Equilibrium/Sustainability — An eco-friendly dishwashing solution

·11 min read

Powering dishwashers with “superheated steam” could provide an effective way of killing harmful germs without polluting the environment, a new study has found.

A team of scientists from Germany’s Technical Universities of Dortmund and of Munich have devised a method that they say kills 99 percent of bacteria on a plate in just 25 seconds — with steam alone.

The researchers, who published their findings in Physics of Fluids on Tuesday, created a model of what they described as “an idealized dishwasher”: A box with solid side walls, a top opening and a nozzle at the bottom.

After placing a plate covered in heat-resistant bacteria directly above the nozzle, the scientists found that the microorganisms were inactivated at a specific threshold temperature.

Conventional dishwashers, which require long cycle times and consume large amounts of electricity, often do not eliminate all of the microorganisms left on plates, bowls and cutlery, according to the study.

The soap pumped in and out of such dishwashers is also released into nearby water sources, contaminating the surrounding environment.

While the superheated dishwasher would at first cost more than a traditional system, such an appliance would generate savings on water, electricity and detergent, the authors said.

The researchers suggested the system would be ideal for use in restaurants, hotels and hospitals — facilities that must meet strict hygienic standards.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start by exploring why Mississippi has gone from too much water to not enough. Then we’ll look at Russia’s decision to temporarily pause gas flow through Europe’s Nord Stream pipeline and examine a new study on household toxins.

Mississippi trades one water emergency for another

Nearly 200,000 people lack safe drinking water in Jackson, Miss., as state officials scramble to address a burgeoning water crisis across the city.

  • Flooding from the nearby Pearl River knocked out a crucial water treatment plant in Jackson and left residents without safe drinking water.

  • The water emergency follows a long weekend of floods that otherwise left homes unscathed.

The city’s O.B. Curtis Water Plant had only recently been repaired after a breakdown of its main pumps in July, at which time residents were forced to boil water.

“Mississippi had prayed that we would have more time before their system ran to failure. Unfortunately, that failure appears to have begun today,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said at a press conference on Monday evening.

Deliveries by hand: Jackson’s water system serves 180,000 people — all of whom still need water, Reeves noted.

What happened? The details aren’t clear, but the Jackson water system appears to have lost pressure, which is needed to move water from one place to another, The Associated Press reported.

  • “What I liken it to is if you were drinking out of a Styrofoam cup, someone puts a hole in the bottom of it, you’re steadily trying to fill it while it’s steadily running out at the bottom,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (D) told reporters.

  • A similar problem happened in July and after a February 2021 winter storm.

LONG RECOVERY

How comparatively minor damage from the Pearl River flooding could knock out Jackson’s beleaguered municipal water system underscores the danger and damage that persists after the disaster passes.

Nowhere is that clearer than in eastern Kentucky, where devastated communities have grappled with a combination of extreme flooding, climate change and the landscape-altering legacy of coal.

Seeking redress: Residents of the small community of Lost Creek in eastern Kentucky are suing a local coal company, which they say caused environmental damage that substantially worsened the flood, Grist reported.

  • The coal operations, which blasted the tops off mountains and thereby left steep gullies from which rain runs right off, created “ticking time bombs ready to explode with any type of heavy rainfall,” the lawsuit argued.

  • “They won’t have water for six months. All the power lines are down,” an attorney representing the group told Grist. Many are now living in tents, he noted.

Russia to suspend Nord Stream gas flow Wednesday

Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom is planning to shut down the Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe on Wednesday for several days of maintenance — raising fears about the continent’s energy security, Reuters reported.

A risky stand-off: The closure, scheduled Wednesday through Saturday, builds on what Reuters described as “an energy stand-off between Moscow and Brussels” that has accelerated inflation and heightened the risk of recession.

The pipeline is already operating at 20 percent of its capacity, which Gazprom blames on faulty equipment, according to Reuters.

Uncertainty abounds: Gazprom previously shuttered Nord Stream for 10 days of maintenance in July — prompting concerns about whether Russia will restart the flow this time at all, Reuters reported.

Europe has been left “guessing again about whether supplies will restart, as temperatures fall and demand for the fuel grows,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Winter is coming: Even if Gazprom resumes gas flow on Saturday as promised, few experts believe that Europe will receive enough Russian gas to fulfill its needs next year, due to expectations that the economic war with Moscow will get worse, the Journal reported.

  • Europe will likely be able to avoid rationing this winter due to a drop in consumption, as well as success in securing enough gas temporarily.

  • But leaders are facing difficulties finding supplies for next year and beyond, despite attempts to acquire resources from the U.S., Canada and Qatar.

The U.S. is concerned: A top White House aide on Monday said that the U.S. is concerned about a potential energy shortage in Europe, stressing that Washington will work to help mitigate this threat, Bloomberg reported.

  • “We’ll be latched up with allies and partners to try to do what we can to alleviate any shortages coming through,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

  • The Biden administration, however, is walking what Bloomberg described as “a difficult line” in expanding supplies for Europe while also maintaining sufficient resources at home.

Preparing for the worst: France accused Russia on Tuesday of using gas as “a weapon of war” — a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the behavior as “economic terrorism,” according to Reuters.

“Very clearly Russia is using gas as a weapon of war,” France’s Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told France Inter radio, cited by Reuters.

“We must prepare for the worst case scenario of a complete interruption of supplies,” she added.

Pregnant women exposed to household toxins: study

Pregnant women are being exposed through various household products to toxic compounds that can increase the risk of cancer and harm child development, a new study has found.

Scientists identified two such compounds — the industrial chemical melamine and its byproduct cyanuric acid — in the urine of almost all the subjects they tested.

  • The highest levels of these compounds occurred in women of color and in those with greater exposure to tobacco.

  • Four types of chemicals used in dyes, called aromatic amines, were also present in nearly all participants, according to the study, published in Chemosphere on Tuesday.

Toxic but not monitored: “These chemicals are of serious concern due to their links to cancer and developmental toxicity, yet they are not routinely monitored in the United States,” co-senior author Tracey Woodruff, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a statement.

  • Woodruff and her colleagues decided to investigate the presence of melamine, its derivative cyanuric acid and aromatic amines. These are all nitrogen-containing compounds with known toxicity and widespread commercial use.

Many paths to exposure: Melamine is found in dishwater, plastics, flooring, kitchen counters and pesticides, while cyanuric acid is used as a disinfectant, plastic stabilizer and cleaning solvent in swimming pools, the scientists noted.

Aromatic amines, meanwhile, are present in hair dyes, mascara, tattoo ink, paint, tobacco smoke and diesel exhaust.

Who did the study monitor? The researchers measured 45 chemicals linked to cancer and other health risks in urine samples from a small but diverse group of 171 pregnant people.

  • The subjects had participated in the National Institutes of Health’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program between 2008 and 2020.

  • About 34 percent were white, 40 percent were Latina, 20 percent were Black, 4 percent were Asian and the remaining 3 percent were from other or multiple ethnicities.

Certain populations were more affected: Levels of one aromatic amines were more than 100 percent higher among Black and Hispanic women in comparison to white women, the study found.

“It’s disconcerting that we continue to find higher levels of many of these harmful chemicals in people of color,” study co-senior author Jessie Buckley, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement.

To read the full story, please click here.

Wooden cities to fight climate change

Future cities composed of fire-resistant, high-tech wooden buildings could help counter the climate impacts of the coming urbanization boom, according to a new paper.

  • As urban populations dramatically increase throughout the century, “more homes will be built with steel and concrete, most of which have a serious carbon footprint,” study co-author Abhijeet Mishra, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, said in a statement.

  • “But we have an alternative: we can house the new urban population in mid-rise buildings — that is four to 10 stories — made out of wood,” Mishra added.

A superior building material: The study in Nature Communications builds on a growing architectural and engineering movement that sees wood as not only a more sustainable building material than concrete and steel — but in many ways a superior one.

Not just any wood: Like all wood products, the “engineered wood” in question  — found in “mass timber” products like glulam and cross-laminated timber — would store carbon, rather than emitting it.

  • Cross-laminated timber is made from layers of perpendicular wood — rather like a compressed Jenga set.

  • Glulam is a laminate of thinner boards glued together to make a much stronger whole.

Fire resistant: Such products could help create lucrative markets that could finance the costly work of fireproofing forests, Reuters reported.

  • The products themselves are also more fire-resistant than conventional wood. When exposed to flames, mass timber chars around the edges but does not ignite, architect Tom Chung told finance journal Banker and Tradesman.

This future is already underway: Architects are turning to mass timber as a building material with practical — not simply environmental — benefits, according to construction trade publication the Engineering News-Record.

  • The Ascent residential high-rise in Milwaukee opened this summer at 25-stories and 282 feet tall. That building has a reinforced concrete core.

  • The nearest runner up, the 280-foot tall Mjøstårnet in Norway, is all-wood.

For the rest of this story — which includes wooden skyscrapers, airports and an office building intended to last into the 2500s — please click here.

Tech Tuesday

Focus on China: Semiconductor hub escapes heatwave, high-tech center closes  over COVID concerns and Beijing claims a carbon capture distinction.

Sichuan, Chongqing manufacturing hubs to resume power supplies

  • China’s Sichuan province and Chongqing city — hubs for semiconductor and electric vehicle battery production — have turned the lights back on at the region’s factories, where power had been rationed amid a record heatwave, according to Reuters. During the outages, production of energy-intensive refined metals had been paused, impacting about 10 percent of China’s monthly average lithium salt output, Reuters reported.

Beijing shutters world’s largest electronics market 

  • Just as Sichuan factories resumed production, Chinese officials shut down the world’s largest open air electronics market in the high-tech center of Shenzhen due to a few dozen coronavirus cases, CNN reported. The Huaqiangbei market — to which Metro service was also temporarily canceled — hosts thousands of stalls selling everything from microchips to mobile phones, according to CNN.

World’s largest carbon capture facility in China

  • Chinese state-owned oil company Sinopec announced on Monday that it had built the world’s largest carbon capture and storage facility and had two more of similar size planned by 2025, Reuters reported. Acknowledging that China’s use of the frontier technology — which serves to trap and permanently store carbon emissions — is “at an experimental stage,” the company stressed that “it is on a par with the levels of global peers,” according to Reuters.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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