Newsweek in Review: Tech & Science Top Stories

Food waste adding to climate change
A woman picks up vegetables discarded by food vendors at a garbage dump site for a wholesale market in Xi'an, China. Reuters
From toxic waste in Los Angeles to Facebook's moves in artificial intelligence, here's a look at some of Newsweek's coverage of science, technology and the environment from the past week.

In Southeast Los Angeles, Your Front Yard Might be a Toxic Waste Site

Certain residential yards in southeast Los Angeles are essentially toxic waste sites, because of lead contamination from a now-shuttered recycling plant that affects 5,000 to 10,000 homes.

The working-class, largely Latino neighborhood lived in the shadow of Exide Technologies, in nearby Vernon (the setting for season 2 of HBO's True Detective), for 15 years. The recycler of lead-acid car batteries was forced by the Department of Justice to close in 2015 after mounting evidence of its risks to general health—including findings that Exide was elevating cancer risks and posed "chronic hazards" to up to 252,000 residents.

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Residents in East Los Angeles have had daily exposure to hazardous waste for decades. Some soil lead readings suggest that children who play in a Boyle Heights front yard frolic on top of what is, essentially, a hazardous waste site. Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Getty

California has dedicated $176 million for a cleanup effort that some estimate will cost many millions more, while residents will continue to live with the effects of what Exide left behind, where babies are born premature and "people talk about cancer as if it were a tornado."

One Startup Wants to Bring Live Virtual Reality to Your Doorstep

VideoStitch, which sells virtual reality streaming software, has taken preorders for the Orah 4i, a virtual reality camera that streams in real time.

"Facebook and YouTube have already done 360-degree videos, and they do live videos, but they don't do both," says VideoStitch CEO Nicolas Burtey. "It would be a logical platform to go into."

For now, the company sees the new camera, which resembles a mic stand, as a niche product that will appeal to content creators in the fields of music, education and journalism. It's priced accordingly, with preorders at $1,795 each, which will go up to $3,595 once the Orah 4i hits the market.

We Waste So Much Food That It's a Major Contributor to Climate Change

Food waste is a major contributor to global warming, with 1.3 billion tons of food discarded per year. That translates to 0.5 gigatons of CO2 annually from the agriculture sector.

A study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology estimates that food waste will contribute 1.9 to 2.5 gigatons of CO2 annually by 2050, with 14 percent of total agricultural emissions coming from the harvesting of food that will ultimately feed no one.

"Avoiding food loss and waste would therefore avoid unnecessary greenhouse-gas emissions and help mitigate climate change," co-author Prajal Pradhan said in a statement.

Facebook Taps Into AI to Help Blind People See Photos

Facebook unveiled a new feature this week that utilizes artificial intelligence to describe the contents of photos to the visually impaired.

Automatic alternative text is a self-learning neural network that learns objects by studying millions of examples.

"We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it," write Facebook software engineers Shaomei Wu and Hermes Pique and head of accessibility Jeffrey Wieland.