EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, toxins, water, fracking


We begin with the measles, via Outbreak News Today:

Measles in Ontario continues to rise, advisory issued for ‘Acquire the Fire’ concert goers

The Canadian province of Ontario continues to see a trickle of new measles cases this year. The number of cases reported since the beginning of the year has reached 13 with newly reported cases in Toronto and Niagara in the past day.

Of the 13 total cases recorded, the majority are from Toronto with nine. The remaining cases include two cases from the Niagara Region, and one each from York Region and Halton Region, according to the latest data from Ontario Public Health Feb.16. This compares to the 22 measles cases reported in the province during the entire 2014.

Of concern to public health officials is the possible measles exposure at the two-day Christian youth event in Toronto called “Acquire the Fire”. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care was advised today of a person with a newly-confirmed case of measles who had attended this event during the measles infectious period.

And from the Guardian, grandfathered poisons:

Untested chemicals are everywhere, thanks to a 39-year-old US law. Will the Senate finally act?

  • Many chemicals that are restricted or banned in Europe remain in use – and in some cases, untested – in the US, thanks to federal regulations that haven’t been updated since 1976. A new bill to overhaul the law is expected this spring

While the Keystone XL pipeline and power plant carbon regulations are grabbing headlines, another environmental battle is brewing in the month-old 114th US Congress over the future of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The federal law, also known as TSCA, regulates chemicals that Americans encounter daily in electronics, furniture, clothing, toys, building materials, cleaning and personal care products, and much more. It was enacted in 1976, and – in spite of the introduction of thousands of new chemicals, as well as enormous progress in the understanding of chemicals’ environmental and health impacts – hasn’t been updated since then.

While the law has helped reduce use of some of the most hazardous chemicals – polychlorinated biphenyls and lead, for example – it also has made it extremely difficult to take many other potentially dangerous chemicals off the market.

Unlike the current system in Europe, the 60,000-plus chemicals in production when the US’s TSCA took effect 39 years ago continued to be used without any safety reviews. Most are still in use today, although some have since filed toxicity data.

The US allows the use of many chemicals that are banned elsewhere, and its primary chemicals law has failed to keep up with thousands of chemicals currently in use, including the approximately 2,000 new chemicals introduced each year.

On a related note, via the NPR Science Desk:

Beyond BPA: Court Battle Reveals A Shift In Debate Over Plastic Safety

BPA-free isn’t good enough anymore if you’re trying to sell plastic sippy cups, water bottles and food containers.

The new standard may be “EA-free,” which means free of not only BPA, short for bisphenol A, but also free of other chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen.

At least that’s the suggestion of a recent legal battle between a chemical company and an academic scientist with business interests in the plastics industry. The proceedings offer a glimpse of the struggle for the hearts and minds of consumers concerned about the safety of plastics.
Nomar Bodon, a senior research assistant for CertiChem, a PlastiPure partner, tests samples of plastics and prepares them for an automated cell assay. The assay is used to determine if the material has estrogenic activity.

The roots of the legal conflict go back to 2002, when Eastman Chemical began developing a new plastic called Tritan. It was designed to be “a tough, clear, high-temperature, chemically resistant and also dishwasher-resistant product,” says Chris Killian, a vice president for specialty products at Eastman.

Avian flu claims two more victims, via Outbreak News Today:

H5N1: Two tigers die from the avian flu in Guangxzi, China zoo

A total of eight tigers contracted the H5N1 avian influenza virus at a Chinese zoo, according to a report from the FAO Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) this month.

The tigers are housed at Nanning City zoo in Guangxzi Province. The report notes that two of the tigers perished as a result of the lethal bird flu. H5N1 HPAI was confirmed by National authorities.

This is not the first time H5N1 avian influenza has been reported in the large cat. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) Global Alert and Response from 2006 it states:

From the Washington Post, an ichthyological win:

Pebble Mine debate in Alaska: EPA becomes target by planning for rare ‘veto’

Just north of Iliamna Lake in southwestern Alaska is an empty expanse of marsh and shrub that conceals one of the world’s great buried fortunes: A mile-thick layer of virgin ore said to contain at least 6.7 million pounds — or $120 billion worth — of gold.

As fate would have it, a second treasure sits precisely atop the first: the spawning ground for the planet’s biggest runs of sockeye salmon, the lifeline of a fishery that generates $500 million a year.

Between the two is the Obama administration, which has all but decided that only one of the treasures can be brought to market. How the White House came to side with fish over gold is a complex tale that involves millionaire activists, Alaska Natives, lawsuits and one politically explosive question: Can the federal government say no to a property owner before he has a chance to explain what he wants to do?

As early as this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to invoke a rarely used legal authority to bar a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., from beginning work on its proposed Pebble Mine, citing risks to salmon and to Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay, 150 miles downstream. The EPA’s position is supported by a broad coalition of conservationists, fishermen and tribal groups — and, most opinion polls show, by a majority of Alaskans. National environmental groups, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy activists have made the defeat of the mine a top priority, raising millions of dollars to campaign against it.

The New York Times covers another ichthyological conflict:

Threatened Smelt Touches Off Battles in California’s Endless Water Wars

“We tend to say that this is the single biggest water management challenge that California faces,” said Ellen Hanak, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The debate over the delta, she said, ranks with those over other great national ecological landmarks, like the Everglades, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

“The future of this watershed is going to affect most people in the state,” she added.

The immediate future looks grim. Despite a few powerful winter storms, California is facing a likely fourth year of drought, which is wreaking havoc on the delta’s ecosystem. The waterway where the federal researchers were working contained large patches of water hyacinth, an invasive plant that has proliferated in the dry conditions. Last fall, scientists doing a comprehensive survey recorded their lowest-ever seasonal tally of delta smelts, by a substantial margin. Another species, the longfin smelt, hit its second-lowest number.

Salmon, too, have taken a hit, not only from the drought but also from last year’s record-breaking heat, which warmed the water above their comfort level. Most salmon in California swim through the delta to and from the ocean, and scientists have estimated that 95 percent of salmon eggs and young that were spawned last summer in the upper Sacramento River died because of the heat. Partly as a way to recoup the losses, hundreds of thousands of salmon were recently released from a hatchery to swim to the ocean.

After the jump, BP spins Gulf Oil cetacean deaths, small farmers hold the key to seed diversity, conflict lumber looting in Africa gives rise to a ban, arboreal GMO coporateering nears a greenlighting, power from the earth takes a first, and to close, fracking China. . .

And an oil company spins cetacean deaths, via the Los Angeles Times:

BP cherry-picks study to dodge blame for massive deaths of gulf dolphins

In the years since its Deepwater Horizon oil spill befouled huge stretches of the Gulf of Mexico, oil giant BP has honed its skill at cherry-picking scientific studies to duck responsibility for the spill’s environmental impacts.

Its latest effort concerns a study of a massive die-off of bottlenose dolphins in the gulf from 2010 through June 2013, occurring mostly after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout caused the worst oil spill in history. The peer-reviewed study, led by Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published last week in the open-access journal PLoS One.

The study analyzes the strandings of 1,305 dolphins on the beaches or shores of the Gulf of Mexico from February 2010 through the present. About 94% of the stranded mammals were dead. This is the longest marine mammal die-off in the gulf — known under federal law as an “unusual mortality event “ or UME — on record. The 2010 and 2011 figures for Louisiana are the highest annual numbers ever recorded for that state; for Mississippi and Alabama the 2011 figure is among the highest ever in those states.

Well, gee, this is new? Via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Small farmers hold the key to seed diversity – researchers

Up to 75 percent of the seeds needed to produce the world’s diverse food crops are held by small farmers, researchers said following a review of international census data.

Growers with farms of less than seven acres preserve diversity through “networks of seed and knowledge exchanges”, Karl Zimmerer, a Penn State University geography professor who led the research, told a conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Friday.

Some 75 percent of the world’s plant genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported, as farmers shift from local vareties to genetically uniform, high-yielding crop breeds.

About 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species, the FAO has said.

Conflict lumber looting in Africa gives rise to a ban, via the Liberian Observer:

For Illegally Purchasing Liberia’s PUP Danish Giant Timber Company, DLH, Barred

Dalhoff Larsen and Homeman (DLH), a Danish timber giant once accused of buying conflict timber during Liberia’s civil war has been barred by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for purchasing illegal Liberian Private Use Permit (PUP) logs.

The FSC is the world’s largest timber certifier.  In response to complaints submitted by Global Witness, FSC said that DLH can no longer use the FSC brand to claim that its timber is legal and sustainable.

FSC further ruled in the case that if DLH wants to regain its certification, it must compensate Liberian communities for damage to their forests.

Arboreal GMO coporateering nears a greenlighting, via MintPress News:

USDA Moving Toward Less Oversight, Regulation Regarding New GE Trees

Without regulatory oversight or public consultation, the USDA allows for the commercial production of a new GE pine variety. Yet opponents warn that the implications of introducing this GE product are unknown, and unknowable, without long-term studies.

Without regulatory oversight or public consultation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the go-ahead to a biotech company to start introducing a genetically engineered (GE) pine tree that it has developed.

The green light came in the form of a letter dated Aug. 28 and signed by Michael Firko, director of the Biotechnology Regulatory Services under the USDA. This letter — and the green light it gives to ArborGen Inc. — was made public by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist with the Center for Food Safety.

Noting that this may be the biggest environmental regulatory shift in the United States since the early 1990s, Gurian-Sherman asserts that the USDA “is deliberately thumbing its nose at the public by refusing to enact the regulations it has been authorized to use.”

From Reuters, power from the earth takes a first:

Geothermal overtakes hydro as Kenya’s main power source in Jan – KenGen

A sharp rise in geothermal power production has reduced electricity costs and cut Kenya’s reliance on expensive diesel generators, the country’s main power producer KenGen said on Monday.

KenGen completed the construction of the second phase of its geothermal plant last December, adding 280 megawatts (MW) to the grid and helping drive up geothermal’s share of Kenya’s power production in January to 51 percent from 19 percent a year ago.

Kenya was the first African country to tap geothermal power. It has potential to produce 7,000 MW and is targeting production of at least 5,000 MW by 2030.

And to close, fracking China, via Want China Times:

Breakthrough in shale gas extraction in Inner Mongolia

A six-meter-high industrial gas flow was discovered at a shale gas well in Inner Mongolia autonomous region, marking a breakthrough in shale gas development in north China, local authorities said Sunday.

The well, based in coal-rich Ordos, is 3,568 meters deep. The maximum daily gas flow of the well is 50,000 cubic meters and has a daily production capacity of 19,500 cubic meters, according to the regional land and resources department.

More than 87% of the shale gas discovered at the well is methane, making it a potentially high-yield well, according to the department.

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