May 21, 2013, from Time Magazine
Foodborne illnesses are a continuing problem in the U.S., but labs that are supposed to detect the presence of pathogens aren't up to snuff, according to a new report.
The analysis, presented at the 113th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, revealed worrisome gaps in the ability of food laboratories to detect or rule out the presence of common disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter.
May 21, 2013, from Durban Mercury
The surprise discovery of rhinos with bright pink lips and swollen eyes in northern KwaZulu-Natal has raised alarm bells over the potentially devastating spread of an alien invader plant which can kill cattle and decimate the fields of peasant farmers.... the lips and nostrils of both animals had turned bright pink, while their eyes and eye sockets were "puffed up like Popeye" -- apparently from eating an invader plant known in Ethiopia as "famine weed".
May 21, 2013, from Center for Public Integrity
....unplanned emissions -- known in regulatory parlance as "upsets" -- are occurring more often than industry admits or government knows, according to more than 50 interviews with regulators, activists, plant representatives, workers and residents, and an analysis of tens of thousands of records by the Center for Public Integrity. For many communities, these upsets have evolved into an invisible menace: They disrupt lives, yet offenders are rarely punished.
May 21, 2009, from Harvard School of Medicine, via EurekAlert
A new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that participants who drank for a week from polycarbonate bottles, the popular, hard-plastic drinking bottles and baby bottles, showed a two-thirds increase in their urine of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). Exposure to BPA, used in the manufacture of polycarbonate and other plastics, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans. The study is the first to show that drinking from polycarbonate bottles increased the level of urinary BPA, and thus suggests that drinking containers made with BPA release the chemical into the liquid that people drink in sufficient amounts to increase the level of BPA excreted in human urine.... BPA is also found in dentistry composites and sealants and in the lining of aluminum food and beverage cans. (In bottles, polycarbonate can be identified by the recycling number 7.) Numerous studies have shown that it acts as an endocrine-disruptor in animals, including early onset of sexual maturation, altered development and tissue organization of the mammary gland and decreased sperm production in offspring. It may be most harmful in the stages of early development.
May 21, 2009, from Chemistry World
In their book Slow death by rubber duck, the pair detail a weekend testing spree incorporating regular blood and urine sampling. Indoors for 12-hour shifts, they used typical amounts of personal care products and a plug-in air freshener, in a room with stain-repellent furnishings and carpets. 'We set only one ironclad rule: our efforts had to mimic real life,' says Smith. Of six different phthalates in the testing regime, rocketing levels of monoethyl phthalate (MEP) -- which the body metabolises from diethyl phthalate (DEP) the most common phthalate in cosmetics and personal care products -- were most stark. Levels in urine went from 64 to 1410ng/ml. According to the European Commission's Scientific Committee for Cosmetic Products (SCCP), traces of up to 100 ppm total or per substance pose no risk to health, although traces of banned phthalates are sometimes present due to other possible uses, such as in packaging. Phthalates are plasticising chemicals, linked to abnormal reproductive development.... Levels of bisphenol A -- an endocrine disruptor linked to breast and prostate cancer -- increased 7.5 times after eating canned foods from a microwavable, polycarbonate plastic container.
May 21, 2013, from New York Times
... And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.
This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis -- decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet....
In 2011 and 2012, the Kansas Geological Survey reports, the average water level in the state's portion of the aquifer dropped 4.25 feet -- nearly a third of the total decline since 1996.
And that is merely the average. "I know my staff went out and re-measured a couple of wells because they couldn't believe it," said Lane Letourneau, a manager at the State Agriculture Department's water resources division. "There was a 30-foot decline."...
"Looking at areas of Texas where the groundwater has really dropped, those towns are just a shell of what they once were," said Jim Butler, a hydrogeologist and senior scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey.
May 21, 2012, from BBC
Scientists have identified thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane that has been stored for many millennia is bubbling into the atmosphere.
The methane has been trapped by ice, but is able to escape as the ice melts.
Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers say this ancient gas could have a significant impact on climate change.
Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after CO2 and levels are rising after a few years of stability... Using aerial and ground-based surveys, the team identified about 150,000 methane seeps in Alaska and Greenland in lakes along the margins of ice cover.
May 21, 2012, from Nature
Climate change, with its associated melting ice caps and shrinking glaciers, is the usual suspect when it comes to explaining rising sea levels. But a recent study now shows that human water use has a major impact on sea-level change that has been overlooked.
During the latter half of the twentieth century, global sea level rose by about 1.8 millimetres per year, according to data from tide gauges. The combined contribution from heating of the oceans, which makes the water expand, along with melting of ice caps and glaciers, is estimated to be 1.1 millimetres per year, which leaves some 0.7 millimetres per year unaccounted for. This gap has been considered an important missing piece of the puzzle in estimates for past and current sea-level changes and for projections of future rises.
May 21, 2012, from London Guardian
...as the latest Heartland climate conference opens in a Chicago hotel on Monday, the thinktank's claims to reasoned debate lie in shreds and its financial future remains uncertain.... Its entire Washington DC office, barring one staffer, decamped, taking Heartland's biggest project, involving the insurance industry, with them.
Board directors quit, conference speakers cancelled at short-notice, and associates of long standing demanded Heartland remove their names from its website... [president Joseph] Bast defended the ads, writing: "Our billboard was factual: the Unabomber was motivated by concern over man-made global warming to do the terrible crimes he committed." He went on to describe climate scientist Michael Mann and activist Bill McKibben as "madmen".
May 21, 2009, from BBC (UK)
The head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change says he has seen "encouraging developments" in recent climate change negotiations.... "We have an almost complete list of industrialised nations' pledges to cut emissions after 2012, so governments can see now, more clearly, where they are in comparison to each other, and can build a higher ambition on that basis," he said.
He added that the US had committed to a Copenhagen agreement and a "clean energy future".
May 21, 2013, from Reuters
Water levels in U.S. aquifers, the vast underground storage areas tapped for agriculture, energy and human consumption, between 2000 and 2008 dropped at a rate that was almost three times as great as any time during the 20th century, U.S. officials said on Monday.
The accelerated decline in the subterranean reservoirs is due to a combination of factors, most of them linked to rising population in the United States, according to Leonard Konikow, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.
May 21, 2009, from Wall Street Journal
Global production of petroleum peaked in the first quarter of last year, says analysts Raymond James, which "represents a paradigm shift of historic proportions. Unfortunately, mankind better get ready to live in a peak oil world because we believe the 'peak' is now behind us."... The contention rests on a simple argument: OPEC oil production actually fell even as oil prices were above $100 a barrel, a sign of the "tyranny of geology" that limits the easy production of ever-more crude.
"Those declines had to have come for involuntary reasons such as the inherent geological limits of oil fields ... We believe that the oil market has already crossed over to the downward sloping side of Hubbert's Peak," the analysts write.
May 21, 2013, from PLOS, via PlanetEarth
An international team studied the effect of ocean acidification on plankton in the North Sea over the past forty years, to see what impact future changes may have....
Foraminifera and coccoliths, which are small shelled plankton and algae, appear to be surviving remarkably well in the more acidic conditions. But numbers of pteropods and bivalves - such as mussels, clams and oysters - are falling.
'Ecologically, some species are soaring, whilst others are crashing out of the system,' says Professor Jason Hall-Spencer, of Plymouth University, who co-authored the paper....
'The aragonite skeleton of pteropods dissolves more easily in corrosive waters than the low-magnesium calcite that typifies many clams and other molluscs,' explains Hall-Spencer. 'But now we think that it's not as simple as that. It depends partly on how stressed organisms are by other factors, such as lack of food. It also depends on their shape and their ability to protect their skeletons.'
May 21, 2012, from TIME
Are these strawberries organic? Is this omelette made with free-range eggs? Can you swap out the rice for quinoa? Is this kale locally sourced? Pesticide-free? Fair trade? Are the hazelnuts local?
The onslaught of questions from an enlightened eater can test the patience of even the calmest restaurant server.
And a new study shows that organic foodies' humane regard for the well-being of animals makes some people rather snobbish. The report, published last week in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science, notes that exposure to organic foods can "harshen moral judgments."
May 21, 2009, from The Economist
The thaliacean graveyard off Côte d'Ivoire came as a surprise because not much was known at the time about what happens to animals with gelatinous bodies, whether chordates or jellyfish, after they have died. And it set Mr Lebrato and Dr Jones thinking, because if thaliaceans are falling to the bottom of the sea in large numbers, they might be taking a lot of carbon with them.
Until then gelatinous animals had largely been ignored by researchers studying the carbon cycle (the way that element moves through land, sea, air and living creatures) because gelatinous bodies were thought to contain a lot of water and thus relatively little carbon. However, as Mr Lebrato and Dr Jones report in Limnology and Oceanography, when they analysed thaliacean tissues they found that the creatures were one-third carbon by weight. That was much more than they expected. Jellyfish, by comparison, are 10 percent carbon, and diatoms (single-celled algae that are common in plankton) 20 percent. It also helps explain why thaliaceans are so denseand thus sink so quickly after they die.... Even if the carbon is not permanently buried, the lack of mixing between deep and shallow water in the ocean means that it is likely to stay down there for a long timesomething that will have to be added to computer models of how the climate works. The carbon cycle has thus acquired another epicycle, and become even more complicated to understand than it was.