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Contaminants in water are legal but still pose big health risks, environmental group says Sarah Toy, USA TODAY Published 12:01 a.m. ET July 26, 2017
Contaminants detected in water samples throughout the country pose health risks but are perfectly legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to data released Wednesday by an environmental advocacy group.
“Most people turn on their tap water and think: It’s clear, I live in America, we have these laws, I’m being protected,” said Nneka Leiba, director of the Healthy Living Science Program for the Environmental Working Group. “What people don’t realize is that there have been no additions to the list of regulated chemicals for drinking water since 1996.”
In 1974, Congress enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act, authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national standards for drinking water. However, it has been more than 20 years since the EPA has added a new contaminant to its list of regulated drinking water pollutants.
“The list of regulated chemicals has not kept up with our use of chemicals as a country,” Leiba said. EWG collected data from drinking water tests conducted from 2010 to 2015 at more than 48,000 water facilities throughout the U.S., looking for 500 unique contaminants. The group found 267 present in water supplies, many at levels above what scientific studies have found pose health risks but are still legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
EWG's findings: 93 of the contaminants were linked to an increased risk of cancer; 78 were associated with brain and nervous system damage; 63 were connected to developmental harm in children or fetuses; 38 were contaminants that could cause fertility issues; and 45 were endocrine disruptors.
More than 40,000 water systems had levels of known or likely carcinogens that exceeded health guidelines, which were set based on recommendations by health and environmental agencies as well as EWG’s own research.
More than 19,000 public water systems had at least one detection of lead above 3.8 parts per billion (ppb), which an Environmental Defense Fund report said can put a formula-fed baby at risk for elevated blood levels.
In 2009, the California Office of Health Hazard Assessment set the goal for lead in drinking water at an even lower 0.2 ppb, based on studies showing that an increase of 1 ug/dL of lead in blood was associated with a decrease of one IQ point in children. The EPA’s legal standard for lead is much higher at 15 ppb.
“We know that no level of exposure to lead is safe,” said Jerome Paulson, a physician and emeritus professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Lead exposure in children is particularly concerning because their brains are still developing and it is more readily absorbed in their stomachs than in adults, he said.
A new study suggests that time in the sun could release harmful chemicals in plastic bottles. Time Tap water may be fine to drink in some cases, and if not, EWG recommends using a filter. It really depends on where you're located, Leiba said.
She said the concern isn’t so much that someone will get sick if they drink unfiltered tap water once or twice.
“The risk of that is low. What we are concerned about is long-term exposure, eight glasses a day, over a lifetime," she said.
Bottled water is not recommended, for several reasons. Unlike public water suppliers, manufacturers of bottled water are not required by law to disclose contaminant levels in their products. A 2012 report by EWG found that four out of five bottled water companies did not publish the results of their water quality testing. Bottled water may also be contaminated with plastic additives that can leach from the bottle into the water.
EWG has made its data available in the form of a public database. The hope is that after consumers see the data, they can decide what they want to do with it, whether they buy a filter or contact their local representative.
"Legal doesn’t necessarily mean safe when it comes to drinking water," Leiba said. "The main point for us is empowering people."
Groundbreaking New Leukemia Treatment Will Save Lives and $Billions
By Rob Garver July 12, 2017
From The Fiscal Times: The decision by a panel of the Food and Drug Administration to recommend the approval of a new therapy for a common form of leukemia could have a huge impact on the cost of treating a disease that costs billions of dollars per year to manage in the United States alone.
An advisory panel of the FDA voted 10-0 to recommend the approval of tisagenlecleucel, a treatment developed by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis. The treatment requires the extraction of a patient’s own infection-fighting T-cells, which are then genetically engineered to recognize and fight the cancer cells affecting the patient, and infused back into the bloodstream.
The treatment, which is expected to take 22 days to administer from beginning to end once it is formally approved and brought to market, produced full or partial remission in 83 percent of patients 90 days after being infused.
The cutting-edge therapy is expected to be extremely expensive, at something like half a million dollars per dose. But the upside is that treatment with tisagenlecleucel, ideally at least, only needs to happen once. Long-term management of leukemia can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year, and can even run to more than one hundred thousand dollars. And existing therapies, while they have improved in recent decades, don’t show the promise of tisagenlecleucel.
[T]he annual cost of managing the disease is projected to rise to $5.1 billion by 2025, up from $740,000 million in 2011, based on current pricing. And the cost of treating each patient for a lifetime is expected to increase 310 percent, to $604,000 from $147,000 during that same period. And for Medicare patients, the out-of-pocket cost is forecast to jump 520 percent, to $57,000 from $9,200.
The approval of the new treatment has potential consequences that extend well beyond treatment of leukemia. The extraction, genetic engineering, and re-infusion of a patient’s own immune cells is a pathbreaking method of treatment currently being explored by various pharmaceutical firms for the treatment of numerous cancers.
Speaking to CNBC, Reni Benjamin, a pharmaceuticals analyst with Raymond James described the field of gene therapy, into which the new treatment falls, as one attracting significant investment and excitement in the medical community.
The FDA approval of Novartis’ new therapy, he said, gives the industry “our first glimpse from a commercial and regulatory perspective about how the FDA is thinking about this space.”
Untreatable gonorrhoea 'superbug' spreading around world, WHO warns
World Health Organization tells of ‘very serious situation’ after confirming three known cases where all antibiotics were ineffective
James Rudd and agencies Thursday 6 July 2017 22.00 EDT
From The Guardian: Untreatable strains of gonorrhoea are on the rise, the World Health Organization has warned, fuelling fears that last-resort drugs will soon be futile after three confirmed cases in which antibiotics were ineffective.
Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK after chlamydia, with almost 35,000 cases reported in England in 2014. The WHO estimates that 78 million people worldwide contract the disease each year, with most cases affecting young men and women under the age of 25.
The latest warning is based on findings from two studies, co-authored by WHO researchers, looking at data from 77 countries; in more than 50, first-line antibiotics were ineffective.
“To control gonorrhoea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis, and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures,” said Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at the WHO. “Specifically, we need new antibiotics, as well as rapid, accurate, point-of-care diagnostic tests – ideally, ones that can predict which antibiotics will work on that particular infection – and longer term, a vaccine to prevent gonorrhoea.”
These concerns were echoed by others in the field.
“We are markedly concerned about the rise in antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea in the UK,” said Prof Claudia Estcourt, a member of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. “In a very short space of time, we have seen changes in the bacteria at an unprecedented rate, which means that many antibiotics which used to work are no longer effective. We are running out of options.”
As well as widespread resistance to first-line antibiotics for gonorrhea, resistance is increasing against second and third-line treatments, too.
Gonorrhoea spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as through the sharing of sex toys that have not been washed properly or covered with a new condom. Many of those who contract the disease experience no symptoms, but if left untreated the disease can cause infertility and, in pregnant women, puts babies at risk of blindness.
Since the introduction of antibiotics in 1930s, the bacteria responsible for gonorrhoea, neisseria gonorrhoeae, has shown a remarkable ability to stay one step ahead of our most effective antibiotics.
“Gonorrhoea is a very smart bug,” said Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the Geneva-based UN health agency. “Every time you introduce a new type of antibiotic to treat it, this bug develops resistance to it.”
Wi said one of two new studies on gonorrhoea published in the journal Plos Medicine had documented antibiotic-resistant cases in Japan, France and Spain.
“These are cases that can infect others. It can be transmitted,” she told reporters. “And these cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhoea is actually more common.”
Experts added that funding issues were adding to the problem.
“We are concerned that at a time of increasing drug-resistant gonorrhoea and limited treatment options, overall funding for sexual health services [in the UK] is being reduced, and a quarter of local authorities have had to reduce spending on sexual health services,” said Estcourt.
Manica Balasegaram, director of the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, said the situation was “grim” and there was a pressing need for new medicines.
The pipeline, however, is very thin, with only three potential new gonorrhoea drugs in development and no guarantee any will prove effective in final-stage trials, he said.
“We urgently need to seize the opportunities we have with existing drugs and candidates in the pipeline,” he said. “Any new treatment developed should be accessible to everyone who needs it, while ensuring it is used appropriately, so that drug resistance is slowed as much as possible.”
Why Eating Meat in America Is Like Going on a Trip to the Drug Store
Most of the meat Americans eat is banned in other industrialized countries. By Martha Rosenberg / AlterNet July 6, 2017, 12:56 PM GMT
Recently, Organic Consumers Association, along with Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety filed suit against chicken giant Sanderson Farms for falsely marketing its products as “100% Natural” even though it contains many unnatural and even prohibited substances. Sanderson chicken products tested positive for the antibiotic chloramphenical, banned in food animals, and amoxicillin, not approved for use in poultry production. Sanderson Farms products also tested positive for residues of steroids, hormones, anti-inflammatory drugs and even ketamine, a drug with hallucinogenic effects.
This is far from the first time unlabeled human drugs have been found in U.S. meat. The New York Times reported that most chicken feather-meal samples examined in one study contained Tylenol, one-third contained the antihistamine Benadryl, and samples from China actually contained Prozac. The FDA has caught hatcheries injecting antibiotics directly into chicken eggs. Tyson Foods was caught injecting eggs with the dangerous human antibiotic gentamicin.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has reported the presence of the potentially dangerous herbs fo-ti, lobelia, kava kava and black cohosh in the U.S. food supply as well as strong the antihistamine hydroxyzine. Most of the ingredients are from suppliers in China.
Animal Pharma still mostly under the radar
Many people have heard of Elanco, Eli Lilly’s animal drug division, and Bayer HealthCare Animal Health. But most big Pharma companies, including Pfizer, Merck, Boehringer Ingolheim, Sanofi and Novartis operate similar lucrative animal divisions. Unlike "people" Pharma, Animal Pharma largely exists under the public’s radar: drug ads do not appear on TV nor do safety or marketing scandals reach Capitol Hill. Still, conflicts of interest abound.
“No regulation currently exists that would prevent or restrict a veterinarian from owning their own animals and/or feed mill,” says the Center for Food Safety. “If a licensed veterinarian also owns a licensed medicated feed mill, they stand to profit by diagnosing a flock or herd and prescribing their own medicated feed blend.”
Because the activities of Animal Pharma are so underreported, few Americans realize that most of the meat they eat is banned in other industrialized countries. One example is ractopamine, a controversial growth-promoting asthma-like drug marketed as Optaflexx for cattle, Paylean for pigs, and Topmax for turkeys and banned in the European Union, China and more than 100 other countries. Also used in U.S. meat production is Zilmax, a Merck drug similar to ractopamine that the FDA linked to 285 cattle deaths during six years of administration. Seventy-five animals lost hooves, 94 developed pneumonia and 41 developed bloat in just two years, Reuters reported.
The European Union boycotts the U.S.' hormone-grown beef. The routinely used synthetic hormones zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate pose "increased risks of breast cancer and prostate cancer," says the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures. "Consumption of beef derived from Zeranol-implanted cattle may be a risk factor for breast cancer," according to an article in the journal Anticancer Research.
The European Union has also traditionally boycotted U.S. chickens because they are dipped in chlorine baths. In the U.S. it’s perfectly legal to ‘wash’ butchered chicken in strongly chlorinated water, according to a report in the Guardian:
These practices aren’t allowed in the EU, and the dominant European view has been that, far from reducing contamination, they could increase it because dirty abattoirs with sloppy standards would rely on it [chlorine] as a decontaminant rather than making sure their basic hygiene protocols were up to scratch.
Other germ-killing or germ-retarding chemicals routinely used in U.S. food production include nitrites and nitrates in processed meat (declared carcinogens by the World Health Organization in 2016), the parasiticide formalin legally used in shrimp production, and carbon monoxide to keep meat looking red in the grocery store no matter how old it really is. Many thought public revulsion at the ammonia puffs used to discourage E. Coli growth in the notorious beef-derived “pink slime” in 2012 forced the product into retirement. But the manufacturer is fighting back aggressively.(read more)
Here are 5 diseases marijuana can cure International Business Times 02 JUL 2017 AT 08:17 ET
From Raw Story: Recreational marijuana, which was legalized in Washington, D.C. and decriminalized in February 2015 in Alaska has been deemed to be less dangerous as compared to both tobacco and alcohol, according to several scientists.
Scientists have argued over the years about the safety of cannabis in comparison to alcohol, however in a report published in January 2015 in Scientific Reports, researchers measured the potential harm caused by each of these drugs in a more quantitative manner, by comparing a lethal dose with how much of the substance is typically consumed socially.
The report found that the dangers of marijuana “may have been overestimated in the past,” while the risk of alcohol has been “commonly underestimated,” according to the researchers.
The report compared the potential of death from the typical and recreational use of 10 drugs: marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, diazepam, amphetamine and methadone. According to the findings, cannabis was found to be safest among the drugs and also when specifically compared to cigarettes and alcohol.
Lead author of the report, Dirk Lachenmeier, told NBC News in 2015 that the findings: “Confirm earlier results of other study groups [but] with completely different methodology.” And while the results of the study may not be surprising, “the absolute differences in riskiness between substances” was found to be higher than expected.
Marijuana and alcohol are often placed against each other in order to determine which between the two is healthier. The Huffington Post, in one of their reports in 2013, claimed that “a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount of THC [Tetrahydrocannabinol] in a joint in order to be at risk of dying” and that there were no deaths reported only from smoking weed, citing a study published by the American Cancer Society. The study also suggested that the THC in cannabis has significant therapeutic values while treating cancer, glaucoma and AIDS.
However, the case is not similar for alcohol. The World Health Organization (WHO) found almost 3.3 million deaths in 2012 were due to excessive alcohol consumption. The WHO report claimed that marijuana doesn't lead to equal number of deaths as alcohol; however, they do have serious side effects on a human body. Both the psychoactive drugs, affect cognition or the functioning of the mental processes when taken or administered, according to WHO’s report.
However, it has been found from several studies and reports that medical marijuana is effective and are now being used to treat diseases like AIDS, Alzheimer’s and others alike. Here are five such diseases: AIDS: A small study of 50 individuals who smoked marijuana registered lesser neuropathic pain than those who did not smoke marijuana. In a study conducted on 10 HIV-positive marijuana smokers, researchers found that those who smoked cannabis had a better appetite, were sound sleepers and were in a better mood.
Epilepsy: Parents of young epilepsy patients are advocating for medicinal marijuana as an alternative treatment. This has been making headlines for quite some time now. Cannbidiol (CBD), a derivative compound of marijuana that is rid of psychoactive properties, basically the substance that gets you high, is being used to treat seizures and epilepsy. Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, in 2015, found out that there has been a decrease of 50 percent in the frequency of seizures for people who are being treated with CBD.
Glaucoma: A leading cause of blindness is glaucoma. The effect of THC in treating this illness has both pros and cons. While it reduces eye pressure, it also considerably decreases the blood pressure of the patient. This can be detrimental to the optic nerve as there would be reduced blood supply to the region. But a study also found that THC can be used to preserve the nerves.
Asthma: Even though we have contradictory studies on the subject, some early works suggested that cannabis reduces exercise induced asthma. In spite of some patients experiencing a tightening feeling in their throat and chest, some studies showed that marijuana dilates human airways. An experiment on mice showed similar results. Alzheimer's: Aggression, depression, anxiety, hallucinations and insomnia — the regular symptoms of people suffering from Alzheimer’s diseases — is being reduced by controlled use of marijuana. Cannabis has been proven to slow down the production of beta-amyloid proteins, which scientists consider to be the main ingredients that propagate Alzheimer’s. This shows that the plant possibly delays and might as well prevent the inception of the disease.
Researchers see stronger electric grid in regions with large amounts of renewables Consultants released the findings on the eve of a new Energy Department grid study.
From Think Progress: Some policymakers and industry advocates(fools) say that federal and state policies supporting renewable energy are jeopardizing the electric grid’s reliability by forcing coal and nuclear power power plants into an early retirement.
But a new report prepared by consulting firm Analysis Group concludes that the evidence does not support these claims. The addition of new natural gas-fired units and renewable energy capacity are increasing the nation’s electric reliability, not jeopardizing it, the report says.
The report, titled “Electricity Markets, Reliability and the Evolving U.S. Power System,” was released only days before Department of Energy staff members are scheduled to deliver a report on the impact of renewables on the nation’s power grid. In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry directed his staff to put together the report, which environmentalists and renewable energy advocates have worried will be tilted in favor of the coal industry. Perry ordered the grid study to be completed in 60 days.
The Analysis Group report concludes many advanced energy technologies such as efficient natural gas-fired generation and renewables provide reliability benefits by increasing the diversity of the electric system. As wind and solar energy become more prominent in certain regions, the trend in reliability performance in these areas is increasing rather than decreasing, the report says.
The retirement of aging coal and nuclear power plants “is a natural element of efficient and competitive market forces, and where markets are performing well, these retirements mainly represent the efficient exit of uncompetitive assets, and will lead to lower electricity prices for consumers over time,” the report explains.
The report was prepared with funding from the Advanced Energy Economy Institute and the American Wind Energy Association, the wind industry’s trade group.
In the memo requesting a grid study, Perry told his staff to look at the extent to which “continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.” Perry wanted to know if wind and solar power might be threatening grid reliability by forcing the premature retirement of coal and nuclear plants.
The announcement of the DOE grid study has led to significant debate about the intentions of the Trump administration. Democratic senators called the request for the study “a thinly disguised attempt to promote less economic electric generation technologies, such as coal and nuclear, at the expense of cost-competitive wind and solar power.”
The Analysis Group notes that grid reliability warnings, such as the one included in Perry’s memo ordering the grid study, “spring from genuine concerns, such as the need to address localized reliability impacts of potential plant closures; other times they reflect a first line of defense by opponents of the changes underway in the industry, or those potentially adversely affected.”
The report explains that reliability concerns have been raised regularly over decades, especially when market or policy trends affected the balance of resources on the system. “Yet in every case, the prospect of change has led to reliability assessments, careful evaluations of new and upcoming challenges, and steps taken to avoid reliability problems from actually coming to fruition,” the report says.
In the report, the consultants address concerns that have been raised about how the transition to new generation technologies may be undermining the financial viability of coal and nuclear power plants that provide baseload resource supplies.
“There is no evidence supporting that conclusion,” the Analysis Group contends.
For starters, the term “baseload resources” is an outdated term for today’s electric system, according to the report. Coal and nuclear power plants have traditionally been viewed as baseload power sources that can provide electricity on an uninterrupted basis. But natural gas-fired plants and renewable energy facilities together also are capable of providing around-the-clock electricity service to customers, the report contends.
The Analysis Group examined other studies that looked at experiences in states like California, Colorado, and Texas, which have faced significant renewables growth in a short period of time. These studies found that grid stability can be maintained system-wide with high levels of renewable energy penetration and that an increased mix in fuel technologies can be used to supplement and support each other.
Furthermore, the studies found that the integration of renewables is cost effective, for both operators and consumers.
In a separate report, released in May, the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, a nonprofit group that supports renewable energy and clean technology initiatives, noted the nation’s electricity generation mix has changed substantially over the past decade.
The Advanced Energy Economy Institute said the transition to a more diverse resource mix has been driven primarily by consistently low natural gas prices, followed by flat electricity demand and competition from renewables. With the operational techniques and technologies that are in widespread use today, the grid can continue to reliably integrate much higher levels of natural gas, variable renewables, and demand-side resources, the report concluded.
Engineer creates green oasis by growing glaciers in the desert Good News Network 14 JUN 2017 AT 18:16 ET
From Raw Story: This engineer has come up with an awe-inspiring method of providing freshwater to his village during the dry season.
Sonam Wangchuck is an engineer who lives in Ladakh: a village that sits 11,500 feet up in the southern Himalayas.
Since the village depends on mountain glacial runoff as their primary source of freshwater, Ladakh struggles with drought in the springtime. Combined with the effects of climate change, the region has often been at the mercy of nature.
That is, until Sonam created the village's first ice stupa – also known as an ice pyramid, or an artificial glacier.
Sonam created a pipeline that ran from the freshwater sources over a mile up in the mountains, all the way down to the village. During the winter, the pipeline would pour gallons of water into a kind of stationary sprinkler system. As the water was sprayed into the 0 degree Fahrenheit air, it would eventually keep building and freezing on top of itself until it made a pyramid.
Because ice melts more slowly if it is a part of a larger surface area, the pyramid was able to provide Ladakh with over 1.5 million liters of freshwater through the dry spring months up until late July.
In 2015, Ladakhi villagers were able to plant over 5,000 saplings using water from the ice stupa, resulting in the creation of a desert oasis capable of surviving all weather conditions.
Thanks to the innovation of his design, Sonam was a 2016 Rolex Award laureate. The engineer plans on using his $100,000 cash prize to establish a tree-planting program with the addition of 20 more stupas in Ladakh, thus providing over 10 million more liters of freshwater to the village.
LSD Could Help Treat Depression and Anxiety, Researchers Hope A new study suggests the drug reduces activity in the part of the brain that deals with negative emotions and could have "positive therapeutic effects."
By Melissa Matthews / International Business Times June 12, 2017, 10:51 AM GMT
Scientists are looking to use LSD to help patients cope during stressful times. A new study from the University of Basel in Switzerland found that the drug reduces activity in the part of your brain that deals with negative emotions, according to ScienceDaily.
In the very small study, researchers used functional MRI to measure brain activity in 20 healthy people who took 100 micrograms of LSD. Each person looked at images portraying various emotions like anger, joy and fear. The team found that after taking LSD, people reacted to fear differently, showing less activity in the amygdala. This part of the brain is essential in processing emotions. The team believes that the lower amygdala activity is actually associated with the effects of taking LSD.
"This 'de-frightening' effect could be an important factor for positive therapeutic effects," explains Doctor Felix Müller, lead author of the study, in the release on ScienceDaily. However, this is just the beginning of the research and much more is needed before drawing any conclusions. However, scientists are hopeful that this could open up the possibility of new treatments for depression and anxiety.
It may seem unorthodox now, but psychedelic drugs were once used for therapeutic purposes. The Guardian looked into the history of psychedelic psychiatry, started by British therapist Humphry Osmond. Osmond actually created the term psychedelic and looked at how hallucinogens could treat alcoholism. According to The Guardian, LSD therapy was the hot new trend and was even touted by Hollywood elite like Cary Grant. However, the growing counterculture movement and negative bias against hippies, proved detrimental to his cause, and Osmond’s research was stopped in the 1960s due to new regulations for scientific experiments.
Cheap catalysts turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into fuel By Robert Service - Jun. 6, 2017 , 4:00 PM
From Science: Scientists have long dreamed of mimicking photosynthesis, by using the energy in sunlight to knit together hydrocarbon fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water. Now, a cheap new chemical catalyst has carried out part of that process with record efficiency, using electricity from a solar cell to split CO2 into energy-rich carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen. The conversion isn’t yet efficient enough to compete with fossil fuels like gasoline. But it could one day lead to methods for making essentially unlimited amounts of liquid fuels from sunlight, water, and CO2, the chief culprit in global warming.
The new work is “a very nice result,” says John Turner, a renewable fuels expert at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.
The transformation begins when CO2 is broken down into oxygen and CO, the latter of which can be combined with hydrogen to make a variety of hydrocarbon fuels. Adding four hydrogen atoms, for example, creates methanol, a liquid fuel that can power cars. Over the last 2 decades, researchers have discovered a number of catalysts that enable that first step and split CO2 when the gas is bubbled up through water in the presence of an electric current. One of the best studied is a cheap, plentiful mix of copper and oxygen called copper oxide. The trouble is that the catalyst splits more water than it does CO2, making molecular hydrogen (H2), a less energy-rich compound, says Michael Graetzel, a chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, whose group has long studied these CO2-splitting catalysts.
Last year, Marcel Schreier, one of Graetzel’s graduate students, was looking into the details of how copper oxide catalysts work. He put a layer of them on a tin oxide–based electrode, which fed electrons to a beaker containing water and dissolved CO2. Instead of splitting mostly water—like the copper oxide catalyst—the new catalyst generated almost pure CO. “It was a discovery made by serendipity,” Graetzel says.
The tin, Graetzel adds, seems to deactivate the catalytic hot spots that help split the water. As a result, almost all the electric current went into making the more desirable CO. Armed with the new insight, Graetzel’s team sought to speed up the catalyst’s work. To do so, they remade their electrode from copper oxide nanowires, which have a high surface area for carrying out the CO2-breaking reaction, and topped them with a single atom-thick layer of tin. As Graetzel’s team reports this week in Nature Energy, the strategy worked, converting 90% of the CO2 molecules into CO, with hydrogen and other byproducts making up the rest. They also hooked their setup to a solar cell and showed that a record 13.4% of the energy in the captured sunlight was converted into the CO’s chemical bonds. That’s far better than plants, which store energy with about 1% efficiency, and even tops recent hybrid approaches that combine catalysts with microbes to generate fuel.
Nate Lewis, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, says the new result comes on the heels of other recent improvements that use different catalysts to turn CO2 into fuels. “Together, they show we’re making progress,” Lewis says. But he also cautions that current efforts to turn CO2 into fuel remain squarely in the realm of basic research, because they can’t generate fuel at a price anywhere near to that of refining oil.
Still, exploding supplies of renewable electricity now occasionally generate more power than the grid can handle. So scientists are looking for a viable way to store the excess electricity. That’s likely to drive further progress in storing energy in chemical fuels, Graetzel says.
iOS 11 will render older iPhones, iPads and apps obsolete
Apple’s iOS 11 update means iPhone 5 and 5C will no longer receive updates, while some apps and games will be incompatible after switch to 64-bit Apple unveils HomePod speaker to take on Amazon Echo and Google Home
Samuel Gibbs Tuesday 6 June 2017 04.26 EDT
From The Guardian: Apple has announced that its new iOS 11, launched at its developer conference in San Jose, will only operate on 64-bit devices, making the iPhone 5 and 5C, among other devices, obsolete and meaning some apps and games may stop working.
The new version of iOS features a new interface and redesigned App Store, but also removes support for 32-bit devices and apps. Apple’s iPhone and iPads have both used 64-bit processors, which allow the system to use larger amounts of memory among other speed advantages, since the A7 processor came with the iPhone 5S and iPad Air in 2013.
That means anyone with an iPhone 5 or 5C will no longer receive software updates for either new features, or more importantly security fixes. The iPad 4 will also stop receiving updates.
But it also means that for users of Apple’s newer smartphones and tablet computers, including the latest iPhone 7 and iPad, some apps that are 32-bit-only and not coded to operate in a 64-bit system will cease to work once their devices are updated to iOS 11.
Users can check which apps and games are affected by navigating to:
Settings > General > About > Applications > App Compatibility
Any apps or games listed there are running in 32-bit mode even on 64-bit devices and aso will not run on iOS 11 unless updated by the developers. One example of a relatively popular game that will not run on iOS 11 in its current form is Ridiculous Fishing that was last updated in 2013.
The new iOS 11 will be available as a free update for supported iPhones and iPads in the summer.
Scientists Uncover the True Cost of a Loaf of Bread By Lucy Goodchild van Hilten
From Eco Watch: Bread has recently been labeled a bad guy, with millions of people opting to ditch the dough and eat a gluten-free diet to stay trim and healthy. But it turns out there's another reason to steer clear of bread: it's having a massive impact on the environment.
Scientists in the UK have worked out the greenhouse gas emissions produced by making a standard loaf of bread, pinpointing the emissions hotspots in the process. With GHG emissions equivalent to about half a kilo (1.3 pounds) of carbon dioxide per loaf, bread accounts for half a percent of the UK's total emissions. That may not seem like a lot, but considering that the nation's entire agriculture industry accounts for 10 percent of total emissions, it's clear that bread, as a single food product, has a pretty huge impact.
The good news is there's now a clear target to reduce the impact: Nearly half of the emissions (0.589kg, or 13.7oz) come from fertilizer used to grow the wheat. Writing in Nature Plants, Peter Horton and his colleagues from the University of Sheffield analyzed the whole manufacturing process, from planting the seed to putting the bread on the shelf. They found the bulk of the greenhouse gases come from the farm.
"Our findings bring into focus a key part of the food security challenge—resolving the major conflicts embedded in the agri-food system, whose primary purpose is to make money, not to provide sustainable global food security," commented Horton, who is chief research advisor to the University of Sheffield's Grantham Center for Sustainable Futures.
Bread: the bad guy?
Despite getting bad press for its gluten content (which scientists now say we actually need), bread is still one of the most widely eaten foods; the average American eats bread 77 times a year and almost 160 million Americans eat one loaf a week (and more than 11 million eat more than five loaves).
Bread has four main ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. The wheat is first grown and harvested, then the grains milled to make the flour—all this before the ingredient is processed, packaged and ready to bake. A standard loaf of bread contains about 16 ounces of flour, and this is what has the biggest impact on the environment, according to the new research.
The researchers looked at every aspect of bread manufacturing, analyzing the whole life cycle of a loaf, from growing the wheat to packaging the bread and transporting it to the shop. They found that nearly 66 percent of the emissions came from growing the wheat: tilling the soil, harvesting and irrigation all require emissions-producing machinery. But a whopping 43 percent of the greenhouse gases produced came from using fertilizer to grow the crops.
"We found in every loaf there is embodied global warming resulting from the fertilizer applied to farmers' fields to increase their wheat harvest," said Liam Goucher, the study's lead author.
A system reliant on fertilizer
For the calculations in their new study, the team focused on one particular farm in Lincoln in the UK, but the significant emissions from the fertilizer are not unique to that farm—or the crop. In fact, food is responsible for about one-third of all our greenhouse gas emissions, and a lot of this is down to fertilizer use. An estimated 60 percent of agricultural crops depend on fertilizer; wheat farmers use ammonium nitrate fertilizer to grow their crops. It boosts growth by providing nitrogen, but it also contains and releases a multitude of substances with a potential impact on climate, including ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane.
"If you want to reduce the climate impact of food production, we need to think of fertilizer manufacturing and fertilizer application as one place where we have big leverage to reduce climate impact," said Navin Ramankutty of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, who was not involved in the study.
The emissions related to fertilizer use stretch back into its own production—a lot of energy is needed to make the fertilizer in the first place. Then when it's used and breaks down in the soil, it releases nitrous oxide. This gas accounts for nearly two-thirds of agricultural emissions—as a food-related greenhouse gas, it's second only to carbon dioxide. What's more, it has 298 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, making fertilizer a serious problem for climate change.
"High agricultural productivity—necessary for profit for farmers, agri-businesses and food retailers, whilst also keeping prices low for consumers—currently requires high levels of application of relatively cheap fertilizers," said Horton. "With over 100 million tons of fertilizer used globally each year to support agricultural production this is a massive problem, but environmental impact is not costed within the system and so there are currently no real incentives to reduce our reliance on fertilizer."
Taking responsibility as a team
So we've got a problem in the system, but who's going to fix it? According to the researchers, it's something that needs to be addressed by everyone involved, from the farmer who plants the seeds to the consumer who takes a bite out of a sandwich.
We know plenty of ways to reduce the impact of using fertilizer, such as using it at key points during the season rather than continuously, and using different cropping systems—by planting vegetables between crop cycles (decreasing "fallow frequency"), farmers can keep the land in use and improve the ability of the soil to hold carbon.
The biggest challenge will be implementing these changes in places where farmers rely on fertilizer to protect their income; after all, it's a surefire way to make sure the crop grows, regardless of the impact it has on the environment.
Yet the responsibility doesn't end with the farmer, said Lenny Koh, who came up with the method for analyzing bread in the new study: "The findings raise a very important issue—whose responsibility is it to bring about the implementation of these interventions: the fertilizer manufacturer, the farmer, the retailer or the consumer?
"There is a growing recognition for a range of industrial processes of the notion of extended producer responsibility—the producer being responsible for downstream impact, expanded to the idea of shared producer and consumer responsibility. The consumer is key, whether being persuaded to pay more for a greener product or by applying pressure for a change in practice."
The obvious choice we can make is organic—given the proportion of emissions that come from fertilizer, making sure the bread we're eating is organic can make an immediate and significant difference. Less obvious is where we eat: researchers in China found that dining out has nearly double the carbon emissions of eating at home.
While the jury may still be out on whether bread is the bad guy for our health, it's clear that the slice of toast we eat in the morning or that lunchtime sub has just as much of an effect on the environment as it does on our waistlines. The agricultural industry has plenty of work to do to reduce the impact of the wheat that ends up in our sandwiches. But in the meantime, when it comes to cutting the carbon from our food, the decisions we make as consumers can help, too.
Scientists just accidentally figured out how to turn CO2 into fuel in a breakthrough study
From Business Insider: In a serendipitous accident, scientists in Tennessee claim they have converted carbon dioxide into ethanol.
The researchers, who work at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, developed a process that adds "nano-spikes" (essentially tiny bursts) of carbon and copper to CO2 to transform it into ethanol, the type of alcohol found in hand sanitizer and alcoholic drinks.
Ethanol can also be turned into fuel (gasoline in Brazil already contains more than 25% ethanol), which is why the scientists are calling the discovery a "twist to waste-to-fuel technology."
"We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked," ORNL’s Adam Rondinone, lead author of the team’s study, said in a press release. "We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own."
The team's experiment was meant to be one part of a longer research project investigating how to turn CO2 into ethanol; the researchers figured the process would require multiple steps and complicated chemical reactions. But it turned out to be a lot easier than they thought: they only needed a single catalyst (copper) to transform the CO2.
The discovery is a major breakthrough, considering the process turns carbon dioxide — one of the leading air pollutants contributing to climate change — into fuel, which in turn generates more CO2 that could be turned back into more fuel. (Burning a gallon of diesel fuel produces about 22 pounds of CO2.) If the technology becomes cost-efficient and widely available, it could provide a new carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuel production.
There's no word yet on whether the discovery will leave the lab, however.
Linking Alzheimer's to Pollution, Study Finds 'Abundant' Toxic Nanoparticles in Human Brains
Toxic magnetic particles suspected of link to Alzheimer's disease discovered in brains of people living in heavily polluted areas
by Nika Knight, staff writer
From Common Dreams: Toxic magnetic nanoparticles from air pollution have been discovered in "abundant" quantities in human brains, according to a new study.
The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is particularly alarming because other research recently raised the strong possibility of a link between such particles and Alzheimer's disease.
This latest study "suggests that most magnetite found in the human brain, a magnetic iron oxide compound, comes from industrial air pollution. And because unusually high concentrations of magnetite are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the findings raise the specter of an alarming new environmental risk factor for this and other neurodegenerative diseases," writes Science.
The researchers examined the brains of 37 people in Mexico City, Mexico, and Manchester, U.K., and discovered "abundant" amounts of magnetite and other nanoparticles deemed toxic.
The new research "suggests the particles can be inhaled and enter the brain through the olfactory nerve, which takes information about smells to the brain," according to the Telegraph.
Professor Barbara Maher of Lancaster University, who headed the study, told the Guardian: "You are talking about millions of magnetite particles per gram of freeze-dried brain tissue—it is extraordinary."
"Magnetite in the brain is not something you want to have because it is particularly toxic there," she added, explaining that the metal can create free radicals, which have been linked to Alzheimer's. "Oxidative cell damage is one of the hallmark features of Alzheimer’s disease, and this is why the presence of magnetite is so potentially significant, because it is so bioreactive."
"Abnormal accumulation of brain metals is a key feature of Alzheimer's disease and a recent study showed that magnetite was directly associated with the damage seen in Alzheimer’s brains," the Guardian notes.
The Guardian reports on Maher's further findings:
"Many of the magnetite particles we have found in the brain are very distinctive," said Maher. "They are very rounded nanospheres, because they were formed as molten droplets of material from combustion sources, such as car exhausts, industrial processes and power stations, anywhere you are burning fuel."
"They are abundant," she said. "For every one of [the crystal shaped particles] we saw about 100 of the pollution particles. The thing about magnetite is it is everywhere." An analysis of roadside air in Lancaster found 200m magnetite particles per cubic metre.
Furthermore, said Maher: "We also observed other metal-bearing particles in the brain, such as platinum, cobalt and nickel. Things like platinum are very unlikely to come from a source within the brain. It is a bit of an indicator of a [vehicle] catalytic converter source."
"This is a discovery finding, and now what should start is a whole new examination of this as a potentially very important environmental risk factor for Alzheimer's disease," Maher said. "Now there is a reason to go on and do the epidemiology and the toxicity testing, because these particles are so prolific and people are exposed to them."
The negative health impacts of air pollution have recently come into stark relief, with the UN saying last week that it kills as many people as cancer.
Putting CO2 away for good by turning it into stone
From The Conversation: ...A group of scientists from several European countries and the United States including myself met in the middle, in Iceland, to figure out how CO2 could be put away safely – in the ground. In a recently published study, we demonstrated that two years after injecting CO2 underground at our pilot test site in Iceland, almost all of it has been converted into minerals.
Iceland is a very green country; almost all of its electricity comes from renewable sources including geothermal energy. Hot water from rocks beneath the surface is converted into steam which drives a turbine to generate electricity. However, geothermal power plants there do emit CO2 (much less than a comparable coal-fired power plant) because the hot steam from deep wells that runs the turbines also contains CO2 and sometimes hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Those gases usually just get released into the air.
Is there another place we could put these gases?
Conventional carbon sequestration deposits CO2 into deep saline aquifers or into depleted oil and natural gas reservoirs. CO2 is pumped under very high pressure into these formations and, since they held gases and fluids already over millions of year in place, the probability of CO2 leaking out is minuscule, as many studies have shown.
In a place like Iceland with its daily earthquakes cracking the volcanic rocks (basalts), this approach would not work. The CO2 could bubble up through cracks and leak back into the atmosphere.
However, basalt also has a great advantage: it reacts with CO2 and converts it into carbonate minerals. These carbonates form naturally and can be found as white spots in the basalt. The reactions also have been demonstrated in laboratory experiments.
Dissolving CO2 in water
For the first test, we used pure CO2 and pumped it through a pipe into an existing well that tapped an aquifer containing fresh water at about 1,700 feet of depth. Six months later we injected a mixture of CO2 and hydrogen sulfide piped in from the turbines of the power plant. Through a separate pipe we also pumped water into the well.
In the well, we released the CO2 through a sparger – a device for introducing gases into liquids similar to a bubble stone in an aquarium – into water. The CO2 dissolved completely within a couple of minutes in the water because of the high pressure at depth. That mixture then entered the aquifer.
We also added tiny quantities of tracers (gases and dissolved substances) that allow us to differentiate the injected water and CO2 from what’s already in the aquifer. The CO2 dissolved in water was then carried away by the slowly flowing groundwater.
Downstream, we had installed monitoring wells that allowed us to collect samples to figure out what happened to the CO2. Initially, we saw some of the CO2 and tracers coming through. After a few months, though, the tracers kept arriving but very little of the injected CO2 showed up.
Where was it going? Our pump in the monitoring well stopped working periodically, and when we brought it to the surface, we noticed that it was covered by white crystals. We analyzed the crystals and found they contained some of the tracers we had added and, best of all, they turned out to be mostly carbonate minerals! We had turned CO2 into rocks.
The CO2 dissolved in water had reacted with the basalt in the aquifer and more than 95 percent of the CO2 precipitated out as solid carbonate minerals – and it all happened much faster than anticipated, in less than two years. This is the safest way to put CO2 away. By dissolving it in water, we already prevent CO2 gas from bubbling up toward the surface through cracks in the rocks. Finally, we convert it into stone that cannot move or dissolve under natural conditions.
One downside of this approach is that water needs to be injected alongside the CO2. However, because of the very rapid removal of the CO2 from the water in mineral form, this water could be pumped back out of the ground downstream and reused at the injection site. [...]