Ebola Crisis Deepens Outside Outbreak Zone

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Health officials on Sunday reported a Texas health care workers tested positive for Ebola after caring for a hospitalized patient who died of the virus even though she wore full protective gear, making it the first known case of the disease being contracted or transmitted in the U.S. the Associated Press reported, State health officials: 2nd Ebola case in Texas. Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the diagnosis shows there was a clear breach of safety protocol and all those who treated Thomas Eric Duncan are now considered potentially exposed. The worker wore a gown, gloves, mask and shield while she cared for Duncan during his second visit to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, said Dr. Daniel Varga of Texas Health Resources, which runs the hospital. Frieden said the worker has not been able to identify a specific breach of protocol that might have led to her being infected. Duncan came to the U.S. from Liberia to visit family on Sept. 20 and first sought medical care for fever and abdominal pain on Sept. 25. He told the nurse he had been to Africa, but was sent home and returned Sept.28 when he was placed in isolation due to a suspicion of Ebola. Unfortunately, he died on Wednesday. The virus that has killed more than 4,000 people with most being in West Africa has hit Liberia the hardest along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, the World Health Organization figures published Friday reports. Texas health officials have been closely monitoring nearly 50 people who had or may have had close contact with Duncan in the days after he started showing symptoms. The health care worker reported a fever Friday night as part of a self-monitoring regimen required by the CDC, Varga said. A preliminary state test showed the worker was positive late Saturday and the CDC confirmed the result Sunday. Varga said another person is in isolation, and the hospital has stopped accepting new emergency room patients. Frieden said officials are now evaluating and will monitor any workers who may have been exposed while Duncan was in the hospital. Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said: “We knew a second case could be a reality, and we’ve been preparing for this possibility. We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread.” Dallas officials knocked on doors, made automated phone calls and passed out fliers to notify people within a four-block radius of the health care worker’s apartment complex about the situation, though they said there was no reason for neighbors to be concerned. Dallas police officers stood guard outside the complex Sunday and barred people from entering. Officials said there was information that a pet was inside the health care worker’s apartment, but they do not believe the animals has contracted the disease. Frieden on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” on CBS that the CDC will investigate how workers took off protective gear and look at dialysis and incubation where tubes are inserted into a patient’s airway so a ventilator can help them breathe as both procedures can spread infectious material. A Spanish nurse assistant, who cared for a missionary priest at a Madrid hospital, recently became the first health care worker infected outside West Africa during the ongoing outbreak. More than 370 health care workers in West Africa have fallen ill or died since the epidemic began earlier this year. Meanwhile, an American video journalist, 33 year old Ashoka Mukpo, for a second day showed modest improvement after contracting Ebola, according to Dr. Phil Smith, the director of the Nebraska Medical Center’s 10 bed isolation unit. The Associate Press reports, Ebola patient shows modest improvement for 2nd day, the patient from Providence, Rhode Island, is the second Ebola patient treated at the Omaha hospital. He’s receiving an experimental Ebola drug called brincidofovir and IV fluids similar to the treatment Ebola patient Rick Sacra received during his three weeks there. Mukpo became infected while working as a freelance cameraman for Vice News, NBC News and other media outlets. He returned to Liberia in early September to help highlight the toll of the Ebola outbreak. Ryan Gorman reported Monday, Family ID’s Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola from patient who died, the nurse who contracted Ebola was identified by here family as Nina Pham, 26, of Fort Worth, by here family members. Duncan died only days before Pham’s diagnosis on Sunday after seeing a doctor for a low grade fever. Frieden on Sunday said, “Unfortunately, it is possible in the coming days we will see additional cases of Ebola. This is because the health care workers who cared for this individual may have had a breach of the same nature.” Pham, a 2010 TCU graduate, was not one of the 48 people under observation by the CDC, a source told the Dallas Morning News. News of Pham’s identity came one day after images of cleaning crews scouring her apartment were made public. It is not known if the same company used to clean the apartment Thomas Duncan was staying at was also used for Pham’s residence. Pham is in stable condition. About 70 staff members at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital were involved in the care of Thomas Eric Duncan after he was hospitalized, including a nurse now being treated for the same Ebola virus that killed the Liberian man who was visiting Dallas, according to medical records his family provided to The Associated Press. Until now, the CDC has been actively monitoring 48 people who might have had contact with Duncan after he fell ill with an infection but before he was put in isolation including 10 people known oto have contact and 38 who may have has contact such as the people he was staying with and health professionals who attended to him in the ER. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC said, “If this one individual was infected – and we don’t know how – within the isolation unit, then it is possible that other individuals could have been infected as well. We do not today have a number of such exposed people or potentially exposed health care workers. It’s a relatively large number, we think in the end.” On Monday, the AP reports, Ebola survivor donates plasma to sick Dallas nurse, that Samaritan’s Purse spokesman Jeremy Blume says Dr. Kent Brantly, the Texas doctor who survived Ebola, traveled to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas Sunday to donate plasma that, according to Rev. Jim Khoi, pastor of the Fort Worth church attended by Nina Pham’s family, was given to Nina Pham on Monday afternoon that contains Ebola fighting antibodies. Brantly said in a recent speech that he also offered his blood to Thomas Eric Duncan, but that their blood types didn’t match. Duncan died of Ebola on Wednesday. As of Tuesday, the nurse who was the first to contract Ebola on American soil is doing well, according to a statement released on her behalf by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

In Europe, the fight against Ebola continues to present challenges to those coming home after volunteering in the outbreak zone and those who treat them. The Associated Press reported Tuesday, German hospital: UN worker dies of Ebola, a United Nations medical worker infected with Ebola in Liberia has died despite intensive medical intervention, according to the German hospital treating the 56 year old man. The St. Georg hospital in Leipzig said the 56-year-old man, whose name has not been released, died overnight of the infection. It released no further details and did not answer telephone calls. The man tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 6, prompting Liberia’s UN peacekeeping mission to place 41 staff members who had possibly been in contact with him under “close medical observation.” He arrived in Leipzig for treatment on Oct. 9 where he was put into a special isolation unit. The man was the third Ebola patient to be flown to Germany for treatment. The first patient, a Senegalese man infected with Ebola while working for the World Health Organization in Sierra Leone was brought to a Hamburg hospital in late August for treatment. The man was released Oct. 3 after recovering and returned to his home country, the hospital said. Another patient, a Ugandan man who worked for an Italian aid group in West Africa, is undergoing treatment in a Frankfurt hospital. Meanwhile in Spain, the Associated Press reported Saturday, Ebola: 3 more people under observation in Spain, three more people were under observation for Ebola at a Madrid hospital, boosting the number of those monitored to 16, while a nursing assistant infected with the virus remained in serious but stable condition. The latest three are a nurse who came into contact with nursing assistant Teresa Romero, a hairdresser who attended to her and a hospital cleaner, all of whom were admitted to Madrid’s Carlos III hospital late Friday. A government statement said none of the 16 in quarantine, who include Romero’s husband, five doctors and five nurses, have shown any symptoms. A later government statement said one of the five nurses has tested negative for Ebola, but will remain under “passive observation.” Romero, 44, the first person known to have contracted the disease outside West Africa in the current outbreak, had cared for two Spanish priests who died of Ebola at the hospital, one in August and the other on Sept. 25. Thousands of people gathered in more than 20 cities throughout Spain to show their solidarity with Romero and to protest against how Madrid authorities had euthanized her pet dog named Excalibur on Wednesday instead of placing it in quarantine.

Back in America, while hospitals try to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading, the government continues to delay action to help with containment and spread. On Saturday, Karen Matthews reports, Stepped-up Ebola screening starts at NYC airport, federal health officials said that entry screening from three West African countries at New York’s Kennedy International Airport is meant to prevent the spread of the disease and will expand to four additional U.S. airports in the next week. Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine for the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said at a briefing at Kennedy,”Already there are 100 percent of the travelers leaving the three infected countries are being screened on exit. Sometimes multiple times temperatures are checked along that process. No matter how many procedures are put into place, we can’t get the risk to zero.” The screening will be expanded over the next week to New Jersey’s Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta. Customs officials say about 150 people travel daily from or through Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to the United States, and nearly 95 percent of them land first at one of the five airports. The article reports: “Public health workers use no-touch thermometers to take the temperatures of the travelers from the three Ebola-ravaged countries; those who have a fever will be interviewed to determine whether they may have had contact with someone infected with Ebola. There are quarantine areas at each of the five airports that can be used if necessary. There are no direct flights to the U.S. from the three countries, but Homeland Security officials said last week they can track passengers back to where their trips began, even if they make several stops. Airlines from Morocco, France and Belgium are still flying in and out of West Africa.” The CDC cited as legal authority the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, under which the government regulates trade with foreign countries. The 1944 Public Health Service Act also allows the federal government to take action to prevent communicable diseases, which include viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, from spreading into the country. Unfortunately, as the world struggles to combat and contain the disease, Sam Stein reports, Ebola Vaccine Would Likely Have Been Found By Now If Not For Budget Cuts: NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institute of Health, said decades of stagnant spending has slowed down research on effective vaccinations to combat disease such as the current outbreak of Ebola, resulting in the international community having to play catch up on potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe. On Friday, Collins told Huff Post, “NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here.’ Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.” Not only have vaccines been hampered by money shortfalls, Collins explains therapeutics to fight Ebola “were on a slower track than would’ve been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory. We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference.” Despite the growing public health threat, the NIH has not received additional money and instead Collins and others have had to “take dollars that would’ve gone to something else” — such as a universal influenza vaccine — “and redirect them to this.” Collins said he’d like Congress to pass emergency supplemental appropriations to help with the work. But, he added, “nobody seems enthusiastic about that.” Currently, NIH is working on a fifth-generation Ebola vaccine that has had positive results in monkeys, not people. To set up a clinical trial for humans takes time and resources, and doubly so in a country whose social and political fabric is as frayed as Liberia’s. Even so, limited trials have already begun. A second vaccine is being designed in Canada, just weeks behind NIH’s schedule. But recipients have exhibited fever symptoms, which could prove problematic because elevated temperature is also a symptom of Ebola. So far, much of the focus has been on an experimental cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies known as ZMapp. But the current stockpile is not nearly great enough. Collins, a touch exasperated, said it would be all but impossible to have significant doses available by the end of the calendar year — with a lack of funding once again playing a disruptive role. There are other potential therapies. Brincidofovir has been used on an Ebola patient brought to Nebraska and on the late Thomas Eric Duncan, who was diagnosed with the disease after traveling to Dallas from his native Liberia. Unlike ZMapp, there is a large stockpile of Brincidofovir available, and the doses required are small. But, again, a clinical trial is needed in Liberia. The Associated Press reported Tuesday, CDC: Rapid response team for any new Ebola cases, the government will now send a rapid response team to any hospital where an Ebola patient is diagnosed to make sure local health workers can provide care safely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specialists implementing changes to protect health workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas as it cares for a nurse who became infected while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. Frieden described the new response team as having some of the world’s leading experts in how to care for Ebola and protect health care workers from it. They would be charged with everything from examining how the isolation room is physically laid out, to what protective equipment health workers use, to waste management and decontamination.

Meanwhile on Thursday, due to increased concern over containment and spread pf the virus following another Ebola positive patient at the same hospital where Duncan died, Federal health officials were being called to testify before a congressional committee to explain what went wrong, according to Jim Kuhnhenn, US steps up domestic response to Ebola crisis. President Barack Obama directed his administration to respond in a “much more aggressive way” to oversee the Dallas cases and ensure the lessons learned there are transmitted to hospitals and clinics across the country. For the second day in a row he canceled out-of-town trips to stay in Washington and monitor the Ebola response. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said nurse Amber Joy Vinson never should have been allowed to fly on a commercial jetliner because she had been exposed to the virus while caring for an Ebola patient who traveled to the U.S. from Liberia. Vinson was being monitored more closely since another nurse, Nina Pham, also involved in Thomas Eric Duncan’s care was diagnosed with Ebola. Still, a CDC official cleared Vinson to board the Frontier Airlines flight from Cleveland to the Dallas area. Her reported temperature – 99.5 degrees – was below the threshold set by the agency and she had no symptoms, according to agency spokesman David Daigle. Vinson was diagnosed with Ebola a day after the flight, news that sent airline stocks falling amid fears it could dissuade people from flying. Losses between 5 percent and 8 percent were recorded before shares recovered in afternoon trading. Frontier has taken the aircraft out of service. The plane was flown Wednesday without passengers from Cleveland to Denver, where the airline said it will undergo a fourth cleaning, including replacement of seat covers, carpeting and air filters. Underscoring his emphasis on international action, Obama called European leaders Wednesday to discuss better coordination in the fight against Ebola in the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and to issue a call for more money and personnel to “to bend the curve of the epidemic.” British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said he offered to consult with the Italians to add treatment beds in Sierra Leone. On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged continued support for the fight against Ebola in West Africa, but made no specific new aid offers. China last month pledged $33 million in assistance to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and dispatched doctors and medical supplies. And France said that on Saturday, it will begin screening passengers who arrive at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on the once-daily flight from Guinea’s capital. But it was Wednesday’s development in Dallas that captured political and public attention in the United States. Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, increased calls for travel bans or visa suspensions from the West African countries where the disease has spread and urged the administration to take other measures to secure the transportation system. The oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee scheduled a Thursday hearing on Ebola with Frieden and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. In prepared testimony, Fauci said Duncan’s death and the infections of the two Dallas nurses and a nurse in Spain “intensify our concerns about this global health threat.” He said two Ebola vaccine candidates were undergoing a first phase of human clinical testing this fall. But he cautioned that scientists were still in the early stages of understanding how Ebola infection can be treated and prevented. Late Wednesday, Vinson arrived in Atlanta to be treated at Emory University Hospital, which has already treated three Americans diagnosed with the virus. From now on, Frieden said, no one else involved in Duncan’s care will be allowed to travel “other than in a controlled environment.” He cited guidelines that permit charter flights or travel by car but no public transportation. The second nurse identified as 29 year old Amber Joy Vinson like Pham cared for Duncan before he died and medical records showed she inserted catheters, drew blood and dealt with Duncan’s body fluids, according to medical records provided to the Associate Press by Thomas Eric Duncan’s family. Infected Ebola patients are not considered contagious until they have symptoms. Frieden said it was unlikely that other passengers or airline crew members were at risk because the nurse did not have any vomiting or bleeding. Even so, the CDC is alerting the 132 passengers aboard Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth on Monday “because of the proximity in time between the evening flight and first report of illness the following morning.” Officials are asking them to call the health agency so they can be monitored. The woman flew from Dallas to Cleveland on Oct. 10. Kent State said it was asking the workers related to Vinson to stay off campus for 21 days “out of an abundance of caution.” The nurse reported a fever Tuesday and was in isolation within 90 minutes, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. The CDC has acknowledged that the government was not aggressive enough in managing Ebola and containing the virus as it spread from an infected patient to a nurse at a Dallas hospital. Emergency responders in hazardous-materials suits began decontamination work before dawn Wednesday at the Dallas apartment complex where the second nurse lives. Police guarded the sidewalk and red tape was tied around a tree to keep people out. Officials said she lives alone with no pets. Dallas city spokeswoman Sana Syed said a hazardous-materials crew has finished cleaning common areas of the complex and that the state was sending a crew to clean the actual apartment. At Cleveland Hopkins Airport, cleaning crews disinfected key areas of the facility. “They’re not prepared” for what they are being asked to do, said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, a union with 185,000 members. Based on statements from nurses it did not identify, the union described how Duncan was left in an open area of the emergency room for hours. It said staff treated Duncan for days without the correct protective gear, that hazardous waste was allowed to pile up to the ceiling and safety protocols constantly changed. The first nurse stricken in the U.S., Nina Pham, who contracted Ebola after treating a Liberian man in Dallas, was being flown to the National Institutes of Health outside Washington on Thursday, while a second nurse has already been transferred to a biohazard infectious disease center at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

While the virus has spread minimally so far to other continents, back in West Africa, the number of dead and dying are increasing by the minute. Ryan Gorman reports, Up to 10,000 new Ebola cases expected per week as death rate hits 70 percent, World Health Organization officials have reported the death rate in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has increased to 70 percent and there could be as many as 10,000 new cases per week within two months. At a Tuesday press conference, WHO assistant director general Dr. Bruce Aylward classified Ebola as a “high mortality disease.” He warned that if the response is not stepped up immediately, “a lot more people will die.” The past four weeks have seen Ebola diagnoses reach about 1,000 per week, he explained. The WHO is working to contain about 70 percent of the cases within the next 60 days in an effort to reverse the epidemic. The UN-affiliated organization announced Monday that the Ebola death toll has increased to 4,447 people out of the 8,914 diagnosed. All except Thomas Duncan, who passed away in a Dallas hospital, and a patient in Germany, died in Africa. Aylward called the Ebola outbreak “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times.” A number of areas have seen decline, Aylward said Monday, but “that doesn’t mean they will get to zero.” Aylward said the WHO is fighting an uphill battle against West Africa’s broken health care system and was strategically setting up clinics to treat the virus instead of quarantining people.

Progress in Gaza and Ukraine as Russian Soldiers Return Home, Escalation Between Obama and ISIS Cast a Big Shadow Over 9/11 Rememberance and an Important Global Warming Update

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In an interview with Al Quds TV on Thursday, Hamas No. 2 Musa Abu Marzouk said “Hamas is willing to talk directly to the Israelis” regarding issues including Gaza border crossings and prisoner releases, according to Ibrahim Barzak, Hamas Says It’s Ready For Direct Talks With Israel. Obtained by the Associated Press, in the taped interview, he said: “Just as you negotiate with weapons you can also negotiate by talk. Up till now our policy was no negotiation with (Israel), but others should be aware that this issue is not taboo.” Israel has consistently said it will not talk directly with Hamas until the group recognizes its right to exist and renounces violence. Abu Marzouk insist the reason for considering take such steps reflects growing tensions with Abbas, whom Hams believes is trying to reclaim control of Gaza. He said, “Hamas finds itself compelled to make this move when the natural rights of the people in Gaza come under pressure from the Palestinian Authority and the government.” Hamza Hendawi and Josef Federman report, Evidence growing that Hamas used residential areas, that evidence is mounting against Hamas militants regarding the use of residential areas as cover for launching rockets at Israel several times which Hamas now admits mistakes were made. According to the Associated Press, Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said: “Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain that Israel has turned into a war zone. The Israelis kept saying rockets were fired from schools or hospitals when in fact they were fired 200 or 300 meters (yards) away. Still, there were some mistakes made and they were quickly dealt with.” According to Palestinian figures, 2,000 Palestinians died with three quarters of them civilians and more than 500 children included, while 11,0000 were wounded and 100,000 left homeless. On the Israeli side, seventy two people died including six civilians. Ahead of the U.N. investigation, the Israeli military released reams of evidence, including satellite photos and aerial footage, to support its claims that it acted appropriately and tried to minimize casualties, while Hamas made no effort to disguise its aim of maximizing Israeli casualties. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said, “Hamas’ excuses are outrageous, misleading and contrary to the evidence supplied by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the reality documented by international journalists on the ground in Gaza.” A visit to the area uncovered three separate military sites possibly training grounds larger than a football field near state schools concealed from the street with barriers made of corrugated iron. Hamas restricted access to these areas making it impossible for photographers to enter the site and Israel confirmed that the areas were targeted in airstrikes. Another site identified by Israeli military as a rocket launching site is in northern Gaza near the new Indonesian hospital in close proximity to residential homes. The two Hamas military facilities are across the road to the west of the two story hospital which stands intact. Hamad, the Hamas official, said the buildings shown in Israeli videos were either a safe distance from the rocket launchers or the building were vacant during fighting. Bill Van Esyeld, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt urban areas were used to launch rockets from in the Gaza Strip. What needs to be determined is how close to a populated building or a civilian area were those rocket launches.” Sami Abdel Shafi, a Palestinian American representing the Carter Center in Gaza, said: “Yes, Hamas and others may have used civilians as human shields, but was that consistent and widespread? The question is whether Israel’s response was proportionate.” The death toll and number of civilian deaths led to harsh condemnation of Israel and raised questions on the proportionality of Israeli’s response causing Israel, in order to prevent an international investigation, on Wednesday to open its own criminal investigation into two high profile cases involving Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas also has been sharply criticized for launching rockets aimed at Israeli cities and towns. Israel says its own civilian death toll would have been much higher had it not been for its rocket defenses. The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointed a commission to look into the latest fighting. Its report is expected no sooner than March.

While long standing peace could remain elusive for Gaza and progress is slow to say the least, Ukraine is taking steps forward to ensure peace in eastern Ukraine as Russia beefs up its military strategy. Laura Mills reports, Ukraine’s President Pledges To Give The Country’s East More Autonomy, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday said he will introduce a bill next week offering greater autonomy to the pro-Russian east but rejects the idea of federalization that both Russia and the rebels want. During a televised Cabinet meeting, Poroshenko explained: “[the ceasefire deal reached] envisages the restoration and preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, including the part that is temporarily under control of the rebels. Ukraine has made no concessions with regards to its territorial integrity.” Ukraine and the West both accused Russia of fueling the separatists with arms, expertise and its own troops, something Russia denies. In late August, NATO estimated more than 1,000 troops were operating on Ukrainian spoil and helping the rebels to turn the tide of the war in their favor. In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Wednesday for new sanctions against Russia that would deepen earlier penalties targeting Russia’s energy and arms sectors and tighten Russia’s access to International loans. Merkel told German parliament that the ceasefire improved the situation but there was “a lack of clarity on the fulfillment” of many other points of the peace plan. Ambassadors from EU nations were meeting Wednesday to discuss the sanction against Russia in Brussels. Poroshenko says since the agreement, 70 percent of the Russian troops in Ukraine have been withdrawn and 700 Ukrainian prisoners have been freed from rebel captivity with 500 more being freed by the end of the week. Mills reports: “Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security Council, told journalists that only 20 servicemen had returned home so far. In Donetsk, a rebel spokesman said a planned exchange of 36 soldiers from each side had been put off until Thursday, blaming the government for the delay. The cease-fire has been violated numerous times and Poroshenko accused the separatists of “provoking” Ukraine’s troops. Ukraine says five servicemen have been killed and 33 injured since Friday. A volley of rocket fire was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk late Tuesday.” In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the leader of the rebels in Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, reacted to Poroshenko’s commnets: “Neither we, nor our friends in Donetsk, are going to abandon the course to build our own state. A temporary cease-fire cannot cancel the results of the people’s vote. People voted unanimously for the independence of our republics. There’s no way back to the previous status.” Other rebels have been in favor of a broad autonomy. Plotnitsky said the next round of talks between Moscow, Kiev, the insurgents and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is likely to discuss the status of the rebel-held areas. The Ukrainian public has been largely supportive of the war against the separatists. Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine, rebels exchange prisoners in peace deal, government and revel forces on Friday exchanged dozens of prisoners captured during fighting in Ukraine as part of a ceasefire agreement earlier this month outside the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers. Yurly Tandit, a negotiator for the government, said: “There is an ongoing process of talks. We are meeting each other’s demands and fulfilling our promises.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports, Russia Tests Nuclear Missile, Russia successfully tested their new Bulava intercontinental nuclear missile on Wednesday and will perform two more test launches in October and November, according to the head of its naval forces. The 12-meter long Bulava, or mace, has undergone numerous tests, some of which have failed, causing setbacks for the project that aims to be the cornerstone of Russia’s nuclear arsenal over the next decade. Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova report, Moscow stifles dissent as soldiers return in coffins, that 15 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine and hundreds more are in the hospital, according to human rights workers and military workers. A survey by pro-Kremlin pollster Fund of Social Opinions said 57 percent of Russians support the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, but only 5 percent support an invasion of Ukrainian territory. Russian authorities have worked to systematically silence rights workers’ complaints over soldiers’ deaths, intimidating those who question the Kremlin’s denials regarding Ukraine. Vladimir Isachenkov reports, Putin: Russia to focus on new offensive weapons, on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia is developing a variety of new nuclear and conventional weapons to counter the U.S. and NATO and weighing the cost to avoid overburdening its economy. Putin said potential threats must be analyzed and an adequate response given to avoid excessive military spending. In addition, he said Russian defense industries must rid themselves of dependence on imports and become capable of producing key components at home, referring to recent Western sanctions imposed on Russian arms sales. Russian West relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War with NATO deciding last week to create a rapid reaction spearhead force to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying. Meanwhile, Fred Westerbeke of the Dutch National Prosecutors Office told reporters that most likely the downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17 was shot down as a separate Dutch air crash investigation concluded this week that the plane was hit from the outside by numerous high energy objects, according to Mike Corder, Shooting down of MH17 ‘most likely’ scenario. Police chief Patricia Zorko said detectives are poring over 350 million webpages and thousands of photos and films that could contain evidence and are trying to authenticate intercepted phone conversations. Corder reports: “A highly placed rebel officer told the AP in an interview after the disaster that the plane was shot down by a mixed team of rebels and Russian military personnel who believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane. Intercepted phone conversations between the rebels released by the Ukrainian government support that version of events.” Detectives and forensic experts are looking at 25 metal objects recovered from bodies and wreckage to see if any clues surface. Westerbeke warns the complex investigation is complex and time consuming comparing it to the Lockerbie bombing hat took years to identify suspects.

As the rebels and Ukraine government try to reach some sort of long lasting peace and stability internally and externally with Russia, the United Stated joined by other countries in their alliance try to wage war against an entity that has spread quickly throughout the Middle East and internationally through recruitment of foreigners to brutal battles. Julie Pace reports, Obama orders airstrikes in Syria for first time, President Barack Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time Wednesday night with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of a “steady, relentless effort” to root out Islamic State extremists. In a prime time address to the nation from the White House, Obama declared: “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” Obama announced he will send 500 more U.S. troops to advise and assist Iraqi security forces as well as conduction intelligence and reconnaissance flights, bringing the total number of American forces this summer to 1,500. He urged Congress to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad. He added: “But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” Officials said Obama plans to proceed with both broader airstrikes in Iraq and Syria without seeking new authorization from Congress as he is acting under a use of force authorization Congress passed in the days following 9/11 to give President George W. Bush the ability to go after those who perpetrated the terror attacks. Obama previously called for its repeal, but used it as support for strikes against terror targets in Yemen and Somalia. Pace reports: “Obama said his approach in Syria is modeled after those long-running U.S. counterterrorism campaigns. But it is different in important ways, starting with the fact that it marks the first time since 9/11 that a U.S. president has authorized the bombing of terror targets in another nation without seeking permission or at least notifying it in advance.” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised Obama for acknowledging the grave and growing threat that the Islamic State poses, but said Obama was coming to that conclusion too late. Boehner said: “He has finally begun to make the case the nation has needed him to make for quite some time: that destroying this terrorist threat requires decisive action and must be the highest priority for the United States and other nations of the free world.”The White House wants Congress to include the authorization in a temporary funding measure lawmakers will vote on before they adjourn this month. Republicans have made no commitment to support the request and the House GOP has so far not included the measure in the funding legislation, while a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat might opt to seek separate legislation. The White House announced Wednesday that it was also providing $25 million in immediate military assistance to the Iraqi government as part of efforts to combat the Islamic State. David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, wrote in a blog post that the U.S. would be working with other countries, especially Gulf states, to cut off the group’s external funding networks and its access to the global financial system. The U.S. has been pressing allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere to help with efforts to degrade the terror group. Meanwhile, rebels, desperate and disenchanted, don’t believe help will come from the West, blaming the United States and its allies for past failures when support was promised and not delivered allowing the rise of ISIS, according to Sophia Jones, Cash-Strapped Moderate Syrian Rebels Blame West For Rise Of Islamic State. The Islamic State has amassed considerable wealth from foreign donations, oil smuggling, extortion and hostage ransoms. They’ve taken control of crucial weapons warehouses and supplies, such as weaponry the U.S. gave to the Iraqi Army. In addition, the new found power has allowed them to gain support by setting up needed infrastructures and imposing order as well as strictly enforced rules such as bans on smoking, and mandates that women wear full-face veils. Jones reports: “Three and a half years into a devastating civil war that has ripped apart the country, Syrian fighters say that if something doesn’t change they’ll lose more and more moderate fighters to the Islamic State. As secular, moderate rebel groups face infighting, divisions and a lack of necessary equipment and training, some may be enticed by the rich and highly organized Islamic State. The group of fighters gathered in the Turkish border town said they usually make roughly $50 a month. But they’ve heard that Islamic State fighters can make $600 or more.” As the rebels fight both the regime and Islamic State, they fear the threat of the jihadi group will cast a shadow over their efforts to curb the regime’s grip on Syria. While the Islamic State beheads U.S. journalists and persecutes and kills religious minorities, the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately bomb civilian areas and likely is using chemical weapons against its own population.

Meanwhile, international, the U.S. tries to rally allegiance from neighboring countries int he Middle East and allies to fight the Islamic State casting a shadow on the 13 anniversary of 9/11. On Thursday, Key Arab allies promised to help in the fight against the Islamic State, but NATO member Turkey refused, Lara Jakes and Adam Schreck report, Arab allies pledge to fight Islamic state group. As the CIA doubled its assessment of how many fighters the extremist group can muster, the Arab states’ endorsed the broad strategy to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and to join possible military action. On Thursday, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined the President in his call to combat the militants after laying out his long term campaign to include expanding airstrikes against the fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants. After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in thr Red Sea city of Jiddah, 10 Mideast allies announced their backing for a strategy to destroy the group wherever it is. Kerry’s visit, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was aimed at pinning down regional allies and so far 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the group. Kerry said of the terror attacks on the U.S. 13 years ago: “The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and to so many of our friends and allies around the world. Those consequences are felt every day here in the Middle East.” New intelligence assessments estimate the extremists have between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, up from a figure of 10,000, the CIA said Thursday. CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said the new total reflects stronger recruitment by extremists since June, following battlefield successes and the group’s declaration of an Islamic State or caliphate on territory under its control. On Friday, Larak Jakes reports, US, Turkey mull strategy against Islamic militants, the United States pressed Turkey to harden its borders against fighters and funding going to the Islamic State and sought clarity on how far Ankara is willing to go to help a world coalition to destroy the group. While Turkey sits on the front line battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria as it assists refugees and cracked down on cross border traffic from both countries, Turkey resist endorsing the new strategy as 49 Turkish citizens have been kidnapped including diplomats. At the start of a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu cited “challenges and threats” in Iraq and Syria. Jakes reports: “It was the third meeting so far this month between Kerry and Cavusoglu, who also together participated in talks during the annual NATO summit in Wales and this week in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, about the Islamic State threat. Kerry said the two men also will chair a counterterrorism forum at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September. But the U.S. is being careful to not push Turkey too hard as it grapples with trying to free its hostages. The Turks were kidnapped from their consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when it was overrun by the Islamic State in June.” In addition, American hostages are being held as payback for the 150 airstrikes that Washington has launched in Iraq since last month. Kerry said: “But I think for the moment, they have a few sensitive issues. We respect those sensitive issues, and we’re going to work with them very carefully.” Rachelle Blinder and Jonathan Lemire report, New terror fight casts shadow over 9/11 ceremonies, due to the growing threat of the Islamic State, a heavy cloud hung over the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Thursday causing many to feel anxiety and determination in coming to ground zero to remember loved ones. The silence to mark the attack and the roll call of the nearly 3,000 lives lost came hours after President Barack Obama told the country he is authorizing expanded strikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State group. Vasile Poptean said as he left the ceremony, where he had gone to remember his brother, Joshua Poptean: “It’s an ongoing war against terrorists. Old ones die out and new ones pop up. If we don’t engage them now, there’s a possibility there will be another 9/11 down the road.” Victims’ relatives and dignitaries gathers in the plaza where the twin towers stood and now where the soon to open 1,776 foot One World Trade Center stands to commemorate the attacks, while in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where former House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave the flag that flew atop the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 to the Flight 93 National Memorial, did the same. At the Pentagon, Obama spoke at the wreath laying ceremony without mentioning the rise of Islamic State extremists specifically, but noted: “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world. That was the case before 9/11 and that remains true today.”

As many try to heal old wounds and remember those they lost to what it seems is an endless war, the United Nations along with scientist this week had some good news about the health of the planet. Seth Borenstein reports, Scientists say the ozone layer is recovering, earth’s protective ozone layer has begun to heal largely due to the phase out since the 1980s of certain chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans, the U.N. scientific panel reported Wednesday. Scientists said the development demonstrates that when the world works together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis. For the first time in 25 years, scientists confirmed a statistically significant and sustained increase in stratospheric ozone shielding the planet from solar radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Paul A. Newman, a NASA scientist and co-chaired the every four years ozone assessment by 300 scientist published by the United Nations, said from 2000 to 2013 ozone levels climbed 4 percent in key mid-northern latitudes at 30 miles up. The ozone layer has been thinning since the 1970s due to man made chlorofluorocarbons called CFCs which release chlorine and bromine destroying ozone molecules high in the air. After scientists raised the alarm, countries agreed to a treaty in 1987 that phased out CFCs allowing those chemicals to decrease between 30 and 50 miles up. The United Nations calculated in earlier reports that without the pact, by 2030 there would be an extra 2 million skin cancer cases a year around the world. Newman added that heat trapping greenhouse gases are also helping to rebuild the ozone layer as the cooler air caused by carbon dioxide and other gases increase the amount of ozone. MIT atmospheric scientist Susan Solomon said the chemicals that replaced CFCs contribute to global warming and are on the rise expecting that a dramatic increase will occur by 2050 and make a big contribution to global warming. The long lasting ozone eating chemicals still linger in the atmosphere creating a yearly fall ozone hole over the extreme southern Hemisphere and the hole hasn’t closed up. By Newman’s calculations, the ozone layer is still 6 percent thinner than in 1980. Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said there are encouraging signs that the ozone layer “is on track to recovery by the middle of this century.” He added: “More than 98 percent of the ozone-depleting substances agreed over time have actually been phased out. If not for such efforts, Steiner said, “we would be seeing a very substantial global ozone depletion today.” Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that atmospheric levels of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, surged to another record high in 2013. The increase from 2012 was the biggest jump in three decades.

More Fracking Earthquakes

States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place has seen a surge in earthquake activity leading many to believe that the method could be to blame in particular the wells where wastewater is disposed of. According to Emily Schmall and Justin Juozapavicius, States With Fracking See Surge In Earthquake Activity, fracking creates far more wastewater than traditional drilling methods. The water is pumped thousands of feet underground into injections wells and no one knows what happens to the liquid after that. Scientists wonder whether this action triggers quakes by increasing underground pressure and lubricating faults. Since January, Oklahoma has recorded nearly 250 small to medium earthquakes according to stats kept by  the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s almost half of the magnitude 3 or higher earthquakes recorded this year in the continental U.S. A study published in the journal of Science earlier this month suggest that four wells injecting massive amounts of drilling wastewater into the ground are shaking up the state accounting for one out of five quakes from the eastern border of Colorado to the Atlantic coast. Another concern expressed was whether injection well operators could be pumping too much water into the ground or pumping it at high pressures. Most of the quakes where injection wells are clustered are too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives, however, some states including Ohio, Oklahoma, and California have introduced new rules compelling drillers to measure the volumes and pressures of their injections wells and monitor seismic activity during fracking operations. No injuries or deaths have been reports, but varying degrees of property damage have been reported e.g Azle, Texas had hundreds of small quakes since activity began and residents reported sinkholes and cracks in the walls of homes and air and water quality concerns. In addition, two structures collapsed during Oklahoma’s 5.7 magnitude quake in 2011. Studies more than 50 years old have linked injection wells to tremors in Colorado, while similar studies in central Oklahoma, Ohio and North Texas have found probable links between injection wells and quakes. According to Dana Bohan with Energy In Depth, a research and education arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of American, a Washington based group representing thousands of oil and gas producers, said wastewater injection disposal does risk inducing quakes.

Sacrificing the Future to Subsidize Fossil Fuels

https://i1.wp.com/www.oceanconservancy.org/places/gulf-of-mexico/2013-impacts-map_final.jpg

2013 map courtesy of the Ocean Conservancy website

According to lead researcher Steven Murawski, a professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science in Tampa, the oil found in the bodies of sickened fish from the Gulf Coast region match the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Murawski and his team of Florida scientist studied the oil’s chemical composition in order to debunk the argument that fish abnormalities were to blame and not oil in coastal runoff and oil from naturally occurring seeps in the Gulf could be to blame,  reports Rueters’ Barbara Liston. In her article, BP Oil Spill Caused Sickness In Fish, Researchers Find, she reports that the findings by the researchers argues that the fish in the study had to have been exposed recently enough in order to identify the chemical signature of the oil in their bodies. However, BP, whose rig caused the spill rejects the findings stating in a email response that it is “not possible to accurately identify the source of oil based on chemical traces found in fish livers or tissue.” In addition, Liston reports that in a statement from BP: “vertebrates such as fish very quickly metabolize and eliminate oil compounds. Once metabolized, the sources of those compounds are no longer discernible after a period of a few days.” The research team included scientists from USF, the Florida Institute of Oceanography and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. The work was published in the current edition of the online journal of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.

Thousands of claims for damages against BP continue to be process since the April 2010 explosion of the oil and gas producer’s Gulf rig which killed 11 oil workers and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. In the winter of 2010-2011, fisherman in the area where the blow out well was located have noticed a spike in abnormal looking fish, many with unusual skin lesions. Murawski said his team compared the chemical signatures of oil found in fish livers and flesh to the signatures of the Deepwater well and other oil sources. As Liston reports, Murawski explained, “The closest match was directly to Deepwater Horizon and had a very poor match to these other sources. So what we’ve done is eliminated some of these other potential sources.” In addition, his team also ruled out pathogens and other oceanographic conditions. By 2012, the frequency of fish lesions declined 53 percent.

Even with BP’s blatant disregard for the environment and the years of fall out to come from such an egregious crime, the federal government still spends billions of dollars to subsidize the fossil fuel industry. U.S. today reported back in 2010 after the BP spill that the number of spills from offshore oil rigs and pipelines in the U.S. had quadrupled in the last 10 years and could of served as a warning for the massive leak that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, according to government data and safety experts. The spills and amount of oil leaked grew worse when production increased, reports USA Today, even after oil companies claimed it was never safer to drill. In Alan Levin’s USA Today article, Oil spills escalated in this decade, the average annual spill increased by more than 17 from 2000 to 2009 and from 2005 to 2009 spilled averaged 22 a year. The company with the most spills from 2000 to 2009 was BP who leased the well that blew out in April 2010, according to data. In addition, the oil giant and its affiliated companies reported 23 spills of 50 barrels or more not including the April 2010 event. Oil firm Shell was next with 21, according to MMS spill reports. Over the past five years, the Obama administration has called for cutting fossil fuels subsidies in the form of tax breaks and other incentives, however, the federal governments has increased the amount of money forfeited through subsidies over that period of time with $18.5 billion last year, according to the environmental group Oil Change International. According to Kate Sheppard, Federal Government Still Spending Billions To Subsidize Fossil Fuels, the total is up from $12.7 billion in 2009 as oil and gas production has increased in the United States. Next year, domestic production will reach the highest since 1972 partly due to the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy which includes increasing oil and gas production. The Oil Change report includes a variety of subsidies in its accounting i.e. tax breaks, incentives for production on federal lands like royalty fees and tax deductions for clean up costs like the BP Deepwater oil spill. In addition, when states subsidies for oil, gas and coal production are included, the total climbs to $21.6 billion for 2013. In September 2009, Obama and other G20 leaders pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies to curb global warming with Obama calling for elimination of subsidies in 2012 and 2013 with the administration’s 2015 budget proposal again calling for major cuts to fossil fuel subsidies. However, Congress has yet to cut these subsidies. The report argues that as long as these incentives stay in place, the federal government is “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.” Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, explains: “We’re spending more taxpayer dollars every year to fund fossil fuels that we can’t afford to burn, according to climate science. Subsidizing fossil fuels at this point is climate denial.”

While science on a global scale has examined the environmental cost of the global fossil fuel habit, the economic costs have yet to be fully realized. According to the article, Fossil Fuel Subsidies Cost ~$2 Trillion Annually, According To IMF on CleanTechnica’s website published May 1,2014, the IPCC recently reported that CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributes around 78 percent of the total increase in greenhouse gas emissions between 1970 and 2010. The combined value of global fossil fuel subsidies are difficult to calculate with recent estimates ranging from $500 billion to $1.9 trillion a year. However, according to the International Monetary Fund, factoring in implicit subsidies from the failure to charge for pollution, climate change and other externalities, the post tax cost is closer to $2 trillion equivalent to 2.9 percent of the global GDP or 8.5 percent of government revenues. In addition, the IMF believes simply removing fossil fuel subsidies could decrease fossil fuel emissions by 13 percent. Experts say by reducing or eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel and properly pricing energy to account for environmental impacts, governments can effectively foster a low carbon transition as global subsidies to renewable energy were $88 billion in 2011. According to the article: “UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) argues that subsidies to fossil fuel producers often support inefficient state-owned energy companies and stifle incentives for greater efficiencies and innovation, while subsidies to consumers often encourage excessive consumption, which has knock-on effects for pollution, human health and greenhouse gas emissions.” UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, had this to add: “Fiscal policies are of particular importance in a green economy transition. Confronted by a fiscally constrained world, government reforms might appear to be a daunting challenge. However, it is important to note that fossil fuel subsidies cost countries precious funds. For example, they divert government resources from pro-poor spending in Africa, where governments spend an estimated 3 per cent of GDP – equivalent to their total health care allocation – on fossil fuel subsidies.” UNEP has undertaken green economy fiscal policies studies in various developing countries including Ghana, Namibia, the Philippines and Turkey and have shown that reforming energy subsidies and prices is possible. In addition, the UNEP believes,”Tax incentives could make investments in clean technologies more attractive, while government funds could reduce the risk profile of capital intensive new technologies.” In Australia, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has financed $2.5 billion in renewable projects since starting in July 2013, but has not dissuaded the current Abbott government from trying to dismantle it.

According to Tom Revell’s article, a new study published in the journal Climate Change Economics, researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis tried to put a price tag on efforts to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. David McCollum, the study’s lead author, states, “Many countries say that they’re on board with the a target of 2C global mean temperature stabilization by 2100; some have even made commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But until now, it hasn’t been very clear how to get to that point, at least from an investment point of view. It’s high time we think about how much capital is needed for new power plants, biofuel refineries, efficient vehicles, and other technologies – and where those dollars need to flow – so that we get the emissions reductions we want. Revell’s article, Much-needed $800bn renewable energy investment can come from fossil fuel subsidies, sums up the study by saying that the hundred of billions of dollars needs to invest in renewable energy and prevent the worst effects of climate change could come from the enormous amount of subsidies given to fossil fuels, approximately $800 billion annually between now and 2050 on top of the $400 billion raised by existing policies increasing existing investments from $200-300 billion annually. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2012 direct fossil fuels subsidies totaled $544 billion which researchers point out could be shifted into supporting renewables and meet the investment gap. The study does not account for potential saving gained by switching from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. The study does warn that the transition needs to happen soon as energy infrastructures have  a lifespan of 30 to 60 years. In April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that investments in fossil fuels like oil and coal need to drop by $30 billion a year and renewable energy’s share of global production must increase from 17% in 2010 to 50% in 2050. Without aggressive action, scientist estimate global temperatures will rise by 3.7 to 4.8 degree Celsius by 2100 with devastating consequences around the world, Revell reports.

The Catastrophic Effects of Man-made Pollution

beaches

According to the 24th annual report released by Natural Resources Defense Council, one in 10 U.S. beaches are dangerously polluted making them unsafe for swimmers. The environmental advocacy nonprofit collected 3,500 water samples from American beaches and evaluated the specimens using the Environmental Protection Agency’s new water safety standard known as Beach Action Value. The BAV sets the threshold for water quality at American beaches to protect swimmers from pollution mostly from sewage overflow and contaminated storm water runoff, the HuffPost’s Sara Gates reports in her article 1  In 10 U.S. Beaches Are So Polluted They’re Not Safe For Swimming. NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine explained to USA Today that: “Results in this year show uptick in failure rate at 10 percent nationwide, but this reflects a newer, more health-protected (standard of safety test). If we were to compare to the old defunct standard, it would have been about 7 percent of samples; which tells us we’re stagnating in terms of progress of water protection.” Gates reports, according to the finding, the NRDC found 17 repeat offenders or beaches that failed the public heath standard in more than 25 percent of its water quality samples in the past 5 years e.g. several polluted beaches in Indiana, New York and Ohio. Ranking the highest in polluted beaches was the Great Lakes followed by the Gulf Coast and New England. As for the least polluted, the NRDC labeled 35 U.S. beaches as all stars as they all met the national benchmark for water quality 98 percent of the time over the last five years including waterfronts in 14 states such as California and Virginia.

While water pollution is a major concern all over the world especially the United States, fracking has become increasingly worrisome as the frequency of earthquake increases in areas where earthquakes rarely happened, if at all, e.g vast stretches of prairie across Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. In recent years, Oklahoma has recorded nearly 150 earthquakes between January and the start of May with most being too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. However, these temblors have rattled nerves and raised suspicions enough to start to question their connection with the oil and gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater, according to Emily Schmalland Kristi Eaton’s article States Confront Worries About Fracking And Earthquakes. Due to the increasing complaints from residents over the years, governments in three states are confronting the issue by reviewing scientific data, holding public discussion and possibly implementing new regulations. The states with few earthquakes historically are trying to reconcile scientific data with the interests of their citizens and the oil and gas companies. Regulators from each state met in March in Oklahoma City to exchange earthquake information and discuss toughening standards for the lightly regulated business of fracking water disposal. In Azle, Texas where hundreds of small quakes have happened, the residents went to the state Capitol earlier in the year to demand action by the Railroad Commission who are the chief oil and gas regulators. In response, the commission hired the first ever state seismologist and lawmakers formed the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity, reports Schmalland and Eaton. After Kansas had 56 earthquakes between last October and April, the governor appointed a three member task force to address the issue.

While the frequency of earthquakes is troubling, fracking also generates large quantities of wastewater even more than traditional drilling methods. The water is pumped into injection wells sending it thousands of feet underground. Scientists wonder whether this process could trigger quakes due to increasing underground pressure or act as lubricant for faults. In addition, injection well operators could be pumping either too much water into the ground or pumping it at exceedingly high pressures e.g data published by the Railroad Commission earlier this month found ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy has pumped 281,000 gallons or 94 tanker truckloads of wastwater into Azle wells every day for two years. In recent weeks, Oklahoma has experienced 145 quakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater from January to May 2,2014, the Oklahoma Geological Survey reports. Fortunately, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has approved new testing and monitoring regulation for injections wells that take effect in September requiring well operators to collect daily information on well volume and pressure. Nationwide, the United States has more than 150,000 injections wells and only a handful have been proven to induce quakes according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Moving from active drilling and pumping to derelict oil wells and gas wells, a study of the latter in Pennsylvania found that hundreds of thousands in the states may leak methane suggesting that wells across the country may be a bigger source of climate changing greenhouse gases than previously thought. According to Mary Kang’s study, a Princeton University scientist, 19 abandoned wells were found leaking various amounts of methane with hundreds of thousands of such oil and gas wells, abandoned and plugged, in Pennsylvania and many more across the country. The problem Bobby Magill reports, Derelict Oil Wells May Be Major Methane Emitters, is that these wells go unmonitored and are rarely checked for leaks. Over the past three years, numerous studies suggest that crude oil and natural gas development especially in shale formations are significant sources of methane leaks. Scientists believe that there is inadequate data available for them to know where all the leaks are and how much methane is leaking due to the fact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas inventory does not fully include these derelict sites as they are not monitored. Over a 100 year span, methane is 34 times more potent as a climate change greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Even more troublesome is its potency over 20 years which is 86 times. Of all the greenhouse gases emitted by humans worldwide, methane is more than 40 percent of all radiative forcing, a measure of trapped heat in the atmosphere and a measuring stick of changing climate. Kang found that the wells leak so much methane that if the leaks from all the abandoned wells in Pennsylvania are added up that the percentage would be between 4 and 13 percent of human caused methane emissions in the state, according to Magill. However, more studies need to be done to fully understand how common the leaking wells are in the state and how much methane they emit. According to the historical record and the study conducted, there are between 280,000 and 970,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania. Kang found that state regulations are inadequate at controlling methane emissions from abandoned wells due to the rules focusing on containing fluids, not gases and the plugged wells are not required to be monitored closely over time.

China in the Wake of a Devastating Quake

On Saturday, an earthquake in Sichuan province, killed at least 186 people injuring more than 11,000 leaving two dozen missing in rural communities around Ya’an city, along the same fault line as another quake to the north five years before that resulted in 90,000 people in Sichuan and neighboring areas being killed in one of the worst natural disasters in China’s history, AP reports. Many relatives search in the rubble in hopes of finding their loved ones still alive, while search and rescue has been working since Saturday to aid the victims and search for survivors.The Lushan and Boaxing counties this time were hardest hit on Saturday even though they escaped the worst of the 2008 quake yet residents said they would of benefited from the region’s rebuilding such as special reinforcements made to building and new evacuation procedures introduced. According to the Associated Press, relief teams flew in helicopters dynamiting landslides in order to reach isolated communities on Sunday. Many residents were upset with emergency teams as little aid was distributed among the areas effected and were busy taking away bodies while searching for survivors. Along the road in Longmen, children carried hand written signs reading “No water, no shelter.”

According to China’s earthquake administration, the earthquake measured a magnitude 7.0 while the U.S. Geological Survey recorded it at a 6.6 and struck at around 8 a.m. Saturday. Aftershocks could be felt throughout the region, leaving about ten thousand people in tents and cars unable to move back home or too afraid. The official totals are yet to be determined as numbers are still coming in but so far 186 people were killed, 21 missing and injured and 11,393 injured from Saturday’s quake as quoted by the Xinhua News Agency from the provincial emergency command center. The government has mobilized thousands of soldiers and others to the area as well as excavators, heavy machinery and even tents, blankets and other emergency supplies to aid the region.  The state media reported that two soldiers died after their vehicle slid off the road falling down a cliff. According to AP, the Chinese Red Cross will deploy relief teams with supplies of food, water, medicine and rescue equipment to disaster areas. The seat of Lushan country has been converted to a refugee camp with tents and volunteers serving noodles and boxed meals to survivors from stalls and vans. Large vans have been converted into mobile banks with ATMs, military medical trucks with X-rays and doctors giving first aid. The most severely injured were sent to the provincial capital as survivors try to deal with limited water and building inaccessibility leading to sanitation issues. The area is still experiencing aftershocks on Sunday while family members and friends try to contact their loved ones inside the crippled quake zone.

Asteroid Early-Warning System ATLAS Could Warn Against Space Rock Threats

Asteroid Early-Warning System ATLAS Could Warn Against Space Rock Threats.

It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s it’s a UFO???? Like their are not enough problems in the world, now space has to give everyone an attitude. Last week was a of spectacular spacial events with a meteor smashing and crashing into Russia, a light show over San Francisco, and astronomers in Australia witnessing an asteroid pass Earth. A week full of coincidences is what scientist are calling it, but it does raise the question why didn’t anyone see it coming? There is no early warning system right now, but many countries believe after last week that a system needs to be in place especially because things could of gone very differently last week. As the meteor smashed into pieces over Russia, one piece manage to crash into a frozen lake instead of a nuclear disposal facility that would of caused greater damage and loss of life. Luckily, the Chelyabinsk, Russia 55 foot asteroid  sent out a shock wave from  its mid air explosion that managed to shatter windows across the area leaving 1,200 people injured and thousands of buildings damaged. What shall we do?

Have no fear, Hawaii has come up with a solution to prevent other close calls like the asteroid 2012 DA14 last week and the unexpected meteor blast over Russia. One team of astronomers at the University of Hawaii is developing a warning system to help safe guard the planet from surprise attacks. The new Asteroid Terrestrial Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) scheduled to be ready in 2015 will have 8 small telescopes equipped with cameras that are a 100 megapixels in resolution and fixed mounted at one or two locations in the Hawaiian Islands. The system will offer one week warming for a 50 yard asteroid that could wipe out a whole city and three weeks for a 150 yard space rock that could wipe out a whole country. John Tonry, a University of Hawaii astronomer, says that the time allotted will allow time to evacuate the area, take measures to protect the infrastructure, and alert of tsunami dangers generated by ocean impacts. Had the larger asteroid 2012 DA14 hit the Earth, the 130 foot asteroid would of obliterated the city of Chelyabinsk according to scientist and NASA observations. The asteroid on Friday came as close as 17,200 miles of Earth well inside Earth’s communication satellites however it never posed a threat. The ATLAS telescope will scan the skies twice a night in search of objects that may be asteroids. The ATLAS project will receive $5 million in funding over five years from NASA’s Near Earth Observation Program. Besides asteroids, ATLAS will also search for dwarf planets, supernova explosions and other cosmic objects.