Think Earth: Pollution
Humans benefit from spending time in the great outdoors, but pollution prevents many from enjoying our natural world, or even outside their home in the city. And it’s of our own doing. The week this event was held, almost every day of the week had been declared an Ozone Action Day in Bexar County.
In this Think Earth event, we look at the effects of pollution in our city and region with three experts who’ll share their work and research in the fields of air, water, and light pollution. You’ll learn about the ways you can help lessen the human impact on the environment.
- Saugata Datta, PhD - UTSA
- Dawn Davies - Hill Country Alliance
- Diane Rath – AACOG
Special introduction by Douglas Melnick, COSA Sustainability Office
Nathan Cone, TPR
The audio from this panel is in the player at the top of the page; presenters' slides are embedded below.
THINK EARTH: Pollution
Friday, October 7
Rush transcript (some A.I. errors may occur)
[00:00:00] Nathan Cone Hello. Thank you so much for being here for this event for Think Earth. I'm Nathan Cone with Texas Public Radio. And at each of these talks, our goal is to bring you in and out in an hour. Having learned a little bit more about the topic at hand, we have three speakers today from the Alamo Area Council of Governments, AACOG, UTSA and the Hill Country Alliance. I want to thank our sponsors today San Antonio Kidney, San Antonio Vascular and Endovascular Clinic, Big Sun, Solar and the Edwards Aquifer Authority. They're making it possible for us to bring you think Earth and our Think Science series and we appreciate their good corporate citizenship and support. As you can tell by my checking of the little devices down here, I'm recording today's event. And so when it comes time for the Q&A section of today, you'll use my microphone. I'll come out to you. You raise your hand, and we're happy to get you on tape so that we can place this on our website next week, along with the slides that you'll see throughout today's presentation. I mean, how many ozone action days have we had this week alone, right? All of them, it seems. How many cities are there out there like Flint, who've had such trouble with their water systems? How many stars do you miss seeing at night? Thanks to light pollution, we're going to learn about three different types of pollution today air, water and light pollution. And as I said, you'll be able to ask your questions of our panel today to help open today's presentation, I want to invite Doug Melnick from the City of San Antonio, Office of Sustainability, to say just a couple of words. Thank you, Doug.
[00:01:38] Doug Melnick Thank you so much. Thank you, panelists. Thank you, Nathan. Thank you. Thank you all. I'm just here more to learn at the end of the day. But I just wanted to highlight really again the importance of this this topic, as was mentioned, the world's changing. Is it the driest year on record today? It's the second driest extreme heat wildfires. And this is just the San Antonio region, not necessarily looking across the country and globe. And when you talk about pollution, it's related to the changes that are occurring. And so the actions that we're taking now really impacts air, water, energy that's going into powering light. As we light. As we grow, everything is interconnected. And I just want to thank you for taking the time to learn more to get involved. If you want any more information on what we are doing at the at the city, we have a landing page, a sustainability dashboard that covers lots of these topics as well as others. It's SAsustainability.com. Please feel free to take a look and there's opportunities to weigh in. So looking forward to the conversation. Thanks.
[00:02:47] Nathan Cone Thank you so much, Doug. I'd like to introduce our first speaker today, Diane RATH, who's the executive director of AACOG, the Alamo Area Council of Governments. She's been in that role since 2014. And in this capacity, she oversees 300 employees in 11 program areas. During her tenure, AACOG has been recognized with several national awards. She's up first and you have the little clicker right there you are. Welcome to either stand or sit either way you prefer. And thank you so much for being here and for sharing with us.
[00:03:16] Diane Rath Thank you for inviting us and including us. This is great. And we really welcome the opportunity to talk about ozone, particularly with what we're going through this month and all the ozone that we have. And I think it helps if we talk about what is when you hear the word, people don't understand it. And it's a very harmful lung irritant that's formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. So in the present and now our problem isn't in June July all this. Our problem is the spring and fall. And so that's when our highest spring and fall, we've seen a very steady decline in what our ozone is. You've seen our population increase 2 million people while we continue to decrease our levels of ozone. But since 2016, that decrease has stalled, and it's really not continuing to decrease. And that's despite significant actions that have been taken in this community. We had the closing of the Daly power plant early, at significant cost. We had their county adopt their anti idling ordinance, and we have CPS energy's very successful step program, and yet we've stalled out. And so what are the levels we talk about when we talk about an ozone action day and we talk about the level? What are we talking about? And that's because of the regulations that are adopted by EPA. They set standards for certain air pollutants, which includes ozone. The most important, the most recent ozone standard was set in 2015, 70 parts per billion. And that's very, very important. The old standard was 75 parts per billion, and we were in very good shape and we continued to be in good shape by the old standard. In 2018, we were designated marginal, not attainment, and we were given three years to come into compliance or we'll be bumped up to moderate and have additional federal regulation. And unfortunately, that's where we are now. If we look at our ozone standard, we are still violating it through 2022 at one monitor are can't both. So when we look at the slide and we see it, the limit is 70. So we've got one that's right at 70. So it's okay, we've got one at 67, but it's Camp Bliss. And what's really going to be difficult for us is when you look at 2021, we have that one day, that's at 78. That is what is going to be very difficult to overcome because of that one day and you'll see later when that happens. It's when a cold front came through that day that we are in very much in danger of being bumped up yet again if we're not able to come into attainment. And that's a very long, deep stretch we have to get through. But one of the requirements that's particularly challenging to Bear County under the moderate designation is that we're required under the statute to decrease RVO see our volatile organic compound emissions by 15%. This is difficult because we don't have any large producers of vaccines. We don't have some of the companies or the types of industry that produces VOCs. If you see from the slide, most of ours is area sources that mean it's very small things. It's like the type of paint you use, the type of of surface coating. If it smells, that's kind of like you've got boxes. So when you have the paint that doesn't smell, that's very low VOCs, the paint that has the odor that we're all used to, that's high VOCs. They're even talking about household products, which I take very personally, because that includes Hairspray. They are truly talking about deodorant and hairspray, and that's getting a little bit into the level that we are going to have to do. We honestly have no way of even projecting how we can cut our VOCs by 15%. The best that the state agency that regulates it is estimating about 8%. So we're working very closely with the city, with the county, with the state and with EPA on how we move forward. And we're really working to educate our stakeholders about the new requirements. But it's going to be a tough road ahead for us. But we want to see. So where does our ozone come from? Because the Bear County, we're under the gun, we're leveled in on attainment. And yet the modeling studies suggest that our local emissions only account for about 20% of our total ozone. The rest is transport. That's coming from sources outside our region. So we produce 20% and yet we're the ones accountable for reducing it and have the increased regulation and cost. And 80% is coming from outside. And when people go, how does it come from outside? I always remind people of summer when you have that Egyptian Saharan red dust that we have, if it can get here from Africa, you can certainly see how ozone can travel from the Midwest cities, from the northern from our southern borders, including when the fires in Mexico are burning just about. 4 hours from here. So 80% of it comes in during the during that part. And interestingly, most of our ozone events occur the day after a cold front comes through. That's why April and October are our worst months, not the summer and the hot summer. We have that Gulf breeze, and that Gulf breeze is blowing through and it just blows everything out. And we're doing fine. But when a cold front comes through, the next day is every time our levels shoot up. So very, very high because our 20% is blowing through. And then it collides with the wind and the air from the north with their say, their dirty air coming down picks up our air that just passed through once and it comes back through again. And that's when we really shoot high. The reason we've had so many ozone days in a row, as was mentioned, is because of Hurricane Ian. That's put a lock and it's that cell just sitting on the Gulf breeze. So our normal breeze is not blowing through. It's just got a stranglehold. And as soon as it moves a little bit, we'll be able to have our normal breeze coming through again. But that's why we've had so many ozone action days lately. But what are we doing about it? I have to say, we've got some great initiatives. We've got great partners, you know, just like everyone in the audience today and listening on the radio, we all are concerned. Everyone wants clean air. Nobody wants to have dirty air. We know the impact it has on health. We know the impact it has on asthmatic son children. And interestingly, we have a little bit of a different situation, too, in that most of the time the challenged areas are really in your more impoverished area or close to your manufacturing. That's not true with us. Our manufacturer on the south side has our low our best monitors. That's where the Calaveras Monitor is. Our camp Bullis is up by Dominion. So our high wealth individuals, so it's our air is not dirty like most people envision. It's a different kind of pollutant problem that we have here. But we all want clean air. And when we look at what we can do about it, I have to always thank our businesses and I really have to acknowledge what they have done. Our partners, our businesses, our manufacturing companies have all invested. Toyota has some of the best high tech. They're not limiting phenomenal partners. Our cement plants have made significant investments in the air quality, so we're very excited to have them as partners. But we have several initiatives that we can talk about that have been working here. One was recently adopted by the city right before we went to a COVID lockdown, and that's the property. Assess clean energy. And this is not a grant program. It's a private financing tool for multifamily. So if you have five or more apartments, multifamily, industrial, commercial non-profits can all take advantage of accessing the PACE program, and it really will be financing for energy efficiency and water conservation improvements. So you can put on new roofs, HVAC systems, those blasted faucets that cut off when you're trying to wash your hands some place, the low flow commodes, any of those type of energy improvements are eligible to be financed using pace financing. And we're very excited because we've had a couple of local successes. Our very first project was the Travis Beal building. They're doing a $5 million renovation. They're going to be addressing their building envelope, their roof lighting, plumbing, their HVAC system. We've had 14 cities and counties in our region that have adopted Pace, and one of the other communities that's really embracing it is in Castroville, they have a plan to really update five historic buildings. The first one closed several months ago. The next one should be closing this week. And they're taking the historical structures and really renovating their whole downtown area. So we have several options that are available for people to use. The other thing we want to talk about is the Clean Cities Coalition Network. We housed at ACORN. We have the Clean Cities program, and it really promotes the growth of alternative fuels in the transportation section, all designed to improve energy efficiency, to increase domestic energy security, to reduce the operating costs for consumers and business, and to improve the global competitiveness of our economy. It was really fun. We partnered with several folks, including CPS, the city of San Antonio last week for Drive Electric Week, and we had demonstrations of electric vehicles and new vehicles on Thursday, electric busses and. School busses. We had an electric Ford F-150 lightning that was out on display and it was available for test drive. So really trying to prove people's understanding and awareness of what's available. The other thing is we are very pleased that we recently were awarded a grant for Regional Energy Management Program to assist local governments with energy reporting and benchmarking and to educate them about energy efficiency programs and to incorporate energy use into their hazard mitigation planning. It's a state grant. It's from the State Energy Conservation Office that's housed in the comptroller's office, and we're really excited to begin working with our local governments in the area. What can we do? So this is great. We have energy conservation, we have pace, we have clean cities. But what can each of us do when we hear that announcement about ozone action day? You can go to our website or the state's website and sign up for the alerts. So, you know, when it is an ozone action day and we issue those are the state issues them when local conditions are expected to be favorable for high ozone the next day. So when they look at the atmosphere, they look at the weather and they are putting everyone on notice to really take steps. What we urge people to do is to avoid idling activities. Don't go through drive thru food at lunch. We have an ozone action day. It's amazing how much that activity all concentrated over lunch contributes to our high ozone levels. About four and 5:00. Wait until the evening to get gas in your car. Adamo your yard. Wait till it's cooler. Wait till it's dusk Don't do it during that hot part of the day. In many areas they really do have remote work available or condensed work schedule. After COVID, many people are used to doing this, so we have the tools to do it. And an ozone action day is when all of us should consider working from home or doing a condensed work schedule. And very importantly, keep your vehicles in good maintenance the better maintained your car is that will help reduce emissions properly inflated tires makes a big piece really can contribute even though we're under the gun for the velocity emissions in our community. What contributes the most to ozone production is auto emissions. Auto emissions don't do anything with VOCs, but in our community that is one of the largest sources of ozone production. And what we really need to focus on cutting down on, it's an ozone action day. I'm not going to really talk about it much today, but I will say there's one other area that we'd love to come talk about more in the future, and that's the particulate matter. EPA right now is looking at the standards for particulate matter, and they're very seriously considering perhaps lowering it, which might put us at risk of being a non attainment for particulate matter. That's like construction with a desk gets kicked up, a lot of road construction, a lot of your concrete and cement plants, anything with particulate matter which can really is where a growing city we have a lot of construction going on and that could have future implications if they do decide to lower it. So with that, I look forward to questions or the next presentation and I really appreciate being able to share the information with folks.
[00:17:27] Nathan Cone Thank you so much, Diane. We appreciate it. And we will go on to the next one in just a second here. I do want to ask one quick follow up thing. And, you know, it also comes straight from the idea of telecommuting and working from home. Like you said, a lot of people got used to doing that during the pandemic. And I want to know, like thinking back a couple of years now when we were all working from home, what kind of measurable air quality did we see in a difference in San Antonio compared to what it is now? Again.
[00:17:57] Diane Rath And I really appreciate that question because it truly illustrates the importance of a transport with our air quality. In April of 2020, when we were lockdown, when there weren't vehicles on the road, when we were all at home, our ozone levels into April of 2020 were higher than they were in April of 2019. And even though auto is the primary cause of our ozone levels, we don't produce it, you know, 80% transport. And that's the best example of the inadequacy of the regulations with some of our unique circumstances.
[00:18:38] Speaker 4 Wow.
[00:18:40] Nathan Cone Okay. Well, let's move on. We'll have more questions for you and all three in just a little bit. But first, I want to introduce Dr. Saugata Datta, a professor of chemical, hydraulic, hydro, geology and aqueous geochemistry at UTSA. His research interest focuses on issues of water resources, water availability and understanding the cycling of different metals and organic compounds that are ground waters, surface water, soils and sediments, as well as how land use pattern changes affect the distribution of such metals and pollutants in our environments. Thank you, Dr. Datta, for being here today.
[00:19:14] Saugata Datta Thank you, Nathan.
[00:19:15] Nathan Cone And if you want to pick up when you come around the table, pick up that green mic right there.
[00:19:23] Saugata Datta Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. It's a pleasure to be here. And I am representing UTSA for sure. But at the same time, I'm representing one of the new institutes for Water Research, Sustainability and Policy at UTSA. So from my topic of and my several years of my research and coming here from Kansas as I move from Kansas and several other states to Texas, I have been really interested in looking at the scale of water pollution in Texas. So I just want to give a little bit of a brief overview of where we are and what to be alert of for the next decade or so. So when we talk about water pollution and if you take a little survey about more than 57% of the American population, the first on the track of being worried of any type of environmental pollution is actually water. And that comes from many perspective, mostly from the drinking water perspective. So drinking water and safe drinking water and to the end to the population is one of the major aspects of anybody's worrisome environmental environmental pollution. So when we actually look back a little bit in the history of our water, but, you know, base and what the government has done, we know very well about the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was promoted in 1974. It goes way back. The prominence of this was to protect the public health by regulating public water, drinking water supplies. Right. And so from there, the drinking water that can include the sources from either our rivers or lakes or reservoirs or springs, and most importantly, groundwater wells. And that's where most of the problems probably come from. But it also does not really regulate private wells. We serve less than about, say, 25 people in a family. But one of the most common water pollutants that we know, even in Texas, in any other place, is also also from a source of surface waters are microbial, but the microbial components are very natural. They actually grow in the water. And as such, there are many ways to remediate that water also, or rather easiest to remediate that water that has subsequent amount of microbial pollution there. Now, on the other hand, we are looking at some inorganic chemicals that kind of scares us a little bit. These inorganic chemicals are inherently present in the natural way on the Earth's surface. So in the water, when the water is interacting with the soils or sediments or rocks in a natural environment, some of these elements get hyped up and at the same time there are anthropogenic human caused activities to for which some of these elements can get hyped up also. So here is a list. But the list just to encompass the fact that so many of these elements that are providing a subsequent nutrient to the environment can be also toxic to the environment to some extent. Now, the other part of it, and the one most common ones, are the disinfectant byproducts, or also we call the disinfectants, and that we use in water supply quite a bit in terms of organic chemicals or radionuclides. Again, these three are sometimes combined as a nuisance chemicals, they call it, but they are important because each one of these three slides that they have shown and the different microbial or the inorganic or even these regulated contaminants, they have a maximum contaminant limit the seals. And when the water concentration of these high bit more than these chemicals, than these standards, that's where we have to get a little bit more cautious. So what about Texas? I just chose a couple of other states that quite a few other states and looked at two of the most common ones that we talk about in Texas also. One is water nitrate concentration that comes from agricultural practices, and then the other one is from the arsenic. Arsenic actually is an element that is present in nature, in the sediments and and the rocks. Now it comes down as a natural contaminant within these within the water, in various parts of the country, various parts of the world. I have worked on many parts of the world. And coming in Texas, I was not surprised to see some of the hyped up arsenic concentrations in drinking water wells. But this is just to show that some of what are the concentration levels or how many population or how much is the population that are exposed to somewhat of this higher than ten microgram per liter of arsenic in water or ten milligrams per liter of nitrate in water? Now, we do actually talk about when we are in multiple of these aspects of water pollution are the violators. The violators in the sense are that that in the community water supply systems like in a range of say, 1982 to 2015, we took a survey and then there are a higher number of violators even in the state of Texas in terms of some of these pollutants, for example, the total coliform that comes from also the e-coli, the nitrates, the arsenic. And one of the most common ones that Nathan just mentioned, beginning is the lead. And we will talk about lead in a minute and other disinfectant byproducts. That was that what DBP stands for? Now, what happens in case of lead is something that is very historic, because not only this is has happened in the historic past, but it has happened in the recent past. And Flint, Michigan, is one of the classic example of what happened. Now, this is about the homes of the families that are like greater than 1950 of the age when the houses were built. Most of these are the architecture, right? The pipes, the infrastructure are very old. LED is remaining back in this pipes in a high concentration. And what happens in the real world is that lead can be solubility is a heavy metal. It doesn't get soluble in water that easily unless you promote the environment to do so. And in these kind of cases where there is certain chemicals for, for, for that way it can get plugged with those chemicals very easily, become soluble and go into the drinking water. So this is something that we always have to be careful about. Now, we do have potential lead in pipe infrastructure in many of the cities in Texas, and one of them is in the Harris County in Houston. I have been working there with some of the penetrations looking at children's blood lead level and basically not all the time it is coming from the pipes. It comes from many other sources. I will show you in a minute. This is actually about Texas, too, in the Harris County that are not not all of the Texas, but at least in some portions of it, that lead has to be really well monitored. Now, we did a study in in a very reasonable. Which was anthropogenic only, you know, had high concentrations of lead in the soils. And we did from house to house analysis of children where they had more than five micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood. And what we did was it's a very high, high technology driven, stable isotope geochemistry where you can access these sources and you can see what the lead isotopes are. And then you correlate that with the blood lead isotopes of the children, and you can tell where from the lead is coming from. One of the most common is the being the wooden or wooden paints. These are high concentration of lead. Even some food also has high and some of the pharmaceutical products definitely have some lead to. So having to be more cautious about when children are living in the house is very important. Now, I'll just take a little bit of a tangent and look at some of the what is happening in the Edwards aquifer where we are sitting now. We know that Edwards Aquifer is located in the south central Texas. We are all very much related to that. Right. And this is one of the most productive karst, very limestone aquifers, carbonate aquifers. And it's a long providing water for millions of people. So the primary water resource for the city of San Antonio that is growing population, the seventh largest city is the Edwards aquifer. Now, when we look at where the majority of the population growth is happening are mostly now concentrated still at the confining zones. And that's why we are still safe because of the confining zones. The water, the contaminants don't park down to the depth. Right. So even if it is present, it can be it has to be present in the very shallow depth so it can be even remediated quicker. But with time, with the growth of population and land use pattern changes and climate also, you might get into the water quality problem in Edwards aquifer. Currently, Edwards Aquifer is a very good water quality. We should be all proud about that, and that's why we targeted some of the historical data set from Texas Water Development Board or CQ, and we analyzed that dataset and tried to see that. What are some of these contaminants? Of what levels are there, and are these showing any increasing trend in the recent past or not? And understanding these trends, we can more assess that. Well, which of these elements we should look at very carefully. Some of them I can really see nitrate is one of them. Lead is one of them. Arsenic is one of them. Copper is another of them. And some of these are not like extremely high concentration now. But with the growth and with the growth of the city itself and the population and the way we are using the system, I think we have to be very careful with those. So we actually partnered with Edwards Aquifer Authority to look at this land use impacts on the ground water quality. We do sampling at several locations in the Edwards Aquifer wells or the Trinity Wells and look for some of these contaminants in a regular fashion. What we see in the historical data set, as I just seen, that the trend itself doesn't show an exorbitant increase in the last few years. But we have to be careful, as I said, with arsenic, with copper, with dissolved lead and with nitrates. These four are almost the same ones that we have been seeing in other parts of us, to other parts of Texas also. So almost in these cases and there are many pollutants worldwide, if you think about that, there are other pollutants that are very common. And I think of them in many places. These are the most are the commonest ones. Now, we actually do another study that has been very impactful at the very border communities. These border communities are on the Texas Mexico border. We are serving the water for these people who are staying in this in these localities, in these counties at the very border with some of the Mexican universities. We are we are partnering with what we are finding is that some of these water samples have never been analyzed, even if they are, you know, groundwater wells. So technically, we are going door to door and asking for water to sample and analyze them, return back the results so that they know that how pure their water is, how clean their water is. And this is we are partnering with other organizations and universities, even at UT El Paso, to do this work. This has been funded by Mott Foundation and we are very. How about that? Now, one of the things that I just want to end up saying that, you know, all these elements that we just talked about, one of them probably arsenic giving an example. You know, how did it go into naturally into the water? Basically, the understanding is that these are all natural process driven the earth is generating. But we as humans, we are accidentally accelerating the prominence of these elements in the environment with that, either in the food or in the water or in the air. And actually talking about arsenic, arsenic can be polluted in the air. Also, like my previous speaker said about the particulate matter. Particulate matter can be highly enriched in arsenic in in these kind of scenarios where there are smelter plants and so on. So just to keep that in mind and then we are we as I said, we had the we have the Institute for Water Research, Sustainability and Policy. We are pairing up on various aspects. We are looking with experts on water and health. We are looking at experts with also policy and sustainability and then also on the climate variability and water quantity. And with that, we might be able to do a lot of that pollution and prevention, but it starts from our own education about it. What can we do in our own household to stop the more prevalent production of these pollutants in the environment? I just had a nice, quick chart to show which you are all kind of, you know, definitely know about this. We are practicing this. We have to just be more applied the more citizen science be more alert of these pollutants. And right now in Edwards Aquifer, we are sitting we are very peaceful. We are happy, but we have to be happy for the future also. That's why there is a need of understanding of the water pollution. Thank you very much.
[00:33:45] Nathan Cone Thank you, Dr. Data. Appreciate your being here today. My microphone. There it is. Okay. Thank you so much. Our next guest here is Dawn DAVIES, the Night Sky program manager with Hill Country Alliance. And Dawn brings over a decade of astronomy, outreach and dark sky preservation experience to Hill Country Alliance as the Night Sky Program Coordinator. Before joining HCA, she served on the board of the Austin Astronomical Society and as a volunteer advocate for the International Dark-Sky Association, I'm very much looking forward to hearing from you. This is something that's close to my heart as a young boy who loved to look up at the sky when he was little and still likes to do so as a 49 year old. I'd love to hear more about this. So let's learn about light pollution.
[00:34:32] Dawn Davies Thank you so much for having me here. So unlike the previous conversations you just heard, you know, light pollution is not as well known. Light pollution has only existed since we have had artificial light. We are working across the whole country and within night skies. We do a multitude of education and outreach practices. We work with night sky friendly lighting and introducing folks to the best practices for lighting within their homes and their businesses. We have developed groups across the region that are friends of night sky groups, and within those groups and individually and with our partners, we work on modifying and updating ordinances and resolutions throughout the area. So we operate in roughly 18 to 19 counties, and that is ever expanding because as I like to say, the night sky has no boundaries. So if you think of where we are right now in San Antonio, in Bear County, that light pollution doesn't just stop at the county border. So we try to work with communities outside of our designated region because anything that happens here affects all the communities around us. The light that we have here in San Antonio can be seen upwards of 40 to 50 miles from where we are. So that affects the entire county surrounding area. We're very fortunate actually, as of this week, we have introduced our 15th Friends of the Night Sky Group across the whole country, and these are volunteers that come together with just the general mission of saving the night sky and educating others on how they can do so from this dark sky quality analysis we did back in 2019. We often say that the hill country is on the edge of night. So what you're seeing is a map stating sort of the poor, good and excellent sky quality that we're seeing with light pollution. And obviously in Travis County at Austin and Bear County in San Antonio, we have the largest concentrations of light pollution because of our population and because of the industry. And of course, you know, all of the multitudes of businesses, the further west you head, obviously the light is getting much darker, but we are losing that at a rate of 2% every year. Here's a little bit more of a detailed image. This is actually from a metrics report that we put out earlier this year on the state of the Hill country. So as you can see, you know, from this data, we've got 62% of the hill country falls into that category of excellent night sky. And most of that is towards the west of us and all the way down to 40%. That is poor night sky. So we haven't lost the battle yet. But that doesn't mean we need to slack off and give up. We need to put even greater emphasis on protecting our night sky because of just how much it affects us. Here's an example. In San Antonio alone, we quantified the light night sky based on what's called a portal scale. So that's a scale from 1 to 9 of sky quality and brightness. So one, if you've ever been out to Big Bend or out in West Texas, in Fort Davis area, that's a Bordeaux one. That is where you see the Milky Way. And it's so bright in the night sky that it can cast a shadow. And Portal nine, you're typically see in the larger metropolitan area. So the center of downtown Manhattan, you could make out the moon and that is about it. It is so bright and so concentrated. So in San Antonio right now, we're looking at, you know, on that cusp of the eight nine portal scale in the downtown area and then to the outer periphery, six or seven, which of course, is not ideal. But we're working on that. And actually we've partnered in many ways here with the folks within ACOG and with UTSA and other various partners to do what we can within the region, not only working on the campus, the centennial landscape and night sky preservation, but also working to build up a Bear County and San Antonio Friends of the Night Sky Group as well. This is one most staggering facts, I think that's out there, that four out of five North Americans have lost the view of the Milky Way, way where they live. Globally, that is about 60 to 75% of the entire world lives where they cannot step off their porch and look up at night and see the Milky Way and what it's affecting here, especially the whole country. It's affecting our heritage, affecting this pristine, wonderful environment that we have all come to love and call home. It affects every kind of living creature and affects mammals, insects, reptiles, insects, plants, humans. It affects our sleep disorders. It interrupts melatonin production, interrupts our circadian rhythm. And those effects have been linked to every form of cancer that humans can get. There's a lot of myths that we have to dispel, too, which means more light, means more safe. And it's the type of light that is most central mental. It's things like glare that, you know, makes it easy for trespassers to hide in in among the bright light. I like to joke that, you know, if more light meant more safe, we would have less crime during the daytime. But really, it's the type of light. It's the type of light that that is the cause and the culprit here. And, of course, the financial aspect, the wasted energy, the wasted electricity. We've estimated that roughly 30% of all outdoor artificial light is being shown up into the night sky. Not on any signage, not at any buildings. That is what's wasted. And the International Dark-Sky Association has calculated that to about a national loss of $3.3 billion every year. And in the state of Texas, we're estimating that around 450 to $490 million that we're just wasting every year because of our lighting. So here's sort of our general interpretation of the sort of bad, good, better, best. So obviously what we're looking at is trying to optimize the proper lighting. So that means properly shielded, directed where it needs to go, whether it's on the ground or illuminating signage or providing safe passage and also the right temperature. So we quantify light with regards to night sky from the lighting in Kelvin. So that's the light temperature. So for example, if you were to walk outside right now, average daylight is about 6500 Kelvin. We're looking at over half that. The International Dark-Sky Association and the Illuminating Engineers Society recommend 3000 Kelvin degrees below or below, depending on the type of purpose for the light. This is not a quantifying scale of brightness. This is actually just a color temperature. So it's the warmer amber tones, the warm yellows, the ones that are easier on your eyes, opposed to the bright white or white blue that you might see in a lot of new LED lighting they might see on headlights as you're driving down the freeway. None of us like that. So we're advocating for just those sort of three areas properly shielded. That means covered so that the light does not protrude above the horizon and even more narrow if possible, that it's directed where it goes and then it's that proper color temperature. Unfortunately, there's a tremendous amount of advancements in technology over just the last five years, making it much more available for industry and for homeowners to go out and to purchase these proper types of lighting fixtures and bulbs. With the International Dark-Sky Association. You know, they put out some phenomenal information and it really does start with us. So we really encourage folks, you know, don't feel like you have to go out and you have to conquer the entire city or the entire area. You know, start in your home and see what is the lighting you have on the exterior of your house. A lot of folks don't even notice it because when you're inside your home, you're not looking at the light. And if your lights are on, on the outside of your home, you're probably away. And they're there to make sure that you can see where you are when you're coming back. So it's things like, you know, making sure the shielding temperature direction, making sure that if you do have a light and you do want to feel safe, put it on a timer or put it on a light sensor meter so that it's only used or only turned on when it's needed. This is another great diagram. It's called the examples of acceptable and unacceptable lighting fixtures. And if you look at the examples on the left, you can probably identify some that either are in your home or your place of business or, you know, for me personally, when I moved into my home about 17 years ago, I never turned on the lights because I never needed them. And we occasionally turned on our back door, you know, floodlight attached to the outside of our house. If the dog was barking at something and we wanted to know what was going on. But it wasn't till I really took a look at the lighting and realized, Wow, this isn't the best night sky lighting. And so I've taken steps to make sure that we are using the proper lighting and really addressing the fact of where it needs to go. So as long as you have it covered, shielded, directed, yeah, we go back up and running then, you know, it's, it's going to work for those purposes of growth. Well, first. There we go. So, for instance, a lot of us probably have these very sort of antique lights where, you know, it's partially covered, maybe sometimes a little cast iron, rather ornate. They're sconces that are on the the front of your porch. If you can see the bulb from standing in your front yard or standing from your porch, that is not nice. Sky friendly. So you want that bulb hidden, you want it recessed. And ideally, again, that proper color temperature. So it starts in the home, maybe go to your place of business or your personal work. Look there. And then from there it's, you know, getting the word out. So, again, as I mentioned, light pollution is not a common terminology. People don't necessarily even know what you mean when you say light pollution, but it is so much more detrimental than, you know, just turning off a light. As I said, it affects every kind of living being, but at the same time, it is the one pollution, again, as I like to say, tongue in cheek, that we can solve at the speed of light. Now, again, that sounds a lot more easier than it is because we're not advocating for turning off your lights entirely. You know, we do need light to be able to see. We do need light to be able to get around and feel safe. But it's about using the light appropriately. But it is one of those where if we were to swap out our bulbs, if we were to bring attention to this in our communities, it is one that fortunately we can solve faster than things like water pollution or land or air pollution, but it is one that is growing as rapidly as those other pollutants are. So, you know, we are working across the whole country to try to educate folks and educate those of you who are here today and on the radio, because once you know what improper lighting looks like and once you know what proper lighting looks like, you cannot unsee it. So from here on out, you're going to drive down the road, you're going to go to your shopping malls and you're going to be out within the world and you are not going to be able to unsee it. And hopefully it's something that you'll start recognizing that you'll be able to identify, that maybe you might become more part of the conversation and educating others and educating friends and something that we can get the movement building up and growing stronger and stronger so that eventually we do see things like populations of bats and populations of fireflies coming back and stronger numbers that we do start walking off our porches and seeing more constellations and more stars in the night sky, and that hopefully we get to a point where, you know, those those areas within Travis and Bear County on that the eastern edge of the hill country, become more dark to the point where the entire hill country is a proper night sky. Thank you.
[00:46:35] Nathan Cone Thank you so much, Dawn. Thank you so much. And you we have about we'll take about 15 minutes now for a Q&A with audience. And so if you have a question, go ahead and just raise your hand. I'll bring the microphone to you so that we can get it on tape. I want to start with one question for you, Dawn, right away. And you mentioned just a moment ago, bats and fireflies. How else does light pollution affect the animal world? Because we think about, oh, the encroachment of building and, you know, and the loss of habitat for animals. But how does light pollution affect the animal world around us?
[00:47:08] Dawn Davies So if you think about it, you know, just just as humans are, you know, we progress through our daily life with sensing light and dark. And that sort of regulates our sleep patterns and our activity patterns. That's the same for for animal life. So they're dependent on knowing when sunset comes, knowing that's the time to go back home or that's time to go feed. So by the encroachment of artificial light at all times of of evening, that is completely disruptive to, you know, their active eating habits, their migratory patterns. There's, you know, I'm sure most folks are very familiar with how light pollution affects sea turtles and their inability to, you know, make it towards the sea because they're distracted by the light inland. So it's that sort of practice that not only affects the animals, general habits, but also in many cases affects their their food source. So, for instance, if, you know, if bats go after your malls, your dragonflies, you know, your large insects and those insects are attracted towards the artificial light fixtures, then the predators of the bats and the fireflies know, hey, this is a spot where they're going to hang out because this is where their food sources. So it's disruptive on many levels, but more importantly, the more intricate and important levels of just activities, sleep, migration, feeding and so forth.
[00:48:27] Nathan Cone Questions from anybody here? Yes. I'm going to bring the microphone over close to you. You got a long wire.
[00:48:34] Audience Member Well, I would say, Nathan, I have so many questions. Anytime someone else doesn't have one, you can just return to me! For Ms. Rath: one major problem I see with everything you said today is that I think the idling has actually gotten much worse since we passed the idling. Ordinance. I see there's multiple charter schools that require parents to come pick up their children in a car at the curb. And if not, you know, if some parent insists on not doing that, they may even have to park several blocks away and walk up there. And I just see this all going to very much the wrong direction as far as the education system promoting idling and people also because of COVID offices in their cars and just sitting outside the Chick-Fil-A or at a park for an hour, an hour and a half and just running the AC, even if it's 60 degrees outside, because that's what they've gotten in the habit of doing. So how could that be changed?
[00:49:31] Nathan Cone Let's use that green mike poo because it seems like it's working better than the others. Yeah.
[00:49:35] Diane Rath I think you raise such a very good point. And I think the primary focus since the anti idling ordinance was adopted was really educating truck drivers because if you think if your truck stops, those trucks will run all night long while the drivers are sleeping in the cab. So there's tremendous amount of signage and education that's gone on at the truck stops targeting the 18 wheelers. And since we're at the confluence of three major highways, we have a lot of truck stops and 18 wheelers passing through here. And also for the construction equipment, the construction equipment would frequently be idling while they're taking their lunch breaks where they would let it turn it on and let it run, whether they're using it or not. So that was a primary educational focus. But you raise such a great point and we'll talk to the enforcement folks at Marion County and really point that out, because it could just be a matter of educating and reaching out to the schools as we try to add it to our talking points, as we try to do about drive thru lunches and the drive thrus to really point out those other opportunities and we idling don't even think about it. So thanks for that point. That was great.
[00:50:45] Nathan Cone I know I need to tell tell my my kids school to encourage folks to just like stop and roll your windows down, you know? I mean, just sit there when you're waiting. It's okay.
[00:50:58] Audience Member I wonder if the ozone action days sometimes don't confuse the public. I've talked to other people, and I myself am still a little confused. Because people limit their activity on those days. And then the next day they hike up the activity. And so, how can we educate the public of the benefit of the ozone action day so they understand. What the purpose for it is?
[00:51:24] Diane Rath We have had a great partnership with the meteorologist who really have done the announcements and have really worked that into so many of their newscasts. And the issue is you might be more active the subsequent day to an ozone action day, but unless there's another ozone action day issue, the conditions aren't as optimum or as ripe for exceeding the limit. So we we would rather have that rebalancing their activities than to really people proceed when there is an action day. And usually when we issue the alerts, it's very reassuring to see that we don't have an exceedance that day. In fact, a couple of times when we had them, it was when there was no alert issued and it went through the roof and it's usually a cold front coming through, but it's a very good point. But it's really when those optimum situations are impending that we need to really be aware of what we're doing.
[00:52:23] Nathan Cone Yes, sir.
[00:52:27] Audience Member So I suppose with this new knowledge, we could start a public private partnership to get the message out that idling is, in fact, the devil's work. So on another pollution question, though, CPS energy is going through a deliberative process to decide whether or not to and when and how to shut down their coal plants and whether to transition as natural gas as a bridge. Any thoughts on either of those elements, both the time frame and whether there are any quantifiable measures for the benefits of skipping natural gas? And this is primarily air, but I suppose there could also be some water or light pollution components to it.
[00:53:11] Diane Rath Yeah, I think for the ozone as I have to always thank CPS for closing the old Daley plant down early and it was more expensive. I think we that people aren't aware of and we closed daily down, we cut our available power supply so we weren't able to sell as much on the open marketplace. So it really did have an impact on us financially to that. But I very much respect and appreciate what they they did and what they are doing now with evaluating it, because clearly the coal burning power plants are our major source. I think that's the biggest thing that's impacting us at this time. Natural gas is very, very clean. For us in this part of the country. It's very affordable and certainly is readily attainable. You know, it helps our economy when we switch to natural gas also. So that would be a wonderful step, next step. And we look forward to continuing the conversations and partnering with them as they move forward in their decision making.
[00:54:12] Nathan Cone I did notice on your slides Dr. Datta, though, that there was a lot of you on one of those slides. I can't remember which one always, but showing where a lot of West Texas right there is a big blotch. There was a big blotch in Oklahoma right there. And that makes me reminds me of, you know, what's the fracking and things that are going on out there which can both affect water as well as I believe, you know, with production like things like that light as well out in those areas.
[00:54:39] Saugata Datta Yeah, absolutely. I think I think that's a great point. And what the point that you brought out about the coal fired plants, I mean, I think that's one of the you know, in case of fossil fuel, that's one of the major water polluting for a long time. It's a historical, historically proved. And in many parts of U.S., even the coal miners, they can be affected with, you know, being their lungs being affected with with the smoke that they actually inhale. So having having the energy as such as, you know, a major factor for our for our life. But then again, where to promote the energy and in what form. And Nathan, the point that you brought up is the hydrofracking or the fracking that has been rampant in states like Oklahoma or Texas, even in northern Texas. And there is a misnomer to that is that not that all hydrofracking business or the processes has to contaminate water. The if the eat the proper situation so steps can be taken, water can be left less polluted by the process of hydrofracking. Now, the the trouble is that when there is more often that, you know, in case of a hydrofracking, when there's an horizontal drilling going on, there are certain sections where the the kind of the residue is piled up. That's from where the leaching happens very fast because the materials are really fine and it can drop down through the in through the infiltration process very fast. So if there are other ways to remediate that part or slow down that process, water will be less affected. So we do have to kind of take those into action while we are doing several of these major industrial operations throughout anywhere.
[00:56:26] Nathan Cone Dawn, our oil fields and natural gas, a concern for light as well?
[00:56:30] Audience Member Definitely, especially out in the Permian Basin area where they have a lot of the flame releasing from those. It's a tremendous hazard with regards to, for instance, McDonald Observatory. They produce a tremendous amount of light that is a pollutant, much like artificial light. Fortunately, some really great steps and movement has been made with various industry where, you know, we've been able to address not only the effects that it has on the natural environment and humans and animals alike, but also a safety aspect. So in a lot of these industrial facilities, the glare that their light is producing can be a hazard. So we've actually seen a lot of really great movement, especially in the Permian Basin, thanks to Bill Rahn and the advocates within the McDonald Observatory, UT-Austin, where they've been able to go out, meet with the specialist and the safety managers, demonstrate proper night sky lighting on their exterior facilities and find that it makes a safer working environment. So you have less slips and trips, you have a decrease in workers compensation claims. So that is a good step forward that we're seeing with industry. And I only expect to start seeing more and more facilities adopting that just not only for, you know, the elements that I spoke about earlier, but for the benefits it's going to be for them in the long run.
[00:57:48] Nathan Cone So hand hand-up. Yes, sir.
[00:57:50] Audience Member This is a question about fast food. Is there a possibility of of the drive thrus of having pre-pay and preorder so that like H-E-B has some lockers now and things like that and it seems like that that might be something that there might be cooperation on.
[00:58:07] Diane Rath I think some of the larger companies. I think that's a great idea and a suggestion that can really be partnered on moving forward because it's when that car is idling. So as I said in the charter schools, when you're sitting there are any school lunches, charter any school, when you're sitting there waiting while the car idles, while people pull up, I'm going to say to the grocery store right now and you wait in your car while they bring your preordered groceries out and put it in your truck. Those cars are all sitting there idling, too. And so it is just a huge educational effort. And it's hard when it's June, July and August here to turn it off. The good thing is those aren't our worst months. It's the month like right now. And it isn't so intolerable to turn your engine off while you sit and. Wait.
[00:58:52] Nathan Cone Panda Express is actively courting me with their preorder through online. Get your or put your order in right now. Get your Beyond Chicken. You know so anyway what was and.
[00:59:03] Diane Rath You just have to when you pull the trigger, you pull up in your car off. Yes. Well, they bring it in.
[00:59:07] Nathan Cone Absolutely. Or you turn it off and you go in and it's right there on the on the on the counter and you go and pick it up. It's much better than having to wait either way. Either way. Yes. Um.
[00:59:18] Audience Member CPS has some energy days and they encourage people to turn everything off. There's no incentive. And I said, What's the incentive? And they said, You're helping the ecology. And I think, well, we have an economy. People certainly want to help the ecology. But I do think that there and that might be factored into the motion censored elements you're talking about. I think it is some kind of incentive is needed even if it's a a sticker or something something or mention it on public radio. Yeah, yeah. Okay.
[00:59:52] Nathan Cone You'll get you'll get a some sort of acknowledgment and somehow or yeah, yeah.
[00:59:57] Diane Rath It's a great point. And CPS has been such a leader in providing incentives for embracing energy efficiency. So that's a great point to bring to their attention. So thanks for that.
[01:00:07] Nathan Cone Let's take one more. Yes, ma'am.
[01:00:11] Audience Member Well, it seems to me that so many of the problems that each of you have described could be resolved by not having these open parking lots, maybe at least having covers over them, putting solar panels on them, putting the lights under the roofs. And it just seems like when you talk to business owners about this, they just don't even understand the incentive, too, that even even the costs of reduction to your air conditioning system, just they just don't even think that way. So what what do you think about that concept?
[01:00:41] Diane Rath I'll say one thing, and that's where pace comes in hand, because Pace has the financial ability to make it attainable. Everybody wants to save energy, but many times it's the cost and how it interrupts their immediate cash flow. So Pace has one tool that is very helpful in allowing businesses to make those adaptions.
[01:01:06] Audience Member Thanks. That's a really good point. And and we've been noticing and encountering that a lot lately as the whole country alliance has been working with the city of San Antonio during their unified development code updates. So we've been working with them to bring the standards of outdoor lighting up to that of which I spoke about earlier, that the idea and the is set at that 3000 Kelvin and have been partnering with CPS on that as well. So we're hoping to see improvement, you know, within that region right now that's specific to the areas in the buffer zones around the military bases. But we're also working with the sign code updates as well. So business signage and such. But I think specifically where you mentioned, for instance, the parking lots and the businesses, that's where our friends groups really help step up. We have one program in particular that we partner with them on, which is the nice guy friendly business program. And that's where, you know, both we and our partner groups and our friends groups go out and identify the businesses that either already have existing perfect examples of night sky lighting or need to improve it. And that's where they work with them to identify what improvements do need to be made. And then they award them, they get a certificate, they get recognized, they get posted and publicized. So that's sort of the incentive so that you were looking at. And then I kind of refer to that as sort of night sky peer pressure, because the more businesses you see that demonstrate what they're doing properly with night sky lighting, the more others want to join on board. And in so many ways, especially with retrofits on lighting, the newer lighting technology is going to be more efficient, save more money, and in the long run, also require less maintenance. So I hope that we'll start seeing that more in those parking structures you're talking about.
[01:02:49] Diane Rath And energy savings, including in your light fixtures, are eligible for pace also.
[01:02:55] Saugata Datta I just wanted to add a very good point you just mentioned about. So in the very recent times in the last maybe, maybe five years or so, one of the major water pollution that is happening in the state of Texas is called P Fast. It's a fluorine based compound. And many of these military bases that we just talked about, actually, they're used for fire as a fire retardant and they can be easily soluble in water and can very quickly hide the concentrations of the fluoride based compounds in the water. The trouble with water is that it just gets soluble very fast. So without much of a, I will say, hesitancy when you are actually drinking one say one source of water, you may not even know when that green that source has been are going to be contaminated. So, you know, a regular monitoring is absolutely necessary, even in places where there is low concentration of some of these inorganic chemicals that I just pointed out. I will also add one line story. When I first moved in Kansas in 2008, I walked with the Kansas Development Order Natural Resource Development Board, and they never, ever do any water concentrations or water in this case, contaminants in terms of arsenic, for example. And it was not in that even chart when a public water well or a domestic well has to be analyzed for arsenic was not in it. And, you know, these kind of chemicals it just coming up more as the science is developing that what we should concentrate upon be fast is the next generation one. And so it's more and more and especially for Texas, where there is large industries, parking lots, army bases, these things have to be very well, carefully monitored.
[01:04:50] Nathan Cone We're at time. I want to be respectful of our speaker's time here and say thank you all for being here today. Thanks to Dianne RATH, Sakata Data and Dawn DAVIES. And let's give them a nice piece. Thanks so much to our thinkers sponsor San Antonio Kidney San Antonio Vascular and Endovascular Clinic, Big Sun Solar and with the Edwards Aquifer Authority. The information that you have seen here today, the audio and the slides will be on our Web site next week and I'll share it on our Facebook page as well, so that you can share it with a friend or colleague. And our next think discussion will be in November, on November 18th, when we'll have a think science discussion here about early disease indicators. Bonnie Petrie, our host of our Petrie Dish podcast, will be the host for that one. I'm Nathan Cone. Thanks so much for your support of Texas Public Radio. Appreciate your being here.