Category Archives: Health

EnviroWatch: Poles, noise, oceans, & nukes


We begin with the southern polar regions with the Atlantic Monthly:

Antarctica Tourism Could Be Making Penguins Sick

  • Human visits to the South Pole may threaten the adorable creatures with deadly diseases

Antarctica remained largely untouched until roughly 200 years ago, and now, more than 10,000 people travel there every year. But tourists bring more than cameras. Scientists are warning that pathogens brought by visitors could threaten the continent’s most iconic inhabitant: the penguin.

Isolation has left local wildlife populations particularly vulnerable to diseases commonplace elsewhere in the world. “The effects of both a growing tourism industry and research presence will not be without consequences,” Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, said to New Scientist. “Penguins are highly susceptible to infectious diseases.”

Her team of Antarctic researchers found multiple infectious agents—bacteria such Salmonella and E. coli, viruses such as West Nile and the Avian pox virus—in captive penguins dating back to 1947. Outbreaks from those diseases have killed thousands of penguins over the years, the team reported in a paper published this month in the journal Polar Biology.

Then head to the northern polar region with the New York Times:

Snow Is Down and Heat Is Up in the Arctic, Report Says

The Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, and with greater repercussions, scientists are reporting.

The new findings appear in the Arctic Report Card, first published in 2006 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and updated annually. The report card catalogs the wide-ranging changes caused by the rising temperatures, in large part driven by emissions of greenhouse gases.

Snow cover, measured since 1967, was below average and set a record low in April in the Eurasian region of the Arctic. Sea surface temperatures are rising, particularly in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska, where the waters are warming at a rate of almost one degree Fahrenheit per decade.

The extent of Arctic sea ice, which retreats in summer, did not hit a record low in 2014. But it was the sixth lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979, and the scientists noted that the eight smallest extents have occurred in the last eight years.

And again with Common Dreams:

Chevron Halts Arctic Drilling Plans ‘Indefinitely’

  • Decision ‘further proof that technical challenges of drilling in icy waters, where a spill is all but inevitable.’—Farrah Khan, Greenpeace Canada

In a move cheered by environmental groups, Chevron has put its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic “on hold indefinitely,” the energy company said Wednesday.

It had planned on drilling by 2020 in the Beaufort Sea, but in a letter to Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), Chevron cited “the level of economic uncertainty in the industry” for its decision, Reuters reports.

CBC News reports that Chevron has already spent over $100 million on exploration in the Beaufort Sea.

NEB policy is that companies engaged in drilling must be able to drill a “same season relief well” in the case of an out-of-control well—an ability, according to the Financial Times, Chevron said was “not feasible.” Chevron was in the process of creating an alternate to such a relief well and have it meet approval of the regulatory body.

Oil news further south with Reuters:

Oil shock to tilt Mexico energy opening in private sector’s favor

Mexico, the world’s 10th biggest crude producer, last week announced bidding terms for the first set of production-sharing contracts, unveiling 14 shallow-water exploration blocks that will pay winning firms a share of each project’s output.

The overhaul aims to reverse a decline in crude output of 30 percent since 2004, but the slumping prices have cut potential returns, putting the onus on Mexico to make it more attractive for firms to invest – at the government’s expense.

By law, what companies must pay the government include a range of taxes and a basic royalty which will vary depending on the price of oil.

The most important consideration in determining who wins the contracts will be what share of operating profits bidders offer the government above a minimum level.

“What will the government do? Well, if it planned on a certain percentage for a given (project), it’s just going to have to reduce the percentage,” said German Pacheco, a congressman from the opposition National Action Party who helped craft the energy reform.

From the Guardian, an oceanic crisis:

Major coral bleaching in Pacific may become worst die-off in 20 years, say experts

  • Warm sea temperatures are causing massive coral reef die-off across the Northern Pacific in what could be the start of an historic bleaching event around the world

Scientists warn extreme sea temperatures could cause a “historic” coral reef die-off around the world over the coming months, following a massive coral bleaching already underway in the North Pacific. Experts said the coral die-off could be the worst in nearly two decades.

Reports of severe bleaching have been accumulating in the inbox of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch programme since July.

A huge swathe of the Pacific has already been affected, including the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Kiribati and Florida. Some areas have recorded serious bleaching for the first time.

“On a global scale it’s a major bleaching event. What it may be is the beginning of a historic event,” said Coral Reef Watch coordinator Dr Mark Eakin.

A delightful discovery, via BBC News:

Birds ‘heard tornadoes coming’ and fled one day ahead

US scientists say tracking data shows that five golden-winged warblers “evacuated” their nesting site one day before the April 2014 tornado outbreak.

Geolocators showed the birds left the Appalachians and flew 700km (400 miles) south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The next day, devastating storms swept across the south and central US.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, ecologists suggest these birds – and others – may sense such extreme events with their keen low-frequency hearing.

Other sounds, ominous in themselves, via Environment News Service:

EU Traffic Noise Causes 10,000 Premature Deaths a Year

More than 125 million Europeans could be exposed to levels of road traffic noise above legal guidelines, causing up to 10,000 premature deaths each year, finds a new assessment published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

“Noise in Europe 2014,” the EEA’s first noise assessment report, analyzes exposure to noise levels and the environmental and public health problems that result.

The effects of noise are particularly widespread. For the one in four Europeans exposed to noise levels above the EU’s threshold for assessment and action, 55 decibels, there are both direct and indirect health effects, the report states.

Traffic noise annoys almost 20 million and disturbs the sleep of an estimated eight million residents of the 28 European Union Member States.

Another Obama administration disappointment, from Salon:

EPA goes soft on toxic coal ash

  • New regulations for the dangerous coal byproduct fail to treat it as hazardous waste

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the nation’s very first regulations for coal ash disposal Friday afternoon. But, in a major disappointment to those hoping the agency would come down hard on the substance, it opted to regulate it as solid, instead of hazardous, waste.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants — one that’s less well-known than carbon dioxide emissions, but is also far more prevalent than many likely realize. It’s the second-largest form of waste generated in the U.S., the 140 tons of it that are produced annually stored at over 2,000 disposal sites across the country.

Some of those dump sites have been known to leak contaminants, which include arsenic, mercury and dangerous heavy metals, posing a health risk to the people living nearby. And sometimes things go really wrong. You may remember, for example, the disaster earlier this year in North Carolina, when Duke Energy spilled over 82,000 tons of the stuff into the Dan River.

On to Japan and Fukushimapocalypse Now!, via the Japan Times:

Taiwan says 3/11 ban on Japanese food exports to remain in place

Taiwan will continue to ban food imports from five prefectures tainted by the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster despite Tokyo’s efforts to apply stricter export inspections.

An official at the Health and Welfare Ministry said Friday the import ban will remain in place and that Taiwanese authorities have no plans to lift it any time soon.

“Both sides have been discussing the issue since the ban was put in place,” he said. “We proceed at our own pace and will conduct an overall assessment before making any decision.”

The Japan Times again, with damages sought:

Hundreds of Fukushima evacuees sue Tepco for ¥6 billion

More than 340 people forced to evacuate by the atomic meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011 filed a lawsuit Friday against Tokyo Electric Power Co. demanding around ¥6 billion in compensation.

In the case, filed with the Tokyo District Court, the 344 plaintiffs from Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, are seeking ¥10 million in damages for mental suffering and monthly payments of ¥200,000 for three years from the utility once the evacuation order for the Odaka area is lifted, their lawyers said.

The evacuees had sought to settle the case through an alternative dispute resolution system but decided to take it to court after Tepco, which runs the plant, rejected the terms of settlement, the lawyers said.

And from ABC News, the latest on that underground radioactive-waste-enclosing organic cat litter explosion in New Mexico:

Report: Radiation Leak at Nuclear Dump Was Small

A final report by independent researchers shows the radiation leak from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico was small and localized.

The report released Thursday by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center also says no negative health effects are expected among workers or the public.

The center is associated with New Mexico State University.

Its technicians have been collecting samples since February, when a container of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured after being placed in a storage room at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, fear, aid, politics


From the Centers for Disease Control, the latest Ebola numbers for the three hardest hit West African countries:

BLOLG Ebola cases

From the CDC report, the latest corresponding Ebola curves:

BLOG Ebola curves

The Washington Post covers a high level visit:

UN chief visits Ebola-ravaged West African nations

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised health workers battling Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia on Friday, saying they have shown “the most noble face of humankind” amid an epidemic that has killed more than 6,900 people in West Africa.

Ban, who made stops in both countries on Friday, travels Saturday to Guinea where the Ebola virus first emerged a year ago.

“Today we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that this terrible outbreak can be defeated,” said Ban at a news conference with Liberia’s president.

“Our response strategy is working — where people are gaining access to treatment, where contacts are being traced, burials are becoming safer, communities are mobilizing to protect themselves,” he said.

Then to Liberia for that election, via the New York Times:

Liberia Will Proceed With Senate Vote Delayed by Ebola

Senate elections that were repeatedly delayed because of the Ebola epidemic and legal challenges, and further complicated by a presidential ban on large political gatherings in the capital, will finally be held in Liberia on Saturday. Whether they will be fair, peaceful and safe is unclear.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said the elections, first scheduled more than two months ago but postponed twice, must be held, otherwise the nine-year terms of half the members in the 30-seat Senate will expire with no successors, provoking a constitutional crisis. Critics have said mass gatherings at the polls raise the risk of more contagion that would aggravate the Ebola crisis, which had shown signs of easing in this country of four million.

Last Saturday, the Supreme Court agreed with Ms. Johnson Sirleaf, saying it would not halt the vote. “It is not our place to decide whether it is appropriate to conduct elections at this time or any other time,” said the chief justice, Francis S. Korkpor.

The elections are not only seen as a test of whether Liberia, one of the three worst-hit West African countries in the Ebola epidemic, can conduct the voting without inadvertently spreading an insidious disease. They are also seen as a barometer of Ms. Johnson Sirleaf’s popularity. The most hotly contested Senate seat pits her son, Robert, against George Manneh Weah, a former soccer star and presidential aspirant. The seat represents the capital region, where nearly half the country’s people live.

Next, on to Sierra Leone and a dose of seasonal angst from NBC News:

Could Christmas Worsen Ebola’s Spread?

  • It worries Dr. Dan Kelly. And officials in Sierra Leone were concerned enough to limit public gatherings for the holidays.

Right now, Ebola is raging out of control in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown. It’s barely under control in outlying districts like Kono and Kenema. The epidemic started as people traveled across the region’s porous borders, and this will be the first Christmas and New Year holiday since the epidemic started.

“You have a couple of million people in Freetown and I’d say 50-plus percent of those people in Freetown are interested in traveling back to remote villages for the holidays,” Kelly told NBC News.

“And they’ll spend a week there,” added Kelly, who’s worked in Sierra Leone on and off since 2006. “It could spread Ebola all around the country and just create hundreds of hotspots for sure.”

Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, says travel between all parts of the country has been restricted as part of “Operation Western Area Surge,” an effort to get a handle on the epidemic. He says public gatherings will be strictly controlled in the run-up to Christmas.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers belated vaccinations coming:

Ebola vaccine to be available in March

Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine yesterday revealed in Freetown that a new vaccine for the deadly Ebola virus disease, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Sierra Leoneans, will be available in March 2015.

Speaking at a press briefing organised by the Ministry of Information and Communications, Professor Peter Piot said they were in the country to have first-hand information about the disease, do research for developing an Ebola vaccine and getting prepared for a further outbreak.

“Since the first outbreak in 1976 in Congo, we have not been able to develop any effective cure for it. But we will make sure not to miss this opportunity to develop a vaccine that will be first implemented here in February or March 2015,” said the professor who co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium.

A perspective of bodies from two different tragedies, via the Washington Post:

In Sierra Leone, the ghosts of war haunt an Ebola graveyard

To find Andrew Kondoh, walk through the gates of this city’s largest cemetery, where teams in moonsuits bury more than 50 bodies in white plastic bags each day. Look for the man with the wispy goatee and big belly, who is overseeing one of the world’s most chaotic, dangerous graveyards as if he’s done it all before.

That’s because he has.

Twenty years ago, when he was 13, Kondoh took it upon himself to guard a heap of bodies, people killed by rebels during the country’s civil war. For three years, as the pile grew, he protected them from being trampled or picked at by dogs. When that conflict ended, Kondoh made a promise to himself. He was done working with the dead.

Then Ebola surged in Sierra Leone.

“It’s like I’m back there again,” Kondoh said. “Except this time I don’t see the faces in the body bags. I just imagine them.”

The United Nations Development Programme covers a novel way to pay front line workers:

Mobile money for 16,000 Ebola workers

Marion Sesay gossiped with her two work colleagues while they waited in the shade of a local money handler for their names to be called.

She and her friends, nurses at a nearby hospital, are entitled to hazard pay, an extra bit of money every two weeks to offset the risk of working in health care during Ebola times.

“The money is helping us greatly,” Ms. Sesay said. “We can use the money for our kids, for our families. The money is good, but we just want this thing to end.”

For the third installment of their hazard pay entitlement, Sesay and her national colleagues, some 16,000 recipients across Sierra Leone, received text messages on their phones: how much money to expect and where to pick it up with a security code.

The system, a mobile money transfer scheme, was implemented for the first time the week before Christmas with a great deal of satisfaction.

UPDATE: We inadvertently omitted a video, forthwith rectified. From Agence France-Presse:

Sierra Leone bikers spread the message to fight Ebola

Program notes:

More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

A call for a debt jubilee from the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

Calls for IMF, World Bank to cancel Salone debts

The Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) and Jubilee Debt Campaign UK are calling for the immediate cancelation of debts owed by Sierra Leone externally, especially those owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The IMF is demanding that Sierra Leone repay the sum of US$2.7 million this week, a further US$1.8 million on Christmas Eve and US$1 million on 29 December this year.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone owe a whopping US$464 million to the IMF, out of a total debt of US$3.6 billion.

In 2015, the debt payments of the three countries worst affected by the Ebola outbreak are expected to be US$130 million, including US$21 million to the IMF.

And the president’s State House Communications Unit covers a notable visitor:

Ebola Scientist Assures President Koroma

The Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Professor Peter Piot Thursday 18 December assured government of their support in the fight against Ebola through the development of a vaccine that will bring a final halt to the spreading virus.

He made this assurance during a courtesy call on President Ernest Bai Koroma at State Lodge, Hill Station.

The distinguished Belgian microbiologist well-known for his research on Ebola and AIDS is in the country to support government’s fight against the disease and discuss how best science, innovation and discovery can better contribute to defeating the virus.

Welcoming the delegation, President Koroma expressed his profound delight for receiving Prof. Piot, who had been involved with Ebola outbreaks since 1976 and has played a significant role trying to bring a closure to the epidemic.

EnviroWatch: Climate, health, pollution, nukes


And food, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change could cut world food output 18 percent by 2050

Global warming could cause an 18 percent drop in world food production by 2050, but investments in irrigation and infrastructure, and moving food output to different regions, could reduce the loss, a study published on Thursday said.

Globally, irrigation systems should be expanded by more than 25 percent to cope with changing rainfall patterns, the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters said.

Where they should be expanded is difficult to model because of competing scenarios on how rainfall will change, so the majority of irrigation investments should be made after 2030, the study said.

“If you don’t carefully plan (where to spend resources), you will get adaptation wrong,” David Leclere, one of the study’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Infrastructure and processing chains will need to be built in areas where there was little agriculture before in order to expand production, he said.

Another food threat from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Tropical deforestation threatens global food production

Tropical deforestation in the southern hemisphere is accelerating global warming and threatening world food production by distorting rainfall patterns across Europe, China and the U.S. Midwest, a study released on Thursday said.

By 2050, deforestation could lead to a 15 percent drop in rainfall in tropical regions including the South American Amazon, Southeast Asia and Central Africa, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said.

Much of the logging taking place is to clear land for agriculture. This can cause a vicious cycle, increasing global warming, lowering food production on farms which in turn leads to growers cutting down more trees for farmland, experts say.

“When you deforest the tropics, those regions will experience significant warming and the biggest drying,” Deborah Lawrence, a University of Virginia professor and the study’s lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coal, the gift that keeps on giving, via the Washington Post:

Dam breaks, tainted wells prompt new look at coal-ash dumps that escaped EPA review

Since the 1970s, utility companies have been allowed to dispose of coal-ash under state laws that vary widely across jurisdictions. The exemption was created by Congress, which, to avoid rules that might discourage the use of coal, blocked the EPA from classifying coal ash as hazardous waste, or even subjecting it to the same national standards that apply to other kinds of solid waste.

That could change as early as Friday as the EPA prepares to issue new rules that will, for the first time, include coal ash in federal guidelines for waste disposal. The long-awaited decision could significantly increase disposal costs for utility companies, depending on whether the EPA decides to classify coal ash as “hazardous” waste, requiring more stringent standards for disposal and cleanup.

Industry officials are bracing for tighter rules while hoping the EPA will opt for something short of a “hazardous” label that they say will hurt companies and raise utility rates. Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, said stricter laws are unnecessary for a waste product that has been deemed harmless enough for use as an additive in cement and tarmac. He accused “anti-coal groups” of promoting a “steady stream of misleading publicity regarding the safety of coal ash.”

But community activists and environmental groups point to a decades-long record of dam breaks, spills and leaks in demanding greater protection for those living near such dumps. Hardly harmless, residue from coal-burning contains significant concentrations of arsenic, mercury and heavy metals that are toxic to humans and wildlife, environmentalists and regulators say.

Fears of a British health crisis from the Independent:

Norovirus closes wards in nine hospital amid fears of winter NHS crisis

Nine hospitals have been forced to close wards because of outbreaks of the norovirus, according to a report.

As the flu season got underway, ITV News reported that five wards had closed to visitors and all other adult wards had restricted visiting hours at Warwick Hospital. Four wards at Southampton General have stopped taking new patients and Weston General in Weston-super-Mare had been closed.

Hull Royal Infirmary, Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby, James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Warwickshire’s Ellen Badger Hospital and Royal Bournemouth have also been affected.

From McClatchy Washington Bureau, more fruits of neoliberalism:

Most states unprepared to handle infectious disease outbreaks, health group says

Most states are not prepared to handle outbreaks of severe infectious diseases, according to a new report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases” found that half the states and the District of Columbia scored five or lower out of a possible 10 on measures related to the prevention, diagnosis, detection and response to disease outbreaks.

Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia led all states, each scoring eight out of 10. California, Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were next, scoring seven out of 10.

Arkansas had the nation’s lowest score with two. It was followed by Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Wyoming, which each scored a three.

Another gift of fuelishness, via Bloomberg News:

Air Pollution Exposure in Pregnancy Linked to Autism in Study

Women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to have an autistic child, a study found.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found the risk of autism rises in parallel with exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy, with the biggest effect occurring in the final months of gestation. The results appear in the Dec. 18 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The findings add to other research suggesting the environment plays a role in the development of autism, a developmental disorder marked by repetitive behaviors and trouble communicating and socializing. The study, which started in 1989 and involved more than 100,000 nurses from across the U.S., will help researchers home in on the causes of autism and potential ways to prevent it, said Marc Weisskopf, a senior study author.

And from the Center for Public Integrity, a very generous giver in a ten-gallon Stetson:

Texas weakens chemical exposure guidelines, opens door for polluters

In 2007, Texas regulators quietly relaxed the state’s long-term air pollution guideline for benzene, one of the world’s most toxic and thoroughly studied chemicals. The number they came up with, still in effect, was 40 percent weaker, or less health-protective, than the old one.

The decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was a boon for oil refineries, petrochemical plants and other benzene-emitting facilities, because it allowed them to release more benzene into the air without triggering regulatory scrutiny. But it defied the trend of scientific research, which shows that even small amounts of benzene can cause leukemia. The American Petroleum Institute, lobbyist for some of the nation’s largest benzene producers, privately acknowledged as early as 1948 that the only “absolutely safe” dose was zero.

It’s “the most irresponsible action I’ve heard of in my life,” said Jim Tarr, an air-quality consultant who worked for the TCEQ’s predecessor agency in the 1970s. “I certainly can’t find another regulatory agency in the U.S. that’s done that.”

The benzene decision was part of Texas’ sweeping overhaul of its air pollution guidelines. An analysis by InsideClimate News shows that the TCEQ has loosened two-thirds of the protections for the 45 chemicals it has re-assessed since 2007, even though the state’s guidelines at the time were already among the nation’s weakest.

A Big Agra GMO win in China, via Shanghai Daily:

Green light for GM crops from US

CHINA has approved the import of a genetically modified corn strain it blocked last year, and has given clearance to biotech soybeans that had been waiting years for clearance in a sign of warmer ties with the United States.

US Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said China had approved imports of American-grown Viptera corn developed by Swiss-based Syngenta, known as MIR 162, as well as shipments of biotech soybeans developed by DuPont Pioneer and Bayer CropScience.

Industry sources and analysts said China’s change of heart was due to a warmer political climate between Beijing and Washington since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last month, where the two nations announced a joint plan to limit carbon emissions and made breakthroughs on eliminating duties on technology products.

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

3,700 Fukushima evacuees running out of time to claim compensation

Some 3,700 of those forced to flee during the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011 have yet to exercise their right to claim compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co., a company executive said Thursday.

Tepco has received claims for provisional compensation from some 166,000 evacuees who fled coastal areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant because of the triple core meltdown.

Of them, 3,713 had yet to apply for full compensation as of the end of November, Tepco Executive Vice President Yoshiyuki Ishizaki said in an interview.

A bill due for the reactors’ owner, via the Yomiuri Shimbun:

TEPCO’s 1st repayment due for emergency loan

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will soon repay some of the ¥2 trillion in emergency loans it took out just after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, according to sources.

TEPCO will repay a total of ¥150 billion in loans due on Dec. 26 to main creditor banks Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho Bank.

The firm will make the repayment because it hopes to take out fresh loans from the three banks in fiscal 2015 and later to secure enough operating funds.

In a business rationalization report, TEPCO said it needs ¥300 billion in funds in fiscal 2015 and an additional one trillion yen by the end of fiscal 2016, during which the company aims to return to the corporate debt market.

EbolaWatch: Worries, vaccines, campaigns, fire


From IRIN, the malady lingers on:

Mystery over Ebola survivors’ ailments

For some Ebola survivors, overcoming the lethal viral assault has not heralded a full return to good health. An array of ailments including headache, joint pains, vision and hearing problems have afflicted convalescents; experts are still uncertain of the exact cause.

Not all survivors of the virus, which has been rampant in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since earlier this year and killed some 70 percent of patients, suffer the symptoms, the extremes of which include amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) and erectile dysfunction. It is also not yet known why only some are affected.

Margaret Nanyonga, World Health Organization (WHO) consultant clinician, who has assessed 85 Ebola survivors with various symptoms in Sierra Leone’s eastern town of Kenema, told IRIN that some of the ailments were treated, but others such as vision and hearing problems tended to persist.

“The ladies complained of menstrual failure, but these resumed after three months. They also complained about hair loss. Men complained of testicular pains. We don’t know whether it can lead to impotence or not. That is a worry. Some men have reported erectile dysfunction. There are also psychosocial disorders, loss of sleep, anxiety and depression,” she said.
Focus on survivors

Nanyonga explained that the clinic she operated in Kenema is still the only one of its kind in the country dealing with post-Ebola conditions. Responding to Ebola outbreaks in the past, she said, has often ended when the virus is brought under control.

“No one had taken interest in the survivors. After fighting the epidemic, that was the end. But before, there were fewer people surviving Ebola,” she said.

More on a story we posted Wednesday, via the Guardian:

World Health Organisation and DfID slow to react on Ebola, say UK MPs

  1. Parliamentary committee censures WHO and Department for International Development and warns of dangerous inadequacy of global health systems

The House of Commons international development committee has criticised the WHO and also the Department for International Development (DfID) for not reacting quickly enough when the virus took hold earlier this year.

But it commended DfID for the “vigorous efforts” now being made in Sierra Leone, where Britain has taken the lead in international aid, mirroring the US role in neighbouring Liberia and France’s role in Guinea.

The international development committee warned that the global health system “remains dangerously inadequate for responding to health emergencies” and said “DfID should not wait for its 2015 multilateral aid review” to do something about this, adding: “The urgency of the situation warrants immediate action.”

It pressed the international development secretary Justine Greening to move quickly and decisively to guard against a repeat of the disaster, which has claimed the lives of almost 7,000 people in west Africa.

Newsweek covers the Cuban contribution:

To Fight Ebola, Cuba Is Sending Its Biggest Export – Doctors

Cuba’s export of medical professionals has gained the Communist country much praise, including most recently from the island’s neighbor and nemesis, the United States, where top officials have praised Cuba’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Cuban contingent of medical professionals sent to the epidemic’s hot zone was larger than any other country’s.

Cuba has trained many more medical professionals per capita than any other developing or developed country. In 2010 it had 6.7 doctors for every 1,000 citizens, according to the World Bank. In the United States in the same year, there were 2.4 doctors for every 1,000 Americans. Unlike America, however, in Cuba the government alone finances medical studies, and it then controls the careers of medical professionals.

When Cuba sent 256 health workers to combat Ebola in West Africa in October, Havana was universally applauded. The World Health Organization (WHO) is “extremely grateful for the generosity of the Cuban government and these health professionals for doing their part to help us contain the worst Ebola outbreak ever known,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general.

Another vaccine heads to trials, via Reuters:

China approves experimental Ebola vaccine for clinical trials

China has approved a domestically developed experimental Ebola vaccine for clinical trials, the official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday, citing the People’s Liberation Army logistics unit.

Scientists around the world are racing to develop Ebola vaccines after the world’s worst outbreak of the virus, which has killed more than 6,000 people in West Africa this year.

The Chinese vaccine is being developed by the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Xinhua said, a military research unit which is also involved in developing a drug to treat the disease.

Another trial, via StarAfrica:

Kenya begins Ebola Vaccine trials

Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) researchers in Kilifi County in the country’s coastal region have started the human testing of a vaccine designed to protect against Ebola.

The first dose of the VSV Ebola vaccine was administered to a health worker on Wednesday evening at the Kilifi County Hospital. The Phase 1 trials are part of a wider World Health Organization (WHO) led consortium (VEBCON) funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Kenyan trials, and other trials that are taking place in the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Gabon, will test the vaccine’s safety and its ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults.

The vaccine is administered as a single dose after which the participants will be monitored closely. Early trial results will be provided in February 2015.

From Sierra Leone, a double tragedy via the Associated Press:

Ebola: 11th Sierra Leone doctor dies; fire destroys supplies

One of Sierra Leone’s most senior physicians died Thursday from Ebola, the 11th doctor in the country to succumb to the disease, a health official said.

In neighboring Guinea, a fire destroyed medicine crucial to fighting Ebola. The fire engulfed a warehouse at the Conakry airport and burned everything inside, said Dr. Moussa Konate, head of logistics for Guinea’s Ebola response. He could not immediately say how much had been lost.

The death of Dr. Victor Willoughby, who tested positive for Ebola on Saturday, was a major loss for Sierra Leone, said Dr. Brima Kargbo, the country’s chief medical officer.

“Dr. Victor Willoughby was a mentor to us physicians and a big loss to the medical profession,” said Kargbo. “He has always been available to help junior colleagues.”

The 67-year-old died Thursday morning, just hours after an experimental drug arrived in the country for him. The arrival of ZMAb, developed in Canada, had raised hopes for Willoughby’s survival. But he died before a dose could be administered, said Kargbo. ZMAb is related to ZMapp, another experimental drug that has been used to treat some Ebola patients. The drugs’ efficacy in treating Ebola has not yet been proven.

More on the fire from the U.N. News Center:

Ebola: ‘Regrettable loss’ caused by warehouse fire in Guinea

A fire engulfed a United Nations warehouse in Guinea today that contained medicines and laboratory materials used for the fight against Ebola, causing no casualties but “a regrettable loss” in supplies, which the UN mission there vowed to quickly replace. An investigation into the fire was underway.

“This is a regrettable loss, but no one was hurt and we will move quickly together with our partners to replace the lost supplies”, said Anthony Banbury, Head of the UN Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER).

“We certainly won’t be deterred in our fight against Ebola,” he said.

UNMEER reported that the fire in the warehouse, mainly containing medicines and laboratory materials, was discovered around 8:00 a.m. local time when workers arrived at facility in the main humanitarian logistics base of the airport and of the city of Conakry, the capital of Guinea – one of the three most affected countries by Ebola in West Africa.

No casualties had been reported, the mission said, and added that the personal protective equipment stored in tents next to the warehouse had not been touched by the fire.

The exact amount of property and material damaged as a result of the fire is not yet known, and an investigation into the fire was underway, according to UNMEER.

The UNMEER warehouse is used by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Red Cross, the World Food Programme (WFP), and Pharmacie Centrale de Guinée to store supplies for their Ebola Emergency Response.

Preparations, via Sky News:

Sierra Leone Braced For More Ebola Cases

  • Fears of a sharp increase in cases mean even those who have not died from the disease are being buried in Ebola graveyards

Sierra Leone, caught in the grip of the Ebola crisis, is bracing itself for a sharp increase in cases of the killer disease over the Christmas period.

The Government is so worried about the situation it has outlawed any seasonal public celebrations and soldiers are being put on the streets to make sure no one disobeys the directive.

The outbreak of the virus, which began a year ago in neighbouring Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia, is now dominating the lives of everyone in Sierra Leone.

The western part of the country, including the capital Freetown where around a third of the population of more than six million lives, is bearing the brunt of the current upturn in cases.

And the response, via Reuters:

Health teams scour Sierra Leone capital in Ebola drive

Health workers in Sierra Leone began combing the streets of the capital Freetown for Ebola patients on Wednesday, moving house-to-house as the government launched a major operation to contain infection in West Africa’s worst-hit country.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said on national television that, as part of “Operation Western Area Surge”, travel between all parts of the country would be restricted and public gatherings would be restrained in the run-up to Christmas.

An encounter in the Devil’s Hole neighbourhood just outside Freetown showed why the programme was vital. Ibrahim Kamara sat in a discarded vehicle tyre, his eyes glassy and his breath coming in gasps, as he tried to answer questions from Ebola surveillance officers.

“Is the body weak?” a surveillance officer shouted. Kamara, 31, nodded despondently while onlookers gathered round.

“Vomiting,” the officer asked. Kamara nodded again.

And a video report from CCTV Africa:

Sierra Leone Launches Teams & Ambulances Dispatched to Prevent Spread of Ebola

Program notes:

Sierra Leone launched Western Area Surge in the capital Freetown on Wednesday, in an effort to contain an alarming rise in Ebola cases. The emphasis will be on safe burials, ambulance dispatching and quarantine activities. CCTV’s Clementine Logan reports.

While the Sierra Leone Concord Times covers qualified reassurance:

‘It’ll take hard work to end Ebola’

…CDC chief warns

Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said that only hard work, resilience and collaborative efforts will help put a final halt to the deadly Ebola disease that continues the ravage the lives of Sierra Leoneans since the outbreak hit the country some seven months ago.

Dr. Tom Frieden, however, said he was encouraged by the response of the government of Sierra Leone and its partners in putting mechanisms in place to contain the epidemic.

The CDC boss was speaking yesterday at a press conference held at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Aberdeen in Freetown where he noted that “time is of essence for sick people to quickly go for medical examination” if they notice signs and symptoms of the Ebola disease.

On to Liberia and Ebola labor politics from the Liberian Observer:

Liberian Truckers Take WFP to Task

  • Complain to Four Gov’t Ministries, Agencies

The Port Truckers Association (PTA) of Liberia has taken serious exception to a recent contractual agreement signed between the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Conakry and United Mining, a Guinean trucking company, to provide transport services in Liberia on behalf of WFP Monrovia’s Ebola response.

The Liberian truckers have rejected the agreement, describing it as an attempt to undermine the Liberianization policy and hurt the viability of the country’s transport industry.

In a statement issued on Thursday, December 10 the PTA announced that it has filed formal complaints with several regulatory institutions in the country, including the National Port Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Transportation, respectively, seeking their immediate intervention in investigating the contract entered into between the WFP Conakry Office and the private Guinean company.

From Heritage, recognition:

Internal Affairs Minister wants Burial Team remembered

Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly has called on the Government of Liberia (GoL) to remember the Ebola burial team across the country. Minister Dukuly said the burial team needs to be remembered, because according to him, the team has sacrificially served the country.

He said the job of the burial team had been at very high risk in contracting the virus, and as such, there is a need for prayers and support to the team.

The MIA boss was speaking Monday, December 15 at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) regular Ebola Hour.

“The burial team also needs to be remembered by national government, because they are sacrificing their lives to have our people buried in a decent and dignify manner” he stated.

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, taking the campaign to the street vendors:

Marketers Committed To Ebola Fight

The Liberia Marketing Association through its president Madam Lusu Slong has committed itself to the “Ebola Must Go” Campaign which was recently launched by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

The campaign is aimed at achieving zero Ebola infection comes December 31 of this year.

The head of the Liberia Marketing Association has called on all marketers to join the fight against the Ebola virus by observing all the necessary preventive measures given by the Ministry of Health and its local and international partners.

Madam Slong stressed that since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, market women have been finding it difficult to carry out their daily activities something she described as troubling for them noting that most women have to sell in order to sustain their families.

EnviroWatch: Fracked, nuked, heated, dried


Plus critters, health, and more.

First, via United Press International, a major development:

New York state bans fracking

New York state on Wednesday banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of extracting natural gas after a years-long study by environmental and health officials.

There had been an indefinite moratorium placed on fracking in the state since 2008 when then-N.Y. Gov. David Paterson ordered a review on the safety of the controversial process.

N.Y. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Wednesday declared he wouldn’t be comfortable if his own children were to live near a fracking site.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” he said during a year-end meeting of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet.

From Al Jazeera America, implications:

New York fracking ban reverberates nationally

  • Activists say the ban, announced by Gov. Cuomo Wednesday, will embolden the anti-fracking movement in several states

The news took even the most seasoned environmental activists by surprise: after years of review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York State would ban hydraulic fracturing.

“I can barely contain myself,” said Nadia Steinzor, the eastern coordinator for national non-profit Earthworks. “Even though Cuomo recently said he was going to make a clear decision, we were not expecting something as exciting and straightforward as this.”

Activists hope that Cuomo’s decision will spark more bans across the country. “The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health,” Steinzor said.

From EcoWatch, more reinforcement:

Families Forced to Flee Their Homes From Out-of-Control Leak at Fracking Well

More than two dozen families have been forced to flee their homes in Monroe County in eastern Ohio as natural gas poured from a leak at an unused fracking well, the C0lumbus Dispatch revealed.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, crews lost control of the well Saturday and have not yet been able to stop the leak. Families were evacuated from homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the well near the Ohio River. “There’s still a steady stream of natural gas coming from the wellhead,” said McCorkle.

Texas-based Triad Hunter, which owns the drilling site, released a statement saying it had “experienced a loss of control of a well, the Stalder 3UH, located in Monroe County, Ohio. The previously drilled and completed Stalder 3UH well had been temporarily plugged and abandoned in preparation for the drilling of three additional Utica horizontal wells on the Stalder pad. However, despite numerous precautionary measures taken in connection with the temporary plugging and abandonment operation, the well began to flow uncontrollably while recommencing production operations. Triad Hunter personnel were removing the well’s night cap flange when a pressure disruption occurred. They attempted to bolt back down this equipment but were not able to safely do so prior to natural gas flowback.”

From the Ecologist, more fracking woes, potentially much more devastating:

With sub-$60 oil, fracking and tar sands losses threaten the whole financial system

A new financial crisis is threatening to dwarf the ‘subprime’ mortgage debacle, writes Paul Mobbs. Cheap money from central banks has fuelled some $1.3 trillion of risky investments in high-cost ‘unconventional’ oil and gas. Now, with oil sinking below $60, all that paper is turning to junk – and that’s putting the entire economic system at risk.

Brought about by the recent fall in oil prices, investors are beginning to review the economics of unconventional oil and gas. For the last few years there have been a number of damning reports about the economics of unconventional fossil fuels.

Now it seems those long-ignored observations are being taken seriously by the money-lenders of Wall Street.

Deck the halls with. . .Whoa! WTF? Via the Guardian:

Toxic chemicals found in majority of holiday decorations

A new study tested seasonal products from retailers Walmart, Target and CVS. Two-thirds contained substances linked to cancer, learning disabilities and other health problems

A range of seasonal holiday products containing high levels of toxic chemicals are being sold by top retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe’s, CVS and Dollar Tree, according to a new study.

Researchers for the environmental non-profit The Ecology Center tested 69 seasonal holiday products and found that two-thirds contained one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.

Purchased at seven retail stores in southeast Michigan, researchers tested beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and other tabletop decorations, and gift bags. The study identified lead, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates, among other hazardous substances. These have been variously linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.

Measles on the rise in South Africa, via StarAfrica:

S/Africa on measles alert

South Africa’s five provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape have been hit by measles, Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila confirmed on Tuesday.

Some 49 laboratory stations confirmed measles cases had been noted since the beginning of this year, with the majority of the cases being reported in the Northern Cape Province which has recorded 18 measles cases to date, Maila said.

He said the ministry was working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to contain the virus and ensure that it would not spread further.

“Indeed, there is a breakout of measles in South Africa. However, we are doing everything (possible) to make sure that we contain it so that it should not spread at the level that would get people worried,” he added.

Global Times covers the tragic:

Village votes to expel HIV-positive child

  • Expert: needs care ‘immediately’

An 8-year-old boy was allegedly facing expulsion from a village in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province for being HIV-positive, news portal people.com.cn reported on Wednesday.

More than 200 villagers, including the boy’s grandfather, in Shufangya village, Liqiao township, signed an agreement on December 7 agreeing to expel the boy in an effort to “protect villagers’ health.”

Kunkun (pseudonym), the boy, was found to be HIV-positive in 2011 when he received treatment for minor injuries, according to his grandfather, surnamed Luo.

Luo, 69, said that the HIV virus was transmitted to the boy from his mother.

From the Associated Press, corporate killings:

14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

In the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine, 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy were charged Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

The nationwide outbreak was traced to tainted drug injections manufactured by the now-closed New England Compounding Pharmacy of Framingham.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the business, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who was in charge of the sterile room, were hit with the most serious charges, accused in a federal racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” of death or great bodily harm.

Among other things, Cadden, Chin and others are accused of using expired ingredients, failing to properly sterilize drugs and failing to test them to make sure they were pure. The other defendants were charged with such crimes as fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.

From the Guardian, GMO incrementalism?:

Australian organic regulator pushes for GM-tainted crops to retain certification

  • Move would protect farmers from losing their organic certification because of accidental contamination

One of the bodies that regulates Australian organic standards is pushing to allow crops that are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified material to retain their organic certification, in a move that would bring Australia in line with European regulators.

Under current Australian organic standards, products lose organic certification if they contain any level of GM material.

That’s what happened to Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who took his neighbour Mark Baxter to the WA supreme court claiming GM pollen from Baxter’s farm caused him to lose organic certification on part of his property. Marsh lost the case and has lodged an appeal.

But regulator Australian Certified Organic (ACO) has applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to change the standards to allow a minimum level of “advantageous contamination” in organic crops, so long as GM material is not detectable in the end product.

Reuters covers more GMO politicking:

U.S, China making progress on biotech crop talks: USDA’s Vilsack

The United States and China are making progress in talks over Beijing’s acceptance of new biotechnology for crops, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.

The countries are “moving toward an understanding of how we might be able to establish a strategic dialogue on biotechnology,” Vilsack told Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in a bilateral meeting in Chicago.

Biotech crops are a key trade issue between the countries because China has rejected more than 1 million tons of U.S. corn containing traces of a type of genetically modified corn, Agrisure Viptera, in the past year. The strain, developed by Syngenta AG, is approved for planting in the United States but not for import by Beijing.

From the Guardian, resistance to the neoliberal environmental agenda:

Italy says it will oppose EU plans to scrap environment law

  • Eleven member states signed letter opposing withdrawal of draft EU law on air quality and waste

Plans by European policymakers to scrap a draft EU law on air quality and waste send a “negative signal” about Europe’s ambition to curb climate change and governments will challenge them, the Italian environment minister said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the European commission laid out its legislative plans for 2015, saying it would focus on priorities such as jobs and economic growth. At the same time, it planned to withdraw some proposals made by the previous EU executive, including on improving air quality and cutting waste.

Environment minister Gian Luca Galletti of Italy, holder of the rotating EU presidency, was one of 11 EU ministers who signed a letter to the commission saying they opposed plans to tear up environmental legislation. He told journalists the opposition would continue.

After the jump, climatic grounds for pick-me-up angst, the U.S. Southwest looks to replenish a critical reservoir, oceans now come with a plastic lining?, Obama saves a bay — at least for now, Peruvian environmental murders, the tragic price of Chinese ivory hunger, the Navajo coal problem, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and yet another leak, and a singularly bad timing problem, bad news for Japan’s power customer, another nuclear plant moves closer to a restart, and more ratepayer woes. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Delays, numbers, politics, zeal


We open with a critique, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Donors and WHO responded too slowly to West Africa Ebola outbreak – report

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the nations that fund it failed to respond quickly and effectively to the deadly West Africa Ebola outbreak despite repeated warnings by aid agencies, a UK parliamentary committee said on Thursday.

Ebola cases are rising dramatically in Sierra Leone, and the House of Commons International Development Committee said the  international response was still “being outpaced on all fronts” by the spread of the Ebola virus in the former British colony.

The Ebola virus has killed more than 6,800 people and infected around 18,500 since March in West Africa, where poverty, corruption and civil war have left weak healthcare systems unable to cope with the spread of the disease.

The WHO’s response has been characterised by unnecessary bureaucracy and a failure to “see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” the report said.

The medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres had warned that the epidemic had reached unprecedented proportions in June 2014, it added.

The New York Times covers travel:

U.N. Secretary General to Visit Ebola-Plagued Nations

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, plans to visit the three West African countries that have been hit the hardest by the Ebola outbreak, according to a senior United Nations official.

Mr. Ban is to make the announcement at a year-end news conference on Wednesday. The director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, and his special envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, are to accompany him to West Africa.

The trip, which is to begin later this week, seems designed to send a message of solidarity with the three affected countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Reuters has the latest numbers:

Ebola toll nears 7,000; rate of spread slows in Sierra Leone – WHO

The death toll in the Ebola epidemic has risen to 6,915 out of 18,603 cases as of Dec. 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

There are signs that the increase in incidence in Sierra Leone has slowed, although 327 new cases were confirmed there in the past week, including 125 in the capital Freetown, the WHO said in its latest update.

“A major operation has been implemented to curb the spread of disease in the west of the country,” it said.

The totals for the three hardest hit countries from the latest World Health Organization Situation Report, released Wednesday:

BLOG Ebola cases

The World Food Programme sounds a hunger alert:

Ebola Leaves Hundreds Of Thousands Facing Hunger In Three Worst-Hit Countries

  • Lack of access to food in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could threaten over one million people

The number of people facing food insecurity due to the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could top one million by March 2015 unless access to food is drastically improved and measures are put in place to safeguard crop and livestock production, two UN agencies warned.

The disease’s impact is potentially devastating in the three countries already coping with chronic food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in three country reports published today.

Border closures, quarantines, hunting bans and other restrictions are seriously hindering people’s access to food, threatening their livelihoods, disrupting food markets and processing chains, and exacerbating shortages stemming from crop losses in areas with the highest Ebola infection rates, the FAO-WFP reports stressed.

In December 2014, half a million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in the three worst hit Western African countries.

From El País, Spanish Ebola problems:

Multiple deficiencies uncovered at hospital that treated Ebola victims

  • Madrid’s Carlos III had confusing protocols and inadequate personnel training, report finds

The Madrid hospital where nursing assistant Teresa Romero contracted Ebola while treating an infected patient suffered from multiple deficiencies, a new report finds.

Insufficient personnel training, changing protocols, inadequate facilities for putting on and taking off protective suits, and other shortcomings were all listed in the study of La Paz-Carlos III hospital carried out by work inspectors.

The center has treated all of Spain’s Ebola cases, which include two patients repatriated from Africa as well as Romero, who was an employee there. Several dozen people who came into contact with the nursing aide while she was contagious were also kept under observation at Carlos III.

On to Africa, starting with a suspected case from StarAfrica:

Ebola: Guinean under close watch in G/Bissau

A citizen of Guinea Conakry is under close medical watch in Guinea Bissau’s Gabu hospital under suspicion of contracting Ebola, according to national radio quoting hospital sources on Tuesday.According to sources, the individual who is around 40 years of age has been showing symptoms similar to the virus including a temperature of just over 38 degrees.

However, the same sources were quoted by the national radio as pointing out that the suspected patient’s body temperature gradually decreased in recent hours.

In any case, he will be remaining under medical observation for 21 days, sources indicated.

On to the hardest hit country with Sky News:

Sierra Leone Braced For Increase In Ebola Cases

  • Fears of a sharp increase of cases mean even those who have not died from the disease are being buried in Ebola graveyards

Sierra Leone, caught in the grip of the Ebola crisis, is bracing itself for a sharp increase in cases of the killer disease over the Christmas period.

The Government is so worried about the situation it has outlawed any seasonal public celebrations and will be putting soldiers on the street to make sure no one disobeys the directive.

The outbreak of the virus, which began a year ago in neighbouring Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia, is now dominating the lives of everyone in Sierra Leone.

The western part of the country, including the capital Freetown where around a third of the population of more than six million lives, is bearing the brunt of the current upturn in cases.

From BBC News, desperate measures:

Ebola: Sierra Leone begins house-to-house searches

Sierra Leone has begun house-to-house searches in the capital Freetown to find hidden cases of Ebola.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said that Sunday trading would be banned and travel between districts restricted. The president said that as Christmas approached, people would need to be reminded that Sierra Leona was at war with a “vicious enemy”.

Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia to have the highest number of Ebola cases, World Health Organization figures show.

The president said that while many districts of the country had made progress in fighting Ebola, challenges still remained in the western part of the country, which for the past two weeks had accounted for 50% of new infections.

He said that he was introducing an action plan, Operation Western Area Surge, to encourage people to come forward if they had a fever or other symptoms of Ebola.

He said it was necessary to introduce such stringent measures even though it was the festive season – a time when people would normally “celebrate with their families in a joyous manner”.

And a video report from CCTV Africa:

Ebola: Sierra Leone President bans Christmas Celebrations

Program notes:

Sierra Leone’s president confirmed a ban on parties and other festivities over the Christmas and New Year holidays and a “surge” to hunt for hidden Ebola patients. This as registered cases reach alarming numbers. CCTV’s Clementine Logan reports

Presidential spin from the State House Communications Unit:

CDC Chief Impressed with President Koroma

Director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States Dr Tom Frieden has described the “Western Area Surge” as a step in the right direction, adding that President Koroma’s leadership of the national response against Ebola is very effective.

“Last time when we met I was deeply impressed by your understanding of the virus,” he told the president.

The CDC Director expressed these sentiments during a courtesy call on President Koroma at State House, Freetown where they assessed the response to the outbreak so far. After one hundred days since he last visited Sierra Leone, Dr Frieden’s visit is part of concerted efforts by CDC and other United States Government agencies and international partners to take aggressive steps to control the spreading virus.

Welcoming the delegation, President Koroma stated that the country has made tremendous progress in building its capacity to fend off the disease. “We now have an increase in treatment and holding centers, laboratory capacity has also increased and spread out across the country; a situation that has limited the movement of people from one region to the other for treatment,” he said.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers the youngest victims:

Street Child supports over 1,000 Ebola orphans in South-East

One of Sierra Leone’s leading child protection agencies working with Ebola orphans in the country, Street Child of Sierra Leone (SCoSL), has provided food and non-food items to some one thousand and ninety-one (1,091) children orphaned by the deadly outbreak in eight chiefdoms in Kailahun district and three chiefdoms in Kenema district respectively. The donated items include rice, cooking condiments, toiletries and mattresses.

SCoSL’s Head of Communications, Advocacy and Mini Projects, Moses Lamin Karama, told Concord Times that his organization has supported a total of 656 Ebola orphans in 194 families in eight chiefdoms – Luawa, Kissi Teng, Kissi Tongi, Kissi Kama, Upper Bambara, Mandu, Jawei and Njaluahun – in the Kailahun district, as well as 535 orphans in 45 families in the Kenema district.

Explaining about SCoSL’s Ebola orphans project, Kamara said the organisation has its own unique definition of who an orphan is, and also does things differently from the others.

And the World Bank moves to keep things clear:

World Bank Group Supports Budget Management and Fiscal Transparency as Sierra Leone Responds to the Ebola Crisis

The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$30 million grant to support the Government of Sierra Leone in its efforts to respond to the unprecedented challenges posed by the Ebola crisis.

Today’s financing includes a US$10 million grant from the World Bank Group’s International Development Association’s (IDA)* Crisis Response Window (CRW), which is designed to help low-income IDA countries recover from severe disasters and crises.

The Emergency Economic and Fiscal Support Operation will support Sierra Leone as it seeks to bring the Ebola epidemic under control by strengthening government budget management and reducing fiscal risks heightened by the crisis.

“The advent of the Ebola virus in May 2014 and the subsequent acceleration of the outbreak in late July have put extraordinary strain on the country,” said Francis Ato Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “This operation will benefit the people of Sierra Leone and the global community by minimizing the economic impact of the outbreak and thereby improving prospects for jobs, growth and other livelihood enhancing activities.”

And from the Sierra Leone Concord Times, a new modality:

President Koroma opens new Ebola Care Centre at Newton

President Ernest Bai Koroma yesterday opened a new Ebola Community Care Centre (CCC) at Newton, in the Western Rural as part of a scale up of services in the district to help stop the spread of Ebola.

“The Western Area is an Ebola hot zone,” said President Koroma. “The Community Care Centre provides an alternative to Ebola Treatment Units, where residents can seek diagnosis, isolation and early treatment in a safe and protected environment close to their homes. This is the first of two centers to be established in the district.”

Funded by DFID, UNICEF – in partnership with the government and NGOs – is constructing CCCs throughout Sierra Leone in response to the Ebola outbreak. The CCCs are small tented structures with an 8-24 bed capacity and can separate patients with dry and wet symptoms.

After the jump, on to Liberia and one complication from running an election during an outbreak, a harsh judicial critique of the election and a street bloody brawl between supporters of rival candidates [one being the president’s son], ports continue to be spared the epidemic, U.N. extends its military mission and announces a political campaign role, a day in a front line sprayer’s life, and the schools chief is eager to go. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Bugs, climates, water, & nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the bugs, via BBC News:

Brazil Olympics: Super-bacteria found in Rio sea waters

Researchers in Brazil have discovered drug-resistant bacteria in the sea waters where sailing and windsurfing events will be held during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The “super-bacteria” are usually found in hospital waste and produce an enzyme, KPC, resistant to antibiotics.

Researchers found the bacteria in samples taken from Flamengo beach.

Nearly 70% of sewage in Rio – a city of some 10 million people – is spilled raw into the waters of Guanabara Bay.

Asian bugs from Kyodo News:

Pathogenic bird flu strain detected at western Japan poultry farm

The Miyazaki prefectural government said early Tuesday morning that a genetic test confirmed a highly pathogenic H5 strain of avian influenza in three birds that earlier tested positive at a chicken farm in Nobeoka city in Japan’s top poultry producing prefecture.

The local government in western Japan started culling all the roughly 4,000 chickens raised at the farm at 2:30 a.m. In line with the law on preventing domestic animal infectious diseases, the government also asked nearby poultry farms to restrict the movements of livestock.

According to the prefecture, the farm in Nobeoka reported that 16 chickens died Monday, of which three preliminarily tested positive for bird flu. Ten chickens had died the day before, but tests results were negative.

On to climate with doubt from the New York Times:

Is a Two-Degree Limit on Global Warming Off Target?

The nations of the world agreed in 1992 to try to head off the worst damage, in an ambitious but vague treaty that called for action to prevent dangerous interference with the climate.

That raised the question of how much warming would be dangerous. In the mid-1990s, the German government picked up on the 2C finding as a way to breathe life into the treaty.

A decade of subsequent research added scientific support to the notion that 2C was a dangerous threshold. Experts realized, for example, that at some increase in global temperature, the immense Greenland ice sheet would begin an unstoppable melt, raising the level of the sea by as much as 23 feet over an unknown period. Their early calculations suggested that calamity would be unlikely as long as global warming did not exceed about 1.9 degrees Celsius.

“Risking a loss of the whole Greenland ice sheet was considered a no-go area,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “We are talking about really sinking a lot of coastal cities.”

The Christian Science Monitor loses its cool:

Why Greenland could lose more of ice sheet than predicted

Newly discovered ‘winterproof’ lakes within the upper layers of the ice sheet in Greenland, as well as year-round aquifers, could speed the loss in a warming climate.

Researchers say they have uncovered perennial freshwater lakes embedded within the upper layers of Greenland’s ice sheet – previously unknown features that could play a role in the rate at which the sheet loses mass in a warming climate.

The discovery comes as glaciologists are still trying to digest news from a year ago that the southeastern section of the ice sheet hosts a year-round aquifer of liquid water. The aquifer covers some 27,000 square miles and ranges from 16 to nearly 165 feet thick, researchers have estimated. Since then, researchers have found other aquifers.

The perennial lakes and aquifers are acting as a kind of internal thermometer, signaling that “the ice sheet is warming, not only from the surface but internally as well,” noted Lora Koenig, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., during a briefing Monday at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The meeting runs through Friday.

The Los Angeles Times covers a potential seismic shift:

Earthquake could destroy L.A.’s water lifeline

Los Angeles gets 88% of its water from three major aqueducts, flowing from the Colorado River, Owens Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

But as they make their way into the region, the aqueducts cross the San Andreas fault a total of 32 times.

Officials have long warned that a massive temblor on the San Andreas could destroy key sections of the aqueducts, cutting off the water supply for more than 22 million people in Southern California.

L.A. officials are for the first time taking concrete steps to address the problem. Making L.A.’s water supply less vulnerable in a huge quake will probably cost billions, and it remains unclear where that money would come from.

And from the Sacramento Bee, keep it comin’:

California needs more big storms to beat drought

Despite the heavy storm that hit California last week – complete with flooded creeks and mudslides, closed highways and downed trees – it will take a lot more of the same to end the drought. In fact, experts say it may take five or six more storms like it to consider the drought over.

One reason is that, as wet as the storm seemed on Thursday and Friday, it was not so stormy everywhere. California’s water supplies are largely reliant on mountain snowpack, and this was a warm “Pineapple Express” storm. The state’s reservoirs had capacity to collect nearly all the rainfall runoff that flowed in. But the storm did not deliver a great deal of snow to the Sierra Nevada, which provides the snowmelt that California relies on in summer and fall.

The state needs a lot more storms – and cold ones – to assure there’s enough snowmelt to meet water demand next summer.

A species on the precipice from the Los Angeles Times:

5 northern white rhinos left in the world

With the death at San Diego Zoo Safari Park of a northern white rhino, the species is five animals away from extinction.

The death of Angalifu, a 44-year-old male northern white rhino, leaves an elderly female at the park, three in a Kenyan preserve and one at a Czech Republic zoo.

There were more than 2,000 northern whites in 1960, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but poachers obliterated the population. By 1984, there were about 15 of the rhinos left. That population was doubled by 1993 through aggressive conservation efforts. But heavily armed poaching gangs have now virtually annihilated the species, the WWF says.

Poachers are known to use helicopters, guns with silencers and night-vision equipment to harvest rhinos’ horns, which are in huge demand in Asia and sell for as much as $30,000 a pound.

The Guardian covers efforts to save another creature:

EU under pressure to ban diclofenac to protect Europe’s vultures

  • Veterinary drug for cattle that led to collapse of vulture populations of Asia is a risk to 55,000 birds, says European Medicines Agency

Pressure is mounting on Europe to immediately ban a drug used by vets which has been linked to the poisoning of vultures and other birds which feed on the corpses of cows treated with it.

The use of veterinary diclofenac, a pain-killing anti-inflammatory medecine given to livestock led to the unintentional but almost complete collapse of many vulture populations in Asia in 1990s and early 2000s. But a loophole in Europe allows it to be legally used in Spain and Italy where nearly all Europe’s estimated 55,000 vultures live.

Now, following an investigation of the death of a Spanish vulture in 2012, the European Medicines Agency has confirmed that vultures and other carrion-eating birds are at risk. The European commission asked the agency, which is responsible for the scientific evaluation of all medicines developed by EU drug companies, to consider the risks it posed to birds after scientists and ornithologists protested when Spain authorised use of the drug on cattle last year. A dose of just 0.1–0.2 mg/kg body weight can cause rapid, lethal kidney failure.

The first of a pair of stories from the Los Angeles Times with a common theme:

Keystone XL pipeline teed up as first debate in the new GOP Senate

Votes to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will be the first of the new GOP-controlled Senate, the incoming majority leader promised Tuesday, as Republicans sought to move past internal divisions and confront President Obama.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the pledge on Keystone as Congress wraps up the final days of its lame duck session. Republicans are set to take control of the Senate in January, and broaden their ranks in the House.

“We’ll be starting the New Year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” McConnell said.

And the second, via the Los Angeles Times:

Keystone XL pipeline may no longer make economic sense, experts say

With the GOP about to take control of both houses of Congress, backers of the pipeline say they are close to having a veto-proof majority for a bill that would order the Obama administration to give the project the federal permit required for pipelines that cross a U.S. border.

But “the political debate is not paralleled by the realities” in the market, said Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Texas-based RBN Energy. “The economics of this project are becoming increasingly borderline.”

The problem is that extracting oil from tar sands is difficult and costly. Prices need to be relatively high to make the extra effort profitable.

For pipeline boosters, market conditions have turned gloomy as world oil prices have dropped to the lowest point in five years.

After the jump, electric car green cred questioned while growing economic clout wins organic farming tax breaks, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with a Fukushima Olympic bid, a triumphant Shinzo Abe gets ready to let the reactors rumble, a new tech plant pushes ahead, while owners of an aging reactor pair run a dog and pony media show, and close with a fecal holiday campaign. . . Continue reading