The week's environmental news roundup: September 23rd 2011

By Laura Brown - 23 Sep 2011 14:30:0 GMT
The week's environmental news roundup: September 23rd 2011

An uneasiness stirs across the globe after a week of speculation about debris from a NASA satellite, due to fall to Earth. The size of a bus, the 6.5 tonne climate satellite has fallen out of orbit.

NASA is unable to predict exactly where it will fall and estimates that the majority of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will burn up on re-entry. Those feeling reassured are given the statistic that the chances of being hit by part of the debris is 1 in 3,200, which, while unlikely, is still better odds than winning the UK National Lottery.

In the US, asthma patients are being warned a common over the counter inhaler is being phased out because of the damage it causes to the environment.

The Food and Drug Administration says the epinephrine inhaler uses chlorofluorocarbons to push medication into the asthma patient's lungs and airways, aiding breathing during an attack. Yet in 2008, the FDA decided the potential environmental implications were too strong and announced a phasing out of the product. Other manufacturers now use the friendlier and less damaging hydrofluroalkane to help propel the medication into the airways for treatment. Patients using the old inhalers will need to obtain a doctor's prescription to switch.

Even more bad news for American asthma sufferers with news that new standards on smog pollution will enforce a limiting ground level ozone to 75 parts per billion. The same level as a 2008 Bush ruling, the Environmental protection Agency's administrator, Lisa Jackson, had been pushing for levels to be cut to 60 and 70 ppb. Yet, under pressure from Republicans and polluters, the tougher plan was killed by President Obama over fears that costs would rise for companies and there could be a negative impact on jobs.

A letter from the EPA sent to regional directors said all need to comply with the 75ppb rule "in these challenging economic times EPA should reduce uncertainty and minimize the regulatory burdens on state and local governments." Regulations will be revised in 2013.

In the UK, a renewed debate on fracking has been sparked by the announcement that 5,660 bn cubic metres of shale gas has been discovered below Lancashire.

UK drilling company Cuadrilla Resources believes the gas could supply the entire countries need for over a generation. If they decide to build new wells to mine the gas, 1,700 jobs will be created in Blackpool and Preston.

However the process of extraction, known as fracking, is controversial. It explodes the gas out of the shale rocks and has been blamed for triggering earthquakes and contaminate water supplies.

Protestors have cited examples from America which claim methane can escape into public water sources.

A spokesman from Cuadrilla Resources says the concern about fracking is "misdirected". Campaigning group Friends of the Earth wants research into health and safety concerns to be firmly investigated before work begins.

Still in the North West and while the adage may state it's "grim up north" it appears the stereotype does not extend to Britian's wildlife population.

Bird species prosper far better in the North compared to the South, a study by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has revealed.

The census of bird numbers has revealed that since 1994 bird populations in the South have declined, compared with an increase in the North.

Although the reasons are not fully understood, analysts believe it could be down to increased farming in the South, interefering with habitat. Farmland birds have declined by a quarter in the South, compared with a 3% drop in the North. Woodland birds have dropped by up to 20% in the South, while numbers have risen in the North.

The RSPB describes the findings as "intriguing".

Meanwhile in Japan the six month 'anniversary' of the earthquake and tsunami has triggered a period of reflection. Scientists studying the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant have used the milestone to discuss the importance of nuclear power and the need for lessons' learnt. Colin Ricketts, in this feature for The Earth Times examined the scientific community's analysis of nuclear power and the potential health impacts of the disaster.

Top Image Credit: © buttershug

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