Category Archives: Science

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, pollution, climate, nukes


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

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

BLOG Measles

Al Jazeera America has some Canadian numbers:

Health officials confirm 119 measles cases in Quebec

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

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

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

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

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

Philippines reports 200 measles cases in January

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

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

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

From Reuters, warnings of an outbreak to come:

Mutating H7N9 bird flu may pose pandemic threat, scientists warn

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

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

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

The Guardian covers a finding:

Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian report finds

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

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

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

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

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

From Medical Daily, a diabetes breakthrough hinted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Agra flexes muscle, via the Associated Press:

INFLUENCE GAME: Meat industry fights new dietary proposal

The meat industry is seeing red.

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

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

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

So why keep whaling anyway?, via JapanToday:

Japan dumps Norwegian whale meat after finding pesticide

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

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

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

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

Massive starfish deaths prompt calls for emergency help

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

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

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

From the Ecologist, collusion coal-escing:

Coal industry setting its own air pollution standards

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

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times, an admission of failure:

Agencies admit failing to protect water sources from fuel pollution

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

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

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

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

EbolaWatch: Predictions, politics, and medicines


We begin with a prediction, via the New York Times:

Ebola Outbreak Could Be Ended by Summer, U.N. Says

The Ebola outbreak that has claimed nearly 10,000 lives over the past 15 months could be halted by the summer, but only if international financial support is sustained, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

“This crisis can be stopped completely,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, who is leading the organization’s response to the epidemic, told reporters in Geneva. “It should be possible to stop transmission by the middle of the year.”

He cautioned, however, that “there’s a need for reinvestment and reinvigoration of the program if we are to get this finished.”

More from the World Health Organization:

WHO and World Food Programme join forces to reach zero Ebola cases

WHO and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are combining their forces in a new partnership in the Ebola-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The arrangement combines the logistics strength of WFP with WHO’s public health expertise to help get the current Ebola outbreak down to zero cases in West Africa. The platform also establishes an alert and response infrastructure for future crises.

“This partnership increases both agencies’ abilities to reach, monitor and respond to the needs of all people touched by Ebola,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “It helps us deploy and maintain technical teams with expertise in infection prevention and control, epidemiology, and contact tracing, enabling dedicated health workers in the deep field to do their best work. The partnership is also a learning opportunity for the future, informing our capacities to launch joint operations during large scale emergencies.”

“Over the past seven months, partnerships have been crucial in fighting this devastating outbreak. WFP has worked with our partners to respond to communities’ most basic needs — making sure food is reaching everywhere that the Ebola virus has hit.

Our logistical support to WHO and the wider humanitarian community has enabled affected people to receive the urgent care and support they need,” says WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “We are making progress, however we must remain vigilant. The Ebola crisis will not end until we identify, reach and successfully treat every last case. Recognizing this goal, the WHO-WFP partnership – a joint technical and operational force – will continue providing the support required to achieve zero cases.”

From the Los Angeles Times, the downside to the upside:

New Ebola cases are declining: Why that’s bad news for a cure

After killing at least 9,936 people and infecting more than 24,202, the Ebola epidemic appears to be running out of steam. And for some medical researchers, this hard-won progress poses a problem.

The Ebola virus has retreated so dramatically in recent months that it may be too late to determine the effectiveness of the many experimental drugs and vaccines that have been rushed into production.

Unless the outbreak explodes again, potential cures such as ZMapp can’t be given to enough patients to accurately determine their effect. Nor is the virus infecting enough people to let researchers test the efficacy of two potential vaccines that are being given to about 18,000 health and emergency workers in Liberia.

Even proposals to treat patients by transfusing into them blood serum from Ebola survivors have become impossible to test with scientific rigor.

Agence France-Presse covers a vaccine trial:

Ebola: first vaccine trials underway in Guinea

Program notes:

Tests of an anti-Ebola vaccine are underway in Guinea on volunteers to assess its effectiveness before being put on the market.

And a new drug trial, via Science:

New Ebola drug trial starts in Sierra Leone

Researchers in Sierra Leone today started a new phase II trial of an experimental drug in Ebola patients. The first participant received an injection of the therapeutic, called TKM-Ebola, this morning at an Ebola treatment unit in Kerry Town. The trial may expand to other sites; the study team hopes to have an answer fast so that it can either move on to another drug or start a phase III study of TKM-Ebola.

Produced by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals in Burnaby, Canada, TKM-Ebola is made of synthetic, small interfering RNAs packaged into lipid nanoparticles. The RNAs target three of Ebola’s seven genes, blocking the virus’s replication. TKM-Ebola has been shown to work well in monkeys; the efficacy trial in humans is only starting now because there was not enough of the drug available earlier. Also, the RNAs have been adapted to the strain circulating at the moment.

The study does not have a placebo arm; all patients at the trial site are eligible for the drug, and researchers hope to determine whether it works by comparing them with patients treated elsewhere.

From the Guardian, another European afflicted:

UK military health worker tests positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone

  • Public Health England confirms case but will not say where the individual was working, as discussions are under way about whether to fly them to Britain

A UK military healthcare worker has tested positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone, Public Health England has confirmed. No details about the individual have been released.

Discussions are now under way as to whether to fly the healthcare worker back to the UK for treatment in the specialist unit at the Royal Free hospital in London. Two healthcare volunteers, Will Pooley and Pauline Cafferkey, were both repatriated and successfully treated at the Royal Free.

PHE will not say where the latest healthcare worker to be infected was working, but it is likely to have been in the military-run Ebola unit, which is situated in the grounds of the Kerry Town treatment centre run by Save the Children. It was at Kerry Town that Cafferkey was infected, probably during the process of taking off her face mask, which was of a different design to that worn by the rest of the volunteers.

On to Sierra Leone, first with an accountability fund, via the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

US$178,000 project to enhance citizens’ trust in Ebola response

A consortium of civil society organisations has been formed to revive citizens’ trust and confidence in the governance and management of the emergency and recovery phase of the Ebola response.

With support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the organizations – Campaign for Good Governance, Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, Center for the Coordination of Youth Activities, Democracy Sierra Leone, ActionAid Sierra Leone, Institute for Governance Reform, and Budget Advocacy Network – last Friday (6 March) unveiled a project titled: ‘Enhancing Trust between Citizens and Government in Sierra Leone’s Ebola Response’, worth US$178,300.

According to ActionAid’s Governance Advisor, Beatrice Serry, the overall purpose of the project is to strengthen state-citizens relationship through promoting transparency and accountability in the allocation and use of Ebola resources.

The Christian Science Monitor covers a change in direction:

As Ebola threat abates, Sierra Leone turns attention to survivors

  • Having lost family members themselves, Ebola survivors often face discrimination when they return to their communities. They also suffer from unexpected health side-effects from the virus.

Since the start of the outbreak, Sierra Leone has had 8,353 confirmed cases of Ebola, according to the National Ebola Response Center. Of these, 3,086 individuals, or 37 percent, survived, yet now face social discrimination, neglect, and possible life-long health problems.

The government is now turning its attention towards this population and their needs, while it continues to work towards zero new Ebola cases. There is no specific plan in place, but the rollout of support groups and free access for survivors to healthcare could be key indicators of how well the country can rebound from the disease.

The initial government support comes in the form of reintegration packages, worth $200, that provide each survivor with items like food, a mattress, and condoms. It provides a first step for many who have lost everything in a nation that barely a decade ago emerged from a decades-long civil war.

From the Sierra Leone Concord Times again, pledging allegiance:

President Koroma vows to support Chinese policies

While thanking the Chinese government and people for the provision of a fixed level 3 bio-safety laboratory which he described as a great opportunity in the promotion of the health sector, President Ernest Bai Koroma has vowed to support the policies of China in Sierra Leone.

President Koroma noted that, “Our journey with China started 40 years ago and every step has seen evidence of support in development. The journey has been long but very interesting and every step shows significant milestone.”

He said the relationship between China and Sierra Leone was put to test during the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease, noting that Beijing responded promptly and adequately with the provision of financial, logistics and personnel support to fight the scourge.

On to Liberia, first with a commemoration from the Associated Press:

Liberia holds church service for Ebola victims

Liberians held a church service Wednesday for Ebola victims to mark the country’s 99th National Decoration Day, a holiday normally set aside for people to clean up and re-decorate the graves of their lost relatives.

More than 4,100 people have died in in Liberia since the outbreak began about a year ago in West Africa. The vast majority of those victims were cremated, so the gathering at a Presbyterian church in the capital, Monrovia, was held to remember those without graves.

Nearly 20 barrels of ashes from about 3,000 victims will eventually be buried on a plot bought by the government as a cemetery for Ebola victims. Some bodies of suspected victims were buried Wednesday in a new grave site on the outskirts of Monrovia.

And a concession, via the New York Times:

Liberian Leader Concedes Errors in Response to Ebola

The president of Liberia acknowledged on Wednesday that she had erred in ordering a tough security crackdown at the height of the Ebola crisis last year, describing the deadly virus as an “unknown enemy” that had frightened her.

The president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel peace laureate, said that in hindsight, her deployments of troops and police officers to seal off a vast neighborhood in her nation’s capital — which set off skirmishes with residents, fueled distrust of the government and led to the death of a teenager — had been counterproductive.

“It did not take long to know that did not work,” she said in an interview with the The New York Times Editorial Board. “It created more tension in the society.”

Map of the day: Bay Area major earthquake odds


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

BLOG Quakes

Another shaker hits the East Bay, a zooish one


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

BLOG Quake

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

More details from the web page:

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

Event Time

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

Nearby Cities

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

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, toxins, water, nukes


We begin with an outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Ecuador city declares chikungunya ‘state of emergency’

The northwestern Ecuadorian city of Esmeraldas has declared a state of emergency due to the spread of chikungunya, according to a Globedia report (computer translated).

Esmeraldas mayor, Lenin Lara, declared the state of emergency to allocate resources to combat the spread of the mosquito borne viral disease.

Since the first autochthonous transmission of chikungunya reported was reported in the country in December, Ecuador has seen in excess of 200 cases, with approximately half being reported from the city of Esmeraldas, which borders Colombia.

Another epidemic via Outbreak News Today:

Dengue fever in the Americas: 100,000 cases through February

Brazil has reported the most cases in the Americas with 72,254 of the 106,465 suspected and confirmed cases, or 68 percent.

Following Brazil in case burden is Colombia, which has seen 11,242 cases to date. Paraguay and Peru have reported in excess of 1,000 cases this year.

Central America and Mexico account for more than 17,500 cases with Mexico (6391), Nicaragua (3823) and Honduras (4302) seeing the most.

From the Associated Press, a connection:

UNICEF warns lack of toilets in Pakistan tied to stunting

More than 40 million people in Pakistan do not have access to a toilet, forcing them to defecate in the open, which in turn is a major contributor to stunting in the country, a top UNICEF official said.

“There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. And open defecation has significant health and nutritional consequences,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director at UNICEF. She recently spoke to The Associated Press during a trip to Pakistan to draw attention to the problem.

“Open defecation is a major contributor to stunting and that’s why we’ve got to do all we can to stop it,” she said.

Pakistan is the third-largest country when it comes to people going to the bathroom in the open, behind India and Indonesia. The problem can spread disease and lead to intestinal infections, which can contribute to stunting in young children, she said.

And from BBC News, a canine diagnostician:

Frankie the dog ‘sniffs out thyroid cancer’

A dog has been used to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who had not yet been diagnosed, US researchers say. Tests on 34 patients showed an 88% success rate in finding tumours.

The team, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, said the animal had an “unbelievable” sense of smell.

Cancer Research UK said using dogs would be impractical, but discovering the chemicals the dogs can smell could lead to new tests.

From the Guardian, accelerating:

Global warming ‘set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years’

  • By 2020 the average temperature rise per decade will be 0.25C in the northern hemisphere, more than double the 900 years preceding the 20th century

People need to brace themselves for accelerating climate change that could alter the way we live even over short time scales, scientists have warned.

New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 – a level not seen for at least 1,000 years.

The analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen climate simulation models from around the world, looked at the rate of change in 40-year long time spans.

Lead scientist Dr Steve Smith, from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said: “We focused on changes over 40-year periods, which is similar to the lifetime of houses and human-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

“In the near term, we’re going to have to adapt to these changes.”

And from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Republican insanity:

In Florida, officials ban term climate change

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Homeland Security News Wire adds a complication:

Sea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

The findings of the study are published online in the journal Earth’s Future.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/2014EF000282/

While the New York Times discovers greener ag in the heartland:

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil

Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice.

“The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences.

Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

From the Guardian, a call to clear the air:

‘Environmental racism’: Bronx activists decry Fresh Direct’s impact on air quality

Whites and minorities in the US breathe different quality air, with the latter exposed to 38% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. And it is decisions like the one to place trucking operations for Fresh Direct in the Bronx, says activist group South Bronx Unite, that exacerbate the problem

A comprehensive 2006 study carried out by NYU researchers found a direct correlation between the air pollution (diesel fumes in particular) in [Danny] Chervoni’s neighborhood and the high rates of asthma among residents. The densely populated area – there are over 90,000 people living within 2.2 sq miles – is surrounded by four major highways funneling commercial and other traffic in and out of Manhattan. And the waterfront, where as a child Chervoni and his friends used to swim in the river and pick fruit from the apple and pear trees, is now home to several fossil fuel plants, a 5,000-ton-a-day waste transfer station, a sewage treatment facility, a FedEx hub and a Wall Street Journal/New York Post printing and distribution center.

One of the key recommendations of the NYU study was to curb pollution from truck exhaust. So when state and local officials proposed in 2012 to subsidize the relocation of Fresh Direct, a major trucking business, to one of the few remaining vacant lots on the waterfront – a move that would add an estimated 1,000 more truck trips through the neighborhood every day – a variety of community groups decided enough was enough. They joined together to form South Bronx Unite, and they’ve been fighting the proposal ever since.

The group contends that the levels of pollution their community is being subjected to is “environmental racism”. It is a claim echoed by many low-income communities of color around the country, whom research has shown are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries – specifically trash incinerators, landfills and fossil fuel power plants.

From the Guardian, more water woes ahead:

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

  • Last week drought in São Paulo was so bad, residents tried drilling through basement floors for groundwater. As reservoirs dry up across the world, a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. Rationing and a battle to control supplies will follow

Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Mainichi:

Radiation decontamination volunteers not supported by national gov’t

At least 30,000 volunteer workers have been involved in forays into areas in Fukushima Prefecture that fall under direct management of the national government due to high level of radiation, it has been learned from volunteer organizations.

These volunteer workers, who are not given any support by the national government for the management of their radiation levels, have engaged in decontamination work such as cutting grass over 2,500 times, efforts supposed be carried out by the government.

While the national government introduces volunteers to work in areas of relatively low radiation that are being decontaminated by municipal governments, it has little awareness of volunteer work in areas under its own direct jurisdiction.

From JapanToday, a continuing conflict:

Fukushima residents torn over nuclear waste storage plan

Norio Kimura lost his wife, father and 7-year-old daughter Yuna in the March 2011 tsunami.

Now, he fears he may lose his land, too, as Japan’s government wants to build a sprawling radioactive waste storage site in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Like many here, Kimura is angry the government is set to park 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the nuclear accident on his former doorstep. Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years.

“I can’t believe they’re going to dump their trash here after all we’ve been put through,” said Kimura, 49, standing near the weathered planks on a shrub-covered hill that represent all that’s left of his home.

From the Asahi Shimbun, piling up:

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Radioactive debris continues to stack up at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

With nowhere to put it, refuse and debris contaminated with radioactive materials continue to pile up at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant here.

A total of 258,300 cubic meters of radioactive debris was produced from the March 2011 accident to the end of this January in the plant, where decommissioning work is under way.

The amount is equivalent to the capacity of about 650 25-meter-long swimming pools.

NHK WORLD covers a delay:

Public housing for Fukushima facing delays

Construction of public housing in Fukushima Prefecture is facing significant delays. The housing is meant for those forced to leave their homes after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear accident.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to build around 2,700 units for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. 4,900 are planned for those affected by the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

But only 44 percent of the units for quake and tsunami victims were ready for occupancy at the end of February. Only 5 percent has been completed for the nuclear evacuees.

And from the Mainichi, a symbolic move:

Evacuated Fukushima town to remove ironic nuclear signboards

The town of Futaba, which has been evacuated since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, decided Monday to remove street signboards propagating the positive aspects of nuclear power.

The signboards in desolated streets carry slogans promoting atomic energy, including one reading, “Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future.” Town officials said they will be removed because they have become decrepit.

The town authority on the same day submitted to the municipal assembly the fiscal 2015 draft budget earmarking some 4.1 million yen for the removal. If the budget is approved, the removal will begin from as early as in August, the officials said.

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

And now for something completely different


Alternate title: Chart of the day II: The long and the short of it. . .

From CBC News, the answer to a question everybody wants answered:

Study reveals average penis size for men

  • Graphs will help doctors reassure men that the size of their penis is in the normal range

Doctors searched through 17 published studies on more than 15,000 men who had their penis size measured by a health professional and graphed the averages in Tuesday’s issue of BJU International, formerly the British Journal of Urology.

The graphs will help doctors reassure the large majority of men that their penis size is in the normal range, said study author Dr. David Veale, of King’s College London.

The researchers say measuring penis size is important in assessing men who complain of a small penis and to investigate the relationship between condom failure and penile dimensions.

The average measurements were:

  • Flaccid length 9.16 cm (3.61 in.).
  • Flaccid stretched length 13.24 cm (5.21 in.).
  • Erect length 13.12 cm (5.17 in.).
  • Flaccid girth or circumference 9.31 cm (3.67 in.).
  • Erect circumference 11.66 cm (4.59 in.).

And from the paper [PDF], the key not-so-graphic graphic, And click on it to engorge:

Am I normal? A systematic review and construction of nomograms f