Category Archives: Science

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

Abby Martin’s swan song: An insightful look at Cuba


Abby Martin’s final week at the helm of RT America’s Breaking the Set with an insightful look at Cuba, offering a rare, and comprehensive, look at the people and its political, economic, and agricultural systems.

In the face of overwhelming opposition and subversion from Washington, fueled by the Cuban exile dominance of the electoral votes of Florida, the small island nation 90 miles from U.S. shores, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, its main base of support, Cuba faced enduring struggles, yet endured.

In the process, it has created revolutions in healthcare and agriculture, becoming the only nation in which cities provide most of their own food from intensive and organic neighborhood gardens and educating a cadre of physicians who have provided much, often most, of the total global response to medical emergencies around the world.

The outstanding examples set by Cuba in these fields have made a mockery of the enduring U.S. embargo against the island nation, leaving Israel Washington’s only ally in opposition to full normalization of relations.

In these three segments, Abby Martin demonstrates the skills she has honed during, first, her years as an unsalaried journalist at Berkeley Community Television, then during the three years at the helm of her RT America news magazine.

So sit back and enjoy a remarkable work of journalism.

From Breaking the Set:

Cuba Part I: Revolution, Sabotage & Un-Normal Relations

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with a historical look at the tensions between the US and Cuba that have led the two countries to the negotiating table to normalize relations. Abby then discusses the major areas of contention when it comes to these negotiations and where they currently stand. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with members of the largest delegation of peace activists to visit Cuba since the normalized relations announcement, highlighting the role of grassroots diplomacy. BTS than talks to average Cubans both in Havana and in Miami about their views on the state of US-Cuban relations. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Kenia Serrano, a high ranking Cuban parliament member and President of The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, about everything from internet access to the crackdown on free speech in the country.

Cuba Part II: Ebola Solidarity & Castro’s Daughter on Gay Rights

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights part II of BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with an interview with Cuban doctor, Katiel Llorente Izabelez, who explains how Cuba has managed to maintain such a high life expectancy rate, despite the lack of access to up to date medical supplies. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with students at the Latin American School of Medicine, an international medical school set up by the Cuban government that provides free tuition to low income individuals that want to become doctors. Abby then discusses how Cuba managed to send the largest contingent of doctors to fight the ebola crisis in West Africa, and how this is just the latest example of the country’s medical internationalism. Abby then goes over the US programs meant to encourage Cuban doctors to defect and how this undermines international health efforts. BTS wraps up the show with an exclusive interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President, Raul Castro, and director of Cuba’s sexual education program CENESEX, about the biggest challenges facing Cuba’s gay community.

Cuba Part III: The Evolution of Revolution

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin features the third installment of BTS’ trip to Cuba, focusing on reforms to the country’s economic and agricultural models. Abby first gives an overview of how Cuba’s organic movement evolved and the challenges of the country’s food subsidy system. Abby then speaks with agricultural co-op founder, Miguel Angel Salcines Lopez, about how Cuba’s cooperative and food system works. Abby then talks to Ernesto Blanco, owner of La Fontana restaurant in Havana, about the difficulties of operating a private business in Cuba and how entrepreneurs are being impacted by recent economic reforms. Abby then speaks with Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba’s former minister of foreign affairs and president of the People’s National Assembly of Power, about the normalization process with the US and the biggest hurdles still remaining in the negotiations.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, pollution, water, nukes


We begin with consequences of an Indian outbreak, via the Guardian:

Swine flu fears cause Indian city of Ahmedabad to ban public gatherings

  • City of 3.5m will not allow more than four people to meet in public in an attempt to stop spread of potentially deadly virus

A west Indian city has banned most public gatherings in an attempt to halt the spread of swine flu, which has claimed at least 926 lives nationwide in 11 weeks.

Officials prohibited gatherings of five or more people in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state with a population of more than 3.5m.

Marriages and funerals are exempt from the ban, but participants will need to wear protective masks, officials said.

From the Guardian, toxic fowl:

Three-quarters of supermarket chickens carry food poisoning bug

  • Nearly one in five samples highly contaminated and none of major supermarkets met targets for reducing campylobacter

Three-quarters of fresh chickens on sale in supermarkets and butchers are contaminated with the potentially lethal food poisoning bug campylobacter, according to the latest results of food safety tests by the Food Standards Agency.

The worst contamination rates were found in Asda, where eight in 10 birds tested positive for the bug and nearly a third of fresh whole chickens were heavily contaminated.

But none of the major supermarkets met targets for reducing campylobacter and Tesco, where 68% of chickens tested positive, was the only retailer with results for heavy contamination below the industry average at 12%.

Another diseased fowl story from Environmental News Service:

Ticks Carrying Lyme Disease Discovered on California Birds

Ticks bearing the bacterium that causes Lyme disease are populating Northern California’s birds that then fly them into suburban areas, finds new research from the University of California, Berkeley.

Lyme disease is spread to humans through the bite of infected ticks. The black-legged deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, transmits the bacterium B. burgdorferi in the eastern and north-central regions of the United States, while the western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus, spreads the bacteria in the West.

Ticks usually infest animals such as white-footed mice, voles, other small rodents and deer. The UC Berkeley study reveals birds as an important newly-found reservoir in the western United States for the corkscrew-shaped bacterium.

“The role of birds in the maintenance of Lyme disease bacteria in California is poorly understood,” said the study’s lead author Erica Newman, a UC Berkeley PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

From Newswise, another deadly processed food problem:

Widely Used Food Additive Promotes Colitis, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome, Research Shows

Emulsifiers, which are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life, can alter the gut microbiota composition and localization to induce intestinal inflammation that promotes the development of inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome, new research shows.

The research, published Feb. 25 in Nature, was led by Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences’ researchers Drs. Benoit Chassaing and Andrew T. Gewirtz, and included contributions from Emory University, Cornell University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, afflicts millions of people and is often severe and debilitating. Metabolic syndrome is a group of very common obesity-related disorders that can lead to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular and/or liver diseases. Incidence of IBD and metabolic syndrome has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century.

The term “gut microbiota” refers to the diverse population of 100 trillion bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract. Gut microbiota are disturbed in IBD and metabolic syndrome. Chassaing and Gewirtz’s findings suggest emulsifiers might be partially responsible for this disturbance and the increased incidence of these diseases.

“A key feature of these modern plagues is alteration of the gut microbiota in a manner that promotes inflammation,” says Gewirtz.

“The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor,” says Chassaing. “Food interacts intimately with the microbiota so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory.”

From the National Geographic, the problem with plastics. . .all plastics:

Chemical in BPA-Free Products Linked to Irregular Heartbeats

  • New ingredient in plastic bottles, receipts has same effect on lab animals as the old chemical does

Many consumers avoid products that contain bisphenol-A (BPA) because the estrogen-imitating chemical has been linked to an array of health effects in people and animals. But new research published Thursday suggests that an ingredient that has replaced BPA in many items may have a similar effect on the heart.

BPA-free labels have been popping up on many plastic bottles, cash register receipts, food packaging, and other products.

Although the label implies a sense of safety, “our research suggests that BPS and potentially other BPA substitutes aren’t necessarily free of health problems,” said Hong-Sheng Wang, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Exposure to BPS, or bisphenol-S, caused irregular heartbeats in female lab rats, according to the study by Wang and colleagues published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The findings were “remarkably similar—if not identical to—what we find in BPA,” Wang said.

From Newswise, some of the costs incurred from all those plastics and similar toxins:

Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Costs EU Billions Annually

  • Simulcast press conference highlights economic burden of exposure to EDCs

Human exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) likely contributes to a number of diseases and health conditions in the EU, with costs estimated between €150-260 billion per year (1.2-2.0% of Gross Domestic Product), according to a new series of studies to be published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

EDCs are chemicals that interfere with hormone action and are commonly found in food and food containers, plastic products, furniture, toys, carpeting, building materials and cosmetics. EDCs include chemicals such as bisphenol A (water bottles, can linings), certain phthalates (various plastic products and cosmetics), and pesticides such as chlorpyrifos (used on a wide variety of food crops). They are often released from the products that contain them and enter the bodies of humans and wildlife through dust or through the food chain.

In these studies, researchers used available epidemiologic and toxicologic evidence to assess the economic burden of potential outcomes to EDC exposure, including: infertility and male reproductive dysfunctions, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurobehavioral and learning disorders.

From the New York Times, waist watchers:

Food Waste Is Becoming Serious Economic and Environmental Issue, Report Says

With millions of households across the country struggling to have enough to eat, and millions of tons of food being tossed in the garbage, food waste is increasingly being seen as a serious environmental and economic issue.

A report released Wednesday shows that about 60 million metric tons of food is wasted a year in the United States, with an estimated value of $162 billion. About 32 million metric tons of it end up in municipal landfills, at a cost of about $1.5 billion a year to local governments.

The problem is not limited to the United States.

The report estimates that a third of all the food produced in the world is never consumed, and the total cost of that food waste could be as high as $400 billion a year. Reducing food waste from 20 to 50 percent globally could save $120 billion to $300 billion a year by 2030, the report found.

The Sacramento Bee covers killer air in the heart of the Golden State:

Exposure to small particle pollution linked to heart-disease death

Data from about 8,000 women living in the Sacramento metropolitan area were used in a major study – released Wednesday – that linked death from heart disease to exposure to soot found in car exhaust, cooking smoke and diesel pollution.

The study, one of the most comprehensive to date, used data from the tracking of 100,000 middle-aged women in California between 2000 and 2007.

The study was conducted by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, as well as UC Davis and other institutions. It found an association between areas where there are high levels of fine particle pollution, and shorter life spans and a risk of heart disease death.

From BBC News, a spreading amphibian disaster:

Killer frog disease: Chytrid fungus hits Madagascar

A devastating disease that has wiped out amphibians around the world has been discovered in Madagascar, scientists report.

A survey has found that the chytrid fungus is present in numerous sites, although it is not clear whether it is infecting frogs yet. The island is home to 500 frog species, and researchers fear they could be at significant risk.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports. One of the authors, Goncalo Rosa, from the Zoological Society of London, said he was worried about the impact that the fungus could have.

“It is heartbreaking, especially when you have an idea of what is happening elsewhere in other tropical areas – you see the frogs are gone,” he told BBC News.

After the jump, GMO advocates launch a push in the U.K., toxic algae spread in freshwater lakes, China enacts a temporary [sadly] ivory ban, a new rhino protection patrol begins in South Africa, a fracking ban push abandoned in the Centennial State, dangerous methane craters erupting in the Arctic, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a cynical leak apology, full approval for a temporary radioactive waste dump, nuclear power protesters hit with massive fines, radioactive disaster evacuation advice revised, and the tragic costs of mining reactor fuel. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, toxins, GMOs, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with a political move, via Deutsche Welle:

Obama vetoes Keystone XL oil pipeline legislation

  • US President Barack Obama has vetoed legislation that would have green-lighted the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The project has been a bone of contention between environmentalists and the oil industry for years.

After six years of contentious debate and review, President Obama killed legislation on Tuesday that would have approved the 875-mile international oil pipeline, using his veto power for third time since assuming office in 2009.

Exasperated with the approval process, Republicans and conservative Democrats had crafted legislation to circumvent the latest State Department examination of Keystone XL and begin construction.

Under US law, pipelines that cross international borders must be scrutinized by the State Department and approved by the president. Keystone XL, an eight-billion-dollar project of the TransCanada company, would have crossed the US-Canadian border

Outbreak News Today covers some bad HIV news:

90 percent of new HIV infections in the US come from people not being treated: CDC

More than 90 percent of new HIV infections in the United States could be averted by diagnosing people living with HIV and ensuring they receive prompt, ongoing care and treatment. This finding was published today in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Using statistical modeling, the authors developed the first U.S. estimates of the number of HIV transmissions from people engaged at five consecutive stages of care (including those who are unaware of their infection, those who are retained in care and those who have their virus under control through treatment). The research also shows that the further people progress in HIV care, the less likely they are to transmit their virus.

“By quantifying where HIV transmissions occur at each stage of care, we can identify when and for whom prevention and treatment efforts will have the most impact,” said Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “We could prevent the vast majority of new infections tomorrow by improving the health of people living with HIV today.”

While the Independent offers some good HIV news:

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of ‘game-changer’ that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

A daily pill that can dramatically cut a person’s risk of contracting HIV must be made available through the NHS “as soon as possible”, campaigners have said.

Results of a major UK trial of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have been described as “extremely exciting” and a “game-changer” by leading specialists.

The Proud study found that PrEP cut the risk of HIV infection among gay men considered to be at high risk by an unprecedented 86 per cent.

Outbreak News Today tracks another outbreak of sea sickness:

Norovirus: 150 sickened on the Celebrity Equinox

The second cruise ship outbreak of 2015 investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) occurred on Celebrity Cruise lines’ Celebrity Equinox.

The outbreak of the gastrointestinal virus, norovirus, sickened 150 of the approximately 4,000 passengers and crew on board the vessel.

In response to the outbreak, Celebrity Cruise Line and the crew aboard the ship are taking the following actions: Increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan, making announcements to notify onboard passengers of the outbreak, encourage case reporting, and encourage hand hygiene and collected stool specimens from ill passengers and crew.

From the Guardian, good news for steamers:

Saunas help you live longer, study finds

  • Research tracking 2,000 Finnish men for decades suggests regular use gives protection from heart attacks, strokes and other conditions

A study of Finnish men suggests frequent sauna baths may help you live longer.

That is welcome news if it proves to be true – not just in Finland where saunas are commonplace, but for Americans shivering in a snowy Nordic-like winter.

Previous research has suggested that saunas might improve blood vessel function and exercise capacity, or even lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.

The new study links long, hot sauna baths with more benefits, including fewer deaths from heart attacks, strokes, various heart-related conditions and other causes.

And from the Washington Post, bad news for steamers:

Climate change is really bad news if you like oysters, scallops and clams

When it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, the first environmental problem that comes to mind is climate change. As humans pump more of this greenhouse gas into the air, the Earth gets warmer, and the climate changes in ways that could damage the economy, public health, infrastructure and society.

But along with climate change, these same emissions are causing another pernicious problem in our oceans. Some of the carbon dioxide we emit gets absorbed in sea water, where it turns into carbonic acid in a phenomenon called ocean acidification. As our emissions rise, the oceans will turn more and more acidic, irreparably altering aquatic ecosystems.

Ocean acidification might lack the rhetorical punch that “climate change” and “global warming” have. But as one new study shows, acidification could carry real economic and cultural risks, and we’re only beginning to understand them. Waters off the United States are home to countless oysters, clams, scallops and other shellfish that the seafood industry catches and grows for your dinner. In many of these regions — especially off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico — acidification could harm these creatures enough to deal big blows to local economies and meals, researchers reported Monday in Nature Climate Change.

From Sociological Images, California pesticide proximity problems:

Pesticide Drift and the Politics of Scale

California’s Central Valley is a bread basket of America. It is the source of much of the country’s grapes, tree fruit, nuts, and vegetables. Many of the farms are massive, requiring large amounts of capital, land, and labor.

In the nearby small towns are the homes of the state’s farm laborers. They are primarily Latino. About half are undocumented. Most are poor and few have health care. Politically and economically weak, they are the primary human victims of pesticide drift.

Pesticide drift occurs when chemicals leave the fields for which they’re intended and travel to where humans can be exposed. According to data summarized by geographer Jill Harrison for her article on the topic, California is a pesticide-intensive state. It accounts for 2-3% of all cropland in the U.S., but uses 25% of the pesticides. One in ten of registered pesticides are prone to drift and a third include chemicals that are “highly acutely toxic” or cause cancer, reproductive or developmental disorders, or brain damage. Officially, there are an average of 370 cases of pesticide poisoning due to drift every year, but farmworker advocates say that this captures 10% of the victims at best.

And from teleSUR, Peruvian pesticide problems:

Peru’s Government Approves Use of Dangerous Pesticides

  • Peruvian NGO discovered recently that the government approved by for agricultural use by dangerous chemicals.

Civil society organizations denounced Tuesday that the Peruvian executive issued two controversial decrees earlier this year. The finding was made Feb. 19 by the NGO “Environmental Rights and Natural Resources” (DAR). One of the decrees allows the use of fertilizers that are known to damage the ozone layer. The other decree allows the commercialization and use of pesticides, which are characterized by the World Health Organization as extremely dangerous, contaminating rivers, lakes and soils as well as posing the risk of poisoning people.

Cesar Gamboa is the Executive Director of DAR. He declared that “in other countries these substances are prohibited. In fact, starting with the Montreal Protocol, many countries have adapted their legislation to prohibit those chemical components that damage the ozone layer.”

Gamboa concludes that the government is allowing the use of those toxic products because they are cheaper and this would help combate slowing economic growth. However, he argues that such option is short sighted since it will have a greater health cost later on.

After the jump, the push for GMOs in Africa [led by Bill Gates], the palm oil plague afflicting African apes, California’s plastic bag ban stalled, rising waters around the Big Apple, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a secret radioactive leak exposed, a radioactive soil transfer approved, a private radiation posse stays on the case, and California’s last reactor complex heads for a courtroom showdown. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, fuels, nukes


We begin with a measles death, via Agence France-Presse:

Toddler dies as measles outbreak hits German capital

A toddler suffering from measles has died in the German capital, health authorities said Monday, amid the country’s worst outbreak in years and a debate about vaccinations.

The 18-month-old boy died on February 18, the first known fatality among more than 570 recorded measles cases since October in the German capital, a Berlin health department official told AFP.

The resurgence of the preventable disease in Germany, as well as in parts of the United States, coincides with a movement among some parents to refuse to vaccinate their children.

From the Guardian, a response:

Measles death in Germany prompts calls for mandatory vaccinations

  • Death of 18-month-old boy is the first fatality among 574 reported cases in the country’s worst measles outbreak in more than a decade

A senior German health official has called for mandatory measles vaccinations after an 18-month-old boy died of the disease amid the country’s worst outbreak in more than a decade.

The Berlin health minister, Mario Czaja, confirmed on Monday that the child – who had not been immunised against measles – died in hospital on Wednesday, the first fatality among 574 cases reported since the outbreak began in October.

The death has intensified a debate in Germany over whether parents should be forced to have their children immunised. Czaja said: “This case shows that measles is a very serious disease. I am in favour of mandatory vaccination.”

A killer bug with a broad turf, via Outbreak News Today:

CRE ‘nightmare bacteria’ not unique to UCLA

The Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), or “nightmare bacteria” as CDC director Dr Tom Frieden once called them, is not unique to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, despite all the media coverage.

Since first being detected in a North Carolina hospital in 2001, only Maine, Idaho and Alaska have not reported a confirmed CRE case caused by the KPC enzyme and about a third of states have reported CRE cases caused by the NDM enzyme.

In fact, according to a report by Charlotte, NC press, the Carolinas HealthCare System- Lincoln (CHS) has reported 3 cases since the beginning of the year.

The latest casualties, via Al Jazeera America:

‘Superbug’ kills 2 in North Carolina

  • Hospital officials confirm at least 18 cases of same antibiotic-resistant bacteria found at UCLA medical center

Health officials at the Carolinas HealthCare System confirmed that an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” — the same one that killed two people in California earlier this year — has claimed the lives of two people in North Carolina in recent months.

Health officials on Sunday afternoon said that two residents of the Charlotte, North Carolina area have died in recent months from carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. Three people acquired CRE while in Carolinas HealthCare System hospitals this year, and about 15 people with existing infections have been treated in the hospitals, the officials said.

The Charlotte-based hospital system is screening for people with CRE and is isolating those who are infected, according to Dr. Katie Passaretti, who is in charge of infection prevention at Carolinas HealthCare.

RT America covers consequences of historically unprecedented home sanitation:

For healthier kids, skip the dishwasher, just hand wash – study

Program notes:

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics reports on the link between using your dishwasher and the health of your child. The study says that parents who reported using the dishwasher were more likely to have children with asthma and eczema.

From the Washington Post, a notable debunking:

Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say

  • New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead

Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.

And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed — roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users.

The Post’s accompanying graphic:

BLOG Cannabis

While the Guardian covers the ongoing consequences of a tragedy largely spared the U.S. by the effort of one diligent FDA employee [and what better proof of the high value of regulatory oversight of Big Pharma?]:

German thalidomide survivors continue fight for compensation

  • Government accused of hindering disabled people born with the effects of Contergan drug from accessing promised money

Christiane Seifert takes a visitor around her ground-floor flat in Hamburg. She opens a window with her shoulder, the patio door with her bare foot. At her computer, she sits bolt upright and uses her toes to type her emails. With a pointed chin she flicks off the light as she leaves the room. The 54-year old deftly demonstrates just a few of what she calls the “tricks” she uses to manage her everyday life.

Born without arms in January 1961, Seifert is a thalidomide survivor. Her mother was prescribed the drug, which was first marketed in the late 50s in West Germany under the name Contergan, to counteract the effects of morning sickness, with devastating consequences. Seifert was one of up to 7,000 born in Germany with phocomelia, or malformation of the limbs, 60% of whom died.

More than half a century later, Seifert, who is loquacious and funny, is still struggling for recognition for her plight.

“If even one person had ever come to visit me in that time to see how I cope with life, to assess my needs, or even invited me to go and show them what I can or cannot do,” she said. “But no one has ever even asked”.

From teleSUR English, allegations of a a dramatic spike in war-caused cancers in Gaza:

Cancer cases increase in Gaza due to Israeli enriched uranium

Program notes:

The cases of cancer in the Gaza Strip have increased alarmingly due to the use of enriched uranium and white phosphorus in Israeli weapons. The situation is aggravated by Israeli restrictions on the entrance of equipment and medicine for treating cancer, which force Palestinians to go abroad to receive medical treatment.

And from News Corp Australia, climate change accelerating gaseous reuptions in Siberia:

More Siberian methane blowholes found in permafrost

SIBERIA’S blowholes are exploding in numbers: Up to 20 have now been located, raising new fears the warming permafrost is releasing its deadly methane reserves.

A new report in the Siberian Times has backed up the discovery of four enormous craters in the Siberian tundra last year with news of up to 20 more, smaller vents.

“It is important not to scare people, but this is a very serious problem,” Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the Times. “We must research this phenomenon urgently to prevent possible disasters. We cannot rule out new gas emissions in the Arctic and in some cases they can ignite.”

After the jump, climate changed blamed in the European grain production stall, the Brazilian water crisis deepens, the Keystone controversy continues, pseudo-regulation in a gas pipeline disaster. Shell calls a halt to a tar sands project, Canadian declares its oil train upgrades inadequate, the largest Amazon deforester busted, and a leak sought in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Maladies, toxins, climate, nukes


We begin with the maladies, including a new one from Kansas, via Medical Daily:

New Tick-Borne Disease Identified In Kansas Man, Kills Him In 11 Days

Experts have been warning us for years about the dangers of tick bites; they’re the primary cause of Lyme disease, a terrible infectious disease characterized by cognitive impairments, arthritis, and flu-like symptoms that can linger even after treatment. But a new tick-borne disease to emerge recently has given Americans more of a reason to avoid ticks, as it has killed the man who first developed it.

It’s called Bourbon virus, and was named after Bourbon County, Kansas, where the man who became ill with the disease lived. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the man, who was previously healthy in his 50s, sought medical attention after a series of tick bites and symptoms like fatigue and fever. However, he quickly developed thrombocytopenia and leukopenia, which are an absence of blood platelets — used to clot blood and prevent internal bleeding — and white blood cells, respectively. Within 11 days, his organs had failed, and he died of cardiac arrest.

This chain of events occurred despite the man undergoing antibiotic treatment. Moreover, he underwent a battery of tests for tick-borne viruses, which came back negative. Unsure of what was happening to him, doctors sent a blood sample to the CDC’s headquarters, where more sophisticated testing could determine what the cause of the man’s illness was. There, they found it belonged to a family of viruses known as thogotoviruses, which can be found all over the world.

Another outbreak, via the Associated Press:

Deaths in Saudi Arabia from MERS virus climb to 385

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry says two more people have died after contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS, pushing the total number of deaths from the virus in the kingdom to 385.

The ministry’s statement on Saturday says that 902 cases of MERS have been discovered in Saudi Arabia since the virus was first identified in 2012, though 490 people who contracted it have recovered.

Some 57 people have contracted MERS in the kingdom since the start of February.

From the New York Times, troubling resistance:

Malaria in Widening Area Resists Drug, Study Finds

The world’s best drug for treating malaria, a medicine that is the key to saving millions of lives in Africa and beyond, is losing its efficacy in a much larger swath of territory than was previously known, according to research that was released Friday.

The study, in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a medical journal, raises the troubling prospect that resistance to the drug, artemisinin, might one day severely hamper treatment of a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people every year.

“This should focus minds,” said Charles Woodrow, one of the authors of the study. “We have to eliminate these very resistant parasites. The fear is that if we don’t, we would reverse all the gains that have been made.”

For several decades, artemisinin has been considered an anti-malaria wonder drug, rapidly ridding the body of the parasite that is introduced into the body by a mosquito and infects the blood.

Running the numbers with BBC News:

Malaria on Myanmar-India border is ‘huge threat’

Deaths from malaria have nearly halved since 2000, and the infection now kills about 584,000 people each year.

But resistance to artemisinin threatens to undo all that hard work, and it has been detected in:

  • Cambodia
  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Myanmar, also known as Burma

Blood samples from 940 people with malaria from 55 sites across Myanmar showed this resistance was widespread across the country.

From GNN Liberia, the witchcraft of Big Agra’s food products:

LIBERIA: Diabetes Symptoms Not Witchcraft Says Pervocate Manager

The Administrative Manager of Pervocate, a diabetes testing and awareness center located on Front Street in Monrovia has called on Liberians to be familiar with the symptoms of diabetes which is often associated to witch craft in Liberia.

Agnes Johnson made the statement during an interview at her front street offices . She said diabetes which is simply an increased of sugar level in the body has become a global health crises that is affecting about 3.3 million people in west Africa according to the World Health Organization estimate.

She said since the opening of the diabetes testing and awareness center in Liberia data collected indicates, that diabetes is becoming a major health crises in the country adding that everyone visiting the center and getting tested is either pre-diabetic or suffering from type 2 diabetes.

From teleSUR, riverine toxic maladies?:

Illnesses Spike 6 Months after Mine Spill into Mexico River

  • One of Mexico’s worst mine disasters continues to affect residents, 6 months after spill.

Farmworkers and rural residents from several communities around the Sonora State capital, Hermosillo, have started a sit-in protest in front of the state capital building, declaring that they have been affected by toxins from a mine spill that occurred in August of 2014.

According to a report in the Mexican weekly, Proceso, residents from the communities of Molino de Camou, Fructuoso Méndez, El Oregano, Jacinto Lopez, San Juan San Bartolo and Mesa del Seri have reported at least 20 new cases of illness due to contact with water from Hermosillo’s reservoir. The water source is fed directly by the Sonora River, which was contaminated in the massive mine spill.

“Everyday more people get sick…a few days ago we had 17 and now we have 20; they were attended to superficially in November by the state’s medical unit…but they never came back,” said Jose Lopez, a resident of Molino de Camou, in the Proceso report.

From the New York Times, India’s killer air:

Polluted Air Cuts Years Off Lives of Millions in India, Study Finds

More than half of India’s population lives in places with such polluted air that each person loses an average of 3.2 years in life expectancy, according to a recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago, Yale and Harvard.

Altogether, 660 million Indians could lose 2.1 billion years as a result of air pollution at enormous cost to the country’s economy, the researchers found.

“This study demonstrates that air pollution retards growth by causing people to die prematurely,” said Michael Greenstone, an author of the study and the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Indian prepares for a major GMO push, via Reuters:

Modi bets on GM crops for India’s second green revolution

On a fenced plot not far from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home, a field of mustard is in full yellow bloom, representing his government’s reversal of an effective ban on field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops.

The GM mustard planted in the half-acre field in the grounds of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi is in the final stage of trials before the variety is allowed to be sold commercially, and that could come within two years, scientists associated with the project say.

India placed a moratorium on GM aubergine in 2010 fearing the effect on food safety and biodiversity. Field trials of other GM crops were not formally halted, but the regulatory system was brought to a deadlock.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, another  tar sands threat:

Cut costs or face ‘death spiral,’ CNRL warns oil sands

The president of one of Canada’s biggest oil and gas producers delivered a stern warning to the oil sands industry, telling a room full of Fort McMurray business people that they need to start cutting costs or the industry will fall into a “death spiral.”

The “made in Fort McMurray cost” of doing business has risen too quickly and must end, Steve Laut of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. told members of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Laut said oil sands producers were making three times the profit in 2004 when a barrel of oil cost about $40 (U.S.) than it did when the price hit close to $100 in 2013.

He said rising costs from suppliers, and not world oil prices, were the reason that CNRL and others could no longer produce the profits it once did.

After the jump, concerns mount over fracking-caused quakes, Montana farmers sue for fracking protection, fuel train warnings sounded, Texas to release fuel train data, fireworks send Chinese air pollution soaring, scientist who denies anthropogenic climate change sucks at Big Oil’s teat, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a radiation levels spiking, a Strontium 90 leak cited, a Fukushima highway straight out of Sartre, and a Sport Illustrated cover sparks a surgical boomlet. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, pollution, climate. . .


And more. . .

We begin with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and a call worthy of heeding:

Diseases affecting the poorest can be eliminated, scientists say

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged developing countries to invest more in tackling so-called neglected tropical diseases such as yaws, saying more investment would alleviate human misery and free people trapped in poverty.

Yaws affects mainly children and causes unsightly skin ulcers and painful bone infections that can make walking difficult. In some rare cases it can eat away people’s noses.

At least 50 million people were affected by the bacterial infection in the 1950s. When the WHO launched mass treatment campaigns with penicillin vaccines, the number of cases plummeted by 95 percent by the end of the 1960s, according to David Mabey, an expert in yaws and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“But then it fell off the agenda. And we’re trying to put it back on,” Mabey said in an interview.

A video report from Agence France-Presse:

WHO urges billions to fight neglected tropical diseases

Program notes:

The World Health Organization urges countries to invest billions of dollars to tackle 17 neglected tropical diseases – including dengue fever, leprosy and sleeping sickness – which kill 500,000 people globally each year.

From Medical Daily, a measles update:

California Confirms 119 Cases Of Measles In State

Public health officials said on Wednesday that six more cases of measles had been confirmed in California, bringing to 119 the total number of people infected by a strain of the virus that has also been linked to a large outbreak in the Philippines.

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

California Department of Public Health researchers, in a report to federal officials released on Friday, said that specimens from 30 of the state’s measles patients had been genotyped and that all were of the same strain that has caused an outbreak in the Philippines.

A serious outbreak at a renowned hospital via the Los Angeles Times:

Superbug outbreak at UCLA: FDA warns medical scopes may spread deadly bacteria

The Food and Drug Administration warned hospitals and medical providers Thursday morning that a commonly used medical scope may have facilitated the deadly outbreak of a superbug at UCLA.

The warning posted by the federal agency comes after a Los Angeles Times report that two people who died at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center were among seven patients there infected by a drug-resistant superbug. Hundreds of patients at medical centers around the country, including Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center, may have been exposed to the bacteria after physicians used the scopes in their treatment.

The FDA cautioned that the design of the scopes may make them more difficult to effectively clean. And the agency called on medical providers to meticulously wash the devices.

But even washing the scopes may not be adequate, the FDA warned. “Meticulously cleaning duodenoscopes prior to high-level disinfection should reduce the risk of transmitting infection, but may not entirely eliminate it,” the warning noted.

More from BBC News:

Nearly 180 people at a Los Angeles hospital may have been exposed to a deadly strain of bacteria from contaminated medical equipment. Two deaths at UCLA Medical Center have been linked to the case and seven others are being treated.

The patients were exposed to Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) during endoscopic procedures between October and January. A similar outbreak was reported last month in Seattle. Eleven patients died.

The infections are difficult to treat because many strains are resistant to antibiotics.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that CRE can lead to death in up to half of seriously infected patients.

An infectious disease abated, via StarAfrica:

Somalia being polio free for six months-UN

Somalia is marking six months since the last polio case was recorded in the country following an outbreak that affected 199 people, mostly children, reports said on Thursday.Polio was detected in Somalia in May 2013, for the first time in six years, after parents of a two-year-old girl in Mogadishu found she was unable to walk.

The virus, which can cause paralysis or even death, spread quickly affecting 194 people in 2013.

However, the number was contained to just five cases in 2014, one of them an adult who died, all in the remote Mudug region of Puntland, north-eastern Somalia. The last case was reported in Hobyo district, Mudug on 11 August 2014.

Since the outbreak began, the authorities, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have targeted more than 2 million children under the age of five for vaccinations as well as children aged from five to 10 and adults in some areas.

A notable vaccine trial in Africa, via Outbreak News Today:

HIV vaccine trial, HVTN 100, launches in South Africa

A clinical trial called HVTN 100 has been launched in South Africa to study an investigational HIV vaccine regimen for safety and the immune responses it generates in study participants. This experimental vaccine regimen is based on the one tested in the U.S. Military HIV Research Program-led

RV144 clinical trial in Thailand—the first study to demonstrate that a vaccine can protect people from HIV infection. The HVTN 100 vaccine regimen was designed to provide greater protection than the RV144 regimen and has been adapted to the HIV subtype that predominates in southern Africa. The results of the HVTN 100 trial, expected in two years, will help determine whether or not this vaccine regimen will be tested for efficacy in a large future study in South Africa.

“A safe and effective HIV vaccine is essential to reach a timely, sustained end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. “The launch of HVTN 100 marks an important step forward in building upon the promising results of the RV144 trial to produce an HIV vaccine that could have a significant public health impact in southern Africa, where the HIV/AIDS pandemic is most pervasive.”

A Florida GMO fight takes wing, via New York Times:

Battle Rises in Florida Keys Over Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes

In this bite-size community near Key West, like so many other mosquito-plagued spots up and down the Florida Keys, residents long ago made peace with insecticides dropped into town by planes or rumbling by on trucks. Cans of Off are offered at outdoor parties. Patio screens are greeted with relief.

But Keys residents are far less enamored of another approach to mosquito control — a proposal to release the nation’s first genetically modified mosquitoes, hatched in a lab and pumped with synthetic DNA to try to combat two painful, mosquito-borne viral diseases, dengue and chikungunya.

If the federal Food and Drug Administration gives the go-ahead for the trial, Key Haven, with 444 houses built on a tiny peninsula, would become the focal point of the first American release of several million mosquitoes genetically altered by Oxitec, a British biotechnology company.

For denizens of a chain of islands notorious for their renegade spirit — Key West once jokingly broke away from the United States as the Conch Republic — this possibility is fraught with suspicion and indignation.

More flame retardant toxic concerns, via Newswise:

Flame Retardants Found to Cause Metabolic, Liver Problems

  • Findings Suggest Strong Link to Insulin Resistance, Obesity

Chemicals used as synthetic flame retardants that are found in common household items such as couches, carpet padding, and electronics have been found to cause metabolic and liver problems that can lead to insulin resistance, which is a major cause of obesity, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire.

“Being obese or overweight increases one’s risk of many diseases including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and certain cancers,” said Gale Carey, professor of nutrition and the lead researcher. In 2003, overweight and obesity-related medical expenses were 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenses at about $80 billion. New Hampshire’s portion of this expense was $302 million.

Carey and her team of researchers found that laboratory rats exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, experienced a disruption in their metabolism that resulted in the development of metabolic obesity and enlarged livers.

“Despite the plethora of resources devoted to understanding the roles of diet and exercise in the obesity epidemic, this epidemic continues to escalate, suggesting that other environmental factors may be involved. At the biochemical level there is a growing body of experimental evidence suggesting certain environmental chemicals, or ‘obesogens’, could disrupt the body’s metabolism and contribute to the obesity epidemic,” she said.

Mashable covers a notable African health win:

How Guinea worm disease went from 3 million cases to 126

Program notes:

In the late 1980s, Guinea worm disease — a nasty, parasitic infection caused from drinking contaminated water — affected more than 3 million people in Africa. Now, only 126 cases remain.

From Newswise, toxic concerns in the laundry room:

Laundry Detergent Pods: What You Need to Know

Laundry detergent pods became available on the US market in 2010 and are easy to use. They are a single detergent packet that can be easily dropped into a load of laundry. These pods contain highly concentrated detergents wrapped in a thin film that easily dissolves in water. They may resemble a small, brightly colored piece of candy which may be easily mistaken by children. These pods can also break when light pressure is applied to them. The appeal and design of laundry detergent pods has already resulted in many reported poisonings among children.

What do laundry detergent pods contain that is so toxic and what are the symptoms of exposure?

The film that surrounds the pod is often made of polyvinyl alcohol. It acts as a poor barrier between the person handling the pod and the detergents inside. The film dissolves easily and is safe for washing clothes. The detergents inside the pod are actually a cocktail of harsh chemicals. Ingredients are frequently disclosed on manufacturer websites.

These chemicals may include surfactants, bleaches, solvents, optical brighteners, enzymes, and preservatives. Relative to conventional laundry detergents, pods contain higher concentrations of surfactants which are often ethoxylated alcohols, of which 1,4-dioxane is a known carcinogenic byproduct. Other common ingredients include but are not limited to propylene glycol, ethanolamine, disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate, and fragrances which are often volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

California takes on Big Soda, via the Guardian:

California takes fight to soft drink industry with plan for warning labels

  • State Democrats introduce bill that would require labels with warnings about obesity and tooth decay but admit industry is ‘formidable lobbying force’

Campaigners against sugary drinks have opened a new front in California with a proposal to label the drinks with warnings about obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

Bill Monning, the state’s senate majority leader, and an influential Democrat, has introduced a bill which would require labels be placed on the front of containers or at the point of purchase.

If passed, it will set a precedent in the US and potentially transform public health policy, according to supporters.

“The root motivation for this is the continued epidemic of preventable diabetes and obesity in young people in California,” Monning told the Guardian. The problem was not just sodas, but sweet teas, sports drinks and energy drinks, he said.

Agence France-Presse covers a toxic holiday traditional fruit:

Toxic ‘Tet’ kumquats highlight Vietnam’s pesticide problem

Program notes:

Come the Lunar New Year, most Vietnamese families buy a kumquat tree — a symbol of prosperity whose candied fruits were once a delicacy but are now left uneaten as food safety scandals batter consumer confidence in Vietnam’s produce.

Agrochemical health fears in the Argentine, via VICE News:

Argentina’s Soybeans Help Feed the World But Might Be Making Locals Sick

Silvina Bettini is a bubbly young woman with purple makeup and matching earrings who lives six blocks from a soybean field in central Argentina. Already the mother of one child, she had hoped for another until a medical survey by a German NGO in April 2013 suggested her blood is contaminated with agrochemical residue from pesticides, including a toxic insecticide that is banned in most countries. Now she’s worried about what could happen to her baby.

Like many residents of Argentina’s farming communities, Bettini is concerned by a growing list of cases of birth defects, cancers, and other health problems that locals and some experts attribute to the ubiquitous use of agrochemicals in Argentina’s agriculture industry, the country’s economic engine. Argentine officials and Monsanto, the American agribusiness giant that manufactures the most common type of the herbicide, deny that the health problems are linked to the chemicals.

The agrochemical issue is most evident in Argentina’s soybean industry. The country is the world’s third-largest producer of soybeans. The crop is a staple ingredient of livestock feed, and therefore plays a part in almost every bite of commercially produced meat in the world. At the same time, most of Argentina’s soybeans — 98 percent — are genetically modified.

Because Argentina is the world’s biggest soybean exporter, selling significantly more soybean to foreign markets than Brazil or the United States, the soy sent from Argentina to the rest of world may pose a threat to global food security if levels of agrochemicals in exported products are not properly monitored, experts told VICE News.

After the jump, how the sun keeps burning even after you’ve escaped its rays, rising seas endanger millions of Bangladeshi islanders, climate change claims lemurian land, climate change suspected in a California sea lion crisis, evacuation by drought feared in Brazil, Chinese profits from Myanmar conflict logging, foreigners grab land in malnourished Mozambique, China takes a first in oceanic plastic dumping, Washington sets up air monitors in overseas missions, renewed hopes for a European tar sands oil ban, petro layoffs and a slowdown in Mexico, on to Fukushimapocalype Now!, with a stark declaration about lost fuel and a fear of regulatory collapse, plus dreamas of Liberian environmental banking. . . Continue reading