Hinterland Green

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dangerous Chemicals in Food Wrappers & Microwave Popcorn Bags May Make Way Into Human Blood

SHOCK: University of Toronto scientists have discovered that chemicals used to line junk food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags are migrating into food. It is being ingested by people and is suspected of contributing to chemical contamination observed in blood. So, you should be very wary about those wrappers on foods you and your children love to eat.
Perfluorinated carboxylic acids or PFCAs are the breakdown products of chemicals used to make non-stick and water- and stain-repellent products ranging from kitchen pans to clothing to food packaging. PFCAs, the best known of which is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are found in humans all around the world.

"We suspected that a major source of human PFCA exposure may be the consumption and metabolism of polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters or PAPs," says Jessica D'eon, a graduate student in the University of Toronto's Department of Chemistry. "PAPs are applied as greaseproofing agents to paper food contact packaging such as fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags."

In the U of T study, rats were exposed to PAPs either orally or by injection and monitored for a three-week period to track the concentrations of the PAPs and PFCA metabolites, including PFOA, in their blood. Human exposure to PAPs had already been established by the scientists in a previous study. Researchers used the PAP concentrations previously observed in human blood together with the PAP and PFCA concentrations observed in the rats to calculate human PFOA exposure from PAP metabolism. Source: Science Daily
Read more:  Dangerous Chemicals in Food Wrappers Likely Migrating to Humans | Science Daily

Sunday, November 7, 2010

TRAFFIC India Finds Black Magic Behind Illegal Owl Trade

TRAFFIC India finds use of owls in black magic and sorcery driven by superstition, totems and taboos is one of the prime drivers of the covert owl trade.

TRAFFIC India’s report entitled “Imperiled Custodians of the Night” was launched today by Shri Jairam Ramesh, Hon. Minister of Environment and Forests at his office in New Delhi.

Hunting of and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India.

While the exact number of owls traded each year countrywide is unknown, it certainly runs into thousands of individuals and there are anecdotal reports of owls becoming rare throughout India due to loss of suitable habitat especially old growth forests.

In light of such reports, TRAFFIC is calling for measures including better law enforcement to curb the trade in owls immediately.

TRAFFIC also calls for raising awareness of the beneficial and vital role of owls in the ecosystem, the birds being of particular benefit to farmers through their predation of rodents and other crop pests.
Read more:  Black magic behind illegal owl trade in India | WWF

Stem Cell Researchers Turn Skin into Blood, Could Treat Cancer & Other Ailments

Stem cell researchers turn skin into blood, could have far-reaching effects including the treatment of cancer, other ailments.

Mick Bhatia of the McMaster's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine authored a study which shows stem cell researchers found a way to turn a person's skin into blood. This groundbreaking process could be used to treat cancer and other ailments. According to the AFP, the method uses cells from a patch of a person's skin and transforms it into blood that is a genetic match, without using human embryonic stem cells, the study, which appeared in the journal Nature, said.
By avoiding the controversial and more complicated processes involved with using human embryonic stem cells to create blood, this approach simplifies the process, researchers said.

With the ability to create blood for transfusion from a person's own skin, the advance means someday patients needing blood for surgery or to treat anemia could bypass the blood bank and derive the necessary supply from themselves.

The breakthrough could also see future uses such as allowing patients undergoing chemotherapy to endure a longer regime of treatment without the breaks currently needed to rejuvenate the body. Researchers have been able to perform the skin-to-blood transformation in the past, but while using human pluripotent stem cells, widely known as embryonic stem cells.

Stem cells that are derived from human embryos hold significant promise for medical breakthroughs but also carry risks, such as the potential to create tumors. But researchers say their new method can create enough blood for a transfusion from a four by three centimeter (1.6 by 1.2 inch) patch of adult human skin, and can avoid those potential hurdles. Source: AFP
The study said clinical studies could start in 2012. This is groundbreaking and could advance cancer treatment in the near future. For all those people who say stem cell research shouldn't be undertaken, the scientists involved have accomplished a major feat that will have far-reaching effects.

Read more: Cellular 'alchemy' transforms skin into blood | Nature

World's Most Expensive Beer, Nail Ale, Brewed by Nail Brewery from Melted Ice from Antartica

World's most expensive beer auctioned for $800 is the Antarctic Nail Ale, made from melted ice from Antarctica.

Antarctic Nail Ale (Elitechoice.org)
Well, the world's most expensive beer is Antarctic Nail Ale. Brewed by Nail Brewing with ice brought back from the Antarctica, a bottle recently sold for $800 at a recent auction in Fremantle. All proceeds from the ale will go to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which will soon leave on their seventh campaign to stop Japanese killing whales in the Antarctic sanctuary.
According to Beer Advocate, the previous most expensive beer in the world was a $765 bottle of "The end of History" brewed by Brewdog's. In a high alcohol level beer brewing war earlier this year, Scottish brewery "Brewdog's" brewed eleven bottles of 55% Alc beer sold in animal carcasses.

Nail Brewing Australia's brewer John Stallwood says "It is great to sell the most expensive bottle of beer in the world but it is all about a good cause. It is also good that a beer about saving the whales is now most expensive beer in the world rather than high alcohol beer sold in animal carcasses. I think future beers that sell for over $800 won't just be unique but will also be for good causes.
Nail Ale, which is a limited edition beer, only 30 were bottled, was brewed at Edith Cowan University in Perth.  Brewer John Stallwood said, “Over 90% of beer is water, so the Antarctic Nail Ale could possibly be the world’s oldest and purest beer.”

Beetle Study Suggests "Battle of Sexes" Plays a Bigger Role in Evolution than Previously Thought

A new study of beetles by the Exeter, Okayama and Kyushu Universities recently published in Current Biology shows a genetic 'battle of the sexes' could be much harder to resolve and is even more integral to evolution than previously thought, according to Science Daily.
This battle, observed across many species and known as intralocus sexual conflict, happens when the genes for a trait which is good for the breeding success of one sex are bad for the other -- sparking an 'evolutionary tug-o-war' between the sexes.

It has previously been thought these issues were only resolved when the trait in question evolves to become sex-specific in its development -- meaning the trait only develops in the gender it benefits and stops affecting the other. An example of this is male peacocks' tails, used for mating displays, which are not present in females.

Professor Dave Hosken, from the Centre for Ecology & Conservation (Cornwall) at the University of Exeter, said: "This kind of genetic tussle is everywhere in biology. For example, in humans, male hips are optimised for physical activity, whereas female hips also need to allow child bearing. That's the sort of evolutionary conflict we're talking about, and these conflicts were previously thought to be resolved by sex-specific trait development. Source: Science Daily
This is very interesting and speaks volumes to why women seem to always win the battle of the sexes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Maroon 5 Encourages Funs to Support Environmentally Friendly Nonprofits for a Chance of Winning a Guitar

Maroon 5 encourages fans to connect with environmentally friendly non-profit group and sign up for a chance to win a guitar.

From Tree Hugger:

Here it is, No. 9, the last rung in the Green Music Group Challenge. Maroon 5 is encouraging fans to connect with an environmentally friendly nonprofit group. Sign up for an e-mail list, support a conservation or other campaign, or volunteer. Then snap a picture of yourself and the nonprofit's logo, and dream of strumming a cherry wood guitar.

Maroon 5 is a founding member of the Green Music Group, which helps bring local nonprofits out to concerts, giving organizations a platform and helping them connect with fans. The band wants to take it a step further, and is giving away a Martin Sustainable Wood Series acoustic guitar to the person who submits the most creative, greenest and smile-inspiring photograph of a nonprofit connection. Read more
Photo credit:  Reverb.org 

Environmental Group Warns Jordan River Not Safe for Baptism Due to Severe Pollution

The millions of people who flock to the Jordan River to be baptized yearly can't be happy to learn that a group of environmentalists now consider the river to be unsafe for baptisms. The Jordan River, where it has been said Jesus Christ was baptized about two thousand years ago is now severely polluted with untreated sewage, agricultural run-off, saline water and fish pond effluent, according to Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East.

From Christian Post:

The reason, explains Bromberg, is that "ninety-eight percent of the Jordan's fresh waters [is] being diverted by Israel, Syria, and Jordan."

Friends of the Earth has called on regional authorities to halt baptism in the lower Jordan River until water quality standards for tourism activities are met. The Israeli site, known as Qasar al-Yahud, draws more than two million Christians each year. Thousands of them visit the holy site to be baptized.

Friends of the Earth argues that high levels of coliform bacteria from sewage in the river have made it unsafe for bathing. But water tests released last week suggest otherwise, according to Eli Dror of Israel's Nature and Parks Authority.

"There's absolutely no problem with the quality of the water,” Dror told Reuters. “People can come and baptize here as much as they want; I guarantee it."

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, meanwhile, said he was pleased that tourists would be able to continue visiting and using the site safely.
This can't be good news for the tourists who visit the river to be baptized, but from an environmental perspective it is a sad turn of events.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

NPR News: Dengue Fever In Florida Portends A Growing Problem

You may not have heard much about a nasty tropical infection called dengue fever. But that may soon change. Federal health officials have identified the first sizable outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. in 55 years, in the Florida Keys. They say the southern U.S. is ripe for more.

The first cases in the recent outbreak occurred last summer and fall. In August, a New York woman recently back from a Key West vacation came down with the characteristic dengue symptoms — fever, wicked headache, chills, muscle and joint pain, and bloody urine. An alert doctor in Rochester, N.Y., diagnosed dengue fever.

Around the same time, the virus showed up in a woman and a married couple in Key West, none of whom had traveled to areas where dengue is common.

Read more:  Dengue Fever In Florida Portends A Growing Problem | NPR

Monday, May 3, 2010

BP PLC Offering Settlement Agreements to Alabama Coastal Residents for $5,000

Here we go. BP PLC is trying to play dirty. According to the Alabama Press-Register, BP was circulating settlement agreements among coastal residents of Alabama and possibly other states, requiring that "people give up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000." Alabama's Attorney General Troy King protested and asked BP to stop distribution of the letters.

The company said it will pay for all the cleanup costs for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that could continue spewing crude for at least another week.

The company posted a fact sheet on its Web site saying it took responsibility for the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill and would pay compensation for legitimate claims for property damage, personal injury and commercial losses.

Japan to Launch World's First Solar-Powered Spaceship, Ikaros, on May 18

Japan will launch the world's first solar-powered spaceship on May 18, 2010. The spacecraft, dubbed Ikaros, will be the first in history to enter deep space using only solar energy. The ship is equipped with 15-meter long ultra thin wings that are covered with special cells which will generate energy from the sun. If successful, the Ikaros, which stands for "Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun," will be the first spacecraft to use solar sails in space as a primary propulsion mechanism.
A ground control station on Earth will navigate the panels of the Japanese invention in the direction of the sun rays. The spacecraft will launch Japan's first satellite to Venus.

Ikaros is also a reference to the Greek myth of Icarus – a young man and his father Daedalus, who attempted to escape exile in Crete by building wings of feathers and wax.

Lamar Advertising to Convert Billboards in Florida to Renewable Energy

PENSACOLA, Fla., Apr 29, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Lamar Advertising Co., which operates more than 150 outdoor advertising companies in more than 40 states and Puerto Rico, has announced a multidimensional project to convert some 1,370 billboards throughout Florida to renewable energy. The $12.5-million project will place solar or wind power on billboards throughout the state, creating 1,370 individual renewable energy systems that return energy to the electrical grid.

"This represents the largest single deployment of distributed renewable energy devices in Florida history," said Robert B. Switzer, vice president of operations of Lamar Advertising. "With the completion of this historic project, we will be sending a clear message to millions of Florida residents and visitors every day that renewable energy works."

The project, set for completion by April 2012, will install a total of one Megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) of renewable energy generation in the form of solar or wind power on 1,370 separate billboard structures in eight markets from Pensacola to Daytona and Tallahassee to Fort Myers. The installations will be on billboards along interstates and major thoroughfares, giving the project the widest public exposure. The U.S. Department of Energy is providing a $2.5-million grant to the project through the Florida Energy and Climate Commission and the Governor's Energy Office, while Lamar is funding the remaining $10 million.

As part of its initiative, Lamar Advertising is sponsoring Renewable Florida, a Web-based clearinghouse to help Floridians find the easiest and most cost-efficient ways of maximizing renewable energy. To learn more, go to www.renewableflorida.org.

"Over the 20- to 25-year life span of the billboards converted to renewable energy, we will return an untold amount of renewable, emission-free energy to the power grid while demonstrating in a very graphic manner to the public the payoff that comes with renewable energy," Switzer said. "In the long run, this will mean significant savings for Lamar. The lifespan of these systems allows them to be amortized, giving us a very logical business rationale for incorporating systems such as these on a widespread basis."

For more information about the benefits of renewable energy, explore www.renewableflorida.org.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Department of Energy Gives Out $106 Million in Stimulus Fund to 37 Green Tech Projects to Arpa-E

Department of Energy has given out $106 million more in stimulus funds to 37  green technology projects under the banner of its Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (know best as Arpa-E). The money will be funneled into microbe, battery and carbon capture research, VentureBeat reported. The Energy Department first announced Arpa-E funding in March, with the explicit goal of backing technologies that would reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels, or, alternatively, limit the damage caused by those we still use.

The recent initiatives focus on microbes are engineering them to quickly and efficiently convert nonfood feedstocks (switchgrass, sugar cane, and even municpal waste) into biofuels and sustainable chemicals. Some of these projects are even working on feeding microbes with carbon dioxide captured from existing fossil fuel-powered plants, to accelerate the move toward carbon neutrality.

Read more: Arpa-E Green Tech Gets $106 Million

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New Caledonian Crows' Ability to Use Three Tools Stuns Scientists

From BBC News
New Caledonian crows have given scientists yet another display of their tool-using prowess.
Scientists from New Zealand's University of Auckland have found that the birds are able to use three tools in succession to reach some food. The crows, which use tools in the wild, have also shown other problem-solving behaviour, but this find suggests they are more innovative than was thought. The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  The team headed to the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, the home of Corvus moneduloides.

They are the only birds known to craft and use tools in the wild. The discovery that they whittle branches into hooks and tear leaves into barbed probes to extract food from hard-to-reach nooks astounded scientists, who had previously thought that ability to fashion tools was unique to primates.

And further research in the laboratory and the field has revealed that New Caledonian crows are also innovative problem solvers, often rivaling primates. Experiments have shown that the birds can craft new tools out of unfamiliar materials, as well as use a number of tools in succession.
 Read more:  Clever New Caledonian crows can use three tools

Toxic Stew of Chemicals in Potomac River Causing Male Fish to Carry Eggs in Testes

  Photograph: Rob Heimplaetzer/Potomac Conservancy
SHOCK: More than 80% of the male bass fish in Washington D.C.'s Potomac River are now exhibiting female traits such as egg production due to a "toxic stew" of pollutants, the Potomac Conservancy reported.
Intersex fish probably result from drugs, such as the contraceptive pill, and other chemicals being flushed into the water and have been found right across the US.

The Potomac Conservancy, which focuses on Washington DC's river, called for new research to determine what was causing male small-mouth bass to carry immature eggs in their testes. "We have not been able to identify one particular chemical or one particular source," said Vicki Blazer, a fish biologist with the US geological survey. "We are still trying to get a handle on what chemicals are important."

But she said early evidence pointed to a mix of chemicals – commonly used at home as well as those used in large-scale farming operations – causing the deformities. The suspect chemicals mimic natural hormones and disrupt the endocrine system, with young fish being particularly susceptible.

The chemicals could include birth control pills and other drugs, toiletries especially those with fragrances, products such as tissues treated with antibacterial agents, or goods treated with flame retardants that find their way into waste water. However, Blazer also pointed to runoff from fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural areas.
Read more: 'Toxic stew' of chemicals causing male fish to carry eggs in testes

Princeton Review Names Drury University as a "Green College" for its Environmental Responsibility Focus

The Princeton Review has named Drury University as a "green" college for its focus on environmental responsibility.
"We are honored to be recognized among the top five percent of universities who have made a strong commitment to sustainability," Dr. Wendy Anderson, director of campus sustainability, said in a news release. "We hope this will put Drury on the radar for students who are interested in a university that values sustainability." Source:  News-Leader
Drury was the only Missouri school to make "The Princeton Review's Guide to 286 Green Colleges." The guide is a free publication for students looking for a sustainable campus.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

CDC Study Finds Link Between Lack of Indoor Plumbing and High Rates of Potentially Life Threatening Diseases in Alaska Village

From the Anchorage Daily News:

A new Centers for Disease Control study shows a strong link between a lack of indoor plumbing and high rates of potentially life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis among children in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

"In villages where there was no in-home running water, the rates for disease were about three times higher than they were than in other villages," said Dr. Jay Wenger, lead author of the study. About 40 percent of households in the region lack water service, which could make it more difficult for people to wash their hands and prevent the spread of bacteria, said Dr. Rosalyn Singleton, immunization program director for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and a contributor to the report.

The region is home to some of the poorest, most crowded households in the state, the study says. The report found Alaska Native children younger than 5 years old in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region are five to 10 times more likely to suffer from a bacterial illness called Invasive Pneumococcal Disease than other Alaska kids.

The disease can lead to a serious form of pneumonia -- a lung infection that makes up the majority of Yukon-Kuskokwim cases -- as well as meningitis and blood infections, Singleton said.

NOAA: Global Temps Push Last Month to Hottest March on Record

From NOAA:

The world’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature made last month the warmest March on record, according to NOAA. Taken separately, average ocean temperatures were the warmest for any March and the global land surface was the fourth warmest for any March on record. Additionally, the planet has seen the fourth warmest January – March period on record.

The monthly National Climatic Data Center analysis, which is based on records going back to 1880, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides government, business and community leaders so they can make informed decisions.

Read more:  NOAA: Global Temps Push Last Month to Hottest March on Record

Farmer Discovers Meteor Fragment From Fireball Over Wisconsin

From Space.com

A small chunk of rock believed to be a fragment from a meteor that burst into a stunning fireball over Wisconsin Wednesday night was discovered by a farmer after it fell on the roof of his shed.

The meteor fragment is peppered with gray, white and reddish minerals, though one side is covered in what scientists called a "fusion crust" – a layer of dark material forged during the meteor's fiery passage into Earth's atmosphere. It weighs just 0.2 ounces (7.5 grams) and is about 2 inches (5 cm) long and less than an inch wide.

A camera mounted to a campus building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison caught the Wisconsin meteor's explosive demise. The meteor's sonic boom and explosion were also seen and heard by numerous witnesses, and sparked frantic 911 emergency calls across six different states, according to the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

National Restaurant Assocation Launches Greener Restaurants Pilot Program

From Green Lodging News:
The National Restaurant Association has launched the pilot of Greener Restaurants—a new national program to recognize restaurants’ environmental sustainability efforts. A limited number of restaurants have signed on to participate in the pilot that will open to industrywide participation in the next few months. Greener Restaurants will show operators how to save money while “going greener” and share their successes with guests.

“We listened to what our members have told us they wanted: a flexible, effective and affordable program to help them do the right thing for the planet and for their business, and worked closely with them to develop the program,” said Dawn Sweeney, National Restaurant Association president and CEO. “As we perfect the final program details in the pilot stage, we are working with our state restaurant association partners to introduce it industrywide.”

The goal of the Greener Restaurants program is to help restaurant operators save money and manage costs while incorporating sustainability practices throughout the restaurant. In addition, the program will help restaurants market their efforts to “go greener” to guests both onsite and online. It was developed with the input of restaurant operators and partners of the National Restaurant Association Conserve initiative—the Turner Foundation, Kendall College, Food Service Technology Center and EPA Energy Star.

The program comprises a checklist of action items from which participants select areas of focus and build a profile on an interactive website. The checklist contains both smaller steps, such as using low-energy light bulbs, and larger moves, including equipment and remodeling. The checklist will be accompanied by resources and instructional videos to help the operator implement each practice and report progress.
Read more:  Greener Restaurants National Recognition Program Pilot Launches

Chinese Ship Put a Two-Mile Gash in Great Barrier Reef, Could Take Decades to Recover

From Grist:
A Chinese ship that spent nine days stranded on the Great Barrier Reef gouged a two-mile scar in the coral that could take decades to recover, a top expert said on Tuesday. David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the body overseeing the heritage-listed marine park, said the Shen Neng 1 coal carrier had been grinding against and crushing the reef after it veered off course and smashed into it on April 3.
Officials have expressed anger over the incident and accused the crew of the ship, which was refloated late on Monday and towed away, of taking an illegal route.

"This is by far the largest ship-grounding scar we have seen on the Great Barrier Reef to date," Wachenfeld told public broadcaster ABC. "This vessel did not make an impact in one place and rest there and then was pulled off. This scar is more in the region of three kilometres long and up to 250 meters wide."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd expressed anger at the accident, which also leaked about two tons of fuel oil into the pristine seas. "It is still an absolute outrage that this vessel could've landed on the Great Barrier Reef," he said. "We will leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding out how that happened."

An approaching storm hurried authorities into refloating the 750-foot ship -- the length of two football fields-- after nightfall on Monday. They pumped compressed air into its bunkers and pulled it free using tugboats. Officials said the rescue had been carried out without adding to the initial oil spill, which created a two-mile slick.
Read more:  Chinese ship gouged two-mile scar in Great Barrier Reef | Grist

Monday, April 12, 2010

Science Daily: Hawaiian Submarine Canyons Are Hotspots of Biodiversity and Biomass for Seafloor Animal Communities

From Science Daily:

Underwater canyons have long been considered important habitats for marine life, but until recently, only canyons on continental margins had been intensively studied. Researchers from Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) and the Universtiy of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) have now conducted the first extensive study of canyons in the oceanic Hawaiian Archipelago and found that these submarine canyons support especially abundant and unique communities of megafauna (large animals such as fish, shrimp, crabs, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins) including 41 species not observed in other habitats in the Hawaiian Islands.

The research is published in the the March issue of the journal Marine Ecology. The researchers used both visual and video surveys from 36 submersible dives (using UHM's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V) to characterize slope and canyon communities of animals at depths of 350-1500 meters along the margins of four islands of the Hawaiian Archipelago. The coastlines of Oahu and Molokai were selected as examples of high, mountainous islands with large supplies of terrestrial and marine organic matter which can be exported down slopes and canyons to provide food to deep-sea communities. Nihoa Island and Maro Reef were chosen to represent low islands and atolls that are likely to export less organic matter to feed the deep-sea fauna.

Read more:  Hawaiian Submarine Canyons Are Hotspots of Biodiversity and Biomass for Seafloor Animal Communities

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NASA's Global Hawk Completes First Science Flight Over the Pacific

NASA/Dryden/Carla Thomas
From NASA:

NASA pilots and flight engineers, together with colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have successfully completed the first science flight of the Global Hawk unpiloted aircraft system over the Pacific Ocean. The flight was the first of five scheduled for this month's Global Hawk Pacific (GloPac) mission to study atmospheric science over the Pacific and Arctic oceans.

The Global Hawk is a robotic plane that can fly autonomously to altitudes above 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers) -- roughly twice as high as a commercial airliner -- and as far as 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 kilometers) -- half the circumference of Earth. Operators pre-program a flight path, and then the plane flies itself for as long as 30 hours, staying in contact through satellite and line-of-site communications to the ground control station at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California's Mojave Desert.

"The Global Hawk is a revolutionary aircraft for science because of its enormous range and endurance," said Paul Newman, co-mission scientist for GloPac and an atmospheric scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "No other science platform provides this much range and time to sample rapidly evolving atmospheric phenomena. This mission is our first opportunity to demonstrate the unique capabilities of this plane, while gathering atmospheric data in a region that is poorly sampled."

GloPac researchers will directly measure and sample greenhouse gases, ozone-depleting substances, aerosols, and constituents of air quality in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. In yesterday's flight, the plane flew approximately 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 kilometers) along a flight path that took it from Dryden to 150.3 degrees West longitude and 54.6 degrees North latitude, just south of Alaska's Kodiak Island. The flight lasted 14.1 hours and flew up to 60,900 feet (18.6 kilometers) in altitude.

Read more:  NASA's Global Hawk Completes First Science Flight Over the Pacific

Study: Traffic-Related Pollution Near Schools Linked to Development of Asthma in Children

From the Science Daily:

Living near major highways has been linked to childhood asthma, but a new study led by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) suggests that traffic-related pollution near schools is also contributing to the development of asthma in kids.

The researchers found that the risk of developing asthma due to exposure at school was comparable to that of children whose exposure occurred primarily at home, even though time spent at school only accounted for about one third of waking hours. Children in schools located in high-traffic environments had a 45 percent increased risk of developing asthma. The study appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and is now available online.

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness in developed countries and has been linked to environmental factors such as traffic-related air pollution.

Read more:   Traffic-Related Pollution Near Schools Linked to Development of Asthma in Pupils

Barack Obama Green Charter High School to Open Soon in Plainfield, NJ

The Barack Obama Green Charter High School is slated to open soon in Plainfield, N.J. The zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a variance for educators to set up classroom at the city's YMCA, according to the Star-Ledger. The school's founders are touting it as the first charter school in New Jersey to implement the philosophy of the nonprofit Green Schools initiative, which advocates having a toxin-free building, with sustainable use of resources and a ban on junk food.

The 120-seat Barack Obama Green Charter High School is slated to open for ninth and tenth graders at the start of the new school year at 530 West Seventh St. It already has approval from the state Department of Education. The school will encourage students to walk or take public transportation to school and bring their own lunches. It will not have a cafeteria or school buses.

Read more:  New Barack Obama Green Charter High School is coming to Plainfield

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Agricultural Research Service Scientists Develop Self-Pollinating Almond Trees

From the Science Daily:
 Self-pollinating almond trees that can produce a bountiful harvest without insect pollination are being developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. This is good news for almond growers who face rising costs for insect pollination because of nationwide shortages of honey bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and other factors.

ARS geneticist Craig Ledbetter, at the agency's Crop Diseases, Pests and Genetics Research Unit near Parlier, Calif., is developing this new line of self-pollinating almond trees. Self-pollinating almonds are not new. The Tuono variety, originally from Spain, has been around for centuries. But its traits are not attractive when compared to California's most popular almond, Nonpareil.

Tuono's seed coat has a hairy texture and it has a very thick shell, so only 32 percent of the nut is edible kernel, compared to 60 to 65 percent for Nonpareil. But Tuono's thick shell gives it more resistance to the navel orangeworm and other pests. An almond that has traits from both varieties would be ideal. Ledbetter and his collaborators used Tuono as the male (pollen) parent in conventional hybridizations with California-adapted almond cultivars and selections. The scientists made crosses at bloom time and came back at harvest time to collect the nuts. They then grew those nuts into seedlings and surrounded the branches with insect-proof nylon bags to exclude insects that could serve as pollinators. The seedlings bloomed and some produced fruits inside the bags, making these seedlings self-pollinating.

Read more:  Agricultural Scientists Develop Self-Pollinating Almond Trees

Photo credit: Tripadvisor

Science Daily: Astronomers Take Close-Up Pictures of Mysterious Dark Object

From Science Daily:
For the first time, astronomers have directly observed the mysterious dark companion in a binary star system that has puzzled skywatchers since the 19th century.

Using an instrument developed at the University of Michigan, scientists have taken close-up pictures of Epsilon Aurigae during its eclipse, which happens every 27 years. "Close up" in this case is a relative term, but the images zoom in enough to show the shape of the dark object's shadow.

"Seeing is believing," said John Monnier, an associate professor in the U-M Department of Astronomy who is an author of a paper about the research findings published in the April 8 edition of Nature. Researchers from the University of Denver and Georgia State University were involved as well.

Read more:   Astronomers Take Close-Up Pictures of Mysterious Dark Object | Science Daily

NASA, Navy & University Researchers Successfully Demonstrate Robotic Underwater Vehicle

From Science Daily:
NASA, U.S. Navy and university researchers have successfully demonstrated the first robotic underwater vehicle to be powered entirely by natural, renewable, ocean thermal energy.

The Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC) autonomous underwater vehicle uses a novel thermal recharging engine powered by the natural temperature differences found at different ocean depths. Scalable for use on most robotic oceanographic vehicles, this technology breakthrough could usher in a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of virtually indefinite ocean monitoring for climate and marine animal studies, exploration and surveillance.Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, completed the first three months of an ocean endurance test of the prototype vehicle off the coast of Hawaii in March.

Read more:  NASA Demonstrates Novel Ocean-Powered Underwater Vehicle | Science Daily

Partial Skeletons Found in South African May Represent New Hominid

From Science Times:

Nearly two million years ago, an adult and a child walking through the South African landscape somehow fell through openings in a partly eroded, underground cave and died. Today, that fatal plunge has led to their identification as representatives of a new hominid species — and a contentious debate among paleoanthropologists over the pair’s evolutionary relationship to modern humans.

In the April 9 Science, anthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and his colleagues assign newly discovered fossils from these ancient individuals to the species Australopithecus sediba. They propose that the species served as an evolutionary bridge from apelike members of Australopithecus to the Homo genus, which includes living people. In a local African tongue, sediba means fountain or wellspring, a reference to this species as a candidate ancestor of the Homo line.“Australopithecus sediba could be a Rosetta Stone for anatomically defining the Homo genus,” Berger says.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Giant Lizard, Varanus Bitatawa, Found in the Phillipines

 From Pravda.RU:

Biologists announced on Wednesday, the spectacular discovery of a new species of giant lizard, a reptile the size of a grown adult man, and endowed with a double penis, in the Philippines. The monitor lizard, a skittish animal, though colorful, is a close cousin of the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia. But unlike the dreaded dragon, he is not carnivorous and does not feed on carrion. Rather it is an entirely peaceful animal eating fruit.

Called the Varanus bitatawa, the lizard measures two meters in length, according to an article published by the Royal Society. The lizard was found in a river in the northern island of Luzon, Philippines where it survived the loss of their habitat to hunting practiced by the locals, who use it for food. 

It is not known, however, how many of these animals survived. It is almost certain that the species is in serious danger of extinction and could have gone away without ever being cataloged had a large male specimen not been rescued, alive, in possession of a hunter, last June. 

The discovery of a species so special in a densely populated and cleared area "is an unprecedented surprise," stressed the report's authors, in an article published in the journal Biology Letters. The only significance of such discoveries made in recent decades were the Kipunji monkey, which inhabits a small area of forest in Tanzania, and Saola, and a wild ox found only in Vietnam and Laos. 

The Varanus bitatawa has distinctive markings and an unusual sexual anatomy. His scaly body and legs are dark blue with light yellow dots, while the tail is marked with alternating segments of green and black. Males have a double penis, called hemipenis, also found in snakes and other lizards. The two penises are usually used interchangeably, and sometimes contain spines or hooks to attach the male to female during mating. The giant lizard has a relative in Southern Luzon, the V. olivaceus , but the species are separated in river valleys and a precipice of 150 km in length, making it likely that they have never met.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chinese Bulk Coal Carrier Leaking Oil in Sea Around Great Barrier Reef

(Reuters) - A stranded Chinese bulk coal carrier leaking oil into the sea around Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger of breaking up and damaging the reef, government officials said on Sunday.

The 230-meter (754-ft) Shen Neng I was on its way to China when it ran aground on a shoal on Saturday. It had 950 tonnes of oil on board and officials said patches of oil had been spotted in the water early on Sunday, but no major leak.

The premier of Queensland state Anna Bligh said the ship was in a poor state, and posed a danger to the reef."The situation remains serious as the extent of the damage means there is a very real risk that the vessel may break apart," Bligh said in a statement. "Every effort is now being made to limit the impact of this incident on the Great Barrier Reef."

To read entire article, CLICK HERE.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Could Seaweed be the Key to Tackling Obesity? Study Finds it Reduces Fat Uptake

ScienceDaily (Mar. 22, 2010) — Seaweed could hold the key to tackling obesity after it was found it reduces fat uptake by more than 75 per cent, new research has shown.

Now the team at Newcastle University are adding seaweed fiber to bread to see if they can develop foods that help you lose weight while you eat them.

A team of scientists led by Dr. Iain Brownlee and Prof. Jeff Pearson have found that dietary fibre in one of the world's largest commercially-used seaweed could reduce the amount of fat absorbed by the body by around 75 per cent.

The Newcastle University team found that Alginate -- a natural fibre found in sea kelp -- stops the body from absorbing fat better than most anti-obesity treatments currently available over the counter.

To read entire article, CLICK HERE.

Photo credit: Kelp forest off coast of California. (Credit: iStockphoto/Tammy Peluso)

Lawmaker Says Air Pollution Kills 50,000 a Year in the United Kingdom

Bloomberg -- Air pollution from traffic and industry kills as many as 50,000 people in the U.K. every year, and the nation could face fines of as much as $450 million for failing to meet European Union targets, lawmakers said.

London has the worst air quality in the U.K. and the highest levels in Europe of PM10 particles, which are largely released by factories and vehicles, the Environmental Audit Committee said today. Poor air quality cuts the average life expectancy in the U.K. by seven to eight months, it said.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

PepsiCo Inc. Unveils New "Designer Salt" in Bid to Make its Lay's Potato Chips Healthier

Do we really need PepsiCo Inc.'s new "designer salt?" The company plans to start churning out batches of a new secret ingredient in a bid to make its Lay's potato chips healthier. According to the Wall Street Journal, the "designer salt's" crystals are shaped and sized in a way that reduces the amount of sodium consumers ingest when they munch. The company reportedly hopes the powdery salt, which it is still studying and testing with consumers, will cut sodium levels 25% in its Lay's Classic potato chips. The company also said the new salt could help reduce sodium levels even further in seasoned Lay's chips like Sour Cream & Onion and could be used in other products like Cheetos and Quaker bars.
At an investor conference Monday in New York, the company said it is committed to cutting its products' average sodium per serving by 25% by 2015 and saturated fat and added sugar by 15% and 25%, respectively, this decade. The designer salt is one of the latest and most intricate efforts yet by a food company to vault ahead of concerns among government officials about the possible health effects of the widespread use of sodium in processed foods.

Eating too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease. Most Americans consume about twice their recommended limit daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Source: Wall Street Journal
To read the entire article,  CLICK HERE.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Population of Migrating Monarch Butterflies Lowest Ever

 From the Star-Telegram:
Monarch butterflies, hit hard by strong storms at their winter home in Mexico, have dwindled to their lowest population levels in decades as they begin to return to Texas on their springtime flight back to the United States and Canada.

The monarch loss is estimated at 50 to 60 percent and means that the breeding population flying northward is expected to be the smallest since the Mexican overwintering colonies were discovered in 1975, said Chip Taylor, a professor of entomology and director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

Report: Most Power Plants Spewing Toxic Mercury

 From McClatchy News:
Many of America's coal-fired power plants lack widely available pollution controls for the highly toxic metal mercury, and mercury emissions recently increased at more than half of the country's 50 largest mercury-emitting power plants, according to a report Wednesday. The nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project reported that five of the 10 plants with the highest amount of mercury emitted are in Texas. Plants in Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Michigan also are in the top 10.

The report, which used the most recent data available from the Environmental Protection Agency, found that mercury emissions increased at 27 of the top 50 plants from 2007 to 2008. Overall, power plant emissions of mercury decreased 4.7 percent in that timeframe, but that amount was far less than what would be possible with available emissions controls, the report said. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution, generating more than 40 percent of U.S. emissions. Mercury released into the air settles in rivers and lakes, where it moves through the food chain to the fish that people eat.

Mercury exposure can harm the brain development of infants and children. Each year more than 300,000 babies may have an increased risk of learning disabilities as a result of exposure to mercury before birth, the report said.

U.N. Organization Denies New Protections for Bluefin Tuna, Polar Bears

From McClatchy News:
A U.N. organization that regulates wildlife trade voted Thursday against bans on hunting polar bears threatened by shrinking Arctic ice and on fishing for the Atlantic bluefin tuna, a species that can grow to nearly 1,400 pounds and is prized in Japan for sushi and sashimi.  The U.S. government backed both proposals at a meeting in Doha, Qatar, of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
U.S. officials argued that polar bears shouldn't be hunted for commercial trade because they already were threatened by melting sea ice caused by global warming. Canada allows a hunt for polar bears for trade in their pelts and other body parts and for trophy hunting.

Tom Strickland, the assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and parks, said the polar bear proposal was the first time a hunting ban had been sought for an animal threatened by climate change. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that polar bear populations would decline by more than 70 percent in 45 years as ice melts.

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is in steep decline as a result of overfishing. Monaco proposed banning the commercial trade until the fish had time to recover to sustainable levels. The vote on bluefin tuna had been expected at the end of the two-week international meeting next week, but Libya called for an immediate vote after discussion about the fish began Thursday. The vote was 68 countries against a ban, 20 in favor and 30 abstaining.
Read entire article: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/03/18/90666/new-protections-denied-for-polar.html#ixzz0irmKYG8t

Sandstorm Hits Northern China, Residents Warned Air Quality "Very Bad for Health"

Beijing's sky took on an orange hue on Saturday as the country experienced its strongest sandstorm this year in northern China. According to media reports, a thin dusting of sand covered Beijing, causing workers and tourists to cover their faces in Tienanmen Square. China's national weather bureau warned that the air quality was "very bad for the health." It cautioned people to cover their mouths when outside and keep doors and windows locked.
China's expanding deserts now cover one-third of the country because of overgrazing, deforestation, urban sprawl and drought. The shifting sands have led to a sharp increase in sandstorms, the grit from which can travel as far as the western United States. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has estimated that the number of sandstorms has jumped sixfold in the last 50 years to two dozen a year.

The latest sandstorm also hit the Chinese regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia and the provinces of Gansu, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Hebei, affecting about 250 million people over an area of 312,000 square miles, the state-run New China News Agency reported. As the sandstorm moved southeast, South Korea's national weather agency issued an advisory for Seoul and other parts of the country. Source: LA Times
China experienced it worst recent sandstorm in 2006, when about 300,000 tons of sand were dumped on Beijing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Science Daily: Khirbet Qeiyafa Identified as Biblical 'Neta'im'

 ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2010) — Has another mystery in the history of Israel been solved? Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Bible Studies at the University of Haifa has identified Khirbet Qeiyafa as "Neta'im," which is mentioned in the book of Chronicles. "The inhabitants of Neta'im were potters who worked in the king's service and inhabited an important administrative center near the border with the Philistines," explains Prof. Galil.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a provincial town in the Elah Valley region. Archaeological excavations carried out at Khirbet Qeiyafa by a team headed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Mr. Saar Ganor have dated the site to the beginning of the 10th century BCE, namely the time of King David's rule. A Hebrew inscription on a pottery shard found at the site, also dating back to the 10th century, has recently been deciphered by Prof. Galil and indicates the presence of scribes and a high level of culture in the town.

The genealogy of the Tribe of Judah dated to the same period is recorded in 1 Chronicles. The last verse of this genealogy, 1 Chronicles 4:23, mentions two important cites: Gederah and Neta'im, both of which were administrative centers, since they were inhabited by people who work "in the king's service": "These were the potters, the inhabitants of Neta'im and Gederah, they dwelt there in the King's service." Gederah has been identified by A. Alt with Khirbet Ğudraya, near the Elah Valley, but Neta'im, which is mentioned only once in the Bible, remained unidentified.

The article continues: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100308095459.htm

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New tool for sustainable policy: big bonus

From NRC Handelsblad:

A new trend amongst Dutch multinationals: some executive remunerations are now based on meeting sustainability targets. But the criteria are not always clear. Paint and chemical producer AkzoNobel was the first to introduce a new system of performance related pay last April, when it announced its executive bonuses would be based on sustainability criteria. The 600 top managers at the company now have to take into consideration whether they have done enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and whether they have developed more innovative, environmentally friendly products than the competition. If they fail to do so, their remuneration is reduced.

Akzo was the first company to openly connect sustainable performance to its bonuses and several Dutch multinationals have already followed suit. Chemical manufacturer DSM, postal company TNT and energy giant Shell all announced they are adopting similar policies.

Is there a green revolution going on concerning rewards for executives? Have managers in the Netherlands all realised that more environmentally and customer friendly policies pay off? And are they trying to push their companies in this direction by not only taking profits into account, but also their contributions to people and planet? Or is this just a convenient way to keep handing out bonuses to managers when economic times are rough? Those who produce less may not meet their profit targets, but they also emit less carbon dioxide.

The article continues:  http://www.nrc.nl/international/Features/article2500556.ece/New_tool_for_sustainable_policy_big_bonus

Solar Industry Learns Lessons in Spanish "The Sun Moves Us" Bust

From the New York Times:

PUERTOLLANO, Spain — Two years ago, this gritty mining city hosted a brief 21st-century gold rush. Long famous for coal, Puertollano discovered another energy source it had overlooked: the relentless, scorching sun.

Armed with generous incentives from the Spanish government to jump-start a national solar energy industry, the city set out to replace its failing coal economy by attracting solar companies, with a campaign slogan: “The Sun Moves Us.”

Soon, Puertollano, home to the Museum of the Mining Industry, had two enormous solar power plants, factories making solar panels and silicon wafers, and clean energy research institutes. Half the solar power installed globally in 2008 was installed in Spain.

Farmers sold land for solar plants. Boutiques opened. And people from all over the world, seeing business opportunities, moved to the city, which had suffered from 20 percent unemployment and a population exodus.

But as low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.

In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.

“We lost the opportunity to be at the vanguard of renewables — we were not only generating electricity, but also a strong economy,” said Joaquín Carlos Hermoso Murillo, Puertollano’s mayor since 2004. “Why are they limiting solar power, when the sun is unlimited?”

Puertollano’s wrenching fall points to the delicate policy calculations needed to stimulate nascent solar industries and create green jobs, and might serve as a cautionary tale for the United States, where a similar exercise is now under way.

The article continues:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/business/energy-environment/09solar.html?ref=earth

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Research Project Finds Everyday Grass Could Provide Green Energy

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2010) — A five-year research project has come up with a way of generating green energy from a humble everyday grass. Researchers at Teesside University's Contaminated Land and Water Center began the project in 2004 to see which plants could best be grown on brownfield sites as a way of improving unsightly blots on the landscape.

Now, the research by the BioReGen (Biomass, Remediation, re-Generation) project team has revealed that reed canary grass can be turned into an excellent fuel for biomass power stations and, on a smaller scale, boilers in buildings like schools. The native British grass is turned into bricks and pellets. These not only burn well but also don't add to greenhouse gases or contribute to global warming.

The team experimented with four types of plant, willow trees, the current favorite for biomass power stations, and the miscanthus, reed canary and switch grasses. Tests were carried out on sites around the region with work supported by a 1.2m Euros grant from the European Union's LIFE-Environment research program.

Click here to read entire article.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

China's Water Pollution Worse Than First Thought (REUTERS)

BEIJING (Reuters) - A new Chinese government survey of the country's environmental problems has shown water pollution levels in 2007 were more than twice the government's official estimate, largely because agricultural waste was ignored.

The data, presented by Vice Environment Protection Minister Zhang Lijun, revives persistent questions about the quality of Chinese official statistics and the effectiveness of a government push for cleaner growth after decades of unbridled expansion.

The first national census on pollution sources found that discharge of "chemical oxygen demand" (COD) -- a measure of water pollution -- in wastewater was 30.3 million metric tons, Zhang said.

The government had said in an official paper published two years ago that 2007 was the first year it managed to reduce water pollution, with COD falling 3 percent to 13.8 million metric tons.

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6180U320100209

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Study: Discarded Drugs Can Still End up in Water Supply Even if You are Careful

A study by Maine Department of Environmental Protection shows that unused or expired medications that are thrown into the trash are showing up in landfill water, potentially putting aquatic life at risk.

The MDEP found tiny amounts of discarded drugs in water at three landfills in the state, confirming suspicions that pharmaceuticals thrown into household trash are ending up in landfills. Officials said the drugs aren't a threat to drinking water supplies, but could pose a risk to aquatic life because the landfill water ends up in rivers after being treated at wastewater treatment plants.

State lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would require drug manufacturers to develop and pay for a program to collect unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs from residents and dispose of them.

Texas' Trinity River Fish Contaminated by PCBs, Won't be Safe for Consumption for Years

Officials said the fish in the Trinity River, located in Texas, won't be safe to eat for many more years because of the continued presence of a toxic compound in the water. Some of the highest poisonous readings of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found at sample sites in Tarrant County.

"I think we've done irreparable damage," Brian Smith, who owns about 700 acres of preserved ranchland along the river in Navarro County south of Dallas, said during a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality meeting Wednesday in Arlington. The meeting was held to update the public on the state's effort to clean up the water in a 150-mile stretch of the river in Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas and south toward Corsicana.

Read the full story at Star-Telegram.com.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Consumer Reports Study: Bagged Salads Aren't as Safe as You Think

Consumer Reports' releases results of study, find bagged salads aren't as "clean" as they claim to be. High levels of fecal bacteria found.

SHOCK: Consumer Reports, via its Consumers Union, has recently released the findings of tests on packaged leafy greens and the results are shocking. The study found high levels of bacteria, which are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal matter. The study appears in the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports and is also available online. Consumers Union has also issued a report urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set safety standards for greens. There is a sense of urgency to move this legislation through Congress because so many people, including children, eat green leafy vegetables on a daily basis. The legislation, pending in the Senate, passed last summer in the House of Representatives and would require the FDA to create safety standards for such vegetables.

The tests were conducted with financial support from the Pew Health Group and assessed several types of bacteria, including total coliforms and enterococcus which are "indicator organisms" found in the human digestive tract and in the surrounding environment that can indicate inadequate sanitation and a high risk of the presence of disease-causing organisms. What's equally disturbing is that there are no existing federal standards for indicator bacteria in salad greens, while there are standards for these forms of bacteria in milk, drinking water and beef. This is unacceptable and we should all work tirelessly to effect change in this arena. Several industry consultants have reportedly suggested that an unacceptable level in leafy greens would be 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram (CFU/g).

In our tests, 39 percent of samples exceeded that level for total coliforms and 23 percent for enterococcus. Results varied widely among samples, even within the same brand, from undetectable levels of those bacteria to more than 1 million CFU/g. Packages with higher bacteria levels had similarities. Many contained spinach and were one to five days from their use-by date. Packages six to eight days from their use-by date fared better. Whether the greens came in a clamshell or bag, included "baby" greens, or were organic made no difference.

Brands for which we had more than four samples, including national brands Dole, Earthbound Farm Organic, and Fresh Express, plus regional and store brands, had at least one package with relatively high levels of total coliforms or enterococcus. Our tests were conducted at an outside lab over two weeks in August and September with financial support from the Pew Health Group, which is working to improve food safety.

Consumers Union supports Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, that would, among other things, require the Food and Drug Administration to set stronger produce safety standards. Those should include performance standards for indicators of fecal contamination, such as generic E. coli and enterococcus. Source: Consumer Reports
What can you do to prevent ingesting harmful bacteria? The first thing is to wash the vegetables thoroughly, even if they "claim" to be pre-washed. It will help get rid of any residual soil matter. Visit Consumers Union for more tips: www.ConsumersUnion.org/safefood. In the meantime, please contact your elected officials in the Congress to get a move on passing this legislation.

Photo credit: Consumer Reports

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sir Richard Branson Unveils the Necker Nymph, An Underwater Plane

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has unveiled his latest toy -- an underwater plane called Necker Nymph. It can dive to depths of up to 130 feet. Sir Richard reportedly plans to lend the Nymph out to visitors of his luxury Necker Island hideaway. The Necker Nymph can carry a pilot and two visitors on a two-hour trip. Of course, this is for those with deep pockets. A trip on this fascinating addition to his collection will set you back $25,000 a week, after you have forked over a minimum of $88,000 for a seven-night stay on the luxury catamaran, the Necker Belle. This comes on the heels of the Virgin Galactic space ship.

According to the Daily Mail, the luxury sub has a fighter jet technology and is piloted with a joystick. Most subs use ballast for propulsion under the water, the Nymph used downward "lift" on wings to fly down. The Necker Nymph, which is the first of its kind, was designed and built by Graham Hawkes, chief of Hawkes Ocean Technologies.

You have to give Sir Richard Branson credit for being a visionary and seeing past the status quo. Here's a man who built his organization under to Virgin name from a mail order record retailer in 1970 to a corporate powerhouse today that includes 200 branded companies worldwide, employs about 50,000 people in 29 countries.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Funnel-Web Spiders Plague Sydney, Australia, Invasion Caused by Unseasonable Rainfall, High Humidity & Lengthy Dry Period

Funnel-web spiders are invading Sydney, Australia and what's scary is that one bite from one of these spiders can kill you in the space of two hours. The funnel-web spider is considered one of the world's most aggressive and poisonous spiders. The males are reportedly deadlier than the females. According to The Independent, the invasion is due to a lengthy dry period, which was followed by unseasonable rainfalls and high humidity during the Christmas season.

Residents of Sydney and nearby areas are encouraged to drop off any captured spiders at a reptile park near the capital where researchers will milk the spiders of their venom to make antidotes. Residents are also being warned not to walk outside barefooted and to check their shoes.

Photo credit: Funnel-web spiders, Backpack Photography/Flickr

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Study: Fungus-Gardening Ant Has Given Up Sex Completely

ScienceDaily (2010-01-09) -- The complete asexuality of a widespread fungus-gardening ant, the only ant species in the world known to have dispensed with males entirely, has recently been confirmed. Most social insects—the wasps, ants and bees—are relatively used to daily life without males. Their colonies are well run by swarms of sterile sisters lorded over by an egg-laying queen. But, eventually, all social insect species have the ability to produce a crop of males who go forth in the world to fertilize new queens and propagate.

Queens of the ant Mycocepurus smithii reproduce without fertilization and males appear to be completely absent, report Christian Rabeling, Ulrich Mueller and their Brazilian colleagues in PLoS ONE this week."Animals that are completely asexual are relatively rare, which makes this is a very interesting ant," says Rabeling, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. "Asexual species don't mix their genes through recombination, so you expect harmful mutations to accumulate over time and for the species to go extinct more quickly than others. They don't generally persist for very long over evolutionary time."

Article continues http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090825203339.htm

Google Formally Incorporates Google Energy, Seeking Government Permission to Buy and Sell Electricity on Wholesale Market

Last month, Google formally incorporated Google Energy, which is a new subsidiary that is seeking permission from the government to buy and sell electricity on the wholesale market. Though the chances of you purchasing electricity from Google is unlikely, the company said the move will allow them to have more flexibility to buy renewable energy.

 Google, in 2007, committed to becoming carbon neutral and has been steadily pursuing their goal by buying high quality renewable energy energy credits. Google Energy will allow the company to get more renewable energy onto the grid and into the company's portfolio.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Polar Bears Changing Habits in Response to Sea Ice Conditions

 Credit: iStockphoto/Styve Reineck

ScienceDaily (2010-01-07) -- An analysis of 27 years of data shows that polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea region are occurring more frequently on land and in open water than on ice during the fall. Karyn Rode, a polar bear biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska and one of the study's authors, says data collected between 1979 and 2005 show that polar bears in the region are occurring more frequently on land and in open water and less frequently on ice during the fall. This means there are increased chances for human/bear interaction. The paper was published in the December issue of Arctic -- the journal of the Arctic Institute of North America.

Polar bears were observed over the 27-year period by U.S. government Minerals Management Services staff as part of the fall bowhead whale aerial survey conducted annually in the southern Beaufort Sea. Ice conditions were also recorded. Data showed that as ice conditions changed, bears were being found on different habitats. Between 1979 and 1987, 12% of bear sightings were associated with no ice. Between 1997 and 2005 however, 90% of bear sightings were associated with no ice.

Article continues: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100107151657.htm

Australia's Great Barrier Reef Being Choked by Seaweeds

Great Barrier Reef, Getty Images/Phil Walter

According to an interview held by the Agence France-Presse, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is overgrown in places by seaweed and that could be a worrying indication of the coral structure's health.  A lack of algae-eating fish is a big reason for this trend. Surveys have already shown that the reef is at risk from global warming and more than 40 percent of the areas closest to the shore are overgrown with seaweed. The Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies' Professor David Bellwood said the offshore reefs, those about 12.4 miles from the continent's eastern coast were largely untouched by the algae. He said the best defense for the reef would be clean water and the existence of herbivorous fish which could graze on the weeds.