Earth/Environment

Dangerous levels of cadmium in children's jewelry, plus a lost satellite and 'cloudshine' in this week's news

Failure to launch
Scientists’ efforts to better understand aerosols, one of the least-understood factors in climate change (SN: 12/4/10, p. 24), were dealt a blow when NASA’s latest earth science mission failed on launch on March 4. The protective shell housing the Glory satellite did not separate as it should have from the Taurus rocket that launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Glory was to have studied the worldwide distribution of aerosols, which are tiny particles caused by fires, pollution, sea spray and other sources that can affect global climate. —Alexandra Witze

 

Most plastics leach hormone mimics
Plastics made from bisphenol A aren’t the only ones to shed constituents that mimic the activity of estrogen. Scientists tested 455 plastic products designed to be used with foods to see if they leach hormonelike constituents into saline or alcohol. “Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled, independent of type . . . leached chemicals having reliably detectable estrogen activity,” researchers reported online March 2 in Environmental Health Perspectives. Some BPA-free products leached more estrogenlike substances than did those made from BPA. Most of the authors work for companies developing new, nonestrogenic plastics.  —Janet Raloff

Toxic jewelry for kids
Inexpensive jewelry being marketed to kids “can be a source of dangerous exposures to cadmium for young children,” a new study finds. Scientists at Ashland University in Ohio purchased 117 cadmium-rich jewelry items in U.S. stores. The researchers bathed all or parts of 69 in salty water (to simulate sucking in the mouth) or in acid (to simulate digestive juices in the gut). Saline released up to 2,200 micrograms of the metal. In some cases the acid leached more than 20,000 micrograms. Values tended to be highest if an item was damaged with simulated chew marks, the researchers reported online March 4 in Environmental Health Perspectives. —Janet Raloff

BP spill’s air impacts
Tricky chemistry takes place in the air above spills of oil or other hydrocarbons as volatile compounds mix to form new “secondary” aerosols — pollutants that harm air quality and contribute to climate change. But which starting compounds play the biggest role in forming these secondary pollutants has been hard to tease out — until the 2010 BP blowout cooked up a bonanza of them. Quick-to-evaporate fumes released by the oil took a back seat to heavier, slower-to-evaporate hydrocarbons in forming huge quantities of the secondary pollutants, usually within 3 hours, 28 scientists from university of government labs reported in the March 11 Science. —Janet Raloff

Cloudshine
Apartment dwellers kept awake at night by city lights should be extra careful to draw their curtains on cloudy nights. The same ability to scatter light that gives clouds their pristine whiteness by day also amplifies nighttime light pollution coming from the ground, German researchers report online March 2 in PLoS ONE.  They found that a cloudy night in Berlin is 10.1 times brighter than a clear one and 4.1 times brighter than a moonlit rural location. This glow, the researchers suggest, should be taken into account in studies that look for ways that light pollution can affect animal behavior and human health.—Devin Powell

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