Category Archives: Resources

EnviroWatch: Toxins, pests, fracking, nukes


First up, plastic perils from Environmental Health News:

Plastics chemical linked to changes in baby boys’ genitals

Boys exposed in the womb to high levels of a chemical found in vinyl products are born with slightly altered genital development, according to research published today.

The study of nearly 200 Swedish babies is the first to link the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) to changes in the development of the human male reproductive tract.

Previous studies of baby boys in three countries found that a similar plastics chemical, DEHP, was associated with the same type of changes in their genitalia.

Less is known about the reproductive risks of DiNP, a chemical which scientists say may be replacing DEHP in many products such as vinyl toys, flooring and packaging. In mice, high levels block testosterone and alter testicular development.

“Our data suggest that this substitute phthalate may not be safer than the chemical it is replacing,” wrote the researchers, led by Carl-Gustaf Bornehag at Sweden’s Karlstad University, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

From the Pump Handle, a needed challenge:

Lawsuits challenge EPA’s approval of new herbicide

Despite substantial public opposition and the “grave concerns” of about 50 members of Congress and significant unanswered questions about human and environmental health impacts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a new herbicide called Enlist Duo for use on genetically engineered corn and soybeans in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. EPA, which says it has approved Enlist Duo “to manage the problem of resistant weeds” is now considering approving Enlist Duo for use in ten more states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota.

Immediately following the EPA announcement, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to block the registration of the new weed killer. A week later, on October 22nd, a coalition of farmers and environmental organizations – the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, Earthjustice, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Biological Diversity – filed suit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on behalf of their membership in the six Midwestern states  where the herbicide would be used. They are also seeking to block the EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo. Both lawsuits contend that the EPA failed to adequately assess the herbicide’s impacts on human health and wildlife, including imperiled monarch butterflies.

Manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, Enlist Duo combines glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup, the most commonly used herbicide in the US – with what’s called a choline salt of 2,4-D – the country’s third most widely used herbicide. Enlist Duo would be used on corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to withstand this herbicide combo. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved these seeds last month. The aim of Enlist Duo is to tackle weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate that is now used on about 94 percent of the corn and about 89 percent of the soybeans planted in the US. The new seeds have been engineered to resist 2,4-D as well as glyphosate. A DowAgro Sciences press release calls the EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo, “a true victory for farmers” now grappling with glyphosate-resistant weeds across tens of millions of acres of American farmland.

From Global Times, trading one problem for another in China:

Eco-concerns as city tackles mosquitoes in dengue fight

“Cherish lives, including those of mosquitoes,” Wu Mingliang, chief engineer of Guangzhou Huicheng Pest Control Company, told the Global Times.

With 20 years of experience in controlling mosquito populations, Wu has bemoaned the overuse of pesticides for an outbreak of dengue fever in South China’s Guangdong Province in September.

A total of 41,827 dengue cases were reported in Guangdong as of Wednesday, an increase of around 20 times over the previous year. More than 80 percent of all cases were detected in Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

This year’s outbreak is believed to be the worst in two decades, the Xinhua News Agency reported on October 6. Six deaths were reported in Guangdong.

Dengue, also referred to as “breakbone fever” for its characteristic symptoms of severe joint and muscle pain, is a mosquito-borne disease.

The Independent covers a real alien invasion:

Deadly fungus killing British newts after spread from east Asia

The international trade in pet newts and salamanders has spread a deadly skin fungus from east Asia to Europe, posing a further threat to the endangered great-crested newt of Britain, scientists said.

A previously unknown fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans was first discovered last year and a survey of more than 5,000 amphibians across the world has revealed its global spread from its native Asia.

Scientists believe the pet trade has helped the fungus to spread from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Japan to Europe, where it has already caused the collapse of fire salamanders in the Netherlands.

From the Pacific Standard, inadvertent disclosure:

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

  • An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed

When billionaire Chris Cline’s company bought an option to mine a swath of northern Wisconsin in 2010, the company touted the project’s potential to bring up to 700 well-paid jobs to a hard-pressed part of the state.

But the Florida-based company wanted something in return for its estimated $1.5 billion investment—a change to Wisconsin law to speed up the iron mining permit process.

So, Cline officials courted state legislators and hired lobbyists. And, unbeknownst to Wisconsin voters and lawmakers, the company waged a more covert campaign, secretly funding a non-profit advocacy group that battered opponents of the legislation online and on the airwaves.

Fracking the air with Vice News:

Here’s What Fracking Is Doing To Air Quality

Dangerously high levels of known carcinogens around wells using the controversial technique of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, could pose serious health risks to nearby communities, according to a study published in Environmental Health.

“These aren’t just anecdotal stories about how people are being affected by this industry,” Ruth Breech, co-author of the report and program director at Global Community Monitoring (GCM), told Vice News. GCM trains people how to monitor environmental quality.

The study found that several chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde, and benzene, frequently exceeded federally recommended levels. In some cases, hydrogen sulfide samples were 90-66,000 times higher than recommended safety levels, while formaldehyde was 30-240 higher and benzene, an EPA classified carcinogen, 35-770,000 times higher.

Exposure to benzene increases the risk of leukemia, along with dangerous respiratory problems. Hydrogen sulfide can cause short and long term neurological, upper respiratory, and blood-related symptoms and formaldehyde is known to cause cancer.

More fracking questions from InsideClimate News:

Pennsylvania Congressman Launches Frack Waste Investigation as Concern Rises

The move follows a report by ICN and the Center for Public Integrity that documented how and why toxic oil and gas waste is virtually unregulated.

In a reflection of growing national concern about the disposal of oil and gas waste, a Pennsylvania congressman launched an investigation Wednesday into the way his state regulates the discarding of the unwanted, often toxic material.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright, a first-term Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, wants to know more about how the contaminated leftovers from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are regulated.

In an email exchange with InsideClimate News, Cartwright said “preliminary reports indicate there are big gaps in protections and oversight that the federal government might have to fill.”

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

TEPCO to postpone nuclear fuel removal at Fukushima No. 1 reactor

A series of delays will push back by years the start of operations to remove spent and melted nuclear fuel from the No. 1 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sources said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the central government were expected to announce the new schedule at an Oct. 30 meeting of the team in charge of handling the decommissioning process and the radioactive water accumulating at the plant.

Under the original plan, TEPCO was to start removing spent fuel from the No. 1 reactor building in fiscal 2017 and begin lifting out the melted fuel as early as fiscal 2020.

Under the new schedule, spent fuel removal will start in fiscal 2019, while the melted fuel operations will begin in fiscal 2025, according to the sources.

A recruiting drove from the Asahi Shimbun:

Anti-nuclear protesters try to fire up corporate workers in Tokyo

Men and women in business attire thronged the Shinbashi district of Tokyo on Oct. 29 to encourage fellow office workers to protest against moves to restart the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan.

The municipal assembly and the mayor of Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, gave the green light a day earlier to restarting the two-reactor Sendai facility operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. It is the first plant to win such approval under new safety requirements since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.

Michihiko Senda, a 48-year-old company worker in Tokyo who helped organize the rally, said it was aimed at garnering like-minded white-collar workers who he believes should be thinking about the issue.

And to close, more troubles from NHK WORLD:

Completion of spent nuclear fuel plant delayed

A Japanese nuclear fuel company has decided to postpone the completion of a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to March 2016 due to ongoing rigorous government screening.

It is the 22nd time work has been delayed at the facility in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan. The problem-prone plant has yet to go into operation after more than 20 years of construction work.

The president of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited, Kenji Kudo, informed Aomori Prefecture Vice Governor Ikuo Sasaki of the latest decision to postpone completion on Thursday.

EbolaWatch: Politics, quarantines, Africa


But we begin with another aspect of the crisis from the World Food Program:

Ebonomics: The Price Of Keeping The Ebola Crisis From Becoming A Hunger Crisis

Program notes:

WFP’s Chief Economist Arif Husain visits West Africa to analyse how the outbreak affects the overall economy, particularly the food sector, and explains what types of assistance WFP is offering to different communities depending on their needs.

From Reuters, expectations:

Americans may still see some Ebola cases, Obama says

President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that Americans may continue to see individual cases of Ebola in the United States until the outbreak in West Africa is contained.

Obama said it was essential the United States and other countries work to stop the Ebola outbreak at its source in Africa.

Until the outbreak is stopped, he said, “we may still continue to see individual cases in America in the weeks and months ahead.”

“We can’t hermetically seal ourselves off,” he said at the White House.

From the Associated Press, impasse:

Maine in standoff with nurse over Ebola safeguards

Insisting she is perfectly healthy, nurse Kaci Hickox again defied the state’s Ebola quarantine Thursday by taking a bike ride with her boyfriend, and Maine health authorities struggled to reach a compromise that would limit her contact with others.

Hickox, 33, stepped out of her home on the remote northern edge of Maine for the second day in a row, practically daring authorities to make good on their threat to go to court to have her confined against her will. On Wednesday evening, she went outside for an impromptu news conference and shook a reporter’s outstretched hand.

By evening, it was unclear whether the state had gone to court or whether there had been any progress toward ending the standoff that has become the nation’s most closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola. The governor’s office and Hickox’s lawyers would not comment.

More form the Los Angeles Times:

Maine fails to reach quarantine compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox

It’s the type of battle made for flinty New England, where personal liberty vs. the government’s interpretation of public good has been a frequent theme. A nurse, hailed by some as a hero for helping treat Ebola patients in Africa, has defiantly rejected the power of Maine officials seeking to quarantine her in the name of protecting the public from a virus that the healthcare worker insists she doesn’t have.

Maine health authorities so far have failed to reach a compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox that would require her to keep her distance from other people. Hickox has personified the closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola since she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey last Friday and found herself in quarantine.

Early Thursday, Hickox stepped out of her home in Fort Kent, at the remote northern edge of Maine, and took a bicycle ride with her boyfriend. It was the second time in as many days that Hickox had flouted the state’s rules that she stay away from the public until Nov. 10, the end of the 21-day incubation period for the Ebola virus.

Complications from Reuters:

In U.S. Ebola fight, no two quarantines are quite the same

In the U.S. battle against Ebola, quarantine rules depend on your zip code.

For some it may feel like imprisonment or house arrest. For others it may be more like a staycation, albeit one with a scary and stressful edge.

If they are lucky, the quarantined may get assigned a case worker who can play the role of a personal concierge by buying groceries and running errands. Some authorities are allowing visitors, or even giving those in quarantine permission to take trips outside to walk the dog or take a jog.

A month after the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States, state and local health authorities across the country have imposed a hodgepodge of often conflicting rules.

Politics from CNN:

State Department denies it has a secret plan to admit foreign Ebola patients

The State Department discussed plans to transport non-U.S.citizens infected with Ebola to the United States for medical treatment, but decided to shelve the proposal and insists it was never considered at senior levels.

But Congressional Republicans are seizing on an internal State Department memo outlining a possible joint State-Homeland Security department program to provide Ebola care at U.S. hospitals for non-Americans. They say the memo is evidence the Administration was working on a new plan but wasn’t being transparent about it.

The memo, obtained by CNN, is labeled “SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED – PREDECISIONAL” and drafted by State Department officials. It recommends that the two federal agencies come up with a system to admit into the United States non-citizens “as long as they are otherwise eligible for medical evacuation from the Ebola affected countries and for entry in the United States.” It outlines the steps the U.S. government would need to take to contract with a commercial aviation company that specializes in bio containment. It also mentions other non-governmental agencies the U.S. is working with to assist with medevacing health care workers out of West Africa to European countries.

More of the political from the Washington Post:

Politicians fueling Ebola fear before midterms

Program notes:

Polling shows the public is worried about an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. — and politicians on both sides of the aisle are feeding into the fear, just weeks away from the midterm elections.

Strategizing from the Associated Press:

Nations in Americas join in battle against Ebola

Countries from around the Americas have agreed to work together in their response to Ebola, adopting similar procedures in such things as the establishment of epidemiological monitoring centers and coordinating the transport of biological samples.

About 200 epidemiology experts and health officials from 24 countries, including the United States and Canada, met in Havana on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss their response to the epidemic.

A document from the meeting lays out “lines of action” that the countries say they’ll follow to combat the disease.

And a walkout from the Contra Costa Times:

National Nurses Union plans strike to demand greater protections against Ebola

Stepping up demands to protect nurses from Ebola, the national nurses’s union said Thursday that nurses coast-to-coast are planning a National Day of Action on Nov. 12 that includes strikes at 21 Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California.

Zenei Cortez, co-president of the California Nurses Association, which is part of National Nurses United, said Kaiser nurses plan to strike Nov. 11-12.

When it comes to Ebola, “the message that nurses have been getting around the nation is that we are expendable,” said Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United and president of the California Nurses Association. “At first there was shock, then anger — and now we want action.

“They don’t have the appropriate training and protection,” she said of nurses in her organization and nationwide, urging that hospitals provide nurses with hazmat suits, proper protective equipment and training to safeguard against Ebola. “These are human beings. We’re talking about our nurses that are heroes and take care of this country.”

Genetics from the Japan Times:

Ebola symptoms may hinge on gene functions: U.S., Japanese researchers

Ebola’s symptoms may differ depending on whether certain genes in the victim are active or not, a U.S.-based research team said in a paper published in Science magazine on Thursday.

The findings from experiments on mice are likely to help understand why Ebola manifests itself differently from one case to another. They may also aid the treatment of critical patients, the researchers said.

Led by Michael Katze of the University of Washington, the research team includes Japanese scientist Atsushi Okumura and members of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More from the London Telegraph:

Ebola outbreak: Ebola may not be a deadly disease for everyone, scientists find

  • Researchers have found that natural immunity may exist to Ebola, after discovering that some animals get over the disease quickly, without major symptoms

Ebola may not be a deadly disease for everyone, after scientists discovered that some people are likely to be naturally immune to the virus.

A study in mice showed that genetic variations govern how ill victims will get after contracting the disease.

Some completely resist the disease, while others suffer only a moderate illness. However many still succumb to bleeding, organ failure and shock.

The research was conducted in a highly secure, state-of-the-art bio lab in Montana, US.

Researchers found that all mice lost weight in the first few days after infection. However, nearly one in five of the mice not only survived, but also fully regained their lost weight within two weeks.

The Los Angeles Times covers the seriocomic:

When an Ebola joke becomes a crime

An Ohio man was arrested and jailed after he told a dealer at a Cleveland casino that he was there, ha ha, to keep his distance from his ex, who had come back from Africa with Ebola.

The charge against Emanuel Smith:  “felony inducing panic.” Smith is alleged to have broken a law that in part bans “initiating or circulating a report of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false.”

In Ohio, if a crack about Ebola causes a panic or costs a business money, you could face criminal charges.

Smith’s ex-wife, of course, didn’t have Ebola, but after the remark was reported to management, the casino cleared out the pit where he’d been gambling, which meant lost revenue, and according to the law in Ohio, the more money is lost by the “panic,”  the more serious the felony.

Another joke gone bad from RT:

‘Ebola’ coffee cup puts plane on lockdown at Dublin Airport

An unidentified man who scribbled an Ebola warning on a cup of coffee caused quite a stir on a Dublin-bound flight. After putting the plane on lockdown for nearly an hour in the Irish capital, authorities determined that it was all a hoax.

The incident occurred on Air Lingus Flight EI 433, which had set off from Milan on Thursday. Upon arriving in Dublin, passengers were held onboard for roughly 50 minutes until paramedics were able to investigate the matter.

“Following a minor security incident on board an Aer Lingus flight from Milan to Dublin, passengers were held on board the aircraft after it landed at Dublin Airport just before 1pm today,” a spokesperson for Dublin Airport Authority told the Irish Independent.

From USA TODAY, harkening to the days of the “Dark Continent”:

Ebola fears spark claims of racism in Europe

Italian mothers in suburban Rome recently organized a petition drive to keep a 3-year-old black girl from attending kindergarten after her family traveled to Uganda — a country thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In Germany, soccer fans chanted “Ebola, Ebola” when Charles Atsina, a black player from Ghana, came onto the field to play.

Two British landlords refused to rent an apartment to a black Sierra Leone radio newscaster, Amara Bangura, who was moving to England to study. The landlords feared he might bring the deadly virus with him.

As Americans debate quarantining health workers returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone or banning travelers from those countries — as Australia has already done — fears of Ebola have also gripped Europe. And that fear is giving some people license to vent racist attitudes.

Entry not denied from Science:

Ebola researchers still welcome at European infectious diseases meetings

As ScienceInsider reported yesterday, the state of Louisiana has told researchers to stay away from the world’s biggest tropical medicine meeting next week if they have been in contact with Ebola patients in the past 21 days—or even if they’ve just visited Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone, the three nations where the epidemic is raging. Many scientists object to the policy; the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which organizes the event, disagrees but accepts Louisiana’s decision, says incoming president Christopher Plowe.

But Ebola is a hot topic at many special sessions and late breakers these days. Are scientists who may have been exposed to the virus still welcome at other infectious diseases meetings? Here’s a quick sample.

People returning from West Africa are definitely expected, and are welcome, at the European Scientific Conference on Applied Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, held next week in Stockholm. Sweden currently does not have travel restrictions for people coming from affected countries, says a representative for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which organizes the event.

From Voice of America, a map of countries placing some restrictions on trvel from the hot zone:

BLOG Ebola travel

After a ban, back in the hot zone from FrontPageAfrica:

Back to Ebola Zone – Washington Post Duo –DuCille and Bernstein Return

Just days after he was barred from a teaching workshop class at Syracuse University over fears that he may have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus following his recent assignment to Liberia, Washington Post Photographer Michel duCille is heading back to the epicenter of the outbreak. DuCille, along with health reporter Lenny Bernstein will arrive in Monrovia Friday for a second assignment stint since the outbreak in March.

Michel DuCille, a three-time Pulitzer prize winning photographer received the shock of his life recently when he was disinvited by the university over fears that he had Ebola after covering the virus outbreak in Liberia, even though he is symptom-free and has been in the United States for more than the recommended incubation period. FrontPageAfrica’s Newsroom Chief Wade Williams received similar news the same day when she too was disinvited from a previously-arranged speaking engagement at the University of Georgia.

DuCille did not hide his disgust of the University’s decision to disinvite him when he told Time: “I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead, they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria. They missed a great teaching opportunity here for the students; to show them how to report the facts and practice good journalism Instead they went the alarmist route.”

Asian readiness from Reuters:

In Guangdong, nervy Chinese ramp up Ebola watch

Chinese authorities have identified the southern province of Guangdong, home to Asia’s biggest African population, as a frontline in their efforts to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from entering mainland China.

The province bordering Hong Kong has proven susceptible to infectious diseases in the past, shouldering a large share of SARS and bird flu cases, prompting local authorities to take no chances with Ebola.

Local authorities say they have expanded testing procedures at provincial entry ports and 27 hospitals have been designated to handle possible Ebola cases. Travelers arriving from Ebola-affected nations must leave their contact details.

“The central government has asked Guangzhou to strengthen preventative measures,” Mao Qun’an, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told Reuters. “Of course in Guangzhou, there are many people from outside China’s borders.”

And another warning from the Japan Times:

Chinese risk of Ebola outbreak ‘not rocket science’: expert

A scientist who helped to discover the Ebola virus says he is concerned that the deadly disease could spread to China, given the large numbers of Chinese workers traveling to and from Africa.

Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said Thursday it’s not “rocket science” that with many exchanges between the two regions the disease could spread.

“The concern I have is that I don’t think you can really stop people from traveling. These patients will show up in any country in the world, but China is quite vulnerable,” Piot said.

“The issue is: What is the quality, the standard of infection control? In public hospitals in China, the ones that I’ve visited, the level of infection control is very poor,” he said.

Unprepared from NHK WORLD:

Hospitals in Japan not fully prepared for Ebola

An NHK survey shows that most hospitals in Japan designated to treat Ebola patients are not fully prepared.

NHK surveyed 45 designated medical institutions across the country, and received responses from 39. Regarding preparedness to accept Ebola patients, 32 hospitals, or 82 percent, said they are not fully prepared.

As for the reason, 75 percent cited insufficient training for doctors, nurses and other health workers. 53 percent said they have not yet carried out drills for accepting Ebola patients. 38 percent cited a lack of supplies such as protective suits to prevent secondary infections of health workers.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore takes it all the way:

North Korea orders Ebola quarantine on all foreigners

Britain, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, issued a travel advisory on its government website on Thursday (Oct 30), detailing the quarantine order which was apparently issued to all foreign missions in the North Korean capital

North Korea has announced it intends to quarantine all foreigners entering the country for 21 days, no matter what their country of origin, as a measure against the spread of the Ebola virus.

Britain, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, issued a travel advisory on its government website on Thursday (Oct 30), detailing the quarantine order which was apparently issued to all foreign missions in the North Korean capital.

According to the advisory, travellers to North Korea from regions or countries that Pyongyang considers affected by the Ebola virus, will be quarantined for 21 days “in a government-appointed hotel under medical supervision”. Travellers from any other country or region will also be quarantined in hotels appointed by the organisation hosting their visit.

After the jump, on to Africa and more World Bank loans for the hot zone, Chinese military help, Nigerian helpers bankrolled, a prescription of trust, and a sad colonial heritage, and a funereal solution prescribed, on to Sierra Leone and cremations enforced, a plea for help from a Japanese volunteer, scenes from a crisis center, a plea to end air embargoes, a campaign against misinformation, and official optimism, then on to Liberia and cremation confusion, waiting in limbo, and the plight of a the multiply victimized, thence to Guinea and ravaged agriculture, Gambia next and actors enlisted for prevention, plus a warning form the World Bank. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: GMOs, Big Ag, oil, and nukes


And lots of nuclear news there is after the jump, including problems in reactor complexes in California and Britain.

We begin with an apocalyptic warning from The Physics arXiv Blog:

Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin, Says Black Swan Author

  • Experts have severely underestimated the risks of genetically modified food, says a group of researchers lead by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In 2012, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared that genetically modified crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.

Today, Nassim Nicholas Taleb at New York University and a few pals say that this kind of thinking vastly underestimates the threat posed by genetically modified organisms. “Genetically modified organisms represent a public risk of global harm,” they say. Consequently, this risk should be treated differently from those that only have the potential for local harm. “The precautionary principle should be used to prescribe severe of limits on genetically modified organisms,” they conclude.

Taleb and co begin by making a clear distinction between risks with consequences that are local and those with consequences that have the potential to cause global ruin. When global harm is possible, an action must be avoided unless there is scientific near-certainty that it is safe. This approach is known as the precautionary principle.

Other global ag woes from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change a “threat multiplier” for farming-dependent states-analysis

Climate change and food insecurity are “threat multipliers”, and 32 countries dependent on farming face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest in the next 30 years, a global analytics firm said on Wednesday.

Food shortages and rising prices have the potential to worsen political, ethnic, class and religious tensions, the risk advisory firm Maplecroft reported in its annual “Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas (CCERA)”.

Analysts noted that several nations’ military leaders are ahead of their governments in focusing on such risks.

In Nigeria, for instance, the rise of the Muslim insurgency Boko Haram may be linked to population movements caused by a west African drought a decade ago, the UK-based company said.

Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea face the highest level of risk, the Maplecroft report said.

And controversy ensues, via Science:

A disagreement over climate-conflict link heats up

A debate among scientists over climate change and conflict has turned ugly. At issue is the question of whether the hotter temperatures and chaotic weather produced by climate change are causing higher rates of violence. A new analysis refutes earlier research that found a link, and the two lead researchers are exchanging some pointed remarks.

Last year, a team of U.S. researchers reported a robust connection between climate and violence in Science. But in a critique published online yesterday in Climatic Change, a team of mostly European researchers dismissed the connection as “inconclusive.” The Science authors are hitting back, claiming that the critics are fudging the statistics and even manipulating their figures. The new analysis “is entirely based on surprisingly bold misrepresentations of our article, the literature, basic statistics, and their own findings,” says Solomon Hsiang, the lead author of the Science paper and an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Numerous past studies have found a correlation between heat waves and violence, manifesting as conflicts between individuals and between groups. Demonstrating a direct connection between climate change and violence on a global scale, however, is tricky. It requires a meta-analysis of hundreds of already published studies that have slightly different techniques and measurement scales. Hsiang’s team performed just such a meta-analysis and grabbed headlines with their findings that a changing climate appeared to be amping up conflict.

Still more ag woes from Al Jazeera America:

Salt-ruined farmland costs billions of dollars every year, study finds

  • Irrigation methods that fail to employ proper drainage leads to degradation of 5,000 acres a day

Salt residue from soil irrigation degrades around 5,000 acres of farmland every day at a global annual cost of $27 billion dollars in lost arable revenues, according to a study released Tuesday.

Using cheap, short-sighted ways to water land without adequate drainage methods are the chief reason behind the land spoilage, according to the report by the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water (UNU-INWEH). The total area being affected, the report notes, has shot up over the last two decades — from 111 million acres in 1991 to 160 million in 2013, representing some 20 percent of the world’s irrigated lands.

Researchers warn that big investment is necessary to reverse the trend.

The authors of the study said the most vulnerable parts of the world are arid regions in developing countries, where pressure to increase crop yields in the short term may lead governments to forgo installing or maintaining the simple, but costly, drainage systems necessary to keep salt away from the soil.

Water woes on the Subcontinent from the Hindu:

Cut water, power supply to industries polluting Ganga: SC

Observing that its “last hope” rests on the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Supreme Court referred to it the responsibility to monitor and inspect industrial units along the Ganga and even cut off water and power connections if the units are found to be polluting the river.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice T.S. Thakur said official apathy and “failure at various levels” in both the State and the Central Pollution Control Board had led to the Ganga dying at the hands of “highly” and “grossly” polluting units, which flushed their untreated effluents into the river without any checks.

The inaction had continued even after numerous orders were passed by the Supreme Court directing the authorities to protect the river since 1980s, when a PIL was filed before the court by lawyer M.C. Mehta highlighting the alarming state of the river and its depletion owing to pollution.

Notable buzz from Al Jazeera America:

Tiny bugs could be the key to saving honeybee populations

  • Freshman student’s research on phages being touted as breakthrough against American foulbrood, a scourge of beekeepers

Tiny bacteria devouring viruses could hold the key to saving the U.S. honeybee population from a devastating disease that is destroying hives, according to research from a college freshman that is already yielding results.

American foulbrood, a bacterial infection that attacks bee larvae, has wiped out entire colonies and contributed significantly to worldwide agricultural losses. In order to prevent a larger infestation, affected hives are often burned to the ground to prevent further spread.

But a study into the use of bacteriophages — tiny viruses that infect and consume bacteria known as phages — to fight the bee disease by Bryan Merrill, a student at Brigham Young University (BYU), has raised hopes of a natural remedy to the bee blight. Merrill recently published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Genomics.

A beekeeper, Merrill is now working to identify the perfect phage for the job. So far, he has identified five phage candidates for honeybee treatment, a release from BYU said.

Hogging profiteers from MintPress News:

Density Of Industrial Hog Farms In North Carolina Prompts Civil Rights Investigation

People living near North Carolina’s large-scale hog farms have complained for decades about health and quality-of-life issues, with communities of color reportedly disproportionately affected. The EPA is now considering whether to launch a full investigation.

U.S. regulators are currently looking into whether the extraordinarily high density of industrial hog farms in eastern North Carolina is having a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, as alleged in a new complaint.

In the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency will make an initial decision on whether the filing satisfies basic administrative requirements. If EPA officials find that it does, the agency will then begin a full investigation into whether the North Carolina permitting process is in effect discriminating against minority communities in the state’s eastern regions.

While local frustration around this situation is longstanding, the complaint marks the first time that the issue has been appealed to the federal government on civil rights grounds.

“I was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the early 1990s, and people from eastern North Carolina were telling us these swine facilities were destroying their lives – that they could no longer sit on their porch and that this was a civil rights issue,” Marianne Engelman Lado, the lead attorney on the complaint, told MintPress News.

The Ecologist covers an all-too-familiar crisis:

Ghana’s farmers battle ‘Monsanto law’ to retain seed freedom

Ghana’s government is desperate to pass a Plant Breeders Bill that would remove farmers’ ancient ‘seed freedom’ to grow, retain, breed and develop crop varieties – while giving corporate breeders a blanket exemption from seed regulations. Now the farmers are fighting back.

Farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament has just returned from its summer break – and the first item on their legislative agenda is the government’s controversial Plant Breeders Bill.

The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on for their own subsistence, and to feed the country.

Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.

According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable.

From the New York Times, and dam straight!:

Reversing Course on Beavers

Once routinely trapped and shot as varmints, their dams obliterated by dynamite and bulldozers, beavers are getting new respect these days. Across the West, they are being welcomed into the landscape as a defense against the withering effects of a warmer and drier climate.

Beaver dams, it turns out, have beneficial effects that can’t easily be replicated in other ways. They raise the water table alongside a stream, aiding the growth of trees and plants that stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. They improve fish and wildlife habitat and promote new, rich soil.

And perhaps most important in the West, beaver dams do what all dams do: hold back water that would otherwise drain away.

From CBC News, scum of the sea:

BP spill left big oily ‘bathtub ring’ on seafloor

  • BP says researchers failed to identify source of oil

The BP oil spill left an oily “bathtub ring” on the sea floor that’s about the size of U.S. State of Rhode Island or a little larger than Canada’s Manitoulin Island, new research shows.

The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 37 million litres (10 million gallons) of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig.

Valentine, a geochemistry professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, said the spill from the Macondo well left other splotches containing even more oil. He said it is obvious where the oil is from, even though there were no chemical signature tests because over time the oil has degraded.

After the jump, the Great Barrier Reef in peril — and banksters are the solution?, killer amphibians proliferate, Chinese ports polluted, another source of pollution profiteering, while the Russians stake a huge Arctic oil claim, Japanese schools in tsunami peril, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a visit by decommissioning experts,  a nuclear dump site protest, a nuclear plant in a volcanic zone wins a restart vote while another complex gets a seismic green light, fire at yet another reactor complex, major violations at Japan’s fast breeder reactor, Taiwan mulls nuke checks on Japanese food imports, plus allegations of major problems at nuke plants in California and Old Blighty. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Quarantines, panic, pols, & Africa


We begin with root causes, starting with this from the Guardian:

Ebola is a product of a destructive and exploitative global economic system

Deforestation and increasing demands on habitats to produce food don’t just wreck the environment, they are increasing the risk of global pandemics like Ebola

Like a sleepwalker roused from his dream, the world is slowly waking up to the full nightmare of the Ebola outbreak decimating west Africa. With small numbers of cases turning up in western countries, governments here are belatedly pledging action to fight the disease, which has already claimed almost 5,000 lives.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – all countries struggling to recover from wars still fresh in the memory – have buckled under the onslaught of this horrific virus. Inadequate, creaking health services have been no match for a ruthless killer. But while the shocking poverty of these countries provides the fertile ground for the disease to spread, there are bigger issues at play that ought to cause us to think about the macroeconomic conditions that brought us to this point.

Ebola – like HIV, anthrax, Sars, avian flu and other pandemics of recent years – is a zoonotic virus, one that has crossed from animals to humans. It was first identified in 1976 during near-simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The strain of Ebola implicated in the current outbreak is thought to have originated from a mutant pathogen found in fruit bats. This is where we see a direct connection with economic development. The conflicts which have done so much damage to the affected countries have also attracted a range of activities – both legal and illicit – including logging and extractive industries like bauxite mining, which have deforested large swathes of the region.

More from The Ecologist:

Oil palm explosion driving West Africa’s Ebola outbreak

The medical response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been monstrously inadequate, writes Richard Kock. But so has been recognition of the underlying causes – in particular the explosive spread of industrial oil palm, which disrupts the ecology of forests and farms, and undermines local economy and traditional governance, leading to a ‘perfect storm’ of disease.

It is poverty that drives villagers to encroach further into the forest, where they become infected with the virus when hunting and butchering wildlife, or through contact with body fluids from bats – this has been seen with Nipah, another dangerous virus associated with bats.

The likelihood of infection in this manner is compounded by inadequate rural health facilities and poor village infrastructure, compounded by the disorganised urban sprawl at the fringes of cities.

The virus then spreads in a wave of fear and panic, ill-conceived intervention and logistical failures – including even insufficient food or beds for the severely ill.

Take for example the global palm oil industry, where a similar trend of deep-cutting into forests for agricultural development has breached natural barriers to the evolution and spread of specific pathogens.

The effects of land grabs and the focus on certain fruit crop species leads to an Allee effect, where sudden changes in one ecological element causes the mechanisms for keeping populations – bats in this case – and viruses in equilibrium to shift, increasing the probability of spill over to alternative hosts.

Next, some possibly good news from the Guardian:

Ebola may have reached turning point, says Wellcome Trust director

  • Dr Jeremy Farrar says international community is belatedly taking the actions necessary to stem the tide of the disease

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Science qualifies the optimism:

Liberia’s Ebola progress real, but epidemic far from under control

The apparent decline in cases could mean that  families are hiding patients and secretly burying the dead, but it is more likely that a combination of factors has reduced the spread of the disease, said Aylward. “There was a rapid scale up in safe burial practices in the month of September,” he said, adding that many people were isolated in Ebola treatment units, further curbing spread. There also has been intensive education of communities about the disease, including how it is spread, the value of seeking care, and self-protection strategies.

The situations in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two hard-hit countries, have not changed as dramatically.

In a disconnect with the drop of cases in Liberia, Aylward noted that WHO has tallied 13,703 cases—a jump of more than 3000 from the figures released 25 October. He said the steep increase reflects reporting on a backlog of cases “With the huge surge in cases in certain countries, particularly in September and October, people got behind on their data,” he said. “They ended up with huge piles of paper and we knew we were going to see jumps in cases at certain times that are going to be associated with more new data coming in that are actually old cases.” He said about 2000 of the latest cases came from old data collected in Liberia, where reporting of cases continues to be a problem. “Data for Liberia are missing for 19, 20, 21, 26 and 27 October,” the latest update from WHO notes.

And from Liberia itself, another caution via The NewDawn:

Ellen warns against early excitement – Chinese military team arrives

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned against early jubilation over news of reduction in the infection across the country with news of less than 400 cases nationwide.

The Liberian leader is cautioned citizens and residents against a repeat of a scenario in March this year when people got “too happy too soon” over decline in Ebola infection, thereby giving room for the virus to resurface by June when preventive measures were largely downplayed.

“Yes we feel good, but we want to be cautious. We don’t want people to get happy too soon; we got to continue this fight, and we got to continue it with everything that we got,” President Sirleaf said Tuesday in Monrovia when she received an advance Chinese military delegation of 15 personnel to build ETUs here.

Judging from previous scenario, she warned, “This time we want to be careful, we’ll not be satisfied until we are declared that the last Ebola victim has been cured and is freed of this disease.” President Sirleaf’s warning comes as government prepares to conduct a mid-term election for 15 senators in December.

A video report from euronews:

Ebola: WHO announces ‘slowing rate of new cases’

Program notes:

Liberia may be experiencing a slowdown in the rate of new cases of the deadly Ebola virus according to the World Health Organization.

“We are seeing a slowing rate of new cases, very definitely,” WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward announced.

The African country has reportedly seen a drop in burials and new hospital admissions, while the number of laboratory-confirmed cases has levelled out.

While the Associated Press adds more nuance:

Top UN Ebola official: new cases poorly tracked

Authorities are having trouble figuring out how many more people are getting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone and where the hot spots are in those countries, harming efforts to get control of the raging, deadly outbreak, the U.N.’s top Ebola official in West Africa said Tuesday.

“The challenge is good information, because information helps tell us where the disease is, how it’s spreading and where we need to target our resources,” Anthony Banbury told The Associated Press by phone from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, where the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, is based.

Health experts say the key to stopping Ebola is breaking the chain of transmission by tracing and isolating those who have had contact with Ebola patients or victims. Health care workers can’t do that if they don’t know where new cases are emerging.

“And unfortunately, we don’t have good data from a lot of areas. We don’t know exactly what is happening,” said Banbury, the chief of UNMEER.

Meanwhile, the crisis remains both critical and costly. From Sky News:

Ebola: DEC Launches ‘Unprecedented’ Appeal

The charity group asks the public for money to halt the “explosive” virus – the first time it has done so for a disease outbreak.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is to launch a major television appeal over the Ebola crisis, the first time it has called for donations in response to a disease.

The committee, which is made up of 13 of the UK’s major aid charities, said it took the decision because the killer virus threatens to become a “catastrophe”.

The DEC described the spread of the virus as “explosive”, and said it was devastating communities, health services and people’s ability to support themselves.

Next, California joins the list of states with Ebola quarantine policies, via the San Jose Mercury News:

Ebola: California is latest state to impose 21-day quarantine for those exposed to Ebola

California on Wednesday became the latest state to order a 21-day quarantine for travelers who have been in close contact with Ebola patients.

In an attempt to avoid the criticism lodged against New York, New Jersey and Maine that had blanket quarantine orders, however, California will allow county health agencies to impose the quarantine on a case-by-case basis.

By working with county health departments to assess the individual risks, the California Department of Public Health said it “respects the individual circumstances of each traveler while protecting and preserving the public health.”

And a case at hand, via KCBS in San Francisco:

Stanford Surgeon Under ‘Modified Quarantine’ In San Mateo County After Returning From Liberia

A Stanford surgeon has been put on modified quarantine in San Mateo County after treating Ebola patients in Liberia for the past month.

Dr. Colin Bucks returned to the Bay Area on Friday, but no state or federal quarantine orders were in place at the time. Dr. Bucks is not experiencing any symptoms of Ebola, but he is the first Californian to be quarantined under the new guidelines. Bucks is considered by health officials to be at “some risk.”

The doctor contacted San Mateo County health officials. After consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the California Dept. of Public Health, Dr. Bucks was told to stay away from work and to stay away from others for 21 days. However, he can leave his house to go jogging by himself. He is taking his temperature every day and has not developed any symptoms.

Politics of pain, via the Los Angeles Times:

Obama urges Americans to honor aid workers fighting Ebola in Africa

President Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to set aside their fears of the Ebola virus and make sure U.S. healthcare workers who go to West Africa are “applauded, thanked and supported” when they return home.

If those workers are successful in fighting the virus at the source of the outbreak, he said, “we don’t have to worry about it here.”

“They are doing God’s work over there,” Obama said, “and they are doing that to keep us safe.”

And a fundamental lack from the Associated Press:

Funding to tame an Ebola outbreak has fallen short

“We don’t really have a pharmaceutical response for Ebola,” said retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, the former executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction. “But could you imagine if there were 20,000 sick people in 10 cities and we did not have a pharmaceutical response? We would be completely overwhelmed.”

Emergency preparedness programs ramped up significantly in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare, said Dr. Gerald Parker, a former principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Health and Human Services preparedness office. Those efforts included research and development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

“It was recognized that there would be a dual benefit from research on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to counter bioterror threats and emerging infectious diseases,” said Parker, now a vice president at Texas A&M Health Science Center.

But a combination of budgetary constraints and politics has delayed many of those plans.

Other quarantine news from the New York Times:

New York State Ebola Policy Allows for In-Home Quarantine

Offering the first detailed account of how New York State’s quarantine order for health care workers returning from West Africa will be put into effect, the Cuomo administration has issued guidelines that go beyond federal recommendations but seek to allow individuals to spend their enforced isolation in a location of their choosing.

The state documents, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, show an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to portray the quarantine in a humane manner.

The protocols are meant to ensure “a respectful and supportive approach” to arriving travelers, who are supposed to be “treated with the utmost respect and concern,” according to a document prepared by the State Health Department that outlines the screening procedures.

While the Guardian covers a controversy:

Ebola: Maine deploys state police to quarantined nurse’s home

  • Kaci Hickox, who was held for days in an isolation tent in New Jersey, says she doesn’t plan on obeying home quarantine in her home state

A nurse freed from an Ebola isolation tent in a New Jersey hospital declared on Wednesday the she will not comply with a quarantine request imposed by state officials, saying the policy is not based on science and infringes on her civil liberties.

“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” nurse Kaci Hickox told the Today show from her home in Maine. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that Maine state police would monitor Kickox’s home “for both her protection and the health of the community”. A TV reporter with the local WLBZ news channel said as of 1pm ET on Wednesday at least two police cars were parked out front of the home.

More from the Washington Post:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is seeking legal authority to enforce Ebola quarantine on nurse

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is looking for ways to force a nurse released from mandatory Ebola isolation in New Jersey to abide by a similar 21-day quarantine in Maine.

“The Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” LePage’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We hoped that the health-care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols.”

Still more from the Guardian:

Maine prepared to go to court to enforce nurse’s Ebola quarantine order

  • Officials plead with Kaci Hickox to abide by 21-day order
  • ‘I have been this entire time completely symptom-free’

Maine’s top public health official has said the state will if necessary seek a court order to ensure a nurse stays quarantined in her home after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of the state department of health and human services, pleaded with Hickox to abide by the state’s 21-day at-home quarantine order.

“We do not want to legally enforce an in-home quarantine unless absolutely necessary,” Mayhew said on Wednesday afternoon.

More quarantine politics from Reuters:

Obama sees different Ebola rules for U.S. military than for civilians

President Barack Obama on Tuesday appeared to back more rigorous procedures for dealing with soldiers returning from missions to Ebola-hit West African countries, even as he criticized moves by some U.S. states to quarantine returning civilian health workers.

Obama said that American military personnel were in a “different situation” compared with healthcare workers. While civilians may be discouraged from volunteering to help fight the Ebola if they are facing quarantine on their return, troops were sent as part of their mission and could expect such inconveniences.

“They are already by definition if they are in the military under more circumscribed conditions,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.”

More from USA Today:

Quarantine ordered for troops returning from W. Africa

U.S. troops returning from Ebola-stricken nations will be isolated for 21 days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday, a day after the White House raised concerns about states imposing strict quarantines of health care workers returning from West Africa.

Top commanders for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps made the recommendation to Hagel on Tuesday. The Army instituted an isolation requirement for 21 days — the incubation period for the deadly virus — on Monday.

Hagel directed the isolation policy be reviewed in 45 days to see whether it was necessary to continue with it, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.

Still more from the Guardian:

Conflicting Ebola guidelines put US defense secretary in a tough spot

  • Hagel’s choice on quarantining troops returning from west Africa involves rebuking either government scientists or military leaders

The Ebola outbreak has placed the US secretary of defense on the horns of a dilemma: whether to back the military service chiefs about a quarantine for troops or to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends no such thing.

Defense chief Chuck Hagel has received a recommendation for a “quarantine-like program” for all US servicemembers returning from Liberia and Senegal, where they are supporting civilian efforts to contain the disease, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The recommendation, made by the heads of the military services, would expand across the military a directive made on Monday from the army chief, General Raymond Odierno, to keep soldiers returning from Operation United Assistance in Liberia and Senegal under a 21-day period of “controlled monitoring”.

Kirby said Hagel has yet to make a decision, having received the quarantine recommendation earlier on Tuesday. But imposing a broader military quarantine for returning servicemembers goes beyond new guidance set on Monday by the CDC, which urged a home quarantine only for high-risk individuals, such as those whose body fluids have been directly exposed to Ebola. US troops have not been involved in treating Ebola patients.

And yet more from Reuters:

US isolates troops

The U.S. military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some U.S. states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs”.

From Reuters, intranational man of mystery:

In Ebola response, Obama’s ‘czar’ stays behind the curtain

It’s not often that a White House official gets mocked on both Saturday Night Live and a major daily newspaper before he makes his first public appearance.

But Ron Klain’s low-profile first week as President Barack Obama’s behind-the-scenes Ebola “czar” has become another attack point for a White House struggling to show it’s on top of the crisis.

Since starting last Wednesday, Klain has been seen only once, in a photo op on his first day, leaving health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health – and Obama himself – to be the public “face” of the response.

The White House has declined to give details about his activities, especially what role he played as governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey undermined the White House’s attempt to keep the nation calm about the risk posed by healthcare workers returning from Ebola-stricken West Africa.

More predictable politics from the Associated Press:

Jeb Bush: Obama handling of Ebola ‘incompetent’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday criticized President Barack Obama’s initial handling of the Ebola crisis as “incompetent,” saying it gave rise to unneeded fears among the American public about the virus.

Bush, who is the latest potential Republican presidential candidate to attack the president over Ebola, also said in a wide-ranging discussion at Vanderbilt University that he supports travel restrictions for people who have been to the most severely affected countries in Africa.

Bush said Obama should have been more “clear and concise” about his plans, and lent more credibility to health officials leading the response.

“It looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified,” Bush said. “And now you have states that are legitimately acting on their concerns, creating a lot more confusion than is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration made a notable symbolic move sure to piss off some of Bush’s former Florida constituents, via the Associated Press:

US sends health official to Cuban Ebola meeting

The United States has sent a health official to a Cuban meeting on coordinating Latin America’s response to Ebola. The participation of the Centers for Disease Control’s Central America director is the most concrete sign to date of the two nations’ expressed desire to cooperate against the disease.

The two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Havana is sponsored by ALBA, a forum of left-leaning Latin countries founded by Cuba and Venezuela as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the region.

Cuba is sending at least 256 medical workers to West Africa to treat and prevent Ebola. The World Health Organization says it’s the largest contribution by a single government, although there may be more doctors of other nationalities who are sent by non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. has welcomed Cuba’s response.

Ebolaphobia from the New York Times:

Connecticut Child Barred From School After Trip to Africa; Father Sues

The father of a Connecticut third grader filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, saying his daughter has been unfairly barred from school amid fears she may have been exposed to the Ebola virus while in Africa.

The daughter, Ikeoluwa Opayemi, and her family, who live in Milford, visited Nigeria for a wedding from Oct. 2 to 13, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in New Haven.

When the girl tried to return to the Meadowside Elementary School, she was told by the school district’s health director that she would have to stay home until Nov. 3 “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit.

More from Ebolaphobics from Science:

Been to an Ebola-affected country? Stay away from tropical medicine meeting, Louisiana says

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH doesn’t know exactly how many scientists will be affected, but there are several, says incoming president Christopher Plowe, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They are quite disappointed,” says Plowe, a malaria researcher at the University of Maryland. ASTMH sent all meeting registrants an email today containing a letter from Kathy Kliebert, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, that outlines the state’s position. ASTMH referred registrants to the state’s health department for further information.

“Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” the letter says.

After the jump, an infectious lie, a sole supplier, North Korean Ebolaphobia, Hong Kong preparedness, fast-tracking a vaccine, anger at Aussie exclusion, Japanese angst leads to a task force, then on to Africa and vigilance in the newest addition to the ranks of the stricken while a border remains open, a study of who survive in Sierra Leone, Tokyo lends mobile assistance, Brits train “Ebola warriors,” missing funds, and survivors are shunned, then on to Liberia and the crisis personified, the healthcare worker’s painful conundrum, another blow to overstretched police resources, long overdue pay for healthcare workers, a cultural belief hampering prevention efforts with specific voices heard, Christian leaders call a three-day fast, a Christian tradition invoked, a change in command of American boots on the ground, and a presidential birthday is deferred, thence to Nigeria and an unanticipated arrival, followed by a precipitous tourism decline in Kenya. . . Continue reading

David Horsey: Chevron’s brazen bid to buy a city


From the editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times, focusing on the efforts of a giant corporation to buy outright the government of a city right up the road from Casa esnl after a city council majority had the effrontery to force the company to take responsibility for the environmental and health consequences of a century of pollution:

BLOG Chevron

In the accompanying essay, Horsey writes:

This year’s top prize for brazen conduct by a giant corporation in the political sphere should probably go to Chevron. This is a multinational company that, according to a Los Angeles Times report, is bigger than General Motors or Apple and took in nearly $58 billion in revenue during the second quarter of this year. Chevron has funneled a generous chunk of money to Republican campaign committees and individual candidates, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and wrote a million-dollar check to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative PAC.

The city took Chevron to court seeking to force the company to improve safety procedures and oversight. Corporate leaders were not pleased and, in response, Chevron decided to back a slate of candidates for mayor and city council to replace the people who have dared to challenge the way the company does business in Richmond. Chevron’s chosen candidate for mayor has benefited from more than $1.4 million that the corporation has spent on his behalf while his opponent is trying to compete with a mere $40,000 in campaign funds. Chevron’s total spending in these local races is reported to be around $3 million.

Chevron’s big bucks have paid for TV attack ads, purchased space on virtually every billboard in town, funded a flood of mailers, financed a “news” website run by a Chevron employee and backed push polls all aimed at disparaging Chevron’s adversaries and electing a more pliable, less litigious group of city officials.

According to a recent report by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, when a local group calling itself Richmond Working Families began to organize to counter Chevron’s campaign, the company set up a puppet committee with virtually the same name, Richmond Working Families for Jobs 2014, and bought rights to the URL “richmondworkingfamilies.com.”

This goes far beyond a simple donation to a candidate or a cause. In Richmond, Chevron’s money is drowning out any opposing voice. During a visit to the city, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “We are not living in a democracy when giant corporations like Chevron can buy local governments.”

Read the rest.

Chevron has deployed a formidable force of lobbyists and political fixers to attain their goal, and in the past the company has used the services of Willie Brown, the powerful San Francisco Democrat who was also hired years ago to sell casinos to African Americans in Atlantic City, New Jersey. . .the same folks who were driven from their apartments which were then demolished to make way for the gambling meccas now going bankrupt at an accelerating pace.

And Chevron is the beneficiary of Proposition 13, the devastating property tax cap sold to California voters as a boon to homeowning widows on fixed income but which has instead mainly benefited corporations which have owned property for decades or even,m as in the case of Chevron, for more than a century.

Back in 1977, Proposition 13 sponsor Howard Jarvis told us he had written the measure to destroy local government, a process which has been unfolding ever since. Now Chevron has decided to buy what’s left.

Earth in crisis: How NASA maps climate change


A remarkable presentation by top NASA scientists revealing how satellite data is combined with other observations to map the earth’s circulatory systems [air, water, and ice] and create the exquisitely detailed models from which predictions of climate are derived.

To fully appreciate the stunning detail their models capture, click on the gear symbol and set to 720p resolution and pop the video full screen.

Contrary to the cl;aims of politicians backed by Big Oil and Big Coal, the results of their research aren’t simply pipe dream conjectures, and their findings should be enough to move even the most glacial of temperaments to an awareness that we are confronted with a potential  catastrophe created by out own unending appetites for the stuff we can crate out of the planet’s “raw materials.”

And be ready for some images of astounding beauty that should inspire a deeper reverence for the world in which we live and move and have our being [to borrow from a writer of long ago].

From NASA Goddard:

Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

Program notes:

Our planet is a beautiful and awesome place. In a new video, join NASA scientists on a 40-minute visual tour of Earth from space, presented at the IMAX Theater at National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. on September 10.

“Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet” was the theme for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s fifteenth installment of its annual lecture and reception sponsored by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.

Earth is a complex, dynamic system we do not yet fully understand. Like the human body, the Earth system comprises diverse components that interact in complex ways.

On this global tour, scientists lead the viewer through Earth’s water cycle, forests and frozen regions as seen through the eyes of NASA’s Earth observing satellite fleet. They share a story of how we can make life better today and into the future.

NASA’s Earth science program aims to develop a greater understanding of Earth’s system and its response to natural or human-induced changes, and to improve predictions of climate, weather and natural disasters.

The lecture is given by:

Lennard Fisk, Ph.D
Distinguished University Professor of Space Science
University of Michigan
INTRODUCTION

Gail Skofronick-Jackson, Ph.D
Project Scientist for the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
THE WATER CYCLE

Thorsten Markus, Ph.D
Project Scientist for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2)
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
SEA ICE

Lola Fatoyinbo-Agueh, Ph.D
Principal Investigator, (Eco-Synthetic Aperture Radar) (EcoSAR)
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
LAND AND EARTH

Piers Sellers
Deputy Director, Science and Exploration Directorate
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
THE BIG PICTURE

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, critters, nukes


We begin with a gripper from the Independent:

Humanity’s ‘inexorable’ population growth is so rapid that even a global catastrophe wouldn’t stop it

The global human population is “locked in” to an inexorable rise this century and will not be easily shifted, even by apocalyptic events such as a third world war or lethal pandemic, a study has found.

There is no “quick fix” to the population time-bomb, because there are now so many people even unimaginable global disasters won’t stop growth, scientists have concluded.

Although measures designed to reduce human fertility in the parts of the world where the population growth is fastest will eventually have a long-term impact on numbers, this has to go hand-in-hand with policies aimed at reducing the consumption of natural resources, they said.

“The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system,” say Professor Corey Bradshaw of the University of Adelaide and Professor Barry Brook of the University of Tasmania in their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Side effects anticipated from BBC News:

Fears that Ebola crisis will set back malaria fight

A leading malaria control expert has said efforts to contain the disease may be jeopardised by the Ebola crisis.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, who heads the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, said after visiting west Africa: “Understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.” Children’s wards which used to be full of malaria patients were becoming “ghost areas,” she added.

In 2012, malaria killed 7,000 people in the three countries worst hit by Ebola. Most of these will have been young children – although malaria is curable. The disease caused almost 4,000 deaths in Sierra Leone in 2012 – as well as around 2,000 deaths in Liberia and approximately 1,000 in Guinea.

Now the three countries are wrestling with the Ebola virus and Dr Nafo-Traoré said she feared that recent gains in preventing malaria could be threatened by the crisis.

Another outbreak from Reuters:

Rise in MERS cases prompts Saudi warning to residents

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry on Monday urged residents of the world’s top oil exporter to renew precautions against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after a rise in new cases of the disease since early September.

The Health Ministry has announced a total of 23 confirmed new cases this month of the virus, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia. In addition to the 12 cases detected in September, this brings the total number in the kingdom to 777 since it was identified in 2012, of which 331 died.

Other cases have been found elsewhere in the Middle East, in European countries, the Far East and in the United States, but many of those were found in people who had travelled in Saudi Arabia.

Neglect in the Pakistani polio outbreak from Reuters:

“Disastrous” health campaign feeds Pakistan’s worrying polio spike

Taliban militants have long been the scourge of Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign, attacking aid workers and the police who protect them as they distribute doses to children.

But experts say there is another reason for the sharp spike in cases of the crippling disease in Pakistan this year – government mismanagement.

“Pakistan’s polio programme is a disaster. It continues to flounder hopelessly, as its virus flourishes,” the Independent Monitoring Board, which advises agencies fighting polio, will say in a report to be released this week.

The prime minister’s polio cell was disbanded during 2013 elections, the new government delayed reconstituting it, and in recent months the prime minister has been consumed with protests in the capital that have only just ended.

More from the Express Tribune in Karachi:

PM Nawaz took six months to appoint official responsible for polio

Despite an alarming rise in the number of polio cases reported in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took six months to appoint an official responsible for the epidemic while a funding plan for the eradication was only approved last month.

Protests in the capital city in recent months have kept the PM consumed resulting in his government delaying the reconstitution of the polio cell which was disbanded during the 2013 elections.

That meant provinces did not pay workers their stipends of $2.50 a day on time, said Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a polio adviser to Sindh province.

“We had a loss of about nine to 10 months, which is a very big setback,” Ali said.

Climactic concerns from Deutsche Welle:

Climate experts meet in Copenhagen amid fresh warnings

The UN climate chief has urged world leaders not to lose hope in tackling the issue of global warming. Hundreds of researchers and government delegates are taking part in a five-day climate conference in Copenhagen.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said at the opening session of the Copenhagen conference that policymakers should “avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change.”

“It is not hopeless,” Pachauri said in a speech relayed on the IPCC website.

The IPCC meeting is seeking to adopt a concise report – encapsulating the three documents released over the past 13 months – on how to tackle and mitigate climate change.

The 100-page document “will provide the road map by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change,” said Pachauri.

Chinese GMO complications for Big Agra from MintPress News:

Syngenta Facing Legal Blitz Over Genetically Modified Corn

Biotech giant Syngenta’s fact sheet on a genetically modified corn urges farmers to “plant with confidence,” yet when China rejected this corn because the country hadn’t approved that particular product for its market, the entire U.S. corn industry suffered

An unusual cluster of legal filings in recent weeks has capped a tumultuous year for the Swiss biotechnology giant Syngenta Corp., and highlights ongoing concerns over the inability of the United States to keep genetically modified crops separate from conventional crops.

This month, three class action proposals were filed on behalf of farmers in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, with the potential to include almost anyone who grew or sold corn commercially across the country over the past year. The moves came just weeks after similar lawsuits were filed by two of the country’s largest grain exporters, Cargill and Trans Coastal Supply.

All of these legal actions revolve around genetically modified corn hybrids that Syngenta began selling in 2009. While those products have been approved for general use in the U.S., they have not been approved in China, and there is no formal indication as to whether they will be.

The problem for U.S. corn farmers and exporters is that the current commodities system in this country makes it almost impossible to compartmentalize the country’s massive corn production. Instead, corn from different farmers, fields and states is all consolidated as a single product.

Last November, Chinese authorities found traces of Syngenta’s hybrid – known as MIR162, under the brand name Agrisure Viptera – in massive shipments from the U.S. So, they rejected the entire sale, and have taken similar actions since then.

But that opposition doesn’t mean China does like GMOS, via MIT Technology Review:

China’s Growing Bets on GMOs

  • New technology and large government research initiatives in -genetically modified crops are giving China a storehouse for a more populous future.

How will China get enough to eat? More than 1.3 billion people live in the world’s most populous nation, and another 100 million will join them by 2030. China is already a net food importer, and people are eating more meat, putting further demands on land used to grow food. Meanwhile, climate change could cut yields of crucial crops—rice, wheat, and corn—by 13 percent over the next 35 years. Mindful of these trends, China’s government spends more than any other on research into genetically modified crops. It’s searching for varieties with higher yields and resistance to pests, disease, drought, and heat. The results are showing up in the nation’s hundreds of plant biotech labs.

Environmental devastation in China from Want China Times:

Over 50% of China’s coastal wetlands gone due to land reclamation

Unregulated land reclamation has caused serious coastal erosion across the intertidal zones of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, threatening flocks of migratory birds and local environmental conditions, not to mention local residents’ daily lives, Shangahi’s China Business News reports.

Thus far, an total area of about 2,000sq km has been reclaimed from the Bohai Sea over the past two decades and the area is still expanding.

The coast of Bohai Bay and the northwestern Yellow Sea are critical for water birds migrating along the East Asia-Australasian flyway. Three major migratory bird sites are located in the reclaimed area.

Faced with the challenge of coping with a growing population and seeking economic development, the provinces and municipalities of the Bohai Economic Rim have sought to develop the coastal areas and reclaim land for industrial expansion, which has become an integral part of local authorities’ growth strategy, the report said.

And a violent protest in France from VICE News:

Protester Killed After Clash With Riot Police at Disputed Dam Site in France

A 21-year-old activist died Saturday night after a violent clash between police and demonstrators at the site of a controversial dam project in the Sivens Forest in southwest France. More than 2,000 environmental activists gathered in the woodlands for a rally that turned violent when militants attacked security forces.

Speaking to radio station France Info, local prosecutor Claude Derens said that the initial results of a post-mortem examination confirmed that the man died as a result of an explosion. Derens also stated that it was too early to know yet if the death was caused by a grenade blast, a hypothesis put forward by several witness statements. Investigations are still underway, and further results are expected tomorrow.

Body found near disputed dam site in France’s Sivens Forest. Read more here.

The timing of the autopsy coincides with the publication of a report commissioned by the French Ministry of Ecology that criticizes the decision by local officials to proceed with the construction of the controversial dam. Eco-activists argue that the dam, which would provide irrigation to surrounding farms, poses a huge environmental threat to the biodiverse Sivens wetland.

From ABC Australia via Journeyman Pictures, Down Under coal questions:

Catalyst: Coal Dust – How the consequences of Australia’s coal boom are choking the population of Newcastle, New South Wales

Program notes:

Australia is among the world’s largest coal producers and exporters – not something to brag about when you account for the worrying health consequences in port cities such as Newcastle. Since the mining boom in the late 1990s, respiratory diseases such as asthma have been climbing sharply, largely attributed to dust particulates given off in the extraction and transportation of coal. Mark Horstman heads to Newcastle, New South Wales, and investigates the efforts that are underway to identify harmful concentrations of coal dust particulates.

After the jump, avian slaughter in the Balkans, a seal hunting subsidy slashed, China’s flagrant disregard of oceanic fishing rules, a swan population clash in Britain, a remarkable viral resurrection, another American news medium slashes environmental coverage, an Asian partnership for the spoils of oceanic oil, asbestos in Japanese schools, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading