Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Tumble drying laundry linked to microfiber pollution  

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Drying laundry using modern tumbling machines has been tied to the release of potentially harmful microfibers, a new study finds. 

Tumble drying a load of laundry releases almost the same quantity of potentially harmful microfibers into the air as are flushed down the drain during a washing-machine load, according to a study in PLOS One

Previous reports have explored how microfibers released by wash cycles — thousands of tons each year — could pose a threat to aquatic ecosystems. But this latest study warned that the emission of these tiny fragments into the air by vented tumble dryers could also endanger human health.   

While the health impacts of microfiber pollution on humans are still emerging, microfibers can often contain toxic chemicals that are intentionally added to textiles during manufacturing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

But the use of fabric conditioners and dryer sheets — particularly together — can significantly decrease the release of these fibers, according to the study. Lint filters that have smaller pores are also able to trap larger masses, reducing the number of microfibers released into the air. 

“While many microfibers can be captured in lint filters during drying, if the pore size is too large, a significant amount will be released into the air, comparable to the amount released down the drain in washing,” Kelly Sheridan, an expert in textile fibers at Northumbria University, said in a statement. 

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 turn to Europe to see which EU countries rely most on Russian gas. Then we’ll look at a study that spotlights how a rise in popularity of e-scooters may be leading to more rider injuries in Los Angeles. 

The countries most dependent on Russian gas 

The European Union is struggling to wean itself from Russian natural gas supplies due to the deep-seated dependence of so many member states on this irreplaceable resource from Moscow.  

Some countries are trying to fast-track their clean energy transition plans or seek out alternative suppliers, but experts agree that for the bloc as a whole, a complete abandonment of Russian gas is not a probable reality. One country, Hungary, is even looking to strengthen the relationship with its gas provider.  

Among EU nations, there are wide gaps between which countries import the most Russian gas in quantity and which are most dependent on the Russian gas they import — and for varying reasons. Equilibrium decided to take a look at both groups.  

These are the EU’s biggest importers of Russian gas in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA).   

  • Germany: 1.70 trillion cubic feet
  • Italy: 0.92 trillion cubic feet
  • France: 0.62 trillion cubic feet
  • Poland: 0.37 trillion cubic feet 

These are the EU’s biggest importers of Russian gas in 2020, measured by overall percentage of Russian gas exports, per the EIA.   

  • Germany: 16 percent
  • Italy: 12 percent
  • France: 8 percent
  • Netherlands: 5 percent
  • Austria: 5 percent
  • Poland: 4 percent
  • Hungary: 3 percent

As the engines of the continent’s overall economy, Germany, Italy and France are the biggest EU buyers of Russian gas, which they not only use to generate electricity and heat, but also to power their manufacturing industries. 

For this reason, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner argued on Monday that a full-scale energy embargo would cause more pain to Germany than it would to Russia. And on Tuesday, the EU included a ban on Russian coal in a fresh round of sanctions, but shied away from natural gas and oil thus far.


DEPENDENCE IS DIFFERENT FROM QUANTITY 

The countries that are the most reliant on Russian gas, however, varied significantly from those that were importing the biggest quantities or highest percentages of the resource over the past few years.  

These are the top-10 most reliant countries, according to the European Commission’s Eurostat site:

The Hill, Madeline Monroe/Flourish chart

Of particular interest is Hungary, the nation with the greatest individual reliance on Russian gas. The country’s newly reelected leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has been swerving between his EU colleagues and his longstanding relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Despite having supported EU sanctions against Russia, Hungary went against the bloc on Wednesday, when Orbán declared that the country would pay for shipments of gas in rubles if Russia asks it to, in response to a question from Reuters.  

Hungary agrees to pay for gas in rubles: This statement was in response to Moscow’s recent demands that foreign buyers pay for Russian gas in rubles. 

The EU objected to these orders, leading a European Commission spokesperson to tell Reuters on Friday that companies with euro or dollar contracts “should not accede to Russian demands.”  

‘Not our war’: Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó echoed Orbán’s sentiments on Wednesday, stressing that the country would be prioritizing the security of the Hungarian people, in a Facebook post translated by the government’s international communications office.  

“This is not our war, so we want to stay out of it and we will stay out of it,” Szijjártó wrote. “So we will not deliver weapons and we will not vote for energy sanctions.”  

To read the full story, please click here

Study underscores injury risks from e-scooters

The injury rate for electric scooters riders in Los Angeles exceeded the national injury rates for motorcyclists, bicyclists and car passengers, a new study has found.  

About 115 injuries per million e-scooter riders occurred in one section of LA over the course of six years, in contrast to the national injury rate for motorcyclists of 104 injuries per million trips, according to the study, published in PLOS One.  

A ‘startling’ jump in injuries: “There are millions of riders now using these scooters, so it’s more important than ever to understand their impact on public health,” Joann Elmore, senior author and a professor at the University of California Los Angeles’s David Geffen School of Medicine, said in a statement.  

“The finding that rates of injuries from e-scooters are similar to rates for motorcycle injuries is startling,” she added.

More riders, more injuries: Elmore and her colleagues found the data particularly alarming because the rising popularity of e-scooters means that the associated risk is only likely to grow. 

Shareable e-scooters — rented on-demand via smartphone — could soon account for one in 10 trips shorter than 5 miles, the authors explained, citing a 2019 McKinsey report.

The authors looked at 1,354 injured patients who were treated at 180 UCLA outpatient clinics and at UCLA Health emergency departments and urgent care centers from January 2014 through May 2020.

Sharing programs made a difference: The launch of shareable e-scooters, which occurred in 2018, showed a dramatic shift in the number of injuries tied to scooters.

Prior to 2018, there were at most 13 e-scooter injuries each year. Zoom ahead to 2019, and that figure rose to 672.


HARNESSING E-SCOOTER DATA 

The study published Wednesday found e-scooter riders suffered injuries but so too did pedestrians, whether hit by e-scooters and or tripping over parked devices.

The authors identified 533 patients who sustained injuries to more than one part of their body, 72 who were admitted to the hospital, 21 who were sent to critical care and two who died from their wounds.  

In addition, about a third of victims required substantial follow-up visits and clinical resources — meaning that “the impact of novel e-scooter technology may have been underestimated,” the authors wrote.  

Limitations mean injuries might be higher: The authors acknowledged that they were only able to capture data from UCLA Health facilities and did not include people under treatment at other clinics. 

But this restriction, they explained, indicated that injury numbers could really be higher.  

“E-scooter injuries may be less severe and less fatal than motorcycle injuries, but we still think our e-scooter injury rate is an underestimate,” first author Kimon Ioannides of UCLA’s National Clinician Scholars Program said in a statement.  

To read the full story, please click here

Water Wednesday

Greenhouse gas emissions drive sea-level rise, ships spark suspicion in foreign seas and developers defy drought in Arizona.  

Researchers identify new link between greenhouse gases and sea-level rise 

  • Greenhouse gas emissions are helping melt the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, by driving warm water currents beneath the ice and causing sea-level rise, a new study has found. But the study gave the authors some hope — as “it shows that sea-level rise is not out of our control,” Kaitlin Naughten of the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement. 

Chinese vessels exploit developing nations through illegal fishing, rights abuses: report 

  • China’s state subsidies have enabled its “distant-water fleet” — vessels within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of another country — to exploit the waters of developing nations through illegal fishing, human rises abuses of migrant crews and damage to key marine ecosystems, a new report from the Environmental Justice Foundation has found.   

Developers inundate Arizona with homes despite Western drought 

  • Some two dozen developments are in the works around Phoenix as the West continues to endure one of its worst droughts in history, CNBC reported. Douglas Ranch is slated to have more than 100,000 homes — which the developer said will have low flow fixtures, drip irrigation, water reuse and desert landscaping, according to CNBC.

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

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