Sep 3, 2015

Foodborne illnesses cost US $77 billion a year, study says | TheHill

Foodborne illnesses, which make 48 million people sick and account for 3,000 deaths annually, also cost the nation $77 billion a year, a report from the American Association for Justice found.

And the group, which advocates for legal reforms, said food companies are only making the food supply more susceptible to contamination by continuing to industrialize their farming strategies.

"Factory farms' intensive use of pharmaceuticals in livestock is associated with the rise of antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs,' and the vast amounts of waste produced contaminates groundwater and nearby crops to the extent that leafy green vegetables, like spinach and lettuce, are now the second-most frequent cause of food-related hospitalizations and the fifth most frequent cause of food contamination death," the report said.  

But the report's author, AAJ researcher David Ratcliff, said what's so surprising is how often outbreaks of foodborne illnesses occur.

In the report, he highlights the Blue Bell Ice Cream listeria outbreak of 2015 that killed three people; the salmonella-contaminated chicken from Foster Farm, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said likely infected over 18,000 people; and the cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado that caused a listeria epidemic, killing 33 and infecting 147 people, to name a few.

Ratcliff said adulterated food is a problem that fails to get the attention it deserves.

"We're focused on so many other things when it comes to food — gluten, calories and GMOs (genetically modified organisms)," he said. "There's a sense it won' t happen to us."

In his report, Ratcliff points to the federal government's fragmented oversight of food safety as part of the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, regulates shelled eggs, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees liquid egg products. Similarly, the USDA regulates sausage meat while sausage casings fall under the FDA's jurisdiction.

The 33-page report instead recommends Congress pass legislation to create a single food safety agency and place multidrug-resistant strains of salmonella and E. coli adulterants under food safety regulations to force producers to take steps to prevent contamination.

The report also recommends food producers vaccinate their livestock and randomly test their own products.

U.S. EPA Awards almost $800,000 to UC Santa Barbara to Research Effects of Chemical Exposure on Ecosystems

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant of $799,723 to the University of California Santa Barbara to develop a model to better understand and predict the biological and ecological consequences of exposures to chemicals in the env... U.S. EPA News

Sep 2, 2015

Used Coffee Grounds Can Store Methane [Popular Science]

Popular Science:  The damp coffee grounds sitting alone and forgotten in the basket of your coffee maker have the potential to save the world. (You forgot to clean the coffee maker, didn't you? Go ahead. We'll be here when you get back.)

Yes, those coffee grounds, the ones that you so callously tossed in the trash (or composted, or turned into a DIY project) have the potential to store substantial amounts of methane.

In a new paper published in Nanotechnology, researchers report that heating coffee grounds with potassium hydroxide creates a material that can store methane. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, much stronger than carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun, leading to climate change.

Researchers have been looking at ways to store methane for quite some time. With this new method, the treated coffee grounds can store up to seven percent of their weight in methane. As an added bonus, the storage is also stable at room temperature, between 58 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit (288 to 308 Kelvin).

And really, they just used normal, spent coffee grounds (Kirkland 100% Colombian coffee, dark roast fine ground). The researchers hope that one day, this method can be used to either store methane and keep it from getting into the atmosphere, or as a building block for methane or hydrogen fuel cells, which could power cleaner, greener cars. Someday, both you and your car might run on coffee!

Please continue reading from: Popular Science

Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 Introduced in the Senate

​The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015, S. 2006, has been introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Angus King (I-ME), and four other original co-sponsors. ACA continues to support this legislation, which would bring common sense reforms to the regulatory process.

The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 passed the House of Representatives on Jan. 13, by a vote of 250-175 with bipartisan support. ACA supports the legislation, and signed on to a letter sent to members of Congress the previous day, urging swift passage to modernize the nearly 70-year-old Administrative Procedure Act and improve how federal agencies write the regulations that most significantly affect the U.S. economy.

ACA believes that regulations need to be narrowly tailored, supported by strong and credible data and evidence, and impose the lowest possible burden while still implementing Congressional intent; when agencies produce regulations that do not reflect these ideals, better mechanisms to hold them accountable are needed.

The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 would enhance the regulatory process by
- Increasing public participation in shaping the most costly regulations before they are proposed;
- Requiring that agencies must choose the least costly option, unless they can demonstrate that public health, safety, or welfare requires a more costly requirement;
- Giving interested parties the opportunity to hold agencies accountable for their compliance with the Information Quality Act;
- Providing for on-the-record administrative hearings for the most costly regulations to insure that agency data is well tested and reviewed; and
- Providing for a more rigorous test in legal challenges for those regulations that would have the most impact.

S. 2006 would improve the process by which federal agencies promulgate regulations to improve accountability and the integrity of the rulemaking process. The bill would not prevent federal agencies from issuing regulations or accomplishing needed regulatory objectives. It would, however, make the regulatory process more transparent, agencies more accountable, and regulations more carefully designed.

The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 builds on established principles of fair regulatory process and review that have been embodied in bipartisan executive orders dating to at least the Clinton Administration.

The bill would update the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 to deal with the realities of today's regulatory environment. This legislation is particularly necessary right now because of the recent growth in the number of billion- and multi-billion-dollar rules, which create uncertainty, stifle hiring, and displace workers. Many more such "megarules" will be finalized in the next few years

Contact Alison Keane at ACA for more information.

Paint Industry Supports Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act

​ACA has joined the Protecting America's Cyber Networks Coalition, a group of associations organized to support the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act. CISA is a proposal to improve cybersecurity in the United States through enhanced sharing of information about cybersecurity threats and for other purposes. The bill would permit the sharing of Internet traffic information between the U.S. government and technology and manufacturing companies.

The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate on July 10, and is expected to be considered and voted upon later in September.

The coalition has successfully pressed Congress to write legislation in a way that would restrict the government from compelling companies to turn over data of any kind. To this extent, industry and privacy groups agree on the critical point that companies must not be forced to report to the government. The coalition members also believe, as privacy advocates surely do, that foreign governments must not enact cyber threat-sharing laws obliging companies to turn over information.

The coalition contends that mandating the disclosure of cyber threat data and defensive measures would damage trusted relationships among businesses, consumers, and government entities that are needed to guard sensitive commercial and customer information from cyberattacks. Coalition members have productive partnerships with federal agencies and departments to help companies manage cybersecurity incidents. Reporting mandates would severely damage these relationships.

CISA also contains language prohibiting a "new information sharing relationship" between a business and a government agency or department. The bill prevents the government from making a private entity amend or break a contract that it has with a business or government partner. Additionally, CISA also containsan "anti-tasking" provision, which ensures that a business is not obliged to provide information to the federal government. Indeed, the committee  report that accompanies the legislation provides another backstop, saying that CISA "creates a completely voluntary information-sharing framework." Both the letter and spirit of CISA show that "voluntary" means voluntary.

OSHA launches new webpage on high penalty enforcement cases by state

Enforcement cases with Initial Penalties Above $40,000

OSHA launched a new webpage highlighting enforcement cases, organized by state, that have initial penalties above $40,000. Cases are based on citations issued to employers beginning Jan. 1, 2015. The page features an interactive U.S. map where visitors can click on a state and view a list of cases. It also offers an alternate view of all the cases by state in a table format. Lists provide links to inspection details for each case and are updated weekly.

For more information on enforcement data available on OSHA's website, visit the Data and Statistics webpage.

OSHA updates National Emphasis Program on amputations

Press operation using two-hand controls to prevent amputation hazards
Press operation using two-hand controls to prevent amputation hazards.

OSHA has issued an updated National Emphasis Program on Amputations. The NEP has been in existence since 2006 and is targeted to industries with high numbers and rates of amputations. As in the prior NEP, OSHA is using current enforcement data and Bureau of Labor Statistics injury data to assist with site selection targeting.

According to the most recent BLS data, 2,000 workers suffered amputations in 2013. The rate of amputations in the manufacturing sector was more than twice that of all private industry. These serious injuries are preventable by following basic safety precautions.

This updated directive applies to general industry workplaces in which any machinery or equipment likely to cause amputations are present. Inspections will include an evaluation of employee exposures during operations such as: clearing jams; cleaning, oiling or greasing machines or machine pans; and locking out machinery to prevent accidental start-up.

On Jan. 1, 2015, OSHA issued new requirements for reporting work-related fatalities and severe injuries. Employers must now report fatalities within eight hours of learning of the incident and any in-patient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye within 24 hours of learning of the incident. Employers can report an event by telephone to the nearest OSHA area office or to OSHA's 24-hour hotline at 800-321-6742. For more information, see the news release.

Source: DOL's weekly electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

Whistleblower Protection? Houston-based Continental Alloys and Services Inc. wrongfully fires worker for reporting incomplete injury records

Department of Labor

Following a whistleblower investigation of Continental Alloys and Services Inc. in Spring, Texas, OSHA found the company wrongfully fired a worker after she complained to management about deficient injury records. The former employee reported several alleged instances where injuries were not reported.

OSHA is asking a judge to issue an injunction prohibiting the company from engaging in any further retaliation. It is also asking the judge to order the company to pay the worker back pay, reinstate the worker, and pay her any other damages she sustained as a result of the illegal termination.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970 and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health-care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws. For more information, read the news brief

Source: DOL's weekly electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

Illinois construction companies exposed foreign-born workers to known asbestos hazards, now face nearly $2 million in fines

Employees removing floor tiles, insulation and other materials from a former elementary school were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers even though their employers knew of the dangers. OSHA found that Joseph Kehrer, Kehrer Brothers Construction and a Kehrer-affiliated company, D7 Roofing, which employed some of the workers, violated numerous OSHA health standards related to the dangers of asbestos. Many of the workers came to the U.S. to work for Kehrer under the provisions of the H-2B visa program.

"Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "This is outrageous, illegal behavior."

OSHA issued Kehrer Brothers and Joseph Kehrer $1,792,000 in penalties for willfully exposing at least eight workers to asbestos and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. OSHA also cited D7 Roofing $147,000 for not training the workers or informing them about the presence of asbestos-containing material and for failing to conduct inspections as required by law. For more information, see the news release.

Source: DOL's weekly electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

OSHA approves Maine as newest State Plan protecting government workers

Maine Department of Labor
Maine is the newest State Plan responsible for protecting the safety and health of state and local government employees. The new plan* covers more than 81,000 employees of the state and its political subdivisions. It became effective Aug. 5.

States and territories may establish OSHA plans that cover only state and local government employees who are excluded from federal coverage. Once a State Plan is approved, OSHA funds up to 50 percent of the program's costs. Maine is the sixth state or territory to establish such a plan.

"This is a major milestone for Maine public employees and the state's development of its occupational safety and health program," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. For more information, read the news release.

Source: DOL's weekly electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

OSHA issues long-awaited proposal to protect workers from beryllium exposure; labor-industry collaboration is key

Beryllium products
On August 7, OSHA issued a proposed rule to dramatically lower workplace exposure to beryllium, a widely used material that can cause devastating lung diseases. The long-sought proposal would reduce allowable exposure levels by 90 percent and add other protections. The proposal gained renewed momentum after the nation's primary beryllium product manufacturer, Materion, and the United Steelworkers, the union representing many of those who work with beryllium, approached OSHA in 2012 to suggest a stronger standard.

For Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, the development had special significance: In 1999, as assistant secretary of energy for environmental safety and health, he issued the final regulation lowering allowable worker exposure to beryllium in nuclear weapons facilities. "OSHA's new proposed rule is the beginning of the final chapter of our making peace with the past," he wrote in a DOL blog. "Once we finish, workers exposed to beryllium will be protected and we will save the lives and lungs of hundreds."

OSHA estimates that every year the rule would prevent almost 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses among the approximately 35,000 workers exposed to beryllium in occupations such as foundry and smelting operations, machining, and dental lab work.

Comments on the proposed rule may be submitted until Nov. 5, 2015, to For more information see news release, statement and webpage on the proposed rule.

Source: DOL's weekly electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

Nuclear cleanup project haunted by legacy of design failures and whistleblower retaliation

The largest and most costly U.S. environmental cleanup project has been dogged for years by worries about an accidental nuclear reaction or a spill of toxic materials that could endanger residents nearby, as well as a history of contractor retaliation against workers who voice worries about persistent safety risks.

But it hasn't fully turned the corner yet, according to recent comments by the federal officials now overseeing its operation.

"Changing the culture takes time," said Mark Whitney, the Department of Energy's assistant secretary for environmental management, at a special hearing last week before members of an independent federal watchdog group that monitors safety problems at federal nuclear facilities. "I'm not going to sit here today and tell you we have everything solved."

Whitney spoke inside a ballroom at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, Washington, 17 miles from the Hanford Site where generators churned out plutonium, the lifeblood of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, for a half-century during the Cold War. More than 55 million gallons of pasty waste now lie in decomposing barrels beneath the ground at Hanford, posing a potential safety hazard to thousands of people who rely on the nearby Columbia River for drinking water.

The Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant project there, known as WTP, is meant to exhume the waste, freeze it in glass, and give it a proper burial. But it's been plagued by delays. It was expected to cost $4.3 billion and be built by 2011. Instead, the cost has swelled past $12 billion to date, with an estimated $7 billion in work left to be done. So far, not a drop of waste has been processed.

The Department of Energy has been constructing facilities to house the glassification work, including a plant that prepares the waste for storage by mixing it with materials to dilute its radioactivity. But the technology was flawed, creating a risk that explosive gases could pool in the pipes. According to a Government Accountability Office report released in May, contractors relied on obsolete safety guidelines, leaving the site vulnerable to accidents involving dangerous nuclear materials.

A 2014 draft report by the Energy Department's Office of River Protection on the status of the project was obtained by the nonprofit nuclear watchdog group Hanford Challenge and released by the group last week. It said engineers have identified more than 360 design weaknesses that could impede the operation of the Low-Activity Waste Facility, where the waste will be encased in glass. They also said the design led by contractor Bechtel National Incorporated fell short of acceptable safety standards. The ventilation system hadn't been adequately tested to assure it would stop widespread radioactive contamination in the building. Without a detailed plan for operation and maintenance, workers are at risk of exposure to searing heat and chemical and radiological hazards, the report said.

Asked about the report and about progress toward resolution of the longstanding problems facing the WTP project at last week's meeting of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Energy Department representatives said they had imposed stricter oversight of contractors, and made a concentrated effort to assure workers they can report problems without retribution.

But safety board member Sean Sullivan, a retired Navy officer who spent 26 years commanding submarines, questioned what the department claims are signs of improvement. He pointed to a January 2013 Energy Department review at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a federal nuclear waste repository in New Mexico known as WIPP, which missed some key safety problems.

When a truck fire and a radiation leak inside WIPP halted operations there a year later, independent experts identified even more gaping holes in the plant's safety precautions than the department's previous examinations had found, Sullivan said. "The safety culture at WIPP was not fine," Sullivan said. "In fact, it was not good at all."

In June, Bechtel, the contractor the Energy Department hired for the WTP project, agreed to pay a fine of $800,000 after investigators concluded Bechtel had failed to follow safety guidelines it agreed to more than a decade earlier, or to update them when problems were found, "in some cases, for many years," according to the company's settlement agreement with the Office of Enterprise Assessments.

The Government Accountability Office in May said that the Energy Department's cost estimates for the project can't be trusted, and also asserted that "significant, unresolved design issues remain" with Bechtel's nuclear safety standards compliance. Correcting the problems could add to the expense of the project and delay its completion, the GAO concluded.

In 2012, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu concluded that the project was progressing but still had significant flaws. A report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board concluded that problems flagged by a whistleblowerin the planning and design of the waste mixing center persisted, raising the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction. Chu halted work on the project in late 2012 and ordered a large-scale testing operation meant to detect when nuclear materials become so concentrated that that they threaten to trigger an accidental reaction.

Toxic algae blooms spreading in Ohio River on Ohio/West Virginia border

High levels of toxic algae blooms have been reported in two areas of the Ohio River in Monroe County, Ohio, reports WTRF7 in Wheeling, W.Va. The Monroe County Health Department has posted signs that people and pets are advised not to touch or drink the water at Sunfish Creek in Clarington (Best Places map) while algae levels are also high at Duffy, where the marina is currently shut down for renovations.

John Shreve, Director of Environmental Health, told WTRF, "We just urge residents to stay out of the water. If a child or a pet happens to get in it, wash with soap and water as quickly as possible. And if they get at all sick, seek medical attention." He said "it's actually fortunate that it looks so disgusting because it naturally discourages people from swimming, water skiing or boating. He said if it were invisible, he thinks a lot of people would be getting sick." Symptoms range "from a itch, to a rash, to stomach problems and nervous system problems." (Read more)

Vermont battling opiate addiction by offering offenders treatment instead of prosecution

Vermont, one of the most rural states in the nation, is waging one of the most aggressive battles against opiates by offering "people who are picked up by police the choice of treatment instead of criminal prosecution," Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. Since making a January 2014 speech pledging to reduce opiate sales and use, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has "signed bills and executive orders that included $6.7 million for a 'hub and spoke' treatment program of central facilities and small treatment outposts, a medication-assisted addiction therapy program, tougher sentences for drug traffickers and new regulations for prescribing and monitoring prescription drugs." 

The plan has been a huge success, with a state report saying that medically assisted drug treatment increased by 40 percent from January 2014 to January 2015, Povich writes. "Of those who completed treatment plans, 75 percent showed improved functioning. But the report also said more treatment opportunities are needed, citing the difficulty in hiring and retaining clinicians and other health care providers as a major obstacle." 

Shumlin told Pobich, "When I became governor, I kept having moms grab my jacket, or dads, or sons or daughters, saying addiction is going on in our families. So I went into the prisons, talked to addicts, recovery folks, I talked to law enforcement, to the judiciary, everybody I could talk to. And what I learned was that we were doing almost everything wrong. We seized the opportunity to change the system to one that deals with this as a disease, like cancer or kidney disease or any other health challenge." (Read more

Greensboro Small Business Among Recipients of $1.9 Million from EPA to Support the Nation’s Green Economy (NC)

U.S. EPA News, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced almost $2 million to 19 small businesses nationwide to develop and commercialize technologies that tackle critical environmental problems. Bio-Adhesive Alliance, Inc. based in in Greensboro, N.C. was awarded $100,000 for a pro... 

Sep 1, 2015

Dream job? ​Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is seeking an Occupational Medicine physician to join a collegial department.

​Sounds like a fantastic oppertunity
Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is seeking an Occupational Medicine physician to join a collegial department.

Training Requirements:
· Board Certified/Board Eligible Occupational Medicine physician; or,
· Board Certified/Board Eligible Physician with training in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Physical Medicine and Rehab, or Non-Operative Orthopedics

Preferred Experience:
· New Occupational Medicine grads are welcome to apply; or,
· 5 years of experience preferred for physicians trained in other specialties

Practice Details:
· Join an established department with 3 other Occupational Medicine physicians
· Established Rehabilitations Services department including PT, OT, and Hand Therapy
· 4 ½ day work week, No call
· Common EMR/PACS across all Mayo Clinic Health System sites

Mayo Clinic Health System is a family of clinics, hospitals, and other health care facilities serving over 70 communities in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Sharing Mayo Clinic's primary value of "the needs of the patient come first," Mayo Clinic Health System links the expertise of Mayo Clinic in practice, education, and research with the health-delivery systems of our local communities. Today, more than 1000 physicians practice in the health system.  Mayo Clinic offers a highly competitive compensation package, which includes exceptional benefits, and has been recognized by FORTUNE magazine as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work for."

Eau Claire is a university community with a metro area of 161,000, located 90 minutes from Minneapolis/St. Paul.

For more information:
Apply online at Mayo Clinic Jobs or contact
Karly Wallace, Physician Recruiter
Toll Free: 800-573-2580
E-mail: euphysicianrecruitment (at)

China Rocked By Another Massive Chemical Explosion via @ZeroHedge

This is the second explosion in Shandong, which both follow the huge and deadly explosion in Tianjin.

We'll await the details which we imagine will suggest that, as was the case in Tianjin, many more tonnes of something terribly toxic were stored than is allowed under China's regulatory regime which apparently only applies to those who are not somehow connected to the Politburo.

After the last Shandong explosion, The People's Daily reported that the plant contained adiponitrile, which the CDC says can cause "irritation eyes, skin, respiratory system; headache, dizziness, lassitude (weakness, exhaustion), confusion, convulsions; blurred vision; dyspnea (breathing difficulty); abdominal pain, nausea, [and] vomiting."

 Breaking: A blast seen and heard in a chemical industry zone in Lijin, Dongying City of Shandong around 23:25

This clip has just been posted to a Weibo account - reportedly showing tonight's explosion (we are unable to confirm it this is the most recent or the previous Shandong explosion although that was more twlight than dead of night).

90 Percent of Seabird’s Have Plastic in Guts

As many as nine out of 10 of the world's seabirds likely have pieces of plastic in their guts, a new study estimates.

Previously, scientists figured about 29 percent of seabirds had swallowed plastic, based on older studies. But an Australian team of scientists who have studied birds and marine debris for decades used computer models to update those figures, calculating that far more seabirds are affected, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's pretty astronomical," said study co-author Denise Hardesty, senior research scientist at the Australian federal science agency. She said the problem with plastics in the ocean is increasing as the world makes more of the stuff. "In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s."

She combined computer simulations of locations of the garbage and the birds, as well as their eating habits, to see where the worst problems are.

Hardesty's work found that the biggest problem strangely isn't where there's the most garbage, such as the infamous garbage patch in the central north Pacific Ocean. Instead it's where there's the greatest number of different species, especially in the southern hemisphere near Australia and New Zealand.

Areas around North America and Europe are better off, she said. By reducing plastic pellets, Europe is even seeing fewer of those plastic bits in one key bird, the northern fulmar, she said. Some species of albatross and shearwaters seem to be the most prone to eating plastic pieces.

IBM wants to help China fight air pollution with artificial intelligence

IBM is testing a new way to alleviate Beijing's choking air pollution with the help of artificial intelligence. The Chinese capital, like many other cities across the country, is surrounded by factories, many fueled by coal, that emit harmful particulates. But pollution levels can vary depending on factors such as industrial activity, traffic congestion, and weather conditions.

The IBM researchers are testing a computer system capable of learning to predict the severity of air pollution in different parts of the city several days in advance by combining large quantities of data from several different models — an extremely complex computational challenge. 

The system could eventually offer specific recommendations on how to reduce pollution to an acceptable level
The system could eventually offer specific recommendations on how to reduce pollution to an acceptable level — for example, by closing certain factories or temporarily restricting the number of drivers on the road. A comparable system is also being developed for a city in the Hebei province, a badly affected area in the north of the country.

"We have built a prototype system which is able to generate high-resolution air quality forecasts, 72 hours ahead of time," says Xiaowei Shen, director of IBM Research China. "Our researchers are currently expanding the capability of the system to provide medium- and long-term (up to 10 days ahead) as well as pollutant source tracking, 'what-if' scenario analysis, and decision support on emission reduction actions."

The project, dubbed Green Horizon, is an example of how broadly IBM hopes to apply its research on using advanced machine learning to extract insights from huge amounts of data — something the company calls "cognitive computing." The project also highlights an application of the technology that IBM would like to export to other countries where pollution is a growing problem.

IBM is currently pushing artificial intelligence in many different industries, from health care to consulting. The cognitive computing effort encompasses natural language processing and statistical techniques originally developed for the Watson computer system, which competed on the game show Jeopardy!, along with many other approaches to machine learning (see "Why IBM Just Bought Millions of Medical Images" and "IBM Pushes Deep Learning with a Watson Upgrade").

Predicting pollution is challenging. IBM uses data supplied by the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau to refine its models, and Shen says the predictions have a resolution of a kilometer and are 30% more precise than those derived through conventional approaches. He says the system uses "adaptive machine learning" to determine the best combination of models to use.

Aug 31, 2015

Rossi has an US Patent for his cold fusion (LENR) energy catalyzer but Ahern notes that it does not reveal anything replicatable [feedly]

Andre Rossi is known for his controversial cold fusion (LENR) energy catalyzer. He has received a US Patent for it.

There is supposed to be some kind of standard where a Patent should allow a competent practitioner to follow the patent and repeat what was done. This is not the cast with this patent. Someone trying to follow this would still have a lot of guessing as to what to do to attempt to make it work.


An apparatus for heating fluid includes a tank for holding fluid to be heated, and a fuel wafer in fluid communication with the fluid. The fuel wafer includes a fuel mixture including reagents and a catalyst, and an electrical resistor or other heat source in thermal communication with the fuel mixture and the catalyst. 

The powder in the fuel mixture consists largely of spherical particles having diameters in the nanometer to micrometer range, for example between 1 nanometer and 100 micrometers. Variations in the ratio of reactants and catalyst tend to govern reaction rate and are not critical. However, it has been found that a suitable mixture would include a starting mixture of 50% nickel, 20% lithium, and 30% LAH. Within this mixture, nickel acts as a catalyst for the reaction, and is not itself a reagent. While nickel is particularly useful because of its relative abundance, its function can also be carried out by other elements in column 10 of the periodic table, such as platinum or palladium.

The nickel powder must be pre-heated to convert trapped water into supercritical steam, explode, and increase the porosity of the nickel. The concept of enhancing the porosity of the nickel is mentioned multiple times. Perhaps the enhanced surface area and tubercules of carbonyl nickel provide a good starting powder that is improved by pre-heating. It should also be noted that the most successful replicator of this technology, Alexander Parkhomov, who has successfully produced excess heat in at least a dozen different tests, recently revealed to the Martin Fleischman Memorial Project that he pre-heats his nickel to 200C to remove any water content

Read more » at Next Big Future

Google Could 'Rig the 2016 Election,' using Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME).

Fortune [feedly] Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, and colleague Ronald E. Robertson recently conducted an experiment in which they conclude that Google  GOOG -1.12%  has the power to rig the 2016 presidential election. They call it the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME).

Through five experiments in two countries, they found that biased rankings in search results can shift the opinions of undecided voters by 20% or more, sometimes even reaching as high as 80% in some demographic groups. If Google tweaks its algorithm to show more positive search results for a candidate, the researchers say, the searcher may form a more positive opinion of him or her.

Please read full and follow at:

Lithium Ion batteries scaling up and costs could drop to $100 oer kwh

Tech giant Google has a secretive team building better batteries, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Analysts speculate that Apple is doing the same, based on the company's job postings. Nearly every major automaker has an electric vehicle for sale and many – notably Toyota and General Motors – are investing millions in designing new batteries to power them. It's a veritable moon race to see who can build the first affordable electric vehicle to drive 200 miles on a single charge. Many analysts believe hitting that mark would dramatically accelerate a global transition from fossil fuels to electricity as the energy of choice for the automotive world. 

Between 2007 and 2014, electric car battery costs dropped by more than half – from more than $1,000 per kilowatt-hour to around $410 per kWh. By 2025, the cost of batteries in electric vehicles will drop to as low as $172 per kWh, according to Lux. 

Energy storage is a $33 billion global industry that generates nearly 100 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year, according to Boston-based Lux Research. By the end of the decade, it is expected to be worth more than $50 billion and generate 160 GWh. That's still just the equivalent of a AAAA battery in the sprawling energy industry, but it's enough to attract the attention of major companies that might not otherwise be interested in a decidedly pedestrian technology. Even utilities, which have long viewed batteries and the alternative forms of energy they support as a threat, are learning to embrace the technologies as "enabling" rather than "disruptive."

Tesla Motors is among those pushing the battery era the hardest. The California-based company has spent the past 12 years doing to electric vehicles what Apple did to early MP3 players – making them cool. It already has a battery-powered car that goes 200 miles on a single charge – the Model S – but its $70,000-plus price tag keeps it beyond the reach of most drivers.

Most analysts expect the Powerwall, Tesla's battery for homes, to appeal to only a small number of people, at least until the price and associated costs drop further. With a capacity of between only 7 and 10 kWh, and a price tag ranging from $3,000 to $3,500, the economics just don't make sense for most consumers across the US. But the larger-sized Powerpacks are already proving attractive to businesses and utilities, which have more of a financial incentive to avoid the violent fluctuations in energy supply and demand. And when the gigafactory comes on line in 2017, Tesla hopes the economies of scale will drive prices down to a point where home batteries entice a lot of people.

For Musk, "a lot of people" means just about everyone. At April's launch, Musk calculated it would take roughly 2 billion Powerpacks to electrify the entire world. That sounds like a lot, but, as Musk noted, it's on par with the number of cars and trucks on the road.

Read more » via Next Big Future

In 2008, Fewer Than 30 Million Used Food Stamps. Now 46 Million Do.

Good news: The number of Americans using food stamps in 2014 declined slightly from the previous year. So why does the 2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity say this indicator is headed in the "wrong direction"?

There are a couple of reasons. For one, the food stamp program (officially known now as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) is still much larger today than it was a decade ago—or, indeed, just a few years ago. In 2008, it was below 30 million. By 2013, it had hit 47.6 million.

It has since dipped a bit, as I mentioned (to 46.5 million). But for it to still be so high, despite an improving economy, is certainly troubling.

"The program may appear to be on the right track," Maura Corrigan, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in the index. "But it is far from perfect and traveling much too slowly."

Aug 30, 2015

Nuclear Energy and Uranium through 2024

Harsh Singh Chauhan has a view of Uranium and Nuclear energy at Seeking Alpha

Disclosure - Author of Nextbigfuture has some shares in Cameco

Over $740 billion will be invested in the construction of new reactors going forward as operable reactors are slated to increase by 81 till 2024

Uranium consumption is slated to outpace supply by almost 64% by 2024

Read more » at Next Big Future

Middle East faces water shortages for the next 25 years, study says

The Guardian [feedly] Water supplies across the Middle East will deteriorate over 25 years, threatening economic growth and national security and forcing more people to move to already overcrowded cities, a new analysis suggests.

As the region, which is home to over 350 million people, begins to recover from a series of deadly heatwaves which have seen temperatures rise to record levels for weeks at a time, the World Resources Institute (WRI) claims water shortages were a key factor in the 2011 Syria civil war.

"Drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country's 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria's general destabilisation," says the report. 

New WRI rankings place 14 of the world's 33 most water-stressed countries in the Middle East and north Africa region (Mena), including Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran and Lebanon. Companies, farms and residents in these countries are all highly vulnerable to the slightest change in supplies, says the WRI.

"The world's demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades. Rapidly growing populations will drive increased consumption by people, farms and companies. More people will move to cities, further straining supplies. An emerging middle class could clamour for more water-intensive food production and electricity generation," say the authors.

"But it's not clear where all that water will come from. Climate change is expected to make some areas drier and others wetter. As precipitation extremes increase in some regions, affected communities face greater threats from droughts and floods," they say.

Innovative Tree-Like Off Grid Homes

Jetson GreenThe architecture firm OAS1S from Holland has come up with a unique proposal for a community of small houses, which would be built to resemble trees. The dwellings would all be made from recycled wood, and would function completely off-the-grid. These homes would be called "treescrapers" and the designers envision that once they are built, it would be like walking through a forest in the middle of an urban area.


The structures could either be single family, multi-family, or even hotels and office spaces, and other leisure and commercial units. Each would sport a green roof. Each unit would measure 19.6 x 19.6 x 39 ft (6 x 6 x 12 m), and have a total floorspace of 1,722 sq ft (160 sq m) across four floors. The interior of each treescraper would feature a lounge, dining room, two bathrooms, and three bedrooms, as well as a deck, hall and storage area and utility room. On the fourth floor, there would also be a fenced balcony and a glass-bottomed hall.



Each treescraper would also be covered in greenery. To function off-the-grid they would also be fitted with green tech such as a solar array to provide hot water and electricity, as well as a grey water recycling system and a composting toilet. The homes would also be fitted with triple-glazed windows. The units would also have a battery array to store the unused electricity collected by the solar panels, and the homes would also be equipped with a rainwater collection system.


In their planning, the company behind the concept envisions a whole community of such houses and structures, which would also be cars-free. The residents would park their cars on the outskirts of the community, and then walk home through this "forest" of buildings. The community would be made up of a maximum of 100 houses per 2.47 acres (1 hectare).


Currently the idea is still in the early planning stages, though the company is hopeful that they will receive the required investor funding. They also plan on offering the units as affordable housing.


Appalachian communities ask Republican leaders to support Obama's $1B economic aid for coalfields [feedly]

Appalachian communities ask For support Obama's $1B economic aid for coalfields
A greater number of struggling Appalachian coal communities are asking Congressional Republicans who normally oppose Obama administration legislation to get behind the president's Power + Plan to spend $1 billion over five years in an effort to help areas hurt by a sharp downturn in coal jobs, Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. "Nearly a dozen Appalachian coal mining communities have passed resolutions over the past few weeks supporting" the plan. Local officials "have called on their Washington representatives to back the proposal that would provide public funds for new economic activities around reclaimed coal mines in the Appalachian Mountains." (Appalachian Coalfields map)

Eric Dixon, policy coordinator for the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center in Whitesburg, Ky., told Volcovici, "This isn't a partisan issue here. We have Republicans and Democrats in the mountains who support this plan."

The problem is that Washington Republican lawmakers—such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents Eastern Kentucky—have been reluctant to support any coal-related plan initiated by Obama, Volcovici writes. "They contend that the administration's energy policies, including regulations forcing power plants to reduce carbon emissions tied to burning coal, have caused a contraction in the industry that has seen some of the country's biggest coal companies go into bankruptcy."

"Funding for the Power + plan would come from the government's Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program, which has nearly $2.5 billion in unused funds from fees on coal companies," Volcovici writes. "AML funds are allocated to states to clean up mines. The Obama administration wants to tap $1 billion of that money for states to use for economic redevelopment projects at old mine sites. The money is currently intended to be distributed after 2021."

"The prospect of getting an injection of cash that can be used for programs ranging from agriculture to tourism resonates on the ground in Appalachia, where another half-dozen coal communities plan to vote in the coming weeks on similar resolutions demanding that Congress agree to Power +," Volcovici writes

USDA $63 Million Renewable Energy Grants

Ever since it was given an official budget thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill, we've been wondering about the Rural Energy for America Program, usually known by the ag-friendly acronym REAP.

This past week, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack officially announced the allocation of $63 million in loans and grants to a whopping 264 projects under the program, so we get to see some specifics about where this money is going.

REAP is designed to provide funds, through grants and sometimes loan financing specifically to smaller farmers in rural environments. It's interesting because it specifically targets those agricultural producers in remote areas, and provides funding for all kinds of alternative-energy projects including renewable energy systems like solar and wind generation, anaerobic digesters, biodiesel or ethanol facilities, hydropower, and that kind of thing.

But also, very helpfully, it will provide funding for basic improvements that align with the need to lower energy consumption like better lighting, cooling, heating, insulation, sealing, pumps, and all other upgrades that aren't as sexy as solar panels (and boy are solar panels sexy) but could have a huge impact just the same.

The announcement shows us a few specific areas where REAP funding will be going. They include a solar system on a fruit farm (mostly apple and pear orchards) in Ohio, a wind farm in North Carolina, and, interestingly, $16,094 (what a specific number!) to install solar panels on the roofs of chicken coops on a farm in Georgia.

REAP isn't the kind of legislation that garners huge headlines, but it's an important one: real money going to solve real problems in small farms. You can read more about it here.

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Boeing’s laser sentry gun takes out drones in seconds

Today, we've got the military equivalent: a laser turret that can down a drone in seconds.

Boeing calls it Silent Strike, and they label it as a directed energy weapon. More precisely, it's a 2 kilowatt laser, the little brother to Boeing's "death ray on wheels," which straps a 10 kilowatt laser on to the back of an armored transport. Engineer Isaac Neil likens the systems' attack to "a welding torch being put on a target, but from hundreds of meters away."

This new version is much, much more portable than the 10kW behemoth. Silent Strike breaks down into four separate components, each of which can be transported by two soldiers — or, perhaps one day, on the back of one of Boston Dynamics'robotic quadrupeds.

Nanosilver: Naughty or nice? | in 100's of consumer care products

Silver is beautiful — and a killer. The shiny white metal is a natural antibiotic. That means it kills bacteria. People have recognized this benefit since ancient times. Wealthy Romans ate using knives, forks and spoons made of silver. They understood that silver helped keep spoiled food from making them sick. In fact, historians think that is how we came to call eating utensils "silverware."

Today, eating off silver is more about wealth than health. Still, silver continues to play a role in medicine. Doctors use silver-coated bandages to kill germs that might infect burns and other wounds. Silver also is sometimes used to coat medical devices, such as breathing tubes. This can reduce the likelihood that patients on ventilators (to help them breathe) will develop pneumonia from exposure to germs.

In just the last decade, silver's use as a germ killer has expanded dramatically — and not only in medicine. Beginning around 2005, companies started adding a special form of silver to a wide range of everyday products. This silver was fashioned into amazingly tiny particles. Companies put it into socks, toothbrushes, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and other items.
Sometimes adding the special silver is promoted as a defense against bacteria that might make people sick. Other times, it's more about neutralizing bacteria that cause stinky feet or smelly breath. At last count, more than 400 consumer products contained this form of silver, called nanosilver.

And as that name suggests, nanosilver particles are too small to see, even with a classroom microscope. The particles measure between 1 and 100 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, across. (Nano is a prefix meaning a billionth.) By comparison, most human hair is 40,000 to 120,000 nanometers wide. That is hundreds of times the width of even a large nanoparticle.

People have used silver products for thousands of years. But some scientists have begun to worry that adding so much nanosilver to so many things could harm our health or the environment. Experts have begun looking for answers. But so far, the findings are mixed.

Little particle, big surface
Scientists say there are several things that are important to know about nanosilver to assess its potential harm. First, nanosilver is so tiny that it can find its way into tiny spaces. These spaces include our cells and the cells of other living things. Second, because nanosilver particles are so small, they have very high surface areas. That means that relative to their volume, their surface is fairly big. Particles undergo chemical reactions on their surface. The more surface area, the more chemical reactions. Some of those reactions could be harmful. Others might not be.

The list of potential reactions includes what happens when silver reacts with moisture in the air — those nanoparticles shed silver ions. Silver ions are atoms of silver with a positive electric charge. Some research suggests silver ions can kill a microbe by damaging its cell membranes. This can make the microbe's cells "leaky." Affected cells soon die.

Other research suggests the nanoparticle itself can kill a microbe.

But what happens if nanosilver gets into human cells? Some researchers have wondered whether the particles — or the ions they release — can cause harm.

Jim Hutchison is among those scientists trying to figure this out. He is a chemist and an expert in nanoparticles at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

The most visible effect of silver, Hutchison says, is a condition called argyria (Ahr–JEER–ee–uh). People exposed to very large amounts of silver can suffer from this condition. Although it turns the skin blue, it doesn't appear to otherwise affect health.

Historians suspect argyria is the origin of the term "blue blood." It is used to describe people of noble birth. Royalty would likely have worn a lot of silver jewelry. Nobles also would have used real silver tableware when eating and drinking.

These blue bloods also may have drunk a lot of colloidal silver. That's a liquid into which silver particles are suspended.

"Colloidal silver has been used for a long time," says Hutchison. "It was thought of as a cure-all for many different illnesses."

Researchers found silverware , shown at left, shed nanosilver. The tiny particles of the metal are visible at right. University of Oregon researchers discovered those nanosilver bits began to transform in size, shape and numbers within a few hours, especially when exposed to humid air, water and light.

It was especially popular before modern-day antibiotics were developed to kill microbes. Even today, some people drink it. They believe it can fight some serious diseases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, disagrees. This federal agency says there is no scientific evidence that colloidal silver successfully treats anything.

So far, Hutchison's research suggests nanosilver and the silver ions it sheds probably aren't harmful to people (beyond turning some of them blue). "You can never prove every technology is going to be safe before you use it," he says. "But silver doesn't seem to be toxic to us."

In a 2011 study published in the journal ACS Nano, Hutchison's team looked at silver jewelry and eating utensils under high-powered microscopes. They found the solid silver products were shedding nanoparticles. "This means nanosilver has been in contact with humans for a long, long time," he says. And that, he concludes, "should be reassuring, because those exposures don't seem to have caused harm."

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Governor Christie’s Gift to Exxon Mobil - Billion$

The New York Times
For years, New Jersey officials have been trying to make Exxon Mobil Corporation pay for their "staggering and unprecedented" pollution of the state's northeastern wetlands. The price tag for damages and cleanup of more than 1,500 acres in the Linden and Bayonne areas was estimated at $8.9 billion. Gov. Chris Christie settled for a payout of $225 million from Exxon, a paltry sum that won the approval of a state judge earlier this week.

That ruling by Judge Michael Hogan of New Jersey's Superior Court is a major setback for the environment and the taxpayers of New Jersey.  As Margaret Brown, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said after the ruling, "This is a multi-billion gift to ExxonMobil from Governor Christie and his administration, at the expense of New Jersey residents."

Exxon's predecessors began dumping toxic substances into the marshlands in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Nearly a century later, the state courts held Exxon liable for damages, and the company has spent around $260 million so far to cap and control pollution at these sites.

These once-pristine areas turned dumping grounds were described as "sludge lagoons" in a state report a few years ago. State officials described the Bayonne site, for example, as soaked with decades' worth of petroleum, 15 feet deep in some places.  Once-thriving salt marshes were turned solid by the contaminants — all of which should be removed, not capped or covered.

Obama defends Arctic drilling while preaching destructive nature of climate change?

The Guardian [feedly]
Obama defended the drilling operation, saying: "We don't rubber-stamp permits."

The president had hoped to use his visit to showcase the changes unfolding in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, the White House said.

"This is an issue that is very here and now," Brian Deese, a senior White House advisor told a conference call with reporters on Friday. "Near and above the Arctic circle the impacts of climate change are particular pronounced and Americans are living with those impacts in real time."

He said Obama would use the visit to draw public attention to those consequences: the retreat of sea ice, land loss due to melting permafrost and coastal erosion, increasingly severe storms and growing risk of wildfires.

 The oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer, the first of two drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell is outfitting for Arctic oil exploration. Photograph: Elaine Thompson/AP
The president will also highlight the risks to Alaska's tiny coastal communities, some of which could be forced to relocate because of climate change. A number have already chosen to move but have no funds to do so.

But campaign groups said Obama was sabotaging his own mission by giving the go-ahead to Shell to hunt for oil.

"There is a very obvious contradiction between meaningful action to address climate change and continued exploration for remote and difficult hydrocarbon resources," said Michael LeVin, Arctic campaigner for Oceana.

"Moving forward with exploiting Arctic oil and gas is inconsistent with the Administration's stated goal and meaningful action on climate change."

A Broken Well Has Been Leaking Oil Into The Gulf Of Mexico For The Last 10 Years

For more than a decade, oil has been continuously leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that environmental groups and the New Orleans energy company responsible for the spill had finally reached a settlement ahead of a trial slated to begin in October.

According to the AP, under the terms of the settlement, Taylor Energy agreed to make a $300,000 donation to a Louisiana marine research consortium — to purchase vessels, electronics and other equipment — as well as fund $100,000 worth of research into the ecological effects of long-term oil leaks in the Gulf.

"We are pleased to have found common ground with Waterkeepers. The agreement balances the public's right to information with adequate safeguards for Taylor's proprietary technology," Will Pecue, Taylor's president, said in an emailed press statement.

According to Waterkeeper Alliance, however, there has been no final agreement on a settlement or terms.

"We are very pleased about the progress of negotiations with Taylor, and have come to a conceptual agreement that has not yet been finalized," Waterkeeper Alliance said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. "As no final settlement agreement exists between the parties at this time, we are not at liberty to discuss the details of a potential settlement. We will provide a full statement when the settlement is finalized."

The leak first began in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf Coast, triggering an underwater mudslide that knocked over an offshore well platform owned by Taylor Energy. The mudslide essentially buried 28 wells beneath the Gulf, some 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Because the wells were buried some 475 feet under water in sediment up to 100 feet deep, traditional plug methods did not work to staunch the flow of oil.

In 2008, Taylor sold the last of its offshore assets. According to an April investigation into the spill by the AP, Taylor Energy currently has just one full-time employee, dedicated to managing the oil spill. Since the leak began in 2004, Taylor has downplayed its impacts, claiming that the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf has been tapering down in recent years, and that the ecological impacts of the spill were minimal. For years, Taylor was not forced to disclose details about its cleanup efforts, or other spill-related information, under the guise of protecting trade secrets.

The AP investigation, however, uncovered serious under-reporting in the volume of the spill, showing that actual amounts were some 20 times higher than figures put forth by Taylor Energy. According to government numbers, the annual average daily leak rate for the spill was around 22 gallons per day, and had fallen to 12 gallons per day by 2012. The AP, however, cited SkyTruth — a watchdog group that had monitored the spill's slick by satellite — who said that the average daily leak rate could be between 37 and 900 gallons. The AP also found that pollution reports did not match Taylor's official account of a decline in the rate of leaks — instead, the AP found that sheen size and oil volume related to the spill actually increased dramatically in 2014.

In 2008, the Coast Guard said that the spill posted a "significant threat" to the environment, capable of impacting fish, birds, and marine life. Using satellite data, SkyTruth estimates that between 300,000 and 1.4 million gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf from the site of the leak since 2004, according to the AP. If the high-end estimates are right, that would make the spill one of the largest in the Gulf's history — the Deepwater Horizon oil spill released between 134 and 176 million into the Gulf back in 2005.