Category Archives: Environment

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, toxins, water, nukes


We begin with an outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Ecuador city declares chikungunya ‘state of emergency’

The northwestern Ecuadorian city of Esmeraldas has declared a state of emergency due to the spread of chikungunya, according to a Globedia report (computer translated).

Esmeraldas mayor, Lenin Lara, declared the state of emergency to allocate resources to combat the spread of the mosquito borne viral disease.

Since the first autochthonous transmission of chikungunya reported was reported in the country in December, Ecuador has seen in excess of 200 cases, with approximately half being reported from the city of Esmeraldas, which borders Colombia.

Another epidemic via Outbreak News Today:

Dengue fever in the Americas: 100,000 cases through February

Brazil has reported the most cases in the Americas with 72,254 of the 106,465 suspected and confirmed cases, or 68 percent.

Following Brazil in case burden is Colombia, which has seen 11,242 cases to date. Paraguay and Peru have reported in excess of 1,000 cases this year.

Central America and Mexico account for more than 17,500 cases with Mexico (6391), Nicaragua (3823) and Honduras (4302) seeing the most.

From the Associated Press, a connection:

UNICEF warns lack of toilets in Pakistan tied to stunting

More than 40 million people in Pakistan do not have access to a toilet, forcing them to defecate in the open, which in turn is a major contributor to stunting in the country, a top UNICEF official said.

“There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. And open defecation has significant health and nutritional consequences,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director at UNICEF. She recently spoke to The Associated Press during a trip to Pakistan to draw attention to the problem.

“Open defecation is a major contributor to stunting and that’s why we’ve got to do all we can to stop it,” she said.

Pakistan is the third-largest country when it comes to people going to the bathroom in the open, behind India and Indonesia. The problem can spread disease and lead to intestinal infections, which can contribute to stunting in young children, she said.

And from BBC News, a canine diagnostician:

Frankie the dog ‘sniffs out thyroid cancer’

A dog has been used to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who had not yet been diagnosed, US researchers say. Tests on 34 patients showed an 88% success rate in finding tumours.

The team, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, said the animal had an “unbelievable” sense of smell.

Cancer Research UK said using dogs would be impractical, but discovering the chemicals the dogs can smell could lead to new tests.

From the Guardian, accelerating:

Global warming ‘set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years’

  • By 2020 the average temperature rise per decade will be 0.25C in the northern hemisphere, more than double the 900 years preceding the 20th century

People need to brace themselves for accelerating climate change that could alter the way we live even over short time scales, scientists have warned.

New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 – a level not seen for at least 1,000 years.

The analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen climate simulation models from around the world, looked at the rate of change in 40-year long time spans.

Lead scientist Dr Steve Smith, from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said: “We focused on changes over 40-year periods, which is similar to the lifetime of houses and human-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

“In the near term, we’re going to have to adapt to these changes.”

And from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Republican insanity:

In Florida, officials ban term climate change

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Homeland Security News Wire adds a complication:

Sea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

The findings of the study are published online in the journal Earth’s Future.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/2014EF000282/

While the New York Times discovers greener ag in the heartland:

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil

Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice.

“The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences.

Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

From the Guardian, a call to clear the air:

‘Environmental racism’: Bronx activists decry Fresh Direct’s impact on air quality

Whites and minorities in the US breathe different quality air, with the latter exposed to 38% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. And it is decisions like the one to place trucking operations for Fresh Direct in the Bronx, says activist group South Bronx Unite, that exacerbate the problem

A comprehensive 2006 study carried out by NYU researchers found a direct correlation between the air pollution (diesel fumes in particular) in [Danny] Chervoni’s neighborhood and the high rates of asthma among residents. The densely populated area – there are over 90,000 people living within 2.2 sq miles – is surrounded by four major highways funneling commercial and other traffic in and out of Manhattan. And the waterfront, where as a child Chervoni and his friends used to swim in the river and pick fruit from the apple and pear trees, is now home to several fossil fuel plants, a 5,000-ton-a-day waste transfer station, a sewage treatment facility, a FedEx hub and a Wall Street Journal/New York Post printing and distribution center.

One of the key recommendations of the NYU study was to curb pollution from truck exhaust. So when state and local officials proposed in 2012 to subsidize the relocation of Fresh Direct, a major trucking business, to one of the few remaining vacant lots on the waterfront – a move that would add an estimated 1,000 more truck trips through the neighborhood every day – a variety of community groups decided enough was enough. They joined together to form South Bronx Unite, and they’ve been fighting the proposal ever since.

The group contends that the levels of pollution their community is being subjected to is “environmental racism”. It is a claim echoed by many low-income communities of color around the country, whom research has shown are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries – specifically trash incinerators, landfills and fossil fuel power plants.

From the Guardian, more water woes ahead:

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

  • Last week drought in São Paulo was so bad, residents tried drilling through basement floors for groundwater. As reservoirs dry up across the world, a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. Rationing and a battle to control supplies will follow

Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Mainichi:

Radiation decontamination volunteers not supported by national gov’t

At least 30,000 volunteer workers have been involved in forays into areas in Fukushima Prefecture that fall under direct management of the national government due to high level of radiation, it has been learned from volunteer organizations.

These volunteer workers, who are not given any support by the national government for the management of their radiation levels, have engaged in decontamination work such as cutting grass over 2,500 times, efforts supposed be carried out by the government.

While the national government introduces volunteers to work in areas of relatively low radiation that are being decontaminated by municipal governments, it has little awareness of volunteer work in areas under its own direct jurisdiction.

From JapanToday, a continuing conflict:

Fukushima residents torn over nuclear waste storage plan

Norio Kimura lost his wife, father and 7-year-old daughter Yuna in the March 2011 tsunami.

Now, he fears he may lose his land, too, as Japan’s government wants to build a sprawling radioactive waste storage site in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Like many here, Kimura is angry the government is set to park 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the nuclear accident on his former doorstep. Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years.

“I can’t believe they’re going to dump their trash here after all we’ve been put through,” said Kimura, 49, standing near the weathered planks on a shrub-covered hill that represent all that’s left of his home.

From the Asahi Shimbun, piling up:

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Radioactive debris continues to stack up at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

With nowhere to put it, refuse and debris contaminated with radioactive materials continue to pile up at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant here.

A total of 258,300 cubic meters of radioactive debris was produced from the March 2011 accident to the end of this January in the plant, where decommissioning work is under way.

The amount is equivalent to the capacity of about 650 25-meter-long swimming pools.

NHK WORLD covers a delay:

Public housing for Fukushima facing delays

Construction of public housing in Fukushima Prefecture is facing significant delays. The housing is meant for those forced to leave their homes after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear accident.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to build around 2,700 units for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. 4,900 are planned for those affected by the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

But only 44 percent of the units for quake and tsunami victims were ready for occupancy at the end of February. Only 5 percent has been completed for the nuclear evacuees.

And from the Mainichi, a symbolic move:

Evacuated Fukushima town to remove ironic nuclear signboards

The town of Futaba, which has been evacuated since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, decided Monday to remove street signboards propagating the positive aspects of nuclear power.

The signboards in desolated streets carry slogans promoting atomic energy, including one reading, “Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future.” Town officials said they will be removed because they have become decrepit.

The town authority on the same day submitted to the municipal assembly the fiscal 2015 draft budget earmarking some 4.1 million yen for the removal. If the budget is approved, the removal will begin from as early as in August, the officials said.

Map of the day: China’s very dirty air charted


From Reuters:

China orders industrial shut down

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, oil, & nukes


We begin with an epidemiological warning in Casa esnl’s neighborhood via Outbreak News Today:

Berkeley officials warn of possible measles exposure at local libraries

Just one week after Berkeley health officials warned of a possible measles exposure at the La Mediterranee restaurant, city officials say an adult who may have measles (it has not yet been confirmed) was at the City of Berkeley West Branch Library throughout the day on February 27 and February 28, and was at the Central Branch Library on the afternoon of February 27 only.

Individuals who were at these locations could have been exposed. Patrons of these libraries during these dates should monitor themselves for symptoms until March 21. The risk is very slight for those who have received the recommended two doses of the measles vaccine.

On the days in question, the person had not yet developed the tell-tale rash -a circumstance that contributes to the rapid spread of the highly infectious, airborne virus- so did not know that the illness might be measles-. Symptoms can develop between 7 and 21 days after exposure to the virus.

From the Guardian, more on a story covered here in our previous EnviroWatch:

Health costs of hormone disrupting chemicals over €150bn a year in Europe, says study

  • Lower IQ, adult obesity and 5% of autism cases are all linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors found in food containers, plastics, furniture, toys, carpeting and cosmetics, says new expert study

Europe is experiencing an explosion in health costs caused by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that is comparable to the cost of lead and mercury poisoning, according to the most comprehensive study of the subject yet published.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the human hormone system, and can be found in food containers, plastics, furniture, toys, carpeting and cosmetics.

The new series of reports by 18 of the world’s foremost experts on endocrine science pegs the health costs of exposure to them at between €157bn-€270bn (£113bn-£195bn), or at least 1.23% of the continent’s GDP.

“The shocking thing is that the major component of that cost is related to the loss of brain function in the next generation,” one of the report’s authors, Professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard University, told the Guardian.

“Our brains need particular hormones to develop normally – the thyroid hormone and sex hormones like testosterone and oestrogen. They’re very important in pregnancy and a child can very well be mentally retarded because of a lack of iodine and the thyroid hormone caused by chemical exposure.”

And number for another outbreak, via Outbreak News Today:

Chikungunya cases rise by 9,000, most new cases from Colombia

While some countries in the Caribbeans have seen their chikungunya situation get under control, in fact Dominica declared their outbreak over earlier this week, some areas of South America are reporting an increase in cases of the mosquito borne viral disease.

During the past week, Colombia saw an increase of 7,848 cases bringing the country’s total to more than 185,000 suspected and confirmed cases, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), by far the most on the continent.

Colombia has also reported three chikungunya related fatalities. Other South American countries seeing an increase in confirmed chikungunya cases include Bolivia (+45), Ecuador (+147) and Paraguay (+130).

Still anouther outbreak this time from StarAfrica:

Mozambique warns against the deadly dengue outbreak

Mozambique´s Health authorities in the northern province of Nampula have warned against outbreak of dengue, a deadly fever, that is transmitted by the bite of female mosquitoes and causes severe pain, reports said on Saturday.

State-controlled Radio Mozambique quotes the provincial health chief, Jocelina Clavete as saying that at least 90 samples of suspected cases were taken and analyzed at the hospital in Nampula, of which 50 percent tested positive. She said further laboratory tests are being carried out on suspected patients in the region.

There is no vaccine for dengue, which kills an estimated 20,000 people each year and infects up to 100 million around the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, experts say the number of people infected each year could be more than three times the WHO estimate.

From the Guardian, dry resignation in the Golden State:

California farmers resign themselves to drought: ‘Nobody’s fault but God’s’

  • Despite efforts to dig deeper into the earth to get at diminishing groundwater, the spectre of desertification may cost Central Valley farmers too much to carry on

As California faces a likely fourth year of drought, demand for drilling in the Central Valley has exploded. Hammond’s company, Arthur & Orum, can barely keep up: its seven rigs are working flat-out, yet a white folder with pending requests is thicker than three telephone books.

The waiting list has grown to three years, leaving many farmers to contemplate parched fields and ruin in what has been one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. It supplies half of America’s fruit, nuts and vegetables.

“We’re overwhelmed. We’re going crazy,” said Hammond. “Everyone is in a desperate situation. Everyone has a sad story.”

Arthur & Orum has bought an additional rig for $1.2m, and out-of-state drillers have moved into the area. But as drills criss-cross the landscape, boring ever deeper into the earth, there is a haunting fear: what if they suck up all the groundwater? What if, one day, the water runs out?

And CCTV America covers another kind of environmental devastation:

Patagonia forest fires may be worst in Argentina’s history

Program notes:

Fires have been raging in the thousands of years old forests of southern Argentina in Patagonia. While the operation to save the local environment is still on-going, the question is how and why the fires started in the first place. The Patagonia forest fires have been called the worst fires in the country’s history.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, on the wrong track?:

Derailments put oil train expansion in the crosshairs

After a BNSF Railway oil train derailed and burst into flames Thursday near Galena, Ill., at least one community group has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to suspend permits for rail expansions along the upper Mississippi River.

Of the 70 oil trains a week that leave North Dakota’s Bakken region for coastal refineries, more than half of them funnel through a roughly 400-mile stretch from Minnesota’s Twin Cities to the Quad Cities on the Illinois-Iowa border.

BNSF and Canadian Pacific haul both crude oil and ethanol on both sides of the Mississippi River, and the region has become a bottleneck. BNSF alone plans to spend more than $780 million in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois this year to add new track and improve signal systems.

Because the projects affect wetlands along the river, the railroads must seek permits under the federal Clean Water Act. And as elsewhere in the country, the permitting process has become a primary tool of community and environmental groups to slow or stop the growth of such rail shipments.

And a similar problem north of the border, via the Guardian:

Third oil train in less than a month derails in Ontario and starts fire

  • CN Rail has seen three derailments in Canadian province since 14 February
  • No injuries reported in Saturday blaze

Train operator CN Rail said on Saturday a train carrying crude oil had derailed in northern Ontario, setting off a fire at the site. There were no reports of injuries.

It is the third CN oil train derailment in northern Ontario in less than a month, and the second in the same area.

A CN spokeswoman, Emily Hamer, said the crew on the eastbound freight train reported that cars derailed about 2.45am near Gogama, Ontario, about 125 miles north of Sudbury. She said emergency crew were assessing the site and activating an emergency response plan. Photos on social media showed a large fireball at the site.

A CN freight train derailed on Thursday east of Hornepayne; on 14 February 29 cars of a CN freight train carrying crude oil derailed in a remote area south of Timmins, Ontario.

Obama notes an oily problem, via CBC News:

Canadian oil extraction is ‘extraordinarily dirty’ process, Obama says

  • Keystone XL pipeline vetoed by president in February

U.S. President Barack Obama has some less-than-laudatory words for Canada’s oil industry in a new example of his increasingly critical take on the oilsands.

He was asked about the Keystone XL pipeline during a town-hall session Friday — and he launched into an explanation of why so many environmentalists oppose it.

“The way that you get oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil,” Obama said during the event at a South Carolina college. “Obviously,” he added, “there are always risks in piping a lot of oil through Nebraska farmland and other parts of the country.”

After the jump, yet more oil woes — in the form of corruption — in Brazil, a deeply endangered species, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with watery woes, a reluctance to return, and California researchers get a look at the reactor [plus video], and another reminder of nuclear sins of the past. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, water, nukes


We begin with measles, via Deutsche Welle:

Berlin measles epidemic reaches new high

  • A measles outbreak in Berlin continues to see a rise in new cases. Calls for compulsory vaccination are becoming ever louder, with a strong majority of Germans supporting a new law in favor of vaccination.

A measles outbreak in Berlin continues to see a rise in new cases. Calls for compulsory vaccination are becoming ever louder, with a strong majority of Germans supporting a new law in favor of vaccination.

Berlin saw 111 new cases of measles this week, health officials said on Friday, making it the worst for new infections since the current outbreak began in October.

A spokeswoman for the State Office of Health and Social Affairs said 724 people had sickened since the start of the epidemic, an overwhelming majority of whom had not been vaccinated. Around a quarter of the infected patients have required hospital treatment. Seventy babies under the age of one have also caught the illness.

The outbreak has provoked new calls for vaccination against measles and other preventable diseases to be made compulsory in Germany. According to a survey commissioned this week by public service broadcaster ARD, 72 percent of Germans are in favor of compulsory vaccination.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a climate/illness linkage:

Malaria resurfaces in Rio as drought displaces mosquitoes

Malaria has resurfaced in Rio de Janeiro as a historic drought in Brazil’s southeastern region is driving mosquitoes in the Atlantic Forest to seek water in areas frequented by people, such as waterfalls.

“The mosquitoes in this area habitually lay their eggs in water collected in bromeliads (plants), deep in the forest,” said infectologist Alberto Chebabo.

“So the drought probably forced them to look for water in more humid places, such as rivers and waterfalls, where people often go at this time of year,” Chebabo, of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said in a recent interview.

“This may have increased contamination.”

From Outbreak News Today, an old familiar returns:

Chickenpox outbreaks in California and Indiana schools

The vaccine preventable childhood disease, chickenpox, has been implicated in school outbreaks in California and Indiana, according to local health officials.

In Santa Barbara County, CA, the health department  has confirmed 5 cases of chickenpox and 1 case of shingles associated with a yet unnamed local school in the county. The majority of confirmed cases were in children who were not vaccinated.

In Central Indiana, parents received an email yesterday notifying them that there are an unspecified number of confirmed cases of chickenpox in the Carmel Clay Schools. Indiana law requires that all students in kindergarten through 12th grade have two doses of the varicella vaccine, unless the child has a history of chickenpox.

From CBC News, Big Pharma victims get a long-delayed payout:

Thalidomide survivors to receive $125,000 lump sum payment each

  • Compensation package also includes up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance

The federal government is offering a $125,000 lump-sum payment to each of Canada’s 95 thalidomide victims.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the money is tax free and intended to cover urgent health-care needs.

The long-awaited compensation package also includes a total of up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance based on individual circumstances.

“I would like to express heartfelt sympathy and great regret for the decades of tremendous suffering and personal struggle that exposure to thalidomide has inflicted on survivors and their loved ones,” Ambrose told a news conference in Edmonton.

From BBC News, a subject we’ve been devoted to since our first posts:

Sex-change chemicals in Potomac

An investigation into the cleanliness of rivers feeding Washington’s Potomac River has revealed the presence of sex-changing chemicals.

Pollutants which contain the chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, were found in several tributaries and in the smallmouth bass fish living within. The US Geological Survey (USGS) study followed the discovery of high numbers of intersex fish in the Potomac basin.

Endocrine disrupters can mimic or block hormones in the body. Either naturally occurring or man-made, they can interfere with the endocrine system causing birth defects and reproductive irregularities.

More from BBC News:

Chemicals linked to problems with otters’ penis bones

Otters’ reproductive organs may be affected by chemicals in our waterways, according to scientists.

Experts studying the reproductive health of the mammals in England and Wales were concerned to find a decrease in the weight of otters’ penis bones.

Other health problems in males included an increase in undescended testicles and cysts on sperm-carrying tubes. Experts suggest that, based on previous research, the changes could be linked to hormone-disrupting chemicals.

The study, funded by the Environment Agency, was co-authored by the Chemicals, Health and Environment (CHEM) Trust and the Cardiff University Otter Project, and features on BBC One series Countryfile.

The Guardian examines an ancient toxic pollutant:

20th century lead pollution in South America was worst in two millennia

  • Lead pollution tripled after 1960s to highest levels on the continent in 2,000 years, despite region’s long history of mining

Mankind’s increasing potential to damage and then partially remediate the environment has been underlined by a new study of lead pollution found in Bolivian ice cores.

Swiss researchers found that less than half a century of leaded gasoline use in South America caused more Pb pollution (lead in the periodic table) than anything else in the previous two millennia, despite the long, precolonial history of mining and metal work in the region.

While this confirms one of the enormous negative impact of motor traffic and increased fossil fuel use, the study also showed that intervention by policymakers can make a significant difference because Pb levels dropped rapidly following the introduction of unleaded petrol.

From Reuters, Big Pharma doing what Big Pharma Does to atone for doing it:

GSK sacks 110 China staff in wake of drug bribery case: sources

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), which was fined 3 billion yuan ($479 million) in China last year for bribery, is dismissing 110 employees in the country for misconduct, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The British company confirmed it had taken disciplinary action against staff whose conduct contravened its values and code of conduct but declined to specify the number involved. The misconduct took place before mid-2013, GSK added in a statement.

The dismissals follow detailed investigations into wrongdoing by employees in the wake of the corruption scandal, which badly damaged the drugmaker’s reputation and hit its business in a fast-growing emerging market.

Chinese police first accused GSK of bribery in July 2013, alleging the firm had funneled as much as 3 billion yuan to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors and officials.

From the New York Times, what could possibly go wrong?:

F.D.A. Approves Zarxio, First Biosimilar Drug

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first so-called biosimilar drug for use in the United States, paving the way for alternatives to an entire class of complex and costly drugs to go on the market.

The drug, called Zarxio, produced by Sandoz, Inc., is used to help the body make white blood cells in cancer therapy and is a close copy of an existing medication called Neupogen. It was approved in Europe in 2009 as Zarzio but has not been used in the United States, in part because no regulatory pathway existed to bring copies of biologic drugs to market.

But in January an expert panel unanimously recommended that the F.D.A. approve it, and the agency on Friday announced that it had taken the panel’s advice.

To to California parched, first with the Los Angeles Times:

Rising temperatures are amplifying drought effects, study finds

Climate change is increasing the risk of severe drought in California by causing warm periods and dry periods to overlap more often, according to a new study.

Rising temperatures resulting from increased greenhouse gas emissions mean warm and dry periods are coinciding more frequently, the study authors say. And that is amplifying the effects of low precipitation.

“The key for drought stress is not just how much precipitation there is,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, the paper’s lead author and an associate professor at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. “Temperature is an important influence on the water available in California.”

Higher temperatures decrease soil moisture, increase evaporation and intensify California’s annual dry season. All of these accentuate the effects of below-normal precipitation.

From the paper [PDF], published by in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, three graphs representing the drought index, precipitation, and temperatures in California over the span between 1896 and 2014:

BLOG Cal drought

And a side effect, from the Los Angeles Times:

A dry January pulled down water conservation rate in California

After getting a gold star for saving water in December, California’s conservation efforts flagged in January.

Urban water use figures released Tuesday by the state show that Californians in January again fell far short of the 20% conservation goal set a year ago by Gov. Jerry Brown. Statewide, water use dropped 8.8% from January 2014’s level. In December, it was down 22.2% from the same month a year earlier.

The reason lies in the weather extremes between the two months. December was wet, and people turned off their sprinklers. They apparently turned them back on the next month, which was the driest January on record in parts of the state.

After the jump, still more California water woes and an El Niño letdown, water woes in a Caribbean island, Europe adopts climate talking points, dangerous Indian program gets revived, drug violence and illegal mines fuel a Colombian refugee crisis, China purges a hugely popular pollution documentary, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with that leak thing, radioactive agricultural waste piles up, up to six more years for communities to recover, an interactive regional food radiation map debuts, and fears still keep the seafood industry in recession. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, oil, air, climate, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the Express Tribune and a Pakistani vaccination crisis:

Sehat ka Ittehad struggles as WHO recommends extension of restrictions

There has been no documented international spread of the poliovirus since March 2014 – with the exception of “one new exportation from Pakistan into Afghanistan documented after 13 November 2014″.

The fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee announced the spread of polio still constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The committee has recommended extending the “temporary recommendations” for another three months. Among others, these include declaring a national public health emergency, restricting departure of any residents from the country if they lack an international certification of vaccination and maintaining these measures till the country has stopped exporting polio. The WHO statement is available on their website.

Hours after the WHO pointed to Pakistan as the only country still spreading the preventable, crippling virus. Sehat ka Ittehad’s recent drive came to a close and left at least 33,601 children unvaccinated, but not without efforts to the contrary.

And closer to home for esnl, a deadly hospital-based outbreak spreads, via the Guardian:

Cedars-Sinai hospital in LA investigates outbreak of deadly ‘superbug’

  • Hospital says four patients have been infected with bacteria from a contaminated medical scope, and 67 other people may have been exposed

The Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles announced a possible “superbug” outbreak linked to gastrointestinal devices, the second hospital in a month to link the potentially deadly germs to devices called duodenoscopes.

The bug, called carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), is a bacteria resistant to some of medicine’s strongest antibiotics. The duodenoscope is a difficult-to-clean, complex flexible tube inserted through the throat of patients to check for issues in the upper intestines.

Cedars-Sinai hospital officials linked four transmissions of CRE to duodenoscopes. The hospital sent letters and home-testing kits to 71 more patients who may have been exposed between August 2014 and February 2015, “out of an abundance of caution”.

From the Associated Press, regulatory failure:

Maker of device in ‘superbug’ outbreak lacked FDA clearance

The manufacturer of a medical instrument at the center of a recent “superbug” outbreak in Los Angeles did not receive federal clearance to sell an updated version the device, according to officials from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA confirmed that Olympus Corp. did not seek agency clearance for the redesign of its specialized endoscope, which it began selling in 2010. FDA clearance is required for all substantive updates to medical devices sold in the U.S.

Despite the lack of clearance, the FDA said doctors should continue using the device because it’s not clear that a federal review would have prevented the recent infections in patients.

From National Geographic, a story we’ve been covering since our earliest posts:

Chemical Exposure Linked to Billions in Health Care Costs

Researchers conclude they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems, diabetes, other health problems.

Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (U.S.) per year in Europe alone, according to a study published Thursday.

Chemicals that can mimic or block estrogen or other hormones are commonly found in thousands of products around the world, including plastics, pesticides, furniture, and cosmetics.

The new research estimated health care costs in Europe, where policymakers are debating whether to enact the world’s first regulations targeting endocrine disruptors. The European Union’s controversial strategy, if approved, would have a profound effect on industries and consumer products worldwide.

Linda Birnbaum, the leading environmental health official in the U.S. government, called the new findings, which include four published papers, “a wake-up call” for policymakers and health experts.

From Newsweek, one of those chemicals and twisted regulatory semantics:

BPA Is Fine, If You Ignore Most Studies About It

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is either a harmless chemical that’s great for making plastic or one of modern society’s more dangerous problems. Depends whom you ask.

BPA is in many types of plastics and the epoxy resins that line most aluminum cans, as well as thermal papers like receipts. It is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, a hormone especially important in sexual development, and the fact that it’s all over the place worries many people. Newsweek spoke with about 20 scientists, leaders in the field of BPA research, and the majority say it is likely (though not certain) that the chemical plays a role in a litany of health concerns: obesity, diabetes, problems with fertility and reproductive organs, susceptibility to various cancers and cognitive/behavioral deficits like ADHD.

“There’s too much data consistent across studies…time and time again…to ignore it and suggest BPA has no effect on humans,” says Gail Prins, a physiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But the plastic industry, researchers it funds and, most important, many regulatory agencies—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)—say BPA is safe for humans at the levels people are exposed to.

From VICE News, and not so surprising for students of history:

Deforestation May Be Helping to Spread the Plague in Africa

The destruction of forests is known to cause the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases, destroy critical wildlife habitat, and increase soil erosion, which can lead to deadly floods and landslides.

But converting forests to farmland can also increase the spread of the plague, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

“It pops up every other year or so, and the number of cases per year is quite variable and it’s also poorly reported,” Hillary Young, an ecologist at UCSB, who led the study, told VICE News. “So we don’t have a good sense of the number of cases per year in the region.”

Madagascar’s complex climate woes, via IRIN:

Disaster-prone Madagascar battles flooding and drought

Authorities in Madagascar are struggling to respond to increasingly severe flooding in the central highlands region of the country that includes the capital, Antananarivo, in addition to a prolonged drought in the south.

The latest round of flooding, which started when three rivers that cross Antananarivo – the Sisaony, Ikopa and Imamba – burst their banks during a storm on 24 February, has left 19 people dead and an estimated 36,000 displaced, according to the National Office for the Management of Risks and Catastrophes (BNRGC in French). A further 40,000 people were displaced in 13 other districts.

On Wednesday, BNRGC issued a new alert warning that a low-pressure system just off the island’s west coast was expected to bring more torrential rainfall to the central highlands region. Several neighbourhoods in Antananarivo remain braced for further flooding and landslides over the coming days.

Getting bad air off their chest, via the Los Angeles Times:

Cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs in Southern California children

Cleaner air has for the first time been linked to bigger and stronger lungs among school-age children, according to findings released Wednesday from a two-decade study in Southern California.

The research by USC scientists, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the region’s steep decline in air pollution since the mid-1990s is strongly associated with “statistically and clinically significant improvements” in children’s lung function and growth.

The analysis, which studied more than 2,000 children in five cities over the years, provides the strongest evidence yet that years of government regulations to reduce air pollution in California and across the nation are paying off with measurable improvements in children’s health.

The accompanying graphic tells the story:

BLOG Lungs

From the Associated Press, and we wonder just how safe those “small” levels are over time?:

FDA study finds little evidence of antibiotics in milk

In an encouraging development for consumers worried about antibiotics in their milk, a new Food and Drug Administration study showed little evidence of drug contamination after surveying almost 2,000 dairy farms.

In response to concerns, the agency in 2012 took samples of raw milk from the farms and tested them for 31 drugs, almost all of them antibiotics. Results released by the agency Thursday show that less than 1 percent of the total samples showed illegal drug residue.

Antibiotics and other drugs can end up in milk when they are used on dairy cows to keep them healthy. Small levels of drugs are allowed in milk, but residues that go beyond certain thresholds are illegal.

Some delightful news for bees, via DutchNews.nl:

Amsterdam bee population is booming

Amsterdam bee population is booming Society March 5, 2015 Honey comb and a bee workingBee populations may be in trouble elsewhere but in Amsterdam there are now 61 different bee species, up from 51 in 2000, according to new research.

The most common bee in the city is the common furrow (Lasioglossum calceatum) while the hairy-footed flower bee, which was very rare in 2000, now lives in abundance in the city’s Vondel park, the research shows.

The research was commissioned by the city council. Bee expert and researcher told the Parool the city council should be extremely pleased the city has such committed people managing its green spaces. ‘The city can thank their expertise for the increase,’ he said.

Ten years ago the city council took a new, environmentally-friendly approach to its green areas and roadside verges. It no longer uses pesticides and wild flowers have been sown in many places. Specific bee friendly projects have also been set up.

After the jump, Brits sign a Mexican dirty energy deal, an oil company settles a cleanup complaint in Peru, Britain’s central bank sounds a fossil fuel alert, Oklahoma scientists play Big Oil’s music, Feds find the Arctic oil they want drilled will most likely lead to a major oil spill, allegations industry corrupted Europe’s clean air laws, separating fossil fueled climate change from oceanic changes, flooding predicted to triple in 15 years, a new African environmental alliance announced, Brazilian peasants seize a paper plant over plans to plan GMO trees, Arctic Sea ice thinning accelerates, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with more radioactive leaks, local communities protests TEPCO’s concealing of a major leak for ten months, another radioactive fuel removal planned, evacuees plagued with blood clots, the governor calls for extending reconstruction programs, Japanese tourism recovers from Fukushimaphobia, nearby factories suffer from major labor shortages, regulators find major flaws in plans for the restart of another Japanese nuke plant shut down after the earthquake that shattered Fukushima, a lawsuit challenges plans for a new British nuke plant, and, finally, fears over new Nuclear plants in a Pakistani seismic hot spot. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Eugenics, the Alaskan version


House Republican Don Young, tweaking colleagues over their potential support for measures to keep the gray wolf on the endangered species list, as quoted by the Washington Post:

“How many of you have got wolves in your district?” he asked. “None. None. Not one.”

“They haven’t got a damn wolf in their whole district,” Young continued. “I’d like to introduce them in your district. If I introduced them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”

Map of the day: Global temperature disparities


Via Newswise, the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s latest Global Temperature Report, showing divergences from averages, with that harsh cold trough dominating the American East Coast and the prolonged hoit spell on the opposite coast:

BLOG Temps

From the report:

Global Temperature Report: February 2015

  • Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.14 C per decade

February temperatures (preliminary)

  • Global composite temp.: +0.30 C (about 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.
  • Northern Hemisphere: +0.43 C (about 0.77 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.
  • Southern Hemisphere: +0.16 C (about 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.
  • Tropics: +0.02 C (about 0.04 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

January temperatures (revised):

  • Global Composite: +0.35 C above 30-year average
  • Northern Hemisphere: +0.55 C above 30-year average
  • Southern Hemisphere: +0.15 C above 30-year average
  • Tropics: +0.13 C above 30-year average
  • (All temperature anomalies are based on a 30-year average (1981-2010) for the month reported.)