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Week Starting May 21, 2012
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White House petitioned to make research free to access More than 17,000 people have signed an online petition urging US President Barack Obama to require all scientific journal articles resulting from US taxpayer-funded research to be made freely available online. The signatures, obtained within a week of the petition’s launch after an active social media campaign, put it over two-thirds of the way towards the threshold that will require an official response from the White House.
Autism’s rising rates increasingly blamed on toxic chemicals. To date, science has not directly linked any environmental exposures with any of the disabling behavioral and cognitive conditions that fall along the autism spectrum. But rising rates of autism along with the increasing breadth and reach of synthetic chemicals raises questions for which scientists are beginning to offer a few answers. Huffington Post
Feeding a hungry world – or meddling with laws of nature? Three senior scientists made impassioned appeals yesterday to anti-GM campaigners not to destroy a field trial of GM wheat which is the culmination of several years’ work. The Independent, United Kingdom.
Soft-shell lobsters so soon? It’s a mystery in Maine. This year, strange things are happening on the ocean floor. Many of the lobsters have prematurely shed their hard shells, and lobstermen are hauling large numbers of soft-shelled lobsters much earlier than usual. Weekend Edition, NPR.
Virginia’s sea-level rise has fastest rate on the East Coast. Evidence of sea level rise is increasingly visible to people who spend time around the water: Wetlands are disappearing, ditches have gone tidal, backyard vegetation has changed, and “ghost forests” - full grown trees that are dead along the shore because the ocean is moving in underneath them - are now a fixture. Delaware Coast Press, Delaware.
Greens warn of a return to era of ‘dirty coal.’ A new generation of coal-fired power stations will be built without permanent curbs on emissions, say green groups, who warn that a “whopping loophole” risks a new age of pollution. The Independent, United Kingdom.
High speed rail construction will make air worse. Backers of California’s proposed high-speed rail system frequently tout the long-term air-quality benefits of getting people out of cars and planes and onto electric-powered trains. But any reductions in air pollution won’t start for at least a decade, when the trains would start carrying passengers. Fresno Bee, California.
The real scoop on beach sand bacteria. Fecal contamination in coastal waters is estimated to cause more than 120 million cases of gastrointestinal illness and 50 million cases of respiratory disease each year around the world. Problem is: Beach monitoring programs look at water samples, not the sanitary quality of beach sand. Cape Cod Times, Massachusetts.
UCSF to Participate in World No Tobacco Day on May 31 The UCSF campus community is invited and encouraged to celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on Thursday, May 31, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at several UCSF sites. UCSF is proud to participate in the World Health Organization’s global event. This year’s goals are threefold: to help people quit smoking, increase awareness of health care providers in how to help people quit, and provide information about the World Health Organization’s theme “Tobacco Industry Interference.”
Syngenta agrees to settle herbicide lawsuit. Swiss chemicals maker Syngenta’s agreement to pay $105 million to settle a nearly 8-year-old lawsuit over one of its popular agricultural herbicides could help reimburse nearly 2,000 community water systems that have had to filter the chemical, atrazine, from its drinking water, a plaintiffs’ attorney said Friday. Associated Press
Are U.S. nuclear plants ready for a Fukushima-like meltdown? When Chairman Gregory Jaczko resigned from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week, reports suggested it was linked to battles within the commission over safety requirements. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, how should government regulators here set the safety bar for nuclear power plants in the U.S.? PBS NewsHour
Chemicals aren’t why you’re fat, but they’re making you fatter. A chemical that can be found almost everywhere causes stem cells to become fat cells. It won’t make you fat on your own, but it makes your crappy diet a lot worse for you. How can you avoid it? Fast Company
EPA under fire for bee deaths. A group of bee keepers have signed a petition asking EPA to ban a pesticide they believe is responsible for massive bee deaths, but there are varying opinions on the safety of this chemical. Living On Earth
How the world’s weather could quickly run amok. In the world of climate modelers, the true gloomsters are scientists who look at climate through the lens of “dynamical systems,” a mathematics that describes things that tend to change suddenly and are difficult to predict. It is the mathematics of the tipping point—the moment at which a “system” that has been changing slowly and predictably will suddenly “flip.” Scientific American
Wildfires burn across Southwest US amid historic drought conditions. Wildfires raced across a dry and windy Southwest on Friday, destroying dozens of homes and depositing a smoky haze over the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fuelled by historic drought conditions, the wildfire season opened early this year in the rugged mountains of Arizona. The Guardian, United Kingdom.
‘Asian brown cloud’ threatens U.S. China and India are some of the world’s top polluters, and these pollutants aren’t just bad news for the countries themselves. A new study reveals that they can affect climate thousands of kilometers away, warming the United States by up to 0.4°C by 2024, while cooling other countries. Science
Global temperatures rising on a devastating trajectory. Climate-heating carbon emissions set a record high in 2011, in a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year, the IEA reported this week. The main reason for this dangerous increase is that governments are failing to implement policies to prevent catastrophic increases of global temperatures. Inter Press Service
Solar: BLM nearing approval of Calif. project that would be world’s largest. The Bureau of Land Management is advancing what could become the world’s largest solar power project in a region of the Southern California desert where environmental groups and American Indian tribes have filed multiple federal lawsuits to stop already approved, large-scale renewables projects. Greenwire
Change in wind for acid sensors. State acid rain sensors are so old that there are no longer repair parts, Department of Environmental Conservation told the EPA in an annual report last week on the status of the state’s network of various air pollution sensors, including those for acid rain, ozone and other pollution. Albany Times Union, New York.
Seven graduate students recognized for distinguished academic accomplishment The SFSU College of Business congratulates the seven Graduate Business Distinguished Achievement honorees for 2012. These students receive special recognition from the university during commencement week. One of those honorees is Stephen Szeto, who as a Green MBA student, was critical in the development of UCSF’s emissions, water and waste tracking tool.
Cheeseburger blues: Could high-fat foods be making us depressed? New Canadian research points to a conclusion that seems to run counter to what we know: that high-fat ‘comfort foods’ actually may be making us more depressed. Postmedia News
Fish researcher hopes to make a splash with waste water tests. The goldfish and trout swimming in dozens of tanks at the University of Alberta’s aquatic research centre are the lab mice for water systems, biosentinels that are helping us understand the effects of chemicals - from pesticides to pharmaceuticals - found in waste water destined to be reused. Edmonton Journal, Alberta.
Climate scientists say warming could exceed 3.5 C. Climate researchers said Thursday the planet could warm by more than 3.5 degrees Celsius, boosting the risk of drought, flood and rising seas. Agence France-Presse
Battle brewing over labeling of genetically-modified food. As Americans ask more pointed questions about what they are eating, popular suspicions about the health and environmental effects of biotechnology are fueling a movement to require that food from genetically-modified crops be labeled, if not eliminated. New York Times [Registration Required]
Testing the water. As the lakefront officially opens to swimmers, the Lake Michigan shoreline joins the cutting edge in the war on bacteria after decades of using day-old water samples to decide whether to close beaches. Chicago Tribune, Illinois.
New study details mercury contamination in California sport fish. New findings from the first statewide study of contaminants in fish caught off the California coast show that methylmercury, a toxin that damages the nervous system of humans, was found in high concentrations in more than a third of the locations that researchers sampled. San Jose Mercury News, California.
Opinion: Canada’s mass firing of ocean scientists brings ‘silent summer’. Editor’s Note: Canada is dismantling the nation’s entire ocean contaminants program as part of massive layoffs at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Among the scientists terminated are ones who have conducted landmark research about global pollutants for decades, including Peter Ross, who is among the world’s leading experts on marine mammals and contaminants. Ross wrote this opinion for EHN. Environmental Health News
The slippery market for mercury. With the price of gold reaching a record last year, Segovia, a gold-mining town in northwestern Colombia, is a boomtown in the 19th-century style, with casinos and brothels squeezed between mining businesses along its main streets. It’s also likely one of the most poisonous towns in the world. Bloomberg News
Businesses scramble to keep up with green product demand Green businesses are being urged to overhaul their design and supply operations, after a new report by consultancy Accenture revealed that many firms selling environmentally-friendly products are struggling to keep up with consumer demand.
The new survey of 250 senior executives in the U.K., U.S., Japan, Germany, France, China, Brazil and India, asseses the extent to which companies view sustainability as a driver of growth.
5 lessons from Walmart on making supplier scorecards work for you Walmart (NYSE: WMT) continues to outdistance other firms with the sophistication and scale of its sustainability program for its more than 100,000 suppliers, which stretch beyond purveyors of organic cheese and eggs to makers of the blenders, weed whackers and sweatshirts that fill its shelves around the world. Many firms now have supplier sustainability programs, but few have made this program such an integral part of operations.
Climate Change and Health: Is there a role for the health care sector? Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the scientific consensus that climate change is upon us and urge prudent action now to more faithfully care for creation and to avoid more severe consequences in the future, and they warn that its adverse impacts will fall heaviest on the poor at home and abroad. As Catholic health care providers, climate change is a moral concern and our faith demands prudent action to reduce our carbon footprint, protect human life and dignity, care for “the least of these” (Mt. 25) and raise our voice on behalf of creation and the poor.
White House blocking EPA efforts to issue rules on nanomaterials, advocates say. The White House appears to be blocking Environmental Protection Agency efforts to tighten oversight of engineered nanoscale pesticides and other chemicals, according to environmental and safety advocates. Bloomberg BNA
Global scarcity: Scramble for dwindling natural resources. National security expert Michael Klare believes the struggle for the world’s resources will be one of the defining political and environmental realities of the 21st century. In an interview, he discusses what can be done to sustainably meet the resource challenge. Yale Environment 360
Chelsea Flower Show 2012: Protests as pesticides cause bee numbers to plummet. Campaigners dressed as giant bees have been protesting outside the Chelsea Flower Show against the use of pesticides. The buzz comes as a new report warned that increasing use of the chemicals is already reducing the number of insects in Britain. The Telegraph, United Kingdom.
150,000 more US heat deaths projected by 2100. Killer heat fueled by climate change could cause an additional 150,000 deaths this century in the biggest US cities if no steps are taken to curb carbon emissions and improve emergency services, according to a new report. Reuters
California Superfund sites cause new toxic plume concerns. Two plumes of toxic chemicals which have been lurking underground for three decades have now prompted an inquiry by California’s cancer registry after NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit began asking questions. Bay Area NBC, California.
Ecolabeling and the power of uncommon collaborations Sustainability certification and ecolabeling have been around for a generation. My organization, the Rainforest Alliance, just turned 25 and founded its forestry certification program 23 years ago. So it’s a fair question to ask: What good has it done for the planet in that time and what metrics do we have for measuring progress?
UC boosts emphasis on organic waste On University of California campuses, there usually are two choices for throwing something away: the black garbage bin or the blue recycling bin. But increasingly, green also is becoming an option as composting programs spread at UC. Recycling has allowed UC to divert more than 50 percent of waste from landfills, but the blue bins alone won’t be enough to reach the system’s objectives of diverting 75 percent of waste this year and becoming zero waste — sending no garbage to landfill — by 2020.
Connecting sustainability to the healthcare mission A hospital’s mission is inextricably tied to the issue of sustainability. After all, without a sustainable operation, there is no hospital. Sustainability goals usually refer to money saved, energy conserved, waste diverted, water recycled, or any other easily understood metric. But a clear connection between sustainability and a hospital’s mission, in an understandable language and with a factual basis, rarely occurs.
4 steps to transform hospital operations with the efficiency-to-effectiveness formula In a session at the Becker’s Hospital Review Annual Meeting in Chicago on May 17, Imran Andrabi, MD, chief physician executive officer and senior vice president of the clinical innovation office of operations and system effectiveness for Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio, and Ben Sawyer, executive vice president of CareLogistics, a hospital software solution company, discussed keys for transforming hospital operations in order to reach peak performance.
Just what the doctor ordered – better hospital food While most people associate hospital food with Jell-O cubes and runny oatmeal, Hoag Hospital Irvine’s cafeteria features a decidedly unhospital-like menu of gourmet internationally inspired dishes. The idea to diversify the menu came from Indonesian-born Executive Sous Chef Kasan Soewono.
Moms descend on Congress to urge toxic chemical reform. On Tuesday, Christine Nienstedt and her 11-year-old daughter, Tyler Cheyenne, joined about 200 other moms and children as part of the National Stroller Brigade in Washington, D.C. Their mission: convince Congress to retire the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Huffington Post
Higher levels of flame retardants found in minority children. Black and Latino toddlers may have significantly higher levels of toxic flame retardants in their bodies than white children, according to a new study that challenges one of industry’s chief arguments for expanding use of the chemicals. Chicago Tribune, Illinois.
Fight over flame retardants in furniture heats up. Over the years, the most worrisome flame retardant chemicals have been phased out, but they’re still present in older furniture. Meanwhile, new chemicals come online and scientists scramble to test them. San Francisco KQED, California.
Momentum builds for stronger oversight of flame retardants. Since the Chicago Tribune published its “Playing With Fire” series, which documented a deceptive campaign by industry that distorted science, momentum has been building for stricter oversight of flame retardants and other toxic chemicals. Chicago Tribune, Illinois.
Ohio doctors can’t reveal drilling chemicals to public. Doctors given new access to the proprietary chemical recipes that oil and gas drillers use to crack into Ohio shale would be prohibited from sharing the information with the public under an energy proposal moving through the Ohio House. Associated Press
Levi’s makes life-cycle assessment part of its fabric Life-cycle assessment (LCA) tools began increasing in popularity a few years ago as sustainability-minded companies sought ways not only to better understand their products and mitigate their impacts, but also to communicate their efforts to consumers.
Non-persistent Pesticides Found in U.S. Mothers’ Breast Milk UC Berkeley scientists published the first pilot study of a U.S. population that found newborns and young children may be exposed to non-persistent pesticides through breast milk. Persistent pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were also detected. Some of these non-persistent pesticides are emerging chemicals of concern because they have been associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children.
More elderly people with heart and respiratory problems die when there is a larger difference between summertime high and low temperatures, a new U.S. study found. Analyzing changes over two decades, the study is the first long-term one to link mortality and summer temperature fluctuations.
Digging into climate change, students find more than science. To find the vanguard of climate education in the United States, keep an eye on four teachers in Maryland’s Wicomico County public school district. Using field trips, editorial cartoons, even parent objections, they’re taking climate change far from the science classroom. Daily Climate
WWII chemical exposure spurs obesity, autism, researcher says. The World War II generation may have passed down to their grandchildren the effects of chemical exposure in the 1940s, possibly explaining current rates of obesity, autism and mental illness, according to one researcher. Bloomberg News
More than 1 billion people likely at risk for lack of clean water. U.N. Development Goals for better drinking water have already been reached, but a closer look shows that the measures fail to truly account for the lack of access to safe water. Scientific American
High mercury levels found in wild dolphins. Dolphins downwind of power plants have higher levels of toxic mercury than captive dolphins, U.S. researchers reported Monday. The wild dolphins were tested off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida, a state that is in the path of mercury-laden fumes from power plants. United Press International
World’s oceans are ‘plasticized.’ A marine expedition of environmentalists has confirmed the bad news it feared: The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” extends even further than previously known. CNN
FracFocus can’t replace full, public disclosure, groups say. Open-government and environmental groups are disturbed to see the hydraulic fracturing registry FracFocus.org becoming a substitute for traditional regulatory disclosure, saying the site limits its usefulness in a way that provides less transparency and accountability than standard government disclosure. EnergyWire
Safety of widespread lawn spray questioned. The first study to examine the ecosystem-wide effects of chlorothalonil, sold under the names Bravo, Echo and Daconil and used widely across Florida farm fields, lawns and golf courses, found that the chemical causes fundamental changes to the environment. Tampa Tribune, Florida.
An entrepreneur bankrolls a genetically engineered salmon. If Americans ever eat genetically engineered fast-growing salmon, it might be because of a Soviet biologist turned oligarch turned government minister turned fish farming entrepreneur. New York Times [Registration Required]
Pet food recall that won’t end? The pet food recall from Diamond Pet Foods has been expanded eight times, triggered an FDA investigation and critique, and now includes cat food, but their handling of the salmonella crisis may be even worse. Christian Science Monitor
Nine out of Ten Businesses Have Energy Goals, Deloitte Says Businesses are driving efforts to cut energy consumption even as the economy recovers, and plan to cut energy use nearly 25 percent over three to four years, according to a survey from the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions.
Should you eat farmed fish? It’s complicated For environmentalists, some food production and consumption choices are simple. Eating less red meat is better than eating more. Beef and cheese have bigger climate impacts than turkey and eggs. Fruits and vegetables in season likely have a smaller footprint than strawberries in the wintertime.
Goldman Sachs to Pump $40bn into Clean Energy Goldman Sachs Group plans to invest $40 billion over the next 10 years into renewable energy, an area where the bank expects demand to grow as the global appetite for energy increases and major manufacturing countries like China set more aggressive emissions targets, Reuters reported.
Skin Lightening Cream Contains Hidden Risks A new case study co-authored by COEH members Mark Miller and Gina Solomon, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, has linked a skin-lightening cream manufactured in Mexico to mercury contamination cases affecting five households in California and Virginia. In total, fifteen out of twenty-two household members showed evidence of mercury poisoning, including six with no history of using the cream.
Dysentery May Be Treatable With Cheap Arthritis Drug US researchers have discovered that an already approved arthritis drug may offer a cheap, low-dose treatment for the amoebic infections that cause dysentery in humans worldwide. So far they have only tested the drug in lab and animal studies, but they have applied for approval to start clinical trials to test it as a treatment for both amebiasis and the parasite Giardia in humans.
Climate science education graduates to the next level. Like evolution, climate science has opened rifts in classrooms across the United States. Educators are lifting climate out of its narrow unit in middle school science – an effort, they hope, that will improve science literacy overall. Daily Climate
How a bunch of scrappy Marines could help vanquish breast cancer. Beginning in the 1950s, toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune intermingled with its water supply. An estimated 750,000 people regularly drank the water, bathed and swam in it, and inhaled its vapors. Their destinies could prove important for researchers seeking insights into the murky environmental causes of breast cancer. Mother Jones
War on weeds. Farmers, plant geneticists, chemists, and agronomists are engaged in an arms race against weeds that have evolved resistance to the common herbicide glyphosate. A second generation of herbicide-tolerant crops has been developed to battle resistant weeds, but they have sparked concerns about overreliance on chemical controls. Chemical & Engineering News
The book Big Tobacco doesn’t want you to read. Science historian Robert Proctor has written a devastating new compendium of the tobacco industry’s sins that lays out in head-shaking detail how a handful of companies painstakingly designed, produced, and mass-marketed the most lethal product on the planet. Mother Jones
Ever-cleaner auto exhaust. Emissions cleanup systems on today’s cars and trucks scrub engine exhaust of nearly all pollutants. Even so, carmakers continue to search for catalytic chemistry methods to further reduce emissions levels—especially diesel emissions, which until recently were not regulated—to comply with ever-tightening engine emissions laws. Chemical & Engineering News
Maryland set to ban arsenic-containing drug in chicken feed. Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign a bill this week making Maryland the first state to end a practice in existence since 1944. The law would take effect Jan. 1 for hundreds of growers on the Eastern Shore that continue to use Roxarsone as an antibiotic with a side effect that bursts blood vessels, making meat look pink and plump. Washington Post [Registration Required]
A windborne clue to a mysterious childhood disease. What climate researchers have discovered about Kawasaki disease could open up a whole new understanding into how other human pathogens are spread. No human disease has ever been shown to cross an entire ocean by wind and still remain infectious. All Things Considered, NPR.
Pennsylvania health care company seeks gas drilling facts. Some people are absolutely sure gas drilling threatens public health, while others are absolutely sure it doesn’t. Geisinger Health Systems is looking for more facts on the debate. Associated Press
California’s deadlocked Delta: Can it be fixed? The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a relatively small part of California but plays a crucial role in the state’s water supply. It’s become ground zero for a decades-long water war involving cities, farmers and fish. Could the deadlock end this year? San Francisco KQED, California.
US Imposes 31% Duty on Chinese Solar Panels The US government has imposed tariffs of around 30 percent on solar panels imported from China, sparking charges of “trade protectionism” from Chinese government officials and increasing friction between the two countries.
Can companies market greener food choices to consumers? When it comes to sustainability, consumer pressure is playing a growing role as the food industry begins interweaving greener practices into corporate culture. “There’s been a steady increase in companies paying attention to sustainability issues and talking about it externally,” said William Sarni, director and practice leader of enterprise water strategy at Deloitte Consulting. “The recent pressure to find sustainable solutions is coming from consumers, NGOs and other stakeholders, including employees.”
UL Environment aims to make buying green easier Eco labels. Green seals. Environmental impact reports. It can all be a bit much for product purchasers to process when they are comparing goods or seeking environmentally preferable items. Now UL Environment wants to make procurement professionals’ comparison shopping easier with its EPD Transparency Brief, a document that gives a quick overview of a product’s verified environmental impacts, materials, recyclability and more.