Sep 30, 2015

PHMSA Publishes Final Rule on Fitness and SOPs for Special Permits and Approvals (HM-233E)

On Sept. 10, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a final rule that incorporates standard operating procedures and criteria for "fitness to perform" in the evaluation of applications for special permits and approvals.  The effective date of this final rule is Nov. 9, 2015. This rulemaking was required under the 2012 adopted reauthorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21).

ACA and a broader coalition of industries, had petitioned PHMSA to address the standard operating procedures for determining fitness and the fitness criteria upon which such decisions are made. While PHMSA declined to initiate such a rulemaking, ACA and the coalition successfully advocated for language in the reauthorization bill that would force PHMSA to do so. 

PHMSA's Special Permits program was created to allow companies to transport and package hazardous materials in domestic transport in a manner not specifically authorized by the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). Special Permits authorize, for example, the movement of a new substance or allow the use of a new or unique packaging. Approximately 4,500 special permits are maintained in PHMSAs current database. Many paint companies require Special Permits in order to ship raw materials, finished products or waste materials. ACA and its Transportation and Distribution Committee has spent considerable energy and resources responding to the changing policies and procedures of the Special Permits program over the last several years.

One of real impacts of this final rule is that standard operating procedures for review of applications for Special Permits, Emergency Special Permits and Approvals has now been incorporated into the HMR and is easily accessible by applicants. Prior to this rulemaking, these standard operating procedures were impossible or near-difficult to find on PHMSA website and consequently, the internal process for considering applications and the fitness criteria were not well-understood. PHMSA's internal process is complex and involves several layers of review. This rulemaking did not significantly change PHMSA's process, but for now, it is a bit more transparent and is regulatory language.

The final amendments in HM-233E add the following provisions to the HMR:

  • Section 105.5, revised definitions for "approval" and "special permit" and clarifies who may issue them;
  • Section 107.1, new definitions for "applicant fitness", "fit or fitness", "fitness coordinator," and "insufficient corrective action";
  • Section 107.113/117/709, requires that the Associate Administrator review all applications in conformance with newly adopted standard operating procedures in Appendix A to Part 107;
  • Part 107, Appendix A, incorporates Appendix A into the HMR.  Appendix A are the standard operating procedures that PHMSA has been using to process applications for special permits, emergency special permits and approvals and make decisions about fitness; and
  • Section 171.8, revised definitions for approval and special permit.

While ACA did not file comments on this proposed rule, its concerns were expressed by the Dangerous Good Advisory Council (DGAC). DGAC had requested that PHMSA develop an expedited procedure to accomplish minor changes to a Special Permit, such as company name changes or change of address. PHMSA declined to develop such an expedited process, indicating that making such modifications to a Special Permit is not a significant burden to them, particularly if the application to do so is complete. In addition, PHMSA maintains that there is an added safety benefit in that screening of an application will reveal any profile changes for the applicant. 

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California’s DTSC Releases Draft Guidance on Safer Consumer Products Regulations’ Alternatives Analysis

On Sept. 24, California's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) released draft guidance on Stage 1 of its Safer Consumer Products Regulations' (SCP) Alternatives Analysis. The agency is accepting comments on the draft Stage 1 guidance until Oct. 23. 

DTSC will also be conducting webinars on Join one of our webinars on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21, 2015 to discuss the guidance. You may download and comment on the Draft Stage 1 Alternatives Analysis Guide through the Safer Consumer Products Information Management System (CalSAFER).

According to DTSC, the Draft Stage 1 Alternatives Analysis Guide provides useful approaches, methods, resources, tools and examples of how to fulfill SCP's regulatory requirements. The draft of the Alternatives Analysis Guide only covers the first stage Alternatives Analysis required by the SCP regulations. A draft including the second stage Alternatives Analysis is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2016.

The two stages of the Alternatives Analysis process are:

First Stage: During the first stage the responsible entity identifies the goal, scope, legal, functional, and performance requirements of the Priority Product and the Chemical of Concern, and uses this information to identify and screen an array of alternatives to consider. When the first stage is completed, the responsible entity documents the analysis findings in a Preliminary Alternatives AnalysisReport, and submits that report along with a Work Plan for completing the Alternatives Analysisto DTSC (see table on page 16 of the Alternatives Analysis Guide for more details).

Second Stage: During the second stage Alternatives Analysis, the responsible entity follows the approved work plan from the first stage Alternatives Analysisto compare the Priority Product with the alternatives still under consideration using all available information for the relevant factors. The second Alternatives Analysisstage contains an in-depth analysis that refines the relevant factors and product function descriptions of the first stage and expands the analysis to consider additional impacts, including life cycle and economic impacts (see table on page 17 of the Alternatives Analysis Guide for more details).

The California Safer Consumer Products Regulations were finalized in October 2013, and DTSC has already taken steps to list and potentially regulate three Priority Products. On March 13, 2014, DTSC proposed the following three Priority Products: 1) spray foam systems containing unreacted diisocyanates; 2) paint and varnish strippers containing methylene chloride; and 3) children's sleeping pads containing chlorinated tris. After a Priority Product has been listed, responsible entities will have 60 days to provide notice to DTSC if they are manufacturing a Priority Product for sale in California, and the responsible entity may then be required to conduct an Alternatives Analysis. After reviewing an industry Alternatives Analysis, DTSC may initiate a regulatory response to restrict, limit, or prohibit the use of the Priority Product or chemical.

In April 2015, DTSC released its Priority Product Work Plan for 2015 through 2017. The work plan outlines the product categories and chemical classes that DTSC will review to develop Priority Products under the SCP Regulations over the next three years to provide a "level of predictability" to entities that may become subject to the regulations. 

The work plan describes seven broad product categories and a list of potential chemicals or chemical classes for consideration under each broad product category. The work plan explains the department's prioritization methodology and its decision to select these particular products and potential chemicals for evaluation. Given the number of products in the work plan, it is highly likely that DTSC will not be able to evaluate all of these products over the course of the next three years.

Under the Building Products category, the work plan designates paint, primers, roof coatings, stains, varnishes, adhesives, sealants, and caulking as potential Priority Products for evaluation. With regard to building materials, DTSC cited concerns about exposure to sensitive subpopulations in the built environment, including workers and children, with a focus on flame retardants and potential impacts on indoor air quality and human health.

The work plan also identifies the following candidate chemicals in building materials for potential regulatory action: brominated or chlorinated organic compounds, isocyanates, metals (e.g., chromium VI), perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, and volatile organic compounds (e.g., formaldehyde, toluene). While DTSC has cited these chemicals found in building products as examples, the department may identify chemicals outside of this list after conducting its evaluations.  

According to the work plan, DTSC plans to announce three new Priority Products in 2015. Then, DTSC plans to raise that goal for 2016 and 2017 to at least five products each year. Before proposing potential Priority Products, DTSC intends to gather additional information on the product categories through workshops, stakeholder outreach, and data call-ins. It is important to note that the work plan does not introduce any regulatory requirements on industry.  

ACA staff has been engaged with its membership and DTSC throughout the development of California's Safer Consumer Products regulatory process, regularly attending workshops and providing comments.

Contact ACA's Tim Serieor Stephen Wieroniey for more information. 


The Massive Oil Plume Beneath Pearl Harbor Isn't New, But It Is Shocking

Pearl Harbor was once known as Oahu's "bread basket" because it was such an important fishing area, teeming with ocean life. But since the construction of the iconic U.S. military base, the pristine harbor has been marred by environmental disaster. 

The 12,600 acres of land and water that make up the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex were added to the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priority List of hazardous waste sites in 1992. This list identified the area as a Superfund site, or one that could harm local people or ecosystems due to hazardous waste. In 1998, the health department had issued an advisory to warn people against eating shellfish and fish caught in Pearl Harbor. 

One of the base's more than 700 documented areas of contamination sits beneath Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam's Halawa-Main Gate. There, bunker fuel and other petroleum products -- some of which the Navy says date back to World War II -- have been leaking from a tank farm and collecting in a large underground plume for decades.

Current estimates put the amount of spilled fuel at around 5 million gallons, or nearly half the volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, Hawaii News Now reported earlier this month. The plume is approximately 20 acres, or 15 football fields, in size, according to the Navy. 

The Oil-Sands Glut Is About to Get a Lot Bigger

The last place oil producers want to be when prices plummet to profit-demolishing lows is midstream on a billion-dollar project in one of the costliest parts of the planet to extract crude.

Yet that's exactly where half a dozen oil sands operators from Suncor Energy Inc. to Brion Energy Corp. find themselves with prices for Canadian oil now hovering around $30 a barrel. While all around them projects have been postponed or canceled, their investments were judged too far along when the oil game suddenly moved from offense to defense.

These projects will add at least another 500,000 barrels a day -- roughly a 25 percent increase from Alberta -- to an oversupplied North American market by 2017. For companies stuck spending billions in a downturn, the time required to earn back their investments will lengthen considerably, said Rafi Tahmazian, senior portfolio manager at Canoe Financial LP.

"But the implications of slowing down a project are worse," said Tahmazian, who helps oversee about C$1 billion ($758 million) in energy funds at the Calgary investment firm.

A general rule of thumb says new plants require a West Texas Intermediate price of $80 a barrel to break even. Western Canada Select, a blend of heavy Alberta crude, is currently selling at a discount of about $14 a barrel to the WTI benchmark, which fell 1.5 percent Friday to settle at $46.05 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Please read full and follow at - Bloomberg Business

Hungry mealworms could keep Styrofoam out of landfills

If you've ever kept mealworms as food for a pet reptile or frog, then you probably fed them fruits or vegetables. What you likely didn't know, however, was that the insects can also survive quite nicely on a diet of Styrofoam. With that in mind, scientists at Stanford University have now determined that mealworms can break the difficult-to-recycle plastic foam down into a biodegradable waste product.

.. Continue Reading Hungry mealworms could keep Styrofoam out of landfills 

Incredible new test detects all viruses that infect people (@MelissaBreyer)

From TreeHugger Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)
 Melissa Breyer
Anyone who has ever watched the television show House knows that you have to be an eccentric super genius to diagnose rare illnesses. You have to figure out which one-in-a-million virus or bacterium may be causing a host of bizarre symptoms, and then you test for it. And you have to go through this on average 3.2 times per patient to finally get positive test results, allowing time for lots of telegenic hijinks along the way.

But a new test developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may be putting Dr. House out of a job. It can detect virtually any virus that infects people and animals, all in one fell swoop.

Even outside of television-land, making a diagnosis really can be a taxing exercise. Current diagnostic technology isn't sensitive enough to detect low levels of viruses or are limited to testing specifically for a suspected illness, notes researchers.

"With this test, you don't have to know what you're looking for," says the study's senior author, Gregory Storch, MD, the Ruth L. Siteman Professor of Pediatrics. "It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels. We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown."

In patient samples the new test – called ViroCap – detected viruses not found by standard testing. The new test could be used to detect outbreaks of deadly viruses such as Ebola, Marburg and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), as well as more mundane bugs like rotavirus and norovirus.

In evaluating the new test, researchers used biological samples of two groups of patients at St. Louis Children's Hospital. In the first sampling, standard tests found viruses in 10 of 14 patients. The new test found viruses in the four children that the other test missed, including influenza B, parechovirus, herpes virus 1 and varicella-zoster virus. In group two, eight children with unexplained fevers were tested; standard testing found 11 viruses, the new test found an additional seven, including the respiratory virus human adenovirus B type 3A.

"The test is so sensitive that it also detects variant strains of viruses that are closely related genetically," says corresponding author Todd Wylie. "Slight genetic variations among viruses often can't be distinguished by currently available tests and complicate physicians' ability to detect all variants with one test."

The researchers plan to conduct additional research to validate the accuracy of the test, so it could be several years before it is routinely available. But for now, the researchers are making the technology publicly available to scientists and clinicians worldwide.

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Sep 29, 2015

What It's Like When Patients Desperately Need Sovaldi - they suffer, they die

The Atlantic ...Drug makers have long justified their high prices by saying it's the only way they can recoup their investment into research and development. Then again, pharmaceutical companies have some of the largest profit margins in the health-care industry.

In an emailed statement, a Gilead spokeswoman responded to questions about Sovaldi's price by saying, "unlike treatment for other chronic diseases, Sovaldi offers a cure … at a price that significantly reduces Hepatitis C treatment costs and delivers significant savings to the healthcare system over the long-term."

Together, Sovaldi and Harvoni generated $12.4 billion in sales for Gilead last year. The company's CEO, John C. Martin, is a billionaire. Gilead's revenues doubled last year, and as the New York Times wrote, the company "now is faced with figuring out what to do with all the cash it is generating."

* * *

Last year, New Mexico's Human Services Department issued a rule that required patients to show that they have Stage 3 or Stage 4 liver fibrosis before Medicaid will cover them for drugs like Sovaldi.

In Stage 4, the liver is "hard as a rock," Sanjeev Arora, a University of New Mexico physician, told the Albuquerque Journal. "Treating someone for Hepatitis C after they have developed cirrhosis is a little bit like closing the barn door after the horse has left." While they wait to develop cirrhosis, Hep C patients face a higher risk of developing depression, nerve pain, and lymphoma.

When low-income Hep C patients come to see Bush, she'll assure them that she wants to see them cured. "I will at all costs try to get you the medication," she says.

Regular aspirin use found to double survival rates for gastrointestinal cancer patients

A study involving almost 14,000 cancer patients has linked increased survival rates with regular aspirin use. The research involved sufferers of various forms of gastrointestinal tumors and found that patients who starting to use aspirin after they had been diagnosed doubled their chances of survival.

.. Continue Reading Regular aspirin use found to double survival rates for gastrointestinal cancer patients 

Sep 28, 2015

Shell abandons Alaska Arctic drilling. Rather take a $4.1bn loss than endanger one of the world’s last pristine environments

Shell has abandoned its controversial drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic in the face of mounting opposition in what jubilant environmentalists described as "an unmitigated defeat" for big oil.

The Anglo-Dutch company had repeatedly stressed the enormous hydrocarbon potential of the far north region in public, but in private began to admit it had been surprised by the popular opposition it faced.

Shell said today it had made a marginal discovery of oil and gas with its summer exploration in the Chukchi Sea but not enough to continue to the search for the "foreseeable" future.

Shell has spent over $7bn (£4.6bn) on its failed hunt for oil which critics said could only endanger one of the world's last pristine environments and produce expensive hydrocarbons that were no longer needed.

Analysis Shell has frozen its Arctic oil drilling, but it's still hungry for fossil fuels
Environmentalists claim victory as Shell abandons Arctic oil drilling, but the energy company is still pursuing oil and gas elsewhere in the short-term

Shell said it would have to take a hit of around $4.1bn on future earnings as a result of the decision but it is unclear what the final bill will be.

The company has already come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about plunging oil prices, a planned merger with rival BG as well as the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

It appears that van Beurden was also worried that the row over the Arctic was undermining his attempts to influence the debate around how to tackle climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a "transitional" fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with scepticism, partly because of the Chukchi operations.

In a statement today, Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said: "Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US. However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin."

"Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska."

Reacting to the news, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: "Big oil has sustained an unmitigated defeat. They had a budget of billions, we had a movement of millions. For three years we faced them down, and the people won.

"The Save the Arctic movement has exacted a huge reputational price from Shell for its Arctic drilling programme. And as the company went another year without striking oil, that price finally became too high. They're pulling out.

"Now President Obama should use his remaining months in office to say that no other oil company will be licenced to drill in the American Arctic."

Read more from the 

FREE AASHE webinar: The Power of Civic Engagement in Sustainability

Please join us for the second webinar in the "Engaging Across Boundaries series", tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 3:00-4:30 p.m. ET. Speakers of "The Power of Civic Engagement in Sustainability" will explore civic engagement from a sustainability lens and how this can enhance learning and increase engagement in your communities.

AASHE webinars are free.

Missed a webinar? Video recordings and presentation materials are available for AASHE members in the webinar archive at any time.

Is air pollution killing you (@CityLab)? Spoiler Alert...probably

Conducted by Michael L. Anderson, a member of the department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the study entitled "As The Wind Blows" looked at the health of people living or spending large amounts of time near major highways in Los Angeles by using geo-coded data to see their location. Data was gathered over the course of several years and was combined with census data and wind-pattern tracking.

Both infants and adults were shown to have increased health problems if they lived downwind from a highway, the study reported.

Though there was no overwhelming evidence demonstrating a causal link between exposure to pollution and higher mortality, the data did point to a possible link between the two in the elderly. Doubling the amount of time spent downwind of a highway bumped mortality from 3.6 percent to 6.8 percent in people more than 75 years of age.

Survey the world's air pollution hotspots, in real time 
 CityLab (@CityLab) September 27, 2015

Pollution has long been a problem in Los Angeles, a city known for its smog. As the city is sprawling and public transportation more limited than in comparable cities, most people drive cars, and the carbon emissions cause a visible pollution problem: smog.

Los Angeles frequently tops lists of the most polluted cities in the world, and recent figures reported the city has unsafe ozone levels 122 days out of the year. A recent drought has made air quality even worse, the Los Angeles Times reported in April.

"Air pollution is not just a nuisance or the haze we see on the horizon; it's literally putting our health in danger," Bonnie Holmes-Gen of the American Lung Association in California told the Los Angeles Times.

Read full by Jess McHugh 
Posted with permission from International Business Times

Nuclear Energy Faces Reality and Its Likely Decline, nuclear is now in its waning years.

Once the promise of clean, near limitless energy, nuclear is now in its waning years.
By Alan Neuhauser ( On construction sites in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, workers are building what may become the final five major nuclear power plants built in the United States.

Nuclear energy, once a symbol of American ingenuity, the fulfillment of the futuristic promise of near-limitless electricity and near-zero emissions, may soon face an economic meltdown.

Cheap natural gas, together with plummeting prices for wind and solar, has upended the energy sector not only making nuclear plants' huge upfront costs, endless regulatory approvals and yearslong construction especially prohibitive, but undercutting the very idea of a centralized power system. Industry and regulators, meanwhile, still have not devised a long-term solution for dispensing of nuclear waste. And despite the best marketing efforts by industry, ever-present safety concerns have little abated since the most recent nuclear incident: the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan following a tsunami in 2011.

Manhattan Project bug
The nuclear dream looks pretty tarnished these days: that you would have an inexpensive, reliable and manageable source of energy, says James Doyle, a former political scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. What has been shown repeatedly over the decades is that it's not inexpensive and the question of how to handle nuclear waste has remained problematic, and it appears it will remain so for decades to come.

This wasn't always the case. From 1971 through much of the 1990s, the nuclear sector saw explosive growth, rising from roughly 2 percent of the nation's electricity in 1971 to nearly 20 percent two decades later. But it's plateaued ever since and with dozens of plants facing possible retirement in just a couple decades, it's market share the industry simply hopes to retain. 

If we can stay there, we will be in the best place we can hope to be, says former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, co-chairwoman of the CASEnergy Coalition, an advocacy group backed by the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Three-quarters of the nation's 99 nuclear power plants are already more than 40 years old the oldest, Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, opened in 1969. Having won life extensions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, they're allowed to operate until age 60, and at least a dozen are now weighing whether to try for 80 years. 

"These next 20 years are going to be quite significant in terms of determining what role nuclear has," says Matt Crozatt, senior director of business policy at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the sector's principal trade group. "I wouldn't think every plant would be a candidate to go beyond 60, but a significant number of them would look hard at this possibility."  

They may get some help from the Clean Power Plan, which will require power plants to cut their carbon emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Nuclear remains the nation's largest source of clean energy, providing about 63 percent of carbon-free electricity. Even so, extending the life of a nuclear plant to 80 years is sure to meet intense opposition from residents concerned about safety, as well as deep skepticism from the regulatory commission, despite its reputation for having an overly cozy relationship with industry. 

The five plants that are currently under construction, meanwhile, are in regulated markets, where utilities control the electricity flow all the way from reactor to meter. That means once a plant's construction is approved, ratepayers are generally on the hook no matter the cost. In deregulated markets, by comparison, which comprise about half the areas where nuclear plants operate, investors have proven more eager to buy new gas, solar and wind all of which can be installed more quickly and more cheaply, maintained more easily and decentralized to reduce risk.

The outlook is very cloudy, says Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists and an adviser to Sandia National Laboratories, one of the country's nuclear research centers. These are just very expensive sources of electricity, and very demanding, very challenging at making sure the right safety features are in place.

The growth of U.S. electricity demand has also slowed, from about 3 percent a year before the recession of 2008 to about 1 percent today, further reducing the need for major centralized power projects. In as few as 15 years, if no other new plants come online and existing licenses are not extended past 60 years, the number of operating power plants in the U.S. will plummet. By 2050, with the exception of the five nuclear plants under construction, their number could drop to zero.

But if the future for nuclear looks grim in the U.S., it's far sunnier overseas, particularly in China and India, where the energy demand is huge and both nations are seeking to rein in their pollution. China, for example, has already built more than 20 nuclear plants and hopes to build another two dozen by 2020. And four years after Fukushima, Japan is once again warming to the idea of nuclear. Even Iran, following its nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, announced in July the construction of new nuclear plants. 

On the one hand, it's great for China, great for the world the air pollution there is terrible, Ferguson says. On the other hand, I'm concerned about safety, and there's also the issue of waste and meeting the very stringent construction demand.

Indeed, in the wake of the massive chemical explosion in the Port of Tianjian on Aug. 12, not to mention a long history of construction issues at major projects throughout China, some observers and groups like CASE have called for the U.S. to back American companies such as Westinghouse as they compete for overseas nuclear contracts against what many describe as less scrupulous or at least less diligent rivals from China, Russia and South Korea.

It would behoove us to be very active overseas so that we can try to ensure that the standards are as high as ours, Whitman says."China they're building just four reactors that are using Westinghouse AP-1000 technology already accounts for 15,000 jobs in this country. So this is huge: billions and billions of dollars of potential for us here, even if we don't bring on any more nuclear in this country."

What's more, that construction drive in China and elsewhere may ultimately represent the last hurrah of the nuclear construction industry especially once utility-scale energy storage systems, widely seen as the linchpin for making solar and wind viable over the long term, become more efficient and economical and as global warming continues to worsen.

Elon Musk talks about 1200 kilometer (745 mile) range for Tesla Electric cars in 2020

In a Danish television interview, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company will steadily increase the range of its electric cars over the next few years.

In the interview (the relevant section begins at 6:22), Musk said that Tesla could increase the range of the Model S to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) "within a year or two."

Musk noted that the Model S distance record already stands at over 700 km, although that isn't really achievable under everyday conditions.

Elon Musk interview with Danish newspaper Borsen on Sep 23 says autopilot will be out in a month, and fully autonomous driving in 3 years. It will take a few more years for regulators to allow them.

As far as reliable range in the 600-mile neighborhood, Musk said that it will definitely be possible in 2017, and perhaps earlier.

By 2020, he expects a range of 1,200 km (745 mi) to be achievable.

That's the point when Musk wants Tesla to be selling 500,000 electric cars per year.

At 5% improvement per year just in the batteries, Tesla will get from today's 300 miles of range to 382 miles in 2020, and at 10% per year, Tesla get to 483 miles in 2020. 

Read more » at Next Big Future

Sep 24, 2015

The New Technique That Finds All Known Human Viruses In Your Blood

....story at the Atlantic that profiles Ian Lipkin and his new method for quickly detecting all known human viruses in a sample:Ian Lipkin, a virus hunter from Columbia University, recently received a blood sample from colleagues at the National Institutes of Health. They came from a man who had received a bone-marrow transplant and had fallen mysteriously ill, with evidence of severely inflamed blood vessels. In analyzing a similar case a few years back, Lipkin had discovered a new polyomavirus, part of a family that can cause disease in people with compromised immune systems. Perhaps this new case would yield another new virus. It didn't. Instead, when Lipkin's team ran the sample through a system that they had devised to detect human viruses, they found that the man was infected with dengue virus. In hindsight, that made sense-he had recently returned from Vietnam, where dengue is prevalent. But the thing is: The team wasn't looking for dengue virus. 

"It wasn't what we anticipated, but we didn't have to make a priori decisions about what we planned to find," Lipkin says. "When people analyze samples from people who are ill, they have some idea in mind. This is probably an enterovirus, or maybe it's a herpesvirues. They then do a specific assay for that particular agent. They don't usually have the capacity to look broadly." The new system, known as VirCapSeq-VERT, barrels past this limitation. Lipkin, together with fellow Columbia professors Thomas Briese and Amit Kapoor, designed it to detect all known human viruses, quickly, efficiently, and sensitively. By searching for thousands, perhaps millions, of viruses at once, it should take a lot of the (educated) guesswork out of viral diagnosis.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Sep 22, 2015

Bhopal sister plant: BAYER pays $5.8 million over deadly blast

Bayer CropScience has agreed to pay a $975,000 fine and spend $452,000 on a series of measures to improve chemical storage facilities across the United States over allegations of serious safety violations that helped cause a massive explosion that killed two workers at the company's Institute/WV plant. Bayer will also spend $4.23 million to improve emergency preparedness in Institute and to protect the Kanawha River.


Federal investigators found that safety lapses led to the deadly runaway chemical reaction in 2008. A congressional investigation even stated that the explosion "came dangerously close" to compromising an MIC storage tank 80 feet away. Had the residue treater hit the tank, "the consequences could have eclipsed the 1984 disaster in Bhopal/India."


Environmental groups from the US and from abroad demanded for decades to dismantle the methyl isocyanate (MIC) stockpiles at the plant. MIC killed thousands in a 1984 leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. By then the Institute factory also belonged to Union Carbide and was regarded as the "Bhopal sister plant". After Bhopal, other chemical companies stopped storing large quantities of MIC, switching to making the deadly chemical as it was needed.


Prior to the 2008 explosion the Coalition against Bayer Dangers, based in Germany, introduced several countermotions to Bayer´s Annual Shareholder Meetings demanding to stop MIC production in Institute. However, when the Coalition spoke up on the issue four months ahead of the explosion at the shareholder meeting, Bayer CEO Werner Wenning rejected any need for action. The plant allegedly conformed to the "latest safety standards" and had an "excellent incident rate".


Axel Koehler-Schnura comments: "Highly hazardous substances such as phosgene and MIC do not belong in mass production, and certainly not in the vicinity of residential areas. Ever since the company became established, Bayer has endeavored, by exerting pressure and making threats, to suppress information and criticism – also at Institute. The truth and the interests of humans and the environment are left by the wayside."


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice announced the settlementyesterday. The proposal would resolve allegations contained in a 13-count civil complaint, filedMonday in federal court in Charleston, that accused Bayer of violations that "caused or contributed to conditions that" led to the explosion and "released extremely hazardous substances into the atmosphere."


Flames shot 50 to 100 feet into the air at the Bayer Plant in Institute as explosions rocketed the valley in 2008.


EPA alleged in its complaint that "numerous problems" occurred at the Bayer plant when the company did not comply with its "risk management plan" to prevent chemical releases. For example, EPA said, a new digital control system was installed, but a safety interlock associated with it was not properly engaged at the time of the explosion. Employees were not fully trained to understand or operate the system, and failed to follow procedures for sampling, temperature control and flow safeguards, EPA said.


"The result was an uncontrollable buildup in a treatment unit causing a chemical reaction resulting in the explosion, fire and loss of life," EPA said. "During the incident, the company delayed emergency officials trying to access the plant, and failed to provide adequate information to 911 operators."


"The multiple safety failures that existed at this facility that led to a loss of life, demonstrates why safeguards are necessary to protect people's health and the environment," said Shawn M. Garvin, administrator of EPA's Mid-Atlantic regional office in Philadelphia.


The 173-page settlement document outlines seven "supplemental environmental projects" that Bayer will undertake at a total cost of $4.23 million. The largest of the projects is a $3.1 million "West Sump Expansion" to provide additional storage capacity to prevent untreated chemical process wastewater from overflowing into the Kanawha River during heavy rain events, fire-fighting emergencies and chemical process upsets. Other projects aim to improve communications between plant personnel and local emergency responders during plant incidents, provide better training for local firefighters, and ensure proper handling of hazardous materials at local schools.


In its press release, EPA said Bayer will also take "a series of steps to prevent future chemical releases" in West Virginia, Texas, Missouri and Michigan "by improving inspections to identify potential safety issues and standardize safe operating procedures at its facilities."


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Apple Targets Electric-Car Shipping Date for 2019

Apple Inc. is accelerating efforts to build an electric car, designating it internally as a "committed project" and setting a target ship date for 2019, according to people familiar with the matter.

The go-ahead came after the company spent more than a year investigating the feasibility of an Apple-branded car, including meetings with two groups of government officials in California. Leaders of the project, code-named Titan , have...

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Sep 21, 2015

Volkswagen Could Face $18 Billion Fine Over Emission-Cheating Software

After getting caught cheating on emissions testing by means of software, Volkswagen could face up to $18 billion in fines, reports USA Today. That number is based on the company being assessed the maximum penalty of $37,500 per affected vehicle. That's not the only bad news for Volkswagen, which has halted sales of its 4-cylinder diesel cars; the linked article reports that the violations "could also invite charges of false marketing by regulators, a vehicle recall and payment to car owners, either voluntarily or through lawsuits. Volkswagen advertised the cars under the 'Clean Diesel' moniker. The state of California is also investigating the emissions violations."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Sep 20, 2015

20 PhD Students Dumb Down Their Thesis Just For Us. #6 Is Brilliant.

1. Does music express emotions or just elicit them? Read the next 200 pages to not find out. 
- Welldogmycats 

2. Girls take birth control. Girls then pee out unmetabolized estrogens from birth control. Pee goes to water treatment plant, estrogens not treated, male fish become female fish.
- Altzul

3. Nanoparticles are weird and I accidentally made a bomb and electrocuted myself.

4. People trying meditation for the first time get aroused.
- PainMatrix

5. When I get rid of this gene, it messes the brain up. A lot.
- NeuroscienceNerd

6. Computer AI systems can learn to operate a warp drive and automatically build an instructional system to train people how to do it. My dissertation is probably the only one in existence to reference the Star Trek technical manual.
- DrBiometrics 

7. My experimental drug does NOT cure addiction.
- NotSoCleverPork 

8. Making new magnets from old magnets because we're running out of magnets.
- IAmAHiggsBoson

9. Inpatients with schizophrenia are happier and socialize more in the context of a music listening group. It was obvious before we began the project and we learned nothing.
- Wouldyestap

10. Little things stick together. Here's a slightly easier way to calculate their stickiness.
- Born2bwire

11. There are amoebas living in volcanos, but I never captured Bigfoot on film (I tried).

12. We can take random pieces of bacterial DNA from beaver poop and put them into other bacteria to discover new things, like how to break wood down into biofuels. Yes, I had to dissect dead beavers and handle their poop.
- Geneius

13. This protein looks like it might contribute to asthma. Oh, turns out it probably doesn't.
- Bear_Ear_Fritters

14. I crunch numbers using a supercomputer in the hopes of ensuring a fusion reactor in France doesn't get fried on the inside.
- PhysicsFornicator

15. Two proteins touch each other in a specific place in the developing heart. No idea if it's important for anything.
- Penguinpaige

16. I can make models of galaxies in a computer, but I can't explain why they don't act like real ones. Even if I bash them together or stir them around.
- McMillan_Astro

17. People sometimes think about animals as if they're people. People like those animals a little more than regular animals. Except when they don't. I can't believe they gave me a PhD.
- too_many_mangos

18. Sand washes away, don't build important stuff on it
- Zoidy

19. Why does a coffee stain looks the way it is, and how you can use it to make anti-laser glasses.
- Stockholm-Syndrom

20. You can make antimatter move in strange ways if you set your equipment up wrong.
- DrTBag

Sep 19, 2015

Air Pollution Officially Kills More People Than HIV/AIDs

Even if every country imposes existing air-quality legislation, the death toll caused by air pollution is likely to double by 2050.

smoke-654072_1280Did you know? Mankind's unsustainable habits have far-reaching – and deadly – effects. Sure, you were aware of the toll environmental pollution has on the oceans and wildlife but were you also aware how critical of an in issue air pollution has become?

Every year, 3.3 million people, worldwide, are killed prematurely by air pollution. And it gets worse: By the year 2050, even if every country imposes existing air-quality legislation, that number is likely to double.

Scientists estimate that the outdoor air quality is leading to millions of premature deaths – especially in east and south Asian countries.

In Asia, most of the air pollutants people inhale come from the burning of fuel for heating and cooking. The estimates do not include the number of deaths from indoor pollution, which is estimated to be another 3 million deaths a year, scientists say.

In the United States, the greatest impact is from traffic and power-generation pollution; in Europe, it is mainly from agricultural emissions due to the use of fertilizers, which produces ammonia.

The study, published in the journal Nature, details how millions of lives are cut short as a result of emissions of damaging microscopic particles present in the air which penetrate deep into the lungs.

As Alternet shares, researchers used computer models to estimate the health impacts of a range of outdoor air pollutants such as ozone and tiny particles less than 0.0025mm wide, which are known to exacerbate cardiovascular problems and lung disease.

A woman wearing a mask walk through a street covered by dense smog in Harbin, northern China. Credit: Kyodo News

China a year ahead of U.S. in supercomputers with bid to acquire US semiconductor manufacturer

The next big problem in America...

Within the next 12 months, China expects to be operating two 100 Petaflop computers, each containing (different) Chinese-made processors, and both coming online about a year before the United States' 100 Petaflop machines being developed under the Coral initiative

In a separate move to acquire mastery of microprocessor technologies, China's state owned Tsinghua Unigroup has made a bid to acquire US semiconductor manufacturer Micron Technology for $23 billion, in what could be one of the biggest acquisitions of a US company by a Chinese firm. Read more »

California Becomes First State to Label Monsanto’s Roundup as a Carcinogen | via @Alternet

In a first for the country, California's Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) has issued plans to list glyphosate — the toxic active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide — as known to cause cancer.

According to a "notice of intent" issued last week by the Cal/EPA's California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the effort falls under California's Proposition 65, in which the state is required to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

The state agency's Sept. 4 announcement follows a classification of glyphosate by the IARC as "probably carcinogenic to humans" in March.The same law, otherwise known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also requires that certain substances identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) — the World Health Organization's cancer arm — be listed as known to cause cancer.

"Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides," the IARC said about the herbicide. There is also "convincing evidence" that it can cause cancer in laboratory animals.

It appears that California is the first state in the country to make this assessment about the controversial chemical, according to Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

"As far as I'm aware, this is the first regulatory agency in the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen," he explained in an email to EcoWatch. "So this is a very big deal."

Roundup, Monsanto's flagship herbicide, is sprayed on crops all over the world and is the most popular weed-killer in the U.S. The agribusiness giant maintains the safety of their product and has demanded the WHO retract their report.

A day before California's EPA made the announcement, Monsanto also tweeted this link:

Despite the company's claims, many years of scientific research have linked Roundup to a slew of health and environmental problems, as well as therecord decline of monarch butterflies. In June, France banned the sale of Roundup in garden centers amid concerns of toxicity.