EnviroWatch: Ebola, fishy foes, killers, FukuNews

We big Ebola coverage on an upbeat note from United Press International:

Ebola patient Kent Brantly: ‘I’m growing stronger every day’

  • “I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name,” recalls Kent Brantly

American doctor Kent Brantly, the first known Ebola patient treated in the United States, said his condition is steadily improving in his first public statement since being transported to U.S. shores.

“I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease,” Brantly said in a statement released by Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse.

Brantly was transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after contracting the Ebola virus while treating victims in Libera.

And having delivered a ration of cheer, we promptly bring you a downer, from Dr. Brantly’s own organization via RT America:

Ebola’s spread to US “inevitable”

Program notes:

The World Health Organization on Friday declared an “international public health emergency” over the spreading Ebola outbreak. The rash of infections has killed 961 since March, making it the largest outbreak in history for the virus, and officials warn that its spread to more corners of the world is “inevitable.” Ken Isaacs of aid group Samaritan’s Purse is one of the experts working to combat the spread of the disease, and he sat down with RT’s Manila Chan to explain the perils of the deadly virus.

Next, the alarm sounds, via BBC News:

WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of Ebola in West Africa an international health emergency.

WHO officials said a coordinated international response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus.

The announcement came after experts convened a two-day emergency meeting in Switzerland.

And from Al Jazeera America, another alarm:

Medical ethicists to meet on use of experimental Ebola drugs

  • WHO announcement comes after controversy over two Americans – but no Africans – being treated with Ebola drug

Medical ethicists will meet next week to discuss the use of experimental medicines in the West Africa Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the talks in the wake of a controversial decision to treat two infected American aid workers with an Ebola “serum,” never before tested on humans, called ZMapp. The move sparked debate over whether using experimental Ebola treatments is ethical — and why Africans have not been offered the same option.

“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general at the WHO, said in a Thursday statement announcing the meeting. “We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.” The statement did not give a location for the meeting. On Friday, the WHO declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.

The New York Times reported that the U.S. government is forming a group to consider the same issues.

CBC News analyzes:

Ebola outbreak: it’s not the virus but Africa that’s changed

  • Death toll in West Africa nearing 1,000

Why do health-care workers in West Africa find this current Ebola outbreak, the worst ever, so difficult to control? The strain of the virus, the Zaire, is the same one behind most of the previous outbreaks.

This is not a case where the virus is any different, says Dr. Richard Olds, a tropical disease specialist.

But at least part of the explanation for the current dilemma may be found in how Africa has changed since the first known outbreaks of Ebola in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sudan.

For one, this outbreak is taking place in parts of Africa that are “much more densely populated, much more urban in their nature and those populations are much more mobile,” says Olds. Also, “these were populations that had never seen Ebola before.”

Urbanization, travel and the personal connections that come with economic development appear to have helped the virus spread. At the same time, a more formidable health-care infrastructure that could go a long way to stopping Ebola before it reaches outbreak status has not kept pace, and without that, Olds says, Ebola is “a little like Russian roulette.”

Al Jazeera America again, with countermeasures:

Travel restricted within Ebola-affected West African countries

  • Restrictions follow reports that families are hiding sick relatives, abandoning bodies in streets

West African countries hard-hit by the Ebola virus have issued travel restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly disease after reports emerged of families hiding sick relatives and abandoning bodies in the streets.

Soldiers clamped down on people trying to travel to Liberia’s capital on Thursday from rural areas with high rates of Ebola infection, hours after the president declared a national state of emergency.

Similar efforts were underway in eastern areas of neighboring Sierra Leone after officials there launched “Operation Octopus” to try to keep those sick with Ebola in isolation.

On the ground with the New York Times:

‘Don’t Touch the Walls’: Ebola Fears Infect an African Hospital

KENEMA, Sierra Leone — So many patients, nurses and health workers have died in the government hospital that many people in this city, a center of the world’s worst Ebola epidemic, see it as a death trap.

Now, the wards are empty in the principal institution fighting the disease. Ebola stalks the city, claiming lives every day, but patients have fled the hospital’s long, narrow buildings, which sit silent and echoing in the fading light. Few people are taking any chances by coming here.

“Don’t touch the walls!” a Western medical technician yelled out. “Totally infected.”

Some Ebola patients still die at the hospital, perhaps four per day, in the tentlike temporary isolation ward at the back of the muddy grounds. But just as many, if not more, are dying in the city and neighboring villages, greatly increasing the risk of spreading the disease and undermining international efforts to halt the epidemic.

“People don’t die here now,” said the deputy chief of the hospital’s burying team, Albert J. Mattia, exasperated after a long day of Ebola burials. “They are dying in the community, five, six a day.” Mr. Mattia was particularly disturbed that many of the bodies his team were putting in the ground had come from outside the hospital, thwarting attempts to isolate patients and prevent them from passing the disease to others.

Off to Spain and another patient from El País:

Government will cover cost of ebola priest’s repatriation

  • US, England and France request information about the transfer of missionary Miguel Pajares

The Spanish government will cover the costs of transfering a Spanish priest with the ebola virus from Liberia, official sources have been cited as saying by news agency EFE. The San Juan de Dios religious order, to which both Miguel Pajares and his fellow missionary Juliana Bohana Bohé (also brought back from Liberia, but not suffering from ebola) belong, had this morning announced that they would cover the expenses of the operation.

“We assume the cost and the responsibilities that need to be assumed,” said José María Viadero, the director of the Juan Ciudad NGO, to which San Juan de Dios belongs. The religious order counts on 300 hospitals in 52 different countries.

Pajares and Bohé were flown across half of Africa to Madrid in the early hours of Thursday morning. The priest, who has been confirmed as having caught the virus, and the nun, who is not currently showing any symptoms, were then taken in a convoy of more than 12 vehicles to from the Torrejón de Ardoz airbase to the Carlos III hospital in the city center. The San Juan de Dios religious order requested the repatriation from Liberia.

Greek Reporter prepares:

Ebola Outbreak: Greece Takes Special Measures As World Health Organization Declares Emergency

Greece is the latest country to undertake special emergency measures after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus outbreak an international health emergency.

The Greek government alerted all related authorities to report immediately any possible incidents. Greece has also warned its citizens to avoid non-essential travels to Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A Greek man who was suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus has tested positive for malaria, health authorities said Friday.

The Times of India covers preparations on the subcontinent:

India sets up 24-hour Ebola emergency helpline

As the World Health Organisation on Friday issued a global health emergency due to Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak, the government opened a 24-hour emergency helpline and said it has put in place the “most advanced surveillance and tracking system”.

All infected patients in the national capital will be treated at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, a health ministry statement said.

Health minister Harsh Vardhan, however, said there was no reported case in India and one traveller, who landed in New Delhi on July 20 and was confirmed by the WHO as a case of EVD, was found to be healthy. He had been traced to Dwarka in south-west Delhi.

Nature newsblog offers a timely reminder:

Geneticists say popular book misrepresents research on human evolution

  • Posted by Ewen CallawayCategories: Anthropology, Evolution

More than 130 leading population geneticists have condemned a book arguing that genetic variation between human populations could underlie global economic, political and social differences.

“A Troublesome Inheritance”, by science journalist Nicholas Wade, was published in June by Penguin Press in New York. The 278-page work garnered widespread criticism, much of it from scientists, for suggesting that genetic differences (rather than culture) explain, for instance, why Western governments are more stable than those in African countries. Wade is former staff reporter and editor at the New York Times, Science and Nature.

But the letter — signed by a who’s who of population genetics and human evolution researchers, and to be published in the 10 August New York Times — represents a rare unified statement from scientists in the field and includes many whose work was cited by Wade. “It’s just a measure of how unified people are in their disdain for what was done with the field,” says Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-drafted the letter.

Next up, the first of three GMO stories, this one from the Guardian:

Sweet victory for Mexico beekeepers as Monsanto loses GM permit

  • Evidence convinced judge of threat posed to honey production in Yucatán – but firm will almost certainly appeal against ruling

A small group of beekeepers in Mexico has inflicted a blow on biotech giant Monsanto, which has halted the company’s ambitions to plant thousands of hectares of soybeans genetically modified to resist the company’s pesticide Roundup.

A district judge in the state of Yucatán last month overturned a permit issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of Roundup-ready soybeans.

The permit authorised Monsanto to plant its seeds in seven states, over more than 253,000 hectares (625,000 acres), despite protests from thousands of Mayan farmers and beekeepers, Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the National Institute of Ecology.

EurActiv takes us across the Atlantic:

GMO cultivation in Europe: A decade of legal battles

The European Union has agreed on a new approach to the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) which allows member states to ban or restrict GMOs in their territory. The agreement should mark the end of a decade of legal problems, but in the context of ongoing EU-US free trade negotiations, vocal GMO opposition from member states and civil society is unlikely to subside.

After a decade of legal battles, the European Union reached an agreement in June 2014, allowing its member states to restrict or ban GMO crops in their territory.

The new president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has backed the new comprehensive legal framework which will give EU member states a legal basis they have been wanting for years.

The EU regulatory system is based on tight safety standards and freedom of choice for consumers and farmers. The tools used to ensure freedom of choice are effective labelling and traceability.

And GM Watch covers scandal:

GM golden rice paper to be retracted amid ethics scandal

AT LONG LAST, the serious breaches of medical and scientific ethics of the GM golden rice trials on Chinese children appear to have been recognised – in this case, by the journal that published the research paper reporting the experiments.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is reportedly retracting the paper. The main concerns appear to be lack of informed consent on the part of the human subjects – neither the children nor their parents were told the rice was GM, nor were they informed of the possible risks. Ethical breaches are among the valid reasons for retracting a study, according to COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics).

While the blame for the fiasco is being placed on the lead researcher, Guangwen Tang of Tufts University, a large part of the responsibility should lie with the Tufts University ethics board that was supposed to be supervising the trial.

After the jump, fishy pollution, lethal players in endangered wildlife smuggling, an old poison lingers, fracking bans, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

From Al Jazeera America, another environmental disaster continues:

Salmon run threatened by ‘unprecedented’ British Columbia mining spill

  • Contaminants released from mine tailings pond entered local waterways, lakes, prompting water ban

An “unprecedented” spill from a mine tailings pond in Canada’s pristine British Columbia has prompted a local state of emergency and water ban while environmentalists worry the contamination could have far-reaching environmental impacts as salmon return to spawn.

“This is a massive and unique event in Canada,” Gabriella Rappel, of Sierra Club Canada, told Al Jazeera. “It’s really unprecedented in such a beautiful pristine environment that’s so important for fisheries as well as the local people.”

A mine tailings pond for Mount Polley copper-gold mine, operated by Vancouver-based Imperial Metals, breached a barrier on Monday, discharging at least 10 million cubic meters of contaminated water into nearby waterways, a press release by B.C.’s Ministry of Environment said Wednesday.

From Quartz, reminds us of a song:

Sewage spiked with anti-anxiety meds helps baby fish live longer, mellower lives

Humans aren’t the only ones living in an overmedicated society. Many of the drugs we take keep working long after they leave our bodies. Flushed into the sewage system, the compounds dose streams and lakes—and the fish that live there. Caffeine, estrogen, anti-epilepsy drugs—these are just a few of the things washing through waterways and, as many scientists suspect, scrambling fish reproductive systems and otherwise altering their physiology.

But some drugs may actually help fish. A study published today finds that young fish live longer when exposed to Oxazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety and insomnia in humans—and that turns up in relatively high concentrations in surface waters.

The scientists tested the effects of different concentrations of Oxazepam on wild two-year-old Eurasian perch from a lake in Sweden, as well as on perch embryos. Both the two-year-olds and the baby perch exposed to the sedative survived at higher rates than the control group. The baby perch thrived when given lower levels of Oxazepam than the older fish.

Environment News Service, killing wildlife’s protectors:

World’s Park Rangers Murdered in Widespread ‘Bush War’

A war is underway across the world’s forests, grasslands and mountains – a war that pits park rangers against poachers. If the rangers win, tigers, elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and orangutans will survive into the future. If the poachers win, these keystone mammals, many other species and the rangers who protect them will not.

Over the past year, 56 rangers lost their lives in the line of duty – 29 of them killed by poachers, according to information released today by the International Ranger Federation to mark World Ranger Day, observed annually on July 31.

President of Gabon Ali Bongo Ondimba said, “Wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the sovereignty and the stability of some of our countries. Poachers do not hesitate to fire upon our park rangers. In some countries they are involved in a bush war as intense as any modern conflict.”

From the London Daily Mail, a new game for coke cartels:

‘It’s aquatic cocaine’: Mexican smugglers are now selling FISH BLADDERS for thousands of dollars

  • A bladder from the endangered Totoaba fish from the Gulf of California sells between $7,000 and $14,000
  • Soup containing a bladder may go for $25,000 in China
  • In Mexico, a man allegedly murdered Samuel Gallardo Castro in June due to an outstanding $1million fish payment, and last year four traffickers were busted
  • Mexican regulators seized illegal totoaba bladders worth an estimated $2.25million in 2013 alone

The bladders of endangered fish from the Gulf of California reportedly sell for thousands illegally.

A Totoaba fish bladder sells between $7,000 and $14,000 – and soup containing the organ, which is renowned for its flavor, may go for $25,000 in China, according to a Mexicali Digital report.


Both Mexican drug cartels and US smugglers have transported the fish, according to Fox News Latino.

From United Press International, the first of many to come:

New Zealand accepts global warming refugees, sort of

  • “I do see the decision as being quite significant,” said environmental law expert Vernon Rive.

On a refugee application recently accepted by New Zealand, a Tuvalu family claimed they’d be forced out by global warming if they returned home. It’s the first instance of refugees citing climate change as one of the reasons for their displacement.

But this particular family could be the first of many if sea level rise continues at the rate many climatologists have predicted. Tuvalu is a tiny island nation in the Pacific, between Hawaii and New Zealand. At just 6 feet above sea level, Tuvalu is one of many island nations that could be nearly swallowed by the sea by the end of the century.

Even if sea level rise happens at only half the rate of more dooming predictions, these sorts of places could quickly become uninhabitable as their coasts become increasingly vulnerable to storms.

Oregon Public Broadcasting covers a lingering menace:

Report: Banned Toxic PCB Still Showing Up In Everyday Products

New testing shows low levels of a banned toxic chemical are still showing up in a variety of everyday products including paints, newspapers, magazines and cardboard food packaging.

The Washington Department of Ecology tested 68 different products for the chemical polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which likely cause cancer and were banned in 1979. The tests found the compound at low levels in 49 different products, according to a report released Thursday. The chemical is apparently an inadvertent byproduct of manufacturing many dyes and pigments.

The highest PCB levels were found in packaging of Ritz cheese and cracker snack packaging, paint color and yellow spray paint, but the study didn’t assess health risks, according to Ecology spokeswoman Erika Holmes. The compound was detected in packaging of numerous food items including lime Jello, macaroni and cheese, Fruit by the Foot and taco shells.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first from the Japan Times:

Fukushima offered ¥301 billion to store nuclear disaster debris

The government on Friday offered to give ¥301 billion in subsidies to local authorities in Fukushima Prefecture if they agree to store soil tainted by the Fukushima nuclear disaster for the next 30 years.

After an unofficial proposal of around ¥100 billion was dismissed last month, the central government decided to triple down on its offer as it searches for places to store debris accumulating from decontamination operations for about 30 years.

Including existing subsidies, total assistance is expected to surpass ¥500 billion.

From United Press International, corporate help from across the Pacific:

U.S. company to aid cleanup of Fukushima nuclear power plant

Efforts to clean up and reclaim an earthquake and typhoon damaged nuclear facility in Japan will be aided by technology from Decision Sciences International Corporation of Virginia.

An effort to locate nuclear fuel in a damaged Japanese power complex will be assisted by Decision Sciences International Corporation.

The U.S. company said Toshiba Corporation, which is attempting to reclaim the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear complex, has tapped it to design, manufacture and deliver a muon detector and tube arrays that will fit into the power plant building to determine the location and condition of the nuclear fuel inside the plant.

Muon imaging technology uses cosmic ray muons — high energy particles — to determine material density and type of material scanned.

And from New Times in San Luis Obispo, California, unaswered questions:

Diablo and the deep blue sea: A shelved NRC tsunami study is generating new interest 11 years later

  • Despite its 85-foot elevation above sea level, an NRC report more than a decade old could reach different conclusions about the potential tsunami threat at Diablo Canyon—but that report remains outside the public view.

On March 16, 2011, the full picture was beginning to come into focus of just how bad things were in Fukushima, Japan.

A massive earthquake and corresponding tsunami knocked out power and backup systems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and at the time Japanese officials were asking residents within 12 miles of the plant to evacuate as dangerous levels of radiation were threatening to reach surrounding areas, according the LA Times. Officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) were telling Americans to evacuate at least 50 miles from the plant, while British officials warned foreign nationals as far away as Tokyo to flee even farther.

On that same day, at 9:44 a.m., a man named Dr. Robert Sewell sent an email to Dr. Nilesh Chokshi, deputy director of the NRC’s Division of Site and Environmental Reviews in the Office of New Reactors. In the email, Sewell attached several reports that dated as far back as 2003 and “that pertained to the tsunami licensing bases for Diablo Canyon Power Plant and, more generally, to other coastal U.S. plants.”

“Unfortunately, the recommendations went unheeded at that time, and the NRC was not then willing to open up the prospect of re-evaluating the tsunami design basis for [Diablo Canyon Power Plant],” Sewell wrote in that email.

From Al Jazeera America, it’s not the first:

Will this be the first Texas city to ban fracking?

  • In November, Denton will vote on whether to ban the controversial method, but is the city legally allowed to do that?

There are more than 270 active wells within Denton’s city limits, and alarmed locals have taken things into their own hands. In November, the issue will go to a vote. If it passes, this would be the first town in oil and gas-loving Texas to say not in our backyard.

Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – requires drillers to pump large amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the shale formation to release the natural gas trapped more than a mile underground. The process has been around for decades, but it’s now done on an unprecedented scale and much closer to major population centers.

Denton established a 1,200-foot setback from homes for new wells, but the rule doesn’t apply to any existing wells that can be fracked again at any time. In April, after a gas well blowout, homes were evacuated and flights diverted from Denton Municipal Airport. Air tests detected 46 hazardous chemicals downwind. Eagle Ridge Energy – the same Dallas-based company that operates the gas wells near the Bushes’ home – failed to report the blowout to authorities for hours, according to local reports.

For our final item, via Common Dreams, the real first city suffers a setback:

Judge Throws Out Colorado City’s Fracking Ban

  • Fort Collins voters put a five-year ban on fracking in November, but a judge ruled that it ‘impeded the state’s interest’

The Coloradoan reports that “the court declared that the five-year halt to new development violated the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act, initially passed in 1951, which declares that oil and gas activity in Colorado is above all a state priority.”

“The City’s five-year ban effectively eliminates the possibility of oil and gas development within the City,” local news KDVR reports District Judge Gregory Lammons as writing. “This is so because hydraulic fracturing is used in ‘virtually all oil and gas wells’ in Colorado.

“To eliminate a technology that is used in virtually all oil and gas wells would substantially impede the state’s interest in oil and gas production,” Lammons continued.


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