Day: May 7, 2007

All eyes on China

First it was the melamine. Then this weekend, there was that horrible story about deaths in Panama linked to the use of diethylene glycol in cough syrup. Now, pigs are dying mysteriously.

Epidemic Is Killing Pigs in Southeastern China – New York Times

Hong Kong television broadcasts and newspapers were full of lurid accounts today of pigs staggering around with blood pouring from their bodies in Gaoyao and neighboring Yunfu, both in Guangdong Province. The Apple Daily newspaper said that as many as 80 percent of the pigs in the area had died, that panicky farmers were selling ailing animals at deep discounts and that pig carcasses were floating in a river.

Lovely. China has exploded out of the gate with its development and incredible growth. But its infrastructure, bureaucracy, attitudes, government accountability and transparency are obviously way behind. The whole world faces the consequences of this lag. But my guess is that it is the rural Chinese and the ones who have been “left behind” that suffer the most, something to keep in mind I guess as people rush to blame China for yet another safety issue. We have the option of being more careful, the rural Chinese don’t.

Liquid Coal – Temporarily Frozen

Liquid coal is back in the news (at least my news!). Via the excellent Grist, Jon Tester (D-Montana – think coal!) casts a principled vote to kill an amendment that would have “mandated” a certain amount of liquid coal be used as part of an omnibus energy package bill.

Panel rejects coal amendment

Thomas accused Tester and other Democrats of failing to act on their words of praise for transportation fuels made from coal. But Tester said he couldn’t support the amendment because it would have scuttled the entire bill to which it was attached.

Tester voted against the provision during a meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to assemble an energy package. The legislation contains measures boosting biofuels, energy efficiency and research and development on carbon capture and storage technology.

Thomas’s amendment would have required 21 billion gallons of coal-based fuels to be used annually by 2022. The bill already had a provision mandating 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. The amendment was defeated on a 12-11 party-line vote.

The Democratic and Republican heads of the Energy Committee had tried to prevent the coal-to-liquids issue from coming up during the panel’s meeting. They wanted to pass a bill out of committee easily and deal with contentious issues, including that one, during debate on the Senate floor

With such powerful friends, this amendment will not go away. Expect it to be brought back on to the senate floor when it leaves committee. The coal senators of Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky and the mountain west love the money this will bring to their states. They can pretend to look away from all the devastating effects of coal mining, and the CO2 emissions, etc. by invoking “energy security”. I give you senator Craig Thomas (R-Coal):

“The bill we’re talking about of course does not include coal and the new opportunities to change the process for developing coal, which would not only enhance our security but it would also reduce and help with the global warming situation,” Thomas said. “I really think if we don’t deal with one of our most abundant resources then we fail to deal with energy security.”

Yes, using liquid coal will “reduce and help with the global warming situation”. I mean, can’t you at least come up with a plausible half-truth?

Liquid coal produces more CO2 than gasoline, so how will it help with the global warming situation? Seriously…

March Babies not so Bright? – Pesticides to Blame?

An Indiana scientist makes a rather provocative argument that exposure to pesticides in the womb can explain why Indiana babies conceived in July-August (Born March and April?) have lower achievement scores than the other kids.

ScienceDaily: Conception Date Affects Babys Future Academic Achievement

Dr. Winchester and colleagues linked the scores of the students in grades 3 through 10 who took the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) examination with the month in which each student had been conceived. The researchers found that ISTEP scores for math and language were distinctly seasonal with the lowest scores received by children who had been conceived in June through August.

“The fetal brain begins developing soon after conception. The pesticides we use to control pests in fields and our homes and the nitrates we use to fertilize crops and even our lawns are at their highest level in the summer,” said Dr. Winchester, who also directs Newborn Intensive Care Services at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis.

“Exposure to pesticides and nitrates can alter the hormonal milieu of the pregnant mother and the developing fetal brain,” said Dr. Winchester. “While our findings do not represent absolute proof that pesticides and nitrates contribute to lower ISTEP scores, they strongly support such a hypothesis.”

Well, that is a bold leap of faith, and use of a correlation=causation argument that I don’t appreciate in most cases. Has this kind of work been done in other countries, or in urban environments without pesticide use?

I am sure that many chemicals have subtle, but significant effects on developing fetuses. And the chemicals the authors mention have links with hypothyroidism..

Nitrates and pesticides are known to cause maternal hypothyroidism and lower maternal thyroid in pregnancy is associated with lower cognitive scores in offspring.

There is a link, but without further data, I think the conclusions are a stretch. But, something to keep in mind I guess if you live in Indiana and want to plan a baby!

Disclaimer: I was conceived in June, and was in the upper echelons of achievement through school. So, by the power of personal experience, I am predisposed to scepticism. OTH, I grew up in a big city with consistently high pollution levels throughout the year and not much pesticide exposure.