Category Archives: Nature

And now for something completely different


It’s the hot new energy drink now sweeping Japan and poised to flood the world.

It’s. . .Fukushima Water™ — enriched with radioactive Cesium 137 to give you that extra zing.

And if all this sounds surreal, that’s because it is, a creation of German art directors aimed at focusing attention on those ongoing leaks of radioactive water from the earthquake-demolished reactor complex that have been such a headache for TEPCO and government officials struggling to contain the leaks, which periodically escape into the ocean and contaminate the soil.

From Fukushima Water:

Fukushima Water – The all-new energy-drink from Japan

Program notes:

Four years after the disaster of Fukushima-Daichii a brand-new energy drink conquers the Japanese beverage market and quickly becomes a cult product in all age groups: Fukushima Water. With a perfidious marketing strategy, the drink advertises itself as “energy water” – a natural mineral water with an artificial additive. Just a bad advertising stunt of a japanese beverage company or the most absurd product in the world?

DroughtWatch: A very minuscule change


The latest California map from the United States Drought Monitor features an enigma in the form of a hundredth of a percentage point increase in the category “Moderate Drought” category, though whether it’s an improvement or a worsening is impossible to tell given that figures for all other categories are precisely the same as last week:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, pollution, climate, nukes


And a whole lot of Fukushimapoocalypse Now!, this being four years to the day since disaster struck.

First, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest measles numbers for the U.S.:

BLOG Measles

Al Jazeera America has some Canadian numbers:

Health officials confirm 119 measles cases in Quebec

  • Children from Lanaudiere, Quebec caught measles at Disneyland and spread the disease to other unvaccinated people

Canadian public health officials said Wednesday that there are 119 confirmed cases of the measles in Lanaudière, Quebec (PDF), a town about 50 miles north of Montreal.

The first case of measles in the region was reported to Lanaudière’s public health agency on Feb. 10, according to the Toronto Sun newspaper, but the infection spread to people who hadn’t been vaccinated for the disease.

The spread of measles to Lanaudière is the result of visits by two families to the Disneyland resorts in California, where they were exposed and brought the measles back with them to Quebec, according to the Montreal Gazette newspaper. The infected children as well as classmates and staff who came into contact with them have been ordered to stay home for two weeks, the newspaper said.

And from Outbreak News Today, good numbers in the Philippines:

Philippines reports 200 measles cases in January

After reporting more than 58,000 suspected and confirmed measles cases in 2014, including 110 fatalities, the Philippines saw only 201 suspected and confirmed cases during the first month of 2015, according to a recently published World Health Organization Measles-Rubella Bulletin.

The 33 lab-confirmed measles cases reported in January is a dramatic decrease compared to the 9,549 confirmed cases in January 2014. There were no deaths related to measles reported in January.

The measles outbreak in the Philippines last year was implicated in imported measles cases and outbreaks in a number of countries including the United States and Canada.

From Reuters, warnings of an outbreak to come:

Mutating H7N9 bird flu may pose pandemic threat, scientists warn

A wave of H7N9 bird flu in China that has spread into people may have the potential to emerge as a pandemic strain in humans, scientists said on Wednesday.

The H7N9 virus, one of several strains of bird flu known to be able to infect humans, has persisted, diversified and spread in chickens across China, the researchers said, fuelling a resurgence of infections in people and posing a wider threat.

“The expansion of genetic diversity and geographical spread indicates that, unless effective control measures are in place, H7N9 could be expected to persist and spread beyond the region,” they said in a study published in the journal Nature.

The Guardian covers a finding:

Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian report finds

  • Report by top medical research body says ‘people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments’

Homeopaths believe that illness-causing substances can, in minute doses, treat people who are unwell.

By diluting these substances in water or alcohol, homeopaths claim the resulting mixture retains a “memory” of the original substance that triggers a healing response in the body.

These claims have been widely disproven by multiple studies, but the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has for the first time thoroughly reviewed 225 research papers on homeopathy to come up with its position statement, released on Wednesday.

“Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective,” the report concluded.

From Medical Daily, a diabetes breakthrough hinted:

Diabetes Treatment May Soon Involve Psychedelic Ayahuasca; Chemical Harmine Triples Beta Cell Count

The role of psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms in modern medicine is being uncovered more than ever these days, with their uses ranging from easing anxiety to treating post-traumatic stress disorder. But, as a new study shows, their role isn’t only limited to psychiatric conditions but chronic diseases as well. In this case, a chemical in the Amazonian psychoactive brew ayahuasca may actually promote the growth of insulin-producing beta cells in people with diabetes.

Ayahuasca, which is also the name for the Banisteriopsis caapi vine it’s made from, is commonly associated with the indigenous tribes of the Peruvian Amazon, where shamans brew it with other psychedelic plants to induce an hour’s long trip full of spiritual revelations, often viewed as a reawakening. In the U.S., the drug is classified as a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which defines it as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” They’re considered “the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

The psychoactive chemical that makes ayahuasca a schedule 1 drug is dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT. Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City believe that if they can figure out a way to bypass the effects of this chemical, they’ll be able to tap into the effects of another chemical in the ayahuasca plant called harmine. In their new study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, they found this chemical was the only one out of over 100,000 the ability to reproduce insulin-producing beta cells in diabetic mice, thus normalizing glycemic control.

From the San Jose Mercury News, the toxicology of beauty:

Santa Clara County targets ‘toxic trio’ used in nail salons

They’re known as the “toxic trio,” the worst of the bottled bad boys that can likely be found at any given nail salon, and Santa Clara County is hoping to run the gang out of town.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez led the charge to join a handful of local governments that are encouraging salon owners to switch away from products containing chemicals known to cause an array of health disorders, and with unanimous support from her colleagues, a Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program was enacted on Tuesday.

“What’s key is that wherever people work, they should be safe,” Chavez said. “I’m looking at a group of women of childbearing age, working in shops that sometimes aren’t very well ventilated. This is good for them and good for the customer.”

In the gang of three, there’s the well-known carcinogen formaldehyde and the neurological agent toluene, which causes headaches, dizziness and nausea. Rounding them out is dibutyl phthalate — or DBP — a particular threat to pregnant women that’s been banned in Europe.

Big Agra flexes muscle, via the Associated Press:

INFLUENCE GAME: Meat industry fights new dietary proposal

The meat industry is seeing red.

Meat companies have tried to rehabilitate an image tarnished in recent years by health and environmental concerns. Now the industry is swiftly and aggressively working to discredit a proposal for new dietary guidelines that recommends people eat less red and processed meat.

The proposal last month by a government advisory committee also relegates the health benefits of lean meat to a footnote to the main recommendations.

“We’ve been put in a position over the years to almost be apologizing for our product, we’re not going to do that anymore,” said Barry Carpenter, the president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute.

So why keep whaling anyway?, via JapanToday:

Japan dumps Norwegian whale meat after finding pesticide

Whale meat imported into Japan from Norway has been dumped after tests found it contained up to twice the permitted level of harmful pesticide, the government said Wednesday.

The announcement came after Western environmentalists first exposed the issue, in the latest salvo of a battle that pits Japan against many of its usual allies, such as Australia and New Zealand.

An official at Japan’s health ministry said whale meat was subject to extensive routine tests before and after import. “We conduct strict checking because whales tend to collect contaminants in the environment such as pesticides and heavy metals,” he said.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, a call for help for an oceanic critter:

Massive starfish deaths prompt calls for emergency help

With millions of starfish dying all along the West Coast, Washington state Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives say it’s time for Congress to intervene and find out why.

The outbreak, first noticed in the state by rangers in Olympic National Park in June 2013, has hit 20 species of starfish, also known as sea stars.

After getting lesions on their bodies, the sea stars begin curling up and soon lose their legs, shriveling up and disintegrating into mush. Researchers fear the epidemic may be the result of a virus caused by climate change, with the disease showing its fastest progression in warmer ocean waters.

From the Ecologist, collusion coal-escing:

Coal industry setting its own air pollution standards

Coal is Europe’s biggest source of mercury and sulphur pollution, writes Kyla Mandel, killing tens of thousands of people a year. So how come more than half the members appointed by EU governments to set air pollution standards for coal plants are industry representatives?

The UK is one of several European governments allowing energy industry representatives to help draw up the European Union’s (EU) new air pollution standards, a Greenpeace investigation has found.

The EU is currently in the process of drafting new standards to limit pollution from coal-fired power stations. However, this “once-in-a-decade opportunity” has been captured by the coal industry Greenpeace claims and could result in “extremely lax” emission limits.

“Not only would most of the existing plants be allowed to pollute several times more than could be achieved by adopting the best clean technologies available”, the environmental NGO said, “but EU standards would also be significantly weaker than those imposed in other parts of the world, including China.”

From the Los Angeles Times, an admission of failure:

Agencies admit failing to protect water sources from fuel pollution

The agencies charged with overseeing oil production and protecting California’s ever-dwindling water sources from the industry’s pollution all fell down on the job, one state official told a panel of peeved lawmakers Tuesday.

During a testy two-hour oversight hearing, officials from the California Department of Conservation, the department’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the state Water Resources Control Board promised senators a top-down overhaul of their regulation of the disposal of oil field wastewater.

But after a handful of recent embarrassing revelations about the division’s history of lackluster regulation, lawmakers questioned how they could trust agency officials to follow through, characterizing longstanding agency practices as corrupt and inept.

After the jump, Koch brothers stonewall senators on climate skeptic funding, odds on the next Golden State megaquake jump, the grass-is-always-greener syndrome sends waterway fertilizer contamination soaring, seeking Dutch help for Olympian pollution in Rio, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with a warning from Japan’s top nuclear regulator, contaminated soil shipments to interim storage near, tons of ‘hot’ water escape into the soil awaiting an underground ice wall that might not work, yet another proposal to recover fuel that melted through the reactor, one Japanese in five leery of Fukushima-grown food, the government heads back to the reconstruction planning drawing board, questions surround the country’s other aging nuclear plants, the Angela Merkel/Shinzo Abe Fukushima response divide, meanwhile, aftershocks continue, Fukushima’s American-born reactor and plant construction, while the nation’s food supply was protected after the disaster, and Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear government holds applications to restart 21 plants. . . Continue reading

If to err is human, why, then, nuclear power?


From the Guardian, on the fourth anniversary of catastrophe:

Fukushima, Japan four years on: ‘Nuclear power and humans cannot co-exist’

Program notes:

On 11 March 2011, the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history caused a giant tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people along the country’s north-east coast.

Map of the day: Bay Area major earthquake odds


From the Oakland Tribune, which reports that overall, there’s a 72 percent chance for a regional major shaker in the next three decades, with the odds listed for each of the known regional fault systems as the source of the next Big One:

BLOG Quakes

EnviroWatch: Health, toxins, water, and nukes


We begin with veggie woes, via Medical Daily:

Salmonella Food Poisoning Most Common In Vegetables, Not Meat

We tend to be wary when it comes to the meat or dairy products in our refrigerator, but rarely err on the side of caution when it comes to our vegetables. A report issued by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has revealed the top sources of foodborne illnesses, and it appears we have to be more vigilant in the vegetable aisle at the supermarket.

According to the CDC, 48 million people — or one out of every six Americans — suffer from a foodborne illness each year. An additional 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Estimating illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by foodborne illnesses remains an important health practice. This is the first time all three federal agencies have combined data on food safety.

IFSAC researchers focused on the four most common and severe pathogens, including E.coli O157, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. These four pathogens result in 1.9 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. each year. Data included around 1,000 foodborne illness outbreaks that occurred between 1998 and 2012. “The pathogens were chosen because of the frequency or severity of the illnesses they cause, and because targeted interventions can have a significant impact in reducing them,” the FDA said in a statement.

Newswise covers a lingering toxic legacy:

Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors during Pregnancy Affects the Brain Two Generations Later

Prenatal exposure to low doses of the environmental contaminants polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, change the developing brain in an area involved in metabolism, and some effects are apparent even two generations later, a new study finds. Performed in rats, the research was presented Friday at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego.

Hereditary effects included increased body weight, but only in descendants of females—and not males—exposed to PCBs in the womb, said study co-author Andrea Gore, PhD, professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“These endocrine-disrupting chemicals affect the developing brain differently in males and females,” Gore said.

From EcoWatch, what the frack?!?!:

Analysis of California’s Fracking Wastewater Reveals a Slew of Toxic Chemicals Linked to Cancer and Other Illnesses

California is currently the only state that requires chemical testing of fracking wastewater and public disclosure of the findings. That’s good. What’s not so good is what the testing and disclosure reveal.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has completed an analysis of data released by the state during the first year of new reporting requirements. It found that the high levels of the carcinogen benzene in California’s fracking wastewater isn’t the only thing Californians have to worry about from the state’s extensive oil and gas fracking operations and the injection of chemical-laced wastewater back into the ground once drilling is completed.

The study, Toxic Stew: What’s in Fracking Wasterwater, revealed the presence of hundreds of chemicals, including many linked to cancer, nervous system damage and reproductive disorders. Among the chemicals found in up to 50 percent of the samples were chromium-6, lead and arsenic, all linked to cancer and/or reproductive damage. The samples also contained thousands of times more radioactive radium than the goals set by the state, along with high levels of nitrate and chloride ions. And an another analysis last month by the Center for Biological Diversity found that 98 percent of the fracking wastewater samples tested exceeded federal and state water safety levels for benzene.

“We have long suspected that California’s fracking wastewater was full of harmful chemicals, and the first publicly available data not only confirms our suspicions but reveals just how toxic this wastewater is,” said EWG senior scientist Tasha Stoiber, the report’s co-author.

From the Houston Chronicle, cellular cellulite:

Your cell phone could be making you fat — but probably not in the way you think

Researchers at the University of Houston have found a possible link between use of electronic devices and obesity. But it’s not that our beloved devices keep us glued to their screens, thereby avoiding exercise.

Instead, the fault may lie with flame retardants that keep cellphones and computer tablets from overheating, according to findings by the University of Houston’s Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling.

Research on two common flame retardants, conducted on sibling zebra fish, found that the fish exposed to the compounds became heavier and longer, compared with their untreated brothers and sisters in the control group, the university said.

The Los Angeles Times covers a legislator’s plea:

State Senate leader urges regulators to close Exide plant in Vernon

California’s senate leader is demanding that state regulators immediately close and begin cleaning up an embattled Vernon battery recycling plant that has spewed lead and arsenic into surrounding neighborhoods over decades of operation.

In a letter sent Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) urged the state Department of Toxic Substances Control “in the strongest terms” to deny a full permit to Exide Technologies.

The state has allowed the plant — which has been idle since March 2014 because it could not comply with air quality rules — to operate for more than three decades under “interim status.” The toxic substances department is now deciding whether to issue Exide a full permit. A new state law requires the department to either grant the company a permit or shut the facility down by the end of the year. Officials expect a decision within a few months.

From Newswise, more psychedelic benefits demonstrated:

Psychedelic Drug Use Could Reduce Psychological Distress, Suicidal Thinking

U.S. adults with a history of using some nonaddictive psychedelic drugs had reduced likelihood of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts, according to data from a nationwide survey

While these psychedelic drugs are illegal, a Johns Hopkins researcher and study author recommends reconsidering their status, as they may be useful in treating depression

Some people have serious adverse reactions to these drugs, which may not stand out in the survey data because they are less numerous than positive outcomes

A history of psychedelic drug use is associated with less psychological distress and fewer suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts, according to new research from Johns Hopkins and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In a national survey of over 190,000 U.S. adults, lifetime use of certain psychedelic drugs was associated with a 19 percent reduced likelihood of psychological distress within the past month, a 14 percent reduced likelihood of suicidal thinking within the past year, a 29 percent reduced likelihood of suicide planning within the past year and a 36 percent reduced likelihood of attempting suicide within the past year. These results were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The findings suggest that some nonaddictive psychedelic drugs, while illegal, may hold promise for depression, and that these psychedelics’ highly restricted legal status should be reconsidered to facilitate scientific studies, says study author Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins.

From the University of California, a sweet deal — or not:

‘Sugar Papers’ reveal industry role in 1970s dental program

A newly discovered cache of industry documents reveals that the sugar industry worked closely with the National Institutes of Health in the 1960s and ‘70s to develop a federal research program focused on approaches other than sugar reduction to prevent tooth decay in American children.

An analysis of those papers by researchers at UC San Francisco appears March 10, 2015 in the open-source scientific journal, PLoS Medicine.

The archive of 319 industry documents, which were uncovered in a public collection at the University of Illinois, revealed that a sugar industry trade organization representing 30 international members had accepted the fact that sugar caused tooth decay as early as 1950, and adopted a strategy aimed at identifying alternative approaches to reducing tooth decay.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health had come to the conclusion in 1969 that focusing on reducing consumption of sucrose, “while theoretically possible,” was not practical as a public health measure.

Thus aligned, the sugar industry trade organization and the NIH worked in parallel and ultimately together on developing alternative research approaches, with a substantial portion of the trade organization’s own research priorities — 78 percent — directly incorporated into the 1971 National Caries Program’s first request for research proposals from scientists.

After the jump, a bureaucratic stumbling block to drought crisis handling, woes ahead for the Great Barrier Reef, Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest logging surges ahead, polluted Olympic waters in Brazil, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with an anniversary, lessons still unlearned, Fukushima’s lessons for the United States, and yet another major leak reported. . . Continue reading

Another shaker hits the East Bay, a zooish one


Yep, right in the heart of the Oakland Children’s zoo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s event page for the shaker, with the epicenter represented by that gold star:

BLOG Quake

We felt here at Casa esnl in Berkeley, and it was just enough to trigger some creaking in out old wood frame abode.

More details from the web page:

M3.1 – 2km NNE of San Leandro, California

Event Time

2015-03-10 17:07:23 (UTC)
2015-03-10 10:07:23 (UTC-07:00) in your timezone

Nearby Cities

2km (1mi) NNE of San Leandro, California
6km (4mi) NNW of Ashland, California
7km (4mi) NNW of San Lorenzo, California
8km (5mi) ESE of Alameda, California
108km (67mi) SSW of Sacramento, California