Category Archives: Nature

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

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.

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.

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

EbolaWatch: Curves, PTSD, orphans, tourism

As the outbreak ebbs, stories come fewer and farther between, and we begin today’s compilation with the latest cumulative case curves for the three hardest hit nations, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola cumulatives

From the Independent, another kind of casualty:

Sierra Leone athlete arrested in London for overstaying visa because Ebola killed his family

Sierra Leone’s best sprinter has been arrested after he was found living rough on the streets of London.

Jimmy Thoronka, 20, disappeared at the end of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last summer and said he could not return home because of the Ebola epidemic ravaging the country, and he has considered suicide.

He said his family have already died from the disease, which has killed 9,800 people in the three-worst hit countries.

Voice of America has more on the price paid by those left behind:

Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

Program notes:

There’s growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.

And StarAfrica has still more:

Liberia: Over 500,000 suffer mental illness due to war, Ebola — Official

At least 515,000 Liberians are suffering from mental illness as a result of the prolonged civil conflict and the Ebola outbreak in the country, a health official said on Friday.

The Chief Medical Officer of Liberia, Dr. Bernice Dahn said about 400,000 are suffering from mild mental illness, while 115,000 others have mental disorder.

The Liberia Chief Medical Officer made the disclosure Friday at a program marking the graduation of Mental Health Clinicians in Monrovia. The program is sponsored by the Carter Center.

She also attributed mental health to rape and other forms of sexual violence as well as substance abuse.

And another set of consequences, via AllAfrica:

Zimbabwe: Safari Operators Record 20 Percent Slump

SAFARI operators recorded an estimated 20% drop in revenue last year due to the ivory ban by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the outbreak of the Ebola virus, businessdigest has learnt.

In April last year, the USFWS announced a suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe during the calendar year of 2014.

“In Zimbabwe, available data, though limited, indicate a significant decline in the elephant population. Anecdotal evidence, such as the widely publicised poisoning last year(2013) of 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, suggests that Zimbabwe’s elephants are also under siege,” the organisation said.

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