Category: Environment

A short list of features of the Netherlands that I still try to wrap my head around

The Netherlands is the country I’ve visited the most, going there eight times between 2011 and 2022. I’ve obsessively visited 31 cities, the Hoge Veluwe national park, and plenty of other places outside cities.

Here are three land use and infrastructure characteristics that continue to fascinate me.

Transportation systems, obviously

Learning about how the Dutch created the safest network of streets for cycling is what started my near-obsession 15 years ago.

Then I went there in 2011 and I got to experience it for myself (photos from that trip).

I think the quality, capacity, likability, and integration of their transportation systems can be summarized best, for Americans who haven’t been there, by learning the results of a Waze survey: People who primarily drive in the Netherlands are more satisfied with the driving in their country than people in other countries are with driving in theirs.

In other words…if you like driving, then you should also care about what the Netherlands because they happened to also create the most driver-friendly transportation system.

Creating land & living with flooded land

As a novice, it’s probably easier to notice and understand how the Dutch create, move, and live with flooded land from above. There have been moments while I was cycling in the country where I’ve ridden past “polders” and former lakes and seas only to realize it later that I had biked through a massively transformed area that appeared entirely natural.

When I lived in Rotterdam for three months in 2016 I tried to visit as many places across the country as I could. I especially wanted to visit Flevopolder, the larger part of the Flevoland province, built from of the sea in 1986 where 317,000 people live.

I visited both major cities on the Flevopolder in the same day, Almere and Lelystad, the capital. I cycled from Almere (photos) to the seafront of Markermeer, and…get this…had to ride uphill because the land is below sea level.

Reaching the edge of Flevopolder, where it borders the sea called Markermeer
Cycling uphill to meet the sea north of the city of Almere, in the Flevoland province of the Netherlands.

Most Dutchies live below sea level, and the country has massive land and metal engineering works to keep the water in check.

The Dutch, especially in and around Rotterdam, come up with new ways to deal with water and export this knowledge abroad.

While the existing and planned measures should be sufficient until at least 2070, too much uncertainty over the progress of climate change remains afterwards to assess whether the city will truly stay liveable.

Some assessments suggest that if the sea rises by 5m – an estimate in sight within a century, considering the unpredictability of the rate that Greenland and Antarctica’s glacier will melt – Rotterdam will have no other choice but to relocate.

“Rotterdam: A bastion against rising sea, for now”
By Zuza Nazaruk

The country may rely on electricity to survive more than most: it’s needed to keep the pumps working, to keep the water in the sea instead of in and over the land.

How productive their agriculture industry is

By land area, the Netherlands is a very small country; it would be the tenth smallest state in the United States. By population, it would be the fifth largest state (17.6 million, greater than Pennsylvania’s 13 million).

Given that, how is it that the Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products by value, after the United States?

Simple answer: High-quality, high-value, high-demand foodstuffs; space-efficient farming practices, including a significant amount of food grown vertically and in greenhouses. And, I don’t remember if this was in the article, very good transport connections to trading partners through seaports, canals, railways, and motorways.

I was surprised to see that both brands of canned cold brew coffee sold at the convenience store in my apartment building are produced in the Netherlands.

I ran errands and measured the CO2 concentration everywhere I went

I am starting to take my Adanet CO2 concentration monitor everywhere because I want to see which stores, restaurants, and offices have “fresher” air. The other day on December 20, 2022, I visited a BMO Harris bank branch and a Target store, and I took note of the measurements in three locations within my apartment building.

My goal is to take two readings in each location and photograph the second reading. The photograph provides the proof of the reading in the location I specified as well as a timestamp and GPS that only I can see.

I also took an outdoor reading to establish what the ambient level was that day:
421 parts per million (ppm), which is exactly what the global ambient level is!

Keep in mind that a typical reading in my studio apartment is around 650 ppm.

An outdoor reading of 421 ppm, for reference.

BMO Harris bank branch – 115 S LaSalle St

This is a large bank branch with half a dozen teller stations and a significant business banking area. There were two tellers, a handful of other staff, and myself and another customer – the person density was very low.

Reading: 614 parts per million (ppm)

The CO2 reading was 614 ppm at a BMO Harris bank branch in downtown Chicago.

Target – 1 S State St

A busy department store is where I was most excited to take several readings. I took four readings, all on the second floor.

  1. Men’s clothing department, three minutes after entering the store: 646 ppm
  2. Another area in the men’s clothing department, three minutes later: 785 ppm
  3. A dressing room, six minutes after the previous reading: 913 ppm
  4. Automotive accessories aisle, 15 minutes after: 961 ppm

To give you another reference point, the readings have regularly exceeded 800 ppm – and have exceeded 1,000 ppm if I burn some food – when I’m cooking in my studio apartment. As I write this from there, the reading is 623 ppm.

I was pleased with these numbers at Target; I’m not an expert on assessing air quality but the Centers for Disease Control writes “that indoor CO2 concentrations no greater than 700 parts per million (ppm) above outdoor CO2 concentrations will satisfy a substantial majority (about 80%) of occupants” in office environments – or about 1,121 ppm.

My apartment building

I took three readings in my apartment building:

  1. One of the two bike rooms: 619 ppm
  2. An elevator (I had to visit a lot of floors to wait until I could get a second reading, which also meant the door opened a lot): 788 ppm
  3. Gym (which has two rooms, and I took the reading in the larger room that had fewer people at the time): 596 ppm

Say hello to Adanet, my new CO2 concentration monitor

I acquired a homemade and open source Adanet carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor from a friend in Chicago and tested it on a short trip on the Brown Line ‘L’. The Adanet monitors the concentration of CO2 in the air, in parts per million, which is a proxy for how “fresh” the surrounding air is.

Monitoring CO2 concentration became a more common activity and point of discussion since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A key way to reduce risk of transmission is to have “fresher” air. I’ll establish that “fresher” air is replacing air that has people’s outgoing CO2 with air that has less CO2, namely outdoor air.

(Another reason to monitor CO2? Excessive CO2 can lead to a decline in cognitive ability and sleep quality.)


I conducted an unscientific test of the “freshness” of the air inside a single Brown Line car on my trip between the Western and Belmont stations. I took five readings, which was the most I could take given that the Adanet refreshes every three minutes.

Map showing gray markers indicating where readings were taken. The trip started at the Western Brown Line station and the last reading was taking just before the train pulled into the Belmont station.

The ambient global measurement of CO2 is 421 ppm, measured in May 2022.

On the transit trip, the lowest reading was 475 ppm, which was taken while the device was in my coat pocket before I boarded the train at the outdoor station.

The highest reading was 680 ppm, when the train car had the most people on it during my short trip.


I have been checking the Adanet since getting home two hours ago.

  • I left it in the hallway outside my apartment and a single reading was 556 ppm.
  • Inside my studio readings have been around 650±20 ppm.
  • The highest reading since I got home has been 830 ppm and this is because I partially burned a quesadilla, releasing additional carbon into the air (my standalone air filter also turned on automatically to deal with the reduction in air quality).
  • I opened the balcony door to let fresh air in and 15 minutes later the reading dropped to between 671 and 692 ppm (the more readings the better).

Prepare your kitchen for an induction stove in 2023

Abt now has a sub-$1,000 induction stove. People with children or soon-to-have children should be the first ones looking into how they can replace their gas-burning cooking equipment and improve indoor air quality.

While you’re window shopping, you’ll also need to check your electrical panel…is there a circuit in the kitchen with a 40 amp breaker? If not, you’ll have to hire an electrician to run a new circuit (and a 240 volt outlet) for the induction stove.

Two Chicagoans I know have swapped their gas-burning stoves for induction stoves. You don’t want your children breathing benzene.

One of them is expecting a baby next month, so he replaced the stove earlier this year and had this to say about it:

Historically it’s been that gas was the powerhouse: if you need boiling water quickly, anything else won’t cut it. That’s just not the case now. Our induction stove cooks absurdly fast – we’re talking boiling water for coffee in 2-3 minutes. Lunch, dinner, coffee: the quick cook time makes for real time savings.

I’ve never been one to have a clean stove – too many parts and nooks and crannies. The induction range is one surface that’s easy to wipe. Also, the buttons are all up top towards the back, so our kid won’t be able to turn gas knobs you’d find on traditional stoves.

Overall for our health, the kid’s health and development, and all the bells and whistles that came with the basic model, we are so happy with the purchase.

Upgrading the electrical wiring will take a few weeks, which means you should wait to buy the induction stove until after January 1, 2023, when the Inflation Reduction Act rebates on energy efficient appliances kick in.

If you want to switch now, you can easily buy a single zone portal induction cooktop. Use it to boil water for coffee, tea, or pasta, and start practicing. IKEA sells a portal induction cooktop but won’t deliver it curently.

You probably already have pots and pans that are compatible with induction stoves: All cast iron and many stainless steel cookware are compatible. Even some aluminum and nonstick are compatible if they have a magnetic plate on the bottom.

If you have an old-fashioned electric stove (the kind with coils or a glass stop), I personally would recommend replacing it with induction only when it’s broken. It doesn’t release toxins like gas-burning stoves, so there’s not a need to accelerate replacement.

Alternatively, buy and enjoy the speed and better air quality of a portable induction cooktop! You can check reviews on Wirecutter for their latest recommendation, or pick one up from IKEA.

N.B. I don’t earn any money from clicks on the links in this blog post. I selected Abt because they are a chain local to Chicago, and I conducted a survey of my Twitter followers in 2020 and the majority recommended buying appliances from Abt. I visited Abt’s showroom in Glenview in January 2022 (see photos below), and I was impressed by the store and the salesperson.

A century old former radium extraction site in Bronzeville gets building permit

Map of the Carnotite Reduction Company site near Bronzeville

The Carnotite Reduction Company site near Bronzeville. Map: OpenStreetMap

A recently-issued building permit on 26th Street just east of King Drive in the Prairie Shores neighborhood of the Near South Side community area (near Bronzeville) caught my eye.

Installation of temporary wood poles and aerial cable, to powering air monitors, for the Carnotite Reduction Company site project

Carnotite wasn’t a word I’ve heard before, and “Carnotite Reduction Company” isn’t a business I’ve heard of before, either.

I searched Bing and found that 4 of the 5 results were about cleaning up a contaminated site, and one of the results was a letter in PDF form hosted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website prepared by a scientist at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The letter is 11 pages long and tells the story about Carnotite Reduction Company, which had a factory in 1915 on what’s now known as the Michael Reese Hospital site, the buildings of which have all been demolished.

The Carnotite Co. mainly produced radium, along with some uranium and vanadium as byproducts.

The Carnotite Co. owned and operated mines in Colorado and Utah. In 1919, it was one of four companies that mined 95% of the carnotite ore produced in Colorado. The U.S. dominated the world radium market until 1922, when Belgium began using pitchblende ore from the Belgian Congo. The pitchblende was 40 to 100 times more pure than carnotite, and by 1923, Belgian competition ended carnotite ore processing in the U.S.

This article from the “Chicago Chemical Bulletin” publication in 1917 linked on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website about the cleanup project describes carnotite ore and mining process. They’ve cataloged this site as EPA ID# ILN000510371.

Chicago Chemical Bulletin: 1917 article about the Carnotite Reduction Company

The letter describes where radioactive, contaminated soil was found during boring tests made within the last three years, and how it potentially got there. The factory was extracting radium there, for an exploding cancer research trend, until 1920.

The company, the EPA believes, may have disposed its waste into public infrastructure.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) suspects that the Carnotite Co. may have sent this liquid waste into the sewer, floor drains, or reintroduced it into the process for further refining. Because streets in the area, including Inglehart Court, were abandoned during the redevelopment in the 1950s and 1960s, sewers running along those abandoned streets likely also were abandoned. Other options for liquid waste disposal commonly used at the time included streams or ditches (with Lake Michigan in the vicinity), waste ponds, dug wells, and dumping wastes on porous ground (such as the sand on-site).

When the City of Chicago was preparing the site in 2009 for a potential Olympic Village for its 2016 Olympic Games bid – buying the property for an insane amount of cash and then razing it all, while eventually losing the bid to Rio de Janeiro – conducted “Phase I and Phase II environmental investigations” but didn’t survey for radiological contamination and didn’t uncover an important survey from 30 years prior.

The Illinois Department of Public Health found radioactive contamination after a “radiological surface survey” of the Michael Reese hospital site in 1979.

The IDPH Division of Radiological Health concluded that the contamination did not pose an immediate health threat, but should be taken into account before any future construction. In 1979, IDPH did not notify USEPA about the contamination they found.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency surveyed the site in August 2009 and found the contamination, alerted the EPA, and met with the City of Chicago to discuss remediation.

The letter details further testing by AECOM, a global transportation, infrastructure, and engineering company, the levels of contamination, and risk assessment. It appears that the contamination won’t be a danger to most people.

The Illinois Department of Public Health concludes that exposure at the Carnotite Co. site to the area with the greatest surface radium and uranium concentration for 20 minutes per day, five days per week, 250 days per week, for 50 years is not expected to harm people’s health. IDPH considers this to be a maximum likely exposure scenario, given current conditions at the site.

It notes that a change in land use – the site is currently occupied by vacant hardscape, tennis courts, a park, sidewalks, and grassy areas – “could increase exposure duration”, especially if housing was built here.

The City of Chicago applied for a license in 2013 to temporarily store radioactive material on site before shipping it to a disposal facility. The EPA last updated its website in April 2014 to say that it was considering this application.