Tag Archives: human health

How removing trees can kill you

By Jason Kane, June 10, 2013. Source: PBS Newshour

Photo: Flickr/rogersanderson

Photo: Flickr/rogersanderson

The trees died first. One hundred million of them in the eastern and midwestern United States. The culprit: the emerald ash borer, a beetle that entered the U.S. through Detroit in 2002 and quickly spread to Iowa, New York, Virginia and nearly every state between. The bug attacks all 22 species of North American ash and kills nearly every tree it infests.

Then came the humans. In the 15 states infected with the bug starting, an additional 15,000 people died from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more from lower respiratory disease compared with uninfected areas of the country.

A team of researchers with the U.S. Forest Services looked at data from 1,296 counties, accounted for the influence of other variables — things like income, race, and education — and came to a simple conclusion: Having fewer trees around may be bad for your health. Their findings, published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggest an associative rather than a direct, causal link between the death of trees and the death of humans.

Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester at the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, joined the NewsHour recently to discuss why.
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Filed under Forests, Forests and Climate Change

Nicaragua: Peaceful protest turns violent, former sugarcane workers demand rights

March 21, 2013. Source: La Isla Foundation

Photo: La Isla Foundation

Photo: La Isla Foundation

Violence broke out on the Panamerican highway late in the afternoon on Monday, March 18. Riot and special forces police aggressively tried to disperse the crowd through violence, assault, and tear gas. The crowd of 180 protesters, former sugarcane workers, and widows, responded by throwing rocks at the police. At least two protesters were severely beaten. 25 were arrested and imprisoned in Chinandega. Daniel Valdivia, one of the protest organizers, and Emilio Molina, a lawyer representing former workers, both await release.

Earlier in the day, the same former sugarcane workers held peaceful protests in Managua asking for corporate and governmental policy change. The former workers are affected by the epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown cause (CKDu), related to harsh working conditions in the cane fields. Protests occurred outside of both Social Security (INSS) and Grupo Pellas buildings in Nicaragua’s capital. Upon returning to Chichigalpa, the group decided to close down the highway at the entrance to Chichigalpa in an act of civil disobedience to raise awareness to this epidemic.
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Filed under Actions / Protest, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Industrial agriculture, Latin America-Caribbean, Political Repression

Alberta’s tar sands pollution refugees

By Andrew Nikiforuk, March 2, 2013. Source: The Tyee

Residents near Baytex bitumen facility say they are being poisoned by off-gassing. Photo: Richard Labrecque.

Residents near Baytex bitumen facility say they are being poisoned by off-gassing. Photo: Richard Labrecque.

Another Alberta pollution scandal has forced as many as six residents from their homes and poisoned scores of other citizens near the Peace River Oil Sands in the northwest corner of the province.

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Vivianne Laliberte who moved into her son’s place last October after being repeatedly “gassed” from emissions from oil sands operations just 5 kilometres from her 85-year-old farm.

“There are a lot of sick people but they don’t have the money to move,” Laliberte told The Tyee. Her farm is located 48 kilometres south of Peace River.

Emissions from heavy oil extraction and storage facilities owned by Calgary-based Baytex Energy Corp., a heavy oil producer, forced her and her husband to abandon their property.
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Filed under Climate Change, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Oil, Pollution, Tar Sands

The cost of war includes at least 253,330 brain injuries and 1,700 amputations

By Spencer Ackerman, February 8, 2013.  Source: Wired

Neuroimaging techniques like this Siemens software display are used by Army doctors to examine and diagnose traumatic brain injuries. Photo: Siemens, via U.S. Army

Neuroimaging techniques like this Siemens software display are used by Army doctors to examine and diagnose traumatic brain injuries. Photo: Siemens, via U.S. Army

Here are indications of the lingering costs of 11 years of warfare. Nearly 130,000 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and vastly more have experienced brain injuries. Over 1,700 have undergone life-changing limb amputations. Over 50,000 have been wounded in action. As of Wednesday, 6,656 U.S. troops and Defense Department civilians have died.

That updated data (.pdf) comes from a new Congressional Research Service report into military casualty statistics that can sometimes be difficult to find — and even more difficult for American society to fully appreciate. It almost certainly understates the extent of the costs of war.

Start with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Counting since 2001 across the U.S. military services, 129,731 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with the disorder since 2001. The vast majority of those, nearly 104,000, have come from deployed personnel.

But that’s the tip of the PTSD iceberg, since not all — and perhaps not even most — PTSD cases are diagnosed. The former vice chief of staff of the Army, retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, has proposed dropping the “D” from PTSD so as not to stigmatize those who suffer from it — and, perhaps, encourage more veterans to seek diagnosis and treatment for it. (Not all veterans advocates agreewith Chiarelli.)
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Filed under Politics, Vietnam War, War

Tar Sands industry in Canada tied to higher carcinogen level

By Ian Austen, January 7, 2013.  Source: NY Times

Photo: Todd Korol/Reuters

Photo: Todd Korol/Reuters

The development of Alberta’s oil sands has increased levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes well beyond natural levels, Canadian researchers reported in a study released on Monday. And they said the contamination covered a wider area than had previously been believed.

For the study, financed by the Canadian government, the researchers set out to develop a historical record of the contamination, analyzing sediment dating back about 50 years from six small and shallow lakes north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, the center of the oil sands industry. Layers of the sediment were tested for deposits ofpolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, groups of chemicals associated with oil that in many cases have been found to cause cancer in humans after long-term exposure.

“One of the biggest challenges is that we lacked long-term data,” said John P. Smol, the paper’s lead author and a professor of biology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “So some in industry have been saying that the pollution in the tar sands is natural, it’s always been there.”

The researchers found that to the contrary, the levels of those deposits have been steadily rising since large-scale oil sands production began in 1978.

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Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Energy, Idle No More, Indigenous Peoples, Oil, Pollution, Tar Sands, Water

US Environmental Protection Agency: Biofuel Research Suffers From Gaps

Note: You know its bad when even the EPA is raising red flags about biofuels! –The GJEP Team
Cross-Posted from Chemical and Engineering News, January 20, 2012

Biofuels: Little research has occurred on the effects of biofuel use on biodiversity and human health, scientists find

By Mark Schrope

The U.S. currently uses corn to produce 14 billion gal of ethanol
Credit: Shutterstock
After a review of a decade’s worth of biofuels research, scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that significant knowledge gaps will likely prevent experts from adequately assessing biofuels’ full environmental impacts (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es2023253). While researchers have paid substantial attention to greenhouse gas emissions, the new study says, they have focused little on how the production and use of biofuels affects biodiversity and human health.

“The last 10 years or so of research may have left us short of understanding what biofuels really may do to global economies, the environment, and society,” says Caroline Ridley, an ecologist with the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, in Arlington, Va., who led the study.

Interest in biofuels has grown in part because the U.S. government has mandated aggressive expansion of their production. One job of Ridley’s group is to synthesize available information on such environmental policies.

She and her colleagues searched literature databases to identify more than 1,600 biofuels research citations from 2000 to 2009. They assigned each study to one of four themes, such as the environment or economics, and then to topics within those themes, such as greenhouse gas emissions or costs of production. They also looked at each study’s geographical focus and whether the papers connected different topics.

The team found that the most common topics, with a few hundred papers each, were fuel production, feedstock production, and greenhouse gas emissions. Near the bottom of the list, 80 studies examined how biofuel production affects biodiversity, for example how local species fare after farmers clear large stretches of land to grow corn, switchgrass, palm oil, or other biofuel feedstocks. And only 15 studied the human health impacts of increasing levels of air pollutants produced by burning biofuel ethanol.

The team also found that researchers have focused largely on the environmental consequences in the Northern Hemisphere even though regions in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Indonesia, will probably grow most of the feedstock crops.

Jason Hill, an environmental scientist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who was a coauthor of a recent National Academy of Sciences biofuels report, finds the EPA team’s review refreshing because it identifies what he calls an unbalanced focus on greenhouse gas emissions in biofuels research. The impacts on biodiversity and human health “are at least as large as the potential damage from climate change,” he says.

Ridley and her team warn that these holes in biofuels research mean that expanded biofuels use could lead to unanticipated problems. As a result, she suggests her team’s results could offer a useful guide to decision makers in allotting research funds. Hill agrees and sees the review as a call for scientists to fill in the gaps.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Pollution

After Getting Sick From Algae Bloom Exacerbated by Heat, Climate Denier Jokes “Environment Strikes Back”

By Stephen Lacey on Jul 1, Cross-Posted from Thinkprogresss.com

Irony can be so ironic.  A day aftercancelling his keynote address at the Heartland climate denial conference because he felt “under the weather,” Republican Senator Jim Inhofe today insisted his sickness was due to a toxic algae bloom on the Grand Lake in Oklahoma where he has a home –joking to a local newspaper that “the environment strikes back” and ”Inhofe is attacked by the environment.”

“There is no question,” the Oklahoma Republican said, linking what he thought was a routine dive into the lake last Monday morning to a severe upper respiratory illness.

“That night, Monday night, I was just deathly sick.”

Inhofe and his wife, Kay, have had a home on the lake for decades, and he has never seen that kind of algae in the water previously.

Inhofe’s run-in with algae comes as his state deals with a record-setting heat waveand drought not seen since the 1930’s – creating perfect conditions for blue-green algal blooms that can cause respiratory problems, diarrhea, skin irritation and, in rare cases, death. In Texas, cattle have been dying from drinking blue-green algae thatscientists explain have blossomed due to severe drought conditions.

A University of North Carolina researcher described the impact that extreme temperatures exacerbated by a changing climate could have on algae growth:

“It’s long been known that nutrient runoff contributes to cyanobacterial growth. Now scientists can factor in temperature and global warming,” said [Hans] Paerl, who, with Professor Jef Huisman from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, explains the new realization in Science paper.

“As temperatures rise waters are more amenable to blooms,” Paerl said.

On our current GHG emissions path, such extreme weather will become more common in the coming decades – creating the perfect conditions for more frequent dangerous algal blooms. According to NOAA’s 2009 impact report, current extreme heat and drought conditions will be normal for a state like Oklahoma.

Inhofe, of course, has famously called climate change a “hoax” and has fought bitterly against any action on reducing GHG emissions. He has also been opposed to regulation of phosphorus and nitrogen run-off under the EPA’s Clean Water Act.

[P]hosporus and nitrogen lead to the formation of blue-green algal blooms, which choke off oxygen to other forms of marine life, leading to widespread fish (and sometimes mammal) kills.

Inhofe says he’s worried about the economic impact of increased regulation of run-off. But in Oklahoma, the Governor is worried about the decreased tourism activity over the holiday weekend.

Environmental officials in Oklahoma sent out a warning today about major blue-green algal blooms around the Northeastern portion of the state, saying this is the largest bloom the area has ever seen.  Because “toxins harmful to humans and animals can be produced in some algae blooms,” it is strongly recommended you do not swim in places where there are visible blooms.  Ironically, Inhofe, who has chaired the Senate Environment Committee, didn’t know that, but even his teenage granddaughter figured it out.

“I didn’t think anything about it,” he said, recalling that he had encouraged his 13-year-old granddaughter to join him in the water but she declined.

“She didn’t want to get in that green stuff.”

Maybe she should be Senator.

– Stephen Lacey, with Joe Romm

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Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, Water