Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Physics-based analysis of the world economy"


A recent analysis of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries has revealed that the world's finances are in the hands of just a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations. This is the first clear picture of the global concentration of financial power, and point out the worldwide financial system's vulnerability as it stood on the brink of the current economic crisis.

A pair of physicists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich did a physics-based analysis of the world economy as it looked in early 2007. Stefano Battiston and James Glattfelder extracted the information from the tangled yarn that links 24,877 stocks and 106,141 shareholding entities in 48 countries, revealing what they called the "backbone" of each country's financial market. These backbones represented the owners of 80 percent of a country's market capital, yet consisted of remarkably few shareholders.

"You start off with these huge national networks that are really big, quite dense," Glattfelder said. “From that you're able to ... unveil the important structure in this original big network. You then realize most of the network isn't at all important."

The most pared-down backbones exist in Anglo-Saxon countries, including the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. Paradoxically; these same countries are considered by economists to have the most widely-held stocks in the world, with ownership of companies tending to be spread out among many investors. But while each American company may link to many owners, Glattfelder and Battiston's analysis found that the owners varied little from stock to stock, meaning that comparatively few hands are holding the reins of the entire market.

“If you would look at this locally, it's always distributed,” Glattfelder said. “If you then look at who is at the end of these links, you find that it's the same guys, [which] is not something you'd expect from the local view.”

Matthew Jackson, an economist from Stanford University in Calif. who studies social and economic networks, said that Glattfelder and Battiston's approach could be used to answer more pointed questions about corporate control and how companies interact.

"It's clear, looking at financial contagion and recent crises, that understanding interrelations between companies and holdings is very important in the future,” he said. "Certainly people have some understanding of how large some of these financial institutions in the world are, there's some feeling of how intertwined they are, but there's a big difference between having an impression and actually having ... more explicit numbers to put behind it."

Based on their analysis, Glattfelder and Battiston identified the ten investment entities who are “big fish” in the most countries. The biggest fish was the Capital Group Companies, with major stakes in 36 of the 48 countries studied. In identifying these major players, the physicists accounted for secondary ownership -- owning stock in companies who then owned stock in another company -- in an attempt to quantify the potential control a given agent might have in a market.

The results raise questions of where and when a company could choose to exert this influence, but Glattfelder and Battiston are reluctant to speculate.

"In this kind of science, complex systems, you're not aiming at making predictions [like] ... where the tennis ball will be at given place in given time," Battiston said. “What you're trying to estimate is … the potential influence that [an investor] has."

Glattfelder added that the internationalism of these powerful companies makes it difficult to gauge their economic influence. "[With] new company structures which are so big and spanning the globe, it's hard to see what they're up to and what they're doing,” he said. Large, sparse networks dominated by a few major companies could also be more vulnerable, he said. "In network speak, if those nodes fail, that has a big effect on the network."

A Hot August in Australia

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

...The Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that this is almost certainly going to be the hottest August on record by a big margin.

Temperature records across NSW and Queensland were smashed by three degrees or more this week.

The winter heatwave is ''highly abnormal'', according to a special climate statement released by the bureau yesterday.

Hot, stagnant air in central Australia, which accumulated over the past few weeks because no southerly winds emerged to blow it away, is the cause of the record highs on the coast.

''We would normally see these surges of cooler air coming through to disperse it, but that has not been happening this year,'' said Dr Blair Trewin of the National Climate Centre. ''Then … a westerly was dragging the hot air to the coast.''

A new NSW August record of 36.3 degrees, set at Mungindi, near Moree, on Monday, was broken in the same town the next day, when the thermometer tipped 37.8 degrees.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Plastics in oceans...release hazardous chemicals"

From the American Chemical Society:

In the first study to look at what happens over the years to the billions of pounds of plastic waste floating in the world’s oceans, scientists are reporting that plastics — reputed to be virtually indestructible — decompose with surprising speed and release potentially toxic substances into the water.

Reporting here today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the researchers termed the discovery “surprising.” Scientists always believed that plastics in the oceans were unsightly, but a hazard mainly to marine animals that eat or become ensnared in plastic objects.

“Plastics in daily use are generally assumed to be quite stable,” said study lead researcher Katsuhiko Saido, Ph.D. “We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future.”

He said that polystyrene begins to decompose within one year, releasing components that are detectable in the parts-per-million range. Those chemicals also decompose in the open water and inside marine life. However, the volume of plastics in the ocean is increasing, so that decomposition products remain a potential problem.

Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy, Nihon University, Chiba, Japan, said his team found that when plastic decomposes it releases potentially toxic bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer into the water, causing additional pollution. Plastics usually do not break down in an animal’s body after being eaten. However, the substances released from decomposing plastic are absorbed and could have adverse effects. BPA and PS oligomer are sources of concern because they can disrupt the functioning of hormones in animals and can seriously affect reproductive systems.

Some studies suggest that low-level exposure to BPA released from certain plastic containers and the linings of cans may have adverse health effects.

Saido described a new method to simulate the breakdown of plastic products at low temperatures, such as those found in the oceans. The process involves modeling plastic decomposition at room temperature, removing heat from the plastic and then using a liquid to extract the BPA and PS oligomer. Typically, he said, Styrofoam is crushed into pieces in the ocean and finding these is no problem. But when the study team was able to degrade the plastic, it discovered that three new compounds not found in nature formed. They are styrene monomer (SM), styrene dimer (SD) and styrene trimer (ST). Styrene is a suspected human carcinogen. BPA ands PS oligomer are not found naturally and, therefore, must have been created through the decomposition of the plastic, he said. Trimer yields SM and SD when it decomposes from heat, so trimer also threatens living creatures.

Funding for Saido’s research came from Nihon University.

High-fructose corn syrup & Colony Collapse Disorder

From Eurekalert:

Heat forms potentially harmful substance in high-fructose corn syrup

Researchers have established the conditions that foster formation of potentially dangerous levels of a toxic substance in the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) often fed to honey bees. Their study, which appears in the current issue of ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, could also help keep the substance out of soft drinks and dozens of other human foods that contain HFCS. The substance, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), forms mainly from heating fructose.

In the new study, Blaise LeBlanc and Gillian Eggleston and colleagues note HFCS's ubiquitous usage as a sweetener in beverages and processed foods. Some commercial beekeepers also feed it to bees to increase reproduction and honey production. When exposed to warm temperatures, HFCS can form HMF and kill honeybees. Some researchers believe that HMF may be a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease that has killed at least one-third of the honeybee population in the United States.

The scientists measured levels of HMF in HFCS products from different manufacturers over a period of 35 days at different temperatures. As temperatures rose, levels of HMF increased steadily. Levels jumped dramatically at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. "The data are important for commercial beekeepers, for manufacturers of HFCS, and for purposes of food storage. Because HFCS is incorporated as a sweetener in many processed foods, the data from this study are important for human health as well," the report states. It adds that studies have linked HMF to DNA damage in humans. In addition, HMF breaks down in the body to other substances potentially more harmful than HMF.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Atrazine in the Water - Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kansas


Americans use 80 million pounds of atrazine on their crops and it is affecting more than crops, Hayes said. Even though the EPA has approved its use in the United States, he pointed out that it is not used in Europe or other places...

During his presentation, Hayes showed pictures of dissected deformed frogs, including one with two sets of testes and ovaries.

“This is not normal,” he said. “They should not have both testes and ovaries.”

Atrazine, he said, turns on an enzyme that changes testosterone into estrogen in male frogs. He also showed photos of male frogs growing eggs in their testes.

Frogs exposed to atrazine were also found to have suppressed immune systems and were unable to fight off basic infections or parasites.

“There’s a thought in science of don’t be an advocate,” Hayes said. “I’ve changed my mind.”

Pesticide is playing a harmful role in the lives of frogs, he said.

“When the environment’s health suffers, so will our physical health,” he said.
EPA Fails To Inform Public About Weed-Killer In Drinking Water (8/24/09)

One of the nation's most widely-used herbicides has been found to exceed federal safety limits in drinking water in four states, but water customers have not been told and the Environmental Protection Agency has not published the results.

Records that tracked the amount of the weed-killer atrazine in about 150 watersheds from 2003 through 2008 were obtained by the Huffington Post Investigative Fund under the Freedom of Information Act. An analysis found that yearly average levels of atrazine in drinking water violated the federal standard at least ten times in communities in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas, all states where farmers rely heavily on the herbicide.

In addition, more than 40 water systems in those states showed spikes in atrazine levels that normally would have triggered automatic notification of customers. In none of those cases were residents alerted.

In interviews, EPA officials did not dispute the data but said they do not consider atrazine a health hazard and said they did not believe the agency or state authorities had failed to properly inform the public. "We have concluded that atrazine does not cause adverse effects to humans or the environment," said Steve Bradbury, deputy office director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.

Officials at Syngenta, the Swiss company that manufactures atrazine, declined requests for interviews about the testing results. In a statement on its Web site, the company says that atrazine "poses no threat to the safety of our drinking water supplies. In 2008, none of the 122 Community Water Systems monitored in 10 states exceeded the federal standards set for atrazine in drinking water or raw water."...

Atrazine is sprayed on cornfields and other major crops during the summer months and can run off into rivers and streams that supply drinking water. It is also commonly used on golf courses.

Studies of atrazine's potential links to prostate and breast cancer have been inconclusive. Based on the recommendations of its scientific advisory panels in 2000 and 2003, the EPA has listed atrazine as "not likely" to be a carcinogen but does officially consider it to be a potential hormone disruptor - a risk factor explored by researchers testing animals.

In recent years atrazine has been the subject of intensive debate among scientists about its effects on the reproductive systems of frogs and other vertebrate animals. In some studies, male frogs that were exposed to high levels of atrazine have been documented to grow eggs.

In 2004, the European Union banned atrazine because it was consistently showing up in drinking water and health officials, aware of ongoing studies, said they could not find sufficient evidence the chemical was safe.

State regulators in the U.S. test their local water systems for atrazine a maximum of four times a year, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In 2003, the EPA again approved atrazine for use in the United States but it made some demands of Syngenta for the re-registration.

The EPA and Syngenta negotiated a deal for more extensive monitoring of about 150 vulnerable watersheds. Under that arrangement, the company pays for weekly monitoring and sends the results to the EPA, as well as to the local water companies and most state regulators...

The EPA plans to revisit its rules for atrazine in 2011. Presently the agency requires water systems to notify their customers if the quarterly state tests average higher than 3 parts per billion (ppb) annually. According to the EPA data obtained by the Investigative Fund, cities in four states -- Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas -- had yearly averages of atrazine violating that standard from 2003 to 2008.

In addition, more than 40 water systems in those states showed spikes of atrazine over 12 ppb - which if found in the state quarterly tests would have required the water system to notify the public within 30 days.

In none of those cases were residents notified of the high levels. In fact, the brochures in their water bills - reviewed for this report -- contained misleading numbers based on the state testing.

For example, based on the quarterly tests, residents of Mt. Olive, Ill., were told that the highest level of atrazine in their drinking water last year was 2 ppb. However, the EPA data shows a spike in June of 16.47 ppb. The same year, residents of McClure, Ohio, were told that the highest level of atrazine in their drinking water was 3.4 ppb. The EPA data shows a spike in June 2008 of more than ten times that amount -- 33.83 ppb.

Both of these cities' water utilities received the weekly EPA data directly from Syngenta, but did not report it. Legally, they didn't have to. The drinking water act only requires cities to report data collected by the state. State tests are performed infrequently, so they are vulnerable to missing the chemical spikes that consistently occur around the time the weed-killer is being applied. With weekly tests, such as those ordered by the EPA, it is all but impossible to miss these spikes.

Asked why the results of the weekly tests had not been published, the EPA's Bradbury said "no data is withheld from the public." Bradbury said the information has been posted on the agency's electronic public docket. In fact, the weekly test results are one of the only items on the docket that are not posted on the site.

Instead they are listed as available only through the Freedom of Information Act...

Schafer said he regularly receives atrazine testing data from Syngenta, along with the results from the state, but he doesn't think he is allowed to report it to the public.

That fits with the impression that Kansas state health officials gave Lloyd Littrell, director of utilities in Beloit, about the weekly test results from Syngenta.

"I kept track of those numbers for a couple of years, but I stopped," Littrell said. "The state of Kansas would not let us report the results. We had several conversations about it. They said it wasn't certified by the state or something. I stopped trying. If we can't use it, what's the point of me looking at it?"

According to the EPA data, atrazine spiked above 20 ppb in May 2008, but Beloit reported a high of 2 ppb to the public.

"It concerns me," Littrell said. "If it's an actual health hazard and they know and the EPA knows it's getting in water -- I can't believe they're not doing anything about it."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mercury in South Carolina Fish


Fish in the lazy, blackwater rivers of South Carolina are poisoned with some of the highest levels of mercury in the country, according to a new federal study that reinforces concerns about the toxic metal’s impact on the Southeast.

The U.S. Geological Survey report, the most comprehensive to date on mercury pollution in the nation’s rivers, found mercury in every fish tested across the country from 1998 to 2005. Of those, 27 percent were so polluted they exceeded a federal standard for the safe consumption of fish, the report said.

The study found that largemouth bass in the North Edisto River of South Carolina had the nation’s second-highest concentration of mercury. Researchers took the fish from a stretch of the river near Fairview Crossroads, a tiny community near the Lexington-Aiken county line.

The report renewed fears in South Carolina about mercury-polluted fish and prompted a call for state regulators to redouble their efforts to attack the problem. Mercury can damage the nervous system and cause learning disabilities in developing fetuses and young children.

“This is all coming together to tell us what the mercury problem has really been in this state,’’ said Mike King, a Florence County activist critical of state efforts to protect anglers from eating mercury-tinged fish. “People of all color and persuasions are fishing and eating the fish. And they are ingesting mercury.’’

Rivers in other Southern states, including North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, were also among those plagued most by fish with high levels of mercury, the report found.

Mercury contamination in Southern rivers comes from air pollution that rains back down to earth, largely from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources, the researchers said. The high acid content of Southern rivers, coupled with the abundance of wetlands and abundant rainfall, makes conditions right for mercury to build up in fish, said David Krabbenhoft, one of the report’s authors...

The USGS findings come as the state-owned Santee Cooper power company continues to push for a new coal-fired power plant on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River in Florence County. The multi-billion dollar power plant would release mercury near a river with fish already contaminated by the toxic metal...

Nationwide, from 1998 to 2005, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey collected and tested more than 1,000 fish from 291 stretches of waterways.
While some of the highest levels in fish were detected in the remote blackwater streams along the coasts of Southern states, mercury also was found in high concentrations in the Northeast — and in Western streams where mining occurs. The highest mercury concentrations nationally were in fish in a Nevada stream...

Earlier this year, the Obama administration said it would begin crafting new, tougher regulations to control mercury emissions from power plants after a federal appeals court threw out plans drafted by the Bush administration and favored by industry. The EPA also has proposed a new regulation to clamp down on emissions of mercury from cement plants.

French Seaweed - Deadly Fumes

From TerraDaily:

Mounds of rotting seaweed clogging beaches across northwestern France are emitting a toxic and potentially lethal gas, test results released by the government showed on Thursday.

Tests were ordered on the foul-smelling algae, which green groups blame on nitrates fertilisers used by local farmers, after a horse apparently died from inhaling fumes on a beach in Saint Michel de Greve in Brittany.

Results showed the seaweed in Saint Michel was giving off dangerous levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sometimes referred to as "sewer gas" because it is produced by the breakdown of putrified waste material...

Several points on the beach tested positive for hydrogen sulphide at a concentration of 1,000 parts per million, a level that "can be deadly in a few minutes," the report said...

The build-up of rotting weed on shores in more than 80 towns around Brittany has worried residents and threatened the region's lucrative tourist industry, with part of the coastline already declared off-limits.

Green groups blame nitrate pollution caused by intensive agriculture -- especially among pig farmers -- and have accused the government of turning a blind eye to an "environmental cancer."

"Tyson paying pollution settlement"

(AP) -- Tyson Fresh Meats will pay more than $2 million as part of a settlement over past pollution in the Missouri River near Tyson's Dakota City, Neb. beef processing plant.

The Springdale, Ark., company and U.S. officials announced the $2,026,500 settlement on Thursday.

Prosecutors say that the Tyson plant, which was previously owned by IBP, improperly discharged fecal coliform and nitrites into the river on a number of occasions between July 2003 and March 2004. The high levels of nitrites harmed aquatic life in the river.

The discharges also violated the terms of a 2002 agreement between regulators and Tyson.

Tyson discharges an average of five million gallons of treated wastewater from its Dakota City plant into the Missouri River each day.

"In hot water: World sets ocean temperature record"

(AP) Steve Kramer spent an hour and a half swimming in the ocean Sunday — in Maine. The water temperature was 72 degrees — more like Ocean City, Md., this time of year. And Ocean City's water temp hit 88 degrees this week, toasty even by Miami Beach standards.

Kramer, 26, who lives in the seaside town of Scarborough, said it was the first time he's ever swam so long in Maine's coastal waters. "Usually, you're in five minutes and you're out," he said.

It's not just the ocean off the Northeast coast that is super-warm this summer. July was the hottest the world's oceans have been in almost 130 years of record-keeping.

The average water temperature worldwide was 62.6 degrees, according to the National Climatic Data Center, the branch of the U.S. government that keeps world weather records. That was 1.1 degree higher than the 20th century average, and beat the previous high set in 1998 by a couple hundredths of a degree. The coolest recorded ocean temperature was 59.3 degrees in December 1909.

Meteorologists said there's a combination of forces at work this year: A natural El Nino system just getting started on top of worsening man-made global warming, and a dash of random weather variations. The resulting ocean heat is already harming threatened coral reefs. It could also hasten the melting of Arctic sea ice and help hurricanes strengthen.

The Gulf of Mexico, where warm water fuels hurricanes, has temperatures dancing around 90. Most of the water in the Northern Hemisphere has been considerably warmer than normal. The Mediterranean is about three degrees warmer than normal. Higher temperatures rule in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The heat is most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees above average. The tongues of warm water could help melt sea ice from below and even cause thawing of ice sheets on Greenland, said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado.

Breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land, because water takes longer to heat up and does not cool off as easily as land.

"This warm water we're seeing doesn't just disappear next year; it'll be around for a long time," said climate scientist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. It takes five times more energy to warm water than land.

The warmer water "affects weather on the land," Weaver said. "This is another yet really important indicator of the change that's occurring."

Georgia Institute of Technology atmospheric science professor Judith Curry said water is warming in more places than usual, something that has not been seen in more than 50 years.

Add to that an unusual weather pattern this summer where the warmest temperatures seem to be just over oceans, while slightly cooler air is concentrated over land, said Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the climate data center.

The pattern is so unusual that he suggested meteorologists may want to study that pattern to see what's behind it.

The effects of that warm water are already being seen in coral reefs, said C. Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's coral reef watch. Long-term excessive heat bleaches colorful coral reefs white and sometimes kills them.

Bleaching has started to crop up in the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — much earlier than usual. Typically, bleaching occurs after weeks or months of prolonged high water temperatures. That usually means September or October in the Caribbean, said Eakin. He found bleaching in Guam Wednesday. It's too early to know if the coral will recover or die.

Experts are "bracing for another bad year," he said.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Sea Change"

There is a photo essay at the link

From Mother Jones:

As climate change melts the permafrost, Arctic villages slip into the sea, taking a way of life with them.

Get used to it: real estate falling into the sea. And not just beach houses and seaside time-shares. Think towns and cities. These images of Shishmaref village on Alaska's remote west coast reveal the tip of a terrain melting so fast it will carry whole cultures away with it—rich and poor, polluters and nonpolluters, all vulnerable to the great leveler, the ocean. You think South Pacific island nations and remote Arctic outposts will be the only victims? Wrong. Because no matter what we do on the carbon emissions front in the coming decades, the world ocean is forecast to warm and rise for the next millennium or more. Pictures like these will soon be commonplace.

In Shishmaref, calamity has already arrived. The village of 600 Inupiaq lies on the fragile barrier island of Sarichef, where sea ice forms later each year, exposing the land to autumn storms that carve away 50 feet or more of shoreline a season. Two houses have slipped into the sea; 18 others have been moved back from the encroaching ocean; others buckle from the melting permafrost. Ten million dollars has been spent on seawalls, to no avail. Residents have concluded permanent resettlement is their only option. But considering America has yet to seriously tackle New Orleans' sea-level problems, no one on this distant edge of the Chukchi Sea imagines the $180 million needed to relocate Shishmaref will be easy to come by. And Shishmaref is not alone. A 2004 Government Accountability Office report found that of Alaska's 213 Native villages, 184 are battling floods and erosion, while another assessment foresees that in the coming decades, Alaska will require $6.1 billion to repair global warming's domino effect of fallen bridges, burst sewer pipes, and disintegrating roads. Worldwide, the situation is more dire, more expensive: Oxfam suggests the United States owes $22 billion, or 44 percent—our polluting share—of the $50 billion needed each year for poor nations to adapt to climate change.

"Corn Syrup's Mercury Surprise"

From Mother Jones:

If the specter of obesity and diabetes wasn't enough to turn you off high- fructose corn syrup (HFCS), try this: New research suggests that the sweetener could be tainted with mercury, putting millions of children at risk for developmental problems.

In 2004, Renee Dufault, an environmental health researcher at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stumbled upon an obscure Environmental Protection Agency report on chemical plants' mercury emissions. Some chemical companies, she learned, make lye by pumping salt through large vats of mercury. Since lye is a key ingredient in making HFCS (it's used to separate corn starch from the kernel), Dufault wondered if mercury might be getting into the ubiquitous sweetener that makes up 1 out of every 10 calories Americans eat.

Dufault sent HFCS samples from three manufacturers that used lye to labs at the University of California-Davis and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The labs found mercury in most of the samples. In September 2005, Dufault presented her findings to the FDA's center for food safety. She was surprised by what happened next. "I was instructed not to do any more investigation," she recalls. FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek says that the agency decided against further investigation because it wasn't convinced "that there was any evidence of a risk."

At first, Dufault was reluctant to pursue the matter. But eventually, she became frustrated enough to try to publish the findings herself. She had her 20 original samples retested; mercury was found in nearly half of them. In January, Dufault and her coauthors—eight scientists from various universities and medical centers—published the findings in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health. Although they weren't able to determine what type of mercury was present, they concluded that if it was organic, the most dangerous form, then based on average hfcs consumption, individuals could be ingesting as much as 200 micrograms of the neurotoxin per week—three times more than the amount the fda deems safe for children, pregnant women, women who plan to become pregnant, and nursing mothers.

But the FDA and the Corn Refiners Association, an industry trade group, claim there's nothing to worry about. The group hired ChemRisk, the consulting firm whose scientists testified on behalf of a polluting utility in the lawsuit portrayed in Erin Brockovich, to analyze Dufault's report. ChemRisk criticized Dufault for not specifying the type of mercury her tests had found. This, the consultants said, was key, since mercury poses different risks depending on its chemical form. In its unadulterated elemental state, mercury is relatively safe to ingest—the body absorbs only about a tenth of a percent of it. Inorganic forms of mercury, such as cinnabar, are more easily absorbed and therefore more dangerous than elemental. Organic forms, like methylmercury, which originate from fossil-fuel emissions and build up in the fatty tissue of tuna and other kinds of fish, are the worst; readily absorbed, they can cumulatively damage the brain and nervous system.

Though it provides no scientific evidence to back up this assertion, the FDA says that the mercury in Dufault's HFCS samples is elemental. But the lab that analyzed the samples believes there's a good chance the mercury is organic. The analysts "said in so many words, 'It doesn't look like inorganic,'" says Peter Green, Dufault's UC-Davis colleague who coordinated with the lab. "They would even say it's more likely not the regular elemental mercury."

The corn-syrup industry claims that no HFCS manufacturers currently use mercury-grade lye, though it concedes some used to. (According to the EPA, four plants still use the technology.) It says that its own tests found no traces of mercury in HFCS samples from US manufacturers, including a number of samples from some of the same sources Dufault tested. But hundreds of foreign plants still use mercury to make lye—which may then be used to make foods for export. Already, 11 percent of the sweeteners and candy on the US market are imported.

At around the same time that she published her study, Dufault also learned of a report issued by the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, which found low levels of mercury in 16 common food products, including certain brands of kid-favored foods, like grape jelly and chocolate milk. Researchers haven't proven that the mercury in the foods came from HFCS, but internist Jane Hightower, who coauthored the Environmental Health study, points out that it ultimately doesn't matter how it got there: The FDA has allegedly known about the mercury-contaminated hfcs for nearly four years and "should already have an answer for us based on science and not speculation," she says. The agency says it has no plans for further testing unless additional evidence of harm emerges in outside scientific literature. But the issue has been getting some attention in Congress—a bill proposed in April would require plants that once employed the technology to report how much mercury they used.

Dufault retired from the FDA in January 2008, after the agency began taking her off her field projects. "All of a sudden, they wanted me to sit in the office," she says...

***Corporate Interest / Greed

Democracy Now recently had a segment on C Street and the "Family" (fundamentalist political power brokers). One of the things that came up was the idea that the "Family" saw Capitalism as "God" taking his course. Government was seen as intervention/disruption to "God"s plan.

The facts of the matter are that, in general, corporations working for the interest of the people in power unfortunately ignore what is in the public interest. So it's not in the monetary interest of the corporation to pay for the health care of those with "Pre-existing conditions" or to worry about polluting or their contribution to global warming.

But people working in government (when they aren't focused on being "rewarded" by corporations) can consider causes and effects more objectively. They can consider the ethics and consequences outside of the profit motive.

The reason why corporations that provide healthcare to their employees includes those with "Pre-existing conditions" is because the government requires it. The corporations get some sort of tax break. Of course employees with too many health problems may not be able to work and would lose their healthcare - and would have to pay an exorbitant amount - if they managed to have insurance at all.

I don't know where the "Family" got the idea that people in corporations are somehow noble - following what "God" wants while people in government are all corrupt. There are examples of bad governments - but there are plenty examples of bad corporations, also.

There are plenty of examples where Corporations are only as ethical as they are required by the Government to be.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Antarctic glacier 'thinning fast'"

From the BBC:

One of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is thinning four times faster than it was 10 years ago, according to research seen by the BBC.

A study of satellite measurements of Pine Island glacier in west Antarctica reveals the surface of the ice is now dropping at a rate of up to 16m a year.

Since 1994, the glacier has lowered by as much as 90m, which has serious implications for sea-level rise.

The work by British scientists appears in Geophysical Research Letters.

The team was led by Professor Duncan Wingham of University College London (UCL).

Calculations based on the rate of melting 15 years ago had suggested the glacier would last for 600 years. But the new data points to a lifespan for the vast ice stream of only another 100 years.

The rate of loss is fastest in the centre of the glacier and the concern is that if the process continues, the glacier may break up and start to affect the ice sheet further inland.

One of the authors, Professor Andrew Shepherd of Leeds University, said that the melting from the centre of the glacier would add about 3cm to global sea level.

"But the ice trapped behind it is about 20-30cm of sea level rise and as soon as we destabilise or remove the middle of the glacier we don't know really know what's going to happen to the ice behind it," he told BBC News.

"This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We've known that it's been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this glacier."

Pine Island glacier has been the subject of an intense research effort in recent years amid fears that its collapse could lead to a rapid disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Danish Anticipated Oil Depletion Fuels Green Energy Push

From the Copenhagen Post:

Dwindling oil reserves provide an opportunity for the country to become carbon-neutral, the opposition argue

The opposition is echoing calls from the Danish Energy Agency for the country to become entirely free of its fossil fuel dependency by 2050, reports Politiken newspaper.

In a report released this week, the agency indicated that the country’s oil and gas reserves in the North Sea would run dry by 2018 and 2020, respectively.

The Climate Ministry’s current policy only plans to double the current amount of renewable energy being produced by 2025. The European Union’s overall goals are to increase renewable energy 20 percent by 2020 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount for the period.
But that is not enough, according to Margrethe Vestager, head of the Social Liberal party.

‘Last year’s energy agreement is now clearly not good enough. The opposition is united in its goal of Denmark being free of coal, gas and oil in 40 years,’ said Vestager, indicating the idea is also supported by the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party.

Morten Bødskov, the Social Democrat financial spokesman, said speeding up the process of turning fully to green energy is a necessity in light of the economic implications of the North Sea dilemma.

‘In 20 years Denmark ought to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world,’ said Bodskov. ‘And that means making huge investments and renovations. The financial crisis is in that sense a good incentive for new investments so that we don’t become dependent on importing oil and gas.’

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kids Swimming in Arctic Ocean

TUKTOYAKTUK, Northwest Territories – The Arctic Ocean has given up tens of thousands more square miles (square kilometers) of ice on Sunday in a relentless summer of melt, with scientists watching through satellite eyes for a possible record low polar ice cap.

From the barren Arctic shore of this village in Canada's far northwest, 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) north of Seattle, veteran observer Eddie Gruben has seen the summer ice retreating more each decade as the world has warmed. By this weekend the ice edge lay some 80 miles (128 kilometers) at sea.

"Forty years ago, it was 40 miles (64 kilometers) out," said Gruben, 89, patriarch of a local contracting business.

Global average temperatures rose 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degree Celsius) in the past century, but Arctic temperatures rose twice as much or even faster, almost certainly in good part because of manmade greenhouse gases, researchers say.

In late July the mercury soared to almost 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in this settlement of 900 Inuvialuit, the name for western Arctic Eskimos.

"The water was really warm," Gruben said. "The kids were swimming in the ocean."

As of Thursday, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported, the polar ice cap extended over 2.61 million square miles (6.75 million square kilometers) after having shrunk an average 41,000 square miles (106,000 square kilometers) a day in July -- equivalent to one Indiana or three Belgiums daily.

The rate of melt was similar to that of July 2007, the year when the ice cap dwindled to a record low minimum extent of 1.7 million square miles (4.3 million square kilometers) in September.

In its latest analysis, the Colorado-based NSIDC said Arctic atmospheric conditions this summer have been similar to those of the summer of 2007, including a high-pressure ridge that produced clear skies and strong melt in the Beaufort Sea, the arm of the Arctic Ocean off northern Alaska and northwestern Canada.

In July, "we saw acceleration in loss of ice," the U.S. center's Walt Meier told The Associated Press. In recent days the pace has slowed, making a record-breaking final minimum "less likely but still possible," he said....

Extinction Affecting "Whole Families"/ Clusters of Lifeforms

From the BBC:

Whole "chunks of life" are lost in extinction events, as related species vanish together, say scientists.

A study in the journal Science shows that extinctions tend to "cluster" on evolutionary lineages - wiping out species with a common ancestor.

The finding is based on an examination of past extinctions, but could help current conservation efforts.

Researchers say that this phenomenon can result in the loss of an entire branch of the "tree of life".

The message for modern conservation, say the authors, is that some groups are more vulnerable to extinction than others, and the focus should be on the lineages most at risk.

Lead researcher Kaustuv Roy, a biologist from the University of California, San Diego, focused on marine bivalves - including clams, oysters and mussels. The fossil record for these creatures dates back almost 200 million years.

By tracing this documented timeline of evolution and extinction, the team was able to see the effects of "background extinctions" as well as the mass extinctions, such as the one around 65 million years ago during which the dinosaurs finally died out.

Many species have become extinct during the relatively stable periods between those global calamities.

But even during such quiet periods, the team found that extinctions tended to cluster into evolutionary families - with closely-related species of clams vanishing together more often than would be predicted by chance.

Richard Grenyer, a biologist from Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study, told BBC News that by going "way back into the fossil record" this study provided important evidence of the patterns of extinction.

"Big groups of organisms tend to be similar to one another," he explained. "Look at the large cats for example."

But genetic similarities also mean, said Dr Grenyer, that "a bad effect that affects one of them, will likely affect all of them".
"It's like a casino of extinctions, with the odds rigged against certain groups."...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security"

From the New York Times:

"We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives."
GEN. ANTHONY C. ZINNI, former head of the Central Command, on climate change.

The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.

Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response...

Much of the public and political debate on global warming has focused on finding substitutes for fossil fuels, reducing emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases and furthering negotiations toward an international climate treaty — not potential security challenges.

But a growing number of policy makers say that the world’s rising temperatures, surging seas and melting glaciers are a direct threat to the national interest.

If the United States does not lead the world in reducing fossil-fuel consumption and thus emissions of global warming gases, proponents of this view say, a series of global environmental, social, political and possibly military crises loom that the nation will urgently have to address.

This argument could prove a fulcrum for debate in the Senate next month when it takes up climate and energy legislation passed in June by the House.

Lawmakers leading the debate before Congress are only now beginning to make the national security argument for approving the legislation...

Mr. Kerry said the continuing conflict in southern Sudan, which has killed and displaced tens of thousands of people, is a result of drought and expansion of deserts in the north. “That is going to be repeated many times over and on a much larger scale,” he said.

The Department of Defense’s assessment of the security issue came about after prodding by Congress to include climate issues in its strategic plans — specifically, in 2008 budget authorizations by Hillary Rodham Clinton and John W. Warner, then senators. The department’s climate modeling is based on sophisticated Navy and Air Force weather programs and other government climate research programs at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Pentagon and the State Department have studied issues arising from dependence on foreign sources of energy for years but are only now considering the effects of global warming in their long-term planning documents. The Pentagon will include a climate section in the Quadrennial Defense Review, due in February; the State Department will address the issue in its new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

“The sense that climate change poses security and geopolitical challenges is central to the thinking of the State Department and the climate office,” said Peter Ogden, chief of staff to Todd Stern, the State Department’s top climate negotiator...

Obama released images (hidden by Bush)

I wonder if the new "alarming" melt rates were figured out once these docs were released. This article is from July 17th - Reuters:

WASHINGTON - The United States released more than a thousand intelligence images of Arctic ice to help scientists study the impact of climate change, within hours of a recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences.

In an unusually fast move by a U.S. government agency, the Interior Department made the images public on Wednesday. The academy's report urging this action was released at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

Some 700 images show swatches of sea ice from six sites around the Arctic Ocean, with an additional 500 images of 22 sites in the United States. The images can be seen online at

Changes in the Arctic affect global climate, since the Arctic region acts as an "air conditioner" for the planet.

The Arctic images have a resolution of about 1 yard (1 meter), a vast improvement on previously available pictures of sea ice, said Thorsten Markus of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"These are one-meter-resolution images, which give you a big picture of the summertime Arctic," Markus said on Thursday. "This is the main reason why we are so thrilled about it. One meter resolution is the dimension that's missing."

The next-best resolution for images of Arctic sea ice is 15 to 30 meters, Markus said by telephone. This risks missing small features that can have a big impact on warming in the area.


For example, during the summer months, pools of melted water form on top of Arctic ice floes, and these puddles can stretch across 30 meters. The water in the puddles is dark and absorbs heat, as opposed to the white ice all around them, which reflects heat.

Knowing about these melt pools is valuable to producing models of what might happen in the Arctic in the future, but with images that have a resolution of 30 meters or so, these pools might well be missed. While individual puddles are small, collectively they cover about 30 percent of the Arctic.

"The (forecasting) models do well at capturing the overall sea ice cover in the Arctic," Markus said. "But there are certain processes that we cannot adequately model yet, mainly ... because we don't have enough data."...

The images were derived from classified images made as part of the Medea program, which lets scientists request spy pictures from environmentally sensitive locations around the globe.

Medea scientists asked for intelligence images of Arctic sea ice during the summer melting season, but these were considered unsuitable for public release. Images suitable for release were made, but were not made public until now.

Glaciers Melting "At An Alarming Rate"

(This doesn't really seem like news. I expect the glaciers to be melting at an alarming rate, already.)

From CNN:

U.S. scientists monitoring shrinking glaciers in Washington and Alaska reported this week that a major meltdown is under way.

A 50-year government study found that the world's glaciers are melting at a rapid and alarming rate. The ongoing study is the latest in a series of reports that found glaciers worldwide are melting faster than anyone had predicted they would just a few years ago. It offers a clear indication of an accelerating climate change and warming earth, according to the authors.

Since 1959, the U.S. Geological Survey, which published the study on its Web site, has been tracking the movements of the South Cascade glacier in Washington and the Wolverine and Gulcana glaciers in Alaska. The three glaciers are considered "benchmarks" for the conditions of thousands of other glaciers because they're in different climate zones and at various elevations.

"These changes are taking place in Washington State and Alaska in three different climate regimes," said Edward Josberger, the lead researcher on the study with the USGS Washington Water Science Center in Tacoma, Washington. "So we feel it's definitely something going on, probably on a global scale, and of course, if you look at other such measurements around the world and put it all together, yes, glaciers are retreating and retreating rapidly."

The half-century record contains measurements of the amount of snow that has fallen on the glaciers each winter and on how much ice has melted off each summer. The data give scientists a sense of whether the glacier is getting more "healthy" or losing mass, Josberger said. They also indicate what's happening to mountain glaciers in other parts of the world, the scientist said.

"We feel it's definitely the signature of global change and climate warming," Josberger said.

The melt of glaciers is resulting in higher sea levels and affecting ecosystems and the rivers that emanate from these glaciers, Josberger said. "In terms of water supply available for people, Anchorage is fed by two glacially fed lakes. There are some very strong impacts that could happen."

The rate at which a glacier melts depends on its thickness and mass and, of course, on the temperature. Even small changes in temperature of only one to two degrees can have a significant impact on the environment, according the the National Weather Service.

"We've been using this 50-year record to interpret the changes or the response of glaciers to climate change," Josberger said. "Basically, in the past 10, 15 or 20 years these three glaciers are wasting away. The melting has far exceeded the amount of snow that falls on them in the winter, so they're retreating far up valley. And this retreat is taking place all over the Pacific Northwest and Alaska."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

"King salmon vanishing in Alaska, smokehouses empty"

AP-ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Yukon River smokehouses should be filled this summer with oil-rich strips of king salmon — long used by Alaska Natives as a high-energy food to get through the long Alaska winters. But they're mostly empty.
The kings failed to show up, and not just in the Yukon.

One Alaska river after another has been closed to king fishing this summer because significant numbers of fish failed to return to spawn. The dismally weak return follows weak runs last summer and poor runs in 2007, which also resulted in emergency fishing closures.

"It is going to be a tough winter, no two ways about it," said Leslie Hunter, a 67-year-old store owner and commercial fisherman from the Yup'ik Eskimo village of Marshall in western Alaska.

Federal and state fisheries biologists are looking into the mystery.

King salmon spend years in the Bering Sea before returning as adults to rivers where they were born to spawn and die. Biologists speculate that the mostly likely cause was a shift in Pacific Ocean currents, but food availability, changing river conditions and predator-prey relationships could be affecting the fish.

People living along the Yukon River think they know what is to blame — pollock fishery. The fishery — the nation's largest — removes about 1 million metric tons of pollock each year from the eastern Bering Sea. Its wholesale value is nearly $1 billion.
King salmon get caught in the huge pollock trawl nets, and the dead kings are counted and most are thrown back into the ocean. Some are donated to the needy.

"We do know for a fact that the pollock fishery is slaughtering wholesale and wiping out the king salmon stocks out there that are coming into all the major tributaries," said Nick Andrew Jr., executive director of the Ohagamuit Traditional Council. "The pollock fishery is taking away our way of living."

Since 2000, the incidental number of king salmon caught has skyrocketed, reaching over 120,000 kings in 2007. A substantial portion of those fish were bound for western Alaska rivers. If those fish had lived, an estimated 78,000 adult fish would have returned to rivers from the Pacific Northwest to Western Alaska.

Efforts to reduce bycatch are not new. In 2006, bycatch rules were adopted allowing the pollock fleet to move from areas where lots of kings were being inadvertently caught, thereby avoiding large-scale fishing closures. Then, 2007 happaned, and it was back to the drawing board.

Last April, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the organization that manages ocean fish, passed a hard cap on the pollock fishery. Beginning in 2011, the portion of the fleet that participates in the program is allowed 60,000 kings a year. If the cap is reached, the fishery shuts down. Those who don't participate have a lower cap — 47,591 fish.

The loss of the kings is devastating village economies. These are the same Yukon River villages where spring floods swept away homes, as well as boats, nets and smokehouses. There's no money to buy anything, Andrew said.

"It is crippling the economy in all of the rivers where we depend on commercial fishing for income," he said.

Bycatch plays a role but is not the only reason for the vanishing kings, said Diana Stram, a fishery management plan coordinator at the council.

Herman Savikko, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, agreed. He pointed to changing ocean currents, plankton blooms and even the carnivorous nature of salmon. River conditions could be changing, too, he said.

A lot isn't known about what happens to king salmon in the ocean, Savikko said. "Once the fish enter the marine environment it just is a big black box," he said.

In a good year, Kwik'pak Fisheries L.L.C. in Emmonak on the lower Yukon employs between 200 and 300 people. This summer, only about 30 people have been hired. Kwik'pak is the largest employer in the region...

People & Power - Coal River

People & Power - Coal River Video - Part 1

People & Power - Coal River Video - Part 2

About people in West Virginia fighting for Wind Power instead of the tearing down of mountains - to get energy.


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Sustainability in the Supermarkets (Seafood)

From Greenpeace:

In the third edition of Greenpeace's seafood sustainability scorecard – Carting Away the Oceans – Greenpeace is seeing signs of progress in the supermarket industry. Many leading grocery store chains have begun increasing the sustainability of their seafood operations.

While many supermarkets began to feel the pressure of their customers and the public to do the right thing and be better stewards for the ocean environment, just as many grocery stores continue to ignore both the public and scientific warnings. These pathetic stores remain at the bottom of the scoring, where they belong!

The supermarket chain Wegmans received top ranking followed by Ahold USA, while Whole Foods dropped to third place from its December 2008 first place ranking. Trader Joe’s remains ranked at #17, the worst ranking of the national supermarket chains surveyed. Three regional chains ranked at the bottom....

A seafood industry without fish simply cannot exist. It seems so simple, yet many businesses still don’t understand it. The ocean ecosystem isn’t doing so well. More and more fish are disappearing from the oceans. That’s why we’re here, talking to the industry and buyers and sellers. Environmentalists, seafood buyers and seafood sellers all need to start working together on conserving the ocean and its precious resources, before it's too late.

Marine reserves are a big part of the solution. By setting aside parts of the ocean as marine reserves - areas of the sea where fishing and other extractive and destructive activities are prohibited - so that fish and other marine life can recover and replenish. Globally, Greenpeace is campaigning for 40 percent of the world’s oceans to be declared marine reserves.

Supermarket Lookup

Greenpeace Red List

List of Best Choices:
Arctic Char (farmed)
Barramundi (US farmed)
Catfish (US farmed)
Clams (farmed)
Cobia (US farmed)
Cod: Pacific (Alaska longline)+
Crab: Dungeness, Stone
Halibut: Pacific+
Lobster: Spiny (US)
Mussels (farmed)
Oysters (farmed)
Pollock (Alaska wild)+
Scallops: Bay (farmed)
Striped Bass (farmed or wild*)
Tilapia (US farmed)
Trout: Rainbow (farmed)
Tuna: Albacore (troll/pole, US+
or British Columbia)
Tuna: Skipjack (troll/pole)

Seafood may appear in more than one column
Limit consumption due to concerns about
mercury or other contaminants.
Some or all of this fishery is certified as
sustainable to the Marine Stewardship
Council standard. Visit
Best Choices are abundant, wellmanaged
and caught or farmed in
environmentally friendly ways.
Good Alternatives are an option,
but there are concerns with how
they’re caught or farmed—or with
the health of their habitat due to
other human impacts.


aviar, Sturgeon (US farmed)
Clams (wild)
Cod: Pacific (US trawled)
Crab: Blue*, King (US), Snow
Crab: Imitation/Surimi
Flounders, Soles (Pacific)
Herring: Atlantic
Lobster: American/Maine
Mahi mahi/Dolphinfish (US)
Oysters (wild)*
Scallops: Sea (wild)
Shrimp (US, Canada)
Swai , Basa (farmed)
Swordfish (US)*
Tilapia (Central America, farmed)
Tuna: Bigeye, Yellowfin (troll/pole)
Tuna: Canned Skipjack and Albacore*
Yellowtail (US farmed)Arctic Char (farmed)

"World will warm faster than predicted in next five years, study warns"

From the Guardian:

The world faces record-breaking temperatures as the sun's activity increases, leading the planet to heat up significantly faster than scientists had predicted for the next five years, according to a study.

The hottest year on record was 1998, and the relatively cool years since have led to some global warming sceptics claiming that temperatures have levelled off or started to decline. But new research firmly rejects that argument.

The research, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, was carried out by Judith Lean, of the US Naval Research Laboratory, and David Rind, of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The work is the first to assess the combined impact on global temperature of four factors: human influences such as CO2 and aerosol emissions; heating from the sun; volcanic activity and the El Niño southern oscillation, the phenomenon by which the Pacific Ocean flips between warmer and cooler states every few years.

The analysis shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lean and Rind's research also sheds light on the extreme average temperature in 1998. The paper confirms that the temperature spike that year was caused primarily by a very strong El Niño episode. A future episode could be expected to create a spike of equivalent magnitude on top of an even higher baseline, thus shattering the 1998 record.

Cancer in the Wild

From Newsweek:

In 1999, wildlife disease specialist Thierry Work looked over the bow of his small whaler as it cut through a lagoon on the south side of Molokai, an island in Hawaii. On an emergent rock he saw a listless sea turtle, waiting to die.

"This guy was so weak that he just let us pick him up," says Work, who runs the National Wildlife Health Center’sHonolulu field station. "He was so emaciated that his ventral was completely disked in. You could fill him up with water and use him as a bowl." Like more than quarter of the green turtles Work has plucked from the water or found stranded on Hawaii's beaches, this one was covered with tumors on its eyes and mouth, dying from a poorly understood form of cancer.

Work's turtle is one of a wide array of species afflicted by a range of cancers, according to a paper published in the July edition of Nature Reviews Cancer. "Wildlife Cancer: a conservation perspective," summarizes mounting evidence of human's contribution to carcinogenesis in wild-animal populations across the globe, thanks to man-made toxins dumped into wildlife's natural habitats.

"I am concerned that we as humans continue to impact the environment quite significantly," says Denise McAloose, the report's lead author and chief pathologist for the Wildlife Conservations Society's (WCS) Global Health Program. "As the human population continues to grow and utilize resources and damage the environment, I do believe that we will continue to see the emergence of disease, including cancer in wildlife."

On San Francisco's touristy Pier 39, the incessant barking of male sea lions and their harems of smaller females fills the air. Periodically Frances Gulland, the director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in neighboring Sausalito, receives calls from the pier reporting a sea lion crippled by tumors. Despite huge swelling on and around their hind flippers and anus, Gulland says the animals "mask their pain" in a last ditch effort to elude opportunistic predators. "You see that they have been struggling and struggling."

According to Gulland, 17 percent of the sea lions brought to the center die of renal failure or paralysis, caused when tumors linked to Otarine herpesvirus-1 travel up the genital tact and push against the kidney and spine. According to the Nature Reviews Cancer article, sea lions that died of genital carcinoma had an 85 percent higher concentration of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their system than other sea lions. (PCBs are toxic compounds used in coolants and electrical transformers.) Gulland points out that blubber samples of sea lions who died of cancer also show high concentrations of the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), in part because many are born near the Channel Islands where 1,700 tons of the toxin were dumped prior to its ban in 1972.

In the icy waters of Canada's St. Lawrence Estuary, where researchers have been studying the local population of Beluga whales for decades, the connection between contamination and cancer is stark. The Saguenay River, which flows into the St. Lawrence Estuary, is lined with the smoking stacks of aluminum smelters, heavy producers of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are toxic compounds formed by the incomplete burning of anything carbon based, and are long-proven carcinogens in both man and beast. Not surprisingly, the humans working the smelters along the river have shown high rates of lung cancer, while those in the vicinity who drank from taps supplied with surface water developed stomach and intestinal cancer.

Out in the estuary, researchers note a similar trend among the dead Belugas found beached or drifting out to sea. Research published in a 2002 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives found that the second leading cause of death (in 18 percent of the Beluga carcasses) was cancer, largely of the gut. That fits with the animal's feeding patterns. Belugas run their wide mouths along the sandy estuary floor, eating invertebrates like the blue mussel. The concentration of the PAH benzo[a]pyrene was 200 times higher in blue mussels in the Sanguenay River portion of the Beluga habitat than in adjacent areas.

The Belugas of Quebec are considered an endangered species, brought down by environmental pollution. The devils of Tasmania are similarly at risk, but for much different reasons.

A contagious cancer and the Tasmanian devil's penchant for fighting may be the species' death knell. In the 1990s the devil population was estimated at 150,000; by 1996 the population had been halved. The killer: devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), which affects 65 percent of the remaining population and has an unflinching mortality rate of 100 percent..

The good news for animals suffering from pollution-induced cancer is that when contaminants are taken out of the environment, some species have shown marked drops in carcinogenesis. For example, catfish living in Ohio's Black River had cancer rates ranging from 22 percent to 39 percent in the early 1980s. The disease killed virtually all fish before they reached five years of age. After a steel plant's coking facility closed in 1983, PAH levels dropped significantly; cancer rates dropped 75 percent and the amount of fish living past five years has tripled....