It is important to understand the extent to which atmospheric (air) pollution damages plants (i.e. its phytotoxicity) as well as the wider ecosystem (i.e. its ecotoxicity). For this reason, researchers have adapted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Vegetative Vigour Test1 for the assessment of the ecotoxicity of samples of aerosol (suspensions of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air). Typically, the test involves spraying the trial liquid on above-ground portions of the plant, such as the leaves. The adapted protocol involves extracting water-soluble aerosol compounds from aerosol samples to spray on the plant. The new protocol is sensitive enough to determine phytotoxicity and establish a clear cause–effect relationship, and as such has the potential to serve as a useful tool for the assessment of the effects of air pollution on environmental and human health.
Potential contamination of copper oxide nanoparticles and possible consequences on urban agriculture
Researchers have assessed the phyto-toxic effects of copper nanoparticles on vegetables grown within urban gardens, comparing increasing doses of these nanoparticles to simulate potential aerial deposition to extreme pollution of CuO-NP in a range of increasing exposure periods. Lettuce and cabbage absorbed high amounts of copper nanoparticles, after 15 days of exposure, which interfered with photosynthesis, respiration and also reduced growth. Under the specific exposure conditions of the study the researchers indicate that metal nanoparticles could lead to potential health risks to humans from the contamination of crops from pollution.
A team of Italian scientists has published a study highlighting the important role of intersectoral linkages and eco-innovations in shaping industry’s environmental performance (a measure of its ability to meet environmental targets and objectives) across Europe. The research indicates that eco-innovation can produce positive effects, both directly (in the sector where it is developed) and indirectly (in linked sectors at home and abroad). These insights are relevant to corporate and policy governance strategies aimed at maximising the environmental and economic potential of novel green technologies.
A new study has assessed the vulnerability of 571 European cities to heatwaves, droughts and flooding caused by climate change. The causes of vulnerability differ across Europe and the researchers say the results could be used to design policies to mitigate the impacts.
Relative environmental impact of nanosilver in products may be marginal compared with impacts of other components
A new study has analysed the environmental impact of 15 products containing nanosilver, highlighting the contribution of this novel material to the items’ overall environmental burden. The findings show that nanosilver impacts, such as fossil fuel depletion and human-health impacts, are relative to content, and can be marginal when considered in the context of the product’s other materials. Based on their results, the researchers recommend considering the overall impacts and benefits of nano-enabled products in evaluation and environmental guidance on their development.
A new study has, for the first time, estimated total anthropogenic releases of mercury over the last 4 000 years, up to 2010. Overall, the study estimates that a total of 1 540 000 tonnes of mercury have been released; three-quarters of this since 1850, and 78 times more than was released through natural causes over this period. Therefore, human activity has been responsible for a significant level of contamination, and this inventory can be used to inform and assess mitigation measures. The publication coincides with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the new EU Mercury Regulation1, which prohibits the export, import and manufacturing of mercury-added products, among other measures.
Researchers have shown that emissions from vehicles can react with emissions from urban trees and other plants, resulting in a decrease in air quality in cities in summer; this reduces the otherwise positive impacts of urban vegetation. The study, conducted in Berlin, showed that during a July heatwave, 20% of ozone concentrations were due to emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation interacting with other pollutants. To reduce this effect, lowering emissions of these other pollutants is crucial.
Evaluating the level of danger to human health from exposure to multiple chemicals in contaminated sites is a complex task. To address this difficulty, researchers have developed a new screening tool that can be incorporated into public health risk assessment, which may include polluted former industrial plants, waste dumps, or even land where pesticides have been used. This ‘hazard index’ approach indicates when risk to health is high, which organs are most affected, and where further evaluation should be conducted in the context of environmental or occupational exposure at such sites.
Although nanomaterials are already in widespread use, their risk to the environment is not completely understood. Researchers in the US have developed a next-generation risk-assessment model to better understand nanomaterials’ environmental impact. Applied to the San Francisco Bay area, the model predicted that even soluble nanomaterials could accumulate at toxic levels.
Insights for urban planning — constructed wetlands sited near industry exposed to high levels of pollution
Constructed wetlands serve as a cost-effective and multi-purpose option for storm-water treatment in urban landscapes, offering flood protection as well as wildlife habitat. However, a new study shows that when nearby land use includes industry, wetlands can accumulate high levels of pollution and potentially become toxic to wildlife. This new piece of research offers important insights for the planning and management of wetlands.
UV treatment does not always turn hazardous water pollutants into harmless substances. Recent lab tests suggest that the toxicity of the antibiotic linezolid to microorganisms appeared to increase post-treatment. This research did find, however, that UV treatment successfully reduced the antimicrobial activity of four other antibiotics tested, plus four artificial sweeteners.
Researchers have compared the findings of a citizen-science project and a long-running butterfly monitoring scheme in the UK to gain insights into the reliability of data gathering by the public. They found that — contrary to the scepticism with which such projects are sometimes viewed — much of the citizen-recorded data agreed with the findings of more formal monitoring, particularly for species often found in gardens. This indicates that mass-participation sampling not only provides a valuable tool for public engagement, but, in this case, could also provide valid data to inform butterfly conservation.
The growing human population and a shift to more resource-intensive habits and behaviours are increasing the demands on global ecosystems. Natural capital is a way to describe Earth’s natural assets, including soil, air, water, and living things, existing as complex ecosystems, which provide a range of services to humans. Depleting and degrading these reserves may irreversibly reduce the availability of benefits to future generations. This In-Depth Report presents an overview of ideas, debates and progress so far in natural capital accounting, in particular in accounting for ecosystems and their services.
A new review of the potential uses of visual soil evaluation (VSE) shows how this tool can be used to indicate risks of erosion, compaction, greenhouse gas emission or storage and surface-water run-off. Assessing soils in this way is not only useful for agriculture, but has implications for the wider environment, due to the vital role that soil plays in the provision of ecosystem services, for example as a habitat for biodiversity and as a carbon sink.
Implementation of innovative, resource-efficient urban water systems depends on wide-ranging cooperation
New technology that makes energy capture from waste water and re-use of grey water possible can contribute to energy- and resource efficiency — but the widespread application of such technology requires a new, collaborative approach, shows a new study. Taking radical innovation in urban water systems beyond the pilot stage will require cooperation between a variety of stakeholders, suggest the findings of expert interviews and workshops.
Results from a long-term study of fish communities in the Bay of Somme in the English Channel show that numbers of cold-water fish, such as dab and plaice, have been dropping since 1998, as sea temperatures have risen. The researchers say this is evidence of ‘tropicalisation’ in an English-Channel ecosystem. The findings may have implications for conservation policies in the Bay, which is a Marine Protected Area1 designated under the Natura 2000 programme, as well as other marine sites affected by warming.
Biological control agents are an environmentally-friendly way of controlling pests and diseases on crops and are advocated in the EU’s Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive1. The authors of a new review of the current state of biological control refer to a recent UN report2 which states that it is possible to produce enough food to feed a world population of nine billion with substantially less chemical pesticides — and even without these pesticides if sufficient effort is made to develop biocontrol-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. The study suggests that policy measures can speed up the development and use of environmentally-friendly crop protection.
How are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden moving towards renewable and lower-carbon energy use? A recent study suggests the key areas for progress, to ensure Nordic countries meet low carbon goals, include more renewable and decentralised electricity supply, the development of low-carbon transport systems, improved energy efficiency in building design and industrial use of carbon capture and storage.
Assessments of the effects on organisms likely to come into contact with genetically modified (GM) plants have been reviewed in a recent study. The researchers say such assessments help to understand the potential ecological impacts within the environment and are an important part of the risk assessments for GM plants.
Microbes and biocatalytic enzymes could offer useful tools for cleaning soils polluted with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), suggests a new review of remediation approaches. However, risk assessments and further work are needed before their use can be extended beyond the lab to realworld situations. This comprehensive overview of available and novel methods indicates their constraints and potential for future development and research.