Category: Environment

PTSD + Agent Orange = extra risk of Dementia

Exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War doesn’t seem to increase the risk of dementia on its own, but it may exacerbate the effects of other risk factors like PTSD…

In an analysis of Veterans Affairs data, having been exposed to Agent Orange and having PTSD together was associated with a significantly increased risk of dementia according to Deborah Barnes, PhD, MPH, of the University of California San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

They reported their findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference…

Some 8% of veterans were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, where it was used as an herbicide to clear dense areas of forest…

Many other studies have looked at the health effects of Agent Orange exposure, and there have been mixed results regarding its neurological effects. Some studies found no adverse neurologic effects, while several recent studies have found worse cognitive function with greater exposure. Other studies have shown that verbal memory is the most affected neurocognitive region among Vietnam veterans.

Yet there haven’t been any studies specifically looking at the relationship between Agent Orange and the risk of dementia among these veterans, Barnes said.

Consequently, she and colleagues accessed VA electronic medical record data on 46,737 Vietnam veterans over age 55 who had at least one baseline visit and one follow-up visit, and who did not have dementia at baseline.

They looked at Agent Orange exposure alone and in combination with PTSD…

Barnes noted that there was a significant difference between the exposed and unexposed populations at baseline. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange were younger and had more comorbidities including diabetes, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, depression, and PTSD…

When they looked at PTSD and dementia risk, however, they did find a significant association — and having both Agent Orange exposure and PTSD together was associated with a larger increase in risk of dementia…

“Agent Orange alone doesn’t appear to increase the risk of dementia,” Barnes said, “but it may exacerbate the effects of other risk factors such as PTSD.”

She cautioned that the findings were limited because the researchers weren’t able to measure the actual exposure to Agent Orange; they had to rely on patients’ own reports of exposure…

Soldiers on the line ain’t about to forget exposure to Agent Orange. Until they get Alzheimer’s, anyway.

And, no, that wasn’t meant to be a joke.

Don’t let Armadillos spit on you in Florida!


Click to enlargeGetty Images

For once…Florida citizens are not the focus of a news story. Instead, Florida armadillos are in the spotlight.

Local health officials are warning Floridians to stay away from the animals after nine people were infected with leprosy after coming into contact with the leathery armored creatures.

Typically, Florida sees just 10 cases of leprosy in a year. The centuries-old bacterial infection, also known as Hansen’s disease, causes nerve damage and disfigurement and was once a considered a sentence to death or life in isolation. Thanks to antibiotics, the disease is now treatable and only rarely spreads from person to person in the U.S., typically via coughing or sneezing.

A 2011 genetic study found that armadillos naturally harbor the bacteria that causes the illness in humans, and they may be responsible for some infections, though it is far less common for leprosy to be spread that way.

But that’s what seems to be happening in Florida.

“New homes are being developed, and we are tearing down armadillos’ homes in the process,” said Dr. Sunil Joshi…of the Duval County Medical Society. “Now these creatures are coming out in the daytime, and the people who are getting exposed are those working outside.”

Armadillos aren’t native to Florida, but the cat-sized mammals are now common throughout the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission…“Especially if they’re trying to get out of a cage they can spit on you,” said Florida wildlife trapper Kyle Waltz.

The bacteria that causes leprosy can lie dormant for years, according to the CDC, and it may take up to a decade for symptoms to appear. Most of the human population isn’t susceptible to the disease, and fewer than 300 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2010…As many as 2 million people have been permanently disabled by the disease worldwide.

One of the instances where you don’t want to be the exception that proves the rule.

Ten dirtiest power companies in the USA


Duke Energy

Coal-fired power plants are the single biggest driver of global climate change in the United States. That’s why President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is moving quickly to put the finishing touches on a new set of regulations, called the Clean Power Plan, that aim to reduce the nation’s overall carbon footprint 30 percent by 2030 by cracking down on emissions from the energy sector.

Unsurprisingly, many power companies — particularly those that rely on coal as their main source of fuel — are crying foul. Recently, one major coal company and a dozen coal-reliant states tried to block the new rules in federal court. (The court decided last month not to hear the challenge, since the rules haven’t yet been finalized.) And this week, executives from two of the country’s biggest power companies met with White House officials in an attempt to persuade them that the crackdown would be “too much too soon.”

As it turns out, those same two companies — Duke Energy and American Electric Power — emit more carbon pollution than any other power producers in the country. That’s according to a new report released from a coalition of environmental groups and power companies, which draws on public data from the EPA and the Energy Information Administration to reveal the carbon footprints of the 100 biggest power producers in the nation…

There’s some good news in the data, as well. In the last few years, nationwide coal use has dropped precipitously. That’s mostly a product of market forces, rather than environmental regulation: Natural gas, made cheaper by the fracking boom, has displaced coal in power plants across the country. At the same time, renewable energy sources have boomed.

This will continue as long as ordinary citizens keep up the pressure on the Congressional clown show. Rightwing creeps – like New Mexico’s own Steve Pearce – continue to do their worst in conjunction with the remaining Blue Dog Democrats who were’t knocked off their rusty-dustys in the last couple of congressional elections.

But, sufficient pressure on everyone from the occupant of the White House to individual bureaucrats in DC – to your friendly neighborhood politicians in whichever state legislature you’re saddled with – all helps. Let them know we’re all watching. We all remember who deserves to lose their precious job.

RTFA – and check the charts to see if your own electricity giant made the lists.

Brand new, double-layered pipeline ruptured causing giant spill


Click to enlargeTerry Reith/ICI Radio-Canada

A pipeline at Nexen Energy’s Long Lake oilsands facility southeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta, spilled about 32,000 barrels of emulsion, a mixture of bitumen, sand and water, Wednesday afternoon — marking one of the largest spills in Alberta history.

According to reports, the spill covered as much as 16,000 square meters – almost 4 acres…

Ron Bailey, Nexen vice president of Canadian operations, said the company “sincerely apologized for the impact this has caused.” He confirmed the double-layered pipeline is a part of Nexen’s new system and that the line’s emergency detection system failed to alert officials to the breach, which was discovered during a visual inspection.

At this time, the company claims to have the leak under control…

The spill comes at a particularly bad time for Canada’s premiers, who are poised to sign an agreement three years in the making to fast-track the approval process for new oil sands pipelines while weakening commitments to fight climate change, according to Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace…

Canada’s premiers aren’t alone in seeking to remove barriers to new pipeline construction in order to get more tar sands flowing out of Alberta. It recently came to light that Wisconsin officials worked with an attorney and lobbyist for Canadian pipeline company Enbridge to draft a controversial provision placed into the 2015 Wisconsin Budget that would fast-track expansion of the company’s Line 61 pipeline, what’s been called a “Keystone XL clone.”

Nexen and Alberta regulators say it’s too soon to determine what caused the pipeline failure Wednesday, or how long it was leaking before it was shut off. The emulsion has so far not reached any bodies of water, according to reports, but did flow into muskeg or bog.

Welcome to what passes for safety and quality control in oilfields. Pretty much all oilfield production. All that really counts in the minds of fossil fuel producers is getting the stuff out of the ground and into energy production.

Burn it up. Put the money in the bank!

Thanks, SmartAlix

Oceans warming from climate change can no longer be stopped in your lifetime

Globally 90% of the excess heat caused by the rise in greenhouse gas emissions is absorbed by the oceans. The warming of the oceans due to climate change is now unstoppable after record temperatures last year, bringing additional sea-level rise, and raising the risks of severe storms, say US government climate scientists…

The annual State of the Climate in 2014 report [really big .pdf], based on research from 413 scientists from 58 countries, found record warming on the surface and upper levels of the oceans, especially in the North Pacific, in line with earlier findings of 2014 as the hottest year on record.

Global sea-level also reached a record high, with the expansion of those warming waters, keeping pace with the 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year trend in sea level growth over the past two decades…

Scientists said the consequences of those warmer ocean temperatures would be felt for centuries to come – even if there were immediate efforts to cut the carbon emissions fuelling changes in the oceans.

“I think of it more like a fly wheel or a freight train. It takes a big push to get it going but it is moving now and will contiue to move long after we continue to pushing it,” Greg Johnson, an oceanographer at Noaa’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, told a conference call with reporters.

“Even if we were to freeze greenhouse gases at current levels, the sea would actually continue to warm for centuries and millennia, and as they continue to warm and expand the sea levels will continue to rise,” Johnson said…

The report underlined 2014 as a banner year for the climate, setting record or near record levels for temperature extremes, and loss of glaciers and sea ice, and reinforcing decades-old pattern to changes to the climate system.
Four independent data sets confirmed 2014 as the hottest year on record, with much of that heat driven by the warming of the oceans.

Globally 90% of the excess heat caused by the rise in greenhouse gas emissions is absorbed by the oceans…

“The prognosis is to expect a continuation of what we have seen,” NOAA’s Tom Karl said.

Did you expect the United States to offer the kind of effort we dedicate to killing foreigners towards saving the world, towards saving our own pitiful buns? Oh, we’ll all pretty much survive here in the GOUSA. As the largest economy in the world, we have sufficient funds, private energy and ability to accomplish a fair piece of what our government might have done if it weren’t the Orgone Box for political glory-seekers.

Now, we’ll have to work simultaneously at preserving something approaching sort-of-livable for the majority of the population – while the ruling 1% enjoy their environment-modulated mansions, employing prols to provide comfortable breezes.

The rest of the world will be on their own.

Further examination of the neonicotinoid threat to honey bees

The decline of honey bees has been a major concern globally for the past decade. One of the factors that could be contributing to the decline is the use of insecticides — specifically neonicotinoids — that persist in rivers and streams. Researchers now report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters that although sunlight plays an important role in degrading pollutants, its effects on neonicotinoids can diminish dramatically even in shallow water.

Neonicotinoids protect crops from pests, such as whiteflies, beetles and termites. They are a popular tool in a farmer’s arsenal, but they end up washing into surface waters and soil. Some research has suggested the insecticides play a role in the disappearance of bees, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. But scientists didn’t fully understand the fate of neonicotinoids in the environment, an important factor in determining how they might contribute to the disorder. Charles S. Wong and colleagues wanted to investigate sunlight’s effects on these insecticides in water.

Out of five neonicotinoids the researchers tested in water under simulated sunny conditions, three degraded considerably within minutes.

Two took a few days to break down. But a depth of just 3 inches of water was enough to shield at least one, thiamethoxam, from the degrading effects of the sun. The researchers say that this persistence at shallow depths could increase the chances aquatic life and other wildlife, including bees, could get exposed to the insecticide.

How many agribusiness/farm lobbies did you ever hear of that spend time lobbying for clean water – after it’s outbound from the fields just irrigated?

Repeated, record-breaking rainfall events increase with global warming

montana
Click to enlargeSean R. Heavey

Heavy rainfall events setting ever new records have been increasing strikingly in the past thirty years. While before 1980, multi-decadal fluctuations in extreme rainfall events are explained by natural variability, a team of scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research detected a clear upward trend in the past few decades towards more unprecedented daily rainfall events.

They find the worldwide increase to be consistent with rising global temperatures which are caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels…

The average increase is 12 percent globally – but 56 percent in South East Asia

An advanced statistical analysis of rainfall data from the years 1901 to 2010 derived from thousands of weather stations around the globe shows that over 1980-2010 there were 12 percent more of these events than expected in a stationary climate, a scenario without global warming. “Due to the upward trend, the worldwide increase of record-breaking daily rainfall events in the very last year of the studied period reaches even 26 percent”, Lehmann adds.

The record-breaking anomaly has distinct patterns across Earth’s continents with generally wet regions seeing an over-proportional increase and drier regions less so. In South East Asian countries the observed increase in record-breaking rainfall events is as high as 56 percent, in Europe 31 percent, in the central US 24 percent. In contrast, some regions experienced a significant decrease of record-breaking daily rainfall events. In the Mediterranean, the reduction is 27 percent, and in the Western US 21 percent. Both regions are at risk of severe droughts.

While a statistical analysis of course cannot provide direct physical cause-effect relations, the scientists compared their findings to existing knowledge about how much more water can be stored in the atmosphere when temperatures rise, as given by the well-known Clausius-Clapeyron equation. This additional moisture can be released during short-term heavy rainfall events. The scientists show that the observed increase in unprecedented heavy rainfall events generally fits with this thermodynamically expected increase under global warming…

Up to now, studies could add up to only medium confidence on how human induced greenhouse gases have contributed to changes in heavy precipitation events at the global and regional scale. The new analysis now helps to fill this research gap. Building on previous work on extreme precipitation, it is the first to study worldwide observational data of record-breaking daily rainfall events in this context.

I probably haven’t said this for at least 10 minutes, but — if I was starting out, today, I’d point myself at a geek career in computational analysis. This stuff is fascinating. Most particularly when you have the opportunity to gather wide-reaching data and spend time data-mining, winnowing away the chaff – perhaps discovering a new direction, insight to old problems.

Drought forces reform of Water Agency

desert golf course
Click to enlarge — Golf course in the middle of desert sands

Drew Lessard stood on top of Folsom Dam and gazed at the Sierra Nevada, which in late spring usually gushes enough melting snow into the reservoir to provide water for a million people. But the mountains were bare, and the snowpack to date remains the lowest on measured record.

“If there’s no snowpack, there’s no water,” said Mr. Lessard, a regional manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that built and operates a vast network of 476 dams, 348 reservoirs and 8,116 miles of aqueducts across the Western United States.

For nearly a century, that network has captured water as it flows down from the region’s snowcapped mountains and moves to the farms, cities and suburbs that were built in the desert. But as the snow disappears, experts say the Bureau of Reclamation — created in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt to wrest control of water in the arid West — must completely rebuild a 20th-century infrastructure so that it can efficiently conserve and distribute water in a 21st-century warming world…

For most of the 1900s, the bureau’s system — which grew into the largest wholesale water utility in the country — worked. But the West of the 21st century is not the West of Roosevelt. There are now millions more people who want water, but there is far less of it. The science of climate change shows that in the future, there will be less still…

President Obama has already started to grapple with that change. Under orders from the White House, the Bureau of Reclamation has begun studies on the impact of global warming on 22 Western water basins and is drawing up multidecade plans to begin rebuilding its Western water management systems.

But a new water infrastructure across half of the United States could cost taxpayers billions of dollars — at a moment when Republicans are still focused on cutting taxes and lowering government spending. In Congress, the Republican majority has targeted climate change research as well as federal policies intended to stop climate change…

Sometimes the question isn’t “stupid or ignorant?” Sometimes stupid prefers ignorant.

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The man who planted a forest in Kerala

Abdul Kareem, 66, of Parappa, Kasargod, Kerala had a liking to ‘Kavu’, the sacred forests of Kerala, right from his childhood. He would frequently visit his wife’s house in Puliyankulam village and it was during such visits that he noticed the barren hillside land nearby. In 1977, as if on an impulse, he bought five acres of the land for Rs 3750. The people nearby and even his family were not able to comprehend his action, and he became a laughing stock in the locality. The property had only a single well that remained almost dry throughout the year. Since it could not provide enough to water the saplings that he planted, he would carry water in cans from outside sources on his two-wheeler. This continued for three years, at the end of which, nature started responding to his unrelenting efforts and the trees actually started growing.

The change was now to be seen – birds came in flocks and helped Kareem by bringing seeds of umpteen varieties and started setting their nests in this new haven. Soon other forms of life also appeared. The ecosystem was developing at a good pace. In the meanwhile, Kareem bought another 27 acres of land and planted trees all over the place with the new-found vigour, motivated by the fruits of his efforts.

One notable feature of Kareem’s forest (that is what the Department of Tourism, Kerala Government, calls this place) which makes it a forest in the true sense is that Kareem never tried to interfere in its natural development once it started sustaining itself, rather he gamely prevented anything and everything that would interfere with the natural growth of his forest. He has never weeded the forest; neither does he sweep away the fallen leaves. There is no effort for intervention of any kind.

The forest has brought about amazing changes to the surroundings. The once dry well in the plot is now brimming with pure, fresh water. The underground water table in an area of about 10 kilometers has risen, it is said. The temperature inside the forest is markedly cooler than outside. Kareem has been living inside the forest since 1986, keeping constant vigil on his creation, which is dearer to him than anything. Visitors are allowed inside, even to stay as paying guests for a few days, provided they comply with Kareem’s regulations. Plastic is banned inside the forest; so is the use of automobiles. Wild partying, loud noises – all are a strict no-no.

Kareem has resisted various offers to commercialize the forest and to turn it into a theme park…For those who know him, the man who was once a laughing stock, has now grown colossal in stature, along with his creation – one that generations will cherish.

Inspiring.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Nobel Laureates sign declaration calling for urgent action on climate change

In 1955, partly out of urgency and partly out of guilt, a group of 52 Nobel Laureates signed a declaration on Mainau Island in Germany calling for an end to the use of nuclear weapons. The work of some of these prizewinners—including that of Otto Hahn, who discovered nuclear fission—was used to build nuclear weapons. They were horrified their work was turned into technology that could kill billions.

Now, 60 years on, again out of a mix of urgency and guilt, a group of 36 Nobel prizewinners have signed a new Mainau Declaration calling for urgent action on climate change. The document is open for other Nobel Laureates to join.

The discoveries of these signatories have mostly improved the quality of life of people around the world, but they now stand horrified at the prospect of what unchecked use of natural resources could do to the future.

In our fight against climate change, another declaration—even if it’s signed by some of the most eminent living scientists—probably won’t do much. But the declaration comes at a time when world over preparations are being made for a climate-change summit to be held in Paris in November 2015. Although previous global summits have resulted in more talk and less action, there is hope that the Paris talks would be different.

One of the leaders of the 1955 Mainau Declaration was Linus Pauling, whose relentless work against nuclear weapons won him the 1962 Nobel Peace prize—putting him in the rare category of a single individual winning two Nobel prizes. Who knows? Perhaps the same could happen to one of these Nobel Laureates.

Click the link above and you’ll find the full statement from this group of scientists at the end of the article. Certainly, it will mean a great deal in the world of science. But, hey, those are just folks who advance knowledge, medicine, healthcare, technology, biology, botany, all the intellectual pursuits that brought us a modern lifespan.

It will take further action from ordinary folks like you and me to push our politicians into doing something positive in response.