Category Archives: Food

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, toxins & nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines about the relationship between Homo sapiens and Planet Earth opens, as usual these days, with the latest of the Ebola front, first with a three-alarm screamer from News Corp Australia:

Peter Piot says ‘perfect storm’ has allowed Ebola to spread in West Africa

PETER Piot, the Belgian scientist who co-discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, on Tuesday said a “perfect storm” in West Africa had given the disease a chance to spread unchecked.

“We have never seen an (Ebola) epidemic on this scale,” Piot was quoted by the French daily paper Liberation as saying. “In the last six months, we have been witnessing what can be described as a ‘perfect storm’ — everything is there for it to snowball,” he said.

The epidemic “is exploding in countries where health services are not functioning, ravaged by decades of civil war.”

The Associated Press raises another alarm:

Ebola has ‘upper hand,’ says US official

The Ebola virus may have the “upper hand” in an outbreak that has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa but experts can stop the virus’ spread, a top American health official said at the start of his visit to the hardest-hit countries.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in Liberia on Tuesday, and later plans to stop in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Nigeria also has recorded cases, but officials there have expressed optimism that its spread can be controlled.

“Lots of hard work is happening, lots of good things are happening,” Frieden told a meeting attended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday. “But the virus still has the upper hand.”

Nikkei Asian Review covers economic impacts:

Ebola crisis starting to affect economies across Africa

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak is hurting not just the countries in West Africa where the disease has been found, but the entire continent.

Neighboring countries have banned their citizens from traveling to the Ebola-stricken countries. Some international airlines have suspended some flights. And many countries on other continents have become wary about any travel to Africa, even if it is to countries far away from those with outbreaks.

All this could hurt future business investment in the continent, as disease experts say it will take considerable time to bring an end to the current Ebola outbreak.

Reuters covers the aid front:

WHO says sending supplies for Ebola outbreak in Congo

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday it has sent protective equipment for medical staff to Democratic Republic of Congo, where authorities have confirmed two cases of Ebola in a remote area.

“The ministry of health has declared an outbreak and we are treating it as such,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva in response to a query.

The current Ebola epidemic, which has killed at least 1,427 people, has focused on Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone with several cases also in Nigeria.

And from Quartz, compounding tragedy:

African survivors of Ebola have to deal with stigma, too

West Africa is still reeling from the worst-ever Ebola epidemic: at least 2,615 people have contracted the virus, and 1,427 have died from it. And while the Westerners who are being repatriated and treated at home are saluted as heroes, many African survivors are met with skepticism and face stigma in their own communities.

Displaying reactions that recall the AIDS epidemics, people are afraid of touching Ebola survivors. As Liberian doctor Melvin Korkor—who contracted Ebola while tending to patients and subsequently recovered from it—says that on his return on Cuttington University campus, where he teaches, he was only greeted from a distance. FrontPage Africa reports that students were afraid he may still be contagious:

“We want to hug our doctor, but fear we would come in contact with the virus [...] I will greet him from a distance.”

“I am happy doctor Korkor has returned, but I am totally not convinced he is Ebola-free. I will shake his hands after 21 days.”

Next, an African Ebola  video report from Down Under, with SBS Dateline via Journeyman Pictures:

Ebola Outbreak Becomes International Health Emergency

Program notes:

Ebola’s Epicentre: As the DRC becomes the latest country to be hit by Ebola, the situation at the outbreak’s epicentre in Sierra Leone is increasingly desperate.

The Ebola outbreak is claiming around a hundred victims a week and spreading fast. With the death toll rising daily, we head to the heart of the crisis to reveal the human tragedy behind the headlines.

“I’m doing the right thing, but people are ungrateful for my efforts. People are afraid of me”, says a ‘dead body worker’. He is one of many locals helping foreign NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to tackle the ebola epidemic. Yet it is a scramble to contain and treat the virus in makeshift facilities and as they desperately try to get control of this killer disease, locals remain suspicious. “They were claiming we were taking parts of the corpse to do rituals.” At a government hospital in Kenema a dirty ebola screening tent sits alongside a maternity ward. As chaos reigns, patients are free to wander in and out. Over 20 nurses have died at the contaminated hospital; one doctor warns, “don’t touch the walls”. Volunteers are travelling across Sierra Leone’s vastly dispersed population to educate communities in rural areas about the symptoms and prevention methods. “We have these charts which we use to display to the people and tell them what to do and what not to do.” Yet fear and distrust are spreading as fast as the virus. As one villager says simply, “We are totally afraid. This is the main point”.

The London Telegraph offers yet another fortunate European story:

British Ebola sufferer William Pooley given experimental drug ZMapp and sitting up in bed

  • William Pooley being given the same drug that was credited with saving the lives of two American missionaries

The British Ebola sufferer William Pooley is being given the experimental drug ZMapp and is sitting up, talking and reading in his hospital bed, his doctors have revealed.

Mr Pooley, 29, is being given the same drug that was credited with saving the lives of two American missionaries earlier this month and was described today as a “resilient and remarkable young man”.

It had been thought that supplies of ZMapp had run out, but doctors at the Royal Free Hospital managed to get hold of some from abroad and Mr Pooley was given the first dose on Monday. Further doses are expected to be given to him “in due course”.

From TheLocal.it, ditto:

Italian woman cleared of Ebola in Turkey

An Italian woman who was hospitalized in Turkey last week does not have the deadly Ebola virus and will return home soon, Italian media has reported.

The Italian woman became ill on a flight to Turkey’s Istanbul Ataturk Airport on Friday and was taken to hospital for tests.

She has now been cleared of the Ebola virus, which as of Friday had killed an estimated 1,427 people in West Africa. The Italian woman has also been cleared of malaria, Tgcom24 said.

While The Hill covers the American political front:

Pryor cites Ebola scare to attack Cotton

A new ad from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) cites the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to hit GOP opponent Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) for cuts to medical and emergency programs.

The 30-second spot opens with news reports of the current outbreak, the worst in the history of the disease. The ad accuses Cotton of voting against preparedness measures that could help prevent the virus from spreading to the U.S.

“Congressman Cotton voted to cut billions from our nation’s medical disaster and emergency programs,” says a narrator. “Instead Cotton voted for tax cuts for billionaires funding his campaign,” adds another voice.

On to another virus and another continent with South China Morning Post:

Number of new HIV cases in Hong Kong set to reach record high for fourth year running

  • Government consultant warns number could pass 600 this year for the first time

The number of new cases of HIV infections in Hong Kong is set to hit a record high for the fourth year running, says a government consultant who predicts this year’s figure could pass 600.

Some 304 new cases were diagnosed in the first half of this year, well up on the 262 new cases reported in the same period last year.

“It is worrying. It is likely that the annual figure will surge past 600, which will be the highest figure in Hong Kong history,” Dr Wong Ka-hing, a Department of Health consultant, said on Tuesday.

The accompanying graphic:

BLOG AIDS

And from the New York Times, back to Africa:

AIDS Progress in South Africa Is in Peril

Though few Americans or even South Africans realize it, the nation owes much of its success to a single United States program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, started in 2003 under President George W. Bush. It has poured more than $3 billion into South Africa, largely for training doctors, building clinics and laboratories, and buying drugs.

Now that aid pipeline is drying up as the program shifts its limited budget to poorer countries, so the South African government must find hundreds of millions of dollars, even as its national caseload grows rapidly.

The country has six million infected and 370,000 new infections a year. That is seven times as many new infections as in the United States, which has six times the population. Condom use is dropping, according to a new survey, and teenage girls are becoming infected at alarming rates.

Next up, water woes, first via the Associated Press:

Drought leaves California homes without water

Hundreds of rural San Joaquin Valley residents no longer can get drinking water from their home faucets because California’s extreme drought has dried up their individual wells, government officials and community groups said.

The situation has become so dire that the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services had 12-gallon-per person rations of bottled water delivered on Friday in East Porterville, where at least 182 of the 1,400 households have reported having no or not enough water, according to the Porterville Recorder (http://bit.ly/1rsgwsZ ).

Many people in the unincorporated community about 52 miles north of Bakersfield also have been relying on a county-supplied 5,000-gallon water tank filled with non-potable water for bathing and flushing toilets, The Recorder said.

Motherboard offers a grim prognosis:

There’s a Good Chance the Southwest Will See a 35-Year Megadrought This Century

This probably isn’t what residents of the parched American Southwest want to hear right now, but there’s a good chance that the region is headed for a decades-long megadrought.

As if climatologists’ forecasts for a warming world weren’t dire enough, a new paper published in the American Meteorological Society concludes that current climate models “underestimate the risk of future persistent droughts.”

The study, spearheaded by Cornell’s Toby R. Ault, suggests that there is an 80 percent chance the region will be hit with a decade-long drought by the end of the century, a 20-50 percent chance it will weather a 35 year megadrought, and that the prospect of a severe dry spell afflicting the region for half a century is, I quote, “non-negligible.”

While the Guardian covers water woes in Old Blighty:

Abandoned landfills polluting UK rivers, research finds

  • More than 27 tonnes of ammonium leaches from an Oxford wetland into the River Thames every year, reports the Natural Environment Research Council

Abandoned landfill sites throughout the UK routinely leach polluting chemicals into rivers, say scientists.

At Port Meadow, on the outskirts of Oxford, about 27.5 tonnes of ammonium a year find way from landfill into the River Thames. The researchers say it could be happening at thousands of sites around the UK.

In water, ammonium breaks down into nitrogen. The extra nitrogen can trigger excessive plant growth and decay, damaging water quality and starving fish and other aquatic organisms of the oxygen they need to survive.

And ditto from Down Under with RT:

Danger to food chain? Microplastic contaminates found in Sydney Harbor

Scientists in the first study of its kind have found microplastic contamination at the bottom of Sydney Harbor, which may pose a threat to the food chain, Australian media reported.

The research by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science tested 27 sites across the harbor, with researchers finding up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment. This was a higher volume than expected even in the cleanest and best-flushed reaches.

Microplastics are tiny fragments and threads of plastic, which are less than five millimeters long. Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute, who leads the study, told ABC Australia microplastics represent the “emergence of a new contamination in our harbors.”

After the jump, a call for old school ag, sacrificing grain for oil, mercury troubles, Mexican mining anxieties, Icelandic eruption, California nuclear opposition, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, ills, critters, water, nukes


Today’s compendium begins, once again, with that latest on the health crisis consuming a continent, opening with this from the Guardian:

Ebola outbreak: Congo becomes fifth country with confirmed cases

  • Health minister says up to 15 people may have died but virus is not linked to epidemic that has spread through west Africa

The World Health Organisation has sent protective equipment for medical staff to the Democratic Republic of the Congo after it became the fifth African country this year to suffer a deadly outbreak of Ebola.

“The ministry of health has declared an outbreak and we are treating it as such,” Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told Reuters in Geneva on Monday.

Congo declared on Sunday that Ebola had been identified in its northern Équateur province after two patients tested positive for the virus, but the health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, denied any link to the epidemic raging in west Africa.

Officials believe Ebola has killed 13 other people in the region, including five health workers. Kabange said 11 were ill and in isolation and 80 contacts were being traced, and the Djera area would be placed under quarantine. Djera is about 750 miles (1,200km) from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, and 375 miles from the provincial capital, Mbandaka.

From Deutsche Welle, a graphic representation:

BLOG Ebola

And the accompanying story from Deutsche Welle:

Ebola outbreak in DRC: same virus, but different

  • New cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are spreading fears that the virus will spread further across Africa. Yet, the variety found in Central Africa might be of a different kind.

The Ebola River is a small stream running through the forests of the Equateur province in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is in this region that the deadly disease was first recognized by Belgian scientists, who named the worm-looking virus after the river in 1976. Now, the virus has once again returned to the Equateur province with two confirmed cases of people who died from Ebola.

“In this region especially, the Ebola virus is circulating and has caused some smaller and larger outbreaks in the past”, says Dr. Schmidt-Chanasit, head of the viral diagnostic unit at Hamburg’s Bernhard-Nocht-Institute. “So this outbreak, most probably, is not associated with the outbreak in West Africa.

“Case fatality rate is much lower when we compare this to West Africa – it’s around 20 percent,” says Schmidt-Chansit. “So it might be possible that this is a different strain of the Ebola virus that is less pathogenic.”

The London Daily Mail covers a controversial policy:

Quarantined at gunpoint, desperate and hungry, the ordeal of the West African towns in quarantine because of Ebola epidemic

  • Volunteers are being paid four pounds a day to sterilize and bury bodies of Ebola victims in Kenema, Sierra Leone
  • Rigorous quarantine measures being used to stop the virus spreading, as those affected reaches 2,615 worldwide
  • In Liberia, soldiers have created weapon-guarded blockades to ensure thousands of residents stay in quarantine
  • Some 20,000 have been left desperate for food as they wait for rationed deliveries to arrive from the government
  • The enforced quarantines have created ghost towns around the area, as authorities try to stop spread of the virus

CBC News offers a critique:

Ebola outbreak: Why Liberia’s quarantine in West Point slum will fail

  • A relic of the Middle Ages, quarantines do more harm than good

Medical experts say that mass quarantine is rarely if ever effective in stemming the spread of a contagion like Ebola, and the move by Liberia to cordon off a sprawling slum is likely to do more harm than good.

“It’s a measure that basically goes back to the Middle Ages. It’s a reflection really of ignorance and panic,” said Dr. Richard Schabas, formerly chief medical officer for Ontario and now in that role in Hastings and Prince Edward counties.

“Mass quarantine of this kind really has no place at all in disease control”

More from the Independent:

Ebola is inspiring irrational fears that are potentially more damaging than the disease itself

  • We need to look beyond the stigma that attaches to those who have been infected

The bigger danger is the irrational fear which has infected families, communities, towns and cities across West Africa. As the virus has spread so have wild rumours about its cause, which have been variously attributed to witchcraft, a Western plot, and a conspiracy by African governments said to have introduced the disease in order to extract multi-million pound payments in aid from the West.

Irrational fear is posing as a great a threat to the countries affected as the virus itself. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the two worst affected countries, hospitals and clinics have closed, leaving patients with other diseases such as malaria with nowhere to go for treatment. The official toll of 1,427 deaths and 2,615 cases in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone is certain to understate the real total, as many people with ebola in rural areas will have died and been buried without their ever reaching hospital. But even the real figure is likely to dwarfed by collateral deaths caused by the collapse of the countries’ health systems.

A clinic and quarantine centre in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia,  was attacked a week ago and 29 suspected ebola cases fled while an angry mob looted medical items, instruments and soiled bedding. They were heard chanting that ebola was a hoax by the Liberian president to get money.

And from the New York Times, a video report on those charged with burying the victims:

The Gravediggers of Ebola | Virus Outbreak 2014

Program note:

In Sierra Leone, a group of young men take on the dirtiest work of the Ebola outbreak: finding and burying the dead. Produced by: Ben C. Solomon

From the World Health Organization, another side of the crisis:

Unprecedented number of medical staff infected with Ebola

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in west Africa is unprecedented in many ways, including the high proportion of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who have been infected.

To date, more than 240 health care workers have developed the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and more than 120 have died.

Ebola has taken the lives of prominent doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia, depriving these countries not only of experienced and dedicated medical care but also of inspiring national heroes.

Several factors help explain the high proportion of infected medical staff. These factors include shortages of personal protective equipment or its improper use, far too few medical staff for such a large outbreak, and the compassion that causes medical staff to work in isolation wards far beyond the number of hours recommended as safe.

The Associated Press covers a casualty:

Liberia: Doctor given experimental Ebola drug dies

A Liberian doctor who received one of the last known doses of an experimental Ebola drug has died, officials said Monday, as Canada said it has yet to send out doses of a potential vaccine that the government is donating.

Ebola has left more than 1,400 people dead across West Africa, underscoring the urgency for developing potential ways to stop and treat the disease. However, health experts warn these options have not undergone the rigorous testing that usually takes place before drugs and vaccines are approved.

The experimental vaccines are at still at a Canadian laboratory, said Patrick Gaebel, spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada, who declined to speculate how many weeks it could be before those are given to volunteers.

Jiji Press lends a hand:

Japan to Offer Relief Goods to Ebola-Hit Liberia

Japan will provide emergency relief goods worth 30 million yen, including tents and blankets, to Liberia in response to a request from the West African country hit by Ebola hemorrhagic fever, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The relief goods will be sent through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the ministry said.

In Liberia, the number of people who were confirmed or suspected to have the Ebola virus stood at 1,802 as of Wednesday while the death toll came to 624, according to the World Health Organization.

And CBC News covers another Japanese contribution:

Ebola outbreak: Japan offers anti-influenza drug for treatment

  • Ebola and influenza viruses are the same general type

Japan said Monday it is ready to provide a Japanese-developed anti-influenza drug as a possible treatment for the rapidly expanding Ebola outbreak.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., at any time at the request of the World Health Organization.

The drug, with the brand name Avigan, was developed by Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co. to treat new and re-emerging influenza viruses, and has not been proven to be effective against Ebola.

Meanwhile, the Times of India covers prevention:

Mumbai airport to screen Indians coming from Ebola-hit Liberia

Elaborate precautionary arrangements have been put in place at the Mumbai airport here to screen the 112 stranded Indians, who are expected to arrive on Tuesday by various flights from and around the Ebola-hit Liberia, authorities said here on Monday.

“As part of the tentative plan, the aircraft will be first taken to a remote bay and all passengers will be screened at the step-ladder exit after the arrival of flights at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA),” Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) said here.

Besides, while the passengers without any symptoms will be cleared and shifted to terminal for immigration and customs clearance, those coming from Liberia with symptoms suggestive of EVD, will be directly shifted to designated hospital in ambulance from the bay, it said.

From the Guardian, another cause for anxiety, this time Down Under [in both senses]:

‘Sex superbug’ fears over powerful new drug resistant strain of gonorrhoea

  • Sexual health clinics on alert after patient treated in Cairns found to have the highest level of drug resistance reported in Australia

Concerns are mounting over a powerful new form of gonorrhoea after a patient was found to have the highest level of drug resistance to the disease ever reported in Australia.

It is understood the patient, a tourist from central Europe, contracted the “sex superbug” in Sydney and was eventually treated in Cairns.

The discovery of the case in Australia, which resulted in a health alert in July, has also prompted warnings in New Zealand, where sexual health clinics are on high alert amid fears the new strain will spread there.

While in Pakistan, the Express Tribune covers another threat:

Health and safety: KMC to survey 2,000 houses to check for Congo

At least 2,000 houses surrounding the house of a man who died due to the Congo virus on Thursday are being surveyed to check for possible threats of the virus being present in the area.

Muhammad Kashif was a 24-year-old butcher and a resident of Azizabad who contracted the virus and passed away at a private hospital.

This is the first reported case of the Congo virus in the province this year and it has forced the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to initiate an epidemiologic and demographic survey to gather details of the area the patient resided in.

On to another environmental threat, this time from BBC News:

‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast

Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast.

The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate. There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming.

The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide.

From the Guardian again, more methane:

Labour attempts to strengthen regulation of UK fracking industry

  • Opposition party to table amendments to Lords infrastructure bill that would tighten rules for companies drilling for shale gas

The Labour party believes the rules covering fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – for gas are not tight enough and will attempt to strengthen regulation of the controversial drilling method by tabling a series of amendments to the infrastructure bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) says there are adequate safeguards covering drilling for shale gas under existing rules or voluntary agreements. However, Tom Greatrex, the shadow energy minister, believes current agreements do not go far enough.

The opposition wants to see well-by-well disclosure of the fracking fluid being pumped into the well, baseline monitoring of methane levels in the groundwater and environmental impact assessments for all fracking sites.

And from Vocativ, the new methane frontier:

What’s the North Pole Worth, Anyways? We Did the Math

  • It’s more valuable than the entire U.S. economy. No wonder the battle for Arctic is fierce

Natural resources are like catnip for power-hungry governments, which is why rich countries have battled over the North Pole for decades. Beneath the frozen tundra bordered by Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States lies some 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its untapped oil.

And each of those countries is hell-bent on getting the biggest slice of the pie. Perhaps the most hotly contested area is the Lomonosov Ridge, which spans 1,800 miles and divides the Amerasian and Eurasian basins. Both Canada and Russia claim that resource-rich ridge is a natural extension of their continental shelves. Meanwhile, Russia’s 2001 claim to the ridge was rejected by the United Nations (the governing body that decides such matters), but that didn’t stop the country from planting its flag on the North Pole in 2007.

It is the Canucks, though, who have made the most recent play for the North Pole. In December, Canada filed an application with the U.N. arguing that the North Pole falls within Canadian territory, and this month it launched two ice-breaking vessels to gather more scientific data to support its claim. The Canadian government has reportedly spent nearly $200 million in expeditions as part of its quest for Arctic sovereignty.

More from Yale Environment 360:

A New Frontier for Fracking: Drilling Near the Arctic Circle

Hydraulic fracturing is about to move into the Canadian Arctic, with companies exploring the region’s rich shale oil deposits. But many indigenous people and conservationists have serious concerns about the impact of fracking in more fragile northern environments.
by ed struzik

Among the dozens of rivers that flow unfettered through the Canadian North, the Natla and the Keele may be the most picturesque and culturally important. They are especially significant to the Dene people of the Sahtu region, which straddles the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. Both of the rivers flow crystal clear out of the Mackenzie Mountains along the Yukon/Northwest Territories border before coming together in their final course to the Mackenzie River.

For hundreds — if not thousands — of years, the Mountain Dene people have been traveling upstream to salt licks that draw caribou, moose, and mountain sheep down from the high country in the early fall. For the Dene, it is the best opportunity to stock up on wild game, fish, and berries for the long winter.

Water woes from Want China Times:

Drought affects half a million in Xinjiang

A prolonged drought in northwest China’s Xinjiang has left about 200,000 people in need of emergency aid, including drinking water, said the region’s civil affairs department Saturday.

In seven counties of the Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Ili in northern Xinjiang, more than half a million people and 3.46 million head of livestock have been affected. Some 7,700 cattle have died. Rainfall since May in the Ili valley has been about 50% less than in previous years.

Herders are concerned how their livestock will survive the winter due to the destruction of fodder by the drought. Over 4.3 million mu (287,000 hectares) of crops and 22.8 million mu of pastures have suffered, with direct economic losses of 4.3 billion yuan (US$700 million).

More water woes, this time from Yale Environment 360:

Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, A Battle for Control of Water

Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but as powerful weapons of war.

There is a water war going on in the Middle East this summer. Behind the headline stories of brutal slaughter as Sunni militants carve out a religious state covering Iraq and Syria, there lies a battle for the water supplies that sustain these desert nations.

Blood is being spilled to capture the giant dams that control the region’s two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. These structures hold back vast volumes of water. With their engineers fleeing as the Islamic State (ISIS) advances, the danger is that the result could be catastrophe — either deliberate or accidental.

“Managing water works along the Tigris and Euphrates requires a highly specialized skill set, but there is no indication that the Islamic State possesses it,” says Russell Sticklor, a water researcher for the CGIAR, a global agricultural research partnership, who has followed events closely.

After the jump, a radical solution to save the world’s wildlife, saving China’s cranes, an ecological/economic crisis in Southern Europe, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, an American nuclear mystery, and life-saving cannabis news. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, land, trade, and nukes


We begin with the latest Ebola news, first from the Jakarta Globe:

Last Ebola-Free Region of Liberia Falls to Virus

Every region of Liberia has now been hit by Ebola, officials said Friday, as the World Health Organization warned the fight against the worst-ever outbreak of the killer disease would take months.

After seeing people fall to the deadly virus in area after area, Liberia said two people had succumbed to the virus in Sinoe province, the last Ebola-free bastion in a country that has seen the biggest toll with 624 deaths.

The virus has spread relentlessly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and Nigeria has also been affected despite showing some progress in fighting the epidemic, which has killed 1,427 people since March.

From the Guardian, a British patient:

Ebola outbreak: British national living in Sierra Leone tests positive for virus

  • Overall risk to UK public ‘very low’ says chief medical officer as west African nations impose stringent new measures

A British national living in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the Ebola virus – the first Briton confirmed to have contracted the disease.

The Department of Health said medical experts were assessing the situation “to ensure that appropriate care is delivered”. Consular assistance is being provided.

Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical officer, said: “The overall risk to the public in the UK continues to be very low. Medical experts are currently assessing the situation in Sierra Leone to ensure that appropriate care is provided.

The Associated Press covers a crackdown:

Sierra Leone makes hiding Ebola patients illegal

Sierra Leone voted to pass a new amendment to its health act, imposing possible jail time for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient, a practice the World Health Organization believes has contributed to a major underestimation of the current outbreak.

The new law, an update to the country’s 1960 Public Health Act, was passed on Friday and imposes prison terms of up to two years for violators, said lawmaker Ansumana Jaiah Kaikai.

The measure was necessary to compel residents to cooperate with government officials, Kaikai said, noting that some residents had resisted steps to combat Ebola including the construction of isolation centers in their communities.

CBC News covers another crackdown:

Ebola outbreak: Ivory Coast closes western borders

  • Filipino peacekeepers leave Liberia due to outbreak

Ivory Coast has closed its land borders with Ebola-affected West African neighbours Guinea and Liberia in an attempt to prevent the world’s deadliest outbreak of the virus from spreading onto its territory, the government announced.

A number of African nations have defied advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and put in place restrictions on travel to and from the countries where Ebola has appeared, which also include Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

More on the Philippine pullout from Deutsche Welle:

Philippines withdraw UN troops over Ebola concerns

The Philippines will repatriate over 100 UN troops serving in Liberia “as soon as possible.” The decision comes after Liberia confirmed all regions have now been hit by the Ebola virus.

The Philippines defense department confirmed on Saturday that it will pull out more than 100 troops from a UN peace-keeping mission Liberia amid concerns over the Ebola virus. It will also bring home over 300 Filipino UN troops from the Golan Heights amid deteriorating security in the region.

In a statement, the department said the 115-member contingent in Liberia will be “repatriated as soon as possible” due to the increasing health risk from the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

“The Philippines prioritizes the safety and security of its troops, but remains committed to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations,” the statement added.

South China Morning Post covers a return:

Hong Kong Red Cross volunteers return from Ebola-stricken Liberia, free of disease

Two local volunteers who worked to fight Ebola in Liberia arrived back in Hong Kong yesterday disease-free, as lawmakers gathered to discuss measures to prevent the deadly virus from entering the city.

Clinical psychologist Eliza Cheung Yee-lai and Dr May Yeung Pui-shan, both from Hong Kong Red Cross, showed no symptoms when they were stopped by health officers at the airport for preliminary assessments. They were allowed to leave without being quarantined.

“Eliza and I have finished our mission. Our health is good, and we are in good spirits,” said Yeung, a public health expert.

The Guardian names a culprit:

Ebola: research team says migrating fruit bats responsible for outbreak

  • A toddler’s chance encounter with one infected bat in Guinea led to west Africa’s present epidemic

The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola was triggered by a toddler’s chance contact with a single infected bat, a team of international researchers will reveal, after a major investigation of the origins of the deadly disease now ravaging Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

A group of 17 European and African tropical disease researchers, ecologists and anthropologists spent three weeks talking to people and capturing bats and other animals near the village of Meliandoua in remote eastern Guinea, where the present epidemic appeared in December 2013. They have concluded that the disease was spread by colonies of migratory fruit bats. Their research is expected to be published in a major journal in the next few weeks.

Early studies suggested that a new strain of Ebola had emerged in west Africa but, according to epidemiologist Fabian Leendertz, a disease ecologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who led the large team of scientists to Guinea, it is likely the virus in Guinea is closely related to the one known as Zaire ebolavirus, identified more than 10 years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leendertz said the virus had probably arrived in west Africa via an infected straw-coloured fruit bat. These bats migrate across long distances and are commonly found in giant colonies near cities and in forests.

A coming visit via the Associated Press:

CDC director to visit Ebola outbreak countries

A top U.S. health official plans to travel to West Africa to see firsthand how the Ebola outbreak is unfolding.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is scheduled to visit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea next week.

A CDC spokesman Friday said Frieden wants to meet the African and international health leaders trying to control the outbreak, and to hear what help they need. He also plans to visit hospitals treating Ebola patients.

And from Global Times, preparations:

China raises precaution against Ebola

China’s health authorities have stepped up control measures against Ebola in the past week, in wake of continuous epidemic in West Africa.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission distributed a protocol for diagnosis, treatment and fast response of Ebola cases to 31 provincial health departments on Thursday.

The document elaborates the symptoms of the disease and instructs medical workers how to put possible cases under medical observation, to handle suspected cases, to treat confirmed cases and under what circumstances to release a person under observation.

From CBC News, another environmental alert:

Iceland volcano: Bardarbunga eruption begins

  • Volcanic ash could affect air traffic

Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano began erupting Saturday under the country’s largest glacier after a week of seismic activity rattled the area with thousands of earthquakes, the country’s Meteorological Office said.

The eruption prompted Iceland to raise its aviation alert level to red — the highest level on a five-point scale — indicating the threat of “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.”

Seismic data indicates that magma from the volcano is melting ice beneath the Dyngjujokull icecap on the Vatnajokull glacier, Met Office vulcanologist Melissa Pfeffer said.

MintPress News covers another one:

Environmentalists Rally Against New Herbicide For GE Crops

Citing the inevitability of “superweeds” and calling the product a “life preserver” for fatally flawed technology, environmentalists urge the EPA not to register a new Dow AgroSciences herbicide for GE corn and soybeans

Environmentalists warn that an herbicide designed to work with new varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans should not be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency because, like other widely-used herbicides for GE crops, it will gradually promote the emergence of “superweeds” resistant to the new herbicide.

The herbicide at issue is Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo, whose active ingredients are two “old” chemicals: glyphosate (best known by the trade name “Roundup”) and 2,4-D. The herbicide would be applied in fields planted with Enlist Corn and Enlist Soybeans – which Dow has engineered to tolerate the product.

The first commercial applications of 2,4-D date back to the mid-1940s, but the chemical gained notoriety due to its use in a Vietnam War-era defoliant: Agent Orange. Although 2,4-D was not the only herbicide in Agent Orange, the product was contaminated with dioxin — a potent carcinogen — as a byproduct of the production process.

From Deutsche Welle, a video report on the destructive role played by free trade pacts on local agriculture in one Latin American nation:

Business Brief: Columbia’s Struggling Farmers

Program note:

Free trade pacts are supposed to be a win-win situation for the nations who enter in to them.

And from Al Jazeera America, a sovereign victory to the north:

Canada’s First Nations people seek to ‘evict’ energy companies from land

  • Indigenous people of British Columbia are emboldened by a court decision siding with tribe in land rights dispute

The Gitxsan and First Nations peoples across the country have been emboldened by a June Supreme Court of Canada decision they describe as a “game changer.” In that case, the court sided with the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, a band of roughly 3,000 people residing in British Columbia’s interior, in a dispute over commercial logging. The court ruled that because the Tsilhqot’in were found to hold “aboriginal title” over the territory in question, their permission was required before logging could proceed.

“Canada is witnessing something that I call the rise of native empowerment,” said Bill Gallagher, a lawyer and author who specializes in First Nations legal challenges. “The Supreme Court of Canada has declared, verbatim, that the doctrine of terra nullius — that nobody was here when flags were planted by colonizers — that that doctrine does not apply in Canada.”

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Late Fukushima nuclear plant chief’s testimony may be made public

The government plans to disclose testimony by Fukushima No. 1 chief Masao Yoshida that could shed light on whether he ordered staff at the stricken power plant to stay at their posts during the triple meltdown crisis, sources revealed Friday.

The decision could be made by mid-September, governmental and other sources said, noting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga might comment on the leaking testimony on Monday.

Yoshida, who died of cancer in July last year, gave testimony to a government panel that was formed to probe the March 2011 disaster. It interviewed Yoshida for more than 20 hours between July and November 2011.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, a compromise:

Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste

Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.

The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision came after landowners insisted that the land should be bought at a fair market value because the current appraisals are much lower than pre-disaster estimates.

For our final item, Big Oil tries to buy a city, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Chevron pouring money into Richmond election

The biggest political campaign war chest in Richmond doesn’t belong to a candidate, it belongs to a corporation that hopes to steer the city’s November municipal election in its favor.

Chevron, the city’s main employer and taxpayer, is also the biggest spender on political campaigns – it set aside $1.6 million in a political action committee called Moving Forward that supports the oil giant’s favorite City Council and mayoral candidates.

Let me repeat: $1.6 million. For local elections in a city of a little over 106,000 residents.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, GMOs, nukes


Today’s headlines from the interface between planet and people begins, again, with the story of the day, first from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Liberia police fire at Monrovia protests

Police in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, have fired live rounds and tear gas during protests after a quarantine was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Residents of the capital’s West Point slum area say the barbed wire blockade stops them buying food and working.

Four people are said to have been injured in the clashes.

Liberia has seen the most deaths – 576 – in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, which has hit West Africa this year.

The Washington Post delivers good news for Westerners who got treatments with experimental drugs unavailable to most of those stricken with the dread disease which kills ninety percent of those afflicted:

Two Americans who contracted Ebola have been released from the hospital

American doctor Kent Brantly and North Carolina missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday and Brantly was released on Thursday.

“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said at an Emory news conference. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”

The Texas doctor appeared near death weeks ago after contracting the disease, which has killed 1,350 people in the four African nations affected by the contagion. He was flown back to the United States from Liberia in a special transport plane that included an isolation unit and arrived at Emory on Aug. 2.

Another patient who got the same drug didn’t fare so well, via El País:

Death was to be expected, say doctors who treated ebola-infected priest in Spain

  • The team who looked after Miguel Pajares in Madrid say hardest part was lack of direct contact

The death of Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares from the ebola virus in Madrid was “to be expected” even though doctors fought to save his life “to the very end,” medics who treated him at the capital’s Carlos III Hospital have said.

Speaking to news agency Efe about being the first doctors to treat an ebola patient in Europe, tropical disease specialists Marta Arsuaga and Fernando de la Calle Prieto said that at first they hoped he might pull through despite the virus’s 80 percent mortality rate, since he was being treated in a more advanced health system.

For five days, the team managed to keep 75-year-old Pajares, who had been brought back to Spain after contracting the virus working in a hospital in Liberia, alive. “At that moment we all wanted him to pull through so badly … but it is a very serious virus and the end was to be expected,” said Arsuaga.

And a video report from Deutsche Welle on an African nation on edge:

Ebola fears growing in Nigeria

Program notes:

International health officials have been keeping a close watch on Nigeria since the first cases of Ebola surfaced there a few weeks ago. But intensive government efforts have so far managed to contain the virus to about a dozen cases in Africa’s most populous nation. Still, as DW’s Adrian Kriesch discovered, the mood on the ground is anything but calm.

BBC News closes the borders:

Ebola travel: South Africa bans incomers from W Africa

South Africa says non-citizens arriving from Ebola-affected areas of West Africa will not be allowed into the country.

The health ministry said borders would be closed to all non-citizen travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

South African nationals will be allowed to re-enter the country when returning from high-risk countries, but will undergo strict screening. All non-essential outgoing travel to the affected countries has been banned.

Deutsche Welle answers a question:

How does Ebola spread?

As more doctors treating Ebola patients contract the disease themselves, it’s clear that better prevention is needed. But given the virus’s resilience and the low Ebola awareness in West Africa, this is no easy task.

Ebola has claimed over 1,000 lives in West Africa so far. Despite great efforts on the part of medical specialists, the World Health Organization and aid organizations, the virus continues to spread.

In order to become infected with the disease, people need to come into direct contact with bodily fluids – such as blood, urine, feces and sweat – that contain the virus, or touch a contaminated object. The virus is very resilient and can survive on various surfaces for a long time. It can be transferred via traces of bodily fluids on surfaces like toilet seats and tabletops.

When the carrier dies, the virus doesn’t die right away. Instead, it lives inside the corpse for up to a week, continuing to pose a danger.

Global Times offers a Southeast Asian reassurance:

No Ebola case in Cambodia: PM

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that the country has not seen any case related to the West Africa-hit Ebola virus disease. His remarks came after rumors across social media in recent days that Ebola was found in Cambodia.

“There is no Ebola presence in Cambodia so far,” the prime minister said during a graduation ceremony of students at Beltei International Institute.

He said the country has taken urgent measures to prevent the deadly Ebola virus by installing body-temperature sensors at airports and border checkpoints.

IRIN News observes:

Ebola horror hastens use of test drugs

Ebola’s devastation in West Africa has catapulted experimental drugs from labs to patients and shaken up vaccine development, which was hitherto patchy as outbreaks of the virus have tended to be spasmodic and geographically limited.

“There is no market for Ebola vaccines,” Marie-Paule Kieny, World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general, told IRIN. “Outside of an outbreak, who would want to get vaccinated against Ebola? Nobody. Therefore the market is inexistent more or less. So there was not that much investment into developing that. Nevertheless, they were carrying forward.”

From Mother Jones, capitalizing on fear and xenophobia:

Another GOP Candidate Says Migrant Kids Might Have Ebola. (They Don’t.)

Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin is the latest Republican politician to suggest migrants from Central America might bring the Ebola virus with them to the United States. Tobin, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the state’s 1st Congressional District in Tuesday’s primary, made the connection in an interview published in the Tucson Weekly on Thursday.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) started the GOP Ebola fearmongering trend last month when he wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “[r]eports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”  In August, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) leveled the same charge.

Although allegations of disease-ridden migrants are common throughout history, vaccination rates in Central America are higher than in Texas. And Ebola, which is difficult to contract, is not found in Central America.

On to water woes, starting with this from the Los Angeles Times:

Western drought causes Earth’s surface to rise as groundwater drops

A year and a half of drought has depleted 63 trillion gallons of water across the Western United States, according to a new study that documents how the parched conditions are altering the landscape.

The loss of groundwater, as well as surface water such as reservoirs, has been so extreme that it lifted the West an average of one-sixth of an inch since 2013, according to researchers from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The situation is even worse underneath the snow-starved mountains of California, where the Earth rose up three-fifths of an inch. Groundwater is very heavy, and its weight depresses the Earth’s upper crust. Remove the weight, and the crust springs upward.

And the accompanying graphic:
BLOG Water
More from Quartz:

The loss over the last 11 years is about 240 gigatons of water, as of March 2014—the equivalent of the annual mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet. California residents have resorted to painting their lawns green to save water. And the state’s agricultural sector, including a booming marijuana business, has been tough on the water supply—to say nothing of how fast the water is being consumed by regular citizens.

There’s some good news when it comes to earthquake risk, though. Some experts have expressed concern that drought could create more stress on the San Andreas fault that runs through California; but today’s study found that stress changes from the water were “unlikely to affect” earthquake risk.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, pressure to exact a price for water pollution:

Mexican Congress Urges Government to Cancel Mine Concession after Toxic Spill

Mexico’s Congress has urged the federal government to cancel Grupo Mexico’s concession for a large copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora after acid spilled into two rivers.

The Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, called for a halt to operations at the Cananea mine while authorities assess the damage caused by the Aug. 6 spill of 40,000 cubic meters (10.5 million gallons) of copper sulfate acid solution into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers.

The Mexico City-based mining giant’s negligence in storing chemical residues caused the spill, the committee said.

Public Radio International covers an aquatic cri de couer:

Coral reefs can communicate with fish, and many of them are crying for help

Georgia Tech ecologist Mark Hay calls it part of “the coral reef death spiral.”

“Everything that’s going on,” Hay says, “global warming, overfishing, pollution — means there’s less coral, more algae and more contact between corals and algae.”

And Hay says that contact can start to degrade a reef incredibly quickly — within just two days. “Those corals … start bleaching and tissues start dying where they’re in contact,” he says. “And then on a couple of those corals, that bleaching just spreads [to] the rest of the coral.”

From water to the air with The Verge:

NASA finds unexpectedly high levels of banned ozone-depleting chemical

It’s been decades since the world realized the danger that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, formerly found in products like aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and solvents) posed to the Earth’s ozone layer. But despite the fact that the CFC known as carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) was banned way back in 1987, a new study from NASA shows a troubling amount of the compound in our atmosphere — something that presents a continued threat to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

“We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said NASA’s Qing Liang, lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.” Between 2007 and 2012, studies showed now new CCl4 emissions — but this new study shows that worldwide emissions of CCl4 were still at 30 percent of their peak levels back before ban went into effect. The study also showed that concentrations of the compound were declining by only one percent per year during that 2007 to 2012 time period, not by the four percent rate originally estimated.

Beyond the unexplained sources of CCl4, the compound is also staying in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than earlier studies showed. “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang asked. But unfortunately, the team behind the study isn’t ready to release any theories about what’s causing the higher-than-expected concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Another atmospheric threat, via the Independent:

Iceland volcano: Fears of eruption and ash cloud increase as Met Office registers 1,000 small earthquakes in region

Fears of another volcanic eruption in Iceland continued today with reports that weather officials have detected 1,000 small quakes in the Barðarbunga volcano, following an unusually strong earthquake on Monday.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the highlands north of the Vatnajokull glacier by Iceland’s civil protection department after the volcano began belching huge plumes of smoke.

Iceland’s Met Office released an updated statement this morning, saying: “seismic activity in Bárðarbunga and vicinity is still great. As yesterday, the main activity stems from the intrusive event under Dyngjujökull.”

From Global Times, another environment under siege:

Disappearing forests

Mountainous forests in East China’s Zhejiang Province are being consumed due to the need to develop more farmland.

In fact, many forests have already been turned into fields. Trees were chopped down and harvested for wood, leaving the land to be plowed and turned into terraced fields.

One of the key factors is the low availability of land. As a leading province in terms of economic development and urbanization, Zhejiang is in constant need of land for industrial and construction use. A lot of farmland, as a result, has been taken over.

On the other hand, because China has a stipulated “red line” base minimum of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of fields, the removal of any fields needs to be matched with the addition of the same area of land. This has meant that local governments in Zhejiang have turned their sights toward the mountains.

Inter Press Service covers yet another GMO push:

US, Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

  • Governments weighing approval of permit for genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, which critics say would increase deforestation

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

While RT charts a major reversal:

End of the line: GMO production in China halted

In a surprise U-turn, China’s Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to continue with a program which developed genetically-modified rice and corn. Some environmentalists say public concerns about GM crops played a key role in the decision.

On August 17, when these permits were up for renewal, the Ministry of Agriculture decided not to extend them. In 2009, the ministry’s Biosafety Committee issued approval certificates to develop the two crops, rice and corn.

Developed by the Huazhong Agricultural University, near Wuhan, it was hoped that the GMO strains would help to reduce pesticide use by 80 percent, while raising yields by as much as 8 percent, said Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Reuters in 2009. It is illegal to sell genetically-modified rice on the open market in China.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

Local leaders seek disclosure of testimony by former nuclear plant chief

Leaders of local governments near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant want the testimony given by the plant manager months after the accident to be disclosed.

The Asahi Shimbun ascertained that eight local leaders want full disclosure after seeking the views of the Fukushima governor and heads of 13 cities, towns and villages located within 20 kilometers of the plant and areas outside the 20-km radius where radiation levels were more than 20 millisieverts per year.

Masao Yoshida was plant chief when the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear accident.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with more pressure:

TEPCO shareholders go to court for disclosure of Yoshida testimony on nuclear disaster

Shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co. filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 for disclosure of testimony about the 2011 nuclear disaster given by the late manager of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“(The government) should make public investigative records of 772 people, including Masao Yoshida (then plant manager), to enable a re-examination of what was wrong and what was correct,” said Yui Kimura, who heads the plaintiffs’ group.

The 10 TEPCO shareholders and others are calling on the Cabinet Secretariat to disclose records of the government investigation panel’s interviews with 772 people involved in the nuclear crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Jiji Press advances oversight:

Japan N-Plant Decommissioning Aid Body Starts Operations

Japan’s Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., which will supervise work to decommission crippled nuclear reactors and control radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, began operations on Thursday.

The Japanese government wants to strengthen its involvement in decommissioning work through the new body. Some 50 experts on decommissioning technologies will be on hand to advise Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the disaster-stricken plant, and develop related technologies.

Takehiko Sugiyama, head of the new organization, and Hajimu Yamana, the senior official in charge of decommissioning, put up a signboard bearing the name of the organization at the entrance of its head office in Toranomon in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Thursday.

And foor our final item, via NHK WORLD, preparing for a visit:

Residents plan tour to Fukushima evacuation zone

A group of residents near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to organize guided tours of their hometown. The aim is to keep alive the memory of the 2011 nuclear accident.

Areas in 7 municipalities around the nuclear plant are part of a designated no-entry evacuation zone due to high radiation levels there. Residents need to acquire permission to enter the area.

A group of residents of Okuma town say they want outsiders to know that the impact of the accident still lingers. Okuma is one of two towns that host the plant.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, pollution, fracking, nukes


First up, the last Ebola numbers, via USA TODAY:

BLOG Ebola

And the story, via the Associated Press:

WHO: West Africa Ebola death toll rises to 1,350

The World Health Organization says the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now at least 1,350 people.

The latest figures Wednesday show that the deaths are mounting fastest in Liberia, which now accounts for at least 576 of the deaths. The U.N. health agency also warned in its announcement that “countries are beginning to experience supply shortages, including fuel, food, and basic supplies.”

This comes after a number of airlines and shipping services have halted transport to the worst affected capitals of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

From the New York Times, the inevitable:

Clashes Erupt as Liberia Imposes Quarantine to Curb Ebola

Liberia’s halting efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak spreading across parts of West Africa quickly turned violent on Wednesday when angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out of a neighborhood here that had been cordoned off by the government.

Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving hundreds of young men back into the neighborhood, a slum of tens of thousands in Monrovia known as West Point.

One teenager in the crowd, Shakie Kamara, 15, lay on the ground near the barricade, his right leg apparently wounded by a bullet from the melee. “Help me,” pleaded Mr. Kamara, who was barefoot and wore a green Philadelphia Eagles T-shirt.

China Daily dispatches:

UN Ebola coordinator to visit West Africa

The public health expert coordinating UN efforts to fight Ebola said on Tuesday that he’s heading to Washington and then to West Africa to determine the best ways the world body can support people, communities and governments affected by the deadly disease.

David Nabarro told a news conference that he will have “intensive interactions” on Wednesday with the World Bank, experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others before flying to Dakar, Senegal on Wednesday night.

Nabarro, who was appointed a week ago, said he will then travel to the four countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak – Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

From the Independent, a telling number:

Ebola virus outbreak: This is why ‘75%’ of victims are women

Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s minister for gender and development, said health teams at task force meeting in Liberia found three-quarters of those who were infected or died from Ebola were female.

She told the Washington Post: “Women are the caregivers — if a kid is sick, they say, ‘Go to your mom.’

“The cross-border trade women go to Guinea and Sierra Leone for the weekly markets, [and] they are also the caregivers. Most of the time when there is a death in the family, it’s the woman who prepares the funeral, usually an aunt or older female relative.”

Agence France-Presse covers a unique program putting survivors to work:

Survivors enlisted in Sierra Leone’s Ebola battle

Program note:

In Ebola-hit Sierra Leone, virus survivors are being enlisted to look after sick people in a centre run by an NGO in Kailahun.

From the Jakarta Globe, alarms in Southeast Asia:

Vietnam, Myanmar Test Three Patients for Ebola

Vietnam and Myanmar are testing three patients for the deadly Ebola virus after they arrived in the Southeast Asian nations from Africa while suffering from fever, health officials said.

Two Nigerians were sent to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tropical Diseases Hospital for isolation after they arrived in the city by plane, Vietnam’s health ministry said, adding that they did not have symptoms other than fever.

Airline passengers sitting next to the pair — who travelled to Vietnam on Monday from Nigeria via Qatar — have been advised to monitor their own health.

And from RT, needless tragedy:

All 365 of Sierra Leone’s Ebola-related deaths pinned on one healer

Sierra Leone’s Ebola crisis has been traced back to a single healer in an isolated border village, who had claimed to be in possession of special powers to cure the deadly disease that started penetrating the border, it has emerged.

“She was claiming to have powers to heal Ebola. Cases from Guinea were crossing into Sierra Leone for treatment,” top medical official, Mohamed Vandi, who was based in the crisis-struck Kenema district, told AFP.

“She got infected and died. During her funeral, women around the other towns got infected,” he told the agency. The woman was based in the eastern border village of Sokoma.

The Times of India prescribes:

Experimental Ebola drugs needed for up to 30,000 people

Up to 30,000 people could have used experimental treatments or vaccines so far in the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola currently plaguing West Africa, British scientists said on Wednesday.

The calculation highlights the dilemma facing officials considering how to distribute the tiny quantities of unproven drugs that are likely to be available in the near term to fight the deadly disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is hoping for improved supplies of experimental treatments and progress with a vaccine by the end of the year, after last week backing the use of untested drugs and vaccines.

CBC News offers a possible treatment:

Ebola could be treated with drug shown to fight cousin virus

  • Approach holds promise as a strategy to treat infection in humans, journal editors say

An experimental type of drug shown to protect rhesus macaques against the Marburg virus could also be tried in the fight to contain the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, a scientist says.

The Marburg and Ebola viruses are deadly cousins. Both are filoviruses that cause severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever and neither has any vaccines or drugs approved for use in humans.

Researchers in Texas and Vancouver-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals have now shown that giving rhesus macaques an experimental treatment using “small interfering RNA” (siRNA) protected the primates even when treatment began three days after infection with the Angola strain of Marburg virus. Their results are published in Wednesday’s issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

From Computerworld, yet another approach:

As Ebola death toll rises, scientists work on nanotech cure

  • With more than 1,200 dead in latest outbreak, nanotech could lead to treatment

Scientists at Northeastern University are using nanotechnology to find an effective treatment for the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 1,200 people and sickened even more.

What makes finding a vaccine or cure such a formidable job is that the virus mutates so quickly. How do you pin down and treat something that is continually changing?

Thomas Webster, professor and chairman of bioengineering and chemical engineering at Northeastern, may have an answer to that — nanotechnology.

Homeland Security News Wire reassures:

Ebola poses no risk in U.S.: Experts

Ebola has infected nearly 2,000 people in West Africa because the disease is spreading in populated areas with poor public health infrastructure, and where health workers might not be taking proper infection control procedures, such as wearing gloves, experts say. These experts note that Ebola can be contracted only from patients who have the symptoms, not those who are infected, and even then infection occurs only when coming into contact with bodily fluids. They say that SARS and the flu are more contagious than Ebola.

Dr. Diane Weems, the acting director of the East Central Health District, at last week’s meeting with the Richmond County Board of Health, acknowledged that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been of serious concern to American health workers, but she explained that it takes more than casual contact to cause an infection, adding that Richmond County has faced far bigger public health threats in the past and will likely deal with worse in the future.

Ebola has infected nearly 2,000 people in West Africa because the disease is spreading in populated areas with poor public health infrastructure, and where health workers might not be taking proper infection control procedures, such as wearing gloves. “We know it is not passed through the air, like a cold or like the flu,” Weems said. “It’s by infected body fluids. Health care workers who are not using good infection control, not wearing gloves, are disproportionately being impacted there, in those communities.”

And Nextgov questions:

Is There Ebola on That Smartphone?

Medical staff treating patients with Ebola and other communicable diseases in Africa face a novel kind of smartphone security problem.

When aiding Ebola patients, “What about the mobile device that you hand off to the next medical person?” said Rocky Young, a practicing physician assistant and director of cybersecurity, information assurance, outreach and mobile security for the Defense Department. “These devices have to be hardened. They have to be secured. Alcohol will damage them if you clean them.”

He was speaking at a mobile industry summit in Washington on Wednesday.

On to another climate change threat, via Newswise:

Climate Change Will Threaten Fish by Drying Out Southwest U.S. Streams, Study Predicts

Modeling suggests fish will lose habitat as steady flow of surface water is depleted

Fish species native to a major Arizona watershed may lose access to important segments of their habitat by 2050 as surface water flow is reduced by the effects of climate warming, new research suggests.

Most of these fish species, found in the Verde River Basin, are already threatened or endangered. Their survival relies on easy access to various resources throughout the river and its tributary streams. The species include the speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), roundtail chub (Gila robusta) and Sonora sucker (Catostomus insignis).

A key component of these streams is hydrologic connectivity – a steady flow of surface water throughout the system that enables fish to make use of the entire watershed as needed for eating, spawning and raising offspring.

Models that researchers produced to gauge the effects of climate change on the watershed suggest that by the mid 21st century, the network will experience a 17 percent increase in the frequency of stream drying events and a 27 percent increase in the frequency of zero-flow days.

Another cost, via the Associated Press:

Report: Firefighting costs eroding conservation

The Obama administration detailed on Wednesday the toll that the escalating cost of fighting forest fires has had on other projects as it pushes Congress to overhaul how it pays for the most severe blazes.

In a new report, the Agriculture Department said that staffing for fighting fires has more than doubled since 1998. Meanwhile, the number of workers who manage National Forest System lands has dropped by about a third.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that accommodating the rapid rise in firefighting costs has harmed an array of conservation efforts. For example, spending that helps restore vegetation and watersheds after a fire has fallen 22 percent since 2001. Another program that partners with states and private landowners to conserve wildlife habitat has been cut by 17 percent during that same period.

On a related front, this from BBC News:

Greenland ice loss doubles from late 2000s

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year.

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

“The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute. “To us, that’s an incredible number,” she told BBC News.

The Irish Times covers another threat:

Iceland evacuates area amid concerns over volcanic activity

  • Authorities cannot rule out eruption and warned airlines about increased seismic activity

Iceland’s civil protection agency has decided to evacuate an area north of the country’s Bardarbunga volcano, saying it could not rule out an eruption.

The move came after authorities on Monday warned airlines about increased seismic activity at Iceland’s largest volcanic system. Ash from the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe’s airspace for six days.

“This decision is a safety measure,” the agency said on its website. “It cannot be ruled out that the seismic activity in Bardarbunga could lead to a volcanic eruption.”

From MintPress News, a challenge to Big Ag:

Missourians Fight ALEC Over Big Agriculture’s “Right to Farm”

  • Grassroots efforts will likely push a recount on an amendment to Missouri’s bill of rights that favors the interests of corporate agriculture.

On Aug. 5, Missouri residents voted on the state’s Right-to-Farm, Amendment 1, a new addition to the state’s bill of rights. The results were extremely close: 498,751 voted in favor of the new amendment, while 496,223 opposed it. With a difference of less than half a percent, a recount is almost certain.

Though the Humane Society of the United States donated $375,000 in opposition, the amendment had the financial backing of Big Agriculture and its deep pockets as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the secretive organization which writes legislation on behalf of major corporations.

That the bill came so close to defeat is a testament to the efforts of grassroots Missouri activists like the members of People’s Visioning, a coalition of diverse progressive organizations led by Columbia, Missouri, resident Monta Welch. MintPress News spoke with Welch and other members of her coalition as they rested from what they described as an exhausting campaign and considered what their next steps might be if the recount fails.

BBC News covers another people-produced environmental dilemma:

‘Growth drives UK flooding problems’

Part of the UK’s problem with flooding is self-imposed, new research suggests.

The study says the number of reported major flood events has increased, but in parallel with population growth and a boom in building in vulnerable areas.

It says it is unclear if climate change is implicated in recent flooding.

But the Southampton University team urges government to continue spending on flood defences as more homes are likely to be vulnerable due to sea level rise and more intense rainfall.

Reuters covers a corporate coverup:

Mexico minister says Grupo Mexico account of toxic spill ‘totally false’

Mexico’s environment secretary said on Tuesday that Grupo Mexico gave false information about a toxic spill at its Buenavista mine in northern Mexico, a day after the environmental authority said it would file a criminal complaint against the company.

In a statement on Aug. 12, Grupo Mexico said that “unusual rainfall” had caused the spill. But Environment Secretary Juan Jose Guerra told local radio on Tuesday that this was “totally false” and that there was zero precipitation on Aug. 6, the day the spill was detected.

“They unfortunately did not have dams. They hadn’t put infrastructure there to contain leached (fluids) in case of a spill,” he said.

After the jump, more woes from Fukushima [including flawed contamination treatment reboots, missing information, evacuation questions, and more], German nuclear waste woes, new fracking-spawned earthquakes in two states, and a fracking promise in Mexico. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, global woes, toxins, nukes


Another hefty compendium of alarms and alerts about the increasingly destruction relationship betwixt people and planet, starting with that most urgent of events, the continuing Ebola catastrophe in Africa.

International Business Times covers one deadly consequence:

Ebola Outbreak: Liberian Army Ordered to ‘Shoot on Sight’ Anyone Crossing Sierra Leone Border

Liberia’s armed forces have been given orders to shoot people on sight who are attempting to illegally cross the border from Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, according to local media reports.

The order was given to soldiers stationed in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties on the border with Sierra Leone in hope of preventing the spread of the deadly virus, deputy chief of staff, Colonel Eric Dennis said.

Liberia has the highest death toll from the disease with approximately 400 citizens killed. So far, more than 1,200 people have died from the disease, which has been described as the worst ever outbreak of the virus.

And an earlier omnibus report from Deutsche Welle:

African governments take isolation measures

  • African governments are sealing their ports and airports in an attempt to halt the spread of Ebola. But will fever checks and entry bans really make any difference?

With more than 1,100 dead and 2,100 suspected cases of Ebola, authorities in many African countries are holding their breath. Many are nervous, and some have begun to isolate themselves.

From Tuesday onwards, Kenya Airways has suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ivory Coast is no longer allowing ships from Ebola-hit countries to pass through its waters. In Nigeria, no one is allowed to board a plane unless their temperature is normal and they have passed the airport’s “fever check.”

“I think the restriction of air traffic is an expression of the helplessness of the authorities there when it comes to containing the disease,” said Dieter Häussinger, director of the Hirsch Institute of Tropical Medicine. He thinks that monitoring people’s temperature is a questionable method, because it’s impossible to separate those infected with Ebola from people who’ve got the flu.

United Press International ups the aid ante:

Food distribution to Ebola quarantine sites scaled up as death toll hits 1,200

  • The World Health Organization and the U.N.’s World Food Program have teamed up to provide needed food to quarantine sites in Ebola-affected countries in West Africa. “Providing regular food supplies is a potent means of limiting unnecessary movement,” WHO noted.

The World Health Organization issued an update Tuesday regarding the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

As of August 16, WHO recorded 2,240 cases of confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, including 1,229 deaths.

The distribution and classification of the cases are as follows:

  • Guinea, 543 cases (396 confirmed, 140 probable, and 7 suspected), including 394 deaths;
  • Liberia, 834 cases (200 confirmed, 444 probable, and 190 suspected), including 466 deaths;
  • Nigeria, 15 cases (12 confirmed, 0 probable, and 3 suspected), including 4 deaths;
  • Sierra Leone, 848 cases (775 confirmed, 34 probable, and 39 suspected), including 365 deaths.

From the Associated Press, a hopeful sign in a disease that kills 90 percent of its victims:

Liberia: 3 receiving untested Ebola drug improving

Three Liberian health workers receiving an experimental drug for Ebola are showing signs of recovery, officials said Tuesday, though medical experts caution it is not certain if the drug is effective.

The World Health Organization said that the death toll for West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has climbed past 1,200 but that there are tentative signs that progress is being made in containing the disease.

The three Liberians are being treated with the last known doses of ZMapp, a drug that had earlier been given to two infected Americans and a Spaniard. The Americans are also improving, but the Spaniard died.

CBC News makes a critical note about a continent where Africans have all been treated as Big Pharma lab rats:

Ebola outbreak: Africans understandably wary about promised cures

  • Past drug trials likely affecting public suspicion in West Africa today

New concerns that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is much worse than reported are adding to the global pressure to find a solution – even if that means testing unproven drugs on desperate Africans. But medical ethicists and others in the drug-testing business say the focus on miracle cures for Ebola is misplaced.

And, in any event, Western nations owe Africans a huge debt of gratitude for even considering being the ones to try these experimental medications.

Untested drugs and vaccines are now in the spotlight after reports that three Westerners received the experimental Canadian drug ZMapp, and about the Canadian government announcing it would donate up to 1,000 doses of a potential Ebola vaccine that is in the development stage.

The Japan Times rounds up:

Liberia says all 17 runaway Ebola patients have been located

Liberia has found all 17 suspected Ebola patients who fled a quarantine center in Monrovia at the weekend and transferred them to another clinic, the information minister said on Tuesday.

“We are glad to confirm that all of the 17 individuals have been accounted for and have now been transferred to JFK Ebola specialist treatment center,” said Lewis Brown.

He also said that three infected African doctors who had received the experimental Ebola drug Zmapp were showing “remarkable signs of improvement,” quoting an assessment by the doctor overseeing their treatment.

TheLocal.fr raises aerial objections:

Air France staff object to flying to Ebola countries

Air France cabin crew are so concerned about the threat of the Ebola epidemic that unions have started a petition calling for flights to be stopped to those West African countries most affected by the disease.

A union representing Air France staff has launched a petition to try to persuade company chiefs to stop flying to Guinea and Sierra Leone until the Ebola crisis is under control.

The two countries are heavily affected by the epidemic, that has killed over 1,200 people, and staff fear their lives are in danger each time they touch down in those countries.

Latin American Herald Tribune makes ready across the Atlantic:

Mexico City Airport Prepares to Deal with Ebola

The Mexico City International Airport is ready to deal with any possible cases of Ebola, a viral disease that is spreading through West Africa, aviation officials said.

Posters informing travelers about the disease and the measures to take to avoid spreading it are being put up around the airport.

The airport “is fully complying with the regulations established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding the outbreak affecting Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, countries where people have been infected with the virus,” airport management said in a statement.

And from the Los Angeles Times, a photojournalist covers the crisis:

Ebola crisis: Photographer John Moore chronicles the outbreak in Liberia

Program notes:

Getty Images photographer John Moore travels to Liberia to cover the burgeoning Ebola outbreak in the West African country, and he describes the scene and precautions he and health workers have taken.

From TheLocal.de, a false alarm:

Stomach bug behind Berlin ‘Ebola’ scare

Around 600 people were held for several hours in emergency quarantine at a Berlin Job Centre on Tuesday after a West African woman collapsed with Ebola-like symptoms.

The emergency services cordoned off the premises in the city’s northeastern Prenzlauer Berg district after the 30-year-old collapsed. The woman then told medics she had had contact with victims of the deadly disease in her homeland.

She was immediately taken for hospital testing along with several other people who had been with her in the building.

However, doctors said that Ebola was unlikely and that the woman was probably suffering from an acute stomach bug.

TheLocal.at covers another false alarm:

All-clear given on suspected Ebola cases

Austria’s health ministry gave the all-clear Tuesday evening after regional authorities earlier reported two suspected cases of Ebola in two men recently returned from Nigeria.

“The test results in both cases were negative,” the health ministry said.

The news came hours after the governor of Upper Austria province, Josef Pühringer, said two men who returned last Wednesday from Lagos had been hospitalised on suspicion of carrying the deadly disease.

Blood samples were sent to a laboratory in Germany, which announced late Tuesday that the results were negative, Pühringer later said.

On to another environmental front with Newswise:

World’s Primary Forests on the Brink

An international team of conservationist scientists and practitioners has published new research showing the precarious state of the world’s primary forests.

The global analysis and map are featured in a paper appearing in the esteemed journal Conservation Letters and reveals that only five percent of the world’s pre-agricultural primary forest cover is now found in protected areas.

Led by Professor Brendan Mackey, Director of the Climate Change Response Program at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, the authors are experts in forest ecology, conservation biology, international policy and practical forest conservation issues.

Representing organisations such as the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, the Zoological Society of London, the Geos Institute and Australian National University, they conclude that primary forest protection is the joint responsibility of developed as well as developing countries and is a matter of global concern.

Primary forests – largely ignored by policy makers and under increasing land use threats – are forests where there are no visible indications of human activities, especially industrial-scale land use, and ecological processes have not been significantly disrupted.

From the Guardian, another global alarm:

Earth sliding into ‘ecological debt’ earlier and earlier, campaigners warn

  • World has already exhausted a year’s supply of natural resources in less than eight months, Global Footprint Network says

Humans have used up the natural resources the world can supply in a year in less than eight months, campaigners have warned.

The world has now reached “Earth overshoot day”, the point in the year when humans have exhausted supplies such as land, trees and fish and outstripped the planet’s annual capacity to absorb waste products including carbon dioxide.

The problem is worsening, with the planet sliding into “ecological debt” earlier and earlier, so that the day on which the world has used up all the natural resources available for the year has shifted from early October in 2000 to August 19 in 2014.

Al Jazeera America covers a consequence of perverted appetites:

Ivory poachers killing elephants faster than they are being born

  • Study says tipping point reached as poachers kill 7 percent of African elephants annually; birth rate is 5 percent

African elephants are being pushed over the tipping point, a new study said, with more being killed by poachers for their ivory than are born each year.

“We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent,” said the study’s lead author, George Wittemye of Colorado State University. The peer-reviewed report was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Poaching has killed 7 percent of the continent’s elephant population annually from 2010-2013, but their birth rate is just 5 percent, according to the report. At those rates the animals could be wiped out within 100 years, and conservationists are worried.

After jump, tainted food, metallic toxins, catastrophic mine leaks, fracking protests, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and one for the birds. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxics, nukes, solar kill


Once again, we open with Ebola news, first with a perhaps needless tragedy via CBC News:

Dying Sierra Leone Dr. Sheik Umar Khan never told Ebola drug was available

  • Just days later, same experimental drug given to U.S. doctor, missionary

The story of Sierra Leone’s “hero doctor” does not have a happy ending.

Even though Dr. Sheik Umar Khan was an experienced virus warrior, and hemorrhagic fevers were his specialty, he tested positive for Ebola on July 22 and died in seven terrible days.

His friends and colleagues from around the world are sick with grief, and a haunting question hangs in the air. Did doctors make the right decision in refusing to treat him with an experimental drug?

From Reuters, border-crossing carriers:

Guinea reopens Ebola clinic as sick spill over border

Guinea said on Saturday it will reopen an Ebola clinic in its remote southeast as sick nationals living in Liberia and Sierra Leone spill over the borders in search of better treatment.

West Africa’s Guinea, the first country in the region to be affected by the deadly virus which has killed more than 1,100 people, says it has brought the outbreak under control. But it is worried that a poor response to the epidemic from its neighbors will reverse its progress.

“We are concerned about the length of the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia, specifically in Macenta and Pamelap,” said Sakoba Keita from Guinea’s Health Ministry, referring to border towns.

The Associated Press covers another aspect:

Ebola health workers battle death, heat, rumors

Doctors and nurses fighting Ebola in West Africa are working 14-hour days, seven days a week, wearing head-to-toe gear in the heat of muddy clinics. Agonizing death is the norm. The hellish conditions aren’t the only problem: Health workers struggle to convince patients they’re trying to help them, not hurt them.

Rumors are rife that Western aid workers are importing Ebola, stealing bodies or even deliberately infecting patients. Winning trust is made harder by a full suit of hood, goggles, mask and gown that hides their faces.

“You want to say so much … because they’re in so much pain,” said nurse Monia Sayah, of Doctors Without Borders. “They suffer so much, but they can only see your eyes.”

The outbreak has hit three of the world’s poorest countries, where health systems there were already woefully understaffed and ill-equipped. In Liberia, there is only one doctor for every 100,000 people, while in Sierra Leone there are two, according to the World Health Organization; there were no statistics available for Guinea. The figure is 245 for the United States.

The Associated Press covers a call:

UN urges exit screening for Ebola at some airports

Ebola-affected countries should immediately begin exit screening all passengers leaving international airports, sea ports and major ground crossings, the U.N. health agency said on Monday.

The agency didn’t spell out which countries should start screening passengers, but noted that the Ebola outbreak involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona and a “small number of people in Nigeria.”

All countries, even those unaffected by the outbreak in West Africa, need to strengthen their ability to detect and immediately contain new cases without doing anything that unnecessarily interferes with international travel or trade, the agency said. But countries don’t need to impose travel restrictions and active screening of passengers if they do not share borders with Ebola-affected countries, it said.

More from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO sets up Ebola task force with global airline and travel sector

The World Health Organisation said on Monday (Aug 18) that it had set up a task force with the global airline and tourism industry in an effort to contain the spread of Ebola.

The UN agency said it was working hand in hand with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the World Tourism Organization, Airports Council International (ACI), the International Air Transport Association and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The goal, it said in a statement, was to “support the global efforts to contain the spread of the disease and provide a coordinated international response for the travel and tourism sector”. It added that the task force would “monitor the situation and provide timely information to the travel and tourism sector as well as to travellers”.

Still more, via Businessweek:

Airlines Urged to Keep Flying in West Africa Amid Ebola Outbreak

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reached crisis proportions but poses no particular risk to air travelers, according to health officials and airlines—and air service should continue to serve affected areas to help combat the disease. That’s the message the International Air Transport Association, a trade group for global airlines, is pressing, bolstered by the World Health Organization, which says there’s no need for travel bans over the virus.

“Ebola is a terrible disease, but it is not easy to contract,” IATA’s vice president for Africa, Raphael Kuuchi, said today at an aviation conference in Johannesburg. “It can only be caught through contact with bodily fluids. It is almost impossible to be infected by someone on a flight.”

Researchers believe the virus cannot be transmitted through the air. “Because the risk of Ebola transmission on airplanes is so low, WHO does not consider air transport hubs at high risk for further spread of Ebola,” Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, director of WHO Global Capacity Alert and Response, said in an Aug. 14 news release.

On to climate change and future woes for the Napa Vally via Want China Times:

Climate change may mean China could be top wine producer by 2050

Warmer temperatures caused by climate change may mean that the south of France will no longer be able to produce high-quality wine in the future, which may present new wine-producing opportunities for northern Europe and China in the future, reports Shanghai-based China Business News.

A report published in 2005 by Professor Gregory Jones and his coworkers compared the temperatures at 27 wine-producing regions during grape-growing seasons over 50 years and concluded that the south of France will likely be unsuitable for producing wine by 2050. Li Yangang, one of ten Chinese nationals who has received a Level 4 certificate from the world renowned wine education institute WSET, said the region may still be able to produce wine but it would be of a lower quality

The future of major wine producers in Spain, Italy, the United States and Australia has been threatened by climate change. Jones’ research team predicted that between 2000 and 2049, the average temperature during grape’s growing system will increase 2.04°C, which would be devastating for wine producers who will have a hard time finding enough water for their vineyards.

Sky News covers ecocrisis:

Trains Carrying Toxic Chemicals Crash Head-On

Hundreds of people are evacuated after the trains smashed into each other and exploded into flames in northeast Arkansas.

Two freight trains carrying toxic chemicals have crashed head-on in the US, killing two people and injuring two others. Firefighters spent seven hours extinguishing the fire as diesel and chemicals on board burst into flames.

Around 500 people were evacuated from the crash scene in Hoxie, a small town in northeast Arkansas.

From Shanghai Daily, we’ll have the unleaded, please:

Lead found in baby cereal from Heinz

Heinz baby products are at the center of a health scare after food safety authorities in east China’s Zhejiang Province sealed 614 boxes of cereal made by the US food giant.

Excessive levels of lead were found in 400-gram boxes of “AD Calcium Hi-Protein Cereal” with batch number 20140413 during a regular food inspection, the Zhejiang Provincial Food and Drug Administration said yesterday.

Food safety staff launched a special inspection of 303 food vendors in the province. The sealed products were 483 boxes from two trade companies in Hangzhou, the provincial capital, and 131 from retailers.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a homecoming invitation from the Asahi Shimbun:

Second group of Fukushima residents given OK to return home in evacuation zone

Some residents of this village who lived within the 20-kilometer restricted zone surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were told on Aug. 17 that they can soon return home, only the second time the right of return has been granted.

The lifting of the evacuation order will allow the return of 275 residents living in 139 households in the eastern area of the village of Kawauchi.

The government made the announcement during a meeting with residents of the village on Aug. 17.

The Mainichi adds a critical element:

Gov’t decides to lift evacuation order on Fukushima village despite residents’ protests

An evacuation order for the eastern part of this village that has been in place since the Fukushima nuclear disaster will be lifted on Oct. 1, government officials agreed on Aug. 17, despite residents protesting that it is too early to lift the order.

The order covers an area with 139 households where 275 people live within 20 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Also on Oct. 1, a stricter evacuation order covering 18 households where 54 people live will be lowered in severity to allow more access.

The agreement was reached by Senior Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Kazuyoshi Akaba and Kawauchi Mayor Yuko Endo. Akaba is also head of the national government’s local nuclear disaster-response headquarters.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, a nuclear payoff proposal:

TEPCO, Tohoku Electric to ‘donate’ 200 million yen more to village hosting nuclear reprocessing complex

Embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. will make a final combined 200 million yen ($1.95 million) “donation” to a village hosting the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, despite industry ministry criticism, The Asahi Shimbun has found.

The payment, which the two utilities have made annually since fiscal 2010, will go to assist the local fisheries industry in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture.

An Asahi Shimbun investigation into the village’s financial data and interviews with local officials showed that the Rokkasho government sent a document requesting financial assistance to TEPCO and Tohoku Electric on July 14.

And the cold shoulder, from NHK WORLD:

Town rejects plans to build radioactive waste site

The mayor of Shioya, in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo, has demanded that the government retract its plan to build a permanent radioactive waste storage site in his town.

The Environment Ministry is seeking to construct facilities in 5 prefectures within the Tokyo metropolitan area and northern Japan. The facilities will permanently hold sewage sludge, incinerated ash, and other debris contaminated with more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive materials. The highly radioactive waste was incurred by the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011.

Last month, the ministry decided to use state-owned land in Shioya to build one of the facilities. The ministry wants the town’s cooperation in field surveys in the area. But the town is opposed to the construction. Town Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata and the speaker of the local assembly visited the ministry on Monday.

Kyodo News exports:

Japan resumes exporting Fukushima rice after 2011 nuclear crisis

Exporting of rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture has resumed after it was halted in the wake of the nuclear crisis in 2011 and concerns about radiation contamination, a national agricultural cooperative said Monday.

Three hundred kilograms of the Koshihikari brand of rice produced in Sukagawa City, Fukushima, has arrived in Singapore, and will be sold at a supermarket from Friday after clearing customs, according to the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations.

Fukushima Prefecture, a major producer of rice, had exported some 100 tons of rice in the year to March 2011 to such regions as Hong Kong, before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear accident in the prefecture.

Meanwhile, another troublesome fuel gets a legal thumbs up, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Court rejects challenge to big tar sands oil pipeline

A federal judge on Monday rejected environmentalists’ challenge to a nearly 600-mile pipeline designed to carry tar sands crude oil between Illinois and Oklahoma.

In a 48-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson concluded the Flanagan South Pipeline could proceed without further federal study.

“This much is clear,” Jackson wrote. “A private company is constructing the FS Pipeline project largely on privately-owned land; the federal agencies that have been consulted about aspects of the pipeline project have control over only a small portion of the land and waterways that the pipeline traverses; and no statute authorizes the federal government to regulate or oversee the construction of a domestic oil pipeline.”

And for our final item, via the Associated Press, green maybe, but also medium rare:

BrightSource solar plant sets birds on fire as they fly overhead

  • Death estimates range from 1,000 to 28,000 per year

Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the concentrated beams of solar energy focused upward by the plant’s 300,000 mirrors — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.