News / Science & Technology

Tyler Environmental Prize: Pollution's Effects Far-Reaching

TEXT SIZE - +
Mike O'Sullivan
Scientists Say Air Pollution's Effects Far-Reachingi
|| 0:00:00
X
May 09, 2012
Two California scientists have been honored for their research into air pollution, both in the atmosphere and in people’s homes. And as Mike O’Sullivan reports, this year’s winners of the $200,000 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement - John Seinfeld and Kirk Smith - have shown the far-reaching nature of the problem.
Two California scientists have been honored for their research into air pollution, outdoor and indoor.  Mike O’Sullivan reports, this year’s winners of the $200,000 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, John Seinfeld and Kirk Smith, have shown the far-reaching nature of the problem.
 
Nearly half of the world’s people use biomass fuels such as wood or dried dung to cook their food, and many cook indoors.  

Professor Kirk Smith of the University of California, Berkeley studies environmental impacts on human health, and wondered about the impact of smoke on the families.  In the early 1980s he was studying energy use in rural Asia.  

“And during that time, I noted the very smoky conditions in village households," said Smith. "I came back and I thought, well somebody must have looked at the health effects of this, and I could find nothing in the literature.  My students and I looked.  So we did some back-of-the-envelop calculations to figure roughly what kind of air pollution levels might exist, and we could not believe the results of our simple models.”

Later measurements confirmed the estimates: household cooking produces as much smoke as 1,000 cigarettes burning per hour.  His studies show that this leads to nearly two-million premature deaths a year, especially among women and children, and the emissions contribute to climate change.  

Air pollution in one part of the world affects the air in another, says the other recipient of this year's Tyler Prize, John Seinfeld of the California Institute of Technology.

“Emissions from Asia will make it across the Pacific, will be in the air over the United States, and even in some cases be tracked out over the Atlantic heading to Europe," said Seinfeld. "And so you can think of the northern hemisphere as a big backyard.”

He says the southern hemisphere has the same mixing, and there is long-term interaction between the hemispheres.

Seinfeld says natural and man-made substances interact.

“Every particle in the air anywhere on earth is a little kitchen sink of compounds that come from everywhere," he said. "So I got interested in understanding what this was, and it was very clear the atmosphere is just a big reactor.”

He says the interactions are complicated.  Human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are warming the atmosphere.  Other man-made and natural substances can accelerate the process, or sometimes slow it. "  The compounds they produce can be harmful to human health.

The scientists say environmental research requires careful measurement.  In Guatemala, India, China, and other countries, Kirk Smith has overseen studies to measure household emissions and assess the long-term effects on those exposed to smoke from cooking.  

Research teams are also assessing the effectiveness of low-pollution stoves, and Smith foresees widespread use of that technology when the results are in.  He notes that many devices being distributed by non-profit organizations have not been fully tested.

“The motto of my research group is, you do not get what you expect, you get what you inspect," he said. "So it looks good, but we have to inspect before we can know what to expect.”

He sees the financial burden being shared, as it is now in parts of China, where one third of the cost of a stove is paid by the family that uses it, one third by provincial authorities and one third with credits from the international carbon market.

He says stoves that are proven to be effective at reducing emissions will benefit families and communities and help to clear the air around the world.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid