Category Archives: Science

Study links cell phones to brain, heart cancers


Yep, a very extensive study has demonstrated a link between cell phone radiation at levels to which folks like three and we are regulatory exposed, and two forms of cancer — glioma, a deadly tumor of the brain’s nerve signal conduit cells, and a cancer of the heart.

The results are for lab rats, and found only in the males. Oddly, rats exposed to cell phone radiation live longer, at least the ones not killed by cancer.

The latest research, conducted by the National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, has been posted online here as a PDF.

From Scientific American:

Federal scientists released partial findings Friday from a $25-million animal study that tested the possibility of links between cancer and chronic exposure to the type of radiation emitted from cell phones and wireless devices. The findings, which chronicle an unprecedented number of rodents subjected to a lifetime of electromagnetic radiation starting in utero, present some of the strongest evidence to date that such exposure is associated with the formation of rare cancers in at least two cell types in the brains and hearts of rats. The results, which were posted on a prepublication Web site run by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, are poised to reignite controversy about how such everyday exposure might affect human health.

Researchers at the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a federal interagency group under the National Institutes of Health, led the study. They chronically exposed rodents to carefully calibrated radio-frequency (RF) radiation levels designed to roughly emulate what humans with heavy cell phone use or exposure could theoretically experience in their daily lives. The animals were placed in specially built chambers that dosed their whole bodies with varying amounts and types of this radiation for approximately nine hours per day throughout their two-year life spans. “This is by far—far and away—the most carefully done cell phone bioassay, a biological assessment. This is a classic study that is done for trying to understand cancers in humans,” says Christopher Portier, a retired head of the NTP who helped launch the study and still sometimes works for the federal government as a consultant scientist. “There will have to be a lot of work after this to assess if it causes problems in humans, but the fact that you can do it in rats will be a big issue. It actually has me concerned, and I’m an expert.”

More than 90 percent of American adults use cell phones. Relatively little is known about their safety, however, because current exposure guidelines are based largely on knowledge about acute injury from thermal effects, not long-term, low-level exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2011 classified RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen. But data from human studies has been “inconsistent,” the NTP has said on its website. Such studies are also hampered by the realities of testing in humans, such as recall bias—meaning cancer patients have to try to remember their cell phone use from years before, and how they held their handsets. Those data gaps prompted the NTP to engage in planning these new animal studies back in 2009.

More from the Wall Street Journal:

“Where people were saying there’s no risk, I think this ends that kind of statement,” said Ron Melnick, who ran the NTP project until retiring in 2009 and recently reviewed the study’s results.

Since mobile phones were launched commercially in the 1980s, the only widely agreed upon physical impact from cellphone radio-frequency energy is that it can heat human tissue at high enough levels. Cellphones are designed well below this thermal level.

The U.S. government’s official position is that the weight of scientific evidence hasn’t indicated health risks. In 2011, the World Health Organization said cellphone radiation was a group 2B possible carcinogen. Illustrating the ambiguity of the designation is the fact that certain pickled vegetables and coffee are also considered possibly carcinogenic.

There also are many studies showing no harmful health effects. Just this month, a survey of brain cancer rates in Australia found no increase since the introduction of mobile phones there almost three decades ago, a finding also seen in other countries.

And to conclude, this from Mother Jones:

The study was expensive in part because it required the construction of special exposure chambers that allowed thousands of mice and rats to receive standardized dozes of radiation. For about nine hours per day, for periods ranging from two months to the lifetime of the animal, the rodents were exposed to the RF radiation frequencies used by second generation (2G) phones—the standard at the time the study was initiated.

Only the test results for rats have been released so far. Female rats didn’t experience significantly higher than normal cancer rates. However, among male rats that received the highest radiation exposures, 2 percent to 3 percent contracted gliomas and 6 percent to 7 percent percent developed schwannoma tumors in their hearts, depending on the type of radiation used. None of the male rats in the control groups developed those cancers.

Potentially confounding the results, the rats exposed to radiation on average lived longer than those that weren’t. Some outside reviewers argued that the study’s authors should have given more weight to that caveat. Reviewers were also puzzled that the unexposed control rats didn’t exhibit the usual number of brain tumors. “I am unable to accept the authors’ conclusions,” wrote Michael Lauer, the deputy director of the National Institute of Health’s office of extramural research.

Lake Mead at lowest level since it was filled


And that was 79 years ago.

How low is it?

Two images from NASA’s Earth Observatory, the upper image taken in May 1984 when the reservoir was nearly full, the lower one snapped from orbit this week:

BLOG Lake Mead

More from NASA:

The last time Lake Mead was this low—in 1937—water managers were still filling the reservoir and putting finishing touches on the Hoover Dam. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the water level has now reached a record low for the second year in a row.

On May 25, 2016, the surface level of Lake Mead at the Hoover Dam stood at 1,074.03 feet (327.36 meters) above sea level. The previous low of 1,075.08 feet (327.68 meters) was set in late June 2015. The lowest water levels each year are usually reached in late June or July, after water managers have released the yearly allotment of water for farmers and cities farther down the Colorado River watershed. That means water levels are likely to continue to fall in 2016 to roughly 1,070 feet (326 meters), according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

The pair of Landsat images above show the lake near its highest and lowest points over the past 32 years. The top image was acquired on May 15, 1984, by the Thematic Mapper on the Landsat 5 satellite. The lake last approached full capacity in the summer of 1983. The second image was acquired on May 23, 2016, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the changes in the shoreline after lake water levels dropped 135 feet (41 meters). Notice the white-tan “bathtub ring” around the edges of the water; this is exposed sand and minerals that would normally be under water.

Lake Mead is now roughly 37 percent full. At maximum capacity, the reservoir would hold 9.3 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters) of water, reaching an elevation 1,220 feet (372 meters) near the dam. Most of the water in this great reservoir comes from snowmelt in the Rocky Mountain range and travels through Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon, and into Lake Mead. Farmers and some cities in Arizona, Nevada, California, and northern Mexico all rely on water from Lake Mead.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the lake will be refilled enough by the end of 2016 to avoid cuts in water deliveries in 2017. Lake Mead National Recreation Area continues to operate water sports, sightseeing, and hiking facilities in the area, despite ongoing drought.

The Colorado Basin has endured roughly sixteen years of drought and declining water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. At the same time, populations continue to grow in the sun-drenched region.

Alaska records more historic high temperatures


An intensely warm winter and spring are melting climate records across Alaska. The January-April 2016 period was an incredible 11 degrees above normal, setting the stage for a potentially unprecedented summer. (NOAA)

An intensely warm winter and spring are melting climate records across Alaska. The January-April 2016 period was an incredible 11 degrees above normal, setting the stage for a potentially unprecedented summer. (NOAA)

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

The record heat that is baking Alaska is poised to smash a host of climate records in 2016, including the earliest snowmelt date at NOAA’s Barrow Observatory, the northernmost point in the nation.

Staff at the observatory reported snowmelt occurred May 13, the earliest snowmelt date in 73 years of record-keeping, beating the previous mark set in 2002 by a full 10 days.

The early melting follows a record-setting winter that saw temperatures average more than 11 degrees above normal for the 49th State, shattering the previous record set in 2015.  At 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Barrow is usually one of the last places in the United States to lose snow cover.

Snow is not the only thing that’s vanishing. Preliminary data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center indicate 2016 will set the record for minimum winter sea-ice extentoffsite link, eclipsing the 2015 mark. Satellite photos from mid-May depict an early sea-ice breakup with an ominous series of openings, known as leads, extending deep into the Arctic.

David Douglas, research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said this spring’s conditions illustrate how fragile and dynamic pack ice has become. “It looks like late June or early July right now,” he said. “Polar bears are having to make their decisions about how to move and where to go on thinner ice pack that’s mostly first-year ice.” Walrus could also face a tough summer, he said.

Heavens above! Spiral galaxy NGC 1232


From the European Southern Observatory, a dramatic look back in time 60 million years ago, when the light we see today left the spectacular galaxy on its earthward journey:

This spectacular image of the large spiral galaxy NGC 1232 was obtained on September 21, 1998, during a period of good observing conditions. It is based on three exposures in ultra-violet, blue and red light, respectively. The colours of the different regions are well visible : the central areas contain older stars of reddish colour, while the spiral arms are populated by young, blue stars and many star-forming regions. Note the distorted companion galaxy on the left side, shaped like the greek letter "theta". NGC 1232 is located 20º south of the celestial equator, in the constellation Eridanus (The River). The distance is about 100 million light-years, but the excellent optical quality of the VLT and FORS allows us to see an incredible wealth of details. At the indicated distance, the edge of the field shown corresponds to about 200,000 light-years, or about twice the size of the Milky Way galaxy. The image is a composite of three images taken behind three different filters: U (360 nm; 10 min), B (420 nm; 6 min) and R (600 nm; 2:30 min) during a period of 0.7 arcsec seeing. The field shown measures 6.8 x 6.8 arcmin. North is up; East is to the left. #L

From the ESO:

This spectacular image of the large spiral galaxy NGC 1232 was obtained on September 21, 1998, during a period of good observing conditions. It is based on three exposures in ultra-violet, blue and red light, respectively. The colours of the different regions are well visible : the central areas contain older stars of reddish colour, while the spiral arms are populated by young, blue stars and many star-forming regions. Note the distorted companion galaxy on the left side, shaped like the greek letter “theta”.

NGC 1232 is located 20º south of the celestial equator, in the constellation Eridanus (The River). The distance is about 100 million light-years, but the excellent optical quality of the VLT and FORS allows us to see an incredible wealth of details. At the indicated distance, the edge of the field shown corresponds to about 200,000 light-years, or about twice the size of the Milky Way galaxy.

The image is a composite of three images taken behind three different filters: U (360 nm; 10 min), B (420 nm; 6 min) and R (600 nm; 2:30 min) during a period of 0.7 arcsec seeing. The field shown measures 6.8 x 6.8 arcmin. North is up; East is to the left.

Credit: ESO

Climate change fuels dramatic rise in forest fires


From The Conversation, a new open access journal which allows article reproduction under a Creative Commons license [Bravo! — esnl], a very important article from University of California, Merced, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering Anthony LeRoy Westerling:

Dramatic images of out-of-control wildfires in western North American forests have appeared on our television and computer screens with increasing regularity in recent decades, while costs of fire suppression have soared. In 2015, federal spending on suppression exceeded US$2 billion, just 15 years after first exceeding $1 billion. Something has been changing our fire seasons.

There are competing explanations for why wildfires have been increasing, particularly in our forests. I’ve been studying the science of climate and wildfires for more than 15 years and the take-home message from our research is that, while our management of the landscape can influence wildfire in many different ways, it is a warming climate that is drying out western U.S. forests and leading to more, larger wildfires and a longer wildfire season.

A look at the latest data

Ten years ago, several colleagues and I set out to see if we could quantify the changes in wildfire, particularly in mountain forests of the western U.S. We wanted to see if climate might be causing some of the increase in wildfire.

In our paper, we concluded that wildfire had indeed increased substantially in western U.S. forests beginning in the 1980s. We also found that most of this increase was from fires burning primarily in mid-elevation northern U.S. Rocky Mountain forests in years with an early snowmelt.

Our latest research shows that wildfire activity in western U.S. forests has continued to increase, decade by decade, since the 1980s.

We looked at federally managed forests in the Sierra Nevada, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and northern and southern Rockies. Over the decade through 2012, large fires (fires greater than 1,000 acres or 400 hectares) were 556 percent more frequent than in the 1970s and early 1980s. And the area affected increased even more dramatically: the forest area burned in large fires between 2003 and 2012 was more than 1,200 percent greater than in the period between 1973 and 1982.

BLOG Fires suppression

New “hot spots” for forest wildfire have also emerged.

The area burned in the northern U.S. Rockies has increased by 3,000 percent, accounting for half of the increase in the western U.S. But fire activity has recently accelerated in Southwest and Pacific Northwest forests as well. The area of burned forest in the Southwest increased over 1,200 percent, and in the Northwest by nearly 5,000 percent.

The only forest area where we could not robustly detect an increase in large fires and burned area was in coastal southern California. There, the largest fires are human-ignited, take place in the fall (driven by Santa Ana winds) and burn primarily in chaparral or shrubland. The small number of forest fires in southern California, combined with high variability from year to year, meant we could not detect trends there, nor attribute them to specific causes.

At the same time, the number of large fires in the West and the area they affect have been increasing in drier, lower elevation grass and shrublands, although to a much lesser extent. For example, the area burned in nonforest vegetation in lands managed by several federal agencies (the Forest Service, Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs) has been increasing about 65 percent per decade as compared to the 1970s average, for the past three decades.

Longer seasons

The sharp increase in the amount of land being burned in recent decades across all vegetation types is not just due to more wildfires.

In fact, the total number of reported wildfire ignitions does not appear to have gone up. However, the number of large (greater than 1,000 acres or 400 hectares) wildfires has been growing since the 1980s, and the area burned in these fires has grown even more. Wildfires, in other words, are growing in size.

The length of the fire season has also grown throughout the last four decades, with large fires igniting earlier in the spring and later in the autumn than previously, and burning for longer. In the period between 2003 and 2012, the average burn time for individual fires was 52 days. In the 1973-1982 period, it was just six days.

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

Continue reading

Carcinogenic endocrine disruptor in most rivers


We posted a lot about triclosan [previously], a chemical capable of killing bacteria and fungi that’s a primary active ingredient in those “healthy” antibacterial hand soaps, as well as a host of other products.

Besides helping microorganisms evolve to become even more dangerous, the chemical has also been linked to liver cancer, malformation or heart and skeletal musculature, and its a powerful endocrine disruptor.

And now it’s been found in the waters of most of the streams in the United States, leaving scientists to worry about just what long-term effects the ubiquitous chemical might be having, and if it might be working its way into our food through those stream waters used to irrigate crops.

From the American Society of Agronomy:

Most U.S. homes are full of familiar household products with an ingredient that fights bacteria: triclosan. Triclosan seems to be everywhere. When we wash our hands, brush our teeth, or do our laundry, we are likely putting triclosan into our water sources.

Triclosan is in antibacterial soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, toys, and toothpaste. These products can feel comforting to germ-wary consumers. However, these products are only slightly better at removing bacteria than regular soap and water. And in antibacterial soaps, triclosan may not add any benefit to removing bacteria compared to regular soap and water.

The problem with triclosan is that it kills both good and bad bacteria. Studies also show that it contributes to medically necessary antibiotics becoming less effective. Triclosan is also toxic to algae and disrupts hormones in animals. This can hamper normal animal development. The FDA is currently investigating its impact on humans.

Most of the triclosan is removed in waste water treatment plants. However, a U.S. Geological Survey found the antibacterial in nearly 58% of freshwater streams.

“What you use has an impact even though you’re probably not thinking about it,” says Monica Mendez. Mendez is an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Texas A&M International University. She is interested in triclosan-contaminated streams and rivers. These streams often serve as the water source for crops.

“If a river happens to be a source of irrigation, could triclosan possibly get into our food?” Mendez wonders.

Mendez and her colleagues wanted to understand what happens to soils and plants watered with triclosan-contaminated water. They intentionally watered onions, tomatoes, and bare soils with triclosan-contaminated water in a long-term study.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Brazil coup regime guts environmental laws


And like good Thatcherite/Reaganite neoliberal governments everywhere, they also gutted science funding.

The big winners are land developers and land-grabbers.

From Science:

The new interim government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has set out to trim government spending and boost business. Days after taking power, it merged the science ministry with the communications ministry, leaving researchers fearing for what’s left of their already diminished budgets. Meanwhile, powerful political players are attempting to remove roadblocks to development. “We are very worried about these actions that represent the demoting of science and innovation in the country,” says Luiz Davidovich, the president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Now, Brazil has a three-step licensing process for infrastructure and development projects. During each phase a project can be challenged or halted by lawsuits, and delays can last for years. The amendment, known as PEC 65, would eliminate all but the first step: the submission of a preliminary environmental impact statement. After that requirement is met—and regardless of how serious the impact seems to be—a project could not be delayed or canceled for environmental reasons, barring the introduction of substantially new facts.

“If this legislation is approved, it will probably be catastrophic for the environment and the people who depend on it,” says Hani Rocha El Bizri, an ecologist at the Federal Rural University of the Amazon in Belém. Representatives of several government agencies agree. In practice, PEC 65 “proposes the end of licensing,” says Thomaz Miazaki de Toledo, the director for environmental licensing at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources in Brasília, an arm of the Ministry of the Environment. If the amendment passes, he says, “mitigation and compensation, now required and supervised by the licensing authority, would be voluntary.”