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October 17, 2014

LyondellBasell CEO to retire

NEWS FOCUS -- LYONDELLBASELL CEO GALLOGLY TO RETIRE: LyondellBasell CEO Jim Gallogly will retire from the company in early 2015, after a tenure that saw the company emerge from bankruptcy protection and its stock rise by more than 300%, the company announced on 29 September. He will continue to serve as CEO and chairman of the company's management board in the interim to ensure an orderly transition. LyondellBasell has created a committee to choose a successor. Gallogly joined LyondellBasell in May 2009 from ConocoPhillips, where he was vice president of exploration and production. From 2000-2006, he was CEO of Chevron Phillips Chemical.

Jim Gallogly: "I feel it's time to move on to the next chapter."

Gallogly joined LyondellBasell while it was still operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009, in the midst of the global financial crisis. Under Gallogly, the company emerged from bankruptcy protection 16 months later in April 2010. By 14 October 2010, the company's shares began trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and closed at $27.02. Following its listing, ICIS chose Gallogly as the head of its ICIS Top 40 Power Players in 2011. Meanwhile, the stock continued to rise. On 29 September, it closed at $113.41. Gallogly steered the helm as LyondellBasell and the rest of the U.S. chemical industry dealt with a momentous shift. Before, high feedstock costs had caused many companies to shut down plants and give up on expansion. The advent of shale gas and the resulting cheap feedstocks changed the industry. LyondellBasell undertook several debottlenecking projects, under the rationale that these were the quickest way to bring cost-advantaged product to the market before its competitors could build new plants. "There is never a perfect time to leave a company with as much promise as LyondellBasell, but this is the right time for me," Gallogly said. "Having achieved the goals that I set for myself professionally and for the company, I feel it's time to move on to the next chapter, putting a priority on my family and philanthropic efforts." He added: "The company is at a point where the successful strategies and strong leadership team we have in place are poised to take full advantage of the favourable industry conditions that are expected for the foreseeable future. I truly believe the company's best days lie ahead." On 30 September, Gallogly received the ICIS Kavaler Award, sponsored by The Chemists' Club, at a special event at the Metropolitan Club of New York. Gallogly was chosen as the winner earlier in the year based on a peer vote among the ICIS Top 40 Power Players. ICIS Chemical Business, 06-12 October 2014, p. 9.

September 18, 2013

Arsenic Exposure

NEWS IN BRIEF -- MILLIONS IN CHINA AT RISK OF EXPOSURE TO ARSENIC-TAINTED WATER: Simulation shows possibly contaminated areas, predicts populations at risk. Nearly 20 million people in China may be exposed to drinking water contaminated with arsenic, suggests a new simulation that uses certain environmental factors to calculate the risk of exposure in a particular area. Arsenic can naturally occur in water pumped up from underground. Globally, about 140 million people drink groundwater with unsafe levels of the element, which can cause cancer and other health problems. Testing individual wells for the poison is time consuming, so a team led by Luis Rodríguez-Lado, now at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, developed a faster way to assess an area's arsenic risk. The researchers identified eight environmental variables that can predict whether a region's groundwater will have high arsenic concentrations. For example, arsenic contamination tends to happen in wet areas with salty soil and sediments younger than about 12,000 years. After using these and other factors to map the arsenic risk in China, the researchers matched it with population data to estimate that roughly 19.6 million Chinese people live near contaminated groundwater. The same technique could be used to predict arsenic risk in other countries, too, the researchers report in the August 23rd Science magazine. For citations, please click on to Science News, 21 September 2013, p.18 (HTML).

June 30, 2013

Renewed Fight Against Climate Change

A RENEWED FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE: Greenhouse Gases: Obama promises executive order to cut emissions. On a steamy day this week in Washington, DC, President Barack Obama, in a forceful speech at Georgetown University, rolled out his plan to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. He promised an executive order to cut those emissions with the goal of hitting a target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.







Obama rolled out his plan to address climate change last week at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.







Since taking office in 2009, the President has warned of climate-change impacts, but his efforts to address the problem have been mostly on the margins -- efficiency requirements and technical and financial support for advanced energy technologies. In his Georgetown speech, he presented a framework of specific actions aimed at reining in the energy industry, the source of 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Fossil-fuel industry advocates immediately criticized the President's plan. They predicted pitched battles during the 2014 congressional elections because of the President’s continued "war on coal," in the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republican lawmakers. Environmental groups were elated with the President's climate agenda and his promise of action. As was American Chemical Society President Marinda Li Wu, who applauded Obama's "tangible efforts to address global climate change." The United Nation's top climate-change official, Christiana Figueres, said, "When the U.S. leads action, it also encourages more rapid international efforts to combat climate change by strengthening political trust, building business momentum, and driving new technology solutions."

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WHITE HOUSE PLAN: (1) EPA will repropose CO2 pollution emissions standards for new fossil-fuel power plants by September 20th, will propose standards for existing fossil-fuel power plants by June 2014, and finalize them a year later; (2) Loan guarantees worth $8 billion will be offered for advanced fossil-fuel energy projects that avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions; (3) New wind and solar energy projects sufficient to meet electricity needs of 6 million homes will be approved on Federal lands by 2020; (4) New efficiency standards will be required for Federal buildings; (5) New Federal programs will be introduced to better prepare states and communities for climate-change impacts; (6) U.S. financial support for new overseas fossil-fuel power plants will end unless power plants are highly efficient or use carbon capture and sequestration technologies; and (7) Greater efforts will be made to reduce hydrofluorocarbon and methane emissions.

The President, in his address, described decades of climate-change science and a stream of scientific papers showing beyond-normal droughts, fires, and floods. For 97% of climate scientists, he said, the data have put doubts that climate change is real to rest. "As a President, as a father, and as an American," Obama told his young audience, "I'm here to say we need to act. I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing. I'm here to enlist your generation's help in keeping the U.S. a leader -- a global leader -- in the fight against climate change," he continued. The President said he would use executive office powers rather than seek congressional legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In this way, Obama will avoid wrangling with Congress, which has mostly opposed cutting greenhouse gas emissions and angering the fossil-fuels industry. Nonetheless, any executive order on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that the President issues will be carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency, whose regulatory proposal and review process will provide ample opportunity for opponents of such measures to seek delays. Obama's actions will elevate the importance of the climate-change issue for all government activities. For example, the President singled out the State Department's upcoming decision concerning the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. To gain U.S. approval to build the pipeline across U.S. borders, he said, the project cannot increase carbon pollution. The pipeline's net effect on climate, he stressed, "will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward." However, the President assigned a special role for natural gas, citing methane's lower CO2 emissions when used as a power plant fuel, despite being a potent greenhouse gas itself. Obama urged that the U.S. continue its reliance on natural gas by pursuing more drilling and use and by strengthening the country's role as the world's top natural gas producer -- in the "medium term at least," he said. Chemical & Engineering News, 01 July 2013, p. 5 (HTML).

March 10, 2013

Tracing Pollution Links to Asthma, Allergy

TRACING POLLUTION LINKS TO ASTHMA, ALLERGY: Bad air tied to disabled immune-regulating cells. Bad actors in air pollution may contribute to asthma and allergy by subverting protective cells in the body that tone down immune reactions, researchers report. The pollution components also seem to rev up overactive immune warriors -- already linked to allergies -- that need no such prompting. The airborne culprits are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, the products of incomplete burning of fuel in diesel engines, furnaces, wood fires, wildfires and even barbeque grills. Air pollution has been tied to asthma and allergy in past research, but the link between PAHs and these immune problems is still unclear. In the new report, researchers show that children exposed to high levels of PAHs had poorly functioning T-regulatory cells, or T-regs, which normally ratchet down immune-caused inflammation as needed. "T-regs are peacekeeper cells," says Kari Nadeau, a physician and biochemist at Stanford University, who presented the findings February 23rd at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "But in asthma, T-regs are impaired." The team also found that kids exposed to a lot of PAHs made excess amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E, or IgE. The IgE antibody normally helps the body fight parasites. But in developed countries, where parasitic infections are largely a thing of the past, IgE has become better known for its role in allergy. The body often cranks out IgE as part of a misguided immune reaction against noninfectious substances in the environment. IgE also shows up in asthma, which can be triggered by allergy. To study the effect of air pollution on these immune players, Nadeau and her colleagues obtained blood tests, lung function readings and health information from 153 children, median age 14, in Fresno, California. The researchers used airborne PAH sampling to estimate exposure to PAHs, and chose Fresno because of its relatively high air pollution levels. Children with high exposure to PAHs, based on air sampling in and around their homes, made high amounts of IgE and had lower T-reg function than children exposed to low levels. High PAH exposure during the most recent three months was linked to 51 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with asthma. "I think this is a very interesting and thought-provoking study," says Todd Rambasek, an allergist at Ohio University in Athens. He notes that other studies had linked air pollution with asthma and allergy but failed to discern between PAH and ozone or particulate matter that could contribute to the conditions. Nadeau also reported that consistent PAH exposure coincided with changes in a gene called Foxp3. As reported in Nature in 2010, Foxp3 seems to be a master regulator of T-reg populations in the body. Unfortunately, Nadeau says, the changes observed in the Foxp3 gene seem irreversible and widespread. The asthma rate is 22 percent among children in Fresno, Nadeau says, compared with 12 percent in the United States as a whole. Up to 70 percent of people in Fresno have an allergy, she notes, more than double the average lifetime risk of having an allergy in California. The new study adds PAHs to a known pollution problem in the area: in 2012, Fresno County had the second-highest number of days with unhealthy air particulate matter among California counties. Science News, 23 March 2013, p. 19.

January 27, 2013

Corals Beat the Heat

CORALS BEAT HEAT BY BEING PREPARED: Once waters begin to warm, a study finds, it's too late to adapt. Corals that can survive in warming ocean water may be genetically primed to sweat it out.

BEATING THE HEAT: Some forms of Acropora hyacinthus
coral preempt the effects of warming waters by turning on genes that help them
resist heat and stress.


Studying reef-building Acropora hyacinthus corals from American Samoa's Ofu Island, researchers from the Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California, found that the activity of hundreds of genes changed when both heat-sensitive and heat-tolerant corals were switched from 29.2°C water to 32.9°C water. But even before getting into hot water, heat-tolerant corals had already turned on 60 genes designed to help combat heat and stress, the researchers report online January 7th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sensitive corals that bleach in the heat didn't turn on those heat- and stress-beaters until after temperatures rose. It's not clear if the heat-tolerant corals face long-term consequences from their constant vigilance against environmental stress. The finding may help researchers better predict how future climate change may affect coral populations. D. J. Barshis et al. Genomic basis for coral resilience to climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online January 7, 2013. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1210224110. Science News, 09 February 2013, p. 16.

October 10, 2012

Managing Chemicals Globally

MANAGING CHEMICALS GLOBALLY: Conference endorses international work on endocrine disrupters, nanomaterials, and perfluorinated compounds. Representatives from 124 countries endorsed global efforts on these substances as part of the Third International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-3), which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, late last month. Held every three years, the conference oversees implementation of the United Nation's Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. Adopted in 2006, the approach is a voluntary framework for global cooperation on the safe management of commercial chemicals. It is also a blueprint that developing countries can follow for developing regulatory and other controls of industrial substances. Participants in ICCM-3 deemed a lack of information about endocrine-disrupting substances to be an emerging policy issue that calls for international action. Representatives backed boosting worldwide availability of and access to information about this class of chemicals. The consensus reached at ICCM-3 marks the first time a global gathering has recognized the potential adverse effects of endocrine disrupters on human health and the environment, according to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), an activist group. Work on endocrine disrupters through the voluntary UN effort, says Baskut Tuncak, an attorney with the center, "has the potential to help to ensure a level playing field internationally for businesses, and help to reduce the costs of diseases linked to the continued use" of these substances. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), about 800 chemicals are known or suspected to interfere with hormone receptors or synthesis. Sound management of nanomaterials is another emerging policy issue that should get international attention, delegates at ICCM-3 agreed. At the conference, officials adopted a resolution to encourage developing countries to include nanomaterials in their plans and policies for managing chemicals. This move could lead governments to require that producers take responsibility for nanomaterials throughout their life cycles, CIEL says. ICCM-3 participants also called for the expansion of an international effort directed by UNEP and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) to phase out long-chain perfluorocarbons -- chemicals that persist in the environment and are toxic to animals in laboratory tests (C&EN, 10 September 2012, p. 24). That campaign focuses on helping companies transition to shorter-chain perfluorocarbons, which are more benign than the longer-chain versions. ICCM-3 delegates encouraged UNEP and OECD to collaborate with the UN Industrial Development Organization and the secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants as thecampaign progresses. In addition, ICCM-3 delegates agreed to launch a campaign to improve the availability of and access to information on industrial chemicals in consumer products throughout the supply chain, from product creation through disposal. The global efforts on endocrine disrupters, nanomaterials, perfluorinated compounds, and commercial chemicals in products "should focus on information exchange, education, and capacity building to ensure that ongoing work in other national and international bodies is shared," says the International Council of Chemical Associations. "Industry is committed to assessing and managing the risks associated with these products," the council says. In Nairobi, delegates also considered a resolution calling for phaseout of highly hazardous pesticides. According to UNEP, industry representatives and activists say these substances are often used inappropriately. However, participants did not adopt this resolution. Chemical & Engineering News, 08 October 2012, p. 41.

August 07, 2012

Safer Chemicals in Consumer Products

Regulation: State may require consumer product makers to seek alternatives to
chemical ingredients of questioned safety.
Manufacturers would have to seek
"safer" alternatives to some 1,200 chemicals used in consumer products under a
regulation a California state agency proposed in late July. Chemicals covered by
the proposed regulation appear on lists compiled by regulatory agencies in North
America and the European Union. For example, it includes substances classified
as known or reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens in the U.S. National
Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens and those deemed as
persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic by Environment Canada or the Washington
State Department of Ecology. The proposal is designed to stimulate the market
for safer chemicals and to boost environmental protection, says Deborah O.
Raphael, director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control
(DTSC). It would require a certified assessor to examine alternative chemicals
that pose less risk to health or the environment than the chemicals targeted in
the proposal, explains Jim Marxen, a spokesman for DTSC. The assessments would
scrutinize cost, performance, and accessibility of those alternatives. After a
company provides an assessment of alternatives to DTSC, the agency and the
company will discuss the options for action, including substitution with a safer
substance, Marxen tells C&EN. If such substitution isn't feasible, the
agency may require the manufacturer to ensure the product is used or disposed of
safely or phased out. Environmental and health activists and some businesses
endorse the proposal. Meanwhile, the Green Chemistry Alliance, a broad
California industry group that includes chemical manufacturers, says it is
studying the proposal. Marxen says activists and industry encouraged DTSC not to
"reinvent the wheel" for the proposal and instead rely on widely used,
scientifically credible lists assembled by other regulatory agencies. DTSC will
accept comments on the proposal through mid-September, in advance of finalizing
the regulation. Chemical & Engineering News, 06 August 2012, p.

June 24, 2011

Aquarius Takes Orbit

AQUARIUS TAKES ORBIT: Geoscience: Joint U.S./Argentina mission sill study ocean circulation, Earth's water cycle. The successful launch today of an Earth-observing satellite marks the beginning of an international mission to study ocean circulation and the Earth's water cycle via ocean salinity. Both phenomena bear on the health of the Earth's oceans and climate. The mission, Aquarius/Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas (SAC)-D, is a joint project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales. Up, Up & Away: The Aquarius/SAC-D satellite, sitting atop a Delta II rocket, lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Aquarius control team members cheered and high-fived as the Delta II rocket that carried the satellite flawlessly lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and streaked through the atmosphere. The satellite successfully separated from the rocket, and then began maneuvering into orbit around the Earth. Omar Baez, NASA's launch manager, praised Aquarius' international team of scientists and engineers, calling the launch "a great job by all." Aquarius/SAC-D microwave radiometers will measure minute differences in thermal radiation from the ocean's surface, which correlate with salinity. Ocean surface salinity affects the density of the water, and salinity differences help drive ocean circulation. Although numerous satellites monitor oceanic properties such as surface heights and temperatures, only recently have global salinity measurements been added to the mix. In 2009, European Space Agency launched the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite. Salinity measurements from SMOS and Aquarius/SAC-D will augment data from other Earth-observing satellites, providing key insights into how fresh and salty water interact and affect global systems such as the atmosphere and sea ice. "This is stuff that's good for the global community," Baez said during the televised launch. "This will be good for all of us." Chemical & Engineering News, 13 June 2011, p. 27.

March 30, 2011

Energy Policy

JAPAN CRISIS MAY HAVE LITTLE EFFECT ON U.S. ENERGY POLICY: It's important not to overstate the consequences of a particular event for U.S. policy until you really wait to see how all the details play out. Whatever the ultimate repercussions of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident in Japan, the crisis raises questions over the role nuclear power should play as an energy source. Michael Levi, head of the energy security and climate change program at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, spoke to reporters on March 14th about the accident's potential implications for U.S. nuclear policy. Science News contributing editor Alexandra Witze excerpted his comments.

How will this event affect public opinion on nuclear power in the United States?

Most people will have their previous biases reconfirmed. The one place where I see a potential shift is in the group of environmental advocates who may have been willing in the past to compromise on nuclear energy as part of a broader deal on climate change, just like many of them were willing to do on offshore drilling. This sort of event will make them a lot less comfortable doing that. Ultimately, the way this affects the future of U.S. nuclear power is through regulatory uncertainty and the sort of public opposition that ultimately drives up the cost of financing, and thus the cost, of nuclear power. But a warning I would give anyone trying to interpret this is that it is extremely early. If you go back and look at people's conclusions on the consequences of last year's oil spill for the future of energy policy a couple of days after the spill, you'll find that most of them bear little resemblance to the reality that unfolded. And it's worth having a similar level of caution right now.

How does this compare with last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

Again, people had their views confirmed. If you were antidrilling, you looked at it and you saw a horrible environmental disaster. If you were pro-drilling, you looked at it and you saw that there was still limited physical impact on the shores. Less than a year after the Gulf disaster, we're back to the same old debate over offshore drilling. So it's important not to overstate the consequences of a particular event for U.S. policy until you really wait to see how all the details play out and how the context evolves.

What about the nuclear reactors currently applying for relicensing, or those located in earthquake-prone zones?

The particular contours of public opinion in areas with nuclear reactors vary enormously from site to site. In some places, like in Westchester, NY, people hate nuclear.... In other places, they see it as a source of employment.

Do you anticipate increased regulation?

It's not like U.S. regulators don't look at things like earthquake risk already. I'm sure people will be taking a careful look over their regulatory schemes and trying to understand exactly what the vulnerabilities are that they may not have understood previously, and if that leads to changes in how they regulate, then there will be changes. And regulators are constantly reassessing their understanding for a variety of different reasons. The other thing that will come into play is there's been a lot of discussion about how next-generation reactors are -- the technical term is "passively cooled" -- so that they can still cool themselves even if they have a complete power shutoff. This situation would certainly tilt things that way, but the lesson is not just that there's a particular failure mode associated with earthquakes. I's that things happen that you don't predict when you have very complex systems, and you need to be prepared not only to prevent bad situations from happening but you need to be prepared to mitigate the consequences.

How important is nuclear to U.S. energy policy?

The nuclear component is hugely consequential for U.S. negotiations on energy policy. There is no question that when it comes to alternatives to fossil fuels, those on the right are far more enthusiastic about nuclear than about anything else. It's also true that many of those on the left have become more open to nuclear as part of a package. And you saw, for example, the president in his State of the Union speech pushing for a clean electricity standard, rather than a renewable electricity standard -- one of the two key differences being that it would include nuclear power under its remit. So certainly it's a big piece of energy policy negotiations. Now, let's not overplay this. Energy policy negotiations are not in great shape, period, so it's not like nuclear will be decisive. Right now nothing big is happening, and this only makes things somewhat harder. But over the longer term, I find it very difficult to see a political compromise on clean energy -- and on clean electricity in particular -- that doesn't say something serious for nuclear. Science News, 09 April 2011, p. 32.

January 25, 2011

City Bans PS Takeout Containers

CITY BANS PS TAKEOUT CONTAINERS:The city of San Clemente, California, has banned the use of expanded polystyrene containers by restaurants, supermarkets, delicatessens and other retail food vendors, effective July 1st.

Polystyrene takeout containers will be banned in San Clemente, California, beginning July 1st.

The ban, passed unanimously January 4th by the five-member city council, bans all PS trays, plates, bowls, lids, cartons, cups, hinged and lidded containers and any other PS items designed for one-time use for prepared food, takeout food or leftovers from partially consumed meals. It does not apply to single-use disposable straws or utensils. A similar ban in Hayward, California, also will go into effect July 1st. Three dozen California communities -- 33 cities and three counties -- plus the cities of Portland, Seattle and Issaquah, Washington, have bans on PS takeout containers. In addition, Los Angeles and four other counties in California have PS bans at citywide facilities and events. Plastics News, 10 January 2011, p. 19.


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