Category Archives: Health

American invader threatens Africa’s food supplies


It’s a stealthy invader, an illegal immigrant, and it threatens to cause still more instability in a continent struggling with conflict and First World profiteers, but its impacts portend famine and yet more instability and violence.

Making matters worse, the invasion comes at a critical moment when the continent faces imminent threats from drought and climate change.

From MercoPress:

New research announced by scientists at CABI (Center for Agriculture and Bioscience Information) confirms that a recently introduced crop-destroying armyworm caterpillar is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a UK based CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be present in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall armyworm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

More threats loom: Drought and climate change

The introduction to a very alarming report from IRIN tells the basics:

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.

The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months.

“We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added.

Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.

According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll.

“We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN.

Headline of the day: Call him a plebian patrician


From the Independent:

Donald Trump doesn’t exercise: US President eats Big Macs, steaks and crisps on silver plates

The president has said he would like to lose up to 20 pounds

Is Duterte, unlike Trump, a green populist thug?


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte [previously] may be a murdering populist thug who says Donald Trump makes him “feel like a saint,” notorious for his personal participation in one of more of the thousands of police and vigilante murders of alleged drug users and dealers that have characterized his rule since he took the helm last June, but is a green murdering populist thug as well?

That possibility was raised today after his environmental secretary announced the closure of more than half of the country’s notoriously dirty mines, declaring it a matter of social justice, especially for the island nation’s original inhabitants.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the murder of an indigenous anti-mining activist, 27-year-old Veronico “Nico” Lapsay Delamente, a member of the Mamanwa tribe.

The story from teleSUR English:

In a move to address the environmental and human costs of the mining industry in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s secretary of the environment and natural resources, Regina Lopez, has ordered the closure of 23 of 41 of the country’s mines.

The move has perturbed the mining industry — which has threatened to fight back through legal action.

“My issue here is not about mining, my issue here is social justice,” Lopez, a staunch environmentalist, said at a briefing that showed footage of damage from mining activities, especially in Indigenous communities.

“Why is mining more important than people’s lives?”

The announcement has raised the price of global nickel prices, as the Philippines is the world’s largest nickel ore exporter. Lopez has also ordered for the suspension of five other mines as well, after having conducted an official standards audit.

The suspensions include the country’s top gold mine, operated by Australia’s OceanaGold Corp., which has threatened to take legal action if the mine is closed. The corporation’s CEO, Mick Wilkes, said the decision was unjustified.

Those fast food wrappers may harbor toxic treats


From Environmental Science & Technology Letters open access], a look at the prevalence of fluorine-based chemicals in fast food wrappers.

From Environmental Science & Technology Letters [open access], a look at the prevalence of fluorine-based chemicals in fast food wrappers.

We’ve posted a lot about chemicals used in food and drink containers, most notably bisphenol A, a plastic implicated in everything from obesity, cancer, and asthma to the behavioral problems in girls development of breasts in male lab animals.

But now a new group of chemicals is coming under fire, compounds based on the highly toxic gaseous element.

A new study [open source] just published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters reveals just how present fluorine-based compounds are in the packaging we pick up at the drive-in window.

From the Silent Spring Institute:

Many Americans, with the start of the New Year, will resolve to cut back on fast food to avoid an overload of fat and calories. Yet, there is another reason to resist the temptation to indulge in fast food. The greaseproof packaging holding your burger and fries may contain potentially harmful fluorinated chemicals that can leach into food, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

In the most comprehensive analysis to date on the prevalence of highly fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging in the United States, researchers tested more than 400 samples from 27 fast food chains throughout the country. The samples, consisting of paper wrappers, paperboard, and drink containers, were analyzed for a class of chemicals called PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as PFCs. These highly fluorinated chemicals are widely used in an array of nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware, outdoor apparel, as well as food packaging.

“These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, so it’s concerning that people are potentially exposed to them in food,” says Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute and the study’s lead author. Exposure to some PFASs has been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility. “Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals,” says Schaider. Approximately one third of children in the U.S. consume fast food every day.

Reporting February 1 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the researchers applied a novel technique using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to analyze the samples for fluorine—a marker of PFASs. The team found that almost half of paper wrappers (e.g., burger wrappers and pastry bags) and 20 percent of paperboard samples (e.g., boxes for fries and pizza) contained fluorine. Tex-Mex food packaging and dessert and bread wrappers, in particular, were most likely to contain fluorine compared with other categories of packaging.

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Radiation levels signal nuclear crisis at Fukushima


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On 16 March 1979, Columbia Pictures released a new film starring three of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The China Syndrome told the tale of a nuclear reactor accident in California, threatening to trigger a meltdown of the reactor’s radioactive core that would cause it to melt through the containment vessel into the earth below, threatening a massive radiation release as the superheated uranium made contact with the groundwater below.

The movie’s release was perfectly timed, thought the studios didn’t know it.

On 28 March 1979, just 12 days later, a reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island plant suffered a partial meltdown, the nation’s first highly publicized reactor accident [although, as we have noted before, a potentially far worse disaster had happened in California twenty years earlier], sending ticket sales soaring.

And now, as new evidence of soaring radiation and a hole in one of the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi reactor complex [previously] is making The China Syndrome look more like prophecy that just a simple Hollywood blockbuster.

Soaring radiation surpass lethal levels by many times

We begin with this from the Guardian:

Radiation levels inside a damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station are at their highest since the plant suffered a triple meltdown almost six years ago.

The facility’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said atmospheric readings as high as 530 sieverts an hour had been recorded inside the containment vessel of reactor No 2, one of three reactors that experienced a meltdown when the plant was crippled by a huge tsunami that struck the north-east coast of Japan in March 2011.

The extraordinary radiation readings highlight the scale of the task confronting thousands of workers, as pressure builds on Tepco to begin decommissioning the plant – a process that is expected to take about four decades.

The recent reading, described by some experts as “unimaginable”, is far higher than the previous record of 73 sieverts an hour in that part of the reactor.

A single dose of one sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea; 5 sieverts would kill half those exposed to it within a month, and a single dose of 10 sieverts would prove fatal within weeks.

Robot finds evidence the core escaped the reactor

And now for the China Syndrome angle.

There’s clear evidence the core melted through the containment vessel.

From the Japan Times:

Tepco also announced that, based on its analysis of images taken by a remote-controlled camera, that there is a 2-meter hole in the metal grating under the pressure vessel in the reactor’s primary containment vessel. It also thinks part of the grating is warped.

The hole could have been caused when the fuel escaped the pressure vessel after the mega-quake and massive tsunami triggered a station blackout that crippled the plant’s ability to cool the reactors.

The searing radiation level, described by some experts as “unimaginable,” far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour at the reactor.

Tepco said it calculated the figure by analyzing the electronic noise in the camera images caused by the radiation. This estimation method has a margin of error of plus or minus 30 percent, it said.

An official of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation in their work.

Radiation so high it kills robots

The really scary part of the story from Japan Today:

The latest discovery spells difficulty in removing the fuel debris as part of decommissioning work at the plant. The government and TEPCO hope to locate the fuel and start removing it from a first reactor in 2021.

The debris is believed to have been created as nuclear fuel inside the reactor pressure vessel overheated and melted due to the loss of reactor cooling functions.

In the coming weeks, the plant operator plans to deploy a remote-controlled robot to check conditions inside the containment vessel, but the utility is likely to have to change its plan.

For one thing, it will have to reconsider the route the robot is to take to probe the interior because of the hole found on the grating.

Also, given the extraordinary level of radiation inside the containment vessel, the robot would only be able to operate for less than two hours before it is destroyed.

That is because the robot is designed to withstand exposure to a total of up to 1,000 sieverts of radiation. Based on the calculation of 73 sieverts per hour, the robot could have operated for more than 10 hours, but 530 sieverts per hour means the robot would be rendered inoperable in less than two hours.

And to conclude,. . .

Lest you be worried,, here’s a little cheering up in the form of an full page advertisement from Newsweek, published way back on 12 October 1964:

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Chart of the day: High schoolers shunning soda


From a new report on beverage choices by America’s high school-age youth from the Centers for Disease Control, a look at the fast-changing demographics of carbonated beverage consumption. Students were asked if they had consumed a soda within the last 24 hours, yielding these results:

During 2007–2015, daily soda consumption decreased from 33.8%  to  20.4%.  During 2007–2011, daily milk and juice consumption did not change; however,  during  2011–2015 daily milk and juice consumption decreased from 44.4% to 37.5% and from 28.2% to 21.6%, respectively.

During 2007–2015, daily soda consumption decreased from 33.8% to 20.4%. During 2007–2011, daily milk and juice consumption did not change; however, during 2011–2015 daily milk and juice consumption decreased from 44.4% to 37.5% and from 28.2% to 21.6%, respectively.

Chart of the day: Alternative medical choices


From the Pew Research Center:

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