July 2007, Vol. 19, No.7


New Building Materials on the Block

Civil engineer John Forth of the University of Leeds (Leeds, England) has invented a building block made almost entirely of recycled glass, metal slag, incinerator ash, pulverized fuel ash from power stations — and biosolids.

Forth, from the School of Engineering, believes his “Bitublock” has the potential to revolutionize the building industry by providing a sustainable, low-energy replacement for about 350 million concrete blocks manufactured in the United Kingdom each year, according to a university press release. “Our aim is to completely replace concrete as a structural material,” he explained.

“Bitublocks use up to 100% waste materials and avoid sending them to landfill, which is quite unheard of in the building industry,” Forth said. “What’s more, less energy is required to manufacture the Bitublock than a traditional concrete block, and it’s about six times as strong, so it’s quite a high-performance product.”

The key ingredient is bitumen, a sticky substance used to bind the mixture of waste products together, before compacting it in a mold to form a solid block. Next, the block is heat-cured, which oxidizes the bitumen so it hardens like concrete.

This makes it possible to use a higher proportion of waste in the Bitublock than by using a cement or clay binder, the press release notes. The blocks could put to good use each year an estimated 363,000 tonne (400,000 ton) of crushed glass and 454,000 tonne (500,000 ton) of incinerator ash. Plans are now under way to develop a “Vegeblock” using waste vegetable oil.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (Swindon, England), the project is being carried out in partnership with Salah Zoorob of the University of Nottingham (England). Their work could be on the market within 3 to 5 years, according to the press release.

Bay Program Releases 2006 Chesapeake Bay Health, Restoration Assessment

The Chesapeake Bay Program (Annapolis, Md.) partnership released its Chesapeake Bay 2006 Health and Restoration Assessment reports in late March. The reports, according to a Chesapeake Bay Program news release, were developed to provide a clear and concise synopsis of Chesapeake Bay health and the on-the-ground restoration efforts taking place across the bay watershed.

The reports found that in 2006, while Bay Program partners made significant advances in restoration efforts through newly focused programs, legislation, and funding, year-to-year results were mixed, and the overall health of the bay remains degraded.

“While the partnership is making strides in certain restoration efforts, there are significant challenges ahead,” said Jeff Lape, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program Office. “We are counting on the continued resolve of all our partners to forge ahead to reach our Chesapeake Bay goals.”

The health assessment found that, to date, less than one-third of water quality goals have been met, but dissolved oxygen showed a significant improvement from 2005, to one of the best years on record, though at 37% of the goal.

Chlorophyll a, a measure of algae, showed slight improvement from last year, while midchannel water clarity declined slightly. In addition, 53% of monitored tidal rivers had chemical contaminants in fish tissue high enough to warrant fish consumption advisories in those areas.

With the human population in the watershed currently at more than 16 million and growing by more than 170,000 residents annually, urban and suburban lands have contributed significantly to the degraded condition of Chesapeake Bay, the news release notes. To date, it is estimated that the pollution increases associated with land development (such as converting farms and forests to urban and suburban developments) have surpassed the gains achieved from improved landscape design and stormwater management practices. The rapid rate of population growth and related residential and commercial development have made this pollution sector the only one in the bay watershed to still be growing, and thus “progress” is negative.

The 2006 restoration assessment found that about half of the pollution reduction efforts needed to achieve the nutrient goals have been undertaken. It also found that habitat restoration efforts are collectively less than halfway to program goals, while watershed protection efforts are slightly more than two-thirds of the way toward goals.

“From the 2006 data, we can see that the Bay Program partners must remain committed to cleaning up the Chesapeake,” said Carlton Haywood, chair of the Bay Program’s Monitoring and Assessment Subcommittee and director for program operations at the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. “However, not all of the data we see in the 2006 report is negative. Tremendous strides have been made in an effort to restore the bay.”

Some of the noted 2006 successes include the steep reduction of harmful nutrients discharged from wastewater treatment plants. Nitrogen discharges are at 72% of the reduction goal, while phosphorus discharges have reached 87% of reduction goals, according to the news release. However, pollution control efforts should be accelerated in the agricultural sector, with only a 45% goal achievement in the reduction of nitrogen pollution from agriculture and a 49% goal achievement for phosphorus, the Chesapeake Bay Program reports.

For an analysis and interpretation of the data, see www.chesapeakebay.net/assess.

Students Recognized for Contributing to Healthier Environment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently recognized young people from around the country at the 2006 President’s Environmental Youth Awards for their contributions in promoting environmental awareness and community involvement in such issues as recycling, energy efficiency, climate change, and water conservation.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson and former EPA Administrator William D. Ruckelshaus presented the awards at the April ceremony.

“These Presidential Environmental Youth Award winners have proven that even the youngest among us can take real action to improve our world,” Johnson said.

Winners were selected from among applicants to EPA’s 10 regional offices. Regional EPA panels judge projects on environmental need, accomplishment of goals, long-term environmental benefits, and positive impact on local communities. The panels also consider project design, coordination, implementation, innovation, and soundness of approach, according to an EPA news release.

One winner, Jami Harper of Grand Island, Neb., created a water protection teaching tool called “H2Owood Squares.” Based on the television game show “Hollywood Squares,” H2Owood Squares challenges contestants to answer questions related to water. The set for the game was constructed from sections and fittings of polyvinyl chloride pipe that can be easily assembled and disassembled. It is lightweight, so it can be easily transported and inexpensive to construct and can be easily duplicated for others to use.

To read more about the other winners and their projects, see www.epa.gov/enviroed/peya/peya2006.html.