Blue Marble

Two Black Seas: Oil Spills Updates

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 6:39 PM EST

470oilspill%2C0.jpg

What do San Francisco Bay and the Black Sea have in common these days? Black waters fouled by crumbling ships, possibly bad seamanship, single-hulled tankers, and what always seems to be chronically inadequate first responders.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the spill in San Francisco Bay has wafted north to foul the oyster beds in Point Reyes National Seashore, shutting down the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which produces more than 80 percent of Marin County's oyster crop. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports the bar pilot responsible for bringing the Cosco Busan into the bay claims the ship suffered from an inexperienced crew and faulty radar. Meanwhile, the Marin Independent Journal reports that frustrated residents of the seaside town of Bolinas have taken matters into their own hands, rescuing birds and scooping up fist-sized blobs of oil with colanders, laundry baskets and fishing nets:

"Ultimately, if they're not going to send help, we're going to have to do it ourselves," said Bolinas resident Hermione Healy, who with her sister Krishna fished for oil that she described as "looking like pieces of asphalt floating by."

And once again Google maps are bringing the disaster closer to home, wherever you are, including this one from KCBS:


View Larger Map

Halfway around the world, the Strait of Kerch, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is reeling from the effects of up to 10 ships sunk in a monster storm Sunday.

20071112_kerch.jpg

Looking north up the narrow Kerch Strait dividing The Black Sea from the Sea of Azov.

The Volganeft-139 tanker was carrying about 1.3 million gallons of fuel oil when the storm sundered it, losing at least half its load so far. The AP reports the ship was constructed for river use and was unfit to endure severe weather at sea. So far, more than 30,000 birds—some of the thousands migrating south from Siberia at this time of year—plus countless fish have been killed in an what officials are calling an ecological catastrophe. The Moscow Times reports that a freighter carrying 2,000 tons of sulphur sank nearby at nearly the same time:

"We hope that in the water sulphur will not form any substances dangerous to humans," Mitvol [deputy head of the Natural Resources Ministry's environmental watchdog] said. Several hours later, another freighter carrying sulphur sank off Kavkaz, Interfax reported… The same storm, which is expected to rage for up to three days, also sank a freighter with scrap metal off Sevastopol… The hull of [another] oil tanker Volganeft-123 cracked after being hit by high waves, but it was afloat and its oil products were not leaking.

Let's face reality. Oil, once spilled, is bloody hard to unspill, no matter the circumstances. Get ready for talk about double-hulled tankers to resurface. Get ready for nothing to come of it. Again.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The USDA's E. coli Loophole

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 3:54 PM EST

3ec1.jpgWhat do you do with meat that's contaminated with E. coli bacteria? Slap a "cook-only" label on and sell that shit (pun definitely intended), says the USDA.

The Chicago Tribune reports on a little known "E. Coli loophole:" If the deadly bacteria is found in meat during processing, companies can still sell the meat if they label it as "cook-only." The reasoning seems sound, since cooking kills the germs, but inspectors say the practice is more dangerous than it appears:

...some USDA inspectors say the "cook only" practice means that higher-than-appropriate levels of E. coli are tolerated in packing plants, raising the chance that clean meat will become contaminated. They say the "cook only" practice is part of the reason for this year's sudden rise in incidents of E. coli contamination.

E. coli has been making headlines a whole lot lately. First there was the spinach scare; then the Topps recall; and just a few weeks ago, the Cargill recall. There's no evidence that the cook-only loophole has to do with any of this, but it sure doesn't make hamburgers sound any more appetizing.

San Francisco Oil Spill an Avoidable Disaster

| Sun Nov. 11, 2007 9:33 PM EST

Why wasn't a boom, a protective barrier which would have isolated last week's spill to the area directly surrounding the ship, utilized almost immediately? No telling yet, but early on Fish and Game said that private companies would handle the spill cleanup, companies hired by the ship's owners. Huh? That's the proper response an environmental and homeland security hazard? Let the industry mop up?

More on this, at MoJoBlog.

No Justice In Climate Change

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 4:00 PM EST

Global-warming-maps_hi-res-sm.jpgWhen it comes to global warming, discussions tend to get real abstract, real fast. How will climbing temperatures actually affect you? Well, it depends where you live—and how rich you are (or aren't). According to a forthcoming study, climate change will disproportionately impact the world's poor.

Jonathan Patz, a professor of public health and the environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the study's lead authors (and also an IPCC author). Patz says it's time for those of us in the gas-guzzling-est of countries to come to terms with the painful (and inconvenient) truth: Our lifestyle is bad news for the developing world—and we've got an ethical problem on our hands. In a UW-Madison press release, Patz says:

If energy demand drives up the price of corn, for example, this can inflict undue burden on poor or malnourished populations or shift agricultural areas away from other traditional food crops.

And then there are the health issues:

There are many serious diseases that are sensitive to climate, and as earth's climate changes, so too can the range and transmission of such diseases....Many of these climate-sensitive diseases, such as malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea, affect children.

This isn't the first time someone has pointed out the unfairness of climate change. Among others, Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier has noted that her people's carbon output is a tiny fraction of the U.S.'s, yet global warming is already threatening the Inuit way of life. The IPCC has also predicted that poor people—particularly those in Africa—will be hardest hit by climate change.

To read the study, you'll have to wait till next week, when it will be published in the journal EcoHealth, but you can already check out these cool maps—one shows countries' relative carbon outputs, while the other shows their vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

Hold The Antibiotics: Infections Critical For Healthy Life

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 6:33 PM EST

bacteria.jpg Nix the antibacterial soaps. Forget the hand sanitizers, antibiotic gels, sprays, and baby blankets. Research shows that antibacterial products actually make children and adults more likely to develop asthma and allergies and maybe even mental illnesses. The study from Colorado State University suggests that our love affair with antibacterial products is altering how immune, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems develop and function. Infection may play a significant role in many chronic aliments, including schizophrenia, ulcers, and obsessive compulsive disorder. What many people may not realize is that most infections ensure our health instead of compromise it. Humans have 10 times more bacterial cells in their bodies than human cells. Without bacteria, there would not be humans. Gerald Callahan, who studies bacteria and infectious diseases at Colorado State University, points out that there are more bacteria by far in this world than any other living thing. "We are a minority on this planet, and we must learn how to work with the majority," he says.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Shipping Fuels Heart and Lung Disease

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 6:10 PM EST

tinley_ship-lrg.jpg That's right. All those goods you're paying to get for cheap from China. Those winter blueberries from Argentina. South African wines. Well, they come with a hidden cost. Pollution from marine shipping causes approximately 60,000 premature cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths around the world each year, according to a study from the Rochester Institute of Technology. The researchers correlated the global distribution of particulate matter—black carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and organic particles—released from ships' smoke stacks with heart disease and lung cancer mortalities in adults. Worse still, the predicted growth in shipping could increase annual mortalities by 40 percent by 2012.

"Our work will help people decide at what scale action should be taken," says James Corbett of the University of Delaware. "We want our analysis to enable richer dialogue among stakeholders about how to improve the environment and economic performance of our freight systems."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Wolf Controversy Resurfaces

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 5:41 PM EST

wolvesnew.jpgA few years ago, a 22-year-old student was killed in the wilds of Saskatchewan, and evidence suggested that wild wolves were the culprits. The incident was widely reported in the media, since there had never before been a documented case of death-by-wolves in North America. Last week, the coroner's inquest finally finished, and the wolves were found guilty. But some wildlife experts still have their doubts. Goat, the blog over at High Country News, has a good summary of the controversy.

The debate about the Saskatchewan incident reminds us that we've never had an easy relationship with wolves in North America. They loom large in our mythology—both Native American and European—and they've come to represent a truly wild part of our landscape. We tend to romanticize this wildness, casting wolves either as mystical beasts or angry killers. (And some of us want them in our bedrooms—WTF?)

Amidst all the T-shirts, sheet sets, and other wolf propaganda, we tend to forget that wolves are, um, actual wild animals, too. During the westward expansion, we hunted so many gray wolves that the species was nearly extinct. But thanks to protection under the Endangered Species Act and a reintroduction program, these days, wolves have made a comeback. In 2004, gray wolf populations in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of other states around the Great Lakes were officially removed from the federal list of endangered species. Sizable wolf populations in the Rocky Mountains have some people cheering and others up in arms, literally. Ranchers in the Rockies have trouble protecting their sheep, and a few hunters have reported that their dogs have been attacked, too. Right now, wolves in the Rockies are listed as "non-essential experimental populations," and the EPA is currently considering revising the wolf rules for these areas.

High Country News points out that the decision in the Saskatchewan case "bolsters those who continue to oppose wolves in the West." It'll be interesting to see how everyone reacts—the mystical wolf T-shirt crowd and the angry wolf T-shirt crowd alike.


How To Stop Fishermen From Killing Captured Dolphins

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 5:40 PM EST

slaughter.gif BlueVoice reports from the frontlines of the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan. After 8 days of not hunting, the fishermen have brought into Hatajiri Bay 7 dolphins which appear to be Risso's Dolphins, reports Hardy Jones:

Traditionally there are 2 sets of nets across the bay and this one seems to have been thrown together very quickly. But they have got the 7 Risso's dolphins here, which if previous experience is a guide, they will kill tomorrow morning. Now is the time for you to fax or telephone Japanese embassies and consulates near you. Faxes are great because they can't forward you to voice mail. Emailing is not so effective because they can set up spam blockers. But please make your voice heard. Let them know that these atrocities must not proceed. Contact your Japanese embassy or consulate and protest vigorously.

Past protests have worked.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Expect Less PVC at Target

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 5:09 PM EST

target.jpgRetail giant Target has announced plans to reduce its use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), particularly in goods geared toward children, like bibs and lunchboxes. PVC isn't good for anyone (the EPA says it can cause a whole mess of health problems, including cancer), but it's especially bad for kids, since it contains lead.

The company's goal is to offer PVC alternatives to most toys by fall of 2008. Wal-Mart has promised to completely eliminate PVC products by 2009.

This trend of mega-retailer self awareness is good news, especially considering the fact that Consumer Product Safety Commission officials are off gallivanting around the world on the toy industry's dime.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powers British Lighthouse

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 4:59 PM EST

Southgarelighhousehistoryone.jpg New Scientist reports how the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast is now powered by a hydrogen fuel cell:

The Soviet Union once powered lighthouses on its Arctic coast using radioactive batteries, leaving its successors the problem of disposing of the nuclear waste. Now a cleaner technology is being harnessed to power lighthouses in remote places: fuel cells. A consortium led by CPI of Wilton, Teesside, UK, is using a fuel cell to power the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast. It was previously prone to power outages when the mains power cable was damaged by the wind and heavy seas. CPI has proofed its fuel cell against the ravages of salty air and seawater, and has developed a novel water-based cooling system for it, too.

Reports are the fuel cell is working well, and the lighthouse is visible from 25 miles out at sea, as it always was.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.