Determining the impacts of restored vacant lots on adolescent health
When Baltimore announced a plan to “clean and green” vacant lots in its neighborhoods, researchers at Johns Hopkins University viewed it as an opportunity. The researchers plan to study, for the first time, the impact that converting vacant lots into green oases has on long-term adolescent health. While recent studies have primarily shown the benefits of this type of intervention on adult health, this new longitudinal study will explore changes in adolescent health over time. The research might help reduce health inequities among socioeconomically disadvantaged youth, whose health and well-being are influenced by neighborhood factors. Ultimately, the research has the potential to improve youth health outcomes in Baltimore and beyond.
Are the West’s forest margins fated to wither from wildfire? Maybe not, suggests new research
Life on the edge isn’t easy. In California’s eastern Sierra Nevada and other dry forests in the West, wildfires often start in the drier zones, where trees meet sagebrush lowlands, then sweep up forested slopes. Conventional wisdom has long held that these dry, low-elevation forests are fated to vanish as climate change whips up fiercer fires and deeper droughts. A recent study in Ecosphere, however, showed that these at-risk forests can survive with the right help. For the research team’s study sites in the Eastern Sierra, drought alone wasn’t a fatal threat, with models predicting that enough water will remain through 2100 to support seedling growth. Instead, the biggest peril to these forests is severe wildfire — which can be prevented via controlled burns and thinning overgrown trees. According to one of the study’s authors, interventions like controlled burns “could actually create very resilient conditions in places where most people have been suggesting that we’ll see forest loss.”
The hidden health costs of wildfires: damaged lungs, poisoned water
Blade Runner skies over San Francisco. Moonscapes of ash and blackened trees. Last year’s staggering fire season offered plenty of scenes of destruction, but some of the fires’ worst effects are invisible. In San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and other western cities, wildfire smoke caused some of the world’s worst air pollution for weeks on end. Prolonged expo- sure to smoke triggers long-term lung damage, and is particularly worrisome for younger and older people, as well as those with asthma and other lung conditions. Wildfire smoke exposure is also linked to cardiovascular issues and increased susceptibility to the flu and COVID-19.
The wildfires have also put regional water supplies — including those we rely on for drinking water — in danger. Incinerated watersheds can fill waterways with debris and wash arsenic and other toxins from mines, towns and industrial sites into streams and rivers. Heat-damaged plastics and building materials, such as plastic water pipes, can also leach poisonous chemicals. After California’s 2017 Tubbs and 2018 Camp wildfires, the potent carcinogen benzene was found in water at levels that could cause immediate harm, along with a cocktail of other dangerous compounds. Limiting smoke exposure and improving building codes can mitigate these risks — but the only way to tackle them in the long-term is with climate action and climate-resilient forestry.
A breakthrough in science: transparent wood
Scientists have discovered a way to make wood transparent. With this breakthrough, we might be looking through wood windows in the not too distant future. While glass is the most common material used for windows, it is not very energy efficient. Heat can easily transfer through it, which can lead to increased energy demand and higher energy bills, especially during hot summer months and windy, cold winters. Wood, on the other hand, is very energy efficient. A team of researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory, University of Maryland and the University of Colorado found that the lignin that gives wood its color is removed when wood is immersed in a sodium hypochlorite solution and, later, a polyvinyl alcohol solution. Because wood is lighter and more durable than glass, it’s possible this product could replace glass, and even plastic, products commonly used today for windows.