Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites

Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites


Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites Could Be Lead Hotspots

A new Duke University study finds that municipal waste incinerators’ legacy of contamination could live on in urban soils.


DURHAM, N.C. – For much of the last century, many cities across the United States and Canada burned their trash and waste in municipal incinerators. Most of these facilities were closed by the early 1970s due to concerns about the pollution they added to the air, but a new Duke University study finds that their legacy of contamination could live on in urban soils.

“We found that city parks and playgrounds built on the site of a former waste incinerator can still have greatly elevated levels of lead in their surface soils many decades after the incinerator was closed,” said Daniel D. Richter, professor of soils at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who co-led the research.

Exposure to lead in soil has been linked to potential long-term health problems, particularly in children. These include possible damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, and learning and behavioral problems.

To conduct their study, Richter and his students collected and analyzed surface soil samples from three city parks in Durham, N.C. that are located on former incinerator sites closed in the early 1940s.

Samples collected from a two-acre section of East Durham Park contained lead levels over 2000 parts per million, more than five times higher than the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for safe soils in children’s play areas.

Samples collected from Walltown Park mostly contained low lead levels, “but about 10% were concerning and a few were very high,” Richter noted.

Samples collected from East End Park all contained levels of soil lead below the current EPA threshold for children’s safety “and presented no cause for concern,” he said.

The sharp differences in lead levels between the three parks underscores the need for increased monitoring, he stressed.

Urban Parks Built on Former Waste Incineration Sites Daniel Richter collects soil sample
Daniel Richter collects soil samples as part of a new study on lead contamination in urban soils.

“Determining where contamination risks persist, and why contamination is decreasing at different rates in different locations, is essential for identifying hotspots and mitigating risks,” Richter said. “Many cities should mobilize resources to do widespread sampling and monitoring, and create soil maps and, more specifically, soil lead maps.”

“That’s where we really need to go,” Richter said. “Not just in Durham but in hundreds of other cities where parks, as well as churches, schools and homes, may have been built on former waste incinerator and ash disposal sites.”

By analyzing historic surveys of municipal waste management, the Duke team found that about half of all cities surveyed in the U.S. and Canada incinerated solid waste between the 1930s and 1950s.

“These incinerators burned all kinds of garbage and trash, including paint, piping, food cans and other products that contained lead back then,” Richter said. The leftover ash, in which lead and other contaminants were concentrated, was sometimes covered with a too-thin layer of topsoil or even spread around parks, new construction sites or other urban spaces as a soil amendment.

“Historical surveys indicate a lack of appreciation for the health and environmental hazards of city-waste incinerator ash. Back then, they didn’t know what we do now,” he said.

New technology could help make sampling and monitoring more feasible at the thousands of sites nationwide that may be contaminated, he added. Using a portable x-ray fluorescence instrument, his lab is now able to do a preliminary analysis on a soil sample for multiple metals, including lead, in just 20 seconds.

Making use of historical records about waste incineration and ash disposal could also speed efforts to identify hotspots. In their paper, Richter and his students provide histories gleaned from archived public works records, old street maps and newspaper clippings showing where ash was burned and disposed of in six sample cities: Los Angeles; New York City; Baltimore; Spokane, Wash.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Charleston, S.C.

“This is something you could do for many cities to guide monitoring efforts,” Richter said.

“There’s been a lot of interest in mitigating lead exposure in cities, but most until now has been focused on reducing risks within the home. Our study reminds us that risks exist in the outdoor environment, too,” he said.

Richter and his students published their peer-reviewed findings on Sept. 11 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

His co-authors on the new paper were Enikoe Bihari, a 2023 Master of Environmental Management graduate of the Nicholas School who conducted much of the research as part of her Master’s Project, and Garrett Grewal, a senior at Duke majoring in Earth and Climate Sciences.

Funding came from Duke University and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P42ES010356).

CITATION: “Legacies of Pre-1960s Municipal Waste Incineration in the Pb of City Soils,”

Enikoe Bihari, Garrett Grewal, and Daniel D. Richter. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, Sept. 11, 2023. DOI: doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.3c00488.





Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

In a comprehensive review of the Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings, the author confirms the veracity of these recently adopted alternatives to what we know so far.  The problem is the sheer size of the proposed task of greening all the present built environment.  In any case, here is :
The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to Green Building Insider.

Exploring the Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

23 August 2023
Exploring the Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings
Sustainable buildings are well-designed structures that consider the needs of the environment. The rapidly changing climate is resulting in substantial pollution, increased natural disasters, and an ever-growing endangered species list. It is necessary to consider research on how certain buildings impact the environment and what can be done to mitigate their environmental footprint. Here are six economic and social benefits of sustainable buildings to know about.

4 Elements of a Sustainable Building

Many things make a building sustainable and each plays a vital role in environmental preservation.

1. Stormwater Management

Stormwater runs down drains and into sewer systems, harming the natural water table. The right strategies can mitigate this issue. Stormwater management methods can capture runoff and slowly integrate it into the ground to replenish the water table, reducing the risk of flooding.

2. Native Landscaping 

Surrounding a building with local plants is a low-maintenance and sustainable way to landscape. Trees and plants from the surrounding area can already handle the climate, eliminating any extra care and maintenance. Native landscaping reduces fertilisation and irrigation needs, cutting water use and eliminating harmful chemicals from entering the atmosphere and water supply.

3. Renewable Energy

Using renewable energy whenever possible can reduce emissions and excess energy use.

    • Solar 

There are two types of solar energy — active and passive. Active solar uses panels to create a closed-loop renewable power source, while passive orients buildings to get the most sunlight possible. They can absorb, reflect and transmit thermal energy, insulating a building.

    • Wind 

Wind energy uses moving air to create electricity. Large turbines can benefit businesses and factories, and personal property owners can use individual turbines. It is best to design buildings where the wind will reach them the most for maximum benefits, like unsheltered flatlands or high elevations.

    • Hydropower

Hydroelectric energy comes from moving water. While significant sources such as the Hoover Dam can supply plenty of power through its facility, others can be small or even damless.

Check out our comprehensive guides on solarwind, and hydropower energy

4. Green Materials

Sustainable materials are another integral part of creating environmentally-friendly buildings. They can significantly reduce the carbon output of standing structures. The following are some of the most popular:

    • Bamboo: Bamboo is fast-growing and requires little processing, making it an excellent eco-friendly material. It is a strong and attractive material for interiors and exteriors.
    • Cement: Made from a mixture of leftover ingredients, different cement forms can be strong and sustainable.
    • Reclaimed wood: Reclaimed wood recycles old projects to create a solid structure instead of harming the environment by cutting down trees.
    • Recycled steel: Similar to reclaimed wood, recycled steel reuses already-available resources and prevents them from sitting in landfills to release more emissions.

These materials can prevent the environmental impacts of materials production, reducing emissions, deforestation, and more harmful practices.

More on the topic: 5 Ways the Construction Industry Is Getting Greener

sustainable materials; wooden bricks

Photo: Alexander Schimmeck/Unsplash.

Economic Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

Building sustainably can positively affect local, national, and global economies.

1. Reduced Emissions

As it enters the atmosphere, carbon dioxide supercharges the natural greenhouse effect, causing global temperature to rise. By implementing cleaner energy sources – such as renewables – and by incorporating more efficient systems through building design, builders can significantly cut carbon emissions.

Reducing the amount of emissions entering the atmosphere – and thus tackling the problem at its source – requires less money and resources to develop climate change mitigation strategies. When large facilities become sustainable, community members will not face as many health impacts caused by emissions, saving on care costs.

2. Increased Productivity

Employees surrounded by natural light and elements of nature are often less stressed and more productive. This plays a vital role in business competition and supply and demand. Businesses rely on their workers. Sustainably designed buildings can increase morale and energise them.

3. Reduced Building Costs

Though some costs may be higher, the overall costs of constructing and maintaining a sustainable building are lower than conventional construction methods. Many sustainable buildings can be partially or fully completed elsewhere, limiting the resources used on a job site. Sustainable buildings also have a greater value in the long term compared to traditional alternatives.

Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

Along with assisting the economy, sustainable buildings can do a lot for the social health of residents.

1. Physical Health

Nature can help people destress and sustainable building designs cater to that need. By incorporating natural landscaping, sunlight, and greenery inside, architects and designers can create environments that lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety-related rapid heart rate.

These environments can also increase pain tolerance and release muscle tension. Using sustainable materials keeps used options from ending up in landfills, which can contribute to public hazards.

2. Mental Health

Sustainable, natural materials like wood and stone can reduce the impact of many mental conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. With so many people understanding the effects of climate change, knowing where they live and work support the environment can help put their minds at ease.

Less pollution in the air can help the population breathe easier and spend more time in sunlight. Doing so can boost their mood, energise them and help release stress.

3. Education

Sustainable buildings provide excellent opportunities for educating the public about caring for the environment. Having facilities with renewable energy resources, natural materials, and sustainable practices can inspire others to make their homes and businesses more environmentally friendly. It can create a ripple effect, helping to create a better world. Something as simple as an educational poster can go a long way.

Improving the Built Industry 

Construction causes around one-third of the world’s waste, making the design process a critical component of climate change reduction. Buildings contribute to 40% of worldwide carbon emissions. Humans need them, but they can work to make them better for the planet.

In a recent survey, 47% of global respondents said sustainability is at the top of their priority list. Governments are working to meet sustainability goals and everyone can play a part.

Sustainable buildings are a necessity to slow the devastating effects of climate change. By understanding the benefits of these structures, builders, designers, and owners can work to create a better future.

Featured image: Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash 

You might also like: Built Areas and Infrastructure: Stretching the Boundaries of Sustainability

Sustainable transformation of our urban open spaces

Sustainable transformation of our urban open spaces


The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to Times of Malta.

Sustainable transformation of our urban open spaces

Access to nature and environments that provide a sense of refuge or relaxation are being sought.
By Sarah Scheiber
13 August 2023
Photo: Dawra Madwarna/Sarah Scheiber

Climate change, global warming and the exhaustion of fossil fuels have raised the sustainability agenda’s importance. In relation to urban design, sustainability refers to ways in which a city, community or development can meet economic, environmental, social and cultural needs.

Sustainability is not just about energy or resource efficiency but also about responding to community needs, that means, designing for people.

Open spaces are a central component of the urban landscape and, due to the impacts of climate change and demographic trends, are likely to become more, rather than less, important. How can we implement sustainability, and what does it mean in tangible terms when considering the planning and design of urban open spaces?

Numerous studies have shown that green open spaces in urban areas potentially provide several benefits concerning the three dimensions of sustainable development. These are social, environmental and economic aspects that should be considered in an integrated way. To achieve these benefits, various planning and design principles must be considered. Research on the planning and design of urban open spaces in Malta has shown that five principles require attention.

The first is creating recreational areas within urban areas. Recreational areas must be accessible to all – including those who do not drive. The closer we live to green open spaces, the more viable walking and using public transport is.



Research on the planning and design of urban open spaces in Malta has shown that five principles require attention



The second principle is thinking about a network and ensuring connectivity – improving street design for walking and cycling, and providing a network of high-quality public spaces facilitating public transport use. This can reduce many short car trips, making urban areas more accessible and attractive.

The third principle investigates maximising the presence of vegetation and its potential for multifunctionality. Integrating and increasing vegetation within urban open spaces improves air quality, creating comfortable microclimates and mitigating climate change impacts such as extreme flooding.

Local surveys have shown that access to nature and environments that provide a sense of refuge or relaxation are being sought in urban areas.

The fourth principle ensures socially inclusive processes and culturally responsive proposals. Engaging with local communities to respond to cultural preferences and create a sense of ownership for public spaces is essential for successful transformations.

The final principle calls for good governance: Creating a governance structure that ‘champions’ and drives the implementation of community participatory methodologies and cross-sectoral collaborations is an integral component.

Research has shown potential solutions to reclaim urban open spaces. All it takes is some re-thinking and being open to implementing innovative solutions.

Sarah Scheiber is an urban designer, spatial planner and a lecturer.

Sound Bites

  • Vegetation in urban areas improves air quality. Leaf surfaces absorb nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, while particulate matter deposited on leaves is absorbed into the ground as they fall or are washed by rain. Urban canyons (high densities/tall buildings) create concentrated pollution. Research shows that increased planting (green roofs, trees, etc) increases deposition of nitrogen oxides and particulates.
  • Active lifestyles are essential for physical health. Neighbourhood parks are typically too small to support aerobic activity such as walking or jogging required for adults. Neighbourhood walkability is thus crucial for supporting daily physical activity.  One study showed that walkable green spaces, including tree-lined streets, in urban residential areas increased longevity for the elderly. Additionally, access to nature reduces stress and improves general well-being.

For more soundbites, click on https://www.facebook.com/RadioMochaMalta.


  • Trees/vegetation could result in shaded surfaces being 11-25°C cooler than peak temperatures of unshaded surfaces and reducing peak summer temperatures by 1 to 5°C.
  • Tree pits can be designed as stormwater catchments, thereby reducing rainwater run-off in dense urban areas.
  • Typically, streets makeup 80 per cent of public space in cities and thus also need to provide for social activity, not just transportation.

For more trivia, see: http://www.um.edu.mt/think.





MENA countries need to invest more than $500 Billion in urban regeneration programs

MENA countries need to invest more than $500 Billion in urban regeneration programs

A PRESS RELEASE  in Al Bawaba Published on 4 July 2023, covered the need for all MENA countries to invest $500 Billion in their respective urban regeneration programs as per a Strategy& Middle East report, part of the PwC network.

Fady Halim

Countries across the Middle East and North Africa region must integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their urban regeneration strategies to build inclusive economic development and preserve cultural heritage, according to the latest research by Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network.
The necessity for urban regeneration is seen across the region, with unplanned or so-called ‘informal settlements’ continuing their rapid growth: 40% of the populations of both Cairo and Makkah live in such settlements. Meanwhile, emissions from new construction activity and ongoing building operations represent 37% of energy-related emissions and 34% of global energy demand.
“As recently as 2018, roughly 31 per cent of those in the Arab world living in cities did so in decaying neighborhoods and dwellings. Our analysis shows that it would cost the region US$500 billion to regenerate a sample of 15 densely populated cities – such as in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. This injection of capital and urban planning has enormous potential to transform the livelihoods of millions of people, directly or indirectly,” said Karim Abdallah, Partner with Strategy& Middle East.
While economic growth delivers social and economic benefits, rapid and unplanned urbanization can create economic, environmental and social issues, from sprawl and decay, to displaced communities and neglected cultural and historical sites.
The Strategy& report points out that several Middle East urban regeneration efforts are already underway, notably Jeddah’s Al Balad district and downtown Sharjah in the UAE. However, these programs must strike a balance between improvement without gentrification, meet housing demands while preserving neighborhood aesthetics, and enhance socio-economic conditions while safeguarding their historical heritage and social fabric.
Unlike traditional development, urban regeneration must not only breathe new life into old districts that helps improve quality of life and economic opportunity, but also be financially viable for the government agencies, developers and financial institutions sponsoring these projects.
An ESG-based strategy therefore can ensure that programs conform to growing demand for ESG compliance from investors and banks while opening up further investment and financing avenues. In 2021 alone, over $1.6 trillion in sustainable debt was issued, with a third of that specifically linked to ESG targets. Additionally, by reviving decaying districts, an ESG-based strategy can also restore much-needed housing stock, commercial space and support with tourism development that many Middle East countries are seeking.
“When linked to ESG principles, urban regeneration acts as a powerful tool to mitigate the common challenges of regeneration. Whether we’re talking about better infrastructure, construction efficiencies or energy efficiency, sustainability is integral to the environmental goal,” commented Charly Nakhoul, Partner with Strategy& Middle East.
Several nations, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, have set out net-zero strategies recognizing the significance of preserving the social fabric and engaging with communities to maintain cohesive and healthy societies.
“Urban regeneration is integral to the effective management of the MENA region’s population growth,” said Fady Halim, Partner with Strategy& Middle East. “By implementing a ‘LIFE’ approach, which integrates ESG principles into urban regeneration projects, a variety of sustainability, socio-economic, cultural and quality of life goals can be achieved. These outcomes will have a lasting impact; including providing better life opportunities, fostering thriving communities, and creating financial incentives for continuous urban revival and development,” he added.
For GCC countries to achieve sustainable financing and inclusive socio-economic development, they must embed ESG principles in a series of L-I-F-E phases for urban regeneration.
Learn (and listen): Projects must begin with a period of listening and learning from residents, businesspeople, and property owners. Sponsors must understand the area’s socio-economic, cultural, and historical characteristics and the community’s needs. Effective communication among all stakeholders is vital to ensure the project aligns within the context of the overall city.
Integrate: ESG principles must be seamlessly integrated into every aspect of the project, from exploratory conversations and planning to design and implementation; and from ongoing operations to managing the assets over the long term.
Fix: It is important to fix ESG targets and other key performance indicators that translate the commitment into a tangible, measurable effort.
Earn: From these actions; stakeholders earn their rewards. Community members gain a higher quality of life, and the public and private-sector sponsors ultimately benefit from their investments.

For governments across the region, urban regeneration is a social and economic imperative – their national security depends on the maintenance of cohesive societies and empowered individuals. Moreover, urban regeneration projects can only deliver these outcomes if they integrate ESG principles built around transparency, fairness, integrity and inclusion. L-I-F-E phases can provide policymakers and developers with a powerful roadmap to successful regeneration and towards building sustainable urban centers of the future.

Global Sustainability Pathways Unveiled in Expert Survey

Global Sustainability Pathways Unveiled in Expert Survey


Global Sustainability Pathways Unveiled in Expert Survey

University of Eastern Finland
The majority of sustainable development researchers believe that in affluent countries, it is necessary to look beyond economic growth to achieve sustainable development, a recent study from the University of Eastern Finland suggests. The study, published in the scientific journal Ecological Economics, investigated the preferred future paths for countries at different income levels among 461 sustainability scholars. The survey results shed light on the strategic choices necessary for achieving global sustainability. The study focused on green growth and post-growth economic strategies. The green growth strategy aims to enhance both societal and environmental well-being as the economy grows. On the other hand, post-growth paths question this approach and advocate for a shift beyond growth, focusing on environmental and societal well-being instead of economic growth. 




“This research reveals that an overwhelming majority of sustainability scholars, over 75 percent, support post-growth pathways for affluent countries already this decade. For less affluent countries, the majority of scholars favoured either green growth or post-growth pathways,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Teemu Koskimäki from the University of Eastern Finland, who conducted the study.Different paths are needed in countries with different income levels.In the study, scholars were asked to choose which pathways should be pursued in different country income groups in the 2020s and 2030s in order to achieve sustainable development globally. A comparison of the responses revealed that support for post-growth paths increased over time, while support for green growth declined in all contexts. Koskimäki emphasizes that the research results challenge the prevailing green growth-focused approach.“Currently, global Sustainable Development Goals are based on green growth. However, researchers emphasize the urgent need to consider post-growth strategies, particularly in affluent countries.”Koskimäki stresses the critical importance of understanding the views of sustainability scholars on suitable paths for countries of different income levels.

“Policy-makers at various levels and sectors may rely on these experts as they implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Although sustainability scholars favour post-growth paths, the study shows they are not as familiar with this approach as they are with green growth.

“In my study, I address the challenges that this gap in knowledge and skills can create for achieving global sustainability,” Koskimäki says.

GDP is an insufficient measure of societal well-being

The study also found that most sustainability scholars who responded to the survey consider Gross Domestic Product, GDP, to be an inadequate measure of societal well-being.

“This underscores the need for a broader discussion of progress indicators, especially for wealthier countries, where the costs of continued consumption growth exceed its benefits,” says Koskimäki.

Based on the study’s conclusions, research, education, and policymaking should pay attention to targeted transformative change, with a particular focus on facilitating post-growth strategies in the wealthiest countries.

The study offers critical perspectives on the equitable and efficient implementation of various sustainability strategies and underscores the need for targeted approaches that take economic disparities between countries into account. According to Koskimäki, this recognition could facilitate the equitable and efficient achievement of sustainability, both locally and globally.

“The study reveals a potential contradiction between those sustainability paths addressed in sustainability reports and by political decision-makers and those favored by scholars. A broader, more inclusive conversation is needed to ensure that we are targeting the right transformations and implementing them in a controlled manner,” Koskimäki concludes.



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