We open today’s compendium of environmental news with the latest on the Ebola front, and conclude with a case of Down Under idiocy.
First up, a declaration via Reuters:
Guinea declares public health emergency over Ebola
Guinea has declared a public health emergency over an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people in three West African states and is sending health workers to all affected border points, a government official said.
An estimated 377 people have died in Guinea since the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola began in March in remote parts of a border region next to Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Guinea says its outbreak is under control with the numbers of new cases falling, but that the new measures are needed to prevent further infection from the other countries at the center of the epidemic.
Global Times covers a clean bill of health:
No confirmed Ebola cases in S. Africa: health authorities
There have been no laboratory- confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in South Africa associated with the current outbreak in West Africa, health authorities said on Thursday.
Given the frequency of travel between southern and western African countries, there is a risk of EVD cases being imported into South Africa, but overall this risk is low, the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said in its latest update on the spread of EVD.
The Associated Press mulls a quandary:
Liberia gets Ebola drug; ponders who should get it
Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday: deciding which handful of Ebola patients will receive an experimental drug that could prove life-saving, ineffective or even harmful.
ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the West African country late Wednesday. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said three or four people would begin getting it Thursday, although another health official said there was only enough for three people.
The government had previously said two doctors would receive the treatment, but it was unclear who else would.
A related story from the Yomiuri Shimbun:
Doctors: Ebola drug poses dilemma
Doctors treating a Sierra Leone physician with Ebola defended their decision not to give him an experimental drug, saying Wednesday they feared it was too risky.
Calling it “an impossible dilemma,” Doctors Without Borders explained in detail last month’s decision in response to a New York Times story on the case. It would have been the first time the experimental drug was tried in humans.
The explanation came the same day that another top doctor from Sierra Leone died of the disease, further fueling a debate about how to apportion a limited supply of untested drugs and vaccines and whether they are even effective.
Xinhua ads context:
Ebola crisis could continue for months: health official
A U.S. health official warned Thursday it would take at least three to six months to end the Ebola outbreak, which has killed nearly 1,000 in West Africa, and which has prompted a state of emergency in Liberia and Nigeria.
“It will be a long and hard fight,” Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden told a congressional hearing.
The director on Wednesday activated the level of the agency’s response to the outbreak to its highest alert status.
The Wire covers a patient cured:
Ebola-Stricken Doctor Could Be Released From Atlanta Hospital Soon
According to the charity Samaritan’s Purse, Dr. Kent Brantly is recovering nicely from Ebola and is expected to be released from the hospital shortly. From the group’s statement:
“Dr. Kent Brantly is doing very well and hopes to be released sometime in the near future. The staff at Emory Healthcare are taking extremely great care of him. Kent and his wife continue to express appreciation for everyone’s prayers.”
A simple enough sentiment although one not accompanied by a timetable. Reports on Brantly’s condition have been increasingly positive since he arrived in Atlanta two weeks ago.
From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another false alarm:
Nigerian woman sent to Singapore hospital did not have Ebola: MOH
- The patient, who is in her 50s, was reportedly suffering from a high fever. She has since been discharged.
Fears of the first case of Ebola surfacing in Singapore on Thursday (Aug 14) proved unfounded.
In a statement, the Health Ministry clarified that there is no suspect case of Ebola in Singapore at present. “The case in question was indeed referred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, but she does not fit the case definition,” it said. “MOH will continue to closely monitor the situation, and continually assess and calibrate its measures.”
The scare began when a Nigerian woman was transferred from Gleneagles Hospital to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)’s Communicable Diseases Centre on Thursday. She was suffering from a high fever.
Reuters covers an exodus:
U.S. Embassy dependents to leave Sierra Leone due to Ebola
The United States said on Thursday it had ordered family members at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone to depart because of limitations on regular medical care as a result of the Ebola outbreak.
“The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak,” the State Department said in a statement.
From Global Times, a prohibition:
Filipino seafarers prohibited from disembarking in Ebola-stricken countries
The Philippine government on Monday prohibited Filipino seafarers from disembarking in Ebola-hit countries in West Africa.
The order is contained in the guidelines issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus disease.
“There will be no shore leave for seafarers and no crew change in the ports of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the meantime,” POEA chief Hans Leo Cacdac said in a statement.
From Reuters, a suspension:
Korean Air suspends flights to Kenya over Ebola worries
Korean Air Lines Co Ltd said on Thursday it will suspend flights to and from Nairobi from August 20 to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
Korean Air said it had been operating three return flights from Incheon, South Korea, to the capital of Kenya a week.
The company said it would determine whether to resume the flights based on a change in conditions. It did not elaborate.
From the Yomiuri Shimbun, another ounce of prevention:
Airport steps up measures against Ebola
Narita Airport Quarantine is strengthening measures to prevent the Ebola virus from entering Japan, in light of the deadly outbreak in parts of West Africa.
There are no direct flights from West African countries to Narita Airport, but there are fears that residents and travelers from such countries as Guinea, where there have been reports of an Ebola outbreak, may transfer planes at Narita Airport. To address such concerns, airport quarantine has been stepping up efforts to screen out infected individuals with fever by conducting thermographic inspections.
Furthermore, in response to the World Health Organization’s declaration of an international emergency on Aug. 8, quarantine is urging those who have stayed in West Africa to voluntarily declare their visit when entering Japan through public announcements in Japanese and English in addition to information boards and video displays in eight languages.
Anxiety-inducing historic precedent from the Associated Press:
25 Years Ago, a Different Ebola Outbreak in Va.
It had all the makings of a public-health horror story: an outbreak of a wildly deadly virus on the doorstep of the nation’s capital, with dozens of lab monkeys dead, multiple people testing positive, and no precedent in this country on how to contain it.
Americans’ introduction to the Ebola virus came 25 years ago in an office park near Washington Dulles International Airport, a covert crisis that captivated the public only years later when it formed the basis of a bestselling book.
Initially thought to be the same hyper-deadly strain as the current Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds in Africa, the previously unknown Reston variant turned out to be nonlethal to humans. But the story of what might have been illustrates how far U.S. scientists have come in their understanding of a virus whose very name strikes fear, even in a country where no one has fatally contracted it.
Global Times reassures:
Outbreak of Ebola in China unlikely: expert
A Chinese expert said Wednesday that the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in China is extremely low, although the virus may enter the country.
Dong Xiaoping, research fellow with the Institute of Virus of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said the possibility of Ebola entering China through fruit bats, its natural vector, and other animals is very low. However, it may enter China through humans in individual cases. Risks of this kind can be controlled with strengthened checks at customs.
Dong said the spread of Ebola in China is unlikely even if Ebola cases are found, as China is capable of disease control and prevention.
Next, opportunity for the corporate sector, first from USA Today:
NewLink Genetics: Ready to test Ebola vaccine
An Iowa drug developer is preparing to test a possible Ebola vaccine in humans, as scientists race to develop ways to prevent or fight a virus that has killed more than 1,000 people in a West African outbreak.
NewLink Genetics is planning an initial phase of testing involving up to 100 healthy volunteers and is talking with regulators about the study, said Brian Wiley, the company’s vice president for business development. He declined to say whether the drug developer has submitted an application for the research to the Food and Drug Administration.
Chief Financial Officer Gordon Link said Thursday the timing of the testing, which would involve up to 100 healthy volunteers, is uncertain.
MintPress News adds a dimension:
On Use Of Experimental Ebola Drugs, U.S. Under Increased Pressure
- Officials wrestle with whether it is ethical to withhold potential treatment from some groups, but also if it is acceptable to offer either false hope or true risk to vulnerable populations
The World Health Organization has taken the unprecedented step of declaring that the use of experimental drugs — the efficacy and safety of which have yet to be proven — would be “ethical” to combat the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
The multilateral agency’s unusual backing, announced Tuesday, will further complicate an issue that has suddenly become a major quandary for global health officials, the U.S. government and the very small number of private companies that have been working on Ebola research. Even as issues of access and equity have come to the fore, others are expressing concern that the discussion around experimental treatments could be a distraction.
The backing of the WHO followed a two-day emergency meeting of medical workers, ethicists and others.
“There was unanimous agreement among the experts that [due to] the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at the WHO, told journalists Tuesday, while also releasing an institutional statement on the discussions.
A Chinese company’s venture from Shanghai Daily:
Biotech firm develops kit for diagnosing Ebola
A LOCAL biotech company says it has developed a diagnostic kit for Ebola that has been used in Nigeria with good effects.
Shanghai ZJ Bio-Tech Co said it started to develop the kit for Ebola virus in 2010 at the request of African clients.
Since the recent outbreak in west Africa, some 50 health facilities and laboratories home and abroad have ordered it.
Our final business item from El País, bringing in a corporate ’bot:
Bleach and a robot used to disinfect ebola victim’s Madrid hospital room
- New tests confirm late Spanish priest Miguel Pajares’ colleague Juliana Bonoha is not infected
The Madrid hospital room in which Spanish priest Miguel Pajares spent the last five days of his life battling the ebola virus began to be disinfected on Wednesday. The task was first undertaken by a team from the Carlos III public hospital using bleach and then by a robot belonging to the same US company that cleaned the Washington, D. C. central post office after the 2001 anthrax attacks and also helped prevent the spread of infection in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in New Orleans in 2005. The hospital has not disclosed the cost of the procedure.
Staff at the center used bleach and disinfectant gas to clean the installations and burnt materials used by both Pajares, who died from the disease on Tuesday, and sister Juliana Bonoha Bohé, who was repatriated to Spain from Liberia alongside him last week. New tests on Thursday confirmed that the 65-year-old Spanish nun has not been infected by the ebola virus, though she will remain in hospital until the 21-day incubation period has passed.
The firm Steris Iberia is in charge of completing the decontamination process in the room that Pajares occupied. Its technicians sealed the room, leaving in it a robot “similar to a large shopping cart” that is controlled by a computer from outside, explained the company’s head of business, Miguel Ángel Valdeolivas.
Our final Ebola item, a bigger picture from MintPress News:
Ebola And Climate Change: How Are They Connected?
- In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans
In 2006, a study published in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene revealed that Ebola, a “violent hemorrhagic fever that leads to internal and external bleeding,” would be more frequent with global warming due to its intermittent connection to wildlife and climate. In 2008, another study reiterated the same fears, noting that Ebola outbreaks would be among a cluster of other viral diseases gaining momentum, such as bird flu, cholera, plague and tuberculosis.
“We are calling for increased attention and action in developing global monitoring networks to look at a wide variety of infectious diseases in a wide variety of wildlife since they are such sensitive indicators of the health of the systems in which they live,” said veterinarian William Karesh, Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) vice president of global health programs, back in 2008.
In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans. According to researchers, the virus is typically found in wildlife, and transmission from animals to humans occurs through contact with infected bodily fluids, causing a “spillover” in species. The virus can also be contracted from another human being when a person is in direct contact with infected blood, vomit or feces during contagious periods, putting health workers in West Africa primarily at risk.
From the Guardian, our first water woe:
Tibet’s glaciers at their warmest in 2,000 years, report says
- Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to Asia’s main rivers including Yellow, Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Salween
The Tibetan plateau, whose glaciers supply water to hundreds of millions of people in Asia, were warmer over the past 50 years than at any stage in the past two millennia, a Chinese newspaper said, citing an academic report.
Temperatures and humidity are likely to continue to rise throughout this century, causing glaciers to retreat and desertification to spread, according to the report published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.
“Over the past 50 years, the rate of temperature rise has been double the average global level,” it said, according to the report on the website of Science and Technology Daily, a state-run newspaper.
Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to several of Asia’s main rivers that originate from the plateau, including China’s Yellow and Yangtze, India’s Brahmaputra, and the Mekong and Salween in southeast Asia.
In May, Chinese scientists said Tibetan glaciers had shrunk 15% – around 3,100 sq miles (8,000 sq km) – over the past 30 years.
A food perspective from Global Times:
Concerns over grain supply as North China suffers worst drought in 63 years
The worst drought in 63 years in North China has badly hit three major grain producing regions, sparking concerns over nationwide grain supply.
Liaoning, Jilin and Henan provinces have seen the lowest levels of precipitation in the last six decades. Another nine regions, including Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces as well as Inner Mongolia, are also bearing the brunt of the severe drought, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The prolonged drought has affected 4.39 million hectares of cropland and 2.35 million people across the country, people.com.cn reported Wednesday.
Another water woe, via Homeland Security News Wire:
Ingredients in “fracking” fluids raise concerns
As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The researchers say that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.
As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The scientists presenting the work yesterday at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) said that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.
An ACS release reports that William Stringfellow, Ph.D., says he conducted the review of fracking contents to help resolve the public debate over the controversial drilling practice. Fracking involves injecting water with a mix of chemical additives into rock formations deep underground to promote the release of oil and gas. It has led to a natural gas boom in the United States, but it has also stimulated major opposition and troubling reports of contaminated well water, as well as increased air pollution near drill sites.
And from The Real News Network, another potentially alarming water worry, this time in the form of privatization:
Is Baltimore City’s Water Supply Up For Privatization?
- City Hall denies the charge, but workers and advocates say an upcoming water contract could be a foot in the door for privatization
BBC News covers iDetox:
Apple bans two hazardous chemicals from assembly lines
Apple has banned two potentially hazardous chemicals from being used in the final assembly process at 22 of its iPhone and iPad production plants.
Benzene, which is a carcinogen, and n-Hexane, which can cause nerve damage, will no longer be used in cleaning agents or degreasers at the facilities, the firm said.
The move follows a campaign urging the tech giant to scrap the substances.
China Daily bans dosed up American pig meat:
US pork halted, additives feared
China stopped importing pork from six processing and six cold storage facilities in the United States on Wednesday to enforce its ban on the use of a feed additive that promotes lean muscle growth, the US Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday.
To ensure food safety, China had in March said that third-party verification was necessary to ensure that US pork shipped to the country is free of the additive ractopamine, which is sold for hog farm use as feed additive.
Ding Lixin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, said such quality control measures are commonplace in the domestic market, especially the checks to trace the presence of ractopamine in pork. The new move indicates that the government is implementing quality checks on imported pork products also.
From Spain, poisoned sperm via TheLocal.es:
Judge demands study on ‘Spain’s worst semen’
A judge in the Catalan city of Tarragona has ordered an investigation into the possible health impact of the area’s chemical industry after discovering that only six per cent of local men have fully mobile sperm.
The enquiry was launched yesterday after a judge studied a complaint made in 2010 by the environmental group L’Escurçó.
The group cited a 2002 study showing that the semen of 53 per cent of Tarragona’s men had semen which did not measure up to World Health Organization parameters.
The judge has now asked the Civil Guard to identify chemical industry companies in Tarragona which emit substances capable of reducing male fertility.
On to today’s episode of Fukushimapocalypose Now! with alarming news from the American Genetic Association:
- Biological effects of Fukushima radiation on plants, insects, and animals
Following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays, limiting the information that could be gained about the impacts of that historic disaster. Determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, scientists began gathering biological information only a few months after the disastrous meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in 2011. Results of these studies are now beginning to reveal serious biological effects of the Fukushima radiation on non-human organisms ranging from plants to butterflies to birds.
A series of articles summarizing these studies has now been published in the Journal of Heredity. These describe widespread impacts, ranging from population declines to genetic damage to responses by the repair mechanisms that help organisms cope with radiation exposure.
“A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” stated Dr. Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies.
From the Guardian, hot times to come in the Outback?:
Aboriginal people can still apply to use land for nuclear waste, says minister
- Ian MacFarlane tells traditional owners in Tennant Creek that the process would remain open until November
Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory can still apply to offer their land as a nuclear waste dump despite the collapse of government attempts to nominate Muckaty Station, the industry minister has said.
Ian MacFarlane met traditional owners, members of the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust and community members in Tennant Creek on Thursday, where he announced that the option to volunteer their land for a radioactive waste management facility would remain open until 30 November this year.
Muckaty had spent almost 10 years mired in bitter negotiations and legal battles, since the NLC lobbied for Aboriginal people to volunteer a site after former prime minister John Howard legislated for the first nuclear waste disposal facility in 2005.
And for our final item, the Guardian covers Aussie idiocy:
Tony Abbott adviser warns of threat of ‘global cooling’
- Opponents label comments ‘terrifying’ after Maurice Newman writes opinion piece in the Australian newspaper
The Abbott government’s chief business adviser, Maurice Newman, has warned that Australia is ill prepared for global cooling owing to widespread “warming propaganda” in his latest critique of mainstream climate science.
Newman, who chairs the prime minister’s Business Advisory Council, said there is evidence that the world is set for a period of cooling, rather than warming, leading to significant geopolitical problems because of a lack of preparedness.
Adam Bandt, deputy leader of the Greens, said Newman’s comments were an “embarrassment to the government”.