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Wednesday
Feb182015

Approval Pending For New EU Agreement To Further Restrict and Ban GMO Cultivation

Ministers of the European Council have reached an initial agreement, that if formally approved by the council and the European Parliament, will create additional restrictions and bans to those already existing for the cultivation of GMOs within the territories of European countries.

GMO crops. Image courtesy of policymic.com.

If approved soon, the new bans and restrictions could go into effect as early as this spring.

These newly proposed rules would be different from the current regulations for two reasons – they would only be concerned with the cultivation of GMOs and the restrictions would not be based on health and environmental related concerns that are already addressed by current regulations.

The new regulations are designed to give European countries more freedom in addressing socioeconomic issues, including land use and town planning, agricultural policy objectives, and public policy issues.

Among the specific issues will be excluding GMOs from certain areas to eliminate the risk of contaminating conventional and organic crops.

A report from the European Commission talked about needing to give member countries the ability to take actions that would be deemed appropriate so they could “avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in conventional and organic crops.”

The report argued the need to give individual countries more latitude, explaining that certain types of agricultural production such as organic crops are often more costly, and the possibility of losing the associated price premiums due to the unintended presence of GMOs could result in significant economic damages to these types of crops.

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Friday
Jan092015

CDC Warns of Potentially Severe Flu Season and Urges Vaccinations, Especially For Most At-Risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says early data is suggesting that the current “flu season could be severe” and is recommending immediate vaccination for anyone still unvaccinated, especially for those most vulnerable.

The CDC says those at highest risk include children, younger than five years old (especially those younger than two years old); adults ages 65 and older; pregnant women; and people with certain chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart and lung disease, and kidney disease.

So far this year, the seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses have been the most common, and the agency says in past seasons when these viruses have been most common, there has been a stronger predominance of more severe flu symptoms as well as more hospitalizations and deaths.

Another reason for concern is that a number of these viruses have mutated into what are called drift viruses, which means that some genetic changes have occurred to these viruses that may make them more resistant to antibiotics. 

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Friday
Oct312014

U.S. Government Sued By Activists Seeking Endangered Status of Bees Vital To Pollinating Staple Crops

Rusty patch bumble bee. Photo by Headline & Global News.

While most people don’t give much thought, if any, to how important bees are to our lives by pollinating some of our most basic fruits, vegetables, and grains, activists are taking notice and making efforts to stop their declining numbers in the wild, resulting from multiple threats including habitat destruction, pesticides, and pathogens.

To really understand the important role of bees, Achim Steiner, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, says, “The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.”

In the United States, an important pollinator that conservation groups are currently trying to protect is the rusty patch bumble bee, which is an important pollinator of crops including tomatoes, apples, cranberries, blueberries, and alfalfa.

Last year, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation together with the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the rusty patch bumble bee considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

To understand the process, under the law, the Secretary of the Interior is required to make an initial response, within 90 days, of whether or not a petition provides enough information to support a protection request.

If the Secretary finds that there is enough information that a species might be considered for protection, then the agency has up to a year to make a final decision on the protection status.

Then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is legally responsible for listing decisions for species such as the rusty patch. Neither agency ever responded to this initial petition

Earlier this year, the conservation groups filed a complaint with the District Court in Washington, D.C., urging the court to order the agencies to make a 90-day finding and publish it in the Federal Register. A decision is still pending.

The conservation groups explained that among the reasons this particular bee is important is because of its ability to buzz pollinate, which means that the vibrations or buzzing from its wings dislodge plant pollen and facilitate the fertilization process.  

A number of our staple foods such as the tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries can only be fertilized through buzz pollination, and there are very few types of bees can do this kind of pollination.

Honeybees don’t buzz pollinate, and the San Francisco online magazine Bay Nature explains that many of the plants that do produce these staples crops “do not produce nectar, so honeybees ignore them anyway.”

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Wednesday
Sep242014

Michigan Utility To Reduce Emissions From Its Coal Burning Plants As Part of Federal Settlement

The Michigan utility Consumers Energy agreed to a proposed settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department to reduce emission including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter at its coal-fired plants, which were found to exceed allowable levels under the Clean Air Act.

Consumers Energy Coal Fired Power Plant near Bay City, Michigan. Photo courtesy of MLive Media Group.

The agreement will affect the company’s five Michigan coal-fired plants located in West Olive, Essexville, Muskegon, and Luna Pier. Each plant has several coal burning operating units, comprising a total of 12 units for the company as a whole.

As part of the agreement, the company said that it will shut down its seven oldest coal-fired units. These will encompass three units at the J.R. Whiting Generating Complex near Luna Pier; two at the B.C Cobb Generating Plant in Muskegon; and two at the Karn/Weadock Generating Complex near Bay City bordering Essexville.

Consumers Energy said that, “These units will comply with new interim emissions limits until their retirement in April 2016.” In the meantime the settlement agreement will require the company to continue operating existing pollution controls as well as install new pollution control technologies onto these and all of the remaining units to meet current Clean Air Act emissions standards.

The EPA says that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are the two predominant pollutants emitted from the power plants. The agency adds that these pollutants can be converted into fine particulate matter once in the air, which can then be “breathed in and lodged deep in the lungs, leading to a variety of health problems and even premature death.”

The EPA explains that high concentrations of sulfur dioxide can effect breathing and aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Those most at risk include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly. Sulfur dioxide is also a primary contributor to acid rain.

Nitrogen oxide is also a contributor to acid rain deteriorating water quality, as well as contributing to ground-level ozone (smog) and global warming. The EPA adds that children, people with lung problems such as asthma, and people who either work or exercise outside are also susceptible to adverse effects such as lung tissue damage.

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Wednesday
Aug132014

NYC Year-Round Safe Disposal Options For Household Items Containing Harmful Chemicals

In New York State, it’s illegal to throw certain household items into the regular trash because they contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment, wildlife, and human health.

Graphic courtesy of NYCRecycles.

A lot of the items that can’t go into the regular trash include things containing mercury, such as florescent and compact florescent bulbs (CFLs), old fashioned thermostats, and rechargeable batteries.

Alternatively, you might find it interesting to know that you are allowed to throw alkaline batteries into the regular trash.

Standard household alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury – and with the exception of rechargeable and lithium batteries (commonly used for portable equipment) – most batteries pose little risk to the environment if thrown into the trash, says the New York City mayor’s office.

The reason most batteries don’t contain mercury anymore is because it’s a highly dangerous neurotoxin. It can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which adds that mercury can cause severe and potentially fatal damage to the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.

The NIH also says that even very low exposure to mercury can impair the immune system, and exposure to very small amounts “in concentrated forms can result in devastating neurological damage and death.”

With the heightened awareness of the dangers of mercury and the need to limit public exposure, in the 1990s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified batteries as the largest source of mercury in municipal solid waste streams. As a result of legislation and public pressure, the battery industry has removed mercury from virtually all household batteries, making them safe to throw out into the regular trash.

In contrast, rechargeable batteries which can contain toxic chemicals, including mercury, cadmium, lead, and other heavy metals, are illegal to throw out into the regular trash.

NYS’s Rechargeable Battery Law requires stores that sell rechargeable batteries (or products containing rechargeable batteries) take back up to ten batteries of the same shapes and sizes as they sell, free of charge.

In NYC, another option for disposing of rechargeable and lithium batteries is to take them to any of the city’s Department of Sanitation Household Special Waste Drop-Off Sites located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

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