Monthly Archives: March 2014

3D Maps Reveal a Lead-Laced Ocean

By David Malakoff, http://news.sciencemag.org

oceanmap

3D graphics by Steven van Heuven, courtesy Hein de Baar, Rob Middag, Abigail Noble, and Christian Schlosser

About 1000 meters down in a remote part of the Atlantic Ocean sits an unusual legacy of humanity’s love affair with the automobile. It’s a huge mass of seawater infused with traces of the toxic metal lead, a pollutant once widely emitted by cars burning leaded gasoline. Decades ago, the United States and Europe banned leaded gas and many other uses of the metal, but the pollutant’s fingerprint lingers on—as shown by remarkably detailed new maps released here this week at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting.

The 3D maps and animations are the early results of an unprecedented $300 million international collaboration to document the presence of trace metals and other chemicals in the world’s oceans. The substances, which often occur in minute quantities, can provide important clues to understanding the ocean’s past—such as how seawater masses have moved around over centuries—and its future, such as how climate change might shift key biochemical processes. Over about 30 cruises in the past few years, researchers have collected nearly 30,000 water samples at 787 study sites. Then, using painstaking techniques—including wearing “moon suits” and working in clean rooms to prevent contamination—they’ve measured elements like iron, nickel, and zinc. The effort, known as GEOTRACES, “is a huge improvement over what we were able to do in the past,” says ocean chemist Hein de Baar of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in Texel.

GEOTRACES is tracking some 200 elements and other substances, but the lead maps released this week tell an especially sobering story of past pollution—and continuing contamination. In the central Atlantic, for example, the maps show a huge slug of subsurface seawater with lead levels higher than those in surface or deeper waters. That tainted water was once at the surface, where it collected airborne lead particles, explains chemical oceanographer Abigail Noble of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. But the surface water slowly sank into the deep ocean, essentially becoming a time capsule recording “the incredible impact that we have had on the oceans in the past, and how it changes over time.”

Although the elevated lead levels stand out as red and yellow blotches on the GEOTRACES maps, the concentrations are too low to pose a major threat to humans or wildlife, says MIT ocean scientist Edward Boyle. “You probably aren’t going to see stupid fish or whales swimming around,” he says, alluding to the brain damage that can be caused by lead exposure. The lead concentrations are roughly equivalent to what you’d get if you dissolved a small spoonful of frozen orange juice in 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools, Noble estimates. And lead levels in much of the Atlantic have dropped dramatically over the past few decades, Noble and Boyle note, mostly thanks to the lead phaseout in the United States and Europe. Read More

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An Unintended Effect of Energy-Efficient Buildings: Toxic Mold

By Sarah Zhang, http://gizmodo.com

Energy-efficient buildings can be wonderful at keeping out drafts and keeping down heating bills. But the same air-tightness, unfortunately, is also perfect for trapping humid air where toxic mold can go to party.

The Alberta Court of Appeal in Canada has been a mold-filled ghost building since 2001, after renovations to the handsome, 87-year-old sandstone building went awry. When the renovated and newly energy-efficient building reopened, according to ClimateWire, judges and attorneys complained of fatigue, irritated lungs, and watery eyes.

Air quality samples pointed the finger at mold growing inside the walls. The cracks and leaks of the pre-renovation building had been a crude form of air-quality control—albeit not very energy efficient. The new airtight building, however, trapped moisture to breed toxic mold. Read More

Haddonfield lawyer admits to doctoring asbestos suits in N.Y. to increase business

By Jessica Beym, South Jersey Times

Judges_GavelA former attorney in the Haddonfield office of a firm specializing in toxic tort litigation today admitted that he falsified defendants’ names in more than 100 asbestos suits filed in New York State courts in order to increase business and his standing in the firm, according to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

Arobert C. Tonogbanua, 44, of Sicklerville pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court to one count of wire fraud.

Authorities said Tonogbanua admitted that he fraudulently inserted the names of his former law firm’s clients into legitimately filed asbestos suits and charged the clients more than $1 million in attorney’s fees, costs and settlements to defend them.

Tonogbanua admitted that, unbeknownst to anyone else at the firm, he forwarded those fraudulently altered complaints to the firm’s clients, their representatives and insurance companies.

Authorities estimate that Tonogbanua inserted his firm’s clients’ names into more than 100 lawsuits, resulting in the generation of more than $1 million in fraudulent fees, costs and settlements. Tonogbanua is said to have personally benefitted from the scheme through bonuses and increased compensation. Read More

Lead And Asbestos-Ridden ‘Alcatraz Of The East’ Available For Lease At Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

 By Emily Corwin, http://nhpr.org

Credit rjzii via Flickr Creative Commons

Credit rjzii via Flickr Creative Commons

The US Navy will offer for lease the former Naval Prison on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The Navy has twice before sought private-sector redevelopment of the old Naval Prison, which closed in 1974.  It was built in 1908, and has been called the “Alcatraz of the East.”

The medieval-looking multi-story building is 265,000 square feet and has 11 and a half acres of waterfront land.

The new tenant would be responsible for ensuring structural stability in the now-dilapidated building, and cleaning up hazardous waste, including asbestos and lead paint. Read More

Ann Arbor Group Finds Toxic Chemicals In Mardi Gras Beads

Photo Credit: Thinkstock.com

Photo Credit: Thinkstock.com

By Matt Roush, http://detroit.cbslocal.com

Dangerous levels of lead, other toxic metals and toxic flame retardants were found in most Mardi Gras beads tested by Ann Arbor’s Ecology Center.

“We were shocked at the level of halogenated flame retardants in these products,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s principal researcher on the project. “There’s no requirement to include them in there.”

Some of the chemicals found in testing the beads are cancer-causing agents, while others are neurotoxins. Where they came from was a mystery until Ecology Center researchers looked at them under an electron microscope at Hope College in Holland.

“When we split the beads apart and looked at them under a microscope, you can actually see chunks of recycled printed circuit board and electronic waste in these,” Gearhart said.

Almost all of the beads were made in China, where the handling of discarded electronics is a huge problem.

Old electronics are also a likely source of the lead and other toxic heavy metals found in many of the beads.

Gearhart said the toxic substances can rub off the beads onto the skin, and break down off the bead material over time. Read More

 

The children who played with asbestos

By Francesca Williams, BBC News

Children in a County Durham village used to spend their days playing with lethal asbestos from a local factory. One, now 51, has cancer. What will happen to the rest?

It is the late 1960s and a little girl is playing hopscotch on a grid she has marked out – not with chalk, but a lump of asbestos.Caroline Wilcock

Forty-five years later she will be contemplating the cancerous mesothelioma in her lungs which is “growing out like a fungus”.

“I was doomed from then,” Caroline Wilcock says. “There was nothing I could have done between then and now to make a difference. I’m pleased I didn’t know it.”

She was one of many children in Bowburn who, between 1967 and 1983, played with asbestos from the factory opposite her house.

Its parent company, Cape Intermediate Holdings, is paying her a “substantial” out-of-court settlement, although it has denied liability for her illness.

Caroline describes a white, chalky film of asbestos dust on “the grass, the flowers and the bushes”. It also settled on window ledges.

The mothers were less impressed. Ann Sproat, a friend of Caroline’s sister, remembers them constantly cleaning.

“If cleaning wasn’t done we couldn’t see out the windows,” she says. “It was coming down like little dust particles, like tiny little aniseed balls.” Read More

Swiss Man Takes Pill Of ‘Dead Priest Hair’ To Treat Bell’s Palsy, Gets Lead Poisoning Instead

By Philip Ross, http://www.ibtimes.com

pillswallowA man in Switzerland was discovered to have suffered from lead poisoning after ingesting pills that he thought contained the hair of a dead Bhutanese priest. The man, originally from the country of Bhutan — whose state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism — thought the alternative medicine would treat his Bell’s palsy.

According to a case report published in F1000 Research in 2011, the Swiss man was admitted to the emergency room in Geneva with severe abdominal pain. He had experienced bouts of nausea and vomiting for five days. Doctors performed all the routine tests, but couldn’t identify what the problem was. According to Live Science, when the patient’s symptoms didn’t let up after a few days, doctors asked him if he was taking any traditional remedies. That’s when the man confessed to injesting unmarked pellets every day for three to four months in an effort to treat his Bell’s palsy.

Doctors performed a series of blood and urine tests and found high-levels of lead in the patient’s system. His blood contained 80.8 micrograms per deciliter of lead, over eight times what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a “level of concern.” The man’s stomach symptoms were deemed to be the result of lead poisoning.

Lab tests proved the paint used to color the pills was indeed full of lead.

“The origin of the intoxication was discovered to be due to the patient taking Bhutanese traditional medicines to treat a resolutive Bell’s palsy a few months earlier,” the authors of the study noted. “These medicines were composed of parchment with ink writing and pellets. The patient thought the drug comprised hair of a deceased local priest with therapeutic virtues.”

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