plan for the Forest and was a good compromise in closing most of the forest to resource development and honoring private ownership of the mineral rights and existing leases. Originally, the Forest Service recommended opening 993,000 acres to gas leasing, but banning hydraulic fracturing on all of that land. Now the plan will allow drilling on 10,000 acres in the forest now leased for energy development and on 167,000 acres whose mineral rights are privately owned; no other areas will be available for drilling. However, the gas and oil wells can be developed using any legal technology including fracking. Currently, there are no active gas wells in the forest or in surrounding private tracts. The revised plan will also increase the riparian buffers to 100 feet from 66 feet along perennial streams, reduce the forest road system to 1,500 miles or roads from 1,700 miles and increase wilderness area acreage to 70,000 acres from 40,000 acres. These changes will have a big impact in protecting our water resources and the forest.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Water Use in America 2010

from USGS
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has just released the report “Estimated use of water in the United States in 2010.” Since 1950 the USGS has collected data on water use in the U.S. every 5 years and then several years later reports the results. This is the 13th such report and allows us to see trends in total water use for the Nation, in different geographic areas, categories of use, and sources of water over time to allow us to see and manage our water use to prevent the United States from ever running out of water. 
from USGS
The big news is that water use has continued to decrease, despite population growth. In 2010 the United States used approximately 355,000 million gallons per day of water. This was a decline of 13% from 2005. Water use in America peaked in 1980 at around 425,000 million gallons a day, then fell to about 400,000 million gallons a day from 1985 to 2000 then ticked up to 410,000 million gallons a day in 2005. Now our water use has fallen back below the level in 1970! Not all the savings in water were in fresh water. About 86% of the water used each day in America is fresh water, the rest is salt water which is primarily used in power generation and industry for cooling water in coastal areas.

In the United States 45% of all water used is for thermoelectric power generation. Water used for thermoelectric power declined 20% and was the largest percent decline. A number of factors contributed to this decline in use, but was primarily due to closure of some older power plants and a decline in the use of coal fired power plants. In generating thermoelectric power water is used in steam-driven turbines. Newer power plants are more efficient in their water use than the oldest plants.

Water use for irrigation totaled about 115,000 million gallons a day or 33% percent of total water used and 38% percent of the freshwater used. Irrigation water use (all freshwater) declined 9% from 2005. Sprinkler and micro-irrigation systems, more efficient than historic surface-irrigation methods, were used on about 58% of the irrigated acreage nationwide in 2010 and accounted for the reduction in water use. Limitations on availability of water in the west (where most irrigation takes place) pushed the adoption of water wise irrigation techniques.

Approximately 12% of water use goes to public supply, almost 7% or 23,800 million gallons of water a day goes for domestic use, which includes indoor and outdoor residential uses, such as drinking water, sanitation, laundry, cleaning and landscape watering. Public-supply water use declined 5% between 2005 and 2010, despite a 4% increase in population. The number of people served by public-supply systems continued to increase and the public-supply per capita use declined to 89 gallons per day in 2010 from 100 gallons per day in 2005. About 14% of the U.S. population or about 44.5 million people, mostly in rural areas, are not connected to public-supply systems, and water for domestic use is self-supplied from wells or other private sources. Self-supplied domestic water use was about 3,600 million gallons a day during 2010.

Self-supplied industrial water use was an estimated 15,900 million gallons a day or about 4% of total water use. Industrial water use includes water used in manufacturing and producing commodities such as paper, chemicals, refined petroleum, wood products, primary metals and processing food. Industrial use of water has declined 12% since 2005 and the USGS attributes that decline to greater efficiencies in industrial processes, more emphasis on water reuse and recycling, and in lower industrial production due to the lingering effects of the recession in 2008.

Water use in California, Texas, Idaho, and Florida accounted for more than 25% of all fresh and saline water used in the United States in 2010. California accounted for 11% of the total nationwide water use and 10% of the total freshwater water use. More than 60% of California’s water use was for irrigation (a tremendous amount of the nation’s food is grown in California), and 17% of water use (almost entirely salt water), was for thermoelectric power. In Texas, about 45% of withdrawals were for thermoelectric power (a significant portion of the power produced in Texas is exported to neighboring states), and 28% was for irrigation. Irrigation accounted for 81% water use in Idaho, and thermoelectric power accounted for 61% water use in Florida (those orange trees don’t have to be watered in the rainy Florida climate).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Food Waste and Hunger in America

Nearly 35 million tons of food was trashed in the United States in 2012 according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA’s) Municipal Characterization Report. Practically all of that wasted food, 96%, ended up in landfills or incinerators releasing greenhouse gases. That is about 220 pound of food waste for each and every person in the U.S. The EPA estimates that this waste represents approximately $165 billion annually, though I have no clue how they calculate that. The truth is that no matter how efficient you try to be with your food planning there is always a certain amount of waste; nonetheless, 220 pound of waste per person is shocking.

We have to do something about this. This wasted food is particularly disturbing when you consider that in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in “food insecure” households, the official measure of food deprivation in America. The U. S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as not having consistent access to adequate food throughout the year. This is usually caused by poverty and a lack of other resources like transportation. People who are food insecure are simply hungry, or at risk of hunger. In the United States people go hungry every day. There are hungry people in every state and community in America, your community is not exempt.

But there is hope. Foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation are working on new approaches for solving food and nutrition related challenges including reducing food waste. In addition, the EPA is working with supermarkets, universities, and other businesses to reduce food waste by donating unused food to food Banks (our own Haymarket Food Bank could use your donations) or turning it into compost (which does not feed people, but returns the nutrients to the land) as part of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. The EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have joined forces in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to raise awareness of the environmental, health and nutrition issues created by wasted food. Families and individuals can also help to cut down on food waste, and save money in the process.

Here are tips anyone can use to reduce their impact on the environment this for the holidays and throughout the year.
  • Plan your menus, you have to eat every day, plan for it. 
  • Shop your refrigerator first . Keep a list of everything already have on hand and use it. 
  • Take a detailed list to the grocery store each week will cut down on overbuying which, in turn, will reduce waste and save money. Know what you have and know what you need. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils. 
  • Use your leftovers. Get over it-leftovers are good food. In my house we plan to eat each meal I cook twice-leftover dinner is incorporated into lunches, diced into sautéed vegetables or a salad. Make soup with leftover turkey, chicken, or meat, beans and vegetables. Stew, pot roast or brisket is great on a second (or even third) day. 
  • Donate usable food to a food bank, shelter, soup kitchen or other organization that feeds hungry people in your community. Nutritious, safe, and untouched food can be donated to food banks to help those in need. Twice a year I go through my pantry and make sure that canned and bagged goods are used or donated. I canned an unbelievable amount of tomatoes at the end of the summer, so the cans of tomatoes on the shelf are being donated to the food bank. 
  • If you are not into canning, the freezer is your friend. Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables. If you only need half a green pepper, dice the other half and freeze. Frozen grapes are a wonderful desert. 
  • Compost your food waste. Composting reduces the amount of food waste that goes into the trash. And you'll end up with free, fertilizer that will help next year's garden grow. Uncooked vegetables and fruits, eggshells, and coffee grinds are just some of the items that can be composted. 
  • At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal. 
  • At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat. 
  • Befriend the neighbors with dogs (my cat eats about 4 grams of leftovers every other day). In truth the last piece of pot roast or the grizzle from meat (which cannot be composted) is mixed with a bit of stock and cooked vegetables and given to the neighborhood dogs. (I have permission from the owners and the dogs like not only the food, but also the belly rub and games of fetch during the day when everyone is at work.) 
Dishes like chicken gumbo can be served more than once

These are little things, but small steps add up, but you do have to start to reduce food waste. The EPA points out the following benefits of reducing food waste:
  • Saves money from buying less food. 
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint. 
  • Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then land filling it). 
  • Supports your community by providing donated (untouched) food that would have otherwise gone to waste to food banks.
My fridge on Wednesday

Monday, November 10, 2014

Solar Flares and Sun Spots

A sun spot so huge it was seen without a telescope reminds us that the Sun controls our fate. On October 18th, 2014 the largest sun spot (or region of activity) observed in 24 years appeared on the surface of the sun. The sun spot, identified as AR 12192, fired off 10 sizable solar flares in the 11 days that it traversed across the face of the sun. The sun spot was so large it was seen by those looking at the sun with eclipse glasses during the partial eclipse of the sun on October 23, 2014 giving the sky watches a good show, though the region did not flare during the eclipse.

The largest solar flare was on October 24th. "Despite all the flares, this region did not produce any significant coronal mass ejections," said Alex Young a solar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Though I did not know it,apparently you can have massive solar flares without coronal mass ejections, However, most big flares do have coronal mass ejections.

So we're learning that a large active regions don't always equal the biggest solar events.Solar activity can be divided into four main components: solar flares, coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind, and solar energetic particles that appear to be associated with solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These phenomena are all related to sun spots and can only impact earth when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth. 

The Sun is not always active, it through periods of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. Although cycles as short as 9 years and as long as 14 years have been observed. The solar or sunspot cycle is how scientists mark the changes in the Sun's activity. We are currently in what scientists have labeled Cycle #24 which was about a full year overdue. Solar minimum is period of several Earth years when the number of sunspots is lowest; solar maximum occurs in the years when sunspots are most numerous. During solar maximum, activity on the Sun and the effects of space weather on our terrestrial environment are high. At solar minimum, the sun may go many days with no sunspots visible. At maximum, there may be several hundred sunspots on any day. Scientists tell us we should have seen a solar maximum late in 2013 for this cycle, but there may be a larger cycle (100 years or more) that impacts the shorter cycles.

Though the first sun spot was observed by Galileo in 1610, continuous daily observations of the sun were begun at the Zurich Observatory in 1849. Areas on the Sun near sunspots often flare up, heating solar material to millions of degrees in just seconds and blasting billions of tons of that material into space, these blasts are called solar flares and are from tremendous explosions on the surface of the Sun. A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation. Flares release energy in many forms - electro-magnetic (Gamma rays and X-rays), energetic particles (protons and electrons), and mass flows and can heat up the Earth's upper atmosphere. Coronal Mass Ejections disrupt the flow of the solar wind and produce disturbances that can strike the Earth itself. Solar material streams out through space, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path.  Although the Sun's corona has been observed during total eclipses of the Sun for thousands of years, we did not know about the existence of coronal mass ejections until the 1970’s. 

The solar wind streams off of the Sun in all directions at speeds of about a million miles per hour. The source of the solar wind is the Sun's hot corona, the Sun's outer atmosphere. The corona is significantly hotter than the surface of the Sun, though we do not understand why. The corona is 1,800,000°F while the surface of the Sun has a temperature of only about 10,000°F. The processes that heat the corona, maintains it at these high temperatures, and accelerate the solar wind is not understood. The solar wind is not uniform. Although it is always directed away from the Sun it changes speed and carries magnetic clouds. The solar wind speed variations shake the Earth's magnetic field and can produce storms in the Earth's magnetosphere and can cause current surges in power lines that destroy equipment and knock out power over large areas.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

CO2 Emissions fine for Hyundai and Kia

The United States is serious about carbon dioxide; the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued the Korean automobile manufacturers, Hyundai and Kia (both part of the same conglomerate) for lying about the gas millage on some of their cars. On Monday, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $100 million fine as part of the settlement with Hyundai and Kia that will resolve their alleged intentional Clean Air Act violations. Hyundai and Kia misrepresented the fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions of several models under the National Program for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and fuel economy standards. This 2009 program was the first step taken by the EPA to meet President Obama’s pledge to reduce U.S greenhouse gas emissions, the second step was the reduction in greenhouse gas emission from power plants. Electrical generation and automobiles and trucks account for 74% of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

In the summer of 2011 the EPA and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finalized the new millage and emission standards for automobiles and light trucks for model year 2012 through 2016. The EPA GHG standards require these vehicles to meet an estimated combined average emissions level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile in model year 2016, equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg). There were interim benchmarks that automobile manufacturers were required to meet and approved methods for measuring fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, credits were granted for exceeding targets.

EPA alleges that Hyundai and Kia inflated their millage and falsely reduced their greenhouse gas emissions on the Hyundai Accent, Elantra, Veloster and Santa Fe and the Kia Rio and Soul. A combined 1.2 million of these vehicles were sold from model years 2012 and 2013 based partially on the inflated millage figures. Complaints about millage prompted the EPA audit which uncovered that the design specifications for these cars did not conform to the specifications the companies certified to EPA in making their greenhouse gas emissions calculations. EPA discovered these violations in 2012. Subsequent investigation revealed that Hyundai’s and Kia’s testing protocol that they performed in Korea was incorrectly performed to produce higher fuel economy ratings. In processing test data, EPA accused Hyundai and Kia of cherry picking the best data rather than averaging all data as required by the EPA.

In information given to consumers, Hyundai and Kia overstated the fuel economy by one to six miles per gallon, depending on the vehicle and understated the emissions of greenhouse gases by their fleets by approximately 4.75 million metric tons over the estimated lifetime of the vehicles. The inflated fuel millage numbers were great enough for consumers to notice, despite the fact that all millage numbers at the time were for ideal conditions and unlikely to be obtained by the average driver.

Hyundai and Kia have agreed to pay a $100 million civil penalty and will forfeit 4.75 million greenhouse gas emission credits that the companies previously claimed. The greenhouse gas emission credits are estimated to be worth over $200 million. This fine is intended to demonstrate the seriousness with which the Administration will enforce climate related regulations.

In their press release Hyundai stated that they believe that their process for testing the fuel economy of its vehicles is consistent with government regulations and guidance, which grants broad latitude to vehicle manufacturers in determining test conditions. “Outside of a data processing error related to the coastdown testing method by which Hyundai calculated resistance or "road load," it was Hyundai’s regulatory interpretation within this broad latitude that was responsible for the ratings restatement.” Hyundai and Kia corrected the error, and in October 2012 the EPA approved Hyundai’s new fuel economy testing program. In addition, Hyundai provided a lifetime reimbursement program to cover the additional fuel costs associated with the rating change plus a 15% premium in acknowledgment of the inconvenience to all owners of the effected vehicles.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Total Sanitation Campaign in India Fails

The Total Sanitation Campaign (which has been renamed the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan) is a program in India to provide subsidies for the construction of household toilets for those at and near the poverty level to prevent diarrhea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, and child malnutrition and stunting of growth. The programs has been in operation since the turn of the century, but has failed to improve childhood health and the stunting of growth.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.5 billion people have no access to toilets or latrines. More than 70% of these people live in rural areas, as do more than 90% of the 1.1 billion who practice open defecation (when people defecate outside onto the open ground, and in full view of other people). India represents a particular challenge, accounting for roughly a third of the world's population without improved sanitation and two-thirds of the population practicing open defecation.

The WHO states that poor sanitation is associated with various infectious diseases, including diarrhea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, trachoma, and schistosomiasis. Diarrhea alone causes an estimated 1.4 million deaths annually, including 19% of all deaths of children younger than 5 years in low-income households. Furthermore, evidence has linked poor sanitation with stunting, and impaired cognitive development which may be caused by environmental enteropathy, a poorly understood subclinical condition caused by constant fecal-oral contamination and resulting in blunting of intestinal villi and intestinal inflammation. Simply put living surrounded by poop is bad for your child’s health.

Although historical improvements in urban sanitation are widely believed to be the most important health advancement of the 20th century, the of the health effect of household toilets/latrines in low-income rural settings is not strong. From May 2010 until December 2013 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a study to assess the effectiveness of installing rural household latrines in India under the Total Sanitation Campaign in preventing diarrhea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, and child malnutrition. The study attempted to investigate the effect of the installing latrines as actually delivered by the foundation and its local partners working in India within the Total Sanitation Campaign.

The researchers performed a controlled study in 100 rural villages in the coastal district of Odisha (formerly Orissa) India. The villages were chosen from a list of 358 villages that were not previously covered by the Total Sanitation Campaign. Villages were eligible if less than 10% of households had latrines; had improved water supply; and if no other water, sanitation, or hygiene (WASH) intervention program was planned during the study period. Fifty of the villages were placed in intervention group with the local foundation offering the Total Sanitation Program and 50 villages served as the control group. There were 4586 households (24 969 individuals) in intervention villages and 4894 households (25 982 individuals) in control villages.

During the study period the Total Sanitation Campaign intervention increased mean village latrine coverage from 9% of households to 63%, compared with an increase from 8% to 12% in control villages. Health surveillance data were obtained from 1437 households with children younger than 5 years in the intervention group (1919 children younger than 5 years), and from 1465 households (1916 children younger than 5 years) in the control group. The key indicators tracked were the prevalence of reported 7-days of diarrhea in children younger than 5 years, the hand and household water bacterial count, and the level of worm infestation in children’s feces and the prevalence of flies. Their findings showed no evidence that the Total Sanitation Campaign program in rural Odisha reduced exposure to fecal contamination or prevented diarrhea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, or child malnutrition. The program was found to be a failure and had no impact on health. These findings are consistent with another study performed in India within the Total Sanitation Campaign in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, but in contrast to results found with improved sanitation and hygiene in other world programs.

from Lancet
The study findings cast doubt on the health effect of the Total Sanitation Campaign (now under the name Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan) that focus only increasing latrine construction but do not end open defecation or address other sanitation issues that might reduce other possible sources of exposure fecal contamination. Although latrine coverage increased substantially in the study villages to levels targeted by the Total Sanitation Campaign, many households did not build latrines and others were not functional at follow-up. Even householders with access to latrines did not always use them. Open defecation remained widely practiced  by men and children in homes with latrines. India needs to address the underlying cultural acceptance of open defecation, before they can make any progress in improving childhood health and the eliminating the widespread stunting of growth in Indian children. Latrine use was nearly five times higher for women than for men or children. However, the study results show that the health benefits generally associated with sanitation cannot be assumed simply by construction of latrines.
from Lancet
Thomas Clasen, Sophie Boisson, Parimita Routray, Belen Torondel, Melissa Bell, Oliver Cumming, Jeroen Ensink, Matthew Freeman, Marion Jenkins, Mitsunori Odagiri, Subhajyoti Ray, Antara Sinha, Mrutyunjay Suar, Wolf-Peter Schmidt; Effectiveness of a rural sanitation programme on diarrhoea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, and child malnutrition in Odisha, India: a cluster-randomised trial. The Lancet Global Health, Volume 2, Issue 11, Pages e645 - e653, November 2014.