Category Archives: Environment

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, and nukes


First up, sobering news from Science:

Disease modelers project a rapidly rising toll from Ebola

Alessandro Vespignani hopes that his latest work will turn out to be wrong. In July, the physicist from Northeastern University in Boston started modeling how the deadly Ebola virus may spread in West Africa. Extrapolating existing trends, the number of the sick and dying mounts rapidly from the current toll—more than 3000 cases and 1500 deaths—to around 10,000 cases by September 24, and hundreds of thousands in the months after that. “The numbers are really scary,” he says—although he stresses that the model assumes control efforts aren’t stepped up. “We all hope to see this NOT happening,” Vespigani writes in an e-mail.

Vespignani is not the only one trying to predict how the unprecedented outbreak will progress. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the number of cases could ultimately exceed 20,000. And scientists across the world are scrambling to create computer models that accurately describe the spread of the deadly virus. Not all of them look quite as bleak as Vespignani’s. But the modelers all agree that current efforts to control the epidemic are not enough to stop the deadly pathogen in its tracks.

The accompanying graphic:

BLOG Ebola

From the Associated Press, a four-alarm alaert

WHO: Senegal Ebola case ‘a top priority emergency’

The effort to contain Ebola in Senegal is “a top priority emergency,” the World Health Organization said Sunday, as the government continued tracing everyone who came in contact with a Guinean student who has tested positive for the deadly disease in the capital, Dakar.

Senegal faces an “urgent need” for support and supplies including hygiene kits and personal protective equipment for health workers, the WHO said in a statement Sunday.

“These needs will be met with the fastest possible speed,” the WHO said.

Reuters reports a strike by those most vulnerable to infection:

Health workers strike at Sierra Leone Ebola hospital

Health workers have gone on strike at a major state-run Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone, over pay and poor working conditions, hospital staff told Reuters on Saturday.

Sierra Leone’s government is struggling to cope with the worst Ebola outbreak in history, that has killed more than 1,550 people across West Africa, with the rate of infection still rising.

“The workers decided to stop working because we have not been paid our allowances and we lack some tools,” said Ishmael Mehemoh, chief supervisor at the clinic in the city of Kenema, in the country’s east.

Clothing to protect health workers being infected is inadequate and there is only one broken stretcher which is used to carry both patients and corpses, Mehemoh added.

The Independent sounds an urban alert:

Ebola virus: It’s ripped through towns – now the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus is heading for Africa’s cities

Ebola is now spreading from the remote provinces and into the teeming cities such as Freetown, where 1.2 million people jostle for space. Previous outbreaks had been limited to remote vil-lages, where containment was aided by geography. The thought of Ebola taking hold in a major city such as Freetown or Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, is a virological nightmare. Last week, the World Health Organization warned that the number of cases could hit 20,000 in West Africa.

“We have never had this kind of experience with Ebola before,” David Nabarro, coordinator of the new U.N. Ebola effort, said as he toured Freetown last week. “When it gets into the cities, then it takes on another dimension.”

The hemorrhagic fever has no cure. Odds of survival stand at about 50-50. Detection is difficult because early symptoms are hard to distinguish from those of malaria or typhoid, common ailments during the rainy season. While Ebola is not transmitted through the air like the flu, it does spread by close contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and sweat — even something as innocent as a tainted tear.

From the New Dawn in Monrovia, Liberia:

Liberia: Dogs Feed On Ebola Victims

The residents of the Mount Barclay Community within the Johnsonville Township, outside of Monrovia woke up on last Friday morning in total dismay when the remains of dead Ebola victims were reportedly seen, eaten by dogs, something reminiscent of the brutal civil war here, when dogs ate dead bodies on the streets.

The Liberian Government, through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, buried some unaccounted-for corpses, suspected to have died from the Ebola Virus in that township few weeks ago.

The burial was done in a hurry at night following a standoff in the day between residence and the Ministry of Health burial team. The former had refused to grant the authority a piece of land to carry out the burial. The dogs, in their numbers, were seen pulling the bodies out of the shadowed grave and hastily eating them.

TheLocal.no sounds a Nordic Ebola alert:

Ebola threat to Norway: Sweden fears first case

  • Sweden has confirmed a suspected case of Ebola on Sunday, making it possibly the first Nordic case of the virus.

A hospital in Stockholm is investigating a possible case of Ebola, reported NTB.

A man who recently travelled to a “risk area” for the virus was taken to Karolinska University Hospital in the Swedish capital suffering from a fever. He is being treated in an isolation unit.

Åke Örtqvist, doctor at the infectious disease unit at Karolinska hospital, said to Aftonbladet: “The risk is minimal of it being Ebola, but we handle all such cases in seriously. We have a high level of safety to ensure we don’t overlook a possible case of contamination.”

From The Hill, a political call:

US should do more to contain Ebola outbreak, Sen. McCain says

The U.S. should do more, including possibly dispatching military assets, to combat the Ebola outbreak roiling at least five African nations, according to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

“All of us would like to see the United States more involved,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We have [U.S. Navy] hospital ships because they can move from one place to another.”

Senegal on Friday became the fifth country to confirm a case of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) last week said there have been more than 3,000 cases of the disease reported so far in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

Motherboard explains:

How the Ebola Virus Jams Immune System Signals and Kills

The largest Ebola outbreak in history has been making headlines for months. Health officials and government leaders from West Africa and well beyond have been left perpetually scrambling to get ahead of a disease still boasting a mortality rate near 50 percent. The current confirmed death toll: 1,552.

Researchers based at Washington University School of Medicine, however, have figured out how Ebola manages to be so uniquely deadly in humans, by mapping out in detail how one Ebola virus protein interacts with a protein integral to human immune systems. This is good news because deep knowledge of the ins and outs and intricacies of Ebola makes finding a cure and vaccine for the virus all that much easier.

Scientists have known for a while that this one particular Ebola protein was messing with our human one, but were unsure of these exact specifics, published this month in the open-access journal Cell Host & Microbe.

On to Asia and another disease outbreak from NewsOnJapan:

3 more people suspected of contracting dengue fever within Japan

Three more people are believed to have contracted dengue fever and all of whom recently spent time in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, government authorities said Sunday, raising to six the number of confirmed or suspected cases of domestic infection, the first in Japan since 1945.

The three new cases of infection by the mosquito-borne disease involve a boy from Niigata Prefecture, and a girl and man from Kanagawa Prefecture, all of whom recently visited the popular park in central Tokyo.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases is examining other suspected cases involving people who have visited the same Tokyo park recently, with plans to announce the results of those tests as soon as known, possibly on Monday afternoon, health ministry officials said.

And from Nature, a domestic alert:

US government labs plan biohazard-safety sweep

The discovery of smallpox in a refrigerator at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, on 9 July has apparently sparked some soul searching in the US government. On 27 August, the NIH designated September as National Biosafety Stewardship Month, encouraging researchers to take inventory of their freezers for potentially dangerous agents such as pathogens and toxins, and review their biosafety protocols. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did the same in a memo released to the public on 28 August, suggesting “a government-wide ‘safety stand-down,’” and “strongly urging” both federal agencies and independent labs to complete these steps within the month.

Although the OSTP does not have the regulatory power to enforce inspections, documents obtained exclusively by Nature show that some government agencies are already starting strict surveillance of their labs. In July, the NIH began scouring its own facilities for any misplaced hazards. Its rigorous strategy, obtained through public-records request, requires laboratories at all of its campuses — whether they work with infectious diseases or not — to survey their vials and boxes for potentially dangerous pathogens, venoms, toxins and other agents.  The scientific directors of each NIH institute have until 30 September to submit affidavits confirming that this has been completed by the laboratories in their institutes.

Next up, the Reykjavík Grapevine covers an eruption:

Holuhraun Volcano Erupts Again

  • An eruption has commenced at Holuhraun again, replete with magma plumes some 60 metres tall.

RÚV reports that an eruption has re-opened at Holuhraun, just north of Vatnjökull, which began in the early morning hours. As can be seen, this is a lava eruption, and plumes of magma are reportedly reaching heights of up to 60 metres.

This eruption is at the same location as the one which began last Friday, and continued for a few hours, only this time the eruption is 10 to 20 times bigger, volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson told reporters. The southernmost point of the eruption begins where last Friday’s eruption left off, and extends some 1.5 to 1.8 kilometres northwards.

Civil Protection in Iceland is on alert, although there are as yet no plans to elevate preparations, as the eruption is occurring in an area not considered to put any people or animals in danger.

After the jump, domestic water woes on both coasts, fracking pollution, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, species, nukes


Again, we lead with Ebola, first from the Washington Post:

Ebola virus has mutated during course of outbreak

The Ebola virus sweeping through West Africa has mutated repeatedly during the current outbreak, a fact that could hinder diagnosis and treatment of the devastating disease, according to scientists who have genetically sequenced the virus in scores of victims.

The findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, also offer new insights into the origins of the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak in history, which has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries and shows few signs of slowing. It also provided another reminder of the deep toll the outbreak has taken on health workers and others in the affected areas, as five of the paper’s more than 50 co-authors died from Ebola before publication.

In a collaboration led by scientists at Harvard University and aided by officials at Sierra Leone’s health ministry, researchers sequenced Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients beginning in the early days of the outbreak this spring. Those 99 samples — some patients were tested more than once — suggested that the outbreak began with a single human infection before spreading rapidly, like a spark that grows into a wildfire.

From the Associated Press:

Liberian Ebola survivor praises experimental drug

A Liberian health worker who recovered from Ebola after receiving an experimental drug urged the manufacturer to speed up its production and send it to Africa, while crowds celebrated in the streets Saturday after authorities reopened a slum that had been barricaded for more than a week to try to contain the disease.

Physician’s assistant Kyndy Kobbah was expected to be released from hospital Saturday after she survived Ebola, which has been fatal in more than half the cases sweeping West Africa. Kobbah contracted the disease while working at a government-run hospital north of the capital.

In an interview with The Associated Press before her release, she said when she informed her family that she had been cured, the home exploded with joy “and the house is on fire right now” with celebration.

CBC News covers a non-case in Canada:

Ebola tests negative for Gatineau girl who remains in isolation

  • Girl who was in Sierra Leone with family returned to Canada with flu-like symptoms

Tests on a young girl from Gatineau, Que., have come back negative for the Ebola virus after she was feeling ill upon returning from Sierra Leone, one of the west African countries hard hit by this year’s Ebola outbreak.

The girl was put in isolation at an undisclosed Ottawa hospital after her family took her to a Gatineau emergency room on Friday with flu-like symptoms after visiting family in Sierra Leone.

The tests, which were done in Winnipeg, came back negative on Saturday afternoon. The girl remains in isolation and she is in stable condition, according to health officials in western Quebec.

From Science, a question:

Experimental Ebola drug saves monkeys, but will this translate to humans?

This past Wednesday, at a discussion titled “Stopping the Deadly Ebola Outbreak” held at the Scripps Research Institute here, a local TV reporter repeatedly prodded one of the star panelists, Kevin Whaley, the CEO of Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego.

After Whaley explained that he had no idea whether ZMapp, his company’s now famous experimental antibody cocktail used to treat Ebola victims, really worked, the journalist continued to press. “From what you’ve seen in your research—and what your heart says—what do you say?”

The audience of 100 people or so broke into nervous giggles.

“I’m not willing to speculate on that,” Whaley replied.

Same continent, different virus from United Press International:

AIDS progress in South Africa could suffer funding blow

The AIDS epidemic in South Africa has been devastating. Factors like lack of awareness and the indifference of political leaders such as President Thabo Mbeki did not allow any kind of control. However, in the last few years there has been major progress in AIDS treatment and prevention thanks to President George W. Bush’s Pefar program implemented in 2003.

New infections have gone down by a third, mother-to-child transmissions have dropped by 90 percent and life expectancy rose by almost 10 years. Around 2.4 million people are on antiretroviral medication and more healthcare workers are being trained in new facilities.

“We’ve managed a miracle,” said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, one of the country’s leading AIDS researchers. “Undertaking is not a business you want to go into anymore.”

Due to projected cuts to funding, things could take a turn for the worse. South Africa now pays 83 percent of its own costs for its AIDS health programs and Pepfar funding will probably drop from $350 million to $250 million by 2016. Pepfar workers say the money needs to be used to combat the disease in poorer countries like Cameroon and Burundi.

From Public Radio International, on to the atmosphere:

Rising carbon dioxide levels may reduce the nutritional value of important foods

A study in the journal Nature finds that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide threaten global human nutrition by significantly reducing the levels of nutrients important to human health.

Researchers cultivated 41 different varieties of staple crops on three continents to examine how they might be affected by the expected increase of CO2 in coming decades. The crops included rice, wheat, soybeans, maize, field peas and sorghum — plant groups that are central to human nutrition around the world.

The study’s lead author, Sam Myers, says they found significant reductions in zinc, iron and protein in grain crops like rice and wheat, and similar reductions in zinc and iron, but smaller reductions in protein, in legumes like soybeans and field peas.

The reductions are statistically highly significant and represent a serious threat to public health, Myers says. Roughly two billion people around the world already suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies.

From Arctic News, threats from another global warming gas far more dangerous that carbon dioxide:

Warming waters threaten to trigger methane eruptions from Arctic Ocean seafloor

A new study looks at how, in the 21st century, surface warming slowed as more heat moved deeper into the oceans, specifically the North Atlantic.

Sun-warmed salty water travels north along ocean currents in the Atlantic. When this saltier water reaches the North Atlantic, its greater density causes it to sink. From about 1999, this current began to speed up and draw heat deeper into the ocean.

These huge amounts of heat moving deeper into the Atlantic Ocean are very worrying.

On to water with the Associated Press:

Online list IDs water wells harmed by drilling

Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time released details of 243 cases in which companies prospecting for oil or gas were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking water wells.

The Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday posted online links to the documents after the agency conducted a “thorough review” of paper files stored among its regional offices. The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed lawsuits and numerous open-records requests over the last several years seeking records of the DEP’s investigations into gas-drilling complaints.

Pennsylvania’s auditor general said in a report last month that DEP’s system for handling complaints “was woefully inadequate” and that investigators could not even determine whether all complaints were actually entered into a reporting system.

From the Mainichi, victims of a pollution disaster:

32,000 people compensated for Minamata disease, more awaiting recognition

Over 32,000 people have been granted 2.1-million-yen compensation packages under the special relief measure for victims of Minamata disease established in 2009, the Environment Ministry reported on Aug. 29.

According to the ministry, some 65,000 people in Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures applied for compensation by the end of July 2012 deadline. Of some 48,000 applicants, excluding those who applied to switch from the former relief system, a total of 32,244 — or 67 percent — were granted the lump-sum payment. A total of 19,306 successful applicants were in Kumamoto Prefecture, 11,127 in Kagoshima Prefecture, and 1,811 in Niigata Prefecture.

Meanwhile, 6,013 applicants have been granted only medical expenses, and 9,649 have been denied compensation altogether. The payments will be covered by Chisso Corp. and Showa Denko, which were responsible for the industrial pollution that causes the disease.

From the Chicago Tribune, a small win:

Judge tosses challenge to flame retardant rules

Consumers nationwide are closer to being able to buy furniture made without toxic, ineffective flame retardants after a California judge on Friday threw out a legal challenge from the chemical industry.

Chemtura Corp., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of flame retardants, sued in an attempt to block a new flammability standard that the furniture industry says it can meet without using the chemicals in products sold throughout the United States.

The regulations, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, will require upholstery fabric to resist smoldering cigarettes, which federal statistics show are by far the leading cause of furniture fires.

Off to Britain and birds on the brink from the Guardian:

Warblers and turtle doves join RSPB list of birds at risk of dying out

  • Bad weather and loss of habitat blamed as more breeding native species are at risk of extinction

Any true love who wants to give their significant other two turtle doves to celebrate the second day of the 12 Days of Christmas may soon be looking for an alternative gift.

In a move that will dismay ornithologists and poets alike, the bird, immortalised in verse by Shakespeare and Wordsworth, could shortly find itself on the near 100-strong list of the rarest birds in the UK as compiled by the RSPB’s rare breeding birds panel – a sign that its numbers are plummeting by such a degree that there are fears it could become extinct in the UK within a decade.

The list compiled by the panel, now in its 40th year, is based on sightings by dedicated bird watchers who provide the society with a wealth of information that is used to track the fortunes of different species over time and is the envy of wildlife organisations around the world.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with Kyodo News:

Fukushima nuclear plant chief feared catastrophe for eastern Japan

The chief of the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant said in testimony before his death that he had feared catastrophic damage to eastern Japan while he was struggling to contain the crisis in March 2011, according to government documents obtained Saturday.

“Our image was a catastrophe for eastern Japan,” Masao Yoshida told a government panel that was examining the nuclear meltdowns at the plant about 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, according to his testimony. “I thought we were really dead.”

On the government’s interpretation that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was seeking a “complete withdrawal” from the plant on March 15, Yoshida denied such a view, expressing anger at the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and TEPCO headquarters, which he thought had failed to understand the dire situation his workers were facing on the ground.

From the Japan Times, a challenge:

Fukushima families sue prefecture, government for radiation exposure during meltdown crisis

A group of parents and children who were residing in Fukushima Prefecture when the nuclear disaster unfolded in March 2011 is suing the central and prefectural governments for failing to take sufficient steps to protect children from radiation exposure during the crisis.

The 88 plaintiffs are demanding ¥100,000 each in compensation, according to the lawsuit filed Friday at the Fukushima District Court.

In a written complaint, they said the central and prefectural governments failed to promptly release accurate data on airborne radiation levels after the nuclear crisis, neglecting their duty to prevent residential radiation exposure as much as possible, and exposing children to radiation.

From the Mainichi, austerity meets tragedy:

Nuclear disaster evacuee compensation halved across board: internal document

The governmental Nuclear Damage Claim Dispute Resolution Center, tasked with reaching out-of-court settlements for individual claims filed over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns, has set compensation uniformly at 50 percent, a document obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun has confirmed.

The internal document is being circulated among center staff and used in the processing of individual cases — calling into serious doubt the center’s previous denials that the “50 percent rule” had been an official practice.

The center calculates the total amount of damages for pain and suffering in individual settlement proposals by multiplying a base amount by a percentage figure representing the impact of the nuclear accident upon the particular case at hand.

Jiji Press keeps it local:

Fukushima Governor OKs Polluted Soil Interim Storage

Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said Saturday he has decided to allow the planned construction of an interim facility to store soil and other waste polluted with radioactive fallout from the March 2011 reactor meltdowns.

Sato disclosed the decision to reporters after his talks with the mayors of Okuma and Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture, which have been chosen as possible host municipalities for the storage for the waste tainted due to the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The construction of the interim facility is expected to help speed up decontamination of polluted areas in the northeastern Japan prefecture and thus the reconstruction of the region, observers said.

The proposed storage is “necessary for the decontamination of Fukushima Prefecture,” Sato told reporters. “It’s a tough decision. But I will tolerate its construction.”

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, a leak:

Yoshida ‘never’ called for ‘total retreat’ at N-plant

Masao Yoshida, manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the March 2011 crisis, strongly denied that Tokyo Electric Power Co. considered a “full retreat” from the plant four days after the quake, according to interviews conducted with Yoshida in a government investigation of the disaster that were seen by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

However, Yoshida said having plant personnel evacuate to the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant on March 15, 2011, was the right decision.

The government is likely to release the interviews to the public in early September.

And for our final item, via RT, going green, remember?:

Marijuana compound may halt Alzheimer’s disease – study

Extremely low levels of THC compound, a chemical found in marijuana, may slow down or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, US neuroscientists have found, thus laying the ground for the development of effective treatment in the future.

In recent research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, scientists from University of South Florida revealed their findings, that may shed light on controversial therapeutic qualities of marijuana.

As the team found, extremely low doses of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol chemical, also known as THC, reduce the production of amyloid beta protein, as well as prevent it from accumulating in abnormal amounts. What is special about this protein is that it is found in a soluble form in most aging brains. It also marks early evidence for Alzheimer’s disease.

Ebola, its origins, and how it spreads


If you are at all interested in the sudden surge of Ebola outbreaks in Africa, then this 28 August lecture at the University of California’s public health school in Berkeley will fill in a lot of gaps in your knowledge.

The speaker is a pediatrician and epidemiologist who was there at the beginning, investigating the first major outbreak in 1976 in the Sudan, where he learned first-hand about the disease and the devastation it brings.

Especially illuminating is his explanation of the reasons behind both the disaster the disease inflicts on the medical staff who care for them, with infected doctors and nurses themselves sparking a surge in new cases.

Also notable are the impacts of contrasting forms of government and traditional burial practices on outbreak containment,

Donald P. Francis serves as executive director of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases in San Francisco, a global NGO.

Here’s an excerpt from his bio:

An infectious disease trained pediatrician and epidemiologist, Dr. Francis has over 30 years experience in epidemic control and vaccines. He spent 21 years working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) focusing on vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, cholera, smallpox, and hepatitis B. He directed the WHO’s Smallpox Eradication Program in Sudan and U.P. State in Northern India. His hepatitis B vaccine work included Phase III trials among gay men in the United States and among infants born to carrier mothers in China. Dr. Francis was also a member of the WHO team investigating the world’s first outbreak of Ebola virus in 1976. Dr. Francis has worked on HIV/AIDS since its emergence in 1981.

From UC Berkeley Events:

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: Update on an Unprecedented Public Health Event

Program note:

Dr. Francis, MD, DSc is the Executive Director at Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases (GSID) in South San Francisco.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, kiddie toxins, dams, nukes


Another slow news day, except on the Ebola front, where there’s a potentially huge development.

From the Associated Press:

Experimental Ebola drug heals all monkeys in study

An experimental Ebola drug healed all 18 monkeys infected with the deadly virus in a study, boosting hopes that the treatment might help fight the outbreak raging through West Africa.

Scientists gave the drug, called ZMapp, three to five days after infecting the monkeys in the lab. Most were showing symptoms by then, and all completely recovered.

Three other infected monkeys not given the drug died.

From the Los Angeles Times, the virus crosses another border:

West Africa Ebola outbreak spreads to Senegal

Authorities in Senegal confirmed their first Ebola case on Friday as the worst outbreak on record continued to spread in West Africa.

The patient is a university student from neighboring Guinea, where the outbreak was first detected in March, Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck told reporters in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Health officials from Guinea informed the country on Wednesday that a young man who had been under surveillance there disappeared three weeks ago and may have traveled to Senegal, she said. The student was located at a hospital in Dakar, where he had presented himself the previous day without disclosing that he had had close contacts with Ebola victims in his home country.

From Science, another side of the tragedy:

Ebola’s heavy toll on study authors

The ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak is taking an appalling toll on health workers in West Africa. More than 240 have been infected and more than 120 have died.

At Kenema Government Hospital (KGH) in Sierra Leone, where the country’s first case was diagnosed, more than 2 dozen nurses, doctors, and support staff have died of Ebola. KGH is where many of the samples were collected for a paper published online today in Science that analyzes the genetics of the virus responsible for the disease.

Highlighting the danger to those caring for infected people, five of the paper’s co-authors—all experienced members of the hospital’s Lassa fever team—died of Ebola before its publication. (A sixth co-author, uninfected, also recently died as well.)

The Asahi Shimbun issues a call:

Doctor calls for more assistance to battle deadly Ebola epidemic in Africa

A Japanese doctor sent to Liberia to assist medical workers in the fight against the Ebola virus outbreak said that the West African nation is in dire straits and called for more assistance to local hospitals.

“Assistance, such as sending medical teams capable of giving instructions to local medical staff, is required,” Yasuyuki Kato told reporters at the ministry office in Tokyo on Aug. 28.

Kato, of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, said hospitals in Liberia are not able to work effectively, and medical care workers are confounded by the disease.

Kato assisted medical workers in the Liberian capital of Monrovia between Aug. 3-20. The 44-year-old was in charge of opening a new facility to treat patients with the disease, and instructed more than 500 health-care personnel about Ebola virus prevention measures.

From the New York Times, another significant development:

Quarantine for Ebola Lifted in Liberia Slum

Liberia’s government announced Friday night that it would lift an Ebola quarantine on a large slum here in the capital, 10 days after attempts to cordon off the neighborhood from the rest of the city sparked deadly clashes and fueled doubts about President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s ability to handle the outbreak.

Residents of the neighborhood, West Point, will be free to move in and out starting Saturday at 6 a.m., said Lewis Brown, the minister of information. The army, which had pressed for the quarantine and took the lead in enforcing it in the first two days, will be removed from West Point, leaving only the police, Mr. Brown said.

A nationwide curfew, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., will remain in place, he said.

From the Associated Press, fear comes to campus:

Ebola in mind, US colleges screen some students

College students from West Africa may be subject to extra health checks when they arrive to study in the United States as administrators try to insulate campuses from the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

With the virus continuing to kill in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the expected arrival of thousands of students from those countries has U.S. authorities on alert but cautioning against alarm.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued no specific recommendations for colleges, some state health departments, including in South Carolina and North Dakota, have spelled out for administrators what symptoms to look for and how to react.

Deutsche Welle gets ready:

Frankfurt authorities prepare for Ebola

  • Are we ready for Ebola? It’s a question the German media have been asking for weeks. Frankfurt Airport has come under particular scrutiny due to its size. But could Frankfurt really be an entry point for the disease?

Ebola continues to rage in Africa. So far, the virus has claimed more than 1,500 lives in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. But the deadly disease has stirred fears on the European continent as well, triggering a string of false alarms.

With several airlines including British Airways and Air France cancelling flights to affected countries, European airports have been on the alert for weeks. As Germany’s biggest airport, Frankfurt has come under particular scrutiny. Over 58 million passengers pass through its sliding glass doors and terminals every year.

From BBC Sport, an ultimatum:

Nations Cup 2015: Ivory Coast risk disqualification

Ivory Coast will be disqualified from the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations if they forfeit their qualifier against Sierra Leone because of fears over Ebola.

The Ivorian government will not allow the match, which is scheduled for 6 September in Abidjan, to go ahead.

Ivory Coast said their options are “to relocate the game or forfeit”. But a Confederation of African Football  spokesman told BBC Sport: “If a country forfeits one qualifier, they will be disqualified from the championship.”

Elsewhere in Africa, other ailments. From Reuters:

No respite for South Sudan: cholera down but malaria, parasitic disease up: MSF

South Sudan’s cholera crisis is waning but humanitarian workers are now battling increased cases of malaria and the parasitic disease kala azar, with children most affected.

Conflict between the government and rebels has displaced 1.7 million people, or one in seven of the population, since December, with famine on the horizon.

At least 10,000 people have been killed since the fighting erupted in late 2013, pitting President Salva Kiir’s government forces against supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy and longtime political rival.

While a cholera outbreak appears to be under control, other diseases are plaguing South Sudan’s hungry, displaced people.

The Independent covers a carcinogen found in those colorful braided bands so popular with youth:

Loom band charms withdrawn nationwide after testing positive for cancerous chemicals

Toy retailer The Entertainer has been forced to remove loom band charms from its stores, after it was revealed they contained suspected carcinogenic chemicals.

The Entertainer, Britain largest independent toy retailer with 92 stores, has launched a full investigation as it removes the charms from it stores nationwide.

Tests conducted by the BBC Midlands Today programme showed one charm contained 40 per cent of phthalates – EU law states 0.1 per cent in weight is the legal limit.

From the Asahi Shimbun, a warning:

SURVEY: More than 500 agricultural dams at risk in major earthquake

At least 510 dams and irrigation ponds for agricultural use have poor quake resistance strength, according to a nationwide survey by local governments.

The continuing general survey began after a dam in Fukushima Prefecture collapsed during the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, resulting in a number of fatalities.

The number of dams with insufficient quake resistance will likely increase as thousands of other locations have yet to be surveyed.

From BBC News, the first of two volcanic stories:

Iceland’s volcano ash alert lifted

An eruption near Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano that briefly threatened flights has ended, local officials say.

The fissure eruption at the Holuhraun lava field north of the Vatnajokull glacier stopped at 04:00 GMT on Friday.

Before lifting air travel curbs, the Icelandic Met Office (IMO) lowered its aviation warning from red to orange – the second-highest level.

And the second, also from BBC News:

Volcano erupts in Papua New Guinea

A volcano in eastern Papua New Guinea has erupted, disrupting flights and spewing rocks and ash into the air.

Mount Tavurvur on New Britain island erupted early on Friday, forcing local communities to evacuate.

Officials said there have not been any reports of deaths or injuries so far.

Local residents of the island’s Rabaul district were advised to remain indoors to avoid falling ash. Australia issued travel warnings against visiting the island.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with the first of two stories from the Japan Times:

Heavy control console falls back into Fukushima fuel pool: Tepco

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it’s detected no change in radiation levels in the No. 3 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant after a 400-kg piece of equipment slipped from a crane and fell back into a pool holding spent uranium fuel rods.

The accident happened at around 12:45 p.m. on Friday as the beleaguered utility was attempting to move what it described as a crane control console, according to a statement on its website.

The console, about a meter wide and 1.6 meters high, was blown into the pool on March 14, 2011, when the No. 3 reactor building exploded following an earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the power plant and caused a station blackout.

And for our final item, also from the Japan Times:

Fukushima governor all but accepts radioactive storage plan

The Fukushima Prefectural Government effectively agreed Friday to the central government’s plan to store radioactive debris accumulating from nuclear decontamination efforts in the prefecture for three decades in return for ¥301 billion in subsidies.

“We’ve screened and confirmed safety and regional promotion measures as offered by the state,” Gov. Yuhei Sato told reporters after meeting with senior officials to discuss the matter.

Sato is formally convey his acceptance to Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto as early as Monday. Arrangements are also under way for him to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report


Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report

From The Real News Network, a Sharmini Peries interview with Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University who holds dual appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) as well a serving as director of the university’s Earth System Science Center (ESSC).

http://www.meteo.psu.edu/holocene/public_html/Mann/about/index.php

From The Real News Network:

Forthcoming IPCC Report Calls for Control of Fossil Fuel Consumption

From the transcript:

PERIES: So, Prof. Mann, this report is synthesizing the information already captured in previous IPCC reports. But can you break down the key findings that has been sent to governments?

MANN: Sure thing. So in a sense there are no surprises, because we know what material is in this report. It’s a summary of the three working group reports that have already appeared, the report on the basic science of climate change, which was followed by the Working Group II Report on climate change impacts, and then there was the Working Group III report, Mitigation, how we can solve this problem. This is the synthesis report. So it brings it all together. And if there is one word or one sort of assessment that I think summarizes what this report has to say, it’s that we really need to get working on this problem now. We don’t have time to waste. We really need to act now if we are going to protect ourselves against what can reasonably be described as truly dangerous and potentially irreversible changes in our climate.

PERIES: What do you think IPCC expects from the warning sent to the governments?

MANN: Well, what’s interesting is that the IPCC, it’s a very conservative organization, because it’s literally made up of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world, experts in various aspects of the science of climate change. And because of that, it represents sort of a scientific lowest common denominator. The report reflects a very conservative viewpoint that can be shared by essentially all of the scientists contributing to the report, who have various views, various findings. So by their nature, the IPCC reports tend to be conservative. In many cases, the IPCC projections, for example, have actually underestimated the rate of climate change that has actually occurred subsequently. And we see that, for example, with the dramatic decrease in Arctic Sea ice. It’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should. The melting of the ice sheets, it’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should.

So what’s particularly interesting, I think, about this latest synthesis report is the stark terms in which the IPCC, a very conservative body, a very staid body, the very stark terms in which they lay out the problem, essentially saying, look, there’s no question the globe is warming, our climate is changing, it’s due to human activity, and if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to be a real problem. It’s already a problem. We are already seeing damages, in many cases way ahead of schedule.

What is interesting about the report as well is that it also makes it quite clear that it is still relatively inexpensive to solve this problem. If we act now, if we bring our fossil fuel emissions down by several percent a year, which is doable, if we scale up renewable green energy to the point where we can meet growing energy demand through less and less fossil fuel based energy, then we can stabilize global warming below levels that are truly dangerous and potentially irreversible. And it would be fairly inexpensive to do so, because we can actually undergo that transition, we can get that transition underway, we can scale up renewable energy, so that in a matter of decades it meets 80, 90, maybe close to 100 percent of our energy needs.

The problem is if we defer that, if we wait to lower our emissions. Then that means we are going to have to make far more austere cuts in carbon emissions in the future. And that’ll be much more expensive economically, and we will have basically entered into a regime where the cost of inaction, the deferred maintenance, the problems that we will begin to see because we didn’t act on the climate change problem in time, will become far more expensive than any measures necessary to mitigate the problem.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, climate, pest woes, nukes


We open with Ebola, and another alarm from the World Health Organization via the New York Times:

Ebola Could Eventually Afflict Over 20,000, W.H.O. Says

As the tally of deaths from the worst known outbreak of the Ebola virus continued its seemingly inexorable rise, the World Health Organization said on Thursday that the epidemic was still accelerating and could afflict more than 20,000 people — almost seven times the current number of reported cases — before it could be brought under control.

The dire forecast was made as the W.H.O. reported that the number of known cases and fatalities had risen once again. The organization also acknowledged that in areas of intense transmission “the actual number of cases may be two-to-four times higher than that currently reported.”

The outbreak “continues to accelerate,” the organization said.

According to the latest figures released by the W.H.O. on Thursday, the death toll has risen by more than 100, to 1,552 out of 3,069 cases in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, which had previously indicated that its outbreak was under control.

And from the World Health Organization itself:

WHO issues roadmap to scale up international response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa

The aim is to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within 6–9 months, while rapidly managing the consequences of any further international spread. It also recognizes the need to address, in parallel, the outbreak’s broader socioeconomic impact.

It responds to the urgent need to dramatically scale up the international response. Nearly 40% of the total number of reported cases have occurred within the past three weeks.

The roadmap was informed by comments received from a large number of partners, including health officials in the affected countries, the African Union, development banks, other UN agencies, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and countries providing direct financial support.

It will serve as a framework for updating detailed operational plans. Priority is being given to needs for treatment and management centres, social mobilization, and safe burials. These plans will be based on site-specific data that are being set out in regular situation reports, which will begin this week.

A parallel alarm, via MercoPress:

Ebola outbreak needs an ‘unprecedented’ response to bring it under control

  • The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is going to get worse before it gets better, according to the top US public health official. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said the epidemic would need an “unprecedented” response to bring it under control.

Mr Frieden met Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to discuss ways to fight the disease.

“The cases are increasing. I wish I did not have to say this, but it is going to get worse before it gets better,” he admitted.

“The world has never seen an outbreak of Ebola like this. Consequently, not only are the numbers large, but we know there are many more cases than has been diagnosed and reported,” he added.

From the Associated Press, a ray of hope:

US to begin safety testing Ebola vaccine next week

  • Federal researchers next week will start testing humans with an experimental vaccine to prevent the deadly Ebola virus.

The National Institutes of Health announced Thursday that it is launching the safety trial on a vaccine developed by the agency’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline. Beginning Tuesday, it will test 20 healthy adult volunteers to see if the virus is safe and triggers an adequate response in their immune systems.

Even though NIH has been testing other Ebola vaccines in people since 2003, this is a first for this vaccine and its trial has been speeded up because the outbreak in West Africa “is a public health emergency that demands an all-hands-on-deck response,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID.

This isn’t a treatment for the disease, but a hoped-for preventative measure. Fauci said the vaccine cannot cause Ebola in the volunteers being tested.

A parallel test in Old Blighty, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola vaccine to be tested on British volunteers next month

  • British volunteers will be injected with an experimental vaccine against Ebola in emergency trials to begin next month

Volunteers in Oxford will be given an experimental vaccine against Ebola in fast-tracked emergency clinical trials to begin in September, it has been announced.

The vaccine will use a single Ebola protein and will not infect the subjects with live Ebola virus.

At the same time that trials are beginning at Oxford University, up to 10,000 doses will be made to ensure that it can be more widely used quickly if the trials are successful.

On the ground, with the New York Times:

As Ebola Grips Liberia’s Capital, a Quarantine Sows Social Chaos

The five-month-old outbreak here in West Africa, already worse than all other Ebola epidemics combined, is for the first time spreading uncontrollably in a major city — one in which a third of Liberia’s 4.5 million people are estimated to rub shoulders, often uneasily. Though Ebola reached Monrovia three months after its appearance in the rural north, the city has become, in a few weeks, a major focal point of the epidemic.

The outbreak has overwhelmed the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has won the Nobel Peace Prize and the admiration of leaders around the world. But her management of Liberia has long drawn criticism at home, and now her handling of the Ebola epidemic has presented her with a political crisis that is galvanizing her opposition.

“We suffering! No food, Ma, no eat. We beg you, Ma!” one man yelled at Ms. Johnson Sirleaf as she visited West Point this week, surrounded by concentric circles of heavily armed guards, some linking arms and wearing surgical gloves.

BBC News prepares to quarantine:

Travel ban to Ebola affected countries, UK officials say

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office says all travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia should be avoided – unless essential, due to the Ebola outbreak.

British Airways has suspended flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia and other airlines are taking similar measures.

Such flight restrictions may make it increasingly hard for people working in these areas to leave, the FCO warns.

From Reuters, quarantine opposition:

West African states call for end to border closures over Ebola

West African states should re-open their borders and end flight bans put in place to halt the spread of Ebola, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Thursday.

The ECOWAS countries and airlines will make their own decisions on flight bans and borders, but the view of the main regional body, expressed at a meeting of ECOWAS health ministers in Ghana’s capital, is likely to prove influential.

“We must implement containment measures but we must not implement measures that will isolate or ostracise the affected countries,” Ghana President John Mahama, who is also ECOWAS’s current chairman, told the meeting.

And an alert in India via The Hindu:

One released from Ebola surveillance, 229 under watch

One passenger who travelled from Ebola-hit Sierra Leone to Tamil Nadu has now been released from health surveillance, after 30 days of monitoring.

As of Thursday, a total of 229 passengers who have travelled from the four countries where the deadly virus has broken out, are being monitored across the State, said director of public health K. Kolandaisamy. Of these, 227 passengers passed through Chennai airport and two at Madurai.

Among the 229 are 11 students from two city colleges, who had travelled to their home countries recently. However, all of them are in good health and show no signs of the virus, Dr. Kolandaisamy said.

The Associated Press covers the epidemiology:

Scientists dig into Ebola’s deadly DNA for clues

A single funeral caused many.

Stephen Gire and other health researchers on the ground in Africa had some hope that the Ebola outbreak was coming under control or at least plateauing in late May. Then came the funeral of a healer in Guinea. More than a dozen of the mourners contracted the disease there, probably by washing or touching the body, and took it to Sierra Leone, according to a new DNA mapping of the Ebola virus that scientists hope will help them understand what makes this killer tick.

“You had this huge burst after it looked like the outbreak was starting to die down,” Gire said. “It sort of threw a wrench in the response.”

Ebola exploded after that funeral and has now killed at least 1,552 people in West Africa. It’s probably more than that, with 40 percent of the cases in the last three weeks, according to the World Health Organization. WHO officials said Thursday the outbreak continues to accelerate and could reach more than 20,000 cases eventually.

Another genetic pursuit, via the Economic Times:

Ebola virus sequences may aid hunt for treatments

Scientists tracking the spread of Ebola across West Africa on Thursday released 99 sequenced genomes of the hemorrhagic virus, in hopes of accelerating diagnosis and treatment.

In a sign of the urgency and danger at hand, five of the nearly 60 international co-authors who helped collect and analyze the viral samples have died of Ebola, said the report in the journal Science.

“We’ve uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks,” said Stephen Gire, a research scientist in the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard University.

Reuters covers another casualty:

Doctor dies of Ebola in Nigeria’s oil hub Port Harcourt

A doctor in Nigeria’s oil hub of Port Harcourt has died from Ebola after treating a contact of a Liberian-American man who was the first recorded case of the virus in Africa’s most populous country, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said in a statement that the doctor fell ill after treating a patient who was a contact of Patrick Sawyer, who died from Ebola in Lagos after flying in from Liberia last month.

The death in Port Harcourt brings the number of Ebola fatalities in Nigeria to 6, all of whom were direct or indirect contacts of Sawyer.

From the Guardian, precaution:

CDC staffer who worked with Ebola victim monitored for symptoms

  • The staffer had ‘low-risk’ contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus in Sierra Leone, officials said

A CDC staff member who worked in close proximity to someone infected by the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa has been flown by charter jet back home to Atlanta to monitor potential symptoms, officials said Thursday.

The staffer had “low-risk” contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus in Sierra Leone, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control.

“The worker is not sick, not showing symptoms, not showing any signs of illness whatsoever,” Skinner said.

Reuters covers economic impact:

Ebola causing huge damage to West Africa economies: development bank

The worst ever Ebola outbreak is causing enormous damage to West African economies as foreign businessmen quit the region, the African Development Bank said, while a leading medical charity branded the international response “entirely inadequate.”

As transport companies suspend services, cutting off the region, governments and economists have warned that the epidemic could crush the fragile economic gains made in Sierra Leone and Liberia following a decade of civil war in the 1990s.

African Development Bank (AfDB) chief Donald Kaberuka said on a visit to Sierra Leone he had seen estimates of a reduction of up to 4 percent in gross domestic product due to Ebola.

“Revenues are down, foreign exchange levels are down, markets are not functioning, airlines are not coming in, projects are being cancelled, business people have left – that is very, very damaging,” he told Reuters late on Tuesday.

Bloomberg covers another:

Country Confusion Keeps Ebola-Fearing Tourists Away From Africa

When Canadian tourist Shauna Magill posted on Facebook that she’d arrived safely in Uganda, a friend warned her to beware of “a thing called Ebola please.”

Another friend responded to that comment with a Google Maps link that showed Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and Nigeria, the closest nation affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, are 4,900 kilometers (3,045 miles) apart by road. That’s about the width of the continental U.S.

Misperceptions about Africa’s geography mean that Magill is becoming an exception among the increasing number of tourists who are canceling trips to the continent as health workers battle to contain the worst Ebola outbreak on record. Airlines have suspended routes to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the countries that are the epicenter of the disease. Flight bookings to sub-Saharan Africa may drop as much as 50 percent over the next four months, according to market research company Euromonitor International Plc. That would put the brakes on a tourism industry the World Bank says grew at the fastest pace globally over the past three years.

“Many travelers see Africa as one big country,” Paz Casal, a Spain-based travel and tourism research analyst at Euromonitor, said Aug. 26. “Ebola can damage Africa’s economic revival of recent years, resurfacing the continent’s negative stereotypes as a place of disease, famine and poverty.”

From USA TODAY, a more troublesome impact:

Ebola outbreak could lead to food crisis, U.N. says

The Ebola health crisis threatens to turn into a much broader “food crisis” in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program.

The program is scaling up its operations in West Africa to provide food to 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The food will go to people being treated for Ebola; their relatives; and those who have been quarantined by their governments, in an effort to halt the spread of Ebola.

“The food chain is threatened at many levels,” the World Food Program said in a statement. Hundreds of families have lost loved ones, many of whom were their family’s breadwinners.

After the jump, another illness spread in Japan, a climate change alarm, dangers for the world’s food crops, a sinking Louisiana coast, a rain forest victory, nuclear news from Japan and the U.S., and a smokin’ hot news for Down Under and Santa Fe. . . Continue reading

California drought update: Wetter, in the desert


But except for a tiny portion of the state’s extreme southeastern part, the state is still very, very dry, and with no change for the better at all in the majority of the state  — including California agricultural heartland — ranked in the worst of the categories, Exceptional Drought.

From the United State Drought Monitor [click on the image to enlarge]:

BLOG Drought