Category Archives: Health

Rallies across the world: March Against Monsanto


Narch agagaist Monstanto protesters in Mtubatuba, South Africa today.

March against Monsanto protesters in Mtubatuba, South Africa today.

Monsanto, the folks who brought you Roundup and all those patented Roundup Ready genetically modified crops they peddle, was the target and marches and rallies in more than 400 cities across the global today by folks angry at the firm’s control of so much of the world’s food supplies.

Big Agra’s been in a state of flux of late, with major mergers in the offing, as BBC News reported Thursday, when Bayer announced it wanted to buy the company:

There has been speculation for some months that Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed company, could become a target for either Bayer or BASF.

Bayer, which has a market value of about $90bn, is the second-largest producer of crop chemicals after Syngenta.

Monsanto, which has a market capitalisation of $42bn, attempted to buy Swiss rival Syngenta last year.

However, Syngenta ended up accepting a $43bn offer from ChemChina in February, although that deal is still being reviewed by regulators in the US.

Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto is expected to be bigger in value than the ChemChina-Syngenta deal.

More from Reuters:

Deutsche Bank analysts said a deal could shift Bayer’s center of gravity to agriculture, accounting for about 55 percent of core earnings, up from roughly 28 percent last year excluding the Covestro chemicals business Bayer plans to sell.

That would have a negative impact on sentiment among Bayer’s healthcare-focused investor base, the bank said.

Bayer, which has a market value of $90 billion, said the merger would create “a leading integrated agriculture business”, referring to Bayer’s push to seek more synergies from combining the development and sale of seeds and crop protection chemicals.

Most of the major agrichemical companies are aiming to genetically engineer more robust plants and custom-build chemicals to go with them, selling them together to farmers who are struggling to contend with low commodity price.

And, just for the fun of it, some voideos from around the world and an image or two.

First, the march in Saarbrücken, Germany, from Heidi Schmitt:

March against Monsanto, 21.05.2016 in Saarbrücken

On to Paris, via Ruptly TV:

France: Parisians rally against Monsanto

Program notes:

Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Paris on Saturday for the ‘March against Monsanto,’ in a demonstration against multinational agrochemical corporation. Protesters held banners reading: “GMO/Pesticides = the next sanitary scandal” and “GMO no thanks.”

The activists are protesting against Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) products and the alleged monopoly that Monsanto has in the food supply market.

Saturday’s march will mark the fourth annual ‘March against Monsanto.’ The march is set to take place in over 400 cities in more than 40 countries around the world.

Then off to Innsbruck, Austria with Klaus Schreiner:

2016 Monsanto Marsch Innsbruck

And then back to France and a march in Bordeaux from Gilbert Hanna:

Contre Monsanto and CO à Bordeaux marche internationale

Next, Amsterdam, via kafx:

March against Monsanto

And an image from Basel, Switzerland, via GM Watch:BLOG Monsanto Basel

Then to Toronto, via SupportLocalScene:

March Against Monsanto 2016 at Yonge & Dundas

Program notes:

Yonge and Dundas sees the Millions March Against Monsanto 2016 marching in downtown Toronto, Canada, May 21st 2016.

Next, an image form New York by Alex Beauchamp:

BLOG Monsanto NYC

Then to Japan with Ruptly TV:

Japan: Thousands protest against Monsanto in Tokyo

Program notes:

Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Tokyo for the ‘March against Monsanto’ on Saturday, in a demonstration against multinational agrochemical corporation.

Finally, via GM Watch, a scene from China:

BLOG Monsanto Taipei

Uber spies on your cell phone battery; charges vastly more if it’s dying


Of all the nasty forms of predatory capitalism we’ve heard of lately, this one ranks almost up there with Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli‘s cynical boosting of the price of a a drug used to treat an otherwise-lethal AIDS-related illness by 5,550 percent after buying the company that made it.

But this time it’s Uber, another outfit that’s taken predation on the desperate to new levels, and CBC News has the story [emphasis added]:

It’s no secret that Uber uses surge pricing at peak periods, such as New Year’s Eve, when demand is high.

But what many may not know is that when you download the Uber app, the company can track your smartphone battery life — and it’s studying how that influences your price point.

The company has determined that customers are more willing to accept surge pricing if they know their phone is about to lose power.

The ride-hailing service is alerted when a customer’s phone battery is running low because the app switches into power-saving mode.

In a recent NPR podcast titled This is Your Brain on Uber, Keith Chen, the company’s head of economic research, said people with fading batteries are less inclined to wait “10 to 15 minutes” to see if demand for drivers drops, along with pricing, because with a low battery, they may not get a ride at all.
You’re willing to pay more

The behavioural economist at UCLA said users are willing to accept surge pricing increases as high as 9.9 times the normal price of a ride if their smartphone’s battery is close to dying.

As for Pharma Bro, he had a birthday in March while awaiting trial on securities fraud charges unrelated to the drug price hike. Britain’s Pink News got a picture of the birthday cake cake Shkreli tweeted [yes, it’s really the cake served at his bash]:

BLOG Pharma Bro

Colorado homeowners win big nuke cash award


Why? Because a plant producing plutonium cores for America’s nuclear weapons program was run by corporate executives who failed to protect the workers and the public from what became a $7 billion catastrophic radioactive waste disaster.

The huge settlement awarded nearby homeowners will be added onto the $7 billion already spent to clean up the mess.

From the Denver Post:

Thousands of homeowners who lived downwind of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant and the operators of the controversial facility have settled a lawsuit to the tune of $375 million, more than a quarter century after the legal action was first filed.

The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, brings to an end a 26-year legal saga that began when homeowners living east of Rocky Flats accused the plant’s operators, Rockwell International Corp. and Dow Chemical Co., of devaluing their properties due to plutonium releases from the plant.

The lawsuit, which included as many as 15,000 homeowners in an area largely encompassing neighborhoods surrounding Standley Lake, was first filed in 1990.

In court papers filed Wednesday, the lawsuit was described as “quite possibly the largest docket of any District of Colorado case to date.”

Accompanying the article is this map of the area of contamination.

CD0520BROOMFIELD

But don’t expect the companies to foot the bill, at least if they have their own say, reports Seeking Alpha:

The companies said ROK’s [Rockwell’s] share of the settlement was $244M and Dow’s was $131M, but they expect the Energy Department to repay them in full; the Energy Department says it is liable for some claims, but it is not yet clear if it would be the full amount.

So what happened at Rocky Flats?

It’s a story we followed, since we lived within 40 miles of the site for eight years during our youth and often drove by the plant when it was in operation.

Here’s the Wikipedia summary of the contamination problem, and it’s remarkably accurate:

The Rocky Flats Plant, a former U.S. nuclear weapons production facility located about 15 miles northwest of Denver, caused radioactive (primarily plutonium, americium, and uranium) contamination within and outside its boundaries. The contamination primarily resulted from two major plutonium fires in 1957 and 1969 (plutonium is pyrophoric and shavings can spontaneously combust) and from wind-blown plutonium that leaked from barrels of radioactive waste. Much lower concentrations of radioactive isotopes were released throughout the operational life of the plant from 1952 to 1992, from smaller accidents and from normal operational releases of plutonium particles too small to be filtered. Prevailing winds from the plant swept airborne contamination south and east, into populated areas northwest of Denver.

The contamination of the Denver area by plutonium from the fires and other sources was not publicly reported until the 1970s. According to a 1972 study coauthored by Edward Martell, “In the more densely populated areas of Denver, the Pu contamination level in surface soils is several times fallout”, and the plutonium contamination “just east of the Rocky Flats plant ranges up to hundreds of times that from nuclear tests.” As noted by Carl Johnson in Ambio, “Exposures of a large population in the Denver area to plutonium and other radionuclides in the exhaust plumes from the plant date back to 1953.”

Weapons production at the plant was halted after a combined FBI and EPA raid in 1989 and years of protests. The plant has since been shut down, with its buildings demolished and completely removed from the site. The Rocky Flats Plant was declared a Superfund site in 1989 and began its transformation to a cleanup site in February 1992. Removal of the plant and surface contamination was largely completed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nearly all underground contamination was left in place, and measurable radioactive environmental contamination in and around Rocky Flats will probably persist for thousands of years. The land formerly occupied by the plant is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Plans to make this refuge accessible for recreation have been repeatedly delayed due to lack of funding and protested by citizen organizations. The Department of Energy continues to fund monitoring of the site, but private groups and researchers remain concerned about the extent and long-term public health consequences of the contamination. Estimates of the public health risk caused by the contamination vary significantly, with accusations that the United States government is being too secretive and that citizen activists are being alarmist.

For an excellent report on events at the plant and the scale of the cleanup, see this 25 March 2000 Denver Post report by Mark Obmascik.

Among the challenges of the then-ongoing cleanup he noted:

  • Finding 1,100 pounds of plutonium that somehow became lost in ductwork, drums and industrial gloveboxes. The amount of missing plutonium at Rocky Flats is enough to build 150 Nagasaki-strength bombs.
  • Cleaning 13 “infinity rooms” – places so radioactive that instruments go off the scale when measurements are attempted. One infinity room is so bad that managers welded its door shut in 1972. Another room was stuffed with plutonium-fouled machinery and then entombed in concrete.
  • Trucking out dangerous materials. In the next two years, an estimated 16,000 pounds of highgrade plutonium must be moved through metro Denver to South Carolina. On top of that, to meet the planned 2006 cleanup completion date, Rocky Flats must ship out more than three truckloads of radioactive waste each day; the plant now moves only two truckloads a week.

By the time the federal government announced completion of the site cleanup on 13 October 2005, costs had soared to $7 billion.

For more background, here’s a 1996 video by nuclear physicist Dr. Thomas B. Cochran, Senior Scientist of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nuclear Program, prepared during the litigation and posted by YouTube by user r3VOLt23:

Nuclear Weapons Plant: Malpractices at Rocky Flats

Program notes:

Tom Cochran is a nuclear physicist and an expert in the process of manufacturing nuclear weapons. He is Director of the Nuclear Program at the National Resources Defense Council and served on boards for the DOE and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He was asked to analyze some of the practices at Rocky Flats for the class-action lawsuit, Merilyn Cook et al vs. Rockwell International Corporation and the Dow Chemical Company. (1996)

Chart of the day: Zika continues to spread


From the latest World Health Organization Zika Situation Report [PDF], which reports that the disease has now become endemic in Argentina and Germanyhas reported in first case of sexually transmitted Zika virus disease:

BLOG Zika

The WHO online summary of the Situation Report notes that:

As of 18 May 2016, 60 countries and territories report continuing mosquito-borne transmission of which:

  • 46 countries are experiencing a first outbreak of Zika virus since 2015, with no previous evidence of circulation, and with ongoing transmission by mosquitos.
  • 14 countries reported evidence of Zika virus transmission between 2007 and 2014, with ongoing transmission.
  • In addition, 4 countries or territories have reported evidence of Zika virus transmission between 2007 and 2014, without ongoing transmission: Cook Islands, French Polynesia, ISLA DE PASCUA – Chile and YAP (Federated States of Micronesia).

Person-to-person transmission:

  • Ten countries have reported evidence of person-to-person transmission of Zika virus, probably via a sexual route.
  • In the week to 18 May 2016, Argentina is the latest country to report mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. Germany is the latest country to report person-to-person Zika virus transmission.
  • Microcephaly, and other fetal malformations potentially associated with Zika virus infection or suggestive of congenital infection, have been reported in eight countries or territories. Puerto Rico is the latest territory to report a case of microcephaly associated with Zika virus.
  • Two cases of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities are currently under verification in Spain and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of).
  • In the context of Zika virus circulation, 13 countries and territories worldwide have reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and/or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection among GBS cases. One GBS case associated with Zika virus infection in a returning traveller to the Netherlands has been reported.
  • Based on research to date, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and GBS.

CDC monitors 300 Zika-infected pregnant women


Zika has come to the United States in the bodies of those infected elsewhere, but it still hasn’t been detected in mosquitoes in the U.S. capable of hosting the virus.

It’s only of question of when, not if, the virus does become endemic.

But there’s another concern about the disease capable of producing microcephaly and the sometimes deadly Guillain-Barré syndrome.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

To gain a more complete picture of the impact of Zika virus infection during pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today will begin reporting the total number of pregnant women with Zika virus infection from two newly established enhanced surveillance systems: the US Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System. As of May 12, 2016, the two Zika virus infection surveillance systems are monitoring 157 pregnant women in the U.S. states and 122 pregnant women in the U.S. territories with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection.  That is a total of 279 pregnant women in U.S. states and territories. These new numbers reflect a broader group of pregnant women—pregnant women who have any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection, and whether or not they recalled symptoms —compared with numbers previously reported. This new way of reporting numbers aligns with recommendations for ongoing monitoring of pregnancies at risk for poor outcomes associated with Zika, based on scientists’ current understanding of the effects of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Until today, CDC has reported the number of people with Zika virus disease using a case definition established in consultation with the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, which included only individuals who had laboratory test results and symptoms or pregnancy complications consistent with Zika.  However, recently published reports indicate that some pregnant women with laboratory evidence of a recent Zika infection but without symptoms have delivered infants with microcephaly and other serious brain defects. Therefore, starting today, CDC will report numbers of pregnant women with Zika from the US Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System, two systems designed to collect information about pregnancies and birth outcomes among women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection, with or without symptoms.

CDC’s top priority for the Zika response is to protect pregnant women and their fetuses. The range of health effects linked with Zika infection during pregnancy as well as how many and which pregnancies may be at risk of poor outcomes are essential pieces of information for the public health response to the Zika outbreak.  Reporting the total number of pregnant women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection from the US Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System will provide a more comprehensive picture of the effects of Zika in U.S. states and territories. This information will help healthcare providers as they counsel pregnant women affected by Zika and is essential for planning at the federal, state, and local levels for clinical, public health, and other services needed to support pregnant women and families affected by Zika.

India hits record high temp; 2016 to set record


From the India Meteorological Department, a map of weather conditions, with residents of the regions marked in red urged to take immediate action to protect themselves from the killer heat.

From the India Meteorological Department, a map of weather conditions, with residents of the regions marked in red urged to take immediate action to protect themselves from the killer heat.

India is suffering from a devastating heat wave that is destroying lives and crops and depleting the nation’s water supplies.

And today, in a year which has seen the hottest April in recorded history, India set a new temperature record.

From USA Today:

India sweltered to a scorching 123.8 degrees Thursday, setting a new all-time high that breaks a 60-year-old record, the India Meteorological Department said.

Officials recorded the blistering temperature in Phalodi in Rajasthan state in the northwestern part of the country. It bests a record most recently set in 1956 of 123.1 degrees in the city of Alwar, also in Rajasthan. That temperature was also recorded May 25, 1886 in Pachpadra in the same state.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth is 134 degrees in Death Valley, Calif., on July 10, 1913.

More on the impacts of the devastating Indian heat wave from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

The prolonged heat wave this year has already killed hundreds and destroyed crops in more than 13 states, impacting hundreds of millions of Indians.

Hundreds of farmers are reported to have killed themselves across the country and tens of thousands of small farmers have been forced to abandon their farmland and live in squalor in urban slums in order to earn a living.

Rivers, lakes and dams have dried up in many parts of the western states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and overall officials say that groundwater reservoirs are severely depleted.

In some areas, the situation is so bad the government has sent in water by train for emergency relief.

And some more context, yet more frightening, from Bloomberg:

The number of climate records broken in the last few years is stunning. But here’s a new measure of misery: Not only did we just experience the hottest April in 137 years of record keeping, but it was the 12th consecutive month to set a new record.

It’s been relentless. May 2015 was the hottest May in records dating back to 1880. That was followed by the hottest June. Then came a record July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March—and, we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday—the hottest April. In an age of rising temperatures, monthly heat records have become all too common. Still, a string of 12 of them is without precedent.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the magnitude of the new records. The extremes of recent months are such that we’re only four months into 2016 and already there’s a greater than 99 percent likelihood that this year will be the hottest on record, according to Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

If NASA’s Schmidt is right, 2016 will be the third consecutive year to set a new global heat record—the first time that’s ever happened. So far, 15 of the hottest 16 years ever measured have come in the 21st century.

But relax, India. Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, the chair of the Senate Environment Committee who says the Bible proves human-caused climate change isn’t real, has some help to throw your way:

BLOG Inhofe

Northern Ireland fracking battle is underway


Carrickfergus, in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim, has seen its share of battles, including an early victory by an American revolutionary, John Paul Jones, who captured H.M.S. Drake on 24 April 1778 after luring her from the protection of the guns of Carrickfergus Castle in one of the first naval battles of the Revolutionary War.

A forest just outside Carrickfergus is the scene of another battle today.

From a 16 May post in Rigzone, and oil and gas industry trade news site:

InfraStrata plc announced Monday that drilling has commenced at the Woodburn Forest-1 well, located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The well will be drilled to a depth of 6,561 feet and target three conventional sandstone reservoir intervals comprising the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone, Lower Permian Sandstone and Carboniferous Sandstones. Drilling operations at the well are expected to take around six weeks to complete. P50 Prospective Resources have been estimated at 25 million barrels of oil within the Woodburn Forest prospect.

Following the completion of drilling, the well will be plugged and abandoned and the site will be restored to its former state. In the event of encouraging results from the well, any re‐establishment of the site for further works, such as testing, would require further consents and planning approval.

The UK. government under David Cameron has been an ambitious advocate of fracking as a way to supplement the nation’s diminishing returns from its North Seas oil and gas fields.

But Woodburn Forest is a national treasure, and opposition was inevitable.

Woodburn forest near Carrickfergus. Via Wikimedia.

Woodburn forest near Carrickfergus. Via Wikimedia.

Opposition to the drilling has become a significant issue in the Dáil, the national legislature, as the Irish News reports:

THE issue of an exploratory oil drill project in Co Antrim has been raised in the Dáil.

Richard Boyd Barrett, a People Before Profit TD, described InfraStrata’s commencement of drilling at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus as a “very significant and alarming event.”

Mr Boyd Barrett said: “Although NI Water claim there is no danger to the water, they have had to close three reservoirs down.

“They (InfraStrata) started this test drilling without planning permission, without an environmental assessment and without any consultation.

“This is very significant for down here because it opens the door and sets a precedent for test drilling,” added the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown TD.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald of Fine Gael, dismissed Mr Barrett’s concerns.

And the legislator who represents East Antrim and his party, one with a notable revolutionary history as well, has added his voice to the anti-fracking coalition.

From  Sinn Féin:

Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan has said his party remains resolutely opposed to fracking. And he said the company behind ongoing exploratory drilling at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus must address the concerns of the local community.

The East Antrim MLA said:

“The local community around Woodburn is very concerned about the ongoing drilling.

“Not only are they concerned about the potential impact the drilling could have on the environment but also that it could be a precursor to an application to carry out fracking on the site.

“Sinn Féin is totally and absolutely opposed to fracking anywhere on the island and will block any application if it comes forward.

“We submitted a motion to the Assembly noting the concerns about the drilling at Woodburn.

“We are calling on the Executive to ensure such applications are not approved until assurances are secured against any negative potential impact on the water supply, environment, tourism or local communities.

“I have called on several occasions for Infrastrata to meet with local residents and that meeting now needs to happen to address their concerns.”

And word of another opposition group came Thursday.

From the Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland:

A group of health professionals launched the Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland (CHPI) to a packed room in Buswells Hotel Dublin May 18th. The campaign is based on a growing network of health providers opposed to fracking, a model successfully used to achieve a ban in New York. The group launched a new website that includes a petition for health professionals to call on government on both sides of the border to implement a ban.

TDs that attended included Joan Collins, (ULA) Eamon Scanlon (FF) Eamon Ryan (Green Party) Martin Kenny (SF) and Maureen O Sullivan (IND). Richard Boyd Barret (PBP) was present and had spoken about fracking in the Dail earlier that day where concerns were raised about the first drill on the island of Ireland in Woodburn Forest, near Belfast.

Carroll O Dolan, a GP from Cavan spoke about the many recorded negative health impacts associated with fracking, based on peer-reviewed research that now exists. “It’s a fact that fracking damages health. Its not just rumour” he said

He said that for years these negative environmental and health impact were dished out by the oil and gas industry on developing countries but it was now coming to Ireland. “Our brothers and sisters have been exposed to this for a long time”