Monday, September 18, 2017

Waste equals energy ... or, from poop to fuel: a Q&A with Cal alum Ashley Muspratt

Ashley Muspratt has devoted her career to something most of us would rather not think about; something that, across much of the Western world, we truly don’t consider. Like our soda cans, toothpaste tubes and heaps of plastic wrap, it just disappears. But management of human waste, also called wastewater or fecal sludge, is a constant concern in many developing nations lacking the costly sewer networks and treatment plants that have contributed to massive public health gains across Europe and the United States over the last century.

Read the rest of the Berkeley Engineer article here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Follow Your Bliss, and This Guy: Michael Ellis profile in Sonoma Magazine

Have you ever heard Bay Area naturalist Michael Ellis deliver one of his engaging "Perspectives" pieces on KQED radio? Have you ever read his long-running column in Bay Nature? Perhaps you're aware of his weekly hikes or annual trips to destinations as diverse and exotic as the Farallon Islands, Death Valley, East Africa, Brazil, and Bhutan -- maybe you've even been so lucky as to attend. Or maybe, just maybe, you're hearing about him for the very first time today! In any case, I've already given away half of my short profile of Ellis, which appeared in the May issue of Sonoma magazine. (Their website is giving me problems, so below is a jpg of a funky web version of the story....)

Monday, July 31, 2017

The passing of Elizabeth Grossman

So sad to hear the news about Lizzie. I never met her, but we did sort of cross paths at a couple Society of Environmental Journalists conferences, including me hearing her discuss environmental health issues as a panelist on two or three occasions. Just knowing about her and her work was enough to guide me toward environmental health as a beat. I sort of considered her the expert on environmental health in SEJ.
Her absence only reinforces my commitment to covering environmental health. But turns out she also wrote books about adventuring along the Lewis and Clark Trail, encountering mountain lions in the wild, removing dams -- public lands, conservation and restoration, outdoors recreation, biodiversity, human health...they're all connected, a fact I aim to demonstrate through my writing as well. 
RIP Elizabeth Grossman, and thank you immensely for your work. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cullinan Ranch restoration in the March issue of Estuary News: "Hosing a Load Off"

Finally getting around to posting my article in the March issue of Estuary News on a new dredging offloader at Cullinan Ranch. I'll leave the rest to the PDF. Find the complete issue here, with my article on page 13 -- lots of good info, I promise. In fact, the entire issue is a good read. :)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Quantifying the economic value of "ecosystem services" in Bay Area parks

The current issue of Estuary News includes another story by yours truly ... this time on the subject of how much parks are worth -- not in terms of day-use/parking fees, recreational opportunities, or even health benefits, but rather in terms of environmental benefits such as stormwater retention, air pollution mitigation, sea-level-rise buffering, and more. This latter class of critical benefits is known broadly as "ecosystem services," and recent efforts across the Bay Area have sought to ascribe them a specific economic value within a city, county, or parks system. The monetization of ecosystem services helps bolster the case for conservation and restoration in an era when the federal government itself seems to deem the environment and natural lands a poor investment.

Conflict and Coexistence: Examining the human-wildlife interface

In a feature for the Spring 2017 issue of Breakthroughs, an alumni magazine published by UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, I cover the work of two Berkeley researchers who have set their sights on the human-wildlife interface: Arthur Middleton, studying elk migrations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and Justin Brashares, studying, among other things, the return of large carnivores to California. 

The article has great art -- and is, I hope, an informative and enjoyable read. Check it out here.

Glycol Ethers and Neurodevelopment: Investigating the Impact of Prenatal Exposures

As I understand it, there are three sorts of prenatal causes of neurodevelopmental delays or impairments in infants/children: 1) genetic, though I don't fully grasp what triggers these genetic alterations in the first place; 2) oxygen deprivation, such as caused by an umbilical cord during birth; and 3) chemical exposures.

My latest article for EHP deals with the third -- although the science remains rather preliminary, early evidence suggests that exposure to chemicals within a broad, very common class known as glycol ethers is associated with impacts on neurodevelopment. It's fascinating, and frightening, that a mother's exposure to certain chemicals common in consumer products may have significant, potentially lifelong implications for her child's cognitive abilities.

While on the individual level such delays or impairments may appear subtle and attributable to random variation within a population -- as opposed to being tied to a specific disease, injury, chemical exposure, etc -- they can still have major consequences for a constellation of childhood skills including cognitive development and ability, speech and language ability, learning ability, fine and gross motor skills, social skills, etc.

And, on the population level, since exposures to some glycol ethers are already known to be widespread -- particularly in the United States and Europe, with detection rates at or near 100 percent -- if this association between a mother's exposure and her child's neurodevelopment holds up under further scrutiny, these effects are only magnified.

Friday, March 31, 2017

In the April issue of EHP [2/2]: News article: Relative risks for PM 2.5 exposures estimated from ground and satellite sources

Here's my second article in the April 2017 issue of EHP, a news story (or Science Selection) on a study published in the same issue. If the cover story is a bit of a think piece, this article veers more toward the technical side of things by discussing the relative accuracy of satellite (i.e., remote sensing), ground, and combined data sources for estimating cardiovascular health risks attributable to exposure to fine particular matter (PM 2.5). Got all that? Yeah, it's a bit wonky, but it's also directly relevant to a lot of research (and thus policy) in the U.S. and around the world that seeks to understand/limit human health effects associated with PM 2.5, the most insidious (and widely studied) form of air pollution on the planet. Find my article here and the original study here.

In the April issue of EHP [1/2]: Feature: How population-level health protections sometimes fail the individual

I have two articles in the April issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. First is the cover story, a 3,000-word, slightly philosophical piece on the ethics (and, to an extent, logistics) of centralized vs. distributed (i.e., personalized/individualized) approaches to reducing harmful exposures via air and water. An early draft of the article also addressed chemical exposures via food, but that section was cut during editing and the other two expanded. I'm happy with how it turned out, and I hope readers (including researchers and policy makers) find it not only interesting but also insightful, and maybe even useful. Instead of trying to explain any more, I'll direct you to the piece straight off: Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Countering extremism with technology

This story for UC Berkeley's Berkeley Engineer magazine is a twist on my usual beat, centering on the nexus of social science and technology. It covers a new interdisciplinary class at Cal that teaches students to design and then build software-based solutions to a pressing real-world problem: violent extremism, or, put another way, ideologically motivated violence. At the helm are a pair of professors with considerable expertise in design thinking, foreign policy, and computer science. They hope the class not only opens students' eyes to the general possibility of using technology to solve real problems, but also leads to the development of truly useful tools for countering violent extremism.

Read more here.