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Week Starting April 16, 2012
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Silent hives. Over the last few weeks, several new studies have come out linking neonicotinoids to bee decline. The studies are appearing just as “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s seminal study of the effect of pesticides on wildlife, is about to turn fifty. It’s hard to avoid the sense that we have all been here before, and that lessons were incompletely learned the first time around. New Yorker
‘Pink slime’ outrage goes viral in stunning display of social media’s power. Federal officials and the family-owned company that makes ‘pink slime’ were slack-jawed when a public backlash through social media erupted last month against what the industry calls “lean finely textured beef.” Washington Post [Registration Required]
Earth Day should remind us of successes. The world being overly full of gloomy prospects in environmental progress, it seems to me that Earth Day is a good vantage point for turning from the bad news to note a few of the happier glimmers. So here are a few environmental success stories — all works in progress, for Canadians to celebrate. Vancouver Sun, British Columbia.
Waste management remains Earth Day issue. Getting rid of Maine’s garbage was easy in 1970, when the first Earth Day was celebrated. Trash was shoved into piles at the town dump and set afire. The pollution caused by open dumps was one of the driving forces behind Earth Day, and the landmark clean air and clean water laws that followed. Waterville Morning Sentinel, Maine.
Pennsylvania law on fracking chemicals worries doctors. Natural gas companies must tell health professionals what they use in drilling, but a required confidentiality agreement might leave physicians on shaky legal ground. Los Angeles Times [Registration Required]
Himalayan scare from melting ice. Naysayers notwithstanding, new studies show that Himalayan glaciers are indeed melting, possibly due to climate change. The rate of melting is not as alarming as projected by the IPCC in 2007 but is significant enough to seriously impact water availability in Asia in the future. London Daily Mail, United Kingdom.
Concerns over composting as study reveals health risks of recycling organic household waste. Commercial composting is turning into big business in Scotland – a convenient way of dealing with millions of tonnes of organic waste produced there every year. However, there are fears that the bioaerosols produced by such waste could be damaging to health. Edinburgh Scotsman, United Kingdom.
Goldman Prize winner Caroline Cannon. Each year, the Goldman Prize honors grassroots environmental activists from around the world. The 2012 North American recipient, Caroline Cannon, from the Inupiat community of Point Hope, Alaska is fighting to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling. Living On Earth
Aliens in Antarctica. It was a summer day in January when Peter Convey pulled up a weed in Antarctica for the first time. The alien plant stuck out among the native species eking out an existence on the rocky debris beneath his feet. Convey suspects that some human unwittingly delivered the species during fieldwork. Science News
A ban on some seafood has fishermen fuming. Starting Sunday, gray sole and skate will no longer appear in the Whole Food’s artfully arranged fish cases. Atlantic cod, a New England staple, will be sold only if it is not caught by trawlers, which drag nets across the ocean floor, a much-used method here. New York Times [Registration Required]
Does giving antibiotics to animals hurt humans? The bacon you had for breakfast is at the center of a 35-year debate over antibiotics. That’s because the same life-saving drugs that are prescribed to treat everything from ear infections to tuberculosis in humans also are used to fatten the animals that supply the chicken, beef and pork we eat every day. Associated Press
Earth Day ups and downs reflect changing environmental movement. The 42nd Earth Day, held April 22, may not be a round milestone anniversary for those celebrating the annual event devoted to raising awareness about environmental issues, but it will come closer than any in recent memory to the sprit of the first Earth Day held across the U.S. in 1970. CBC Canada
In ‘72, EPA battled pollution; now it’s politics. Forty years after the Environmental Protection Agency sent an army of nearly 100 photographers across the country to capture images at the dawn of environmental regulation, The Associated Press went back for Earth Day this year to see how things have changed. Associated Press
Has NIH finalized design for children’s study? Controversy continues to dog the National Children’s Study. Next Tuesday, an advisory board will consider cost-cutting alternatives to the original study design. But some researchers involved with the study think the National Institutes of Health has already made a decision. Science
FDA says nanotech may need extra safety tests. US health regulators said consumer products that use nanotechnology may have unknown effects on the human body, and advised food and cosmetic companies to further study the safety of these tiny particles. Reuters
Chemicals may be cause of gender-bending fish. Synthetic chemicals being released into rivers and bays around the coast could be forcing fish to become more feminine, researchers say. Sydney Morning Herald, Australia. [Registration Required]
Cancer chemical alert over crisps and coffee. Food firms have been warned about the presence of a cancer-risk chemical in everyday products ranging from crisps and chips to instant coffee and ginger biscuits. A study by the Food Standards Agency has identified 13 products containing raised levels of the chemical. London Daily Mail, United Kingdom.
Birth defects more common in IVF babies: Study. Babies conceived through certain fertility treatment techniques are about one-third more likely to have a birth defect than babies conceived without any extra help from technology, according to a review of several dozen studies. Reuters
Beekeepers fighting colony collapses. Commercial beekeepers, and their honeybees, work a demanding circuit as they move from crop to crop to crop. The stress of travel, weather and uncertain bloom add to problems caused by pesticides, parasites and persistent pathogens. And hovering in the background is colony collapse disorder. Associated Press
A versatile and potentially valuable natural material could be easily collected from the abundant waste produced when leather is made from animal hides, according to researchers from Spain who explain their novel process in the journal Green Chemistry. This new method to recycle or reuse the waste alleviates the dumping, produces a necessary product and increases sustainable manufacturing.
Killer whales facing an airborne threat. New research shows that killer whales are inhaling bacteria, fungi and viruses once believed to be found only on land. Some of the pathogens are highly virulent. And some are even antibiotic-resistant. Seattle Times, Washington.
Fishermen using explosives, cyanide destroy some of Asia’s most spectacular reefs, divers say. Coral gardens that were among Asia’s most spectacular, teeming with colorful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate gray moonscapes by fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey. Associated Press
Biofuels and city air: A marginal effect. The first citywide air quality study of its kind, reported at the American Chemical Society’s spring meeting, suggests that unless more than 26 percent of cars switch to biofuels, it will have negligible effect on air pollution. Science [Subscription Required]
Mini electric cars fill gap in China as official electric vehicles sputter. The tiny electric car that Chen Xianping drives to work over bumpy country roads in Shandong province says much about the hurdles facing China’s efforts to promote electric vehicles and the big car companies’ efforts to sell them. Reuters
Rising sea levels put coastal California communities at risk. The planet is warming, the oceans are rising. By how much and why leaves much room for debate, but it is an issue becoming increasingly impossible for coastal communities to ignore. Ventura County Star, California.
New U.S. fracking emission rules unclear on climate impacts. Regulating emissions of methane from fracking to free natural gas will have important co-benefits in slowing climate change. ClimateWire
California at top in climate change preparedness Scarce water supplies and coastal flooding may be part of California’s future, but the Golden State is as ready as any state to tackle those and other problems caused by climate change, according to a national study released Thursday. California is one of only nine states that have developed comprehensive strategies and implemented policies to deal with water shortages, droughts, a shrinking snowpack and other water-related problems that are expected to occur if global temperatures increase this century as predicted by scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council report said.
Extreme weather events over the past decade have increased and were “very likely” caused by manmade global warming, a study in the journal Nature Climate Change said on Sunday Scientists at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Research used physics, statistical analysis and computer simulations to link extreme rainfall and heat waves to global warming. The link between warming and storms was less clear. “It is very likely that several of the unprecedented extremes of the past decade would not have occurred without anthropogenic global warming,” said the study.
Pre-birth exposures to low doses of a compound—PFOA—that has been widely found in fast food packaging and household products, may increase body weight in women but not men, a new study finds. This is the first time that this chemical, which has been used in the manufacturing of water and stain resistant compounds, has been linked to obesity in humans, although this study was initiated because of research with mice showing that low dose exposures to PFOA in the womb cause post-pubertal weight gain.
EPA issues rules limiting air pollution from fracking. The Obama administration on Wednesday set the first-ever national standards to control air pollution and climate-altering gases from gas wells that are drilled using a method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – but not without making concessions to the oil and gas industry. Associated Press
CVS Pharmacy pays $13.8M to settle ‘hazardous waste’ lawsuit. CVS Pharmacy agreed to pay $13.75 million in civil penalties to the city, county and dozens of other municipalities across California to settle a lawsuit alleging the drugstore chain illegally disposed of hazardous waste, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said today. Long Beach Press-Telegram, California.
Addicted to antibiotics: How factory farm drug abuse makes vets rich. In large veterinary practices, profits from the sale of drugs can account for up to 80 percent of revenues. For more than 150 years, veterinarians have been allowed to both prescribe and sell medications—with almost no supervision whatsoever. Der Spiegel
Essay: Grappling with a garbage glut. Each week, we push our trash to the curb, and it seemingly disappears. But where does it all go: the spent cartons of milk, the computer keyboard fried by spilled coffee, those empty dog food cans? A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to find out. Wall Street Journal [Subscription Required]
Pink slime is making headlines, obesity has become epidemic and mass-produced meat is blamed for contributing to rising greenhouse gas emissions. What’s a lover of burgers to do? “People should eat less meat, but better meat,” says Nicolette Hahn Niman, a woman of many talents whose email signature reads: Rancher Lawyer Author Mother.
Earth Day and the polling of America 2012 The annual spring bloom of consumer polls and surveys is upon us, another colorful bumper crop telling us what Americans think about environmental issues, green shopping and the like. The surveys appear each year in the run-up to Earth Day. For whatever reason, pollsters and market-research firms seem to believe that interest in the topic wanes the other 11 months of the year.
Cloud computing raises new ethics, sustainability questions Just a decade ago, it would have been hard for all but the most tech-savvy to imagine the extent of cloud computing today. The cloud—what some are calling “the factory of the 21st century”—is a complex system of data centers worldwide that store, process and deliver information on demand over the Internet, providing users with resources, applications and information that they previously would have stored locally. The cloud, run by a network of IT service companies, Internet firms and telecommunications services providers, offers services to all of us, from banks and retailers to individuals like you and me. It is both real—requiring traditional inputs such as electricity—and virtual.
Salesforce Worst of “Dirty"Cloud Companies, Greenpeace says. Salesforce, the world’s largest vendor of enterprise cloud computing, gets the worst ratings in a Greenpeace report that claims cloud computing companies are perpetuating the use of fossil fuel, while Apple has shown marked improvement from last year. The report, How Clean is Your Cloud?, compares energy choices from global IT and internet giants including Apple, Google and this year’s top performer, Yahoo.
California at top in climate-change preparedness Scarce water supplies and coastal flooding may be part of California’s future, but the Golden State is as ready as any state to tackle those and other problems caused by climate change, according to a national study released Thursday. California is one of only nine states that have developed comprehensive strategies and implemented policies to deal with water shortages, droughts, a shrinking snowpack and other water-related problems that are expected to occur if global temperatures increase this century as predicted by scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council report said.
LiveGreen: UC San Francisco Launches New Sustainability Video The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), in partnership with Green Impact, has just completed its first sustainability video. There is much talk these days about how to engage employees around sustainability and embed greener practices into employees’ personal and professional lives. Putting these ideas into practice is still an art and not a science. One thing I am sure about is that the trend toward communicating a sustainability message via video is going to continue to grow.
Life-long, low-level lead exposure is associated with increased reports of depression and anxiety that is related to phobias in older women, according to newly published research. The associations were strongest for premenopausal and postmenopausal women who regularly took hormone replacement therapy. The results suggest that mental health may suffer from long term exposure to low levels of lead.
Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists. Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP’s 2010 oil disaster. Al Jazeera, Qatar.
Data centers in Virginia. and elsewhere have major carbon footprint, report says. All but one of the nation’s major IT companies still rely on fossil-fuel energy to power more than half their cloud operations, according to a report issued by the advocacy group Greenpeace, with firms including Amazon.com Web Services and Apple ranking toward the bottom for their carbon footprints. Washington Post [Registration Required]
In poll, many link weather extremes to climate change. Scientists may hesitate to link some of the weather extremes of recent years to global warming — but the public, it seems, is already there. New York Times [Registration Required]
U.S. suggests no emissions limits to protect polar bears. Polar bears are skating on thin ice in Alaska these days. But at least for now, the Endangered Species Act won’t be used to control the greenhouse gas emissions that conservationists say are contributing to climate change and posing one of the biggest threats to the bears’ survival. Los Angeles Times [Registration Required]
In a lather over antibacterial soap. Should you be washing your hands or bathing your children with antibacterial soap? The University of Texas student government and Canadian leaders say no. Many environmentalists and scientists agree. Houston Chronicle, Texas.
Bugs in the ice sheets: Melting glaciers liberate ancient bacteria. Locked in frozen vaults on Antarctica and Greenland, a lost world of ancient creatures awaits another chance at life. Trapped in polar ice sheets longer than humans have walked the planet, tiny organisms bide their time until conditions change and set them free. With that ice melting at an alarming rate, those conditions could soon be at hand. Daily Climate
Trace chemicals in everyday food packaging cause worry over cumulative threat. The government has long known that tiny amounts of chemicals used to make plastics can migrate into food. But scientists are beginning to piece together data on the ubiquity of chemicals in the food supply and the cumulative impact of chemicals at minute doses. What they’re finding has some health advocates worried. Washington Post [Registration Required]
Special panel links C8 to kidney, testicular cancer. A team of experts revealed Monday that it has found a “probable link” between C8 and human cancers, rebuffing DuPont Co.‘s longstanding contention that exposure to the chemical is harmless. Charleston Gazette, West Virginia.
Prenatal exposure to air pollution linked to childhood obesity. A study of pregnant women and their children in New York City has provided clinical evidence that links environmental pollution with childhood obesity. London Daily Mail, United Kingdom.
US greenhouse gases back up after decline. US emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change rose in 2010, ending a brief downward turn as the world’s largest economy gradually recovers from recession, official data showed Monday. Agence France-Presse
China halts sale of some drugs. China’s drug regulator suspended the sale of 13 drugs using capsules allegedly made with excessive chromium levels, highlighting China’s continued battle with food and drug safety as well as what analysts say are mounting cost pressures amid the government’s health-care overhaul. Wall Street Journal [Subscription Required]
Will we ever be able to buy a fair-trade smartphone? Ethically sourced coffee is easy to find nowadays, but it is hard to feel good about where your smartphone comes from. The industry is beset by allegations of factory-worker abuse, of raw materials being sourced from conflict zones, and of generating mountains of electronic waste. New Scientist
States back website for fracking disclosure. FracFocus, a year-old site affiliated with coalitions of state governments, has won praise from Hill lawmakers, industry groups and even some environmentalists as a model for states taking the lead in disclosing the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations. Politico
Waterless fracking method could sidestep New York gas drilling ban. A plan to extract shale gas and oil from 135,000 acres in Tioga County, N.Y., could break through the state’s hydraulic fracturing moratorium, because the wells would be fracked not with water but with liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, a mixture of mostly propane. Inside Climate News
As ice cap melts, militaries vie for Arctic edge. To the world’s military leaders, the debate over climate change is long over. They are preparing for a new kind of Cold War in the Arctic, anticipating that rising temperatures there will open up a treasure trove of resources, long-dreamed-of sea lanes and a slew of potential conflicts. Associated Press
Karakoram glaciers in Himalayas have grown over last decade, new research shows. 3D altitude maps captured by satellites show glaciers in part of the greater Himalaya range are bucking the global trend of continued ice loss. The Guardian, United Kingdom.
Reforming cosmetics law. For the first time in three decades, Congress is considering updating the law that governs the safety of cosmetics. The push for new legislation is coming primarily from the cosmetics industry, which is concerned about the increasing globalization and complexity of the cosmetics supply chain. Chemical & Engineering News
Attack of the flying, invasive carp. From Louisiana and Missouri through the American heartland and all the way north to Minnesota, Asian carp are invading freshwater lakes and rivers, disrupting ecosystems as they go. Discover
California braces for a deadly stalker of citrus. A graft of pomelo — a symbol of good fortune in many Asian cultures — was the likely source of the state’s first documented case of huanglongbing, a citrus disease with no known cure that is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. Authorities have launched a massive containment effort involving quarantines, pesticides and public hearings. Los Angeles Times [Registration Required]
Local officials say biosolids safe to use. Biosolids are widely used in Clarke County and viewed as a safe fertilizer by many Berryville and Clarke County officials. Not everyone agrees. But even if county and Berryville officials held biosolids health concerns, the Commonwealth of Virginia has the authority to prevent localities from prohibiting biosolids use. Clarke Daily News, Virginia.
More businesses are going green. How much has the environmental movement changed South Florida businesses and consumer trends since the first Earth Day 42 years ago? Miami Herald, Florida.