Hinterland Green

Monday, October 26, 2009

Study Sees Link Between Home Insecticides and the Autoimmune Disorders Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women

A new research study suggests there is a link between women's exposure to household insecticides, including roach and mosquito killers, and the autoimmune disorders rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The scientist did not find a direct cause-and-effect relationship between insecticide exposure and the illness, but said it is possible that the women have something else in common that accounts for their higher risk. Christine Parks, epidemiologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the lead investigator of the study, said the findings raise a red flag.
Previous research has linked agricultural pesticides to higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, two diseases in which the immune system goes haywire and begins to attack the body. Farmers, among others, appear to be vulnerable. Parks and her colleagues wanted to find out whether smaller doses of insecticides, such as those people might encounter at home from either personal or commercial residential use, might have a similar effect. The researchers examined data from a previous study of almost 77,000 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79. Their findings were to be released Monday at the American College of Rheumatology's annual scientific meeting in Philadelphia.

Women who reported applying insecticides or mixing them — about half — had a higher risk of developing the two autoimmune disorders than women who reported no insecticide use. This was the case whether or not they had lived on a farm. Those who used or mixed the insecticides the most — judged by frequency or duration — had double the risk.

Even so, the risk of developing the diseases remained very low. Overall, Parks said, about 2% of older adults develop the conditions. Parks said the insecticides that the women used included insect killers, such as those designed to eradicate ants, wasps, termites, mosquitoes and roaches. They didn't include insect repellents. Source: USA Today
There are some caveats to the study, including the fact that it is not clear exactly which products the women used or when. The findings indicate that there is a pressing need for more research on the environmental risk factors and to gain a better understanding of what factors might explain the study's findings, as well as which chemicals might be associated with these risks.

Study Finds Giant Pool of Magma May Feed Three Washington Volcanoes -- Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams & Mt. Rainier

Aerial view of Mount St. Helens' crater and lava dome, 
as seen from the south on Nov. 10. Credit: USGS/John Pallister

A research study led by Graham Hill of GNS Science in New Zealand, suggests that there is a vast pool of magma beneath southwestern Washington state that supplies Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. Some scientists beg to differ. The study was published in the journal Natural Geosciences and hints that the setup could be akin to the known supervolcano at Yellowstone. The journal concludes that, "If confirmed by additional methods, this could be one of most widespread magma-bearing areas of continental crust discovered thus far."
Hill and colleagues measured the electrical conductivity in the rocks under the northern Cascade Mountain range, where the three mountains sit. Their data confirmed previous hints that there is a widespread layer of material with low conductivity below the range. They also found that narrow fingers of this material rise towards the surface, below the Mount St. Helens and Adams volcanoes.

Molten rock has a lower electrical conductivity than solid rock, so the researchers suggest there is a zone of partially molten rock that has pooled in the continental crust. According to Hill and colleagues, the small fingers probably indicate areas where the molten rock is moving up towards the magma chambers of the volcanoes, feeding future volcanic activity.

"Their interpretation is open to disagreement," Seth Moran , a volcano seismologist with the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash, is quoted by McClatchy Newspapers. "Other geophysical studies don't support this theory." Researchers have long predicted that the Yellowstone supervolcano will eventually erupt again, with devastating consequences for much of the United States. Half the country could be covered in ash up to three feet (one meter) deep, one study predicts. But those same researchers say nothing suggests such an eruption is imminent. They point out, however, that Yellowstone seems to blow its top about every 600,000 years. Source: LiveScience
This is rather fascinating and we will see if the study's findings are substantiated or they are struck down in later studies.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lou Dobbs Suggests "A Real Political Storm in the Making" Over Meatless Monday Lunch Program at Baltimore Schools

Embedded video from CNN Video

Lou Dobbs did a segment on his Monday show on how "Meatless Monday" is being adopted by the Baltimore city school district in an effort to cut costs and get children to eat healthier food. The segment showed schoolchildren eating vegetarian chili and grilled cheese sandwiches. CNN reported that they found no parents who objected to the policy. Er, it's healthy food. Why would they complain? There's nothing wrong with starting a conversation with children in their formative years about embracing vegetables as a regular part of their meals.

CNN also noted opposition to the one-day-a-week of vegetarian food by the American Meat Institute, which is a trade group that represents meat processors and packers with obvious financial interests in meat consumption. Why am I not surprised about that move? They are deliberately ignoring the fact that there is widespread obesity in this country and the school lunch is often high-calorie. Other school districts ought to embrace it. CNN chose to ignore the obvious and chose instead to report that the AMI is concerned that "students are being served up an unhealthy dose of indoctrination." The institute's Janet Reilly claims the policy was depriving students and parents of "choice."

After watching the segment, Lou Dobbs pompously described this as "a real political storm in the making." Really Lou, is that the best you could do? The bigger question is why are you still on CNN?

Target Accused of Organic Food Fraud, Watchdog Group Files Formal Complaints With USDA's Organic Program

Have you ever wondered if the milk you are drinking is really organic as the label says? Well, if you purchased it at Target, there's a real possibility it might not be. The Cornucopia Institute, which is a food and agriculture watchdog group, said that it has filed formal complaints with USDA's organic program accusing the retail giant of organic food fraud. Here is the press release from the group:
The complaints are the latest salvo into a growing controversy whereas corporate agribusiness and major retailers have been accused of blurring the line between "natural" products and food that has been grown, processed and properly certified organic under tight federal standards.
"Major food processors have recognized the meteoric rise of the organic industry, and profit potential, and want to create what is in essence 'organic light,' taking advantage of the market cachet but not being willing to do the heavy lifting required to earn the valuable USDA organic seal," said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia.
The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group discovered Target nationally advertised Silk soymilk in newspapers with the term "organic" pictured on the carton's label, when in fact the manufacturer, Dean Foods, had quietly shifted their products away from organics.
Shoppers should be very leery of Target because this isn't the first time the company has been accused of this. In September 2007, the USDA threatened to revoke the organic status of Aurora Organic Dairy, a Colorado farm that supplies Target, and other stores, with milk. I have wondered many times if the organic eggs I purchase for my family really are. As a matter of fact, I have become really leery of organic products from Whole Foods after CEO John Mackey stated that his company sells "a bunch of junk." 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Maldives Cabinet Holds Underwater Meeting in Lagoon Off Island of Girifushi

Talk about being creative.  Cabinet ministers in the Maldives held an underwater meeting Saturday to draw attention to the threat global warming poses to the lowest-lying nation on earth. President Mohammed Nasheed and members of his cabinet, dressed in scuba gear, met in a lagoon off the island of Girifushi. They sat at a table anchored to the sand on the floor of the Indian Ocean and signed a document calling on all countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

Officials from around the world will meet in the Copenhagen, the Danish capital, under UN auspices to hammer out a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, with the aim of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

The ministers said that if something isn't done to stem the rate of rising sea levels, the entire archipelago could end up under the water by the end of the century, since the island group is only a couple meters above sea level. Scientists at a meeting in Copenhagen last March predicted that glaciers and ice sheets melting as a result of global warming could boost the level of the world's oceans by as much as a meter by 2100.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

NOAA: El Niño to Help Steer U.S. Winter Weather

NOAA:  El Niño in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean is expected to be a dominant climate factor that will influence the December through February winter weather in the United States, according to the 2009 Winter Outlook released today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Such seasonal outlooks are part of NOAA’s suite of climate services.

“We expect El Niño to strengthen and persist through the winter months, providing clues as to what the weather will be like during the period,” says Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service. “Warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific shifts the patterns of tropical rainfall that in turn change the strength and position of the jetstream and storms over the Pacific Ocean and the U.S.”

“Other climate factors are also likely to play a role in the winter weather at times across the country,” added Halpert. “Some of these factors, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance. The NAO adds uncertainty to the forecast in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic portions of the country.”

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Friday, October 9, 2009

NASA Crashes on the Moon Twice in Quest to Find Presence of Water in the Moon's Soil

NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite dropped its Centaur upper-stage rocket on the lunar surface at 7:31 a.m. ET. The hope is that the impact would kick up enough dust to help the LCROSS probe find the presence of water in the moon's soil. Four minutes after the impact, the LCROSS followed the probe through the small debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before crashing into the Cabeus crater near the moon's south pole.

According to NASA, the LCROSS carried spectrometers, near-infrared cameras, which is a visible camera and a visible radiometer. These instruments will help scientists analyze the plume of dust, more than 250 metric tons' worth, for water vapor. The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter watched, and photographed, the impacts.

Video Watch animation of how the moon will be "bombed" »

Monday, October 5, 2009

Study: Sugar Cane Could Supply Electricity to Mozambique by Producing Biomass-Fired Energy

A new study, “A Clean Energy Plan for Mozambique”,  from Mark Hankins, a renewable energy consultant, to be released at the Sandton Solar Energy Conference in October, states that there is significant potential for green biomass in Mozambique, with five large sugar farms that could generate electricity from cane waste. The country could supply electricity to a greater percentage of its population by producing biomass fired energy.

This year Mozambican sugar mills estimate they will produce 419 000 metric tonnes of sugar, which is a a 68% increase on 2008. According to the Mail & Guardian Online, environmentalists have said the waste from this and other resources could see the country become a regional leader in biomass-fired electricity. Converting sugar waste into biofuel could create another 60MW to be available on the grid and could extend electrification into rural areas.

Sadly, Mozambique is hesitant to take up that challenge, instead it has chosen to back a $2-billion (R14.8-billion) dam on the Zambezi, 70km from Cahora Bassa at Mphanda Nkuwa. According to the Mail & Guardian Online, the dam will mostly serve South Africa’s energy needs. It has come under criticism from environmentalists, who said it will contribute to water shortages Southern Africa is expected to experience in the next few years because of global warming.

Mozambique exports electricity from Cahora Bassa to Eskom and then reimports it for use in southern Mozambique, with high rates of energy loss during the process. Approximately 85% of Mozambicans living without electricity. This latest study details how Mozambique could develop an energy supply system based on clean-energy options that are low-cost, rapidly implementable and suited to the geographical distribution of local demand.

Photo credit: Sugar cane, Environmental News Network

SHOCK: Lax Coal Ash Recycling Practices Including Use for Golf Course to School Carpeting Filler is An Outrage (VIDEO)

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Lesley Stahl on Sunday's "60 Minutes" took an in-depth look at the problems with the by-products of coal production, which is commonly known as coal ash. Coal ash contains many toxic metals, including arsenic, which can be extremely hazardous to breathe, if it is unchecked and seeps into ground water. It is shocking that coal ash isn't labeled as a hazardous waste by the EPA and it is currently being used as filler in everything from golf courses to carpeting in schools.

Stephanie Smith Paralyzed After E. coli Poisoning, New York Times Questions Safety Of Ground Beef

I swore off red meat for quite some time for health reasons, but I was appalled to learn that Stephanie Smith, a dance instructor, was the victim of E. coli poisoning. First it seemed as though she had a stomach virus, which later progressed into bloody stool, then her kidneys shut down and seizures rendered her unconscious. According to the New York Times, her convulsions grew so relentless that the doctors put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The illness had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed. She was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.

 Stephanie Smith, Paralyzed After E. coli Poisoning (NY Times Photograph)
 I have long been leery of ground meat and poultry. Why? It is usually the amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows, in the case of beef, or poultry. What's shocking is that the ground beef can be comprised of meat from different slaughterhouses, hereby increasing the chances of contamination. To make matters worse, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen. This is common practice among most of the large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger. For example, using a combination of sources allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.

Equally shocking, as industry research shows, is the fact that those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with fecal matter, which carries E. coli. Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on their suppliers to check for the bacteria and reportedly does it own testing after the ingredients are ground together. One would think that the logical course of action would be the test the ingredients before they are combined. The United States Department of Agriculture has encouraged these companies to devise their own safety plans instead of relying on their suppliers.

To read the entire NY Times article, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Layoffs Begin at Kennedy Space Center

Layoffs have begun at the Kennedy Space Center.  According to media reports, United Space Alliance, a private company that employs many shuttle employees, will lay off 277 workers in the coming weeks.

All but 19 voluntarily accepted the loss of their jobs by taking early retirement packages.

As you will recall, the shuttle program is set to be retired next year.

Disaster Looms in East Africa as Effects of Drought Threaten Millions of People with Starvation

Across East Africa a drought is drying up rivers, grasslands, scorching crops and threatening millions of people with starvation. Kenya, which is the biggest and most robust economy in the region, has seen the rivers that feed its great game reserves dry up and electricity is now rationed in the cities because hydropower has been adversely impacted. According to recent media reports, it is in the semi-desert on the southern fringe of the Sahel zone where the most dramatic changes have been felt. Though droughts in this region are nothing new and herders' nomadic life led to the build up in the good years to pad the margins of life when the patchy rains failed, this way of life is now being threatened and even the camels are dying of thirst. This disaster, which is three years in the making, is on the verge of catching Kenya and the United Nations unprepared.
Across the north of Kenya competition for water, grazing land and surviving cattle has sparked ethnic conflict. Cattle raids were always a feature of nomadic cultures but as the battle for survival intensifies the death toll climbs. Sixty-five people have been killed in the Turkana region alone since January. Despite being a disaster three years in the making, the drought is in danger of catching Kenya and the UN unprepared. Failed harvests mean high food prices, the national government is crippled by infighting and corruption, and international aid groups have seen funding squeezed by the credit crunch. The food vouchers sustaining hundreds of Rendille families will run out in less than a fortnight as the Irish aid agency paying for them, Concern, has run out of money for the project. In the last week, other big organisations such as Oxfam and Cafod have launched emergency appeals. The UN has received less than half the £350m it has called for.

In reality no one can deliver the rain that is really needed. Leina Mpoke has been working to unravel the cycles of drought, local deforestation and global influences for the Kenya Climate Working Group. "The drastic changes we're experiencing cannot be explained by local activities," he says. "Across the southern Sahel we're seeing a huge trend." In the 1970s there was a major drought once in the decade. In the 1980s this quickened to once every seven years, in the 1990s, once every five years. At the beginning of this decade the rains failed every other season and what we now see is "perennial drought".

Marsabit mountain rises up from the semi-desert of northern Kenya to touch the clouds at nearly 2,000 metres. Its highland slopes have always offered respite from the heat and dust of the savannah. The mountain was known as "Saku" or mist, and its elevated forest sheltered elephants, kudus, lions and high altitude lakes. It is now home to climate refugees who have swollen the population to more than 40,000. Everything in town is coated in a choking layer of red dust, the two mountain lakes have dried to a green-black crust and rangers at the Marsabit National Park say that eight elephants have starved to death in recent months. Source:  The Independent
I recall the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s and remember seeing the suffering that was widespread in some areas. It literally brought tears to my eyes. We cannot allow history to repeat itself in this region.

Earth's Nitrogen Cycle Overturned By Archaea, 'Tiny Ammonia Eater Of The Seas'

A few years ago, researchers at the University of Washington cultured a tiny organism from the bottom of a Seattle Aquarium tank and discovered that it can digest ammonia, which is a key environmental function. The new results, which were published online September 30 in the journal Nature, show that this minute organism and its siblings play a more central role in the planet's ecology than previously thought. The findings show that these microorganism, which are members of the archaea, beat out all other marine life in the dash for ammonia. According to Science Daily, ecologists now assume that ammonia in the upper ocean will first be gobbled up by phytoplankton to make new cells, leaving very little ammonia for microbes to turn into nitrate.
Ammonia is a waste product that can be toxic to animals. But plants, including phytoplankton, prize ammonia as the most energy-efficient way to build new cells. The new paper also shows that archaea can scavenge nitrogen-containing ammonia in the most barren environments of the deep sea, solving a long-running mystery of how the microorganisms can survive in that environment. Archaea therefore not only play a role, but are central to the planetary nitrogen cycles on which all life depends.

In the tree of life, archaea occupy their own branch. Archaea were discovered only about 30 years ago and were first thought to exist only in extreme environments, such as hot springs or hydrothermal vents. They are now known to be more widespread.

In the early 1990s scientists collecting seawater found strands of genetic material that suggested at least 20 percent of the ocean's microbes are archaea, and circumstantial evidence suggested they might live off ammonia. Stahl's group in 2005 was the first to isolate the organism, which they got from a tropical tank in the Seattle Aquarium, and demonstrate that it can, in fact, grow by oxidizing ammonia. His lab and others have since found the organism in many marine environments, including Puget Sound and the North Sea. The microbe is likely ubiquitous on land and in the seas, they say.

The new experiments show that the organism can survive on a mere whiff of ammonia – 10 nanomolar concentration, equivalent to a teaspoon of ammonia salt in 10 million gallons of water. In the deep ocean there is no light and little carbon, so this trace amount of ammonia is the organism's only source of energy.

That finding has two important implications for ocean ecosystems. Scientists knew that something was turning ammonia into nitrate in the deep ocean, but could not fathom what organism might be responsible. Now it appears archaea are those mysterious organisms. And in the sun-dappled upper ocean waters, it appears that archaea can out-compete phytoplankton for ammonia. The same may be true in soil environments, the researchers say. Source: Science Daily
The archaea measure 0.2 micrometers across, about eight millionths of an inch. The only life forms smaller are viruses. One speculation is that the archaea's size could explain how they are able to survive on such a scant energy supply. The strain used in these experiments is named Nitrosopumilus maritimus, which means "tiny ammonia-oxidizer of the sea."