Category Archives: Nature

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, and nuclear woes


Long compendium today, so we open right up with this from the Associated Press:

Senegal monitors contacts of 1st Ebola patient

Senegalese authorities on Monday were monitoring everyone who was in contact with a student infected with Ebola who crossed into the country, and who has lost three family members to the disease.

An Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The university student is Senegal’s first case of the dreaded disease.

The 21-year-old left Guinea on Aug. 15, just days after his brother died of the disease, according to Guinea’s Health Ministry. It said that the brother apparently caught Ebola in Sierra Leone.

We thought we’d look at local papers for a better sense of what the epidemic feels like to journalists there. First this from Punch in Lagos, Nigeria:

Ebola: Three new suspected cases in Port Harcourt

Three people have been taken to the Ebola Virus Disease   quarantine centre at Oduoha, Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State.

The State Commissioner for Health, Sampson Parker, made this known on Sunday just as the Federal Government said another emergency meeting of the National Council of Health over the EVD would hold in Abuja today. The last meeting took place on August 11, 2014.

Parker, who addressed journalists,   said those quarantined were   a doctor, a pharmacist and a woman who came into contact with Dr. Iyke Enemuo, who died of the virus in Port Harcourt on August 22.

A related story from Leadership, another Nigerian paper:

Rivers Doctor: 60 Ebola Contacts Yet To Be Found

The Rivers State government has said about 60 people, out of close to 200 that had primary and secondary contacts with the late Dr Ikechukwu Sam Enemuo, who died of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Port Harcourt, the state capital, are yet to be found.

Also, the state government has placed a ban on the movement of corpses within and outside the state without death certificates and explanations on the cause of such deaths, and has directed the police to demand such documents from ambulances conveying such corpses in the state.

This is as the state governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, will today meet with leaders of churches in the state, while a meeting with the traditional rulers will hold tomorrow, Tuesday, over the spread of the Ebola virus in the state.

The Associated Press covers another side-effect:

9 African wrestlers barred from worlds championships

The governing body of wrestling says nine athletes cannot compete at the upcoming world championships because of travel restrictions imposed since the Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa.

FILA says the ruling by the Uzbekistan health ministry affects seven wrestlers from Nigeria and two from Sierra Leone.

The decision follows similar travel bans imposed by China and Russia ahead of the recent Youth Olympic Games and judo worlds.

From International Business Times, another border closes:

Saudi Arabia Stops Issuing Visas To Workers From Ebola-Stricken Nations

Saudi Arabia announced Monday it has temporarily stopped granting visas to workers from the countries most ravaged by the Ebola outbreak. The decision follows repeated incidents in the past month that raised fears the hemorrhagic fever could spread to the Middle Eastern nation.

Saudi Arabia’s labor ministry has temporarily stopped issuing visas to laborers from the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Agence France-Presse reported. The three nations have seen the highest death tolls in the current Ebola outbreak, which was first detected in Guinea in March.

The visa ban was described as a “preventative measure,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Saudi Arabia had already instituted a ban in April on Muslim pilgrims visiting from the three nations because of concern the disease could spread as thousands of people descend on Mecca for early October’s hajj.

From StarAfrica, a blackout imposed:

Sudan bans reporting on Ebola

The Sudanese authorities have prohibited local media from covering any news related to the Ebola virus.Press sources who asked not to be mentioned for security reasons confirmed to APA on Saturday that the security authorities have circulated warning to all media outlets not to publish any news or articles related to the transmission of the Ebola virus in Sudan.

The prohibition came after local media reported on some suspected cases of Ebola in the west of Sudan.

The Minister of Health Affairs for the Darfur Regional Authority, Firdos Abdel Rahman Yousif denied reports of the deadly Ebola virus disease in El Geneina, capital of West Darfur State.

From New Dawn in Monrovia, another lack:

Ebola Survivors Lack Clothes

Health authorities at the Eternal Love Wins Africa or (ELWA) Hospital have disclosed that Ebola survivors leaving the treatment center do not have clothes to wear. Medical Director Dr. Jerry Brown, said nurses usually dress survivors in veils as they leave the hospital compound due to lack of clothes. Dr. Brown made the disclosure when the Citizens Organized for Transparency and Accountability (COPTA) presented items valued over US$5,000 to the ELWA Isolation Unit 2.

He appealed to well-meaning Liberians and NGOs to assist the unit with clothes for survivors to wear when leaving the hospital. But a non-governmental organization, Smile Liberia International, has promised to provide clothes for survivals returning home. An executive of the group, Ms. Fasiah Harris, said Smile Liberia in collaboration with COPTA will continue to provide needed services for Liberians.

COPTA is a local partner to Smile Liberia International and some Liberians working with the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. The project coordinator Christine Brooks-Jarrett said COPTA is an organization working to ensure a better Liberia in which leaders can be held accountable to the people in the discharge of their services.

National Geographic offers a reminder:

Doctors and Nurses Risk Everything to Fight Ebola in West Africa

  • Foreign and local caregivers are essential to stopping the virus’s deadly spread

In two Land Rovers, one fitted out as an ambulance, a small team of humanitarian workers last week headed deep into Sierra Leone’s jungle. After hours on deeply rutted paths that could barely be called roads, they stopped at a village that had seen ten reported cases of Ebola.

With the consent of the village chief, the team fanned out across the community, asking at each hut if anyone was feeling ill or had made contact with the earlier patients. At one, they found a mother nursing a seven-month-old, even though she had experienced bouts of bloody diarrhea and a fever of 102°F—possible signs of Ebola. A quick conversation revealed that the mother had recently attended the same funeral as the ten patients.

The aid workers knew right away they had to get the woman away from her village. It would improve her chances of recovery, even though those chances hovered at only about 30 percent. And it would protect her baby and husband, and the entire community, because Ebola is easily passed through bodily fluids such as diarrhea, vomit, and blood.

BBC News updates:

British Ebola patient ‘pretty well’

The parents of the first British person to contract Ebola during the outbreak in West Africa say he is recovering well.

William Pooley, 29, has spent the last week in a special isolation unit at Royal Free Hospital in London.

His parents, Robin and Jackie, say they knew he was improving when he ordered a “bacon butty” and praised the “world class” care at the hospital.

More than 1,500 people have died since the outbreak started in Guinea.

From the Wall Street Journal, a clearance:

Stockholm Patient Does Not Have Ebola

But Test Results Awaited on Another Suspected Case in Spain

Tests results have shown that a man who was hospitalized in Sweden on Sunday as a suspected Ebola case isn’t carrying the potentially deadly virus, Stockholm County Council health officials said in a news release on Monday.

An unidentified young man sought treatment for high fever and stomach pains at a local health clinic in Stockholm on Sunday evening.

After medical staff learned that he had recently visited a West African country affected by the Ebola virus, he was transferred to medical isolation at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital.

ABC News initiates:

Human Trial for Ebola Vaccine to Begin This Week

The first human trial for an investigational Ebola vaccine is set to begin this week.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa prompted the National Institutes of Health to expedite safety testing for several vaccines already in the works. Since March, the deadly virus has killed 1,552 people, according to the World Health Organization, which predicted last week that the virus could infect 20,000 people in the next six months.

An Ebola vaccine is different from the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, which two Americans received last month and is designed to treat an existing Ebola infection rather than prevent one.

“There is an urgent need for a protective Ebola vaccine, and it is important to establish that a vaccine is safe and spurs the immune system to react in a way necessary to protect against infection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

From StarAfrica, getting ready:

Malawi MPs to table Ebola preparedness

Members of the Malawi Parliament are expected to discuss and look at the country’s preparedness for containing the Ebola disease which is rampaging across West Africa.Parliament’s Health Committee Chairperson Juliana Lunguzi said on Monday in Lilongwe that the parliamentarians need to look at measures which government through the Ministry of Health have put in place to prepare for any eventuality.

“We need to know what has been put in place as a country in terms of preventive measures in entry points, border districts and capacity-building for caregivers” she declared.

She said that Malawi needs to be alert because the disease is gradually spreading across the borders of the region.

Reuters notes the obvious but often uncommented upon:

Poor response to Ebola causing needless deaths: World Bank head

The world’s “disastrously inadequate response” to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak means many people are dying needlessly, the head of the World Bank said on Monday, as Nigeria confirmed another case of the virus.

In a newspaper editorial, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Western healthcare facilities would easily be able to contain the disease, and urged wealthy nations to share the knowledge and resources to help African countries tackle it.

“The crisis we are watching unfold derives less from the virus itself and more from deadly and misinformed biases that have led to a disastrously inadequate response to the outbreak,” Kim wrote in the Washington Post.

Off to another continue and the update on another outbreak via the Asahi Shimbun:

19 new cases of dengue fever reported

Health ministry officials on Sept. 1 confirmed 19 new cases of dengue fever, bringing the total to 22 in a country that had not seen domestic infections of the disease for about 70 years.

The disease was found in individuals living in Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, Ibaraki, Kanagawa and Niigata prefectures. None of the patients has ever been abroad, but all had recently visited Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Officials said the outbreak was likely caused by mosquitoes carrying the virus in the vicinity of the park.

We begin today’s water woes with the South China Morning Post:

Toxic waste mountains threaten Southeast Asia’s booming megacities

From Jakarta’s Bantar Gebang dump to Manila’s “smoky mountain”, open landfills blight Southeast Asia’s booming megacities, as urban planners labour to keep pace with rapid urbanisation and industrial growth.

Experts warn those dumps are an environmental and health time bomb.

Open dumping “offers a quick and easy solution in the short run”, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific says in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.

Of Thailand’s 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to its Pollution Control Department. The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping – including of hazardous waste – fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems.

TheLocal.de covers a warm water invader up north:

Vacationer killed by Baltic Sea bacteria

  • Six people were infected with a bacteria from the Caribbean which has made itself at home in the popular German vacation destination. One of them is now in a coma.

The bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus, is found in parts of the Baltic Sea and other regions of the world, though most-concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico. It spreads best in brackish waters with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius.

“This could be found anywhere as long as the conditions are right,” Dr. Heiko Will, the first director of State Office of Health and Welfare (LAGuS) of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, told The Local. “It is just as prevalent in Denmark, Poland, and all along the German coast.”

The victim had been holidaying on the island of Usedom at the end of July, according (LAGuS). He passed away at the beginning of August.  Another pensioner has been in a coma for three weeks and there is a possibility he will lose a leg. He went swimming near Ahrenshoop with a small open wound on his leg. He went to the hospital after noticing on the drive home that his leg had turned blue. Doctors diagnosed blood poisoning caused by Vibrio vulnificus.

From Al Jazeera America, another invader off the Golden State:

On Calif. coast, biotoxins cause deadly sea lion seizures, seafood scare

  • An outbreak of algae-produced biotoxins that attack animals’?? brains also poses a grave risk to humans

The culprit? Domoic acid, a deadly neurotoxin produced by algae, that appeared at record high levels along California’s Central Coast this spring and summer, closing fisheries and taking the lives of many marine mammals. But toxic algae isn’t just limited to California– this summer various toxic blooms have poisoned coastlines across America, including Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.

While the algae in Monterey, produced by the Pseudo-nitzschia genus of phytoplankton, are a common occurrence along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and around the world, its production of domoic acid is not.

First discovered in 1987 when 107 people on Prince Edward Island fell ill after eating mussels harboring domoic acid, the algae occasionally produce this deadly toxin, which scientists believe is triggered by changing ocean conditions and surges of nitrogen into bodies of water.

Another California water woe from the University of California Newsroom:

Drying Sierra meadows could worsen California drought

Carpeting the high valleys of Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra Nevada, mountain meadows are more than an iconic part of the California landscape. The roughly 17,000 high altitude meadows help regulate the release of Sierra snow melt into rivers and streams.

But climate change and California’s severe drought threaten to permanently alter these fragile and important ecosystems, according to research by Chelsea Arnold, who was awarded a doctorate in environmental systems from UC Merced in May. Her findings reveal that soil changes already are taking place that could have long-term implications for California’s water supply.
Impact of extreme weather

Arnold’s research found that meadows in the Central Sierra near Yosemite are drying out as a result of several years of unusual variation in climate and snowfall.

“What we’re seeing is that all kinds of extreme weather, including one dry winter like the one we just had, can totally change the structure of the soil,” Arnold said. “Part of that is an irreversible change.”

Under normal conditions, a mountain meadow acts like a sponge. Organic material in the soil allows the meadow to hold water, which is filtered and slowly released to mountain streams. Samples collected by Arnold and her colleagues found that the larger pores which trap and hold moisture are disappearing, to be replaced with smaller, more compact pores through which water doesn’t easily flow.

As meadows dry out, flooding in wet years is likely to increase. And in drought years, parched meadows could result in less snowmelt reaching streams, exacerbating the state’s already precarious water situation.

And another from the New York Times:

Desperately Dry California Tries to Curb Private Drilling for Water

California’s vicious, prolonged drought, which has radically curtailed most natural surface water supplies, is making farmers look deeper and deeper underground to slake their thirst. This means the drought is a short-term bonanza for firms like Arthur & Orum, which expects to gross as much as $3 million this year.

But in a drought as long and severe as the current one, over-reliance on groundwater means that land sinks, old wells go dry, and saltwater invades coastal aquifers. Aquifers are natural savings accounts, a place to go when the streams run dry. Exhaust them, and the $45 billion annual agricultural economy will take a severe hit, while small towns run dry.

Yet for a century, farmers believed that the law put control of groundwater in the hands of landowners, who could drill as many wells as deeply as they wanted, and court challenges were few.

That just changed. The California Legislature, in its closing hours on Friday, passed new and sweeping groundwater controls. The measures do not eliminate private ownership, but they do establish a framework for managing withdrawals through local agencies.

After jump, water woes in Mexico, ice caps on both poles in epic retreat, a decade-long drought looms in the American Southwest, Mediterranean tsunami dangers, Japanese dolphin slaughter, branding environmentalists as terrorists, volcanic eruptions in both hemisphere, a species extinction commemorated, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, and nukes


First up, sobering news from Science:

Disease modelers project a rapidly rising toll from Ebola

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

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

The accompanying graphic:

BLOG Ebola

From the Associated Press, a four-alarm alaert

WHO: Senegal Ebola case ‘a top priority emergency’

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

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

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

Reuters reports a strike by those most vulnerable to infection:

Health workers strike at Sierra Leone Ebola hospital

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

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

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

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

The Independent sounds an urban alert:

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

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

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

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

From the New Dawn in Monrovia, Liberia:

Liberia: Dogs Feed On Ebola Victims

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

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

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

TheLocal.no sounds a Nordic Ebola alert:

Ebola threat to Norway: Sweden fears first case

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

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

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

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

From The Hill, a political call:

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

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

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

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

Motherboard explains:

How the Ebola Virus Jams Immune System Signals and Kills

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

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

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

On to Asia and another disease outbreak from NewsOnJapan:

3 more people suspected of contracting dengue fever within Japan

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

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

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

And from Nature, a domestic alert:

US government labs plan biohazard-safety sweep

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

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

Next up, the Reykjavík Grapevine covers an eruption:

Holuhraun Volcano Erupts Again

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

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

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

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

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

EnviroWatch: Ebola, kiddie toxins, dams, nukes


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

From the Associated Press:

Experimental Ebola drug heals all monkeys in study

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

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

Three other infected monkeys not given the drug died.

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

West Africa Ebola outbreak spreads to Senegal

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

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

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

From Science, another side of the tragedy:

Ebola’s heavy toll on study authors

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

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

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

The Asahi Shimbun issues a call:

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

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

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

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

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

From the New York Times, another significant development:

Quarantine for Ebola Lifted in Liberia Slum

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

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

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

From the Associated Press, fear comes to campus:

Ebola in mind, US colleges screen some students

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle gets ready:

Frankfurt authorities prepare for Ebola

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

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

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

From BBC Sport, an ultimatum:

Nations Cup 2015: Ivory Coast risk disqualification

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

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

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

Elsewhere in Africa, other ailments. From Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loom band charms withdrawn nationwide after testing positive for cancerous chemicals

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

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

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

From the Asahi Shimbun, a warning:

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

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

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

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

From BBC News, the first of two volcanic stories:

Iceland’s volcano ash alert lifted

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

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

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

And the second, also from BBC News:

Volcano erupts in Papua New Guinea

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy control console falls back into Fukushima fuel pool: Tepco

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

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

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

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

Fukushima governor all but accepts radioactive storage plan

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

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

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

Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report


Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report

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

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

From The Real News Network:

Forthcoming IPCC Report Calls for Control of Fossil Fuel Consumption

From the transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California drought update: Wetter, in the desert


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

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

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxins, water, climate nukes


And a whole lot more, so let’s get right to it, first with Reuters:

Senegalese WHO doctor with Ebola arrives for treatment in Germany

A Senegalese doctor who contracted Ebola while working for the World Health Organisation (WHO)in Sierra Leone arrived in Hamburg on Wednesday for treatment at a tropical medicine unit, becoming Germany’s first patient with the disease.

At a news conference on Wednesday the clinic’s tropical medicine specialist said the man would not be given new experimental drugs such as ZMapp but that his treatment would at first focus on managing his symptoms.

The Senegalese doctor arrived in Germany on a specialist plane and was transferred to the university clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf in a special isolation ambulance, accompanied by a police guard.

CBC News adds more:

Ebola-infected WHO scientist in Sierra Leone goes to Germany, Canadians pulled

  • Public Health Agency of Canada pulls its team of 3 from Sierra Leone as precaution

The World Health Organization announced it has shut down a laboratory in Sierra Leone after a Senegalese health worker was infected with the Ebola virus.

Three Canadians from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg are among the six workers who have withdrawn to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, Christy Feig, a WHO spokeswoman in West Africa, told CBC News.

Feig said the Canadian government made the call to withdraw its workers in consultation with the WHO.

The WHO has sent in a team to see if this was a routine, straightforward infection or if structural changes need to be made to keep health-care workers safe.

Sky News tracks contagion:

Ebola Nurse ‘May Have Caught Virus From Child’

  • William Pooley, who is being treated in a London hospital, formed a bond with a boy whose mother died from the disease

A British nurse infected with ebola in Sierra Leone might have caught it while playing with a toddler whose mother had died of the deadly disease, a colleague has said.

William Pooley was flown home at the weekend and admitted to an isolation unit at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead, where he has been given the experimental drug ZMapp.

While working as a volunteer at a clinic in eastern Sierra Leone the 29-year-old developed a bond with a baby boy named Sellu Borbor, according to his supervisor Finda Josephine Sellu.

As does Uganda’s own Daily Monitor:

Man steals phone from Ebola patient, gets infected

Security and medical officials in Kibaale District have registered a case in which a man allegedly went in an isolation ward at Kagadi Hospital and stole a cellular phone from one of the Ebola patients.

The 40-year-old resident of Kyakabugahya LCI in Kagadi Town Council travelled about three kilometers to the hospital to apparently obtain a phone estimated to be valued at Shs60,000 more than two weeks ago.

The suspect allegedly broke into the isolation ward on the night of Tuesday August 14, undetected by hospital guards. The patient, who has since succumbed to the deadly hemorrhagic fever, then reported the theft to the hospital security that then embarked on tracing the alleged thief.

Police detectives began tracking him after he apparently began communicating to his friends using the phone. But as police zeroed in on him, he developed symptoms similar to those of Ebola and sought medication at the hospital.

From the Guardian, another casualty:

Ebola claims life of third doctor in Sierra Leone

  • Dr Sahr Rogers was working in Kenema when he contracted the virus, raising fresh concerns over the country’s ability to fight it

A third top Ebola doctor has died in Sierra Leone, a government official in the west African nation has confirmed. The news came as another scientist, who also contracted the disease there, began treatment in Germany on Wednesday.

Health workers are trying to work out how the scientist, whose identity and condition are being withheld for privacy reasons, contracted Ebola before his overnight evacuation to a Hamburg hospital, it has been reported.

“The international surge of health workers is extremely important and if something happens, if health workers get infected and it scares off other international health workers from coming, we will be in dire straits,” said World Health Organisation spokesman Christy Feig.

Next, a video report from Agence France-Presse:

Liberian medical crew collects suspected Ebola victims

Program notes:

Ambulance workers in the Liberian capital don protective clothing to pick up people suspected of being infected with Ebola.

BBC News announces a shutdown:

Ebola outbreak: Nigeria closes all schools until October

All schools in Nigeria have been ordered to remain shut until 13 October as part of measures to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

The new academic year was due to start on Monday.

But the education minister ordered the closures to allow staff to be trained on how to handle suspected Ebola cases.

Reuters covers economic costs:

Ebola travel bans threaten Ivory Coast cocoa crop forecasts

International cocoa exporters in Ivory Coast are restricting staff movements due to the worsening Ebola outbreak on the top grower’s western borders, risking leaving traders and exporters without accurate output forecasts for the upcoming season.

Ivory Coast produced nearly 1.45 million tonnes of cocoa last season, according to International Cocoa Organization estimates, almost 37 percent of world supply. Crop forecasts by experts who visit farms to count pods are closely watched by the market ahead of the main harvest that starts in October.

Traders said there are also concerns there could be an exodus of farmers if the disease spreads to the growing regions in the west of the country.

As does the Guardian:

Ebola epidemic takes toll on business in quarantine zones and across Africa

  • Repercussions have radiated from far-flung villages to financial markets, and from rural farmers to urban dollar boys

When his neighbours began falling ill with Ebola, Sheikh Kallon felt fortunate that he was well enough to continue tending his farm deep in the forested interior of Sierra Leone. Then, one of his drinking buddies died of the disease, and Kallon’s entire family was quarantined for 21 days.

“I asked my workers to keep going to the farm, but they said they don’t want to touch money from my hands in case they get Ebola,” he said.

With his crops rotting in the fields, Kallon now spends his days sitting with his family on their porch surrounded by soldiers enforcing the quarantine. The soldiers hardly need bother: lifelong neighbours are too terrified to approach, and a few miles away an entire community that has been unable to trade altogether has run out of salt.

From People’s Daily, news of absence is not absence of news:

China reports no cases of Ebola

China’s health authorities confirmed on Tuesday that a returnee who was hospitalized as “an observation case of Ebola” has been confirmed not infected.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission told Xinhua the returnee, a translator who arrived in Beijing on Sunday from Libya, developed symptoms of vomiting and fever, and was sent to the hospital as a precaution.

The patient has since been cleared as not infected with Ebola. China currently reports no case of the disease.

From Jiji Press, absent no longer:

Japan Confirms 1st Domestic Dengue Infection since 1945

A Japanese woman under 20 has been infected with dengue fever, the first confirmed domestic infection with the tropical disease since 1945, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Wednesday.

The dengue virus is likely to have been transmitted to the woman from an infected traveler via a mosquito in Japan because she has never traveled overseas. She is in a stable condition in hospital, ministry officials said.

At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will identify the route of infection and collect more information on suspicious dengue cases.

From the World Health Organization, a plea:

WHO calls for stronger action on climate-related health risks

Previously unrecognized health benefits could be realized from fast action to reduce climate change and its consequences. For example, changes in energy and transport policies could save millions of lives annually from diseases caused by high levels of air pollution. The right energy and transport policies could also reduce the burden of disease associated with physical inactivity and traffic injury.

Measures to adapt to climate change could also save lives around the world by ensuring that communities are better prepared to deal with the impact of heat, extreme weather, infectious disease and food insecurity.

These are two key messages being discussed at the first-ever global conference on health and climate, which opens today at WHO headquarters in Geneva. The conference brings together over 300 participants, including government ministers, heads of UN agencies, urban leaders, civil society and leading health, climate and sustainable-development experts.

And from the New York Times, the political play:

Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty

The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

Moving on to water woes with the Los Angeles Times:

Central California residents rely on bottled water as wells run dry

Extreme drought conditions have become so harsh for the Central Valley community of East Porterville, many of its residents dependent on their own wells have run out of water.

Roughly 300 homes have received a three-week supply of bottled water after Tulare County officials discovered their wells had gone dry.

In all, county officials distributed 15,552 1-gallon bottles of water, and have been filling a 2,500-gallon tank with nonpotable water so residents can flush toilets and bathe.

On a comparatively lighter note, this from Jim Morin, editorial cartoonist for the Miami Herald:

BLOG Envirotoon

A call for clearing the air from Newswise:

Trash Burning Worldwide Significantly Worsens Air Pollution

Unregulated trash burning around the globe is pumping far more pollution into the atmosphere than shown by official records. A new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that more than 40 percent of the world’s garbage is burned in such fires, emitting gases and particles that can substantially affect human health and climate change.

The new study provides the first rough estimates, on a country-by-country basis, of pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, and mercury that are emitted by the fires. Such pollutants have been linked to serious medical issues.

The researchers also estimated emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas produced by human activity.

Unlike emissions from commercial incinerators, the emissions from burning trash in open fires often go unreported to environmental agencies and are left out of many national inventories of air pollution. For that reason, they are not incorporated into policy making.

After the jump, a Reefer Madness recantation Down Under, Japanese whaling intransigence, [including dumps, price tags, and dislocation numbers], an American nuclear green light, offshore drilling anxieties in California and Spain, an Aussie coal mining investment review, water-splitting, and Superfund gentrification. . . Continue reading

Image of the day: California, dry and burning


A remarkable image just released by NASA’s Earth Observatory:

BLOG DroughtThat’s San Francisco Bay were the last of the clouds kisses the cost near the bottom. And look at the almost complete lack of snow on the Sierra Nevada, running diagonally downward from left to right. The lack of snowcap was predictable from an image captured in January.

Here’s the report on the image and its meaning from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

With most of California in the grips of an unusually severe drought, the state’s fire management authorities are prepared for the worst. The state’s forests and grasslands are parched and primed to burn. All it would take is one stray cigarette or lightning strike—combined with strong winds and hot weather—to unleash a blaze so large or damaging that it ends up in the record books. And yet, so far, the 2014 season has been surprisingly free of such headline-grabbing fires.

Californians have certainly seen plenty of fire in 2014. A total of 4,172 fires have burned 83,282 acres (33,703 hectares) since the beginning of the year—far more than usual. For comparison, during the previous five seasons, an average of 3,198 fires burned 57,444 acres (23,247 hectares) by mid-August, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection statistics.

But none of the 2014 blazes have grown to be particularly large or destructive. California’s list of largest fires includes several blazes that destroyed more than 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares), such as the Rim Fire in 2013, the Rush Fire in 2012, and the Cedar Fire in 2003. The largest in 2014 has been the Bald fire in Lassen National Forest, which charred about 40,000 acres (16,000 hectares). In 2014, several fires have destroyed structures here and there, but none have devastated entire neighborhoods. The state’s historical list of most damaging fires includes events that destroyed 1,000 structures or more.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of wildfire activity in California on August 24, 2014. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires. The Happy Camp Complex, Man Fire and July Complex are visible in northern California. Most of the large fires have been in northern California, while central and southern California have been largely free of fire to date.