Category Archives: Resources

More lethal endocrine disruptors in water supplies

From the study, “Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants,” open access.

From the study, “Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants,” open access.

Yet another class of corporate-created powerful carcinogenic endocrine disruptors [previously and extensively] has been found lurking in our environment, this time in the water supplies.

The compounds, used in firefighting foam and a whole host of consumer products [including cookware, clothing, and food wrappers] have spread through the environment both through runoff and from sewage sludge used as fertilizer.

The chemicals are notably present in California’s water supplies, as indicated in the map above.

From Harvard University:

Levels of a widely used class of industrial chemicals linked with cancer and other health problems — polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) — exceed federally recommended safety levels in public drinking-water supplies for 6 million people in the United States, according to a new study led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

The study will be published Aug. 9 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

“For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFASs, were allowed to be used and released to the environment, and we now have to face the severe consequences,” said lead author Xindi Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School, Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS, and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “In addition, the actual number of people exposed may be even higher than our study found, because government data for levels of these compounds in drinking water is lacking for almost a third of the U.S. population — about 100 million people.”

PFASs have been used over the past 60 years in industrial and commercial products ranging from food wrappers to clothing to pots and pans. They have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, high cholesterol, and obesity. Although several major manufacturers have discontinued the use of some PFASs, the chemicals continue to persist in people and wildlife. Drinking water is one of the main routes through which people can be exposed.

The researchers looked at concentrations of six types of PFASs in drinking-water supplies, using data from more than 36,000 water samples collected nationwide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2013 to 2015. They also looked at industrial sites that manufacture or use PFASs; at military fire-training sites and civilian airports where firefighting foam containing PFASs is used; and at wastewater-treatment plants. Discharges from these plants — which are unable to remove PFASs from wastewater by standard treatment methods — could contaminate groundwater. So could the sludge the plants generate, which is frequently used as fertilizer.

The study found that PFASs were detectable at the minimum reporting levels required by the EPA in 194 out of 4,864 water supplies in 33 states across the United States. Drinking water from 13 states accounted for 75 percent of the detections: California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois, in order of frequency of detection.

Sixty-six of the public water supplies examined, serving 6 million people, had at least one water sample that measured at or above the EPA safety limit of 70 parts per trillion (ng/L) for two types of PFASs, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Concentrations ranged as high as 349 ng/L for PFOA (Warminster, Pa.) and 1,800 ng/L for PFOS (Newark, Del.). The highest levels of PFASs were detected in watersheds near industrial sites, military bases, and wastewater-treatment plants.

“These compounds are potent immunotoxicants in children and recent work suggests drinking-water safety levels should be much lower than the provisional guidelines established by EPA,” said Elsie Sunderland, senior author of the study and associate professor at both the Harvard Chan School and SEAS.

Other Harvard Chan authors of the study included Philippe Grandjean and Courtney Carignan. Funding for the study came from the Smith Family Foundation and a private donor.

Game of Zones heats up, confrontation looms

From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

The Game of Zones, our term for the escalating multinational confrontations in the China Seas, are reaching the boiling point, with military encounters between China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines occurring on a daily basis as a nuclear-armed North Korea watches from the sidelines.

The looming crisis is the result of the Asian Pivot, a strategy created by Barack Obama and his then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Five tears ago, Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, dissected the Obama/Clinton Asian policy for The Nation:

The South China Sea has had increased prominence in Washington’s strategic calculus in recent years as China has asserted its interests there and as its importance as an economic arena has grown. Not only does the sea sit atop major oil and natural gas deposits—some being developed by US companies, including ExxonMobil—it also serves as the main route for ships traveling to and from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The Chinese say the South China Sea is part of their national maritime territory and that the oil and gas belongs to them; but Washington is insisting it will fight to preserve “freedom of navigation” there, at whatever cost. Whereas Taiwan once topped the list of US security challenges in the western Pacific, Hillary Clinton said on November 10 that “ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” is now Washington’s principal challenge.

Focusing on the South China Sea achieves several White House goals. It shifts the emphasis in US security planning from ideological determinism, as embedded in the increasingly unpopular drive to impose American values on the Middle East and fight a never-ending war against Islamist jihadism, to economic realism, as expressed through protecting overseas energy assets and maritime commerce. By dominating sea lanes the United States poses an implied threat of economic warfare against China in any altercations by cutting off its access to foreign markets and raw materials. And, through its very location, the South China Sea links US strategic interests in the Pacific to its interests in the Indian Ocean and to those of the rising powers of South Asia. According to Secretary Burns, a key objective of the administration’s strategy is to unite India with Japan, Australia and other members of the emerging anti-Chinese bloc.

Chinese officials following these developments must see them as a calculated US effort to encircle China with hostile alliances. How, exactly, Beijing will respond to this onslaught remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it will not be intimidated—resistance to foreign aggression lies at the bedrock of the national character and remains a key goal of the Chinese Communist Party, however attenuated by time. So blowback there will be.

Perhaps the White House believes that military competition will impede China’s economic growth and disguise US economic weaknesses. But this is folly: China has far greater economic clout than the United States. To enhance its position vis-à-vis China, America must first put its own house in order by reinvigorating its economy, reducing foreign debt, improving public education and eliminating unnecessary overseas military commitments.

Ultimately, what is most worrisome about the Obama administration’s strategic shift—which no doubt is dictated as much by domestic as foreign policy considerations, including the need to counter jingoistic appeals from GOP presidential candidates and to preserve high rates of military spending—is that it will trigger a similar realignment within Chinese policy circles, where military leaders are pushing for a more explicitly anti-American stance and a larger share of government funds. The most likely result, then, will be antagonistic moves on both sides, leading to greater suspicion, increased military spending, periodic naval incidents, a poisoned international atmosphere, economic disarray and, over time, a greater risk of war.

The Obama/Clinton push for a remilitarized Japan

The push for a Chinese confrontation has only grown stronger, and a key element is Japanese militarization, a full reversal of longstanding U.S. policy that began with the Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.S.-imposed military governor of Japan after World War II.

MacArthur’s chief accomplishment was a new national constitution, embraced by the Japanese, in which the nation was barred from creating all but a token military, one designed only for self-defense — hence the name, the Japanese Self Defense Forces.

But no more, as Roll Call’s Rachel Oswald reported in May:

In recent years, Japan, eager to show its commitment to working with the U.S. military, has moved past the strictly pacifist security posture it adopted after World War II. A little over a year ago, the United States and Japan finalized new defense cooperation guidelines allowing deeper military collaboration.

In September, Japan’s parliament, the Diet, approved legislation that would, in the words of the Abe government, “reactivate Japan’s innate right to collective self-defense,” authorizing the country’s Self-Defense Forces to come to the defense of threatened allies, namely the United States.

Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia, said “2015 was a historic year for us and for the alliance,” and the United States wants “to ensure that momentum continues.”

Japanese officials are trying to demonstrate to Washington they are working overtime to modernize their regional defense posture.

“Japan is the most determined military partner of the United States,” said Yoji Koda, a retired vice admiral of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. But Koda and others worry there is little awareness of Japan’s role in world security efforts. “Washington always complains, ‘free rider.’ But if there were no Japan, U.S. world strategy doesn’t function.”

The crisis begins to boil

The confrontation between China and the Japanese/U.S. partnership is heating up, with the latest developments especially troubling.

From BBC News:

Japan’s foreign minister has warned that ties with China are “significantly deteriorating”, after Chinese vessels repeatedly entered disputed waters in the East China Sea.

Fumio Kishida said he had called China’s ambassador to protest against the “incursions”.

On Friday, about 230 Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels sailed near islands claimed by both countries.

Beijing has been increasingly assertive about waters it believes are Chinese.

The Japan-controlled, uninhabited islands – known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China – are the source of a long-running dispute.

The Japanese coast guard said on Monday that about 13 Chinese coast guard ships, some of them armed, had been seen near the islands, higher than the usual number.

“The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is significantly deteriorating,” Mr Kishida told Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, according to a statement on the foreign ministry website.

“We cannot accept that [China] is taking actions that unilaterally raise tensions.”

Much more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day II: Lighting up the Internet


From John Matherly, founder of the search engine Shodan, a new look at most of the devices hooked up to the Internet as of four days ago.

CNN Money profiled Shodan in an April, 2013 feature, declaring it “the scariest search engine on the Internet.”:

“When people don’t see stuff on Google, they think no one can find it. That’s not true.”

That’s according to John Matherly, creator of Shodan, the scariest search engine on the Internet.

Unlike Google (GOOG), which crawls the Web looking for websites, Shodan navigates the Internet’s back channels. It’s a kind of “dark” Google, looking for the servers, webcams, printers, routers and all the other stuff that is connected to and makes up the Internet. (Shodan’s site was slow to load Monday following the publication of this story.)

Shodan runs 24/7 and collects information on about 500 million connected devices and services each month.

It’s stunning what can be found with a simple search on Shodan. Countless traffic lights, security cameras, home automation devices and heating systems are connected to the Internet and easy to spot.

Shodan searchers have found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.

The search engine can be blocked, a step more users are following.

Matherly told Softpedia in January that blocking — a move then contemplated by the Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point, doesn’t necessarily work out for the best for those who employ it:

[I]t’s only taking information away from the good guys. Attackers have their own tools of the trade to discover insecure equipment, blocking Shodan does nothing to prevent harm. Hundreds of thousands of devices have been secured on the Internet because a security researcher used Shodan to find improperly configured services and notified proper authorities. The most recent example is the leaking of data via public MongoDB instances, which were only detected and secured because of Shodan.

The bad guys have had similar tools long before Shodan existed and they will continue to use those because Shodan isn’t an anonymous service. We take many steps to limit abuse and make sure the data is only used by good guys. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that Shodan has been a force for good and helped make the Internet safer.

Most companies actually take the opposite stance of Check Point: use Shodan to check whether you’re running anything on the Internet that you didn’t expect! This is especially true for organizations that don’t have a large IT security budget (ex. small businesses and universities).

The Internet is a massive power hog

All of those dots on Matherly maps represent far more than Internet use. They also signal the emergence of a vast and growing energy hog.

In a 23 January report, the Independent covered the most massive energy hogs:

This wouldn’t be a problem if these facilities – which range from a small room with a few servers to vast 150,000 square metre “farms” – didn’t consume such enormous amounts of energy.

Already, data centres have mushroomed from virtually nothing 10 years ago to consuming about 3 per cent of the global electricity supply and accounting for about 2 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. That gives it the same carbon footprint as the airline industry.

To put the size of this consumption into even sharper relief – the 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity the world’s data centres used last year was significantly higher than the UK’s total consumption of about 300 terawatt hours.

Massive as data centre energy use may already be, this is nothing to what lies in store, analysts warn. Ian Bitterlin, Britain’s foremost data centre expert and a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, says the amount of energy used by data centres is doubling every four years – despite the innovations in hardware that massively increase their capacity to store data. As a result, analysts forecast that data centres will consume roughly treble the amount of electricity in the next decade.

And that’s just for the centers hosting the data [and we don’t know if the huge data centers built by the world’s spy agencies like the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ, are included in the totals, facilities dwarfing even Google’s].

Add in the electricity used by your computers, monitors, televisions [for streaming films and other video], and the numbers grow much larger.

Five years ago, two academics from India and the U.S. profiled electricity use by personal electronics, including computers, phones, and laptops, and found that data centers only accounted for a seventh of the total.

From their report:

Personal computing related electricity vs. global electricity use.

Personal computing related electricity vs. global electricity use.

As Elektor reported in three years ago:

Direct electricity use of the Internet is probably around 10% of total electricity consumption, said Jon Koomey, Research Fellow at Stanford University but he immediately added that the number does not tell us very much.

Koomey, who has been studying Internet energy effects since 2000, was a keynote speaker at Google’s ‘How green is the Internet?’ summit, held June 6 at the Googleplex. There experts discussed the system-wide energy implications of information technology.

First of all there is the data gap. Ironically, IT -master of data collection- falls short when it comes to gathering extensive and well-defined data about its own energy consumption. Secondly, electricity is only a part of the Internet’s total energy cost, fabrication of equipment should also be taken into account. Last and perhaps most important when it comes to getting a good measure of the Internet’s overall environmental impact are system effects. These are IT-enabled energy savings in larger scale systems like transportation or manufacturing.

Of all the different network components the ones that consume the most electricity are end user devices. Per unit they don’t use much, desktops and notebooks run on 200 and 70 kWh/year respectively. But the numbers add up: 1.6 billion connected PCs and notebooks and 6 billion mobile devices.

Bear in mind also that the numbers don’t include all those devices, from refrigerators to air, conditioners, furnaces, home security systems, and more that have been hooked up to the web through the Internet of Things.

Our digital addiction, in short, is a huge and rapidly increasing energy hog, energy that is derived increasingly from burning coal.

Headline of the day II: This is news? Really?

From the New York Times:

Researchers or Business Allies? Think Tanks Blur the Line

  • Think tanks are seen as independent, but their scholars often push donors’ agendas, amplifying a culture of corporate influence in Washington.
  • And they reap the benefits of tax-exempt status, sometimes without disclosing connections to corporate interests.

Mexico backs striker foes; a corrupt cop busted

One of the major purpose of strikes is to generate pressure to force capitulation by employers to union demands, and the striking teachers of Southern Mexico have been doing just that in hopes forcing the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto to withdraw neoliberal, George W. Bush style education “reforms.”

Among those impacted by the strike are business owners in the affected region, who say they are losing money because of striker-built roadblocks and occupations of public squares by members and supporters of the union, the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE] [previously].

The government has already used lethal force against the roadblocks [here and here], and now its moving to reduce pressure on local businesses.

From teleSUR English:

Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal announced Thursday that the government would provide financial support to businesses affected by the ongoing protests by striking teachers affiliated with the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE union.

Meanwhile, in response to demands from the right-wing Business Coordinating Council for more police repression against teachers, Interior Minister Osorio Chong said the government was already using state security forces to forcibly end protests by the CNTE.

Juan Pablo Castañón, head of the Business Coordinating Council, said on Wednesday that the government needed to ensure the return of normal economic activity and should thus turn to state security forces in order to ensure the “human rights of everyone else” were being respected.

Chong, speaking through the media, said they were “already doing so.”

Teachers affiliated with the CNTE union have been protesting President Enrique Peña Nieto’s so-called education reform, which critics say is aimed at justifying mass layoffs and does little to improve education in Mexico.

The conflict between the teachers and the government heated up after police repression in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca on June 19 left at least 10 people dead.

Corrupt cop busted for obviousness

It’s okay to take that under-the-table cash, except when you make your corrupt so flagrantly obvious.

Of at least that’s the impression we take from this report from the Guardian:

A senior Mexican police official has been forced to resign after investigative journalists revealed that he and his wife had built up a property empire incompatible with his humble public-sector salary.

Arturo Bermúdez Zurita, the public security secretary of the violence-wracked state of Veracruz, stood down on Thursday after reports emerged that he and his wife had purchased a string of properties in Texas worth millions of dollars.

His resignation is a rarity in a country where public officials often accumulate fabulous personal wealth, yet accusations of wrongdoing rarely bring serious consequences.

But analysts say that Bermúdez’s fate may have less to do with serious attempts to tackle Mexico’s entrenched corruption than with shifting political winds following recent regional elections in which the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) lost power in Veracruz and six other states.

Bermúdez resigned after the online news outlet Aristegui Noticias revealed that he and his wife had purchased five properties in suburban Houston with a combined value of $2.4m – even though he made a mere 59,500 pesos a month ($3,200), according to government transparency records.

Headline of the day II: An insecurity blanket

Sports in the days of globalized high anxiety, with a screencap of the lead story on the homepage of the London Daily Mail, linking to this story:


When a GMO bacterium almost killed the planet

We have long maintained that genetically modified organisms may be the most dangerous of all human creations, dwarfing in potential nuclear weapons, overpopulation, and all the other sundry horrors that haunt our nightmares.

And we’ve already come perilously close.

From The Big Picture:

How One GMO Plant Nearly Took Down the Planet…

Program notes:

The very same day that President Obama signed the DARK Act into law – the USDA confirmed that 22 of Monsanto’s unapproved GMO wheat plants were growing in a field in Washington State. No one knows how it got there – and that should raise alarm bells.

The universe beneath out feet

Stephen Nottingham is a biologist and writer. He has a doctorate in the field of agricultural entomology and is one of Britain’s most ardent advocates of agroecology [previously], the science of working with rather than against nature to produce the food and other plant and animal products that keep us and our civilization alive.

The fundamental element of agroecology is the earth itself, the soil that gives rise to most of those foods and goods, and if it is anything else, the soil beneath our feet is a vast and complex ecosystem, and must be considered whenever we release new genetic creations into our environment..

In his book Genescapes: The Ecology of Genetic Engineering, Nottingham writes:

Agricultural soil typically contains around 600 million bacteria, approximately three miles of mycorrhizal fungal hyphae, about 10,000 protozoa, and between 20 and 30 beneficial nematodes, in a teasponful. . .Elaine Ingham, author of the Oregon Klebsiella sstudy, has critized tests routinely performed by the EPA to evaluate genetically engineered microorganisms for environmental release, in which they use microcosms containing sterile soil. The results cannot provide any information about how the GMO will behave in the field, in terms of effects on soil ecology or on other organisms. In addition, no realistic data on exchange of genetic information between different bacteria can be obtained in sterilized soils.

Genetic exchange with GMOs is now a given

The genetically engineered organisms do exchange their artically manipulated genes with other organisms is a given, though one mightily resisted by the corporations which sell them.

UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela, a friend of the blog, was fired because of his research showing that genes from Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant corn had infected the native corn varieties of Mexico, the nation which gave the world one of its major staple food crops.

His ouster followed a well-financed campaign by the company, using false fronts and academic shills.

It took a lawsuit to win Chapela tenure, and subsequent research has confirmed his findings.

Herbicide-resistant genes have also jumped into weeds, creating new breeds of so-called superweeds and prompting a search for ever more powerful plant killers.

Given that nature had countless billions of ready recruits, we can be certain of one thing: The arms race will never end as corporations seek to maintain their exorbitant profits and maintain their deadly grip on the planet’s food supplies.

Back to that Klebsiella planticola experiment

Dr. Ingham, a soil micobiologist and author of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Biology Primer, was a professor at Oregon State University in 1992 when she supervised the experiments that discovered the deadly nature of the microbe just weeks before it was scheduled for approval for release.

Here’s what she wrote about the discovery, via San Francisco State University:

Field burning of plant residues to prevent disease is a serious cause of air pollution throughout the US. In Oregon, people have been killed because the cloud from burning fields drifted across the highways and caused massive multi-car crashes. A different way was needed to get rid of crop residues. If we had an organism that could decompose the plant material and produce alcohol from it; then we’d have a win-win situation. A sellable product and get rid of plant residues without burning. We could add it to gasoline. We could cook with it. We could drink grass wine-although whether that would taste very good is anyone’s guess. Regardless, there are many uses for alcohol.

So, genes were taken out of another bacterium, and put into Klebsiella planticola in the right place to result in alcohol production. Once that was done, the plan was to rake the plant residue from the fields, gather it into containers, and allow it to be decomposed by Klebsiella planticola. But, Klebsiella would produce alcohol, which it normally does not do. The alcohol production would be performed in a bucket in the barn. But what would you do with the sludge left at the bottom of the bucket once the plant material was decomposed? Think about a wine barrel or beer barrel after the wine or beer has been produced? There is a good thick layer of sludge left at the bottom. After Klebsiella planticola has decomposed plant material, the sludge left at the bottom would be high in nitrogen and phosphorus and sulfur and magnesium and calcium-all of those materials that make a perfectly wonderful fertilizer. This material could be spread as a fertilizer then, and there wouldn’t be a waste product in this system at all. A win-win-win situation.

But my colleagues and I asked the question: What is the effect of the sludge when put on fields? Would it contain live Klebsiella planticola engineered to produce alcohol? Yes, it would. Once the sludge was spread it onto fields in the form of fertilizer, would the Klebsiella planticola get into root systems? Would it have an effect on ecological balance; on the biological integrity of the ecosystem; or on the agricultural soil that the fertilizer would be spread on?

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . . Continue reading