Category Archives: Resources

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, autism, fracking, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with a new outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Norovirus: Dozens of staff and patients sickened at Phoenix VA

At least 35 people, including 16 patients and 19 staff members at The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center have contracted norovirus. According to a hospital press release, everyone infected was from two inpatient mental health units and to date, all but three have fully recovered.

The Phoenix VA hospital stopped taking new patients at two mental health units with 48 beds on the hospital’s fifth floor. VA officials have embarked on a cleaning regimen to rid the hospital of the highly-contagious virus. Some steps included limiting staff members who are allowed to access the affected floors and using paper trays to deliver food, according to Phoenix VA Health Care spokeswoman Jean M. Schaefer.

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.

From Al Jazeera America, deadly outbreaks from an instrument of healing:

Medical scope now tied to Wisconsin superbug outbreak

  • Congressman considers bill to force states to notify federal agencies of superbug outbreaks and medical device failures

A medical device called a duodenoscope that’s been linked to recent deadly superbug infections across the country was also connected to a 2013 outbreak at a Wisconsin medical facility that infected five people, America Tonight has learned.

Health officials at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed the five patients were sickened with NDM1 – a subgroup of an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, that’s responsible for two deaths at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles since October and dozens of serious infections around the country in recent years.

Meanwhile, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, another Los Angeles hospital, announced Wednesday that four patients there were infected with the deadly superbug due to a dirty duodenoscope and that 64 more patients may have been exposed since August.

From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [PDF], measles numbers on another continent:

Germany- update

A large measles outbreak is ongoing in Berlin. As of 24 February 2015, media report nearly 600 cases. The outbreak that started in October 2014 initially affected asylum seekers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia but has now spread to the general population. According to media, at least two cases in Berlin have been linked to the United States. One involved a woman who developed symptoms in the United States before travelling to Berlin. A second involved a child who developed the infection after returning from the United States of America. There has been one death in an 18 months old unvaccinated toddler. The child fell ill in the Reinickendorf district of Berlin on 12 February with fever and cough and later rash. The child was hospitalised due to worsening condition on 14 February and died in hospital on 18 February. The child was not vaccinated against measles and had no pre-existing conditions.

Denmark

Media report two epidemiologically linked cases of measles in children in Copenhagen.

Serbia- update

Since November 2014 and as of 13 February 2015, 228 cases of measles have been reported in Serbia in several outbreaks affecting numerous areas of the country. This is an increase of 105 cases since 26 January 2015, the last monthly update.

Kyrgyzstan – update

According to WHO, Kyrgyzstan has reported 7477 cases between May 2014 and February 2015. The first case was identified in Bishkek city on 3 May 2014, but the number increased dramatically in 2015.

From BBC News, causation:

Autism is largely down to genes, twin study suggests

Autism is caused by genetic make-up in 74-98% of cases, a Medical Research Council study of 516 twins indicates.

The King’s College London team said 181 of the teenagers had autism, but the rate was far higher in the identical twins, who share the same DNA. The researchers told JAMA Psychiatry tens if not hundreds of genes were involved, and they do not rule out environmental factors entirely.

Both twins in each pair had been raised by their parents in the same household.

The World Health Organization issues a call:

WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children

A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

“We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. “Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”

The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.

Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.

From the Los Angeles Times, kicking the habit. . .sort of:

McDonald’s to phase out serving chicken raised with antibiotics

McDonald’s Corp. will phase out over the next two years the use of chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health in a step to combat resistance to antibiotics.

The Oak Brook, Ill. fast food giant said Wednesday that later this year it will also begin selling only milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.

Farmers in the company’s supply chain can continue to use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans, on their chickens.

From the Guardian, Aussie bananas threatened:

Queensland banana farm quarantined after testing positive for fungal disease

  • Biosecurity experts warn Panama TR4 disease could pose a serious threat to the banana industry in Australia

A north Queensland banana farm has been quarantined after testing positive for a potentially destructive fungal disease.

Biosecurity Queensland has warned that the Panama TR4 disease would have serious consequences for the state’s banana industry if it spread from the plantation near Tully, south of Cairns.

Panama, a soil fungus, was found in the Northern Territory in 1997 and has since spread to a number of areas in the Top End, but this is the first time it has been detected at a Queensland plantation.

Science covers sewer diagnostics:

Pollution, human health tracked with sewage microbes

Microbiologists have a new way to tell whose sh-t is dirtying the waters. A survey of sewage across the United States shows that every city has a distinct microbial character that can reveal signs of health, such as how obese its residents tend to be. Dozens of the microbes identified in the survey are common throughout the United States, and could provide better ways to tell whether bacterial pollution comes from humans.

The human gut is filled with microbes that are proving ever more important to health and disease. To understand the diversity of these bacteria—collectively called the gut microbiome—and how their numbers and types vary through time, microbiologists have isolated and sequenced DNA from stool samples of hundreds of individuals. But Mitchell Sogin, a molecular evolutionist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Sandra McLellan, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, wanted to take a much broader view and study the microbiomes of entire human communities. In addition, they were looking for a better indicator of human fecal pollution.

To do that, they needed to figure out how to assess the microbiomes of large numbers of people at once. They recruited wastewater treatment plant operators from 71 U.S. cites to collect more than 200 samples of incoming sewage. They then sequenced DNA in the samples and determined its origin. About 15% of the isolated sewage DNA belonged to microbes found in humans, Sogin and McLellan’s team reported online last week in mBio. Many of the rest are microbes that live in sewer pipes. Using a technique developed by Sogin and his colleagues, which can more precisely determine which bacteria are present in a large sample of feces, the researchers identified about 60 types of bacteria that were common to people in all of the cities. Because they seem to be found wherever humans are, these 60 may be a more reliable way to determine if human feces are contaminating a waterway, McLellan says.

From StarAfrica, African climate change costs:

Africa’s climate adaptation costs to hit $50 billion -UNEP

Africa, the continent with warming deviating most rapidly from “normal” conditions, could see climate change adaptation costs rise to $50 billion per year by 2050, even assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C this century, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Released on Wednesday at the 15th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), Africa’s Adaptation Gap builds on UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2014, which showed that the world is not currently headed in the right direction for holding global warming below 2°C.

This latest Africa Adaptation Gap report also builds on UNEP’s Global Adaptation Gap Report 2014, which found that adaptation costs in all developing countries together could climb as high as $250-500 billion per year by 2050.

Produced in collaboration with Climate Analytics and the African Climate Finance Hub, the report says deep global emissions reductions are the best way to head off Africa’s crippling adaptation costs.

After the jump, California beach town voters nix downtown oil drilling, groundwater-endangering oil wells ordered to close in the Golden State, a vote to overturn Obama’s Keystone veto fails, Canadian frackers cast eyes on Spain, Chinese media invoke a foggy Cone of Silence, termites saving the soil, an endangered Cuban bat, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with massive numbers on a radioactive water leak, an order to look for all possible sources, and a long time remains before a watery resolution, and very slow progress in securing land for interim radioactive soil storage, lifelong monitoring ordered for Fukushima cleanup workers, massive dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the disaster, more delays for another reactor restart, and desperate dreams of a nuclear power economic boom zone. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, pols, cases, economics


We begin with the latest case numbers for the three African nations hardest hit by the crisis, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

From FrontPageAfrica, screening countries:

New Tool Can Help Identify Nations Vulnerable To Ebola

Public health experts can identify nations that are vulnerable to the occurrence and impact of future outbreaks of Ebola or other emergencies by using a screening tool that evaluates a nation’s strengths across a wide range of measures such as political strength and health care capabilities, according to a new analysis from the RAND Corporation. The process is part of a suite of “proof-of-concept” tools developed to help policymakers prepare for and respond to health disasters, such as Ebola.

“While these tools need further refinement, our work suggests these methods can be useful to identify future ‘hot zones’ before they develop and help emergency workers evaluate their options for response,” said Dr. Melinda Moore, the project’s leader and a senior natural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The tool uses widely available statistical indicators to assess nations across four broad domains — political, economic, socio-cultural and health. Individual topics that make up each of the domains include items such as government effectiveness, availability of communications, and the status of a nation’s health care infrastructure and workforce. RAND researchers used the preliminary tool to show how it could help identify possible future hot zones for Ebola. For illustrative purposes, they selected a handful of nations to examine in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

On to Liberia and a deal, via Monrovia’s Liberian Observer:

Liberia, EU Sign €279m for Development

Liberia and the European Union (EU) have signed a €279 million development package under the European Union National Indicative Program (NIP) for EU 11th Development Cooperation in Liberia.

The EU cooperation program with Liberia, which covers 2014 to 2020, will seek to address key priority areas that are essential to growth and recovery from the medium to the long-term.

According to a dispatch from Brussels, Belgium, at the ceremony, which was witnessed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s National Authorizing Officer and Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara M. Konneh, signed on behalf of the Liberian Government while the European Union Commissioner for International Development, Neven Mimica signed on behalf of the EU. The event took place on the sidelines of the high-level international conference on Ebola.

The New York Times covers not unreasonable reticence:

Trickle of Liberian Children Returning to School Reflects Lingering Ebola Fears

About eight months after governments in the region closed schools to stop the spread of Ebola, uniformed and backpack-carrying schoolchildren have returned to the streets of Monrovia, the capital, perhaps the most visible sign of the epidemic’s ebb.

Though Ebola cases have all but disappeared in Liberia, with the Health Ministry saying Wednesday that the last patient in treatment had tested negative for the virus, lingering fear and a depressed economy have dampened the turnout at schools. Many have yet to reopen, having failed to meet the minimum requirements put in place to prevent transmission of the virus.

Many of those that have reopened are struggling. Just as Liberia’s weak health care system collapsed as Ebola began raging across the country, many people here worry that the nation’s schools may be ill equipped to handle even the tail end of the epidemic.

And a university prepares to reopen, via the News in Monrovia:

UL Resumes Classes March 17

An official of the University of Liberia has disclosed that plans are underway to re-open the institution on March 17 with the resumption of classes for only junior and senior students.

UL Vice President for Media Relations, Norris Tweah, said this is to afford pending and would-be graduating seniors the opportunity to complete their courses, while awaiting the timetable for graduation later this year.

Speaking on the Truth FM ((96.1) Breakfast Show Wednesday, Mr. Tweah further disclosed that the entity would endeavor to reopen for regular classes, including the freshman and sophomore students, by September this year.

In July 2014, the Liberian Government ordered the closure of all academic and vocational institutions as part of measures to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

From the Liberian Observer, claims of a clean slate:

Liberia Discharges Only Confirmed Ebola Case Today

Liberia will today discharge the only confirmed Ebola case remaining in the country, according to the Incident Management System (IMS) boss and Assistant Minister for Preventive Service, Tolbert Nyenswah.

Making the disclosure yesterday at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, Minister Nyenswah explained that with the current status of the fight against the Ebola virus in the country, Liberia is close to reaching zero Ebola case, but “we need to be vigilant in our fight against the virus throughout the country.”

“Liberia has clearly passed 12 days without any new confirmed Ebola case. The only patient remaining in an ETU will be discharged from the Chinese ETU as a special event.

But another story, this time from StarAfrica, casts doubt on the official account:

Refugees in Liberia record seven Ebola deaths- official

The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) has disclosed that a total of seven refugees residing in former refugee camps and host communities in Montserrado County have succumbed to the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

LRRRC Executive Director Cllr. [Counseloresnl] Abla Williams said of the total number of deaths, six were Sierra Leonean nationals, while one was a Ugandan doctor, all of whom were residents of communities that previously hosted refugee camps in Montserrado County.

Cllr Williams made the disclosure at the Ministry of Information daily Ebola press conference in Monrovia on Wednesday.

The LRRRC boss noted that there were also several cases of Ebola infection in the former refugee communities of VOA, Low Cost Village, Banjor and Samukai Town in Montserrado county, but indicated that none of the infected persons had died from the virus.

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, another remedial measure:

Cash Assistance To Former Bush Meat Sellers Enters Third Phase

One Hundred and Twelve marketers, mainly women, have benefitted from cash transfer assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The marketers, former Bush Meat Sellers, each received US$100. They are from the Rally Time market, one of four markets in Monrovia, designated to benefit from the cash transfer assistance. The other markets are Red-light, Waterside, and Duala.

The cash assistance is to help women in this category, find alternative livelihoods in the wake of the ban placed on the sale of bush meat. According to health authorities, Bush meat is one of the major sources for the rapid spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

On to Sierra Leone with the Guardian:

Ebola ‘leaves 12,000 orphans in Sierra Leone’

  • UK charity’s survey shows scale of crisis caused by disease, with children who lost parents facing a dire future

The devastating impact of the Ebola crisis was laid bare this week with a report showing more than 12,000 children have been orphaned by the disease in Sierra Leone.

They have been identified in the first national survey of orphans, which was conducted by the British charity Street Child. It says the future for these children is dire. Many are living in fear without the support and security of parents, but the charity says there is light at the end of the tunnel “if the international aid community works together”.

The charity found that some children, rejected by their friends because of the stigma of Ebola, have tried to take their own lives, while girls are being forced into commercial sex work to earn money for food their parents would have previously provided.

Its case studies expose the vulnerability of those left behind without an adult for support.

CCTV Africa covers economic impacts:

Ebola’s Devastation on Sierra Leone’s Economy

Program notes:

Sierra Leone is to receive more than 80 million dollars immediately to help the country end the Ebola outbreak and recover from its effects. The IMF pledged a 187 million dollars financial aid package for Sierra Leone to support the country’s struggling economy.

And StarAfrica offers some criticism:

S/Leone CSOs fault post-Ebola plan

Three civil society organizations have criticized the Sierra Leone government`s approach towards its post Ebola development plan, describing it as deeply flawed.

Health Alert, Health for All Coalition and WASHNet Sierra Leone in a joint statement released Wednesday said the government’s failure to engage local communities in drawing the plan, which is being presented at the ongoing anti-Ebola conference in Brussels, makes it unlikely to succeed.

“We noticed that the engagement process has been going on but not participatory. There is no real involvement of community people,” said Victor Lansana Koroma, Executive Director of Health Alert.

EnivroWatch: Illness, pols, climate, water, nukes


We begin with the latest measles update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first with the numbers:

BLOG Measles graf

Then the distribution:

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From the United Nations News Center, another global health tragedy:

Over 5 billion people worldwide lacking access to essential medicines, says UN Report

Three quarters of the world population has no access to proper pain relief treatment, according to a report by the United Nations body charged with overseeing Governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, which was released in London today.

Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2014, which went on to point out that around 92 per cent of all morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which calls on Governments to address the discrepancy in order to comply with International Drug Control Conventions, notes that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world can further limit access to essential medicines and the Board stressed that in cases of emergency medical care, simplified control measures can be applied.

For example in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control.

In its Report, the INCB notes that drug control measures do not exist in a vacuum and that, in their implementation of the drug control conventions, States must also comply with obligations under other treaties, including international humanitarian law and their international human rights obligations, such as allowing civilians to have access to medical care and essential medicines during armed conflicts.

Additionally, the INCB noted that States were charged with deciding specific sanctions for drug-related offences, but should avoid application of the death penalty for such cases.

Newswise covers a question of costs:

U.S. Spends More on Cancer Care, Saves Fewer Lives than Western Europe

  • Dartmouth study finds costly U.S. cancer care may provide less value than previously thought

Despite sharp increases in spending on cancer treatment, cancer mortality rates in the United States have decreased only modestly since 1970, Samir Soneji, PhD of Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice has found. Refuting previous studies, Soneji published his paper “New Analysis Reexamines the Value of Cancer Care in the United States Compared to Western Europe,” today in the March issue of Health Affairs.

“Our results suggest that cancer care in the U.S. did not always avert deaths compared to Western Europe and, when it did avert deaths, it often did so at substantial cost,” explained Soneji. “The greatest number of deaths averted occurred in cancers for which decreasing mortality rates were more likely to be the result of successful prevention and screening rather than advancements in treatment.”

U.S. cancer mortality rates decreased by 12 percent since 1970, compared to a 62 percent decrease for heart disease. Such findings have raised questions about the additional value of U.S. cancer care derived from the additional spending, in comparison to the situation in other high-income countries. This study compared U.S. and Western European spending between 1982 and 2010 for 12 of the most common cancers.

Compared to Western Europe, the U.S averted 67,000 breast cancer deaths, 265,000 colorectal cancer deaths, and 60,000 prostate cancer deaths between 1982 and 2010. The U.S. experienced 1,120,000 excess lung cancer deaths in this study period compared to Western Europe. The ratio of incremental cost to quality-adjusted-life-years saved equaled $402,000 for breast cancer, $110,000 for colorectal cancer, and $1,979,000 for prostate cancer. These amounts exceed most accepted thresholds for cost-effective medical care. The U.S. lost quality-adjusted-life-years despite additional spending for lung cancer where the cost was negative $19,000 per quality-adjusted-life-year saved.

From the Washington Post, a medical enigma:

Mystery paralysis in children is perplexing parents — and researchers

For most of the children who fell ill last year during an outbreak of enterovirus, the symptoms were relatively mild — fever, runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

But then there was this mystery: More than 100 kids suffered an unexplained, polio-like paralysis that struck quickly but even now continues to stump researchers and upend the lives of the families across the country.

For Priya Duggal and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the biggest puzzle is why those children became paralyzed while their brothers and sisters, who also were exposed to the virus, escaped largely unscathed.

From the Times of India, tallying an outbreak’s toll:

40 more dead as swine flu toll climbs to 1,115

Swine flu claimed the lives of 40 more people in the country as the toll from the disease reached 1,115 while the total number of cases breached the 20,000 mark.

The Health Ministry said that 1,115 persons have succumbed to the H1N1 virus while the number of those affected by it stands at 20,795 on March 1.

With heavy rainfall lashing Delhi and other parts of the north, health officials said it was difficult to ascertain whether the rains will have any effect on the incidence of swine flu.

However, the officials said that, during monsoon, the virus increases and it was possible that whatever decline was being seen over the last few days in the intensity of the disease may not continue. They said that there will be no decrease in the virus due to the rains and added that high temperatures are a deterrent for the virus.

Outbreak News Today covers an online virus of another sort:

Colorado: Craigslist kitten turns out rabid, 20 people get rabies prophylaxis

A 6-month-old kitten obtained on Craigslist has turned out positive for the nearly 100 percent lethal virus, rabies, requiring nearly two dozen people to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

The family of four from northeast Colorado Springs named the kitten Jello. The owners said the cat was fine for 2 weeks and then the black cat “took a turn for the worse” and got very sick. The family’s two other dogs and a cat had to be put down since they were exposed.

El Paso County Public Health officials say the kitten tested positive for rabies late last week.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory performed the initial test and the CDC is in the process of determining the type of rabies the kitten had.

Another group of Liberian healthcare workers asks for hazard pay, via the Liberian Observer:

Health Workers at TB Annex Demand Hazard Benefits

At least 101 workers at the TB Annex Hospital are demanding payment of hazard benefits owed them by the Ministry of Health for the past six months.

The patients at the hospital, located directly behind the Health Ministry in Oldest Congotown, are infected with tuberculosis which is a very highly contagious disease.

The health workers told this paper that their benefits are due for the period September 2014 to February 2015.

They stated that during the heat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, they did not close the hospital but remained there at their own risk, taking care of hundreds of TB patients who came in daily when most other health centers and hospitals were closed.

GMOoooos, via BBC News:

Scientists produce TB-resistant cows

Scientists in China have produced a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB infection.

The long-term goal of the research is to avoid the need to cull livestock by breeding disease resistant cattle.

Bovine TB is a risk in many areas, including New Zealand, England and Wales, and parts of Africa and Asia. In the UK over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2013 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m.

Politically cowed, via the New York Times:

Indian State Passes Beef Ban Championed by Right-Wing Hindus

The western state of Maharashtra this week became the first Indian state to ban the possession and sale of beef, imposing fines and up to five years in prison for violations.

The ban, which was passed on Monday, came as an amendment to a 1972 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows, which has been expanded to ban the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves. The slaughter of water buffaloes will still be allowed under the new law, subject to permission from the authorities. The populous western state includes Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, championed by right-wing Hindu organizations, was first passed in 1995 but languished for two decades under a governing coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a clear majority in state elections last October, after Narendra Modi, the party’s leader, took office as prime minister in May.

Cognitive pollution, via  Medical Daily:

Air Pollution Slows Cognitive Development In Children Due To Brain Inflammation

Schools that are located near busy roads may be more dangerous than remote schools due to the increased levels of air pollution generated by passing cars, a new study finds.

Toxic chemicals found in the air pose a growing concern for scientists studying brain health, especially among adolescents. Experts call them neurotoxicants, and they’ve been linked with a higher risk of suicide, autism, and the myriad direct physical effects of breathing in harmful air, such as asthma and diseases of the lungs.

“From animal studies we know that ultrafine particles cross the blood brain barrier, interact with the microglial cells, which in turn affects neurons,” said Dr. Jordi Sunyer, lead author of the recent study from the University of Barcelona. This can result in chronic low-grade brain inflammation, he added, which delays brain maturation.

And from EcoWatch, Oedipus Bush:

Jeb Bush Trashes Father’s Clean Air Legacy to Woo Far Right-Wing

Jeb Bush trashed the Clean Air Act last week. He was speaking to the far right-wing Club for Growth, notorious for mounting mostly unsuccessful challenges from the right against Republican candidates during congressional primaries.

The Clean Air Act is estimated to achieve almost $2 trillion in yearly benefits to the American people by 2020. These vast benefits are delivered in the form of “significant reductions in air pollution” related premature death and illness, improved economic welfare of Americans, and better environmental conditions.” The estimated annual costs to achieve these benefits will be about $65 billion by 2020.

So this staggering Bush senior achievement is one that Bush junior singles out for condemnation. It’s bewildering. One might even say it takes one’s breath away.

After the jump, endless drought woes for the Golden State, a rich California coastal city looks to desalination, an Environmental Protection Agency disclosure fail rebuked, air pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Europeans a year, China hopes for an air pollution reprieve, mineral water home delivered as Sao Paulo taps run dry, a Mexican mine hit with a river pollution fine, a call for Costa Rican shark protection, prison-farmed fish for sale at Whole Foods, a new threat from the DEA — Utah rabbits dazed on legal weed, a key African food staple lags behind growing populations, and the FBI comes a-knockin’ at the doors of Keystone Pipeline foes, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with another year’s radioactive water cleanup delay, an Olympic Fukushima food fare bid, and corporate payouts continue, plus Mount Everest grows a crown of human feces. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Cautions, risks, protest, an arrest


And more, but we begin with the cautionary, first from the Guardian:

Ebola death toll in west Africa ‘could be much higher than initial estimates’

  • Brussels conference attended by three west African presidents warned of funding shortfall in reaching zero-cases target and a death toll higher than first thought

Regional and world leaders have called on the international community to scale up their efforts to rebuild the nations devastated by Ebola amid fears the death toll from the outbreak could be even higher than previously thought.

Although the epidemic, which has ravaged Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, appears to be drawing to a close, the secretary general of the Red Cross warned that the true number of victims could be substantially greater than official estimates.

“Even though statistics show that over 9,000 people died of Ebola, our volunteers on the ground were called on to bury 14,000, which means that many more died from Ebola,” Mohammed El-hadj Assy told a conference on the Ebola crisis in Brussels on Tuesday.

Another cautionary note, via the United Nations News Center:

Ebola: UN tells Brussels meeting world must ‘stay on course’ to get to, remain at zero cases

Representatives of United Nations organizations engaged in the response against Ebola today pledged their support to the worst-affected West African countries in “each stage of this journey; the drive to zero, the early recovery, the medium and longer term development.”

The pledge was made at a high-level international conference on Ebola sponsored by the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, aimed at maintaining global attention on the crisis, taking stock of the fight against the epidemic and on coordinating next steps and discussing the recovery process.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said that current phase of the response “is the hardest part and a bumpy road” and urged the international community to remain fully engaged until the task is completed, especially as the virus is moving and as some communities are reticent about being engaged in the response.

Dr. Nabarro, as well as World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, both emphasized the need to build trust with communities to eradicate the disease, which has affected nearly 24,000 people with more than 9,714 deaths.

“We need to build trust with the communities,” Dr. Chan said, and added: “Without meaningful community engagement, we will not get to zero cases.”

More cautionary news, via NBC News:

The Next Ebola Zone: Report Finds 28 High-Risk Countries

Where else could an epidemic of Ebola or some other disease come? Try Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic, Guinea, Niger, and then Mali. They all have weaker health care systems than Sierra Leone, Save the Children warns [PDF].

The group, which has been fighting the epidemic ravaging Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, says 28 countries have near-nonexistent health systems.

Public health experts agree that poor health systems helped Ebola turn from a series of outbreaks into a full-fledged epidemic. It’s infected nearly 24,000 people and killed around 10,000 by official count. People carried the virus to the U.S., to Europe and to neighboring countries.

Another Save the Children story, via the Guardian:

Save the Children head apologises for upset over award to Tony Blair

  • Charity’s UK chief executive admits its ‘global legacy’ honour to former British prime minister has damaged the organisation

Save the Children has apologised to those who were upset by its decision to give Tony Blair a “global legacy award” last year, saying the prize was bestowed solely for the former British prime minister’s work on Africa and was not intended as a celebration of his “wider legacy”.

On Tuesday Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children UK and a former aide to Blair, admitted the move had damaged the international charity.

The prize, which was given to Blair by the US arm of Save the Children (STC) last November, drew immediate criticism from inside and outside the organisation.

An internal letter, signed by more than 500 staff members, said the award was not only “morally reprehensible, but also endangers our credibility globally”, and called for it to be withdrawn.

Reuters covers calls for help:

Ebola-hit countries seek help to repair their economies

The three West African states hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak asked for help from donors on Tuesday to repair the damage to their economies now that the epidemic seems to be waning.

Leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone voiced confidence at a major international conference on the Ebola outbreak in Brussels that they were winning the battle but said they must remain focused on stamping out new infections.

The epidemic has killed around 10,000 people in the three countries and delivered a severe setback to their economies, which had previously been performing well.

“Victory against the virus is in sight but we must guard against complacency. There will not be total victory until we get to a resilient zero (new cases) in the three most affected countries,” Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma told the conference.

The Associated Press covers one of those pleas:

Liberia calls for Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’ to rebuild economies

Liberia’s president on Tuesday called for an Ebola “Marshall Plan” to help rebuild economies in West African nations devastated by the virus.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that “we need our international partners to remain committed to us,” as the number of deaths from the disease approaches 10,000.

Sirleaf told fellow regional leaders and delegates at an international conference on Ebola in Brussels that restoring economic growth in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is a long-term and costly task.

And from FrontPageAfrica, opposition encountered:

How Liberian Protester Upstage EJS White House Welcome

The central theme in the long sought meeting on the part of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with US President Barack Obama took place on Friday at the White House, and ironically “corruption” became the menu and not the usual diplomatic pomp and pageantry reserved for visiting deserving heads of state, especially for a leader who “won” the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize that deservedly was also won by historical black heroes: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Barack Obama himself.

That this dreaded word, corruption became the focus of the US President in lecturing Sirleaf may have had a sidekick to it by engineered a determined group of Liberians in the United States who not only protested but also wrote the US President.  And how they did it so effectively forms the basis for this essay..

The group knew it would be the second and perhaps the last of such meetings between the two: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president, a publicity craving Nobel Laureate and lame duck leader invited into the most powerful office on earth, and coincidentally and historically is occupied by the first black president of the United States of America. So what could have gone wrong for President Obama to preach corruption to Ellen?

After the jump, a notable Liberian landmark, on to Sierra Leone and Ebola official detained, a call for a young leadership, prenatal care suffers under Ebolaphobia, on to Guinea, with hunger and anger on the rise, plus Liberians blocked at the border. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Euroenvironmental woes


From SOER 2015 — The European environment — state and outlook 2015 [PDF], a major new report from the European Environment Agency on the deteriorating state of Europe’s, land, rivers, oceans, biota, and more:

The European environment — state and outlook 2015: synthesis

MexicoWatch: Politics, protests, murder, a probe


We begin with politics, via The News.mx:

PAN requests Iguala update

National Action Party (PAN) Senators asked that Luis Raúl González Pérez, president of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), attend a session of the Senate so that he can present the progress on the Iguala case.

PAN Senators Francisco Salvador López Brito, Mariana Gómez del Campo Gurza and Jorge Luis Lavalle Maury want to hear the CNDH’s position with respect to the disappearance of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College. This request comes after the parents of the missing students rejected the findings of the Attorney General’s Office.

“The students were deprived of liberty, life, burned and thrown into San Juan River,” said Attorney General Jesus Murillo on Jan. 27. The parents and relatives have steadfastly refused to believe the account offered by the government.

The PAN senators said the results of investigations carried out by the CNDH need to be brought before the Senate as quickly as possible in order for the legislators to have time to make recommendations.

And a protest, via teleSUR:

UK Welcomes Controversial Mexican President Amid Public Protest

  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was welcomed with fanfare in London, despite intense controversy about his human rights and corruption history in Mexico.

President Enrique Peña Nieto arrived in London this week to meet for talks with Prime Minister Dave Cameron and members of British royalty amid protests against his visit.

London’s Mexico Solidarity Society held protests outside the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street, which they said hundreds attended:

Human rights campaigners are using Peña Nieto’s visit to highlight what NGOs have described as “out-of-control” torture in Mexico. The Mexican president has faced growing pressure and massive protests – some of which have turned out violent – over the handling of the enforced disappearance and alleged murder of the 43 trainee teachers.

A graphic response to the visit, via Plokkeas:

BLOG Ayotz

A political protest, via Reuters:

Mexico calls on U.S. to probe police killings of its nationals

Mexico’s government on Monday called on the United States to investigate a string of killings of its nationals by American police, voicing “profound consternation and irritation” at what it called a presumed excessive use of force.

The Mexican foreign ministry said it had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to help investigate the fatal shooting of Mexican citizen Ernesto Javier Canepa Diaz on Feb. 27 by police in Santa Ana, California.

It was the third fatal shooting of Mexicans by U.S. police in under a month, the Mexican government said.

And a murder, via Fox News Latino:

Leftist politician’s body found in western Mexico

The body of a leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, councilman who disappeared last month in the western Mexican state of Michoacan was found at a trash dump, state prosecutors said.

Ruben Magaña’s body was discovered near the municipal dump in Penjamillo on Sunday afternoon, the Michoacan Attorney General’s Office said.

The 67-year-old politician’s body did not have any visible “signs of violence,” the AG’s office said in a statement.

Mexico News Daily exposes:

Corruption uncovered in auditor’s office

  • Legal director dismissed for taking bribes from malfeasant mayors

Not even the agency whose purpose is to keep a watchful eye on government expenditures can be trusted to resist the temptation of corruption.

An official in the Oaxaca State Auditor’s Office has been relieved of his duties after it was found that he had been bribed by malfeasant mayors to hide the illegal diversion of public funds.

Legal director Adán Córdova was suspended along with 10 internal auditors suspected of delaying inquiries, withholding or filtering confidential information from investigators and altering the results of audits.

Another allegation of corruption, via The News,mx:

Party members file graft complaint against leader

ational Action Party (PAN) senators and deputies filed several corruption complaints against PAN President Gustavo Madero before the Federal Election Institute (IFE) and the PAN National Election

Organizing Commission Thursday. Madero has not officially decided whether he will run for an unprecedented second term as PAN party president or not. He has been facing graft allegations made by his contender Ernesto Cordero, who has said that “the party could still be saved” by drowning Madero.

The charges brought before the IFE accuse Madero of violating article 134 of the Mexican Constitution by being involved in using public resources — both human and financial — to promote his personal image.

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers a major sign of impending crisis:

Mexico Records 43.5% Fall Year on Year in Oil Revenues

Oil revenues in the Mexican public sector fell to $3.86 billion in January, a drop of 43.5 percent in real terms compared to the same month in 2014.

According to the Mexican Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP) in its report released Monday on public finances and debt in January, total public sector income for the month stood at $24.33 billion, 3.4 percent less than the same month in 2014.

The Secretariat attributed the fall in oil revenues to lower production of crude oil (-6.5 percent) and natural gas (-3.6 percent), and the lower average export price for Mexican oil blend, at $52.4 per barrel against $91.8 in the same period of last year.

Fox News Latino covers a replacement:

Mexican Senate confirms new attorney general

The Mexican Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to confirm Arely Gomez as the nation’s new attorney general.

Gomez, who was nominated last Friday by President Enrique Peña Nieto, sailed through on a vote of 105-5 with one abstention and was immediately sworn-in.

She succeeds Jesus Murillo Karam, who resigned last week at the behest of the president and is now secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development.

Murillo Karam leaves the AG’s office amid controversy over his handling of the investigation of last September’s disappearance of 43 students in the southern state of Guerrero.

And to conclude, a teleSUR English report on the start of a major investigation into the fates of the Ayotzinapa students:

Inter-American Commission on HR to investigate Ayotzinapa case

Program notes:

Officials of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights met with the parents of the 43 Ayotzinapa students who were forcibly disappeared last September. The Commission officials announced that they will open an investigation into the case, which will last six months. The parents of the missing students said that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration should not have closed the case.

John Oliver takes on failing U.S. infrastructure


Yep,  John Oliver takes on the nation’s rapidly aging bridges, dams, and highways, along with the singular unwillingness of the nation’s political elite to repair them and stave off the threat of potential disaster.

And he does it with the help of an all-star cast, including Edward Norton, Vincent D’Onfrio, Steve Buscemi, Dan Hedaya, and more.

From HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Infrastructure

Program notes:

America’s crumbling infrastructure: It’s not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one.