Exploding Homes, Climate Lawsuit, Smoke Tied to Dementia

Weekly news and views about housing-related climate and sustainability issues.

When Homes Explode, Why Are Gas Companies Not a Prime Suspect?

A massive explosion in Pennsylvania a little more than a week ago killed five people, but authorities seem reluctant to point the finger at the most likely cause.

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“The cause of the explosion is under investigation by the county fire marshal’s office along with borough and county law enforcement,” the report says. “Imbarlina warned that the investigation would be a “slow and long process” that would include a lot of forensic testing and could last “months if not years.”

I saw that phrasing repeated elsewhere in the news media, as if it had been carefully scripted. One TV outlet even included the phrase “Gas ruled out as possible cause,” without any information to back up this claim.

For those of us paying attention, however, this response sounds confusing at best, conspiratorial at worst. Let’s use a little common sense here. How many things in a residential setting could actually cause an explosion? And which of these things could produce enough of a blast to level three buildings? We actually have footage of the blast, thanks to a nearby home with a doorbell camera. It sure looks like a giant gas ball exploding a home, but I’m not an explosive expert. Do I need to be?

Comparing Explosive Materials

With this simple table, I have narrowed down the possible causes of a sudden, major home explosion. I haven’t included “outlier” risks such as a lunatic building a bomb in his basement, however, apart from that, the list comes down to either gasoline in portable cans or natural gas leaks.

If you were investigating such a blast, wouldn’t you start by asking questions about gas storage, and noting the epicenter of the blast? If natural gas lines are in or near the home, and the blast center is located someplace where no gasoline is stored, then wouldn’t you begin with gas lines as our primary suspect?

Perhaps the definitive background report on this topic was an excellent analysis by InvestigateTV. The reporters found some shocking statistics, by looking at 12 years’ of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration or PHMSA.

“According to the agency, utilities are required to report gas-related incidents that meet certain criteria, including those resulting in deaths, injuries that require hospitalization, or those that have property damage totaling more than $122,000.

Using PHMSA’s data, InvestigateTV found that since 2010 there have been more than 2,700 gas leak incidents across the country that were considered significant and that 362 of those incidents resulted in explosions.

Additionally, those incidents have injured nearly 700 people and killed more than 140.”

Clearly, the natural gas industry needs to be examined more closely from a safety perspective, not let off the hook before the investigation has even begun.

We’re now aware of the tremendous environmental harm that fracking and other aspects of gas production leave as their legacy, and questions about safety add another reason for homeowners to transition away from this non-renewable and “dirty” energy source to others that are not inclined to explode. Underground gas pipes in many regions, especially the Northeast, have reached a dangerous phase in their life cycle, where leaks are common. And low-income areas have been found to contain even more gas leaks.

Solar panels and wind turbines, in contrast, do not explode and destroy homes and lives. Converting from gas to cleaner technologies is just common sense.


Can Wildfire Smoke Cause Dementia?

New research suggests that wildfire smoke has yet another negative health impact.

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We know wood smoke is toxic, linked to lung disease and even mental health disorders. In fact, I’ve argued that wood stoves need to be regulated much more strictly, even the newer ones with catalytic converters, because the smoke is just not acceptable. Wildfire smoke may be even worse. It contains not only wood smoke, but particulates from other materials in its path, including buildings and furnishings.

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in JAMA Internal Medicine adds fuel to this argument. Researchers at the Univ. of Michigan studied about 28,000 people over the age of 50, some of whom were exposed to long-term air pollution in the form of particulates in the PM2.5 size category.

They found that “Higher rates of new cases of dementia in a population over time — known as incident dementia — are linked to long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution, especially from agriculture and open fires.”

These particulates can be filtered effectively indoors, but they require the right size of filter media, control of airflow and so on.

A few tips:

  • Use MERV 13 or higher filters in HVAC systems and standalone air purifiers. Higher MERV ratings can capture more fine particles.
  • Alternately, use HEPA or carbon filters in portable air cleaners. HEPA removes 99.97% of particles >0.3 microns.
  • Run your HVAC fan continuously, if it is pushing air through filter media.Aim for at least 2 air changes per hour (ACH) in the living space.

Read the Full Research Report


Montana Activists Win Major Victory Over Climate Denial

Judge backs their claim that, by denying climate change-oriented regulations, the State has neglected its constitutional duty to citizens.

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Here’s what the EPA had to say about the lawsuit:

Today, in response to the Montana First Judicial District Court’s ruling in favor of sixteen Montana youth and their constitutional right to a healthful environment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator KC Becker issued the following statement:

“Across the nation, young people are sounding the alarm about the environment they are set to inherit. The ruling today is a landmark moment in their effort to protect the earth for future generations…”

Read More About the Decision.


Insulation Industry Helps Keeps Glass Recycling Viable

Fiberglass manufacturers play an important role in keeping recycled glass out of landfills, as global demand for recycled glass tumbles.

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The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) just reported that its members used more than 3.4 billion pounds of recycled glass and slag in 2022.

We’ve seen manufacturers in the residential insulation category step up in recent years. Many products now boast 40% or better recycled content, including Owens-Corning’s PINK Next Gen Fiberglas line, and CertainTeed’s Sustainable Insulation line.

The recycling of glass in the U.S. has stalled in recent years, according to the EPA, in part because of weaker regulations than places such as Europe, where glass use is more strictly managed. Only about 31 percent of U.S. glass is recycled.

Continued strong demand for recycled glass adds another sustainability perk to insulation’s natural strength as a building material, where it reduces the lifelong CO2 footprint of buildings.

By maintaining a strong demand for recycled glass, the insulation industry is helping recyclers to stay viable.

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