#7 Milan’s Infrastructure Investment & Arsenic Abatement in Ontario
Photo by Babak on Unsplash
“I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.’”
– Chris Rock
In the midst of a terrible disease, everyone put their lives on hold, and the world saw something miraculous happen. For the first time, environmental degradation was reversed in a shockingly quick timespan.
Venice’s water quality improved to the point where jellyfish and dolphins swam through the canals, endangered sea turtles in India laid eggs on beaches they previously avoided, and air quality drastically improved in cities across the world.
This decline in air pollution can mostly be attributed to the slow in travel, leading to record lows in some places. In New Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, the smog was lifted for the first time in decades. Also, both the north-east U.S. and Rome saw a 30% decrease in pollution levels.
Unfortunately, now that much of the world has resumed business as usual, most of this has been reversed. However, some places are taking note of what the pandemic showed them could be. One of those is Milan, Italy.
Prior to the pandemic, Milan (population 1.35 million) suffered from smog. An internal study found that 50% of their air pollution was due to car and truck transportation. Following a cue from Paris, they have used this information to forge a plan to make their city almost entirely cyclable in the hopes of decreasing vehicle transportation.
This project, called the Cambio Network, intends to introduce 24 bike lanes throughout the city: four circular paths, 16 radial, and 4 greenways along major pathways. All together, this will create 750 km (466 miles) of route by the end of 2035 with the price tag of 250 million euros (~$280 million).
This network will place 86% of the population and 80% of public facilities/ services within 1 km (0.6 miles) of a bike lane. Additionally, they will install optical fibers to be used for lighting as well as real-time information displays along the routes, making it safer and more user-friendly to encourage its utilization.
Side note: Some people may think “how do they know people will use it” and “how can they afford this”? 1) They can’t know for sure, but you have to have the infrastructure in place for people to use it. Just with any investment, it has the potential to succeed or fail. 2) It’s important to remember that public services aren’t meant to “make back” any money, in a direct sense anyways. They’re services. All they should do is improve the quality of the city, and in theory, this may eventually attract people to the city, increase the economy, etc.
With construction to begin in the summer of 2022, Milan believes bike travel will eventually encompass 20% of all local transport. This, along with converting several roads to pedestrian-only walkways, will have a significant impact on cutting car and truck traffic, thereby reducing the city’s air pollution.
Beyond the physical degradation of ecosystems, metal and coal mining creates severe environmental and health hazards, particularly in the form of acid mine drainage.
Acid mine drainage occurs during the mining process when sulfide minerals are exposed to the air and/or water. This causes a reaction that forms sulfuric acid, a chemical that can dissolve other hazardous metals and metalloids, like arsenic, from the surrounding rock area.
With these dangerous chemicals dissolved, they instantly pose a water quality and health issue. Within the contaminated water, aquatic organisms that live and feed at the bottom of the water bodies (benthic animals) passively consume these metals, absorbing and retaining them in their bodies. Thus, these previously contained metals are now introduced into the food chain where they can eventually reach humans.
One of the most concerning issues with acid mine drainage is the presence of arsenic. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that creates a suite of health issues when exposed to humans. Immediate symptoms can cause GI problems and even death in intense circumstances, but long-term exposure is linked to skin lesions, pregnancy abnormalities, and several forms of cancer.
While creation of acid mine drainage is very easy, cleanup is more complicated. In general, there are three types of cleanup: containment, which simply contains and isolates the contaminant in order to prevent it from spreading into groundwater or other ecosystems; withdrawal, which attempts to remove the contamination, though this risks spreading the contamination further; and passive remediation, which uses the natural processes of bacteria or limestone to remove the contamination.
Fortunately, a recent study conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada found great success in utilizing a passive remediation method to remove arsenic from contaminated lake water. The study was conducted at Long Lake Gold Mine, an abandoned mine that halted operation in 1937. The team’s methods were able to remove over 99.9% of the arsenic in the water they used in the experiment along with aluminum, zinc, and copper.
What’s even more exciting is the materials they used for the test. The water was passed through a mixture of wood chips, leaf mulch, iron filings (byproduct of metal working), and limestone. This simple mixture encouraged helpful bacteria to grow and pulled the arsenic from the water, converting it into a solid form that was trapped within a filter.
This is great news for the future of remediation. Compared to more active methods of removing the contaminants, this passive method is much less invasive and requires very little input and cost.
The team plans on pushing the limits of this method to treat water under more challenging conditions, such as water that is much more acidic and has higher concentrations of contaminants. With the success of this new approach, they are also currently developing a remediation plan for Long Lake.
With winter finally here, many of us are facing snow storm after snow storm. In order to combat this, road salt is often used, but all that extra salt can be bad for soils, pets, and water systems.
Fortunately, there are several alternatives that are much safer for the environment:
Calcium Magnesium Acetate: It may have a complicated name, but it’s available in pretty much every home improvement store (Home Depot, Lowes, etc). It may be slightly more expensive than traditional road salt, but not so much that you can’t justify the purchase. (works to temperatures of -17°F)
Calcium Chloride Pellets: Pretty much works the same as Calcium Magnesium Acetate and can be found in the same places. (works to temperatures of 0°F)
Alfalfa Meal: This might be more difficult to find, but it is probably the best option. While melting snow and ice, this also acts as a fertilizer while providing additional traction due to its grainy texture.
Check out this hilarious video by Alex Engelberg about the different ways you can go green: