Category Archives: Nature

DroughtWatch: California’s gettin’ drier again

From the United States Drought Monitor, while a minuscule part of the very tip of the Golden State’s southeast remains out of drought, the percentage of the state in the very worst drought condition, “Exceptional Drought,” is edging up once again. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, water, fracking, nukes

We begin with the latest measles news, via the Los Angeles Times:

California measles identical to type found in Philippines

As California health officials search for the origins of the Disneyland measles outbreak, some of their detective work is pointing to the Philippines.

This measles virus shares the same genetic material as the type most commonly found in the Philippines, according to lab tests of the virus.

The highly contagious disease is a much larger problem in the Philippines, where more than 50,000 were sickened and 110 were killed in the last year.

Scientists said the findings make it likely that the virus originated in the Philippines. But they still don’t know exactly how it got into the United States and ultimately to Disneyland.

Here the latest measles numbers nationally from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Measles chart

And the map of their distribution, with the Disneyland-related cases singled out:

BLOG Measles

From the Oakland Tribune, a senatorial rant:

In Emeryville, Sen. Barbara Boxer slams anti-vaccination parents

Sen. Barbara Boxer pummeled parents who refuse to vaccinate their children during a tour of a YMCA Head Start school Wednesday where she promoted her bill requiring children in the program nationwide to be immunized.

Boxer made the comments in the midst of a national measles outbreak that started in California. She criticized parents who are not vaccinating their children because of unfounded concerns spread by people outside the medical establishment.

“All I’m saying is, we have doctors we can trust and you should listen to them and not some quack who comes up with a theory that is disproven,” Boxer said. “I say to all those people who have a theory that has been disproven, you are not acting in the right way for your family or for society. People don’t understand how dangerous this disease is. It blows my mind. You are not only endangering your child, but others and that is not right.”

NHK WORLD covers measures addressing an Asia outbreak:

Health ministry compiles dengue fever guidelines

Japan’s health ministry has released guidelines for handling a possible outbreak of dengue fever.

The recommendations are the first of their kind related to the mosquito-borne disease, which is commonly seen in the tropics and subtropics.

An expert panel compiled the guidelines on Wednesday. The move comes after an outbreak that began last August in Tokyo, which was the first in Japan in about 70 years. More than 160 cases of infection were confirmed.

From the Guardian, nuke ‘em:

Tsetse fly: can castration end one of Africa’s oldest development problems?

  • Radiation castration is helping to eradicate tsetse populations that have been preventing farmers from using animals to work their land

From the Sahara to the Kalahari, the tsetse fly has plagued African farmers for centuries. Dating back to prehistoric times, this tiny insect – just eight to 17 mm long – has prevented farmers from using domestic animals to work the land, limiting production, yields and income. The economic impact of the tsetse fly on Africa has been estimated to be as much as $4.5bn. But a simple dose of radiation castration is helping to eradicate the pests in small pockets, enabling farmers to bring animals back into agriculture.

When tsetse flies bite, the parasites (trypanosomes) transferred cause sleeping sickness in humans, and nagana (animal African trypanosomiasis) in animals – mostly cows, horses, donkeys and pigs. The parasites cause confusion, sensory disturbances and poor coordination in humans, and fever, weakness and anemia in animals. Both can be fatal if left untreated.

“In areas with tsetse, people tend not to use intensive forms of agriculture where you use animals or manure on the fields,” says Marcella Alsan, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University who has researched the tsetse fly’s impact on development. Farmers in these areas use slash and burn agriculture instead but “the issue with that strategy is that you can’t constantly use the land in the production cycle, so it supports fewer people,” says Alsan.

Xinhua covers a very hopeful development:

Experimental drug shown to block all HIV strains: study

U.S. researchers on Wednesday announced “a remarkable new advance” in the development of a potent drug to protect against infection of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the deadly disease currently without cure.

They reported in the British journal Nature that an experimental protein-based drug they developed blocks every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2 and the simian version of the virus, SIV, that has been isolated from humans or rhesus macaques, including the hardest-to-stop variants.

The drug, named eCD4-Ig, also protects against much-higher doses of virus than occur in most human transmission and does so for at least eight months after injection.

And from Consumer Reports, cola cancer:

Another reason to cut back on soda

  • Some soda contains a potential carcinogen, and a new Consumer Reports’ study shows many Americans drink enough to put their health at risk

The amount of soda you sip not only boosts your sugar intake and packs on pounds—it might also increase your risk for cancer.

The culprit? A chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI). This potential carcinogen is found in some types of caramel color, the artificial ingredient used to turn colas and other soft drinks brown. Every day, more than half of Americans between the ages of 6 and 64 typically drink soda in amounts that could expose them to enough 4-MeI to increase their cancer risk, according to a new analysis of national soda consumption conducted by scientists at Consumer Reports and the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study was published today in the scientific online journal PLOS ONE.

This analysis was a follow-up to testing we did in 2013 to measure 4-MeI content in soft drinks. We looked at 110 samples of colas and other soft drinks purchased in California and the New York metropolitan region. Excluding a clear soda used as a control, we found that average 4-MeI levels in the samples we tested ranged from 3.4 to 352.5 micrograms (mcg) per 12-ounce bottle or can. There’s no federal limit for the amount of 4-MeI permitted in foods and beverages currently, but California requires manufacturers to label a product sold in the state with a cancer warning if it exposes consumers to more than 29 mcg of 4-MeI per day. We submitted our test findings to the California State Attorney General’s office, and we’ve also petitioned the federal government to set limits for 4-MeI in food.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another smoking hazard:

Thai health ministry incensed over Chinese New Year joss sticks

Thailand’s health ministry has urged people to stop lighting joss sticks and placing them near ritual offerings of food during Chinese New Year, warning that consuming the food could cause cancer.

Joss or incense sticks are burnt by the faithful during religious rituals in Asia, and are common in the run-up to the Lunar New Year, which begins on Thursday.

The public health minister said on Wednesday the consumption of food exposed to incense ash could lead to heavy metal poisoning, but he stopped short of banning the tradition.

Meanwhile, from the London Daily Mail, another kind of health crisis:

BLOG Lunches

From Environmental Health News, porcine pollution:

Pig poop fouling North Carolina streams; state permitting questioned.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources treats large swine farms – operations with thousands of pigs and up – as “non-discharge facilities,” exempt from state rules on having to monitor the waste they dump in rivers and streams. The case for that exemption is dubious, suggested Steve Wing, a professor and researcher at the University of North Carolina who co-authored the January study, published in “Science of the Total Environment.”

“You have evidence of pig-specific bacteria in surface waters, next to industrial swine operations,” he said.

For about a year, from 2010 to 2011, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina tested water both upstream and downstream from fields in eastern North Carolina where pig poop from large factory farms is applied.

From Florida Today, yet another form of oceanic pollution:

Fireproofing chemicals found in lagoon marine life

Flame retardants and pesticide byproducts are showing up at potentially toxic levels in sharks, rays and other marine life in the Indian River Lagoon and in the ocean just off Brevard County.

Little is known about the health effects of these long-lasting compounds on the marine food web or on those who eat lagoon seafood. But scientists point to their widespread presence as yet another example of the ominous effects long-term pollution is having on local waters.

Among the substances a new study found in samples of shark livers are byproducts of DDT and other pesticides banned decades ago.

From the Guardian, oh fercrissakes!:

Canadian mounties’ secret memo casts doubt on climate change threat

  • Intelligence report identifies anti-petroleum movement as a threat to Canadian security and suggests those concerned with climate consequences occupy political fringe

The US security establishment views climate change as real and a dangerous threat to national security. But Canada takes a very different view, according to a secret intelligence memo prepared by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The memo, stamped “Canadian eyes only”, repeatedly casts doubt on the causes of climate change – the burning of fossil fuels – and its potential threat.

The 44-page intelligence assessment of Canada’s environmental protest movement was prepared for the government of Stephen Harper, who is expected to roll out new anti-terror legislation.

In the memo, obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, the RCMP repeatedly departs from the conclusions of an overwhelming majority of scientists – and the majority of elected leaders in the international arena – that climate change is a growing threat to global security.

After the jump, a California water woes crackdown, water woes in Brazil — slightly abated, California cracks down on bird-killing rat poison, Dutch ignored fracking earthquake dangers, another California refinery explosion, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with an underage radioactive cleanup worker, a stern warning from a former Japanese prime minister, a welter of cracks in a Belgian reactor lead to a global inspection call, And Taiwan looks for an overseas nuclear waste reprocessor. . . Continue reading

And now for something completely different

Call ‘em snow cats, by which we don’t mean those tracked vehicles favored by arctic rescue teams.

Whilst yesterday’s entry feature a snow-bound New Brunswick resident trying to get out of his drift-encased home, today’s entry features four-footed Canadians with an even more urgent reason to escape domestic confines.

First, from CBC News, network employee Mitch Cormier, a resident of Prince Edward Island, captured his frustrated feline Mitty trying to escape the domestic confines:

Cat Vs Drift

Program note:

Kitty has cabin fever!

And then there’s this earlier video, posted two weeks ago and racking up more than three million hits in the interim:

Rudiger only kind of loves the snow

As CBC News reported:

A cat from New Brunswick has become an internet celebrity after video of the animal trying to dig out after a snowstorm went viral.

Jamie Gilfoy said he only expected to get 30 or 40 views when he posted a video of his cat, Rudiger, trying to dig its way through a wall of snow at his back door.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, ozone, nukes

And more. . .

We begin with Outbreak News Today and a feverish development:

Malaysia dengue count nears 20,000, PM Najib warns public to take precautions

During the 44 day period from Jan. 4 to Feb. 16, 2015, Malaysia has recorded nearly 20,000 dengue fever cases, or an average of more than 439 cases daily.

Of the 19,349 reported dengue cases this year, about 58 percent or 11,167 cases were reported from Selangor alone.

The dengue fever fatality count remains at 44 from January 1 to February 7. This compares to 17 dengue related deaths during the same period in 2014.

Nikkei Asian Review covers an Indian outbreak:

Swine flu claims nearly 600 lives

India is beefing up efforts to combat an outbreak of swine flu that has taken nearly 600 lives since January, with the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat worst affected.

Of the 585 lives claimed by the deadly H1N1 virus so far, 100 died in just three days leading up to Feb. 15, according to health officials.

Nearly 8,500 people in India had been confirmed with the virus up to the middle of this month.

A notable climate change consequence from VICE News:

Climate Change Is Helping to Spread Deadly Viruses

The ebola outbreak stunned the world, as it rampaged across the globe, killing tens of thousands. But climate change may spark a whole host of similar, global epidemics, according to new scientific research.

Ebola and the West Nile virus are just two examples of the many diseases that have recently spread into unexpected places, as climactic fluctuations have pushed species into new environments, zoologist Daniel Brooks says in a paper published today in a British journal.

As animal and plant life have moved, so have the parasites attached to them — and those parasites can leap to new species much more easily than previously thought, Brooks told VICE News. When a parasite latches onto a new host organism, the organism is much more vulnerable to the novel pathogen.

“Climate change does result in species moving around, and with respect to pathogens those movements actually create an enormous number of opportunities for parasites to jump into hosts they’ve never seen before,” Brooks told VICE News.

More from Environmental News Network:

Climate change may affect tick life cycles, Lyme disease

A new study suggests that changing climate patterns may be altering the life cycles of blacklegged ticks in the northeastern United States, which could increase transmission among animals – and ultimately humans – of certain pathogens, including the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

Other colder regions of the country that have sufficient populations of blacklegged ticks – particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota – may also experience a higher risk of Lyme disease. However, the changing life cycles of the ticks may result in a less-likely probability of transmitting a more deadly pathogen that results in Powassan encephalitis, the researchers say.

Results of the research are being published this week in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B dedicated to climate change and vector-borne diseases.

A team of scientists led by Taal Levi of Oregon State University and Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies analyzed 19 years of data on blacklegged ticks in the Northeast and their relationship to “host” animals ranging from small rodents to deer and other larger mammals. They then overlaid the results with climate data and used computer models to predict what may happen in the future.

From Medical Daily, a virulent mutation:

Aggressive New HIV Virus Strain In Cuba Progresses To AIDS In Less Than 3 Years

It’s been a little over 30 years since HIV/AIDS first emerged as one of the deadliest diseases known to man, and in that time we’ve made great strides toward eliminating it out for good. Awareness remains high, fewer people are partaking in risky sexual behavior, and millions of people are undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART) to keep their immune systems strong. We’re fortunate to have made these advances because a new study has now identified a more aggressive strain of the HIV virus.

The strain, called CRF19, has been spotted in parts of Africa, but it’s been found to be more widespread throughout Cuba. Researchers from the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium found the strain is capable of turning from an infection to full-blown AIDS within three years, a lot faster than the average conversion time period of about 10 years.

“We have a collaborative project with Cuba and the Cuban clinicians had noticed that they recently had more and more patients who were progressing much faster to AIDS than they were used to [seeing],” said Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Rega, according to Voice of America. “In this case, most patients had AIDS even at diagnosis.”

From the Los Angeles Times, a case of drugs, not hugs:

Rampant medication use found among L.A. County foster, delinquent kids

Los Angeles County officials are allowing the use of powerful psychiatric drugs on far more children in the juvenile delinquency and foster care systems than they had previously acknowledged, according to data obtained by The Times through a Public Records Act request.

The newly unearthed figures show that Los Angeles County’s 2013 accounting failed to report almost one in three cases of children on the drugs while in foster care or the custody of the delinquency system.

The data show that along with the 2,300 previously acknowledged cases, an additional 540 foster children and 516 children in the delinquency system were given the drugs. There are 18,000 foster children and 1,000 youth in the juvenile delinquency system altogether.

Big Pharma fails, flees, via the Independent:

Dementia research: Drug firms despair of finding cure and withdraw funding after catalogue of failures

Drug companies are retreating from the search for a dementia cure after “repeated and costly failures” to develop a breakthrough drug, a major report has warned.

Scientific and financial challenges have meant that, between 1998 and 2012, there were 101 unsuccessful attempts to develop drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, with only three drugs gaining approval for treating symptoms of the disease, according to the study.

The report, compiled by the Dementia Forum of the World Innovation Summit for Health (Wish), warned that a “history of failures” has created “funding fatigue” among donors and “Big Pharma”. Major drug companies had halved the number of research programmes into central nervous system disorders, a category which includes dementia, between 2009 and 2014, the report said. Experts said that with no known cure and a huge increase in cases expected within a decade, “a massive step change in research funding” was needed.

A notable correlate from the Observer:

Dementia hits women hardest – study

  • Research finds disease now leading cause of death in British women; many are also carers before succumbing themselves

Women are bearing the brunt of the dementia epidemic that is spreading through Britain. A study by Alzheimer’s Research UK reveals that the condition has not only become the leading cause of death among British women but that women are far more likely to end up as carers of sufferers than men – suffering physical and emotional stress and job losses in the process.

“Women are carrying the responsibility of care for their loved ones, only later to be living with the condition,” states the report, entitled Women and Dementia: A Marginalised Majority. “Women are dying from dementia but not before it has taken a considerable toll on minds and bodies. In the UK, dementia hits women the hardest.”

The study, to be published next month, calls for the government to make a significant increase in its funding of dementia research and an improved investment in care.

From Ensia, our brain-altering chemical dependence:

What are we doing to our children’s brains?

  • Environmental chemicals are wreaking havoc to last a lifetime

The numbers are startling. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.8 million more children in the U.S. were diagnosed with developmental disabilities between 2006 and 2008 than a decade earlier. During this time, the prevalence of autism climbed nearly 300 percent, while that of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder increased 33 percent. CDC figures also show that 10 to 15 percent of all babies born in the U.S. have some type of neurobehavorial development disorder. Still more are affected by neurological disorders that don’t rise to the level of clinical diagnosis.

And it’s not just the U.S. Such impairments affect millions of children worldwide. The numbers are so large that Philippe Grandjean of the University of Southern Denmark and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York — both physicians and preeminent researchers in this field — describe the situation as a “pandemic.”

While earlier and more assiduous diagnosis accounts for some of the documented increase, it doesn’t explain all of it, says Irva Hertz-Piccioto, professor of environmental and occupational health and chief of the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute. Grandjean and Landrigan credit genetic factors for 30 to 40 percent of the cases. But a significant and growing body of research suggests that exposure to environmental pollutants is implicated in the disturbing rise in children’s neurological disorders.

Agence France-Presse covers unregulated ozone-eaters:

Scientists alarmed at short-term ozone-eroding gases

Environmental scientists raised concern Monday at rising levels of gases that attack Earth’s protective ozone layer, including manmade chemicals not covered by a key UN treaty.

Researchers at Leeds University in northern England said two computer models highlighted the impact of so-called “very short-lived substances” — VSLS — that deplete the stratospheric shield.

The damage they do to the ozone layer is significant and likely to increase, they said, as emissions of man-made chlorine gases rise.

Ironically, one of the chemicals named in the report, dichloromethane, is used in the manufacture of substitutes for ozone-depleting gases outlawed by the UN’s 1987 Montreal Protocol.

After the jump, taps running dry in São Paulo, the U.K. launches a climate response program for two continents, the mystery of urban robins turned into rhapsodical night owls, demands for more Mexican sea turtle protections, noise pollution turns us deaf to nature, deserted Soviet nuclear subs threaten a maritime Chernobyl, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a call for a “hot” water purge, Japan launches the search for a permanent nuclear waste dump, and the government retains the right to recycle, TEPCO vows more safety training for Fukushima workers, and two major aftershock hit from the disastrous 3/11/11 reactor-annihilating 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tidal wave. . . Continue reading

And now for something completely different

You think you’ve got problems? Consider the case of Canadian Kevin McGrath of Dieppe, New Brunswick, who wanted to get out of the house Sunday after massive storm dumped a massive amount of that strange white stuff so absent these days from the California mountains.

From his YouTube account, Dcompose:

Stormageddon 2015

Program notes:

The snow is pilling up and the winds are increasing. Wish I could get out the door at least. This is from Dieppe, NB Canada.

H/T to CBC News.

Somehow it makes us all the more content to be living on the shores of San Francisco Bay, where the thermometer in the city hit 80 on Sunday.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, toxins, water, fracking

We begin with the measles, via Outbreak News Today:

Measles in Ontario continues to rise, advisory issued for ‘Acquire the Fire’ concert goers

The Canadian province of Ontario continues to see a trickle of new measles cases this year. The number of cases reported since the beginning of the year has reached 13 with newly reported cases in Toronto and Niagara in the past day.

Of the 13 total cases recorded, the majority are from Toronto with nine. The remaining cases include two cases from the Niagara Region, and one each from York Region and Halton Region, according to the latest data from Ontario Public Health Feb.16. This compares to the 22 measles cases reported in the province during the entire 2014.

Of concern to public health officials is the possible measles exposure at the two-day Christian youth event in Toronto called “Acquire the Fire”. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care was advised today of a person with a newly-confirmed case of measles who had attended this event during the measles infectious period.

And from the Guardian, grandfathered poisons:

Untested chemicals are everywhere, thanks to a 39-year-old US law. Will the Senate finally act?

  • Many chemicals that are restricted or banned in Europe remain in use – and in some cases, untested – in the US, thanks to federal regulations that haven’t been updated since 1976. A new bill to overhaul the law is expected this spring

While the Keystone XL pipeline and power plant carbon regulations are grabbing headlines, another environmental battle is brewing in the month-old 114th US Congress over the future of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The federal law, also known as TSCA, regulates chemicals that Americans encounter daily in electronics, furniture, clothing, toys, building materials, cleaning and personal care products, and much more. It was enacted in 1976, and – in spite of the introduction of thousands of new chemicals, as well as enormous progress in the understanding of chemicals’ environmental and health impacts – hasn’t been updated since then.

While the law has helped reduce use of some of the most hazardous chemicals – polychlorinated biphenyls and lead, for example – it also has made it extremely difficult to take many other potentially dangerous chemicals off the market.

Unlike the current system in Europe, the 60,000-plus chemicals in production when the US’s TSCA took effect 39 years ago continued to be used without any safety reviews. Most are still in use today, although some have since filed toxicity data.

The US allows the use of many chemicals that are banned elsewhere, and its primary chemicals law has failed to keep up with thousands of chemicals currently in use, including the approximately 2,000 new chemicals introduced each year.

On a related note, via the NPR Science Desk:

Beyond BPA: Court Battle Reveals A Shift In Debate Over Plastic Safety

BPA-free isn’t good enough anymore if you’re trying to sell plastic sippy cups, water bottles and food containers.

The new standard may be “EA-free,” which means free of not only BPA, short for bisphenol A, but also free of other chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen.

At least that’s the suggestion of a recent legal battle between a chemical company and an academic scientist with business interests in the plastics industry. The proceedings offer a glimpse of the struggle for the hearts and minds of consumers concerned about the safety of plastics.
Nomar Bodon, a senior research assistant for CertiChem, a PlastiPure partner, tests samples of plastics and prepares them for an automated cell assay. The assay is used to determine if the material has estrogenic activity.

The roots of the legal conflict go back to 2002, when Eastman Chemical began developing a new plastic called Tritan. It was designed to be “a tough, clear, high-temperature, chemically resistant and also dishwasher-resistant product,” says Chris Killian, a vice president for specialty products at Eastman.

Avian flu claims two more victims, via Outbreak News Today:

H5N1: Two tigers die from the avian flu in Guangxzi, China zoo

A total of eight tigers contracted the H5N1 avian influenza virus at a Chinese zoo, according to a report from the FAO Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) this month.

The tigers are housed at Nanning City zoo in Guangxzi Province. The report notes that two of the tigers perished as a result of the lethal bird flu. H5N1 HPAI was confirmed by National authorities.

This is not the first time H5N1 avian influenza has been reported in the large cat. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) Global Alert and Response from 2006 it states:

From the Washington Post, an ichthyological win:

Pebble Mine debate in Alaska: EPA becomes target by planning for rare ‘veto’

Just north of Iliamna Lake in southwestern Alaska is an empty expanse of marsh and shrub that conceals one of the world’s great buried fortunes: A mile-thick layer of virgin ore said to contain at least 6.7 million pounds — or $120 billion worth — of gold.

As fate would have it, a second treasure sits precisely atop the first: the spawning ground for the planet’s biggest runs of sockeye salmon, the lifeline of a fishery that generates $500 million a year.

Between the two is the Obama administration, which has all but decided that only one of the treasures can be brought to market. How the White House came to side with fish over gold is a complex tale that involves millionaire activists, Alaska Natives, lawsuits and one politically explosive question: Can the federal government say no to a property owner before he has a chance to explain what he wants to do?

As early as this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to invoke a rarely used legal authority to bar a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., from beginning work on its proposed Pebble Mine, citing risks to salmon and to Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay, 150 miles downstream. The EPA’s position is supported by a broad coalition of conservationists, fishermen and tribal groups — and, most opinion polls show, by a majority of Alaskans. National environmental groups, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy activists have made the defeat of the mine a top priority, raising millions of dollars to campaign against it.

The New York Times covers another ichthyological conflict:

Threatened Smelt Touches Off Battles in California’s Endless Water Wars

“We tend to say that this is the single biggest water management challenge that California faces,” said Ellen Hanak, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The debate over the delta, she said, ranks with those over other great national ecological landmarks, like the Everglades, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

“The future of this watershed is going to affect most people in the state,” she added.

The immediate future looks grim. Despite a few powerful winter storms, California is facing a likely fourth year of drought, which is wreaking havoc on the delta’s ecosystem. The waterway where the federal researchers were working contained large patches of water hyacinth, an invasive plant that has proliferated in the dry conditions. Last fall, scientists doing a comprehensive survey recorded their lowest-ever seasonal tally of delta smelts, by a substantial margin. Another species, the longfin smelt, hit its second-lowest number.

Salmon, too, have taken a hit, not only from the drought but also from last year’s record-breaking heat, which warmed the water above their comfort level. Most salmon in California swim through the delta to and from the ocean, and scientists have estimated that 95 percent of salmon eggs and young that were spawned last summer in the upper Sacramento River died because of the heat. Partly as a way to recoup the losses, hundreds of thousands of salmon were recently released from a hatchery to swim to the ocean.

After the jump, BP spins Gulf Oil cetacean deaths, small farmers hold the key to seed diversity, conflict lumber looting in Africa gives rise to a ban, arboreal GMO coporateering nears a greenlighting, power from the earth takes a first, and to close, fracking China. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, water, fracking

We begin with the measles, via Medical Daily:

California Has 3 New Measles Cases, Arizona Says Outbreak Winding Down

California public health officials have confirmed three more cases of measles in an outbreak that began in late December, bringing to 113 the total number of people believed to have been infected in the state.

Health officials in Arizona, where seven cases of measles have been documented, said the outbreak would likely be considered over in that state if no further infections were reported over the weekend.

Across the United States, more than 150 people have been diagnosed with measles, many of them linked to an outbreak that authorities believe began when an infected person from out of the country visited Disneyland in late December.

rom Outbreak News Today, another continent, another outbreak:

Dengue fever in Malaysia: 18,000 cases and 44 deaths

The dengue fever outbreak in Malaysia last year reached approximately 100,000 cases, about a three-fold increase from 2013.

It would seem that 2015 will be another harsh dengue fever season in the southeast Asian country based on numbers reported by the Malaysia Ministry of Health Friday (computer translated).

The total cumulative dengue cases reported from Jan. 4 to Feb. 13, 2015 is 17,918. This included the 450 cases reported on Friday alone. Of this total, health authorities are reporting 44 dengue-related fatalities.

And another, via Medical Daily:

India Sees Rapid Increase In Swine Flu Deaths

India has seen a sharp rise in the number of swine flu deaths and reported cases this year, prompting officials to investigate the cause and step up efforts to combat the virus.

The H1N1 virus caused 485 deaths in India between Jan. 1 and Feb. 12, additional health secretary Arun Kumar Panda told reporters on Friday.

He said more than 6,000 people had tested positive for the virus during that time.

IPS-Inter Press Service covers another continent and another plague:

Cancer Locks a Deadly Grip on Africa, Yet It’s Barely Noticed

Hidden by the struggles to defeat Ebola, malaria and drug-resistant tuberculosis, a silent killer has been moving across the African continent, superseding infections of HIV and AIDS.

World Cancer Day commemorated on Feb. 4 may have come and gone, but the spread of cancer in Africa has been worrying global health organisations and experts year round. The continent, they fear, is ill-prepared for another health crisis of enormous proportions.

By 2020, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 16 million new cases of cancer are anticipated worldwide, with 70 percent of them in developing countries. Africa and Asia are not spared.

Medical Daily covers another health threat:

Unemployed People Undergo Changes In Personality, Making Them Less Agreeable, Conscientious

It’s well known that being unemployed for a significant amount of time can have a negative effect on your physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s likely to raise your risk of depression and suicide. But according to a new study, being unemployed can actually alter your personality too, making you less agreeable and influencing your levels of conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examined 6,769 Germans and asked them to self-evaluate the few core personality traits stated above over the course of a couple years. When the participants first began the survey they all had jobs, but a chunk of them slowly lost jobs over the course of a few years. Some remained unemployed, while others found new jobs.

“Unemployment has a strongly negative influence on wellbeing,” the authors wrote, but they wanted to find out if it could also change a person’s basic personality traits. “Whether personality changes arise through natural maturation processes or contextual/environment factors is still a matter of debate. Unemployment, a relatively unexpected and commonly occurring life event, may shed light on the relevance of context for personality change.”

From Reuters, a small but notable comeback accelerates:

U.S. wildlife managers mark population rise for rare wolf

The number of imperiled wolves found only in the American Southwest climbed to 109 in 2014, marking the fourth consecutive year that the population of Mexican gray wolves has risen by at least 10 percent, federal wildlife managers said Friday.

Wild Mexican wolves were believed to be all but extinct in the United States in 1998 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing the animal to its native range.

At that point there had been no sightings of the wolves, which are native to western Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, in the wild in the United States since the 1970s, said Benjamin Tuggle, the Service’s southwest regional director.

Fox News Latino covers significant environmental preservation proposed:

Colombia proposes world’s largest eco-corridor with Brazil, Venezuela

Colombia’s government will draw up plans to join with Brazil and Venezuela in creating the world’s largest ecological corridor, a project aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change and preserving biodiversity, President Juan Manuel Santos announced.

The corridor will span 135 million hectares (521,240 sq. miles) of rainforest, Santos said Friday after a Cabinet meeting in Leticia, capital of Colombia’s southeastern jungle province of Amazonas.

The Colombian head of state said he expects the three countries will present the so-called Triple A initiative at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, late this year in Paris.

“This would become the world’s largest ecological (corridor) and would be a great contribution to that fight of all humanity to preserve our environment, and in Colombia’s case to preserve our biodiversity,” Santos added.

Corporateers and banksters aim to recolonize Africa, via the Ecologist:

Land and seed laws under attack as Africa is groomed for corporate recolonization

  • Across Africa, laws are being rewritten to open farming up to an agribusiness invasion – displacing the millions of small cultivators that now feed the continent, and replacing them with a new model of profit-oriented agriculture using patented seeds and varieties. The agencies effecting the transformation are legion – but they are all marching to a single drum.

A battle is raging for control of resources in Africa – land, water, seeds, minerals, ores, forests, oil, renewable energy sources.

Agriculture is one of the most important theatres of this battle. Governments, corporations, foundations and development agencies are pushing hard to commercialise and industrialise African farming.

Many of the key players are well known. They include the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the G8, the African Union, the Bill Gates-funded ‘Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’ (AGRA), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC).

Together they are committed to helping agribusiness become the continent’s primary food commodity producer. To do this, they are not only pouring money into projects to transform farming operations on the ground – they are also changing African laws to accommodate the agribusiness agenda.

From the McClatchy Foreign Staff, water wonder or water woe?:

Beijing now drinking from vast water project environmentalists decry

Drinking water is flowing to Beijing from China’s controversial south-north water project – enough to fill 20,000 Olympic-size swimming pools in the first six weeks, the city reported Friday.

But concerns continue to swirl about the project’s environmental and human costs even as Beijing taps into a new water source nearly 800 miles away.

The central route of the south-north water project is China’s largest public works undertaking since the Three Gorges Dam, and it’s similarly contentious. It consists of a 400-foot-wide canal, aqueducts and other water works that stretch 798 miles to Beijing, starting at the Danjiangkou Reservoir in Henan province.

Environmentalists say the water diversions are sure to damage the ecology of the Han and lower Yangtze rivers. Construction of the canal also prompted the forced relocation of 100,000 people.

From the Guardian, can you say Frackenstein?:

Germany moves to legalise fracking

  • Four-year moratorium on shale drills set to be overturned as country initiates process to allow regulated hydraulic fracturing for shale gas

Germany has proposed a draft law that would allow commercial shale gas fracking at depths of over 3,000 metres, overturning a de facto moratorium that has been in place since the start of the decade.

A new six-person expert panel would also be empowered to allow fracks at shallower levels

Shale gas industry groups welcomed the proposal for its potential to crack open the German shale gas market, but it has sparked outrage among environmentalists who view it as the thin edge of a fossil fuel wedge.

Senior German officials say that the proposal, first mooted in July, is an environmental protection measure, wholly unrelated to energy security concerns which have been intensified by the conflict in Ukraine.

And our lone entry in the Fukushimapocalypse Now ! category, via EcoWatch:

Will Ohioans Be Forced to Pay the Bill to Keep the Crumbling Davis-Besse Nuke Plant Alive?

As the world’s nuke reactors begin to crumble and fall, the danger of a major disaster is escalating at the decrepit Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio.

Now the plant’s owners are asking the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to force the public to pay billions of dollars over the next 15 years to subsidize reactor operations.

But Davis-Besse’s astonishing history of near-miss disasters defies belief. Its shoddy construction, continual operator error and relentless owner incompetence would not be believed as fiction, let alone as the stark realities of a large commercial reactor operating in a heavily populated area.

Time and again Davis-Besse has come within a fraction of an inch and an hour of crisis management time. Today its critical shield wall is literally crumbing, with new cracks opening up every time the northern Ohio weather freezes (like this week).