Month: February 2007

Sea Turtle News of the day, genocide edition

Depressing as always, but this is a yearly headline around turtle nesting season.

1,000 Giant Turtles Wash Ashore in India, Bangladesh

It’s nesting season for the sea turtles of Bangladesh and India, but this year the beaches where the animals lay their eggs are eerily still.

Nearly a thousand dead turtles have washed ashore along the coasts of both countries in the past few weeks, conservation workers report.

About 200 dead reptiles have appeared in the past week alone along a single stretch of beach, pictured here, in the Bangladeshi tourist town of Cox’s Bazar (see Bangladesh map).

A team of scientists visiting the beach on Monday to investigate the mysterious mass deaths concluded that fishing nets were to blame.

Sea turtles swarming the shores to nest are getting entangled in poorly laid nets and drowning, the experts told Bangladesh’s Financial Express.

The survival rate of turtle hatchlings is estimated at anywhere between 0.1 and 1%. Assuming 0.5%, this represents 20000 hatchlings. Assuming a hatching success (not all eggs hatch successfully) of about 2/3rds, that is 30,000 eggs, or between 200-250 nests. In my two years of turtle conservation work on an approximately 3 mile stretch of beach, we relocated about a 100 nests. These aren’t the same turtles (they tend to come back to nest very close to where they hatched), but there’s my two seasons of work down the drain and then some!

Turtle safe fishing is a well researched technology and is not expensive. As I have mentioned before in a similar context, the gaps between the availability of a certain technology and its actual adoption and use are depressingly huge.

When it comes to serious problems like global warming, all the talk is going to be about the cool science and innovative solutions, but how the technology transfers to India and China, how it is implemented, and the nature of the interactions between the traditional powers and the emerging ones is going to be more critical than the science. Something to remember as a scientist!

DuPont sets goal of eliminating Teflon processing chemical

See, it wasn’t too hard to come up with safe alternatives, improved processes and a decent timeline!

DuPont sets goal of eliminating Teflon processing chemical

One year after accepting a government challenge to work toward eliminating the use of a potentially dangerous chemical used to make Teflon and other products, the DuPont Co. said Monday it plans to stop using the chemical by 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency asked the Wilmington-based chemical giant and seven other companies last year to commit to a 95 percent reduction in environmental emissions and product content levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and associated chemicals by 2010.

DuPont makes the chemical at a plant near southeast Ohio in Parkersburg, W.Va.

The companies also were asked to work toward the elimination of PFOA and associated chemicals from emissions and products by 2015.

On Monday, DuPont said technological advances have allowed it to remove more than 97 percent of trace levels of PFOA and associated chemicals from surface protection fluorotelomers used in products such as oil-resistant paper packaging and stain- and water-repellent textiles.

DuPont also has been able to reduce PFOA content by at least 97 percent in fluoropolymer coatings used in Teflon cookware, architectural coatings and electronics applications.

“We have been working for a long time, but particularly over the last year, on alternative technologies to PFOA,” said David Boothe, business manager for DuPont fluoroproducts. “We believe that work is going to allow us to eliminate the need to make, buy, or use PFOA by 2015… That’s firmer language than ‘work toward.'”

For previous posts on this subject, see here. Who says a little pressure doesn’t help change even the all powerful Dupont!

Arsenic in the News, US Edition

Boy, it’s all arsenic all the time on this blog!

Chemical & Engineering News: Latest News – In Katrina’s Wake, An Arsenic Threat

An incredible 72 million m3 of debris was created when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. A survey of this debris now reveals that an estimated 1,740 metric tons of arsenic could leach into groundwater from unlined landfills where the materials are being disposed (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es0622812).

Here’s EPA’s page on arsenic treated wood, and here’s the cheerleader page for same (mmm, industry advocacy websites, delicious!). Note that the EPA is currently working with the manufacturers to “voluntarily” phase out the use of Chromated Copper Arsenate in residential settings. Note that there are several alternatives available, all of them less toxic and equally effective. While this “voluntary” action limits direct exposure for certain types of people, old wood ending up in unlined landfills will overwhelmingly affect people who live near said landfills, namely the poor, and African American

Even lined landfills leak eventually, and while other organic matter may degrade before the leaking, arsenic and heavy metals are not going anywhere. Unlined landfills, which is a fancy way of saying hole in the ground where you throw trash in, are completely unacceptable in this day and age in a so called developed country like the US of A. On the other hand, it is fashionable to refer to Louisiana as a third world country, so I guess anything goes for those kinds of people, eh.

Arsenic in the News

Professor wins $1M for arsenic filter – Yahoo! News

The National Academy of Engineering announced Thursday that the 2007 Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability would go to Abul Hussam, a chemistry professor at George Mason University in Fairfax. Hussam’s invention is already in use today, preventing serious health problems in residents of the professor’s native Bangladesh.

This British Geological Survey website provides a good primer to the problem. Some key points:

  1. Arsenic is very toxic
  2. Arsenic is naturally occurring in the shallow groundwater aquifers of Bengal and Bangladesh at a toxic level
  3. The surface water is contaminated with bacteria and was responsible for high infant mortality, so aid agencies in the ’70s encouraged the use of tube wells and other groundwater pumps. While this contributed to a decline in infant mortality from gastrointestinal infections, it also dosed unsuspecting people with disease causing levels of arsenic
  4. The technology for removal of arsenic is very well known. But most solutions require electricity/periodic maintenance/technical skills and are thus not universal or sustainable.
  5. Simplicity is the key. You can’t tell the people to not drink the water, it is the only clean water available. You can’t install water treatment plants, there is no running water, you can’t rely on solutions that are centralized.

So with all that in mind, here’s what Prof. Hussam did:

The Gold Award-winning SONO filter is a point-of-use method for removing arsenic from drinking water.  A top bucket is filled with locally available coarse river sand and a composite iron matrix (CIM).  The sand filters coarse particles and imparts mechanical stability, while the CIM removes inorganic arsenic.  The water then flows into a second bucket where it again filters through coarse river sand, then wood charcoal to remove organics, and finally through fine river sand and wet brick chips to remove fine particles and stabilize water flow.  The SONO filter is now manufactured and used in Bangladesh. That’s great, and easy!

That’s pretty much freshman chemistry right there, further proof that most innovation does not need new science, only people willing to spend some time on problems that don’t necessarily get looked at.

A Bounty on the IPCC Global Warming Report

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world’s largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today. Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Well, that speaks for itself, no comment required.

Indian and Pakistani armies destroying the Siachen Glacier?

Lifted from comments… (thanks Ajit Singh)

Siachen glacier has been melting alarmingly more due to military activity of India and Pakistan than global warming, a new study has said. Siachen glacier was rapidly melting because of the ongoing military activity at the highest flashpoint of the world, according to the study conducted by Arshad H Abbasi, a consultant for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Source (Zee News)

Well, that’s interesting, and a bold and provocative argument. Where is it coming from? The source is a document from Arshad H Abbasi of the Pakistan wing of the World Wildlife Fund.

The problem is being caused by the establishment of permanent cantonments on either  side of the Saltoro ridge, the daily heavy air traffic to advance camps (up to Indra Col post), the cutting and melting of glacial ice through the application of chemical, daily dumping of more than a ton of chemicals, metals, organic and human waste, daily leakages from 2000 gallons of kerosene oil from 250 km plastic pipeline laid by India throughout the glacier

Unfortunately, the article does not provide any references to studies, or any justification for the argument made. The argument definitely “feels” right, and it maybe true, but the data provided does not support the conclusions. South Asia’s ice is definitely melting, as pointed out earlier, and the effects are going to be fairly catastrophic. It would be good to know why, global warming is surely the prime suspect. And this stupid war does not help, I am sick of India, Pakistan, Al Qaeda, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US, etc. purporting to speak for the Kashmiris, killing and oppressing the people, carrying out ethnic cleansing in the guise of patriotism and destroying one of the most beautiful places on earth. But can military activity destroy the second largest non polar glacier?

Who knows, maybe a potential catastrophe will get the  protagonists talking, and maybe Siachen will become a peace park. All I know is that I start writing a post about the science of the Siachen melt and quickly devolve into a despair spiral as I contemplate the pointlessness of destroying the most beautiful part of South Asia in order to possess it.