News / Science & Technology

Tyler Environmental Prize: Pollution's Effects Far-Reaching

Mike O'Sullivan
Scientists Say Air Pollution's Effects Far-Reachingi
|| 0:00:00
X
May 09, 2012 10:15 PM
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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid