Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2010 Olympics


As you may be aware, the 2010 Olympics are destined for Vancouver, BC., right next door to me here in sunny Surrey! Right now, downtown Vancouver is one of the most unattractive sights I have ever seen. As you may or may not know, the corner of Main & Hastings in downtown Vancouver has the dubious distinction of being the poorest postal code in Canada. This area is referred to as an "open-air drug market" 24 hours a day.

I think it will be very interesting to see what happens to this area as the Olympics creep closer. I will do all my own photography and reporting.

Would anyone be interested in reading such an undertaking? I would put up 2-3 blogs on it a month. What say you, almighty readers?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Melamine Causes Cadbury Chocolate Recall

Cadbury, British candy makers, have said they are recalling 11 types of Chinese made chocolates found to contain melamine in the milk used to produce them. Police in northern China raided a network accused of adding the banned chemical to milk and apparently have not reached the end of the deadly maze of places this contaminant is hiding.

A Cadbury spokesperson has been quick to say that it is too early to say how much of the chemical was in the chocolates made at its Beijing plant, and another company official assures that the factory was responsible for a very small percentage of global sales and sales – only 0.5% to Australia, Taiwan, Nauru, Hong Kong and Christmas Island.

"It's too early to say where the source was or the extent of it," said the spokesman, who declined to be identified because of company policy. The company went on to say its dairy suppliers are generally cleared by government milk testing.

A Cadbury spokesman (who refused to give his name or explain why he refused to give his name), from the company's London office, said there was no way the contaminated chocolate could find its way into other countries because the factory only supplies Australia, Taiwan, Nauru, Hong Kong and Christmas Island. "That factory in Beijing only exports to those markets. It's only a small factory.”

"The product made in China makes up 0.5 per cent of global sales, and this (the subject of this recall) is less than that because it's only chocolate," he said.

“Cadbury's chocolates sold in the United States are not affected by the recall”, said Kirk Saville, a spokesman for Hershey's, Cadbury's sole U.S. distributor. Saville said he is also "positive" no Hershey's suppliers receive milk products from China, making their products safe.

Separately, Kraft Foods (the maker of Oreo cookies) and Mars (the maker of M&Ms and Snickers candy) have publicly stated they believe Indonesian authorities were mistaken in their findings of melamine in their products.

"We don't use any milk ingredients from China in any Oreo products, no matter where they are made or sold," said Claire Regan, a Kraft spokeswoman by way of explanation for their not accepting the test results as factual.

Mars said, in a statement on its website, it is confident there's no melamine in any of its chocolate or candy made in China. They claim to have had their milk products tested and found to be contaminant free. They called the Indonesian results "completely inconsistent" with test findings from other government and independent labs in Asia and Europe.

Hong Kong supermarket chain PARKnSHOP also pulled its Chinese-made Oreo, M&M and Snickers products as a precaution, spokeswoman Pinky Chan said.

Countries around the world have removed items containing Chinese milk ingredients from store shelves or banned them outright.

Authorities in China had previously arrested at least 18 people and detained more than two dozen suspects in connection with the scandal.

Pesticides and the Bees

The Soil Association in the United Kingdom is bringing a problem forward that has people buzzing with concern. This problem could become a global hornets’ nest of controversy if not solved soon as it exists, to a greater or lesser degree, in every country in the world. Some countries have already taken more steps than others; but, if the world’s food chain is remain robust and nourish all 6.725 billion of us adequately every country is going to have to cooperate.

The Soil Association in the UK is urging the government to ban pesticides linked to honeybee deaths around the world. While the UK has not taken strong enough measures yet, the Italian government recently joined France, Germany and Slovenia in banning chemicals that have been identified as helping to kill the honeybee population.

Photograph: Judi Bottoni/AP

Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's policy director, said: "It is typical of the lax approach to pesticide regulation in the UK that we look like being one of the last of the major farming countries in the EU (European Union) to wake up to the threat to our honeybees."

The pesticides causing concern are known as neonicotinoids. They are approved in the UK to kill insects on a range of crops including oilseed rape (canola), barley and sugar beet. Bees are drawn to the bright yellow flowers of oilseed rape (canola) flowers so intensely that the use of these pesticides on this crop is of particular concern to beekeepers.

The two neonicotinoids of greatest concern are Imidacloprid and Clothianidin. In May 2008, Germany suspended sales of these pesticides after 700 beekeepers along the Rhine reported that two-thirds of their bee populations had died following an application of clothianidin.

France banned the use of imidacloprid on sunflowers in 1999 and on sweet corn in 2003 when it was determined that one-third of their honeybee population had been lost to pesticides.

Imidacloprid is made by Bayer and is its bestselling pesticide being used in 120 countries. Bayer has always maintained that neonicotinoids are safe for bees if correctly applied.

"Extensive internal and international scientific studies have confirmed that neonicotinoids do not present a hazard to bees," Utz Klages, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience, said recently.

Unfortunately, many countries are taking the same stand as the UK and are loath to ban the use of pesticides on crops. Again, it would appear to be forsaking the big picture (the future) for the small monetary gains to be had now. Listen to what authorities in the UK are saying.

The National Farmers' Union said it was opposed to any ban on pesticides. Paul Chambers, NFU plant health adviser, said: "Banning pesticides using the precautionary principle is not based on good science. Pests and disease are the problems facing honeybees in the UK. The government needs to put more money into researching honeybee health."

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also attributed the decline in honeybee populations to a variety of factors. A DEFRA spokesman said: "There are no plans to ban pesticides."

Beekeepers worldwide have reported catastrophic losses of from 30% to 90% of their honeybee colonies during the last two years. Two-thirds of all major crops rely on pollination, mainly by honeybees.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Creative Recycling At Its Best!

It's wonderful when creativity takes over and something that would normally add alot of waste to our landfills is recycled into something unique, creative and worthwhile.

That's exactly what happened in Stockholm, Sweden. Instead of letting a no longer serviceable jumbo jet bake in the desert (no deserts around) or get scrapped; they came up with a win-win situation for everyone.

Flights get delayed, airlines go bankrupt, overbook or get caught in changing weather patterns and many people end up sleeping on airport floors or trying to fit a human body into those tiny chairs comfortably for hours. How to benefit both the airline and the passenger?

What could be more logical than to take an old jumbo and turn it into a hostel? That is what they did in Stockholm and it opened this December, 2007. This one is all hostel accommodation, three beds to a room;but, there is also the flight deck, set up as a private, more high-end suite.

Passengers who have made use of this facility seem to feel that every airport should have one of these, "instead of the crappy airport hotels that you have to drive offsite for".

"This is the budget price alternative Arlanda (airport) has needed for quite a long time and also a new landmark at Arlanda offering a unique experience for the guests," says hostel owner and the man behind Jumbo Hostel, Oscar Diös.

"I was getting ready to expand my hostel business in 2006 when I heard about an old wreck of an aircraft for sale at Arlanda. Since I had for a long time wanted to establish my business at Arlanda I didn’t hesitate for a second when this opportunity struck," Oscar Diös explains.

In December 2007, Sigtuna authorities granted a building permit for establishing Jumbo Hostel at the entrance to Arlanda airport. In January 2008, the aircraft was moved to a construction site parking where the first phase of the conversion has begun with the dismantling of the old interior, new paint and new decorations for the rooms.

Four hundred fifty seats were taken out and the plane is sanitized in its entirety. The hostel is built like any house, subjected to the same demands on climate control and isolation. It adheres to all common energy standards. Heating is achieved with an air-air inverter."

Cross Sections of the Inside of Jumbo Hotel

Other Ingenious Hotel Rooms Made From Recycled (and unexpected) Materials

This plane was one of the last allied planes out of Vietnam. There are two suites as pictured: one in the cockpit and one in the tail. It's a Bristol Freighter.

Recycled Boat into Hotel

Recycled Train

Recycled Bristol, Boat and Train Hotel Rooms can be found at Woodlyn Park, New Zealand.

DasParkHotel, "constructed from repurposed, incredibly robust drain pipes, a temporary comfortable uncomplicated home for a certain time."

In the Hague, marine lifeboats have been converted into a floating hotel

Finally, my favourite! In Stavoren in the Netherlands, four 15,000 litre Swiss wine vats have been converted into hotel rooms complete with private bath.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Some Help Needed Readers

I could use some input.  Do you find the articles to be too long, too short, or just right?  Are there any subjects you would like researched or would like to get more information on?  Don't hesitate to leave comments and let me know what you want to read.  Thanks.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Portugal Steps Up To The Plate

Wave snakes approximately 459’ long and 11.5’ in diameter have been spotted just recently off the coast of Portugal. They are red in color and; from a distance; they can be easily lost in the turbulence of the Atlantic Ocean. What are they? Another escapee from a lab somewhere? Giant underwater monsters heading to the surface for sunbathing or some more nefarious reason? Hardly!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008, was the first time these wave snakes, as they are being called, were seen. But instead of causing fear and hysteria, their sighting is being heralded as a world’s first in the hunt for clean energy. Actually, these red snake-like devices were inaugurated as part of world’s first commercial-scale wave-power station located three miles from the coast of the northern Portuguese town Aguçadoura.

These wave snakes have been 10 years in the making by an Edinburgh-based company named Pelamis Wave Power. At the heart of the Aguçadoura power station are the three cylindrical wave energy converters which move up and down on the endless supply of waves. The open sea is never calm; so, there will never be any “down” time. This plant then converts the motion into electricity, without emitting any of the carbon dioxide responsible for warming the planet.

"The future of wave energy starts today," said Manuel Pinho, Portugal's economics minister. "Finland is very good in mobile phones; Portugal wants to be good in renewable energy. We are among the top five in the world; and, we are just in the beginning of the process.”

Pinho went on to add, "Renewable energy is the source of energy for the future and we think this can create an industrial revolution and a lot of opportunities for jobs and research and we want to be ahead of the curve."

At peak out, with the three wave machines they have now, the plant near Aguçadoura will be able to general enough (2.25 MW) to supply the annual needs of about 1,500 family homes. Eventually, the station will be expanded to include another 25 machines for a total of 28. With that many machines it will be able to generate up to 21MW of power. This will save 60,000 tons of CO2 from entering our atmosphere compared to a fossil fuel plant.

"If you compare it to wind energy, wave is more predictable and is more sustained typically," said Ian Sharp of Babcock and Brown, the company that built and commissioned the Aguçadoura wave farm.

Each device is 142m (459’) long, has a diameter of 3.5m (11.5’) and is made from 700 tons of carbon steel. Each wave converter is composed of four articulated sections that move up and down independently as the waves pass along it. At each of the hinges between the sections, hydraulic rams use the wave motion to drive generators to produce up to 750KW of power at peak output.

The electricity generated will be carried by undersea cable to a substation in Aguçadoura, which will then feed the power into the Portuguese national grid.

The Portuguese are really taking the lead in renewable technologies. Besides, this flagship wave-power project, they are investing heavily in other technologies. They are already spending £250m ($500m) on more than 2,500 solar photovoltaic panels to build the world's largest solar farm. This solar farm in eastern Portugal near the small town of Moura will supply 45MW of electricity each year, enough to power 30,000 homes.

In the past three years, the country has also trebled its hydroelectric capacity and quadrupled its wind power sources – northern Portugal has the world's biggest wind farm with more than 130 turbines and a factory that builds the 40m-long blades.

Pinho wants Portugal to rival Denmark or Japan in its commitment to developing renewables industries – he predicts his country will generate 31% of all its power from clean sources by 2020. The target means increasing the generation of electricity from renewable sources from 20% in 2005 to 60% in 2020. My prayers are with you Portugal!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Contaminated Products From China

There has been a second alert of contaminated product from China hitting Canadian shelves.

This time the alert concerns coffee – nectar of the Gods, in my mind.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is warning that certain types of Mr. Brown 3-in-1 instant coffee (coffee, sugar and milk) are being recalled because they might contain the same melamine powder that has contaminated so much of the milk supply in China.

The CFIA said in a statement Tuesday (Sept. 23, 2008) that the instant coffee products were initially recalled in Taiwan and that their Canadian importer, Thai Indochine Trading Inc., is following suit after melamine was discovered in batches of powdered milk at several major dairies throughout China.

The three coffee blends, sold in 450 gram packages containing 30 bags of 15 grams each, were sold in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. They have not been linked to any illnesses so far.

On Sunday (Sept. 21, 2008), the CFIA issued a similar warning for Nissin Cha Cha Dessert, a product sold in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

The products involved in Tuesday's announcement are:

- Instant Coffee 3-in-1 Mandheling Blend Coffee with a universal product code of 4 710085 122523;

- Instant Coffee 3-in-1 Blue Mountain Blend Coffee with a UPC 4 710085 200597

- Instant Coffee 3-in-1 Arabica Coffee with a UPC 4 710085 122509

T & T Supermarkets, a well-known Chinese supermarket in British Columbia, was the first to voluntarily remove all possible contaminated products from their shelves before the information indicated it was necessary. Everyone in the food industry should have the integrity shown by T & T.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kibera's FIRST Farm Ever is Organic

Sometimes the strength of the human spirit to overcome obstacles and soar unfettered to heights miles away from their beginning brings tears to my eyes. The following is such a story. Every life should at one time or another be touched by a Victor Matioli of their own.

Victor Matioli grows plump organic pumpkin, aromatic coriander, and spinach that has been declared by those that eat it “very soft, sweet and tasty.” Victor is an organic farmer with a half-acre farm in a former rubbish dump in the heart of east Africa’s biggest slum.

The sight of tall, golden sunflowers planted to help neutralize the contaminated soil, drew so much attention growing amid the rusted shacks, garbage and dirt paths of Kibera that the gardeners had to put up a “No Photographing” sign to allow them to work in peace. Since the reputations of the farmers are well known – they are all reformed criminals – the sign is taken very seriously indeed.

The unlikely organic farm along with its equally unlikely reformed caretakers has its start in the turmoil that gripped Kenya at the start of the year. The densely-packed slum, home to up to a million people, was overrun with ethnic clashes and street battles between riot police and protesters demonstrating over flawed presidential elections.

One of the greatest concerns facing the country now was a looming hunger crisis with those in the slums having the potential to be the hardest hit of all. Su Kahumbu, managing director of Green Dreams
(www.greendreams.edublogs.org), was particularly concerned. Green Dreams is one of Kenya’s pioneer organic produce companies.

Her initial plan of a mass distribution of seeds to small-scale farmers in the Rift Valley to enable them to plant before the April rains was halted by a lack of funding. After that disappointment, a friend told her about a group of young, unemployed men in Kibera with an outrageous plan. They wanted to learn to farm -- inside the slum.

When she was showed photographs of their would-be garden patch, she thought, “You MUST be joking”. There was so much garbage there, there seemed to be little room left for anything else. The rectangle of land bordered the railway line that cuts through Kibera and was being used as a refuse dump by nearby residents.

Piled high were plastic cartons, cans, broken bottles, chicken and goat bones, as well as innumerable "flying toilets" - polythene bags filled with human waste, a grim reminder of the slum's lack of sewage facilities. But when Kahumbu saw the enthusiasm among Matioli's 36-member Youth Reform Group, she agreed to help them get started. The men, mostly in their 20s, some having served jail terms, set about cleaning the site in late April.

Instead of making the problems around them worse and simply dumping the rubbish elsewhere, it was painstakingly compacted and tied down under tarpaulins on one side of the plot. The soil which hadn’t seen the light of day for years still contained traces of refuse, mainly old strips of plastic, and Su Kahumba sent samples away for analysis. In the meantime, her brother laid down a network of drip irrigation pipes linked to a water tank.

The soil tests revealed high; but, not dangerous, levels of zinc, which could be drawn out by planting sunflowers among the vegetables. Still, Kahumbu felt that it would be wrong to teach the men conventional farming methods.

"The toxin levels in Kibera are already high and I did not think it was fair to add to them," she said. So, it was agreed that, soil quality and surroundings aside, Kibera's first modern-day farm would be organic. Fertilizer would come from vegetable scraps turned into compost, and from plant-nourishing "worm juice" produced by the earthworms kept in a half-barrel of soil. Within two months of planting, the first vegetables were successfully harvested. The farmers buy some of the produce; the rest sells swiftly within the slum.

Netting 10p ($0.20) for a cabbage and £1 ($2.00) for a pumpkin, Matioli's collective made a profit last month - a modest sum; but, one that made him confident of the farm's sustainability. "People here are really interested in learning about our organic methods," said Matioli.

Cows and Deer Stand In Alignment

European scientists have made a discovery that has previously gone unnoticed by animal behaviorists everywhere.

They studied satellite images of cows and deer worldwide and have discovered that these animals align themselves with Earth’s north-south magnetic fields when they graze or rest. It has been known for many years that birds, turtles, and salmon use magnetic guidance to migrate, cattle or deer were not previously known to possess an inner magnetic compass.

Farmers have found that cattle stand perpendicular to the sun to heat up their bodies on cold, sunny days, or stand parallel to the wind during winter days with particularly strong winds, the scientists noted.

However the common alignment of cattle during days with optimal weather had not been particularly noted by either farmers or scientists. "Amazingly, this ubiquitous phenomenon does not seem to have been noticed by herdsmen, ranchers, or hunters," said the study, co-written by Sabine Begall of Germany's University of Duisburg-Essen.

"Because wind and light conditions could be excluded as a common denominator determining the body axis orientation, magnetic alignment is the most parsimonious explanation," says the study published in the August 25 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The scientists used Google Earth software to study the alignment of 8,510 cows in 308 pastures around the world and 2,974 red and roe deer in 241 locations in the Czech Republic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Update on Contaminated Milk in China

In a very recent blog, I said, “Unfortunately, some of the contaminated milk had already been sold to Bangladesh, Myanmar and some African countries. There has been no evidence so far that any of the tainted products have been sold overseas.”

Unfortunately, contaminated milk from China has shown up in one of the products whose mother company is in the Netherlands. Dutch dairy company Friesland Foods is recalling all its plastic bottled milk in Hong Kong and Macau after one of Chinese-made products was found to be contaminated with one of the same chemicals blamed for the deaths of the Chinese babies. Melamine was found in their “Lady” brand strawberry milk. Friesland Foods Hong Kong ordered the recall “as a measure of precaution”.

Do You Know What's In Your Face Cream?

This blog contains many issues on many levels both moral and ethical. I will put the story and the issues before you, the reader, and let you make of it what you will.

Medicine has literally joined the flesh trade. The expression, “You can find anything on the web” now includes body parts. The body part that is at the heart of this issue is a very small piece of flesh – a circumcised foreskin.

Foreskin fibroblasts are big business. A fibroblast is a piece of human skin that is used as a culture to grow other skin or cells – sort of like sourdough starter that is used repeatedly to bake successive batches of bread. Foreskin fibroblasts can be bought online from many websites for about $85.00 plus shipping and handling.

Human foreskin fibroblast is used in all kinds of medical procedures such as growing skin for burn victims and for eyelid replacement; and, to grow skin for those with diabetic ulcers (who need replacement skin to cover ulcers that won't heal). So far, all compassionate uses to help others with real medical issues. Where does the problem lie?

Some foreskins never make it to the tissue bank where they are held to be used in medical procedures. They are sold to companies to be made into creams and collagens for the cosmetic industry. Next time you think about getting about a collagen injection think about the source of those cells.

One foreskin can be used for decades (before it becomes exhausted) to produce miles of skin and generate as much as $100,000 during its lifetime. And this is where the debate begins.

Male circumcision has become a controversial topic. Things have changed from the time when using foreskins was an objection-free endeavor. Just as breast-feeding infants is making a huge resurgence as more and more people try to reduce their carbon footprint on the earth, more and more people are now looking unfavorably upon using any part of a human body in a cosmetic product no matter how small that contribution may be. In fact, many websites are now dedicated to the preservation of baby foreskins. So strong is public opinion on this that Vancouver, BC is now home to the Association for Genital Integrity whose goal is to end male circumcision and we can expect more such associations, I’m sure.

Most people make no objections when foreskin fibroblast is used for medically-necessary procedures that enrich other peoples’ lives; but, object strongly to it being used for cosmetic (vanity) purposes.

Dr. Fitzpatrick, who invented SkinMedica, defends his company by arguing that using foreskin fibroblast for face cream is ethical because the company does not put any actual human tissue in their products. He states categorically that only the growth hormone that is left over from growing artificial skin (not actual tissue or skin cells) is used. He also added that the original company that supplied SkinMedica with the hormone was using cultures that had descended from a single foreskin 15 years earlier.

He goes on to say, “It doesn't matter if you get a fibroblast from the eyelid, the cheek, the foot or the foreskin that cell is still a fibroblast; it does the same thing. Foreskins were used because that is a common surgery and the skin is thrown away; so, why not use it for benefits? Twelve years ago when this was done, there would have been no objection to using foreskin tissue."

When Dr. Fitzpatrick was asked about older uncircumcised men wanting to earn some of the $100,000 a foreskin can earn during its lifetime, he replied, “Fibroblasts that are made from young skin are more active than fibroblast from a 60- or 70-year-old. The skin reproduces better in young tissue; you are using that cell as a factory ... eventually the tissue samples need to be refreshed ... a young cell produces more and lasts longer."

Newborn tissue is particularly valuable, not only because of its vitality; but, also because it is usually guaranteed to be healthy. Obviously, tissue used in any kind of medical procedure must be healthy.

If you are not disturbed yet; you will be. Fitzpatrick adds that foreskin tissue has been the easiest tissue to access -- ethically -- up till now, "because you are not having to use stem cells or fetal tissue in order to still get young tissue."

Neocutis is another face cream -- but this one uses cells grown from a terminated fetus to make the product. This information is documented on its website. What is not on their website is Dr. Nikhil Mehta’s opinion of Neocutis. Dr. Mehta is director of product development for SkinMedica. He stated, "They are actually taking cells, literally chopping up the cells, and putting them in cream."

Another page on the Neocutis website describes how they harvested the tissue of a terminated two-month-old fetus "in the period of scarless wound healing." It is out of this tissue that they developed the cell culture used in creating their special "bio restorative skin cream" with their patented secret ingredient.

According to Dr. Fitzpatrick there is a period during neonatal development where wounds will heal without scarring. While no one can explain why this happens, it is accepted wisdom that these properties are not transferable from one human to another by cell absorption.

The Issues:

Foreskin fibroblasts are very vital and this cream DOES cause changes in the skin of the user causing it to become firmer and tighter. These fibroblasts are absorbed into the body little by little producing a cumulative effect. The user is usually a woman, the fibroblasts are male. This cream has already demonstrated that it does have an effect on your face. Couldn’t some of these effects gravitate outside the target area – your face – and travel around your body on the blood-red highway? Isn’t anyone worried about the long-term results of constantly introducing male fibroblasts (at their most vital) into their female bodies on a daily basis? I would be.

Do these parents know that these foreskins that they believe will be disposed of as medical waste may be sold to a cosmetic agency? If not, why not? That foreskin is the property of the baby (reverting to the parents) and shouldn’t be used for undisclosed purposes. If the foreskin is sold to a cosmetic agency, shouldn’t the baby (parents) be compensated fairly for his/their part of the transaction? Without that foreskin, there would be no transaction.

Should we be using parts of other human beings to keep us youthful looking and attractive? Where and when will it all end? What damage will we have reeked before it ends?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cute Alert!! Cute Alert!!

Despite all the bad news in the world, occasionally something comes along to prove that there are still moments that can take your breath away. This picture is one of them for me.

It may look like the latest character from a computer-generated film - but it is, in fact, a real dragonfly.

This unbelievably clear photo showing the dragonfly with its smiling face was captured on a camera-phone by Mark Manders.

While out climbing in the Peak District in Derbyshire, this council worker from Nottingham, UK noticed the dragonfly settling on some rocks.

“It looks like a Pixar character,” said the 34-year-old. “It let me put my phone right against it. I didn't notice the smiley face at the time - it wasn't until afterwards when I saw the pictures.”

Mark says the dragonfly even let him hold it in his palm for a short while. He says he thought the dragonfly was too busy laying eggs to really notice him. Wow! Smiling through childbirth – now that’s something!

Steve Prentice, of the British Dragonfly Society, identified it as a female Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea.

Steve went on to say that the appearance of the smiley face comes from the 'frons' - the frontal area of an insect's head above the mouth parts.

Mother Nature is a wonderfully, creative woman!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tainted Milk In China

Ariana Lindquist for The New York Times
Pieces of melamine displayed by a worker. The melamine is ground into a powder and added to animal feed as a filler to keep costs low.

Melamine is an industrial chemical used in plastics, fertilizer, flame retardant clothing, dyes, glue and many other household items. Derived from coal, it is about 66 per cent nitrogen. So what would it be doing in milk powder, liquid milk and milk products? It is believed to have been added to the milk to increase apparent protein levels after the companies had watered-down the original product.

Three of China’s major dairies have been charged with watering-down liquid milk and adding melamine ground down into powder. Melamine has absolutely no nutritional value; but, it is a rich source of nitrogen. Most tests for protein test nitrogen levels, so its chemical structure is able to fool the instruments. This was done to fool the testing machines so the watering-down of the milk would not be discovered.

For years, producers of animal feed all over China have secretly supplemented their feed with melamine because it’s a cheap additive that looks like protein in tests, even though it does not provide any nutritional benefits, according to melamine scrap traders and agricultural workers here.

“Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed,” said Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company, which sells melamine. “I don’t know if there’s a regulation on it. Probably not. No law or regulation says ‘don’t do it,’ so everyone’s doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren’t they? If there’s no accident, there won’t be any regulation.”

Melamine can cause kidney stones and lead to renal failure in infants. It was blamed for the deaths last year of dogs and cats fed pet food containing tainted Chinese ingredients. U.S. scientists hypothesized it combined with another chemical, cyanuric acid, to cause kidney failure in the animals.

China's unfolding scandal involving tainted baby formula has reawakened fears over product safety amid rapid economic growth and lax regulation across the sprawling country of 1.3 billion people.

By Thursday, September 18, 2008, health officials reported four deaths tied to formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, while the number of sickened babies had risen to 6,244. More than 1,300 babies, mostly newborns, remain hospitalized, with 158 suffering from acute kidney failure.

The contamination began with the watered-down milk, and therefore milk products, such as yogurt, ice cream, milk bars and others, before making its way into infant milk powder and infant formula. The three brands identified as having melamine in their regular milk were Yili, Mengniu and Guangming.
Two girls drink milk from Sanlu brand bottles while waiting to be checked for kidney stones at a children's hospital in Shenzhen.THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Color China Photo

So far, 18 persons have been arrested in connection with this scandal including the mayor of Shijiazhuang and the chairwoman of Sanlu company. China’s cabinet slammed the dairy industry as “chaotic” and said “flaws” were rife in supervision systems.

Seeking to rectify some of those problems, the government said it would cancel an eight-year-old system under which food producers could gain exemptions from safety inspections if they had good quality records. One of the companies utilizing that system was Sanlu.

The government also ordered stepped-up tests on livestock feed in an apparent signal of official concern over possible melamine contamination in the wider agricultural sector.
Even before the milk scandal, foreign media investigations had discovered wide use of melamine in China to give livestock feed the appearance of higher protein content.

Unfortunately, some of the contaminated milk had already been sold to Bangladesh, Myanmar and some African countries. There has been no evidence so far that any of the tainted products have been sold overseas.

While praising China's response since the scandal broke, WHO China representative Hans Troedsson said authorities must determine why it took months for the risks to be made public, even though babies began falling ill several months ago.

"If this was deliberately not reported, that is a serious thing and must be addressed to make sure it is not repeated," Troedsson said.

Meanwhile, at a nearby Sanlu processing facility, hundreds of people waited for refunds. Some held a half-empty pouch, while others hauled in cases of the formula. A red banner at the plant declared: "Pay attention to food safety, ensure the public's health."

Secret EcoVillage In Wales Discovered

Tony Wrench and Jane Faith outside their home in Brithdir Mawr, Wales. Photograph: Phil Rees/Rex Features
Unknown to authorities an ecovillage was secretly erected in a Welsh national park and was only discovered during an aerial survey of the park.

It has taken 10 years; but, authorities at Brithdir Mawr, in Pembrokeshire, ruled that the environmentally-friendly settlement reminiscent of Bilbo Baggins’ home in the Lord of the Rings could remain. The buildings, made up of timber-framed, turf-roofed roundhouses, were secretly made by the inhabitants looking for a sustainable way of life. They lived there unnoticed until the aerial survey which was carried out in 1998.

At first, the villagers were threatened with eviction and the authorities said the roundhouses which were built of straw, timber, recycled materials, clay and manure were to be torn down and left to decompose naturally.

However, the villagers fought back believing strongly in their way of life. It took a decade of hearings, court cases and inquiries; but, they finally won and the settlement has been saved from destruction.

Amazingly, the village is very progressive in some ways using solar power and a wind turbine for electricity, compost toilets, reed beds, a workshop and a hay barn.

Water is collected locally, and the villagers survive by working the land and carrying out craft industries such as woodcarving.

After the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority adopted a new policy on sustainable, low-impact developments, it was decided to give the village permission to stay.

A spokeswoman said that meant the community would have to make a "positive environmental and social/economic contribution to the area".

"It was pleasing that support could be given at this stage for this longstanding, complicated case," she said.

The national park authority will review the decision in three years.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Women and Children Mining In India

(Photo: Women make up a majority of the menial labour force in the mining industry CSE)

Despite the grinding poverty found in many parts of India, there is a massive fortune hidden in the ground. Iron, bauxite, gold, lead, zinc, manganese, coal and copper are some of the dozens of minerals found in almost half of the landmass. Despite the fact that an Indian environmental non-profit points out that most of these valuable resources lie in areas that are either ecologically precarious or heavily populated with indigenous peoples, there has been recent heavy foreign investment into its thriving mining sector. One of the greatest causes for concern surrounding the mining sector is the government’s dismal record of neglect for its tribal communities.

The sixth State of India’s Environment Report was released by New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) titled “Rich Land, Poor People – Is Sustainable Mining Possible?” This report challenges the industry and government’s stance that mining is good for growth and creates jobs. This report presents the state-by-state impacts of mining, highlighting the vast array of socio-environmental issues that India is facing due to lack of regulation and sound policy in its mining industry

The report tackles head-on the recommendations for the national mining policy made earlier this year. The CSE report asserts that the government’s proposal which mentions applying a “sustainable framework” for future mining activities forecasts a further boost in foreign investment and promises the introduction of cutting-edge technology does not reflect reality.

"Based on unrealistic assumptions, the policy fails to take into consideration the social and environmental problems happening due to mining. It is bound to promote large-scale exploitative mining; and will, therefore, exacerbate conflict,’’ says Sunita Narain, director of CSE.

Most of the mineral concentrations are in areas of the south, central and northeastern states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, areas that are home to a majority of India’s 90 million tribal peoples. More than three quarters of the 2.6 million people displaced by mining from 1950 to 1991 have yet to be rehabilitated.

The Indian mining policy was liberalized in 2000 followed by a decision in 2006 to allow 100% direct investment by international companies. This was the beginning of widespread problems as firms with questionable human rights and environmental reputations – such as De Beers (diamond cartel), Broken Hill Property Co. (gold) and Rio Tinto – were able to acquire significant prospecting rights in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.

Despite all the apparent growth in the mining sector, the boom has only boosted national GDP (gross domestic product) a meager 2.5 percent, with government revenues much lower than expected.

So why is there this discrepancy? According to the report, it is because of the proliferation of small, illegal mines, which are defined as being less than 5 hectares in size and do not require Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). According to the Indian Bureau of Mines, small-scale mines (SSMs) are also manual, open-cast mines that do not use explosives and employ less than 25.

Yet illegal SSMs account for a large part of the mining industry’s “informal sector”. While no official records exist on any of them, it is estimated they make up approximately 11% of the total revenues from mining, could possibly number in the hundreds of thousands and employ anywhere from half a million to 12 million people.

“Small scale mining is a massive employer, is highly productive and profitable. But it’s also polluting, unsafe, disruptive; and, in many cases, outside regulatory regimes,” notes the CSE website.

Besides being a threat to the environment, illegal and unsafe; they are a huge threat to the safety of the workers. The owners of the mines are not hindered by regulations or safety standards as they operate outside the parameters of the law. Since they operate outside the parameters of the law, there is nothing to hinder the extent to which they can carry their corruption. Workers are paid meager wages and often must pay for their own food; fuel and water; and are abandoned if injured.

Typically, it is the most vulnerable groups of society who work in these mines: landless migrants, sometimes entire families. Women do a majority of menial jobs in the mines, while child labor is common and well-documented.

To address the problem, CSE suggests clustering mines in order to regulate them. Worker cooperatives could also be one way to manage mines, allowing better working and living conditions, especially if less people are employed per mine. The pay in such cooperatives is much higher, there is job security, and profits are used for schools and health facilities.

Another necessary measure would to be modify India’s Air and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Acts, which only permit pollution control agencies to monitor only ‘point’ (i.e. final) sources of pollution, which avoids most of the contamination caused by mining.

Narain said her group is seeking to “create a dialogue” between the various stakeholders of mining in India. “Our idea is not to polarize the discussion, but to integrate industry into it,” she said.

Interesting Environmental Facts

I ran across some interesting environmental snippets and thought I would pass them along. I hope you enjoy them.

While we are busy working above ground to reduce, reuse and recycle; we seem to have been missing the boat below ground. Each year, the United States of America buries enough embalmed corpses to deposit 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid – formaldehyde, methanol and ethanol- into the soil. Imagine what this is doing to our ground water!!! If you think cremation is any friendlier to the environment look at what cremations pump into the air - dioxins, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Can anyone say “acid rain?”

The honey bee deserves more respect than it gets. Not only does the honey bee produce honey; but, honey is the ONLY natural food that does not spoil. Pretty good for something so small and unassuming.

A Swedish company, Promessa, has come up with they claim is an “ecological burial”. They will freeze-dry your body in liquid nitrogen, pulverize it with high-frequency vibrations, and seal the resulting powder in a cornstarch coffin. They claim this totally environmentally-friendly coffin will decompose in 6-12 months.

Groundwater is our greatest source of freshwater on the planet. It comprises a 30 times greater volume than all freshwater lakes, and more than 3,000 times what's in the world’s streams and rivers at any given time. Groundwater is housed in natural underground aquifers, in which the water typically runs around and through the stone and other material.

This just boggles my mind. The solid inner core of planet Earth -- a mass of iron comparable to the size of the Moon -- spins faster than the outer portion of the iron core, which is liquid. A study in 1996 showed that over the previous century, the extra speed caused the inner core to gain a quarter-turn on the planet as a whole. So the inner core makes a complete revolution with respect to the rest of Earth once about every 400 years. Immense pressure keeps it solid.

Nature is absolutely amazing. Reindeer eat moss because it contains a chemical that stops their body from freezing. Who would have thought?

By recycling just one aluminum can, you can save enough energy to operate a TV set for 3 hours and is the equivalent to half a can of gasoline. It really pays to recycle.

Enough glass was thrown away in the United States in 1990 to fill the Twin Towers (1,350 feet high [if they were still standing]) of New York’s World Trade Center every two weeks. That’s a lot of glass!

By recycling all of your newspapers for one year, you and you alone can save four trees, 2200 gallons of water and fifteen pounds of air pollutants. Makes you wonder what would happen if we could attain 100% participation.

A single porcupine is known to kill 100 trees in one winter. It uses its sharp claws to climb a tree, sits on a limb to gnaw away at the bark and twigs and then stuffs them all into its mouth at once. Due to its liking for bark, the porcupine causes much damage to forests.

Nature never ceases to amaze me with her great ingenuity. The tip of an elephant's trunk is so sensitive and flexible that it can pick up a pin.

I knew that as a nation Canadians were gluttons; but, I didn’t expect this. By the age of only six months, each Canadian has consumed as many resources as the average person in the developing world consumes in his or her lifetime.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Spider Goats

There is a secret in the tough, French-speaking farming country in rural Quebec. Not far from the remote hamlet of St. Telesphore is the old maple sugar farm that now houses goats. Goats hardly seem to be worth keeping secrets over; that is, unless they are these goats.

Strangely, no one in the area seems to be bothered by the fact that a new chapter in biotechnology is being played out in a remote region of Canada. Nexia scientists are pursuing a bizarre experiment that some would herald as coming straight from “The Island Of Dr. Moreau,” H.G. Wells’ dark science-fiction tale of a mad scientist who breed experimental animal/human crosses on his private island.

A herd of goats containing spider genes is about to be milked for the ingredients of spider silk to mass produce one of nature’s most sought-after materials – biosteel.

For the first time in the history of mankind, scientists have been able to spin synthetic spider-silk fibers with properties approaching real spider silk. This will pave the way for their adaptation for use in artificial tendons, medical sutures, biodegradable fishing lines, soft body armour and a host of other applications.

Spider silk has long been admired by material scientists for its unique combination of toughness, lightness and biodegradability. Dragline silk, which comprises the radiating spokes of a spider web, is stronger than the synthetic fiber Kevlar (which is used to make bullet-proof vests), stretches better than nylon and when compared weight for weight is five times stronger than steel.

These incredible qualities are the product of 400 million years of evolution. Now spider yarn has been spun by the US Army and the company Nexia Biotechnologies of Montreal, marking a milestone in efforts to ape arachnids. The work "opens up a lot of things on the practical level and on a research level," said Dr Randy Lewis, a spider silk expert at the University of Wyoming, Laramie.

Dr Jeffrey Turner, President of Nexia, said: "Mimicking spider silk properties has been the holy grail of material science and now we've been able to make useful fibers. It's incredible that a tiny animal found literally in your backyard can create such an amazing material by using only amino acids, the same building blocks used to make skin and hair."

Spider silk is a material science wonder, "a self-assembling, biodegradable, high-performance, nanofiber structures one-tenth the width of a human hair that can stop a bee traveling at 20 miles per hour without breaking. Spider silk has dwarfed man's achievements in material science to date."

Nexia's president and C.E.O., Jeffrey D. Turner, says ''What we're doing here is ingeniously simple. We take a single gene from a golden orb-weaving spider and put it into a goat egg. The idea is to make the goat secrete spider silk into its milk.''

Turner, makes a sweeping gesture, “spider silk is practically the world's strongest material,'' he explains. ''It's much stronger than steel -- five times as strong. We're going to make fishing lines out of it.''

“Biodegradable fishing lines. Or maybe tennis racket strings. You could make hundreds of things out of spider silk, if only you could produce enough of it. Biodegradable sutures for surgery . . . replacement ligaments or tendons . . . hemostatic dressings . . . fashion. We call our product BioSteel.''

Turner isn't simply fantasizing. Nexia foresees tapping into the $500 million market for fishing materials as well as the $1.6 billion market for industrial fibers in the near future. Lost fishing nets and fishing nets degrading and disappearing rather than remaining forever to ensnare fish does have its attractions.

And the haute-couture world is already intrigued by a nearly weightless gossamer-like fabric. But the real gold mine might be body armor: the Pentagon is working with Nexia to develop a prototype of a new kind of vest that might be made entirely out of goat silk. The vest would be only a little thicker than nylon; but, it could stop a bullet dead. The thought of bringing more of our men back from the war zones has immense attractions as well.

''It's nothing short of a revolution,'' Turner exclaims. ''This special silk is the first transgenic material ever made. The amazing thing, however, is that we're changing the world from a tiny low-rent sugar farm, and our only machinery is a goat.''

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lead In Vitamins??!!

This item I found on a site that is so interesting I want to share it with everyone. It is www.treehugger.com. As I have discussed in previous blogs, lead is in many products sold to the unsuspecting consumer and has the potential to do great harm. Treehugger has published lists of women’s and children’s vitamins – yes, children’s vitamins – sold in the United States that have been found to contain lead.

Lead in
cracked paint, candle wicks, lipstick, kids' toys, and vinyl lunchboxes have placed the pernicious heavy metal at the forefront of public consciousness lately.

The agency's concern is not without merit, especially when kids are involved. Childhood lead poisoning continues to be a major environmental-health problem in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, resulting in nervous system and kidney damage, learning disabilities, speech and behavior problems, poor muscle coordination, decreased muscle and bone growth, and hearing damage. Fetuses are even more vulnerable, which makes the presence of lead in prenatal vitamins even more repugnant.

99 percent of vitamins tested contain lead.

In the course of its investigation, the FDA examined 325 multivitamin products. Only four of them—NF Formulas Liquid Pediatric, Natrol Liquid Kids Companion Liquid, Twinlab Infant Care, and After Baby Boost 2—contained zero traces of lead. Hat’s off to these four multivitamin product makers!

Although none of the vitamins contained concentrations of lead that exceeded what the FDA considers "safe/tolerable exposure levels," we have to wonder if any quantity of lead is acceptable at all, especially when the source of this assessment condones
irradiated spinach and bisphenol-A in plastics.

You can find a full list of the products tested on the
FDA's Web site.

Top 10 children's vitamins with the least lead (0-6 years)

1. Twinlab Infant Care
2. Natrol Liquid Kids Companion
3. NF Formulas Liquid Pediatric
4. Windmill Bite-A-Mins
5. Kids Liquid Dolphin Pals
6. My First Flintstones
7. Natural Wealth Children's Chewable Multivitamins Plus Extra C
8. Uno Diario Ninos
9. Flintstones Plus Immunity Support
10. Natural Wealth Children's Chewable Multivitamins

Top 10 children's vitamins with the most lead (0-6 years)

1. Nature's Plus Animal Parade Shake
2. Superior Multi Age
3. Nutraceutical Pedia Power
4. Physio Kids Multilogics Chewable
5. Ola Loa Kids
6. Nature's Plus Animal Parade
7. Vita-Big-Kids
8. Wonder Laboratories Formula Nineteen
9. Clinicians Choice Chewable Daily Multivitamins
10. Dynamic Health Multi for Children

Top 10 children's vitamins with the least lead (7+ years)

1. Lil Critters Drop Zone for Teens
2. Nutrition Now Zow for Teens
3. Michael's For Pre-Teen Boys
4. Michael's For Teen Boys
5. Puritan's Pride Mega Vita Min For Teens
6. Michael's Pre-Teen Girls
7. Michael's Teen Girls
8. Good 'N Natural Ultra Teen
9. Futurebiotics Derma Teen
10. GNC Mega Teen

Top 10 children's vitamins with the most lead (7+ years)

1. Kal Enhanced Energy Teen Complete
2. Clinical Nutrients for Female Teens
3. Clinical Nutrients For Male Teens
4. Doctor's Choice For Male Teens
5. Maxi Teen Supreme
6. Rainbow Light Active Health TEEN
7. Nature's Plus Source of Life Power Teen
8. FoodScience Teen's Superior
9. Esteem Total Teen
10. Vitanica Women's Symetry

Top 10 pre- and postnatal vitamins with the least lead

1. After Baby Boost 2
2. Nature's Sunshine Nature's Prenatal
3. Nature's Plus Prenatal Liquid
4. Natrol PreNatal Care
5. Pregnancy Plus
6. Pure Encapsulations PreNatal Nutrients
7. Maxi Health One Prenatal
8. Nature's Bounty Prenatal
9. Stuart Prenatal
10. Natural Wealth Prenatal

Top 10 pre- and postnatal vitamins with the most lead

1. After Baby Boost 1
2. A to Z Naturals Wow! PreNatal
3. Vitamin Source Prenatal Complete
4. Prenatal Superior
5. Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System
6. Buried Treasure Prenatal Plus DHA Complete
7. DaVinci Laboratories Ultimate Prenatal
8. Life Time Professional Pre-Natal Formula
9. Daily Foods Baby & Me
10. Carol Bond Women's Choice Prenatal

Top 10 women's vitamins with the least lead

1. FemOne
2. Viactiv Multivitamin Milk Chocolate
3. Family Value Multivitamin/Multimineral for Woman
4. MotherNature.com Women's Basic Multi
5. Kirkman EveryDay
6. Vitabase Woman's Multi
7. Food Force Women's Force
8. 21st Century One Daily Women's
9. Viactiv Flavor Glides
10. NewChapter Organics Every Woman's One Daily

Top 10 women's vitamins with the most lead

1. NutriBiotic Ultimate Matrix
2. Super Nutrition Women's Blend
3. Esteem Total Woman
4. Garden of Life Living Multi Optimal
5. GenSpec VF-1 for African American Females
6. For Women Only
7. Garden of Life Living Multi
8. DaVinci Laboratories Spectra Woman
9. Women's Superior
10. GenSpec VF-3 para Mujeres Hispanas

Thank you Treehugger for bringing this to light!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wallabies...Not Just A Relative Of The Kangaroo

When people don’t remember history; they are bound to repeat it. This is true in many ways both large and small.

One of the lessons I remember learning in school was how the Spaniards managed to decimate the Indian population of the new world by bringing diseases with them that the native Indians had never been exposed to. Having never been exposed, they had never managed to build up any kind of immunity to them. Simple diseases like the cold and flu made the Spaniards sick; but, killed most of the inhabitants of this brave new world.

We have managed to recreate a similar circumstance today. Due to our love affair with antibiotics, disinfectants, antibacterials, antifungals and any other substance that promises to stop that germ dead in his tracks we have only managed to create superbugs that are immune to our best lines of defense. By constantly exposing them to our chemical warfare (even when we didn’t need to) we have allowed them to grow and adapt and now they are resistant to many of our best weapons.

But wait – I promised you wallabies, didn’t I? And here, it is, A Tammar wallaby to be exact (pic 1). This wallaby is capable of some pretty amazing stuff.

A newborn wallaby (pic 2) is a tiny, bean-shaped creature, called a joey that is barely more than a fetus. It lacks a developed immune system, relying on compounds in its mother's milk to protect it against pathogens. Now a unique antimicrobial has been discovered in wallaby milk that could be used in hospitals to fight deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Apparently, this antimicrobial is 100 times stronger than penicillan.

"A huge amount of development happens in the pouch and during that time they just rely on milk," says Ben Cocks of the Victoria Department of Primary Industries in Melbourne, Australia.

Mr. Cocks has found that the mother's milk contains a molecule that is 100 times more effective against Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli than the most potent form of penicillin. The molecule, called AGG01, also kills four types of Gram-positive bacteria and one type of fungus. The work was presented at the US Biotechnology Industry Organization 2006 meeting in Chicago.

When born, with a heart; but, no lungs, tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii) crawl into their mother's pouch, where they latch on to milk-bearing teats for approximately 100 days. During these 100 days, the mother’s milk releases some kind of compound that enables her baby to develop full lung capacity in the pouch. Scientists feel that if this can be isolated and adapted for human use, it could save the lives of thousands of premature babies with lungs that are not fully functional.

AGG01 was probably lost from placental mammals, whose young have their own immune systems, when they split from marsupials.

Biomimicry is about taking notes from the pages of nature’s overly bountiful scrapbook and adapting them for human use. The great concern in the scientific world is that with umpteen species now on a new fast track to extinction, we may be left holding a book, from which many of the vital pages have been torn out.
The last picture in the trio is by Thorsten Milse, who was a category runner-up in the BBC Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2005. Here's another one of his. I had to add it because it's so amazing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Odd and Sodds...Again

I have a great passion for the strange, the bizarre, the unusual, and the truly weird. I am always amazed at what goes on around me.

In August, 2008, in Billings, Montana, federal officers recognized a Wyoming fugitive on the street. Sterling Wolfname, 26, thought he could bluff his way out of recapture by giving the agents a false name. He must have forgotten that he had the word “Wolfname” tattooed on the side of his head. Somehow, I don’t think Mr. Wolfname will be joining MENSA any time soon.

August seemed to have been a banner month for law enforcement. In Hancock County, Tennessee, Angela Tuttle was elected constable. Seems Angela is not only dependable, she’s also enterprising. When she showed up to vote, she noticed that not only was she the only one to turn up; but, there were also no candidates on the ballot. Angela became her own write-in candidate and won the election, 1-0. Good for you, Angela!

Sometimes we have to know where to draw the line even if some can’t see it. In July of 2008, St. Mary’s airport on the Isles of Scilly (off the southwest coast of England) posted a vacancy announcement for an air traffic controller that was just a little too helpful. It noted that applications were available in alternative languages, larger text or Braille. I don’t think I will be flying with these people no matter how cheap the seats.

Sometimes synchronicity just happens. Mike Robell registered to stay in the dorms at Michigan State University for the 2008 year. The East Lansing University has about 8,000 dorm rooms and Mike was assigned room B310. His father thought the room looked familiar when he helped his son move in. Upon further investigation, not only was the floor and wall color the same; so was the phone number and the window latch was broken in the same fashion as the father’s had been. It was eventually verified through records - exactly 30 years ago, in 1978, Rich Robell, had been assigned the same room his son Mike was moving into. I’d mention the 30-year-old broken window latch – security issue!

Therese Smith, of Deerfield, FL, had a sinking feeling that she wouldn’t get her driver’s license renewed even before she got her results from the DMV. During the test, the 80-year-old woman mixed up “drive” and “reverse”. This tiny error caused her to crash through the wall of the DMV, smash the filing cabinets to smithereens and injure 11 people. She was so stunned she sat with her foot frozen on the accelerator with the wheels spinning rubble for several seconds before she was pulled from the car. It’s transit for Therese.

Mom told me no good would come of padding my bra! Abbie Hawkins, 19, of Norwich, England, initially thought her cell phone was going off when she felt vibrations in her clothes. She took a break from her job at the Holiday Inn Norwich North to answer her phone. When she reached around for the source of the shaking, she found a tiny bat hiding in the padded pocket of her bra. The baby bat which she had kept warm in her bra for five hours was released into the hotel garden.

Some residents and visitors in the small city of Taos, New Mexico, have for years been annoyed and puzzled by a mysterious and faint low-frequency hum in the desert air. Oddly, only about 2 percent of Taos residents report hearing the sound. Some believe it is caused by unusual acoustics; others suspect mass hysteria or some secret, sinister purpose. Whether described as a whir, hum, or buzz and whether psychological, natural, or supernatural no one has yet been able to locate the sound's origin.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It May Be Bigger And Better In Texas

Pipes that extract methane gas generated by waste decomposition are seen at the Simi Valley Landfill and Recycling Center in Simi Valley, California May 8, 2008. REUTERS / Hector Mata

September 9, 2008 was the day that San Antonio, Texas unveiled a deal that may make it the most progressive city in the United States. They will begin to harvest the methane gas from human waste on a commercial scale in order to convert it into a clean-burning fuel.

Steve Clouse, chief operating officer of San Antonio’s water system, contends that the 140,000 tons of euphemistically renamed “biosolids” produced by the city’s residents can be reprocessed into natural gas. “You may call it something else,” Clouse said, “but; for area utilities, the main byproduct of human waste – methane gas – will soon be converted into natural gas to burn in their power plants.”

Methane gas, which is a byproduct of human and organic waste, is a principal component of the natural gas used to fuel furnaces, power plants and other combustion-based generators.

Ameresco Inc., a Massachusetts-based company, will convert the biosolids into natural gas. The deal approved with the city could generate about 1.5 million cubic feet per day, Clouse states.

"The private vendor will come onto the facility, construct some gas cleaning systems, remove the moisture, remove the carbon dioxide content, and then sell that gas on the open market," Clouse said. He went on to state that the gas would be sold to power generators.

“Some communities are using methane gas harvested from solid waste to power smaller facilities like sewage treatment plants; but, San Antonio is the first to see large-scale conversion of methane gas from sewage into fuel for power generation,” he said.

In further explanation, Clouse went on to say, “following the agreement, more than 90% of materials flushed down the toilets and sinks of San Antonio will be recycled. Liquid is now used for irrigation, many of the solids are made into compost, and now the methane gas will be recycled for power generation.”

Way to go, San Antonio!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Seawater Greenhouses (cont'd)

Photo © (top) Marc Alex/PIG/AFP,Paris: A growth industry. But at what cost ? Greenhouses near Puebla de Vilar near Almeria (Spain)

Most people think that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that is visible from outer space. That is not entirely true. The roofs of tens of thousands of closely-packed plastic greenhouses in Almería province, Spain form a blanket of mirrored light that beams into space making Almeria one of the most recognizable spots on a satellite map.

From space, the reflection from the plastic shimmers and glows like the agricultural gold it has become. Almería once was a desert so dry, arid, and dusty that it was used to provide the background for spaghetti westerns. However; transparent plastic, chemical fertilizers, and new boreholes drilled into the pre-existing aquifer system mixed with a little technology has transformed Almería into Europe’s winter market garden consuming some 135 square miles.

The fresh produce grown year round was the main goal of erecting the greenhouses and their complimentary systems; but, the trickle-down benefits have made the local farmers very prosperous. Farmers wear gold jewellery; new shopping malls grow bigger than the greenhouses; seed and farming equipment replace cars and banks on billboards; immigrants come from other countries to work there – a total change of lifestyle for the residents.

Antonio Moreno, one of thousands of small holders who have contributed to this plastic jungle, stands in his 45C (113F) greenhouse and says, “You really should wear shorts in here.”

Mr. Moreno's plants will never touch soil - they grow from bags filled with oven-puffed grains of white perlite stone. Chemical fertilizers are drip-fed to each plant from four large, computer-controlled vats in a nearby room.

Every day hundreds of trucks leave Almeria taking produce directly to supermarkets in Germany, Scandinavia or Britain producing fresh fruits and vegetable to those who might otherwise not have access to them.

So, what’s not working here?

The aquifer system in Spain has been around for centuries. Until fairly recently, they were a renewable resource being renewed every year by the cold, clear, clean mountain run-off. The aquifer system used to be able to support the needs of the people; but, now with the added demand of the greenhouses, the levels of the aquifers are being lowered thus allowing seawater to enter the underground system. This increases the salinity of the water in the aquifers and makes the water increasingly unusable.

Unfortunately, there is a second problem with the aquifers. Runoff from the chemicals used to fertilize the produce is finding its way in the system. Residents in that region now drink bottled water as water from the tap is now undrinkable.

Spain is not the only greenhouse system to have gone wrong. What does the Sahara Forest Project have that the others didn’t?

Backwards logic!!

The Sahara Forest Project is working on the theory that there is no shortage of water in the world – it’s just in the wrong place and it’s too salty. They say that converting seawater to freshwater, in the right places, has the potential to solve this problem.

Seawater greenhouses have already been built in some of the hottest regions on earth, Abu Dhabi and Oman for example, where they create freshwater from seawater while providing cooler and more humid growing conditions which enable crop growing year round.

Concentrated solar power is one of the most promising forms of renewable energy producing electricity from sunlight at a fraction of the cost of photovoltaic. Less than 1% of the world’s deserts, if covered with concentrating solar power plants, could produce enough electricity to meet the world’s needs today. Imagine 1% of the world’s surface providing 100% of the world’s electricity.

By combining these technologies there is huge commercial potential to restore forests and create a sustainable source of fresh water, food and energy. The scheme is proposed at a significant scale such that very large quantities of seawater are evaporated. As every person with even a smattering of physics knows “what goes up, must come down.”

A 10,000 hectare area of seawater greenhouses will evaporate a million tonnes of seawater a day. Every single drop of evaporated seawater will fall as rainwater somewhere. If the scheme were located upwind of higher terrain; then, the air carrying this ‘lost’ humidity would be forced to rise and cool, contributing additional water to the mist or cloud.

Illustration of greenhouses having a similar effect on the climate as a region of forest, yet providing a net input of water vapor from the sea.

By using a location that lies below sea level, seawater pumping costs may be eliminated. There are a number of large inland depressions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Eritrea for example. In each case, the prevailing wind direction is from the sea to the mountain areas inland.
This would eliminate all dependence on the aquifers that lay hidden beneath the sand.

Currently there are some 200,000 hectares of conventional greenhouses in Mediterranean region. As we have seen from the first part of this article many, if not all, face water quality and availability issues while contributing to contribute to the depletion of ground water. By using greenhouses to create freshwater from seawater, the problem is reversed.