brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

March 5, 2017

Solmali Famine


After withdrawing from Mogadishu earlier this month, Al Qaida-inspired Al Shabaab is placing more restrictions on the movement of people, particularly men, in areas under its control.

In Somalia’s Al Shabaab-controlled Kismayu, witnesses said malnourished children were dying due to the lack of food aid.

Gulf of Aden: A dangerous gateway

Yemen is host to the second largest Somali refugee population, with nearly 192,000. About 15,000 of those have arrived since in January.

They cross the Gulf of Aden on what are often unseaworthy and overcrowded boats. Many do not survive the dangerous crossing.

The agency said it expected more refugees to arrive in Somalia over the next months, but thought they were waiting for calmer seas. The route is also often used by migrants who pay smugglers to get them to Yemen, seen as a gateway to wealthier parts of the Middle East.

At least 6.2 million people in Somalia — or just about half the country — are grappling with the prospect of an acute food shortage due to deepening drought. And on Saturday, Somalia’s prime minister made it clear that the conditions are exacting a stark human cost.

Over a two-day span, at least 110 people died of hunger in just a single region, Hassan Ali Khaire said Saturday during a meeting with the Somali National Drought Committee.

“I can confirm that Bay region in the south and other parts of Somalia are deteriorating rapidly,” Khaire said, “and my estimation is that half of the country’s population has felt the impact of this drought.”

The country already declared the drought a national disaster on Tuesday. As Somalia has dried up, Khaire says the lack of clean water has increased the risks of waterborne diseases, while the ability of malnourished people to fight off those diseases has plummeted.

“It is a difficult situation for the pastoralists and their livestock. Some people have been hit by [hunger] and diarrhoea at the same time,” Khaire’s office said in a statement. “The Somali government will do its best, and we urge all Somalis, wherever they are, to help and save the dying Somalis.”

The United Nations is putting out urgent calls for aid, saying as many as 5 million people need aid in the shadow of a looming famine.

“Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies,” the news service reports. “Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.”

If a full-blown famine should descend on Somalia, the World Health Organization says it would be the country’s third famine in a quarter-century — and the second in less than a decade.

Citing a joint report by the U.N. and the United States Agency for International Development, famine killed about 258,000 people in Somalia between 2010 and 2012.

The U.N. is currently appealing for $864 million in humanitarian aid, while “the U.N. World Food Program recently requested an additional $26 million plan to respond to the drought.” The country has been hit by a severe drought that has affected more than 6.2 million people who are currently facing food insecurity and lack of clean water because of rivers that are drying up and recent years with little rain. Earlier in the week, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, warned the drought could lead to famine. “If we do not scale up the drought response immediately, it will cost lives, further destroy livelihoods, and could undermine the pursuit of key state-building and peace-building initiatives,” he warned, adding that a drought — even one this severe — does not automatically have to mean catastrophe. According to the United Nations, “Somalia is in the grip of an intense drought, induced by two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall. In the worst-affected areas, inadequate rainfall and lack of water has wiped out crops and killed livestock, while communities are being forced to sell their assets, and borrow food and money to survive.” The United Nations adds that “the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) — managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — have found that over 6.2 million, or more than half of the country’s population, are now in need of assistance, up from 5 million in September.”

“We estimate that almost half of the Somali population, 3.7 million people, are affected by this crisis and a full 2.8 million people live in the south, the most seriously affected area. It is likely that tens of thousands will already have died, the majority of these being children.”

The United Nations says a lack of rain over the past few years has created a famine in two areas in southern Somalia: Bakool and Lower Shabelle. Officials say the famine could spread to other areas.

This is the first time since nineteen ninety-one that the UN has declared a famine in Somalia. The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in sixty years. UN officials have said more than eleven million people are in need of food aid. Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when the former government was toppled by clan militias that later turned on each other. For decades, generals, warlords and warrior types have reduced this once languid coastal country in Eastern Africa to rubble. Somalia remains a raging battle zone today, with jihadists intent on bringing down a transitional government which relies on African Union peacekeepers and Western funding for survival.

No amount of outside firepower has brought the country to heel. Not thousands of American Marines in the early 1990s. Not the enormous United Nations mission that followed. Not the Ethiopian Army storming into Somalia in 2006. Not the current peacekeepers, who are steadily wearing out their welcome.

Somalia continues to be a caldron of bloodshed, piracy and Islamist radicalism. There are currently 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in Mogadishu, but they are struggling to beat back Islamist fighters, who are rallying around Al Shabab, a brutal group that is aligned with Al Qaeda and has turned Somalia into a focal point of American concerns on terrorism .

In 2011 Somalia experienced a full-blown famine in several parts of the country, with millions of people on the brink of starvation and aid deliveries complicated by the fact that militants control the famine zones.

The Islamist militants controlling southern Somalia forced out Western aid organizations in 2010, yanking away the only safety net just when one of the worst droughts in 60 years struck. When the scale of the catastrophe became clear, with nearly three million Somalis in urgent need and more than 10 million at risk, the militants relented and invited aid groups back. But few rushed in because of the complications and dangers of dealing with the militants.

American government rules banning material aid to the Shabab complicate aid efforts. Aid officials have worried that paying so-called taxes to the militants who control needy areas could expose them to criminal prosecution.

March 3, 2017

Unreported War Crimes: Yemen Famine


The lack of immediate and unhindered access to people who urgently need food assistance – compounded by a shortage of funding – means that millions of people are in Yemen are on the brink of famine.

Almost 18.8 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes more than 7 million people that are food insecure; that is one in five of the country’s population. The rate of child malnutrition is one of the highest in the world.

The nutrition situation continues to deteriorate – and an estimated 3 million women and children need nutrition support. According to WFP market analysis, prices of food items spiked in September 2016 as a result of the escalation of the conflict. The national average price of wheat flour was found to be 55 percent higher compared to the pre-crisis period.

Humanitarian organizations need to be able to move freely and safely in order to reach all those in urgent need before they fall deeper into crisis.

WFP requires nearly US$950 million in 2017 to provide much-needed food assistance and carry out nutrition interventions in Yemen. It takes four months from the time WFP receives funds until food reaches the country and into the hands of families in need.

For almost two years, the United States has backed—with weapons, logistics and political support—a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.

A recent UN report on the humanitarian crisis and near-famine conditions in Yemen (that encompassed South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia as well) has led to a rare instance of Western media taking notice of the war and its catastrophic effect. But missing from most of these reports is the role of the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia—whose two-year-long siege and bombing have left the country in ruins.

UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has warned that the conflict-driven food crisis in Yemen could become a full-blown famine this year.

O’Brien told the UN Security Council that two million people need emergency food aid to survive and child malnutrition has risen 63 per cent in a year. He said a child under five dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes. Severe poverty, war damage, and a naval embargo by the Saudi-led coalition have all hit food security. Yemen has been devastated by nearly two years of war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.

This man made famine in Yemen is directly caused by a cruel embargo, which is stopping food from entering the west side of the country where most of the 25 million Yemenis live. The loading cranes at the port of Hodeida are unusable as they were bombed by hostile forces in 2015, and road and bridges that allow distribution of food have also been destroyed. Thousands of farms, warehouses including one run by Oxfam, grain silos, food factories, markets, water pumps, have been destroyed in a systematic manner over the last year. Also many lorries attempting to distribute food have also been bombed. Last week there was a 3 day truce in order to deliver humanitarian supplies – on the day before the truce began, the airports of Sanaa and Hodeida were yet again bombed, so that no aircraft carrying humanitarian supplies could land. Fishermen have been repeated bombed off the coast, making it far too dangerous for them to attempt to go to sea. Over 3.5 million people are displaced and living in makeshift tents caused by the aerial bombardment of their homes, aggravating problems caused by the lack of food and clean water.

This has caused a famine, particularly severe in the area of the Tihama, which borders the Red Sea, but a large part of the western area of Yemen is suffering badly. This has been worsened by the decision to move Yemen Central Bank out from Sanaa, the capital, a strategic decision made by Hadi, whom the world describes erroneously as a democratically elected president of Yemen – in fact he was elected in an uncontested election in February 2012 for a fixed two year term as interim president, and it was the ending of his term that started a major power struggle inside Yemen that precipitated a civil war, the Yemen army sided moved against the deeply unpopular Hadi who called in his neighbours to help him gain control of Yemen. Hadi was warned that moving the bank – that had been heroically paying salaries to all ‘sides’ in the conflict that was in itself delaying catastrophe in Yemen – would precipitate starvation of Yemeni people. Nonetheless Hadi moved the bank and salaries to those in the west of Yemen have now stopped. Bank notes that remain in circulation are tattered and becoming unusable.

Horrific pictures of starving men, women and children are now circulating on the Internet. Almost certainly tens of thousands of small children, maybe hundreds of thousands, have already died. These deaths are not included in war statistics and indeed are not being collected. Cholera is now sweeping Yemen as the water supply is drying up and deteriorating, causing further deaths. All of this with little attention from the world’s media, although there have been programmes late in the evenings on BBC and ITV in the last few weeks, and occasional stories in the British press. Despite the desperate situation amazing and inexplicably there has been no official charity appeal in UK. The man made starvation of Yemen is being done silently but steadily, and is now reaching crisis proportions, apparently with the cooperation of world governments.

It is made worse by the deterioration of the health services in Yemen caused by aerial bombardment and embargo. So many hospitals in Yemen have been destroyed (including four MSF hospitals) that many hospital staff are too frightened to go to work, and patients to terrified to attend. Over 58% of Yemenis now have no access to health care. Additionally, around 200 nutritional centres are not functioning due to the war. Many hospitals that are still admitting starving children can only do so if the patients can pay for care because of their desperate economic plight. When treated patients are discharged, they return to starvation conditions in their homes or temporary accommodation. It is hard to describe the terror of experiencing that chilling sound but not knowing where the bomb will land. The people of Yemen live with that horror and uncertainty every day.

The bald statistics state that 14 million people are hungry while nearly 19 million (70% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. It broke my heart to see so many undernourished children. Their skin worn thin and barely covering their bones, they could only make their distress known with thin, reedy cries. They were so weak they could barely stand. For almost two years, the United States has backed—with weapons, logistics and political support—a Saudi-led war in Yemen that has left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.

February 22, 2017

Another Sudan Famine


On 20 February 2017, the United Nations declared a famine in parts of former Unity State of South Sudan and warned that it could spread rapidly without further action. The World Food Programme reported that 40% of the South Sudanese population (4.9 million people) needed food urgently, and at least 100,000, according to the UN, were in imminent danger of death by starvation. UN officials said President Salva Kiir Mayardit was blocking food deliveries to some areas, though Kiir said on 21 February that the government would allow “unimpeded access” to aid organizations.

In addition, parts of South Sudan have not had rain in two years. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Representative Serge Tissot, “Our worst fears have been realised. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive. The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture. They’ve lost their livestock, even their farming tools. For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch.

The reports also warned that about 5.5 million people, half of South Sudan’s population, are expected to suffer food shortages and insecurity by July 2017. According to Jeremy Hopkins, the South Sudan representative for the UN children’s agency, more than 200,000 children are at risk of death from malnutrition in the country.

February 20, 2017



Bird flu is back. Chinese authorities are closing live poultry markets as H7N9 courses through the country, infecting 192 and killing 79 in January alone.

So far, this strain of avian flu appears to have been transmitted only through contact with live poultry, but there’s always a fear it will mutate and start passing between humans. That’s what really scares experts: the possibility of a sudden change that triggers faster spread between humans and leads to a pandemic.

A disease doesn’t count as a pandemic until it spreads worldwide – Ebola killed more than 11,000 people across West Africa before it was brought under control, and that was just an epidemic. The most modern pandemics include the Spanish influenza, circa 1918 (as many as 50 million killed), and HIV/AIDS (35 million dead).

As Chinese officials attempt to stem the latest bird flu outbreak, global public health officials are racing to get ahead of what they call the next “big one”: a disease that will kill tens of millions. It’s all about preparedness, and a large part of that is spotting outbreaks early, so action can be taken to contain any situation before it spirals out of control.

It’s anyone’s guess when and where the next major epidemic – or pandemic – might emerge. It could be a mutated version of avian flu, or perhaps something completely unseen before, like the mysterious illness with Ebola-like symptoms that struck out of the blue in South Sudan last year.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever

When a patient in Madrid died last September of a disease called Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, there was no shortage of headlines about the “new” deadly virus. But the disease has actually been around for years – it got the first part of its name when first reported in Crimea in 1944, and the second thanks to a 1969 spotting in Congo.

The last two words of the disease, abbreviated as CCHF, speak to the symptoms: fever, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhoea, bruising and bleeding (the list goes on), and eventually death in the second week of illness – about 30 percent of patients (sometimes more) succumb to the virus.

CCHF is found pretty much everywhere south of the 50th parallel north: Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Asia. Humans tend to contract the virus through contact with the blood of an infected animal (itself having been bitten by infected ticks) – vets, people working in slaughterhouses, and farmers are typically most at risk.

Once in humans, the virus can be spread through contact with blood, secretions, bodily fluids, and the like. It has been contracted in hospitals thanks to poor sterilisation of equipment and reuse of needles.

The virus bothers researchers and doctors for a number of reasons, one of them cultural: it’s endemic in some Muslim countries where large-scale animal slaughter is part of celebrating (and feasting) for the holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Doctors in Pakistan, for example, have warned of a potential health catastrophe unless slaughtering practices change, as the feasting holiday will be in the summer for the next 10-15 years, coinciding with tick season and CCHF prevalence.

There are similar concerns in Afghanistan, where public health officials have been warning the public about using gloves and other protective clothing when handling animals.

There is no vaccine for Crimean-Congo, and there is no cure, although antiviral drugs have shown some promise. Nipah virus Tackling drought with emergency aid is not the answer

This one’s got a Hollywood hook: The 2011 film Stephen Soderbergh film Contagion is reportedly based on it. Spoiler alert. In the movie, Nipah causes a global pandemic. In reality, we’re far from that.

But the way Nipah got going in real life is paralleled in the film: Thanks to drought, deforestation and wildfire, large fruit bats that carry the virus found their natural habitats in Malaysia destroyed. So they moved to fruit trees that happened to be in fairly close proximity to pig farms.

The pigs ate fruit contaminated by bat urine and saliva, the virus spread quickly among livestock, and again farm workers were the first hit. This first outbreak in Malaysia in the late 1990s saw the country cull more than one million pigs: a major hit to the economy.

In its first appearance, Nipah killed 105 of 256 known infected people.

But humans can also get Nipah by drinking raw palm date sap, a delicacy in Bangladesh. It is believed to be the cause of regular seasonal outbreaks in that country. When the sap is harvested, it has already been infected by bats in the trees.

Nipah scares researchers because it kills quickly – nausea, fever, and vomiting, patients progress to a coma within 24-48 hours, and then die. It has also spread swiftly from rural areas to cities.

Once in humans, the virus is found in saliva, so it can kill caregivers and family members who share utensils and glasses, or hug and kiss their sick family members. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

Bandied about as the next pandemic possibility for a while, MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, although looking back researchers believe there were cases the same year in Jordan.

It’s deadly – a reported 36 percent of patients die – and looks to have come to humans via bats, again. There’s a pattern here: Bats carry a long list of killer viruses and likely triggered the Ebola outbreak as well as SARS and others.

MERS causes fever, cough, shortness of breath, and in more than one third of patients, death. A 2015 outbreak in South Korea killed 36, and caused serious panic. Thousands of schools were closed, and many businesses were hit hard as people were wary even of going outside, and many others were quarantined.

While MERS is deadlier than its cousin SARS, it is also less contagious. It is spread through close contact with an infected person, and most transmissions have been in healthcare settings. There’s no real evidence that it’s gone airborne – that’s always a major fear – but the possibility hasn’t been completely ruled out.

For now, there’s no reason to panic about MERS, but it’s always a worry during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia, which sees some two million people converge in the country with the most cases.

Like the other diseases mentioned here, there’s no vaccine and there’s no treatment – it’s all about hygiene.

There are plenty of other scary killers out there, and researchers are both tracking the movement of viruses between species and attempting to figure out a key plot point: why exactly a virus goes airborne. One last top tip: keep a particular eye on influenza. It’s not exotic and everyone knows its name, but some form of the flu could easily become the next “big one”. Oh yes, and be careful of bats.

February 3, 2017

Largest DP Camps in the World


The legacies of today’s conflicts can be seen in the enormous populations of the world’s largest displaced persons’ camps. For most these camps are far from a temporary home. With scarce local resources, the majority of the camps depend on external aid for survival.

10. Tamil Nadu State, India
An estimated 66,700 Sri Lankans currently reside in this refugee camp. Another 34,000 live outside of the camp.

9. Nyarugusu, Tanzania
This camp is home to an estimated 68,197 refugees. Nearly two-thirds are children between the ages 10-24. Almost all of them were born in the camp or became a refugee at a very young age. The majority of the refugees are Burundians and Congolese.

8. Nakivale, Uganda
As one of Africa’s oldest and largest refugee camps, Nakivale currently houses 68,996 people. Many of the residents fled the violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is unlikely the refugees will be able to return home in the near future.

7. Yida, South Sudan
This refugee camp is home to 70,736 registered individuals. After a sharp increase in registrations in February, the number of new registrations is slowly decreasing.

6. Mbera, Mauritania
UNHCR is predicting there to be 75,261 residents in this camp by December 2014. The majority of the refugees are from Mali, but many come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cote d’Ivoire, as well. It is expected the influx of Malian refugees will slowly stabilize. The situation in Mali still remains delicate and will not allow for large-scale returns.

5. Al Zaatari, Jordan
UNHCR reports there are 101,402 refugees currently in the camp and that number has been decreasing since February 2014. The majority of the refugees are Syrians fleeing the violence in their country. The camp has faced several violent protests since it opened two years ago, mainly due to poor living conditions.

4. Jabalia, Gaza Strip
The largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps, Jabalia is home to 110,000 registered refugees who fled from southern Palestine. The camp faces extreme unemployment, as well as a contaminated water supply and electricity cuts.

3. Kakuma, Kenya
This refugee camp has been home to South Sudan refugees since 1992. The ongoing violence in South Sudan has prompted 20,000 people to flee to Kenya as of February 2014. Today, 124,814 refugees from 15 nationalities live in Kakuma. The camp is significantly over capacity and suffers from lack of resources.

2. Dollo Ado, Ethiopia
This camp holds 201,123 registered Somali refugees. The population of this refugee camp has been steadily increasing since March 2013 due to drought and famine in Somalia.

1. Dadaab, Kenya
UNHCR estimates that in December 2014 there will be 496,130 refugees in the camp from Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and various other places. They also estimate there to be 83, 660 people seeking asylum from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and South Sudan

July 17, 2016

Protected: Portland, Oregon, Has A Lead Problem. Children Are Paying The Price.

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March 5, 2016

THE AIR WE BREATHE: Dangerous contaminants found hovering over Portland


Studies find much of Portland’s air worse than rest of nation

On a hazy summer day, sometimes you can see toxic substances in Portland’s air. In some neighborhoods throughout the year, you can smell them.

Some Northwest Portland residents report they can even taste the metallic tinge that toxics leave on the palate, and they stay indoors to avoid it, even on hot days.

While toxic air can make your daily life miserable, it also can give you cancer, as eastside residents recently learned after revelations of cadmium and arsenic lurking in their air for who knows how long, much of it apparently from two small glass companies.

Over the past two weeks, many residents have been troubled by a series of maps, generated from DEQ data, showing concentrations of various toxics in the air. However, a map created for the Portland Tribune using EPA data on cancer risks, shows that almost every neighborhood has air contaminated by dangerous levels of carcinogenic heavy metals and chemical compounds.

Though that news is bad enough, it gets worse. On Dec. 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released data indicating that Portland’s air-quality problems extend far beyond the neighborhoods near the glass companies.

The National Air Toxics Assessment shows that Portland’s airshed is bursting with a toxic stew consisting of dozens of heavy metals and chemical compounds, including 49 that are carcinogenic. The assessment was based on raw data collected in 2011 that took several years for the EPA to analyze and compile.

“There are hot spots here and there, but, generally, there’s an elevated risk throughout the Portland area,” says Kevin Downing, the Clean Diesel Program coordinator for Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The EPA looked at human health impacts from estimated exposure to outdoor sources ranging from tailpipes to industrial smokestacks. The agency examined the cancer risk from breathing 40 different toxic chemicals found in diesel exhaust — thought it didn’t assess the cancer risk from breathing tiny particles of soot from that exhaust. That’s because the EPA, unlike many other health and environmental agencies around the world, has determined there are no health studies that it considers suitable for estimating diesel’s cancer potency.

As a result, critics say the EPA is dramatically underestimating the deadly potency of the nation’s — and Portland’s — air.

Even so, says one of those critics, Portland Clean Air founder Greg Bourget, the EPA data still makes it clear that Portland’s toxic air is dangerous throughout the city, and is among “the worst in the country.”

Portland is a major manufacturing center and, as a port city, a destination for freight trucks, trains and ships. Its hilly geography acts as a mixing bowl that traps the dangerous compounds emitted by industry and vehicles.

Portland also is relatively compact because of its urban growth boundary, so many people wind up living close to industrial and high-traffic areas, says Corky Collier, executive director of the Columbia Corridor Association. Collier says he’s not surprised by the latest EPA data showing widespread toxins in the air over Portland, and suspects diesel emissions are a major factor.

It’s unclear how the air quality has changed since the EPA’s 2011 air sampling. But since the end of the Great Recession, traffic, manufacturing and business activity have increased.

More cancer risks here

Some cancers are caused by genetic factors, but the World Health Organization estimates that half are caused by environmental factors, like air pollution, and are preventable. The EPA estimates that Portland’s air is capable of causing between 26 and 86 extra cancers per 1 million people. In six census tracts near the city center, this cancer rate is worse than 99 percent of the country.

The EPA encourages people to use the results of its assessment “cautiously,” due to uncertainties in the data, limitations in computer models, and variations in data collection methods from location to location. Nevertheless, the database shows that the air in only 58 of the nation’s 3,200 counties is deemed capable of causing more cancer than in Multnomah County. One of them is King County in Washington. The 24 carcinogens detected in Seattle’s air are capable of causing an estimated 166 extra cancers per 1 million people. The nation’s worst air, according to the database, is found in New Orleans, where 39 airborne carcinogens are capable of causing an estimated 826 extra cancers per million people.

The database shows that while the heaviest concentration of carcinogens in Portland’s air are found in the downtown area, dangerous levels can be detected in every neighborhood throughout the city. Some of the heaviest concentrations occur along freeways, where diesel trucks belch a brew of carcinogens in their exhaust, as well as downwind from industrial polluters.

The DEQ also has prepared maps of air toxics in the area, though it factors in particulate matter from diesel as a carcinogen. Its maps also show widespread toxic air throughout the city.

Cancer is not the only health concern related to foul air. The EPA detected dangerous levels of another 17 toxics in Portland’s air, such as the acrid industrial chemical acrolein, which causes respiratory diseases like asthma. Portland’s air also is a dumping ground for low levels of lead, mercury and manganese, each of which can cause neurological and cognitive disorders in children, even at extremely small concentrations.

Neighbors target ESCO

Breathing the air in parts of Portland can be a little like drinking the water in Flint, Mich.

The EPA calculates that about 1,315 pounds of lead is dumped into Portland’s air yearly. Much of the lead enters the residential neighborhoods of Northwest Portland, including the Pearl District. The ESCO steel foundry at Northwest 25th and Vaughn Street can dump up to 207 pounds of lead into the air every year under its air pollution permit. Certain fuels and railroad locomotives also are sources of lead contamination in Portland, according to the EPA.

The air in parts of Northwest Portland violates a health-safety benchmark for lead, with unknown health impacts on residents, according to the DEQ. Many doctors believe there are no safe levels of these metals.

ESCO says that its lead emissions stem from recycling old scrap metals, which sometimes contain lead. In the near future, its emissions are likely to go down as the company closes two of its three plants, says company spokeswoman Scenna Shipley. Along with lead, mercury and manganese, ESCO releases 37 different types of toxic air pollution, according to the DEQ, including hexavalent chromium, cadmium and formaldehyde.

From 2009 to 2011, the DEQ attempted to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the air through its Portland Air Toxic Solutions project, which identified unhealthy levels of 14 toxic compounds in the city’s air. But after a lengthy series of meetings, studies and public hearings, the project failed to find any solutions, disappointing many residents who demanded action.

Residents of Northwest Portland have been fighting a battle against toxic air for at least 20 years. In 2012, a citizen group, Neighbors for Clean Air, led by activist Mary Peveto, reached a Good Neighbor Agreement with ESCO, requiring the company to perform “technological fixes,” Peveto says. However, she notes that the agreement did not specify how much pollution ESCO would be required to cut. Neither the agreement nor the DEQ required ESCO to stop emitting lead.

“They wouldn’t tie themselves to a reduction standard,” she says. “They agreed to take technology implementation actions. Then they agreed that we would be able to verify that each of those actions was implemented fully and was meeting intended goals. They would not agree to a number that said we are going to reduce pollution by x amount.”

All of the actions that ESCO agreed to were added to its air pollution permit, which is enforced by the DEQ.

Scenna says ESCO is still working on technological upgrades to reduce air pollution.

“We’re still actively engaged on that front through the Good Neighbor Agreement,” she says.

Chevron targeted

The Northwest neighborhood achieved a more clear-cut victory over pollution in 2001, when two residents, documentary filmmaker Sharon Genasci and her husband, Don Genasci, sued Chevron for releasing massive amounts of toxic vapors from its gasoline storage facilities near the west end of the St. Johns Bridge.

At the time, the DEQ often issued ozone alerts that warned the entire city about unsafe air caused when toxic vapors reacted with the heat from sunlight. These alerts often occurred on days that Chevron refilled its storage tanks with gasoline pumped from river barges. These gasoline transfers from barges allowed massive amounts of toxic vapors to escape. A settlement of the lawsuit forced Chevron and several other gasoline companies to control this pollution.

In addition, the Genascis won a $75,000 judgment, which they spent on monitoring the neighborhood’s air pollution. This monitoring formed the basis of a concerted campaign for cleaner air that continues to this day.

Sharon Genasci, who investigated the air pollution in an award-winning documentary, “What’s in the Air?” today says the neighborhood’s air seems “just as bad as ever,” despite the ESCO agreement.

Until the toxic air is cleaned up, she adds, Portland’s reputation as a clean, environmentally sustainable city is more myth than reality.

“It’s so ironic, so infuriating,” she says of the recent revelations about carcinogens in Portland’s air attributed to glass companies. “Those are the same emissions we were complaining about 20 years ago, and nobody lifted a finger to help us.”


In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its National Air Toxics Assessment, documenting measurable amounts of 49 carcinogenic substances in Portland’s air.

The multiyear study analyzed air samples from 2011, so some conditions have changed since then.

Here are the cancer-causing toxics the EPA detected in Portland air:

# 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, used in laboratory research

# 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane, a banned pesticide

# 1,3-Butadiene, found in diesel exhaust

# 1,3-Dichloropropene, a pesticide

# 1,4-Dichlorobenzene, a pesticide

# 1,4-Dioxane, an ether

# 2,4-Dinitrotoluene, found in polyurethane foams

# 2,4-Toluene diisocyanate, found in polyurethane foams

# 2-Nitropropane, used in inks, paints, adhesives

# Acetaldehyde, found in diesel exhaust

# Acrylamide, used to manufacture various polymers

# Acrylonitrile, used to manufacture plastics

# Allyl chloride, an alkylating agent

# Arsenic compounds, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO emissions

# Benzene, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO emissions

# Benzidine, used to produce dyes

# Benzyl chloride, a plasticizer

# Beryllium compounds, found in diesel exhaust

# Bis (2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, found in diesel exhaust

# Bromoform, a solvent

# Cadmium compounds, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Carbon tetrachloride, found in diesel exhaust

# Chloroprene, used to produce synthetic rubber

# Chromium vi (hexavalent), found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Epichlorohydrin, used to produce glycerol

# Ethylbenzene, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylene dibromide, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylene dichloride, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylene oxide, found in diesel exhaust

# Ethylidene dichloride, a solvent

# Formaldehyde, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Hexachlorobenzene, found in diesel exhaust

# Hexachlorobutadiene, used as a solvent

# Hydrazine, used in specialty fuels

# Methyl tert-butyl ether, found in diesel exhaust

# Methylene chloride, found in diesel exhaust

# Naphthalene, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Nickel compounds, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Nitrobenzene, found in diesel exhaust

# O-toluidine, found in diesel exhaust

# PAH/POM, found in diesel exhaust, ESCO’s emissions

# Pentachlorophenol, a fungicide

# PCBs, used in coolant fluids

# Propylene oxide, used in polyurethane plastics

# Tetrachloroethylene, used in dry-cleaning

# Trichloroethylene, a solvent

# Vinyl chloride, used to produce pvc

Malaria: quinine-spiked liqueurs

Filed under: culture,disease/health — admin @ 8:47 am

Shaken with splash of malaria drug, please. The original James Bond martini is made with gin, vodka and Kina Lillet, a French aperitif wine flavored with a smidge of the anti-malaria drug quinine

As you probably know, tonic is simply carbonated water mixed with quinine, a bitter compound that just happens to cure a malaria infection, albeit not so well.

Many modern day liqueurs like Campari and Pimm’s contain quinine. And absinthe — that anise-flavored spirit with a nasty reputation — also has a history with malaria.

Absinthe gets its bitter flavor and alleged psychedelic properties from wormwood, a shrub that’s been around since the dinosaurs. Coincidentally, the most powerful malaria drug we have today also comes from a type of wormwood found in China. More on that later. Dubonnet is a French liqueur made wine, herbs and quinine. Joseph Dubonnet concocted the beverage as way to make troops take their malaria medication.

Dubonnet is a French liqueur made wine, herbs and quinine. Joseph Dubonnet concocted the beverage as way to make troops take their malaria medication.

So how in the heck did all these malaria drugs get mixed in with our mixology?

Let’s start with the classic: quinine. The bitter compound comes from the bark of the cinchona tree (pronounced sin-KO-neh) in the Andes Mountains of South America.

It’s unknown who discovered the fever-curing properties of the cinchona bark, but according to the Kew Royalty Botanical Gardens, Jesuit missionaries figured it out by about 1650, and soon it became the front-line defense for malaria in Europe (which at the time was treated with all kinds of barbaric approaches, like limb amputations and bloodletting).

By the late 1800s, the Dutch were growing the cinchona tree on the island of Java in Indonesia to meet the high-demand for quinine back in Europe, where monks and pharmacists were using the bark to make medicinal tonics. Herb liqueurs all started this way.

Apothecaries would soak the herbs and wood in alcohol to extract out the active ingredients and preserve them. Then you add a little bit of sugar to make it taste better, and you have a liqueur.

Pharmacists and chemists were making concoctions like this for just about every ailment: stomach aches, constipation, kidney stones and even alcohol-induced liver failure.

For malaria, they’d simply add cinchona to the elixirs.

Some of these quinine-spiked liqueurs are still around today, and the malaria drug gives them a characteristic bitter flavor.

There’s Lillet, a French aperitif that goes into James Bond’s famous martini: “Three parts of Gordon’s gin to one part vodka and a half measure of Kina Lillet,” he says in Casino Royale.

There’s the Italian Cocchi Americano, which is an essential component of the Corpse Reviver, one of the first cocktails designed to cure a hangover.

And, then there’s Dubonnet‚ a sweet, quinine-flavored aperitif beloved by both the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II. And, in the movie The Way We Were, Barbara Streisand drank Dubonnet over ice as Katie Morosky.

Often mistaken as an ad for absinthe, the 1906 poster actually promotes Maruin Quina, a French aperitif made with white wine infused with cherries, citrus and quinine.

Dubonnet also shares historical roots with the gin and tonic. They were both concocted as a way to get soldiers to take their malaria medication. Dubonnet helped French troops in North Africa get their quinine while British officers in India cut its bitter taste with gin, carbonated water and twist of lime.

So what about absinthe?

While Europeans and South Americans were messing around with cinchona and quinine, the Chinese had an even more powerful malaria drug. Chinese doctors have been treating malaria with a tea made from sweet wormwood, or qinghao, for thousands of years. They’d soak the shrub in water and then wring it out to extract the active ingredients. In the 1960s, Chairman Mao wanted a magic bullet to stop malaria among soldiers in North Vietnam. So he enlisted top scientists to find a new malaria drug from herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.

It took 14 years and over 50 scientists, but finally the scientists isolated a potent anti-malarial compound from sweet wormwood. It’s called artemisinin, and we still use it today.

But a note of caution‚ artemisinin isn’t found in the European wormwood used in absinthe, so a drink of that liqueur wouldn’t help with a malaria infection.

August 1, 2014

UCSF study questions role of skin pigment in enabling survival at higher latitudes

Filed under: culture,disease/health — admin @ 4:51 am

The popular idea that Northern Europeans developed light skin to absorb more UV light so they could make more vitamin D vital for healthy bones and immune function is questioned by UC San Francisco researchers in a new study published online in the journal Evolutionary Biology. Ramping up the skin’s capacity to capture UV light to make vitamin D is indeed important, according to a team led by Peter Elias, MD, a UCSF professor of dermatology. However, Elias and colleagues concluded in their study that changes in the skin’s function as a barrier to the elements made a greater contribution than alterations in skin pigment in the ability of Northern Europeans to make vitamin D.

Elias’ team concluded that genetic mutations compromising the skin’s ability to serve as a barrier allowed fair-skinned Northern Europeans to populate latitudes where too little ultraviolet B (UVB) light for vitamin D production penetrates the atmosphere.

Among scientists studying human evolution, it has been almost universally assumed that the need to make more vitamin D at Northern latitudes drove genetic mutations that reduce production of the pigment melanin, the main determinant of skin tone, according to Elias.

“At the higher latitudes of Great Britain, Scandinavia and the Baltic States, as well as Northern Germany and France, very little UVB light reaches the Earth, and it’s the key wavelength required by the skin for vitamin D generation,” Elias said.

“While is seems logical that the loss of the pigment melanin would serve as a compensatory mechanism, allowing for more irradiation of the skin surface and therefore more vitamin D production, this hypothesis is flawed for many reasons,” he continued. “For example, recent studies show that dark-skinned humans make vitamin D after sun exposure as efficiently as lightly-pigmented humans, and osteoporosis which can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency is less common, rather than more common, in darkly-pigmented humans.”

Furthermore, evidence for a south to north gradient in the prevalence of melanin mutations is weaker than for this alternative explanation explored by Elias and colleagues.

In earlier research, Elias began studying the role of skin as a barrier to water loss. He recently has focused on a specific skin-barrier protein called filaggrin, which is broken down into a molecule called urocanic acid the most potent absorber of UVB light in the skin, according to Elias. “It’s certainly more important than melanin in lightly-pigmented skin,” he said.

In their new study, the researchers identified a strikingly higher prevalence of inborn mutations in the filaggrin gene among Northern European populations. Up to 10 percent of normal individuals carried mutations in the filaggrin gene in these northern nations, in contrast to much lower mutation rates in southern European, Asian and African populations.

Moreover, higher filaggrin mutation rates, which result in a loss of urocanic acid, correlated with higher vitamin D levels in the blood. Latitude-dependent variations in melanin genes are not similarly associated with vitamin D levels, according to Elias. This evidence suggests that changes in the skin barrier played a role in Northern European’s evolutionary adaptation to Northern latitudes, the study concluded.

Yet, there was an evolutionary tradeoff for these barrier-weakening filaggrin mutations, Elias said. Mutation bearers have a tendency for very dry skin, and are vulnerable to atopic dermatitis, asthma and food allergies. But these diseases have appeared only recently, and did not become a problem until humans began to live in densely populated urban environments, Elias said.

The Elias lab has shown that pigmented skin provides a better skin barrier, which he says was critically important for protection against dehydration and infections among ancestral humans living in sub-Saharan Africa. But the need for pigment to provide this extra protection waned as modern human populations migrated northward over the past 60,000 years or so, Elias said, while the need to absorb UVB light became greater, particularly for those humans who migrated to the far North behind retreating glaciers less than 10,000 years ago.

The data from the new study do not explain why Northern Europeans lost melanin. If the need to make more vitamin D did not drive pigment loss, what did? Elias speculates that, “Once human populations migrated northward, away from the tropical onslaught of UVB, pigment was gradually lost in service of metabolic conservation. The body will not waste precious energy and proteins to make proteins that it no longer needs.”

July 31, 2014

Ecojustice research finds that Canada has no standard for more than 100 substances regulated by at least one other comparison country

Filed under: canada,disease/health,resource — admin @ 6:38 am

TORONTO – July 16 – Canada’s drinking water standards continue to lag behind international benchmarks and are at risk of falling even farther behind, according to the findings of a new investigative report, Waterproof: Standards, released by Ecojustice today. “There is no reason Canadians shouldn’t have the safest drinking water the world,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer and report co-author Randy Christensen. “But regulatory efforts required to create, implement and maintain strong, world-class standards are sorely lacking.” Waterproof: Standards examined the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality — which determine the maximum allowable level of contaminants in water considered safe for human use and consumption — and compared them with corresponding frameworks in the United States, European Union, and Australia, as well as standards recommended by the World Health Organization.

The findings are troubling. While Canada has, or is tied for, the strongest standard in 24 instances, it has, or is tied for, the weakest standard for 27 substances. And in 105 other cases, Canada has no standard where at least one other comparison country does.

For instance, the standard for the commonly used pesticide 2,4-D is 1.5-3 times stronger in other countries than it is in Canada. Long-term exposure to this substance, a common herbicide that can be detected in surface water across Canada, has been linked to liver, kidney and nervous system damage. In another troubling case, Canada has no standard for styrene, a possible human carcinogen, even though it is regulated by the United States, Australia and the World Health Organization. Also noteworthy is the fact that Canada has no microbiological water treatment standard– advanced filtration or equivalent technology — that provides protection, in addition to the microbiological water quality standards, from waterborne pathogens, such as E.coli. “Access to clean, safe drinking water is human health and rights issue,” said Ecojustice senior scientist and report co-author Dr. Elaine MacDonald. “Without a concerted effort to improve Canada’s deficient water standards, legislators will continue to put the health of Canadians at risk and perpetuate inequity in water quality across the country, particularly in rural and First Nations communities.”

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