Archive for the ‘health’ Category


Global warming ‘irreversible’ for next 1000 years.

As reported by AFP, NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists have released a study saying that current levels of global warming will cause irreversible damage, no matter what is done in the future to decrease CO2 and other related emissions.  I will add a link to the primary scientific article when the link is published.

“NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon said the study, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, showed that current human choices on carbon dioxide emissions are set to “irreversibly change the planet.” Researchers examined the consequences of CO2 building up beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million, and then completely stopping emissions after the peak. Before the industrial age CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere amounted to only 280 parts per million. The study found that CO2 levels are irreversibly impacting climate change, which will contribute to global sea level rise and rainfall changes in certain regions. The authors emphasized that increases in CO2 that occur from 2000 to 2100 are set to “lock in” a sea level rise over the next 1,000 years.”

This is certainly well past a wake-up call, if anybody still needed one. Here’s where the relentless optimist meets the original cynic: I refuse to accept that it is worthless to make the biggest changes possible to head off increased global warming. Am I denying science? No, I’m just clinging to hope.

Original text copyright © 2009 James K. Bashkin

See futher discussion of this post here at Gather.com.


Today I am delighted to publish a guest post on asbestos and human health, and their links to the environment. The post is by James O’Shea, content editor of http://www.maacenter.org; James K. Bashkin (Site Publisher and Editor; the guest post is the opinion of its author).

January 22, 2009: For more discussion of this topic, please see the comments here and the version of this article, with discussion, that was re-published by me on Gather.com: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977474977

January 1, 2009: Today I am somewhat less delighted to point out the comment made by Dennis of samadhisoft.com, who provided the link http://samadhisoft.com/2008/09/18/mesothelioma-asbestos-awareness-center/. This blog, written by Dennis, documents some strange behaviors associated with the sponsors of the center that offered this guest report. While I was fully aware that they were sponsored by a law firm, I was not aware of some apparently predatory practices that Dennis has uncovered. I have removed the live links in this article except the one that I supplied to the literature citation, but you can still get to the site if you want to by typing the url of the center, http://www.maacenter.org, into your browser. Meanwhile, I have added Samadhisoft.com to my blogroll. Thanks, Dennis!

The processing of fossil fuels has a long trail of consequences, with some being more obvious than others. There are essentially two tiers of negative ramifications to backwards energy policies. The first of these are the direct environmental consequences of the burning of fossil, which has been well documented in recent years with the recent interest in the effects of global warming. However, the second tier are the human health effects associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

(Revised Editor’s note: this paragraph has been removed.  Some comments refer to the missing text).

Then there are the more indirect costs, and specifically those which are associated with the industry itself. Working conditions in the fossil fuel industry are among the most hazardous of any occupation. One of the hazards workers will encounter is asbestos, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a known carcinogen. And even though asbestos was banned by the CPSC in the late 1970’s, older asbestos fixtures still exist within nearly all facets of the fossil fuel infrastructure. These older and sometimes damaged fixtures pose and even greater hazard to human health.

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they lodge themselves in the lining of lungs. This lays the groundwork for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Perhaps it should come as no coincidence then that rates of pleural cancer (mesothelioma) in oil refinery workers are among the highest of any occupation.

What we begin to see then, is that there are effects of ozone depletion and fossil fuel use and processing, that are detrimental not only to the planet, but also to human health. When the world opens its eyes to the crisis we’re supporting, we’ll not only have sustained the future for our children, but also saved lives.

References:

Environmental Protection Agency

Occupational Medicine 2007 (an Oxford Journal), Mortality of UK Oil Refinery Workers and Petroleum Distribution Workers 1951-2003, by Tom Sorahan, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham.


Green issues are sometimes complex.  We need to recycle many things, like electronics, but we certainly don’t want to poison others in the process.  Efforts to protect the environment and conserve valuable resources must be coupled with proper health and safety procedures.  Unfortunately, just saying this doesn’t make it happen.  Developing countries are becoming a dumping ground for much toxic waste and proper environmental health and safety is being ignored, both by local opportunists and suppliers of e-Waste from developed nations.  From Greenpeace:

This shocking documentary from Greenpeace shows how “second hand goods” exported to Ghana for reuse are actually causing horrendous pollution. “People in the developed countries bring them here to bridge the digital gap but in actual fact they are creating a digital dump.”

Ghana — The latest place where we have discovered high tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our analysis of samples taken from two electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in Ghana has revealed severe contamination with hazardous chemicals.

Similar problems occur in China and, surprisingly, even in developed countries.  See related information about toxic waste dumps all over the world here.

However, you can also read good news about environmental protection in Europe and the effect it is having on US companies.

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Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin


As reported by Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post, new regulations in Europe about the use of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are affecting US manufacturers, if those manufacturers want to maintain exports to European countries. It is no surprise that the Bush administration and US chemical manufacturers oppose these new laws, which require companies to determine the safety of chemicals and materials before they can be used. This approach is contrary to US practice, where the harmful nature of a chemical must be demonstrated before the substance is regulated or banned.

The laws also call for the European Union to create a list of “substances of very high concern” — those suspected of causing cancer or other health problems. Any manufacturer wishing to produce or sell a chemical on that list must receive authorization.

In the United States, laws in place for three decades have made banning or restricting chemicals extremely difficult. The nation’s chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, grandfathered in about 62,000 chemicals then in commercial use. Chemicals developed after the law’s passage did not have to be tested for safety. Instead, companies were asked to report toxicity information to the government, which would decide if additional tests were needed.

In more than 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has required additional studies for about 200 chemicals, a fraction of the 80,000 chemicals that are part of the U.S. market. The government has had little or no information about the health hazards or risks of most of those chemicals.

The changes in Europe are welcomed (by me) and many consumer and environmental groups:

The European Union’s tough stance on chemical regulation is the latest area in which the Europeans are reshaping business practices with demands that American companies either comply or lose access to a market of 27 countries and nearly 500 million people.

From its crackdown on antitrust practices in the computer industry to its rigorous protection of consumer privacy, the European Union has adopted a regulatory philosophy that emphasizes the consumer. Its approach to managing chemical risks, which started with a trickle of individual bans and has swelled into a wave, is part of a European focus on caution when it comes to health and the environment.

What a novel idea: that regulatory agencies should protect the consumer and not giant corporations. Not all corporations in the US are protesting: Apple computer has already responded with its MacBook Air, which exceeds projected European standards for the use of toxic materials, quite a feat for a computer, especially in the early stages of these regulatory changes. However,

The EPA has banned only five chemicals since 1976. The hurdles are so high for the agency that it has been unable to ban asbestos, which is widely acknowledged as a likely carcinogen and is barred in more than 30 countries. Instead, the EPA relies on industry to voluntarily cease production of suspect chemicals.

“If you ask people whether they think the drain cleaner they use in their homes has been tested for safety, they think, ‘Of course, the government would have never allowed a product on the market without knowing it’s safe,’ ” said Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “When you tell them that’s not the case, they can’t believe it.”

This is an excellent article about welcome changes. With the globalization of commerce, US companies will likely be forced to adopt new standards even if US lawmakers and regulatory agencies continue to lag far behind Europe. New legislation along the lines of the European laws has been introduced by the Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, but it may take a long time for Congress to respond. U.S. Companies will not have the luxury of waiting much longer.

Please understand that I am not in any way “anti-chemical” or anti-industry or anti-US: I don’t expect or hope for “organic computers,” using the common consumer definition of “organic,” nor do I expect to find “all-natural cell phones.” I have worked in the U.S. chemical industry (in the past) and believe that modern society has benefited tremendously from many contributions of the the chemical industry. However, I also believe that transparency is vital for a functioning democracy, and that, once potential problems are discovered with products or ingredients, it is important to assess the risk. I don’t expect us to maintain a lifestyle similar to what has evolved in developed countries without some risk- there just isn’t a free lunch in any area of human endeavor. However, the ignorance of toxic or other deleterious properties of chemicals that may have helped cause their enthusiastic adoption by industry and consumers has long been replaced with hard data on health problems, at least in some cases and for some chemicals. Other chemicals are quite safe, and many other cases remain under-examined. Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that there is more than one kind of risk to assess: acute risk due to contact or exposure to a substance, and chronic risk when that substance is introduced into the environment and the food chain. Persistent bio-accumulators, or molecules that are not metabolized, but instead accumulate in increasing amounts as one moves up the food chain, can have serious health consequences. These consequences are caused by estrogen-like behavior in some cases. Similar issues exist with inorganic elements like lead and arsenic from consumer electronic goods that are introduced into landfill, and that leach out into groundwater. Consumers and environmentalists, both groups I belong to, should be aware that these harmful inorganic elements are completely natural, as are uranium and other substances we don’t want to ingest.

While it is important for industry to find safe replacements for many current materials or chemicals in use, it is also important for consumers to recycle electronics (TV’s cell phones, computers, etc.) properly, so that the component materials can be recovered and re-used and kept out of ground water. This recycling should be free to the consumer, subsidized by manufacturers and retail chains, as Best Buy has recently started doing in the US. Of course, the cost will be passed on to the consumer, but that is one of the choices we have to face: do we want to continue poisoning our children or will we

  • use cell phones, etc. for longer periods of time rather than treating them as disposable items
  • refuse to pay a little more for greener, safer technology?

Let’s make choices that protect consumers and the environment while allowing industry to fluorish.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Several recent articles have indicated the impact that gas costs are having on lifestyles. Two related articles were reported in recent posts at this site, “How to Find the Cheapest Gas Price in Your Area“and “Plug-In Hybrid Leads Toyota’s Drive Beyond Oil“. In The Demise of the RV, Eric Fry reports for Rude Awakening on the disappearance of the once-ubiquitous Winnebago and its close cousins from American roadways:

“I never would have bought [my motor home] if I thought that gas would go this high,” a retired firefighter in Westchester County told the Hudson Valley’s Journal News. “My wife always wanted to go to Napa Valley,” the firefighter lamented. “But with gas so high, it probably would be cheaper to fly and rent a car, rather than take the motor home.”

The firefighter is probably right. We did the math:

Assuming gas mileage of 10 miles to the gallon, a 31-foot motor home would consume about $2,500 worth of gasoline to journey from the Hudson Valley to the Napa Valley, and back again. By comparison, two roundtrip plane tickets from JFK to San Francisco would run about $375 each. Even after paying another $450 to rent a midsized car for a week, the fly/drive combo would only cost about $1,200 – or less than half the cost of the RV’s gas.

At the same site, Dan Amoss offers stock trading advice related to the weakest recreational vehicle (RV) companies. (Note: I do not offer or endorse any financial advice related to the stock market):

For most of the last three decades, oil prices have been low, the economy has been expanding and motor home sales have been soaring. RV sales have been trending up for nearly three decades, but there are many reasons to expect a huge decline in 2008-2009.

The posts wraps up with questions and a request for comments from Joel Bowman of Rude Awakening:

Is the high oil price the greatest threat to market stability in the months ahead? How bout the financial fiasco that has rocked Wall Street to the core? Or, perhaps it’s political incompetence? We’d like to hear your thoughts on the market’s greatest risk and, if you can see a way out, your ideas on how to play the downward trend to your favor.

On a related note, the recent article from Lyneka Little of MainStreet.com reports that “Rising Gas Prices are Hurting Nonprofits“. I heard a related story on NPR by Kate Archer.

This situation is clearly seen in nonprofit food delivery programs to homebound seniors such as Meals On Wheels. In these programs, oft-time volunteers deliver meals to the elderly, typically by driving—and paying for the gas—their own vehicles. Nowadays, volunteers are finding it harder to fund the delivery.

The MOWAA has seen a 58% loss in volunteers due to the gas prices alone. Dealing with the loss of volunteers, “our programs have to cut back on everything,” says Enid Borden, President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America. Now, “sometimes volunteers are only able to go out once a week or once every other week,” says Borden.

The one meal a day can turn into no meals a day or a meal and frozen dinners for additional days. Now 4 out of 10 seniors sit on a wait list hoping to be one of the million to receive a warm meal.

Other effects are seen from the general economic downturn, as former corporate donors have either gone bankrupt or simply don’t have any funds to make their typical donations:

Citymeals-on-Wheels, which serves New York’s homebound elderly, knows this firsthand. While donor contribution is up by 13%, Citymeals has been hit by a decline in the high-end sector and in special events. Bear Stearns (BSC) was a major donor for the organization, and Citymeals has lost $500,000 in charitable contributions since that firm went under, says Marcia Stein, executive director of Citymeals. “To lose a half a million dollars in the last quarter of the year, that was very tough, and that’s money that will not come back,” says Stein. “It’ll take many years to recover.”

In order to contribute to Meals on Wheels or Citymeals-on-Wheels, please visit the following websites: Meals on Wheels Association of America and Citymeals-On-Wheels. Thanks to Lyneka Little for highlighting this problem in her article.

Do you have any stories of your own about the effects of gas prices on your summer plans or lifestyle that you would like to share? If so, please add them to the comments. Thanks and best wishes, Jim

Copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Nigel Hunt of Reuters reports that

Corn prices rose to record highs on Monday and looked set to climb further as torrential rains threatened to reduce further U.S. crop prospects in a market already facing tight supplies and surging demand.

Strong demand for corn from U.S. biofuel producers has contributed to supply tightness in the corn market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast about a third of this year’s crop will be consumed by the biofuel sector.

“I am still very bullish. I think $7, $8, $9 corn is well within reach,” said Commerzbank analyst Edward Hands.

Unfortunately, the combination of a foolish corn ethanol program with rising gas prices and rising transportation costs are all conspiring to drive up the price of food. With the additional effects of the recent heavy storms and rain in the Midwest, including flooding in some areas and frequent tornadoes, corn prices are skyrocketing. One simple action that should be taken immediately is to halt all corn ethanol subsidies and programs, so that food and fuel are no longer in competition with each other.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Addendum. Devastated US corn crop sends ethanol producer shares into freefall.” The Associated Press reported the following financial news:

The values of ethanol producers hemorrhaged Thursday as the price of their key feedstock, corn, climbed to record levels because U.S. floods have devasted this year’s crop.

“In the last 10 days the world has changed in the corn market with massive flooding causing irreparable damage to this year’s crop and pushing corn prices up $1 over this time frame,” Citi Investment Research analyst David C. Driscoll wrote in a client note.

“As a result of this unprecedented weather event which has happened only twice in the last 25 years, ethanol margins have plummeted over the same ten day time span with small and mid size ethanol producers now running at substantial losses against cash costs.”

He expects such small and mid-sized producers to halt operations.

Unfortunately, these financial and farming problems will increase food prices in the near term, but they may help lower food prices in future growing seasons, as long as the corn ethanol producers stay shut down. Repeal of the tax credits for corn ethanol would help keep corn ethanol from once again driving food prices up.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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As reported by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson favored giving California some authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks … before he consulted with the White House and reversed course, congressional investigators said yesterday.

As the article describes:

An extensive congressional investigation into Johnson’s conduct relied on more than 27,000 pages of EPA documents; interviews with top EPA officials served as other sources of information. The results of the investigation were just announced.

According to the agency’s documents and depositions by staff members, EPA officials unanimously endorsed granting California the waiver, and Johnson initially agreed. EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett testified under oath that Johnson “was very interested in a full grant of the waiver’ in August and September of 2007 and later thought a partial grant of the waiver ‘was the best course of action.”

The White House claims it did not influence Johnson’s decision but has ordered Johnson not to answer questions about White House involvement in the process. Seemingly at odds with his refusal to allow California a waiver of the Clean Air Act that would have imposed more stringent emissions standards on cars and trucks, Johnson did admit to reporters that he considers CO2 to be a pollutant.

Groups including the California Air Resources Board and the Natural Defense Resources Council (NRDC) are poised to show courts how tainted Johnson’s decision was, and how it ignored internal EPA science and external scientific advisers. The NRDC and other advocacy groups will submit a brief to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the EPA administrator’s decision.

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As reported in the related story here at OhMyGov.com,

A briefing prepared by the lead staff lawyer for EPA’s General Counsel stated: “After review of the docket and precedent, we don’t believe there are any good arguments against granting the waiver. All of the arguments … are likely to lose in court if we are sued.”

In fact, the EPA staff interviewed by the Committee were unable to identify any agency documents that argued in favor of denial prior to December 19, 2007, the day California’s petition was denied.

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Amnestry International and BlogCatalog are sponsoring today as a day to focus on human rights around the world.

I’ll add a few personal thoughts in support of this effort. First, I would like to emphasize the value of people’s lives, no matter what they believe and where they live. When the historical changeover occurred that made civilian casualties of war an everyday reality, and with the concept of collateral damage well entrenched in the soul of the times, I feel it is important to say that there is no acceptable death of innocents, of civilians, of bystanders. Furthermore, what has happened to the art of diplomacy? Brushed aside as outmoded by the Bush administration, there are now few open lines over which ostensible enemies can communicate. Surely this only helps situations escalate into war, which is a tragedy.

The damage done to women, children and men around the world is not, of course, limited to wartime. After the recent Cyclone, the response of the Myanmar Junta to offers of outside aid was and is simply inexcusable. How this Junta could participate in the decimation of its own country is unfathomable. As Daniel Schorr put it so eloquently on NPR yesterday, it is time for the international community to act, together and immediately, to prevent this tragedy from becoming far worse. This can be done through the United Nations “Responsibility to Protect” resolution of 2005. As Mr. Schorr made clear, this international action must be carried out in spite of the bad name given to “intervention” by President Bush.

It is not enough, however, to respect the right of people to live. As an international community, we must also respect and provide for the basic human rights that go beyond life itself. I join Amnesty International in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

As further elaborated on Amnesty’s website, and quoted vebatim here, the organization fights for these additional goals:

Women: 15 Steps to Protect Women’s Human Rights

Torture: 12-point Program for the Prevention of Torture

Disappearances: 14-Point Program for the Prevention of “Disappearances”

Extrajudicial Executions: 14-point Program for the Prevention of Extrajudicial Executions

Peacekeepers: 15-Point Program for Implementing Human Rights in International Peace-keeping Operations

Health Professionals: Amnesty International’s Declaration on the Role of Health Professionals in the Exposure of Torture and Ill-treatment

Medical Investigations: Amnesty International’s Principles for the Medical Investigation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

Internal Displacement: Amnesty International’s guiding principles for addressing the specific needs of internally displaced persons worldwide.”

I hope that everyone can take the time to personally contribute to the struggle, and it is a struggle, for universal human rights.

James K. Bashkin

Copyright © 2008

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While some may love hearing about sweet rides like the $100K Tesla Roadster, a functional and economical electric car made for the rest of us would be even better. This could be it: the Th!nk City electric car, a four-seater with 110 mile range, top speed of 65 mph, priced under $25,000, and available in the US next year. This sounds like exactly what many people have been asking for. Next year!

The story comes to us from gas 2.0.

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Note added later: I recommend that people read the article by Sam Carana that describes other inexpensive electric car/vehicle manufacturers from around the world and their products, with pictures.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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“Scientists have produced further compelling evidence showing that modern-day climate change is not caused by changes in the Sun’s activity…” from an article by Richard Black, Environment correspondent, BBC News website. “The research contradicts a favoured theory of climate “sceptics”, that changes in cosmic rays coming to Earth determine cloudiness and temperature.”

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