Archives for posts with tag: Health

Cancer is a devastating killer that takes one out of every eight lives on the planet. While cancer treatments have improved over the years, one key to battling the disease is early detection, which has historically been invasive, painful or hit-and-miss. That’s why the latest research from a group of Swiss and Japanese scientists is so exciting: working together, these scientists have created a surprising new way to catch cancer that is as simple as taking a breath.

Green Halo - Scientists Develop a Way to Detect Cancer on Patient's BreathGenki Yoshikawa at the National Institute of Materials Science in Japan, Frederic Loizeau from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Hans Peter Lang at the University of Basel in Switzerland and their colleagues worked together to create a sensor that is able to detect head and neck cancer using breath analysis. Previously, cantilevers with a chemical layer coating could absorb compounds which would deflect the cantilevers, but this system wasn’t sensitive enough to detect cancer. So scientists figured out a way to make the system much more sensitive using nano-chemical sensors in what is known as a membrane-type surface stress sensor (MSS).

The improved MSS was presented at the 26th IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems and in a double-blind trial, the scientists were able to accurately detect four cancer patients from four healthy patients using the new system. The units are easily portable and work as a sort of mobile nose to sniff out cancer in its early stages, potentially saving lives and alleviating some of the uncertainty when diagnosing cancer.

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China’s food safety problems have no better symbol than the illegal and utterly disgusting problem of gutter oil. Cooking oil is used heavily in Chinese food, so some street vendors and hole-in-the-wall restaurants buy cheap, black market oil that’s been recycled from garbage. You read that correctly. Enterprising men and women will go through dumpsters, trash bins, gutters and even sewers, scooping out liquid or solid refuse that contains used oil or animal parts. Then they process that into cooking oil, which they sell at below-market rates to food vendors who use it to cook food that can make you extremely sick.

This video, produced by Radio Free Asia, shows in excruciating detail how a couple of gutter oil vendors go about their work. It starts with the couple scooping sewage out of the ground, and it ends with unwitting Chinese consumers chowing down on the end product:

To reiterate, this is illegal, something that Chinese authorities are trying to stop and not used by all street vendors. But it’s also thought to be widespread. Being reprocessed garbage and sewage, gutter oil contains all sorts of untold carcinogens. Many of the operations, like the one shown in the video, are small-time. But there’s enough money to be made that some producers go much bigger.

In April, Chinese authorities uncovered a gutter oil production ring that spanned 13 cities and over 100 people, who somehow acquired rotten animal parts and boiled down the fat into oil. The sting, which came after a five-month investigation, yielded 3,200 tons of the stuff; authorities estimated the black-market producers had already sold a stunning $1.6 million worth of their product.

Food in China is delicious, and gutter oil typically is used just in some street food stalls or cheap, hole-in-the-wall dives. But it is a reminder why authorities there are deeply concerned about food safety issues.

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Regardless of creed, ethnicity, or tax bracket, everyone must breathe the same air. This week, the World Health Organization announced that air pollution was responsible for seven million deaths globally in 2012. It is also the single largest preventable health risk worldwide. Both indoor and outdoor particulate matter is to blame for illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, respiratory infections, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Not just harmful to human bodies directly, much of the pollution also contributes to the acceleration of climate change and its catastrophic affect on agriculture, the economy, and biosphere.

Green Halo - Air Pollution Responsible for 7 Million Deaths in 2012According to the WHO, air pollution is responsible for one death in eight every year. Overall, 4.3 million deaths worldwide were linked in 2012 to indoor pollution primarily due to cooking with coal, dung, or wood stoves. Outdoor pollution from diesel engines and fires were linked to 3.7 million deaths. Many populations are exposed to poor air quality in both settings, causing a degree of overlap within the aggregate figure of seven million deaths. Further chronic health risks such as birth defects and impaired cognitive abilities in children add to the already sobering statistics.

While the entire planet is vulnerable to air pollution, low and middle income countries such as those in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific are particularly hard-hit. In addition to particulate matter expelled from fossil fuel reliant power plants, industrial operations, and auto fumes, burning black carbon for domestic cook stoves can cause diseases that lead to early mortality. By switching to cleaner forms of energy and investing in public transportation, regions most reliant on fossil fuels would see immediate improvements.

“Reducing air pollution, including black carbon soot pollution, can save millions of lives a year, reduce crop losses significantly, and cut the rate of global warming in half and the rate of warming in the Arctic by two-thirds over the next few decades,” according to the WHO. “With this combination of benefits—healthier citizens, higher crop yields, and half the rate of climate change—reducing air pollutants should be a top priority for sustainable development and climate protection.”

To help clear the air, many governments and NGOs are beginning to support the switch to clean cooking stoves, reduce the number of vehicles on the road, and put moratoriums on the construction of new coal fire power plants. As the climate changes and developing nations seek to industrialize, energy production and consumption practices on both local and commercial scales must be adjusted to ensure the health of one of humanity’s most vital shared resources.

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A cloud of smog has enveloped Paris – and on Friday air pollution levels were actually worse than notoriously smoggy Beijing. The French capital is taking emergency measures to reduce air pollution – over the weekend the city made public transportation, bike sharing and electric car sharing free, and starting Monday private cars and motorcycles with even registration numbers will be banned. 700 police officers are stationed at checkpoints issuing $31 (€22) fines for violators. Electric vehicles, hybrids and cars carrying at least three people are exempt.

While Monday’s air quality is improving in parts of the city, a check of the Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) still finds “hazardous” levels of air pollution at Boulevard Haussmann in the eighth and ninth arrondissements. The fine particulate (PM2.5) index value of 880 is dangerous, and authorities have warned that “everyone may experience more serious health effects.”

Green Halo - Paris Air Quality Worse Than BeijingExperts blame last week’s unsafe pollution levels — the worst in France since 2007 — on a combination of unseasonable warm and sunny days and cool nights with low wind speeds and precipitation. These factors kept toxic pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide near the ground instead of dissipating into the atmosphere.

France’s extensive use of diesel fuel is being scrutinized as a contributing factor to the unhealthy levels of air pollution. An estimated 60 percent of French vehicles use diesel-powered engines, and in 2011 70 percent of French car sales were diesel. Since World War II the French government has subsidized the use of diesel and there is a powerful corporate diesel lobby. The problem with diesel is that while it reduces carbon emissions compared to gasoline-powered engines, it increases fine particulates that cause air pollution. The World Health Organization has also found that diesel fumes are carcinogenic.

To curb pollution, authorities in Paris and the Île-de-France region surrounding the capital will also be lowering the speed limit, urging people to not burn wood in their fireplaces, requesting that trucks with heavy loads avoid traveling around the city, and asking factories to work on a reduced schedule to cut back on emissions.

Extreme smoggy conditions also hit northern and eastern regions of France, with the smog belt extending to Belgium and Germany. Similar pollution-reducing measures such as free public transportation have also been implemented in other European cities.

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A coal mine fire burning for almost a month is forcing residents of an Australian town from their homes after pollution more than 22 times above recommended safe levels triggered a health alert.

Green Halo - Australians Flee Beijing-Style Smog as Coal Mine BurnsFirefighters are pumping as much as 84,000 liters of water a minute, the equivalent of about two Olympic-size swimming pools an hour, onto the burning mine at GDF Suez’s Hazelwood power station in Victoria state, according to local authorities. Pollution readings in the nearby town of Morwell, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Melbourne, peaked last month at levels beyond hazardous on the Air Quality Index.

Residents have abandoned more than half of the 750 homes in the worst-affected area, as families with pregnant women, elderly people and young children take up A$1,250 ($1,128) weekly payments to temporarily relocate, according to the state government. Victoria’s Premier Denis Napthine has urged people in the region to offer vacant holiday homes to those seeking respite and pledged use of his own coastal vacation property.

“The ash falling out of the sky every day was getting in to every part of the house that wasn’t air tight, it smelled like an ashtray,” said Nick Albon, a 30-year-old engineer who moved out of his home about 500 meters from the mine’s northern boundary on Feb. 16. “Headaches were the first thing to instantly hit. As soon as you got out in the smoke, you could taste it in your mouth whenever you were outside.”

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Beijing’s record-breaking air pollution has spurred officials and designers to come up with innovative solutions – and the architects at London-based Orproject recently proposed the creation of gigantic Bubbles filled with fresh air! The inflatable spaces would contain parks and botanical gardens that provide fresh air to residents sick of choking on the city’s ever-present smog.

Green Halo - Giant Bubbles Filled With Fresh Air for Beijing Air Pollution and SmogOrproject is an innovative design practice founded in 2006 that tends to explore advanced geometries with an ecological leaning. Bubbles is based on a lightweight structural system developed to mimic butterfly wings and the veins of leaves. The system utilizes a material known as ETFE, which is the same material used in China’s National Swim Center at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. This transparent and stretchy plastic could be used to create wonderful domes that allow light in while protecting inhabitants from pollution.

Orproject founder Christoph Klemmt envisions that this biome will create different micro-climates within the same space – bringing to life tropical forests next to deserts. Heating and cooling of the space will be controlled through a ground source heat exchange system, while electrical needs will be provided by solar panels integrated into the canopy structure. Their toughest challenge will be the Chinese government and developers – Klemmt was quoted in an interview with Co. Exist saying: “The big park is our dream, which depends on a lot of other people, including the government. If we were to realize this for a schoolyard, it’d be much easier for it to happen.”

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The Sierra Club has put together a list of “The 5 Worst Foods for Environmentalists to Eat.” For many of you, this list probably doesn’t hold many surprises, but it is still an important reminder of the decisions we as consumers make on a daily basis when choosing what to put into our bodies. Some foods, like it or not, are best avoided completely, no matter how delicious they may taste.

Conventional Coffee

From an environmental standpoint, it’s crucial to buy shade-grown, organic coffee. (Fair trade is also important for the growers.) Coffee is meant to grow in the shade, but many farmers now grow it in full sunlight, with a heavy dependence on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. They also chop down rainforests, destroying bird habitats. Look for the green gecko stamp from the Rainforest Alliance when purchasing coffee.

Factory-farmed Beef

“Cheap burgers are environmental assassins,” says Logan Strenchock, Central European University’s sustainability officer. Forests are clear-cut to grow the GMO corn and soy used to feed cows. Those crops have awful pesticide runoff that contaminate waterways, not to mention the waste generated by keeping large numbers of cows in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation). Even grass-fed beef “depletes native biodiversity, increases invasive exotics, diverts water, fouls streams, and bares the soil,” according to Mary O’Brien, director of the Utah Forests Program. Then the fresh meat has to be kept cool till it’s used, requiring vast amounts of energy.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is used in half of all packaged foods sold in the U.S., particularly cookies, crackers, and soups. Pam oil is the largest cause of rainforest destruction, resulting in huge swaths of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests being bulldozed in order to plant palm oil trees. “Eight million acres have been cleared and burned already, and the orangutan is on its way to extinction,” says Christy Wilhelmi, author of Gardening for Geeks. The solution? Ditch those packaged foods, start cooking from scratch, and always, always read labels.

Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin is a popular choice at high-end sushi restaurants, but their numbers in the oceans are dropping fast. Because they live so long, Bluefin are unable to stand up to overfishing. They’re also high in mercury. The Sierra Club quotes food critic Jonathan Gold, saying, “People need to stop eating Bluefin tuna, period… The numbers of these magnificent fish are dropping fast. If we don’t stop eating them now, we’ll stop in a few years anyway because there won’t be any more.”

Genetically Modified Corn

GMO corn “destroys habitats, depletes soils, breaks nutrient cycles, pollutes air and water, contaminates native maize varieties, and on and on,” according to Douglas Fox, professor of sustainable agriculture at Unity College. It kills bees, reduces biodiversity, drives heirloom crops to extinction, and requires excessive processing to transform it into high fructose corn syrup, another ingredient found in processed foods (which should be avoided anyways because they contain palm oil).

No doubt there are many other foods that should be added to this environmental blacklist, but banishing these five from one’s diet is a good place to start.

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Two and a half years after a near meltdown, the Fukushima nuclear power plant is still in trouble. The Nuclear Regulation Authority issued a new warning Wednesday, raising the severity level of the continuing leak from one to three on an international eight-point scale.

Ever since the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake shook the area, the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant has been subject to numerous leaks and controversies.

The alert comes as TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co) found at least 300 metric tons of radioactive water to have leaked from the site, with ‘hotspots’ found nearby. Workers are now scrambling to check an additional 300 tanks that currently contain contaminated water at the stricken nuclear power plant.Green Halo - Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Leaks 100 Tons of Radioactive Water

Each point on the International Atomic Energy Agencies eight-point scale of the scale represents a ten-fold increase in radiation, so a jump of two points is highly significant. The latest confirmed leak, from a tank which can hold up to 1,000 tonnes of water, hasn’t been stopped yet and TEPCO acknowledges that they have yet to identify the cause of the leak.

TEPCO has stated that there is no evidence that the contaminated water from these leaks has reached the ocean, but there is significant contamination to the soil in the area, which will need to be addressed. The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has expressed a loss of confidence in Tepco’s ability to deal with the situation, and has stated that the government will be stepping in to take additional measures to address this continuing disaster.

Tepco has also been criticized for delaying the release of strontium-90 levels in local groundwater despite demands from regulators.

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Berkeley officials took steps Tuesday to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, suggesting it is the type of city that could pass one, even though beverage companies spent millions in 2013 to defeat a soda tax in nearby Richmond.

Bloomberg Moves To Ban Sugary Drinks In NYC Restaurants And Movie Theaters

The City Council voted to put a sugar tax on a community poll assessing possible ballot measures for the November 2014 election. A broad coalition of local groups, rallying under the banner of Berkeley vs Big Soda, turned out a crowd of vocal advocates for a one cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

“No city has been able to successfully pass a sugar-sweetened beverages tax. But it will happen here in Berkeley,” said Councilman Darryl Moore.

“The reason for such a tax is clear,” said Vicki Alexander, co-chair, Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition. “40% of Berkeley Unified 9th graders are overweight. An African-American resident is four times more likely than a white resident to have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is unconscionable to stand by and do nothing. Please be for Berkeley and against big soda. The health of our children and our families is at stake.”

Several council members said there is a difficult choice between placing a special tax — the funds of which could go for a specific purpose, such as nutrition programs in schools — or a general tax — where funds go into the city’s general fund — on the ballot. A special tax requires a two-thirds majority vote, while a general tax requires only 50% plus one. Alexander said the campaign estimates a one cent tax per ounce in Berkeley would produce $1.5 million annually.

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Green Halo - China New Smog RegulationsThe famously smoggy Chinese capital of Beijing is finally doing something to curb its appalling air pollution. By a vote of 659-23, the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress passed a new law that for the first time will target reductions infine particulate matter (PM2.5) that pose the greatest health risk to the city’s more than 20 million residents.

A look at Wednesday’s real-time air quality index finds Beijing’s PM2.5 level at a “very unhealthy” level of 270 micrograms per cubic meter. The PM2.5 level in Beijing surpassed 500 on January 15 for the first time this year.  Beijing’s PM2.5 level averages around 227, which is far above the national standard of 34 and the World Health Organization’s safe level of 25. Amazingly, Delhi, India’s air pollution is even worse than Beijing’s with an average measurement of 473. By mid-January, Delhi had passed the 500 mark eight times.

The law, which goes into effect in March, is designed to reduce the city’s total pollutant emissions with tougher punishments for polluters, including daily fines for air pollution violations and possible criminal action for more serious violations.

As part of China’s effort to get tough on industrial polluters, the country’s environmental watchdog last year vetoed as many as 35 projects worth 118.4 billion yuan.

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