The Seminole and Orange County Health Departments in Florida have reported a locally acquired case of dengue fever in a mainland Florida resident. Previously, cases of locally acquired dengue in the United States were reported only from the vicinity of Key West.
Dengue is a tropical disease spread by a species of mosquito. There is no vaccine or specific treatment. Symptoms can include high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, and a rash. Some people exhibit no symptoms, but in a small number of cases dengue fever can progress to dengue hemorrhagic fever and possible death. Prevention using mosquito repellants and nets appears to be the primary control strategy. Transmission requires the mosquito vector. Human to human transmission is not possible.
Given the very large number of Canadians that travel to Florida, the northward movement of the dengue mosquito and hence of the disease is likely to increase the number of Canadians who acquire the disease while traveling. This could eventually increase workplace absenteeism rates and health care costs.
One case is not enough to prove anything but models of the impacts of climate change indicate that northward movement of tropical disease is an anticipated risk factor.
See http://www.orchd.com/absolutenm/templates/westnile.aspx?articleid=419&zoneid=29 for more details.
Canadian government medical information about dengue fever is at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/info/dengue-eng.php and http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/09vol35/acs-dcc-2/index-eng.php
The Alberta environment minister has announced that responsibility for environmental monitoring will be transferred to a new agency which is arm’s length from government. While details are still sketchy, the concept of undertaking environmental monitoring through an agency which is free of political interference and data gerrymandering is one that GallonDaily heartily supports. In this Alberta instance it is apparently also supported by the petroleum industry.
Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen has appointed a board to develop an implementation plan for the new agency. Disappointingly, she has given no firm time line for the work but she has announced that the agency will begin with environmental monitoring in the oil sands region and will subsequently expand its reach to the entire province.
GallonDaily would encourage a system in which environmental enforcement would also be moved away from the hands of meddling politicians into an independent agency but the independent monitoring agency concept is a very good first step.
The Alberta government announcement and more information can be found at http://environment.alberta.ca/03379.html under the heading Environmental monitoring agency.
Health claims, particularly recent claims for ‘superfoods’, are becoming so common that one has to wonder how long it will be before potato chips, french fries, and everyday soft drinks are marketed as good for one’s health. GallonDaily considers that public health is as important a part of sustainable development as environmental health – hence this article.
It is not often that superfood health claims are debunked but the Cochrane Collaboration has just debunked one of the older claims with high public recognition: cranberry juice helps to prevent urinary tract infections. The Collaboration is a UK based international democratic network of 28,000 researchers that accepts no industry funding and provides open advice to the public and to governments on health care issues. In a paper published earlier this month the Collaboration states that “Cranberry juice does not appear to have a significant benefit in preventing UTIs and may be unacceptable to consume in the long term.” Interestingly the cranberry claim is one of the few health claims accepted by a government, the government of France, for use in marketing.
Companies responsible for product claims, especially health and environmental claims, need to be especially diligent not only in verifying claims but also in monitoring activities around the world that may lead to a valid challenge to the claim. The Cranberry Institute is still fighting to maintain the UTI claim: time will tell whether governments and the public go with the Cochrane Collaboration research or the industry-serving research promoted by the Cranberry Institute. There is little doubt in our mind as to which group has the greater credibility!
The Cochrane Collaboration paper can be found at http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD001321/cranberries-for-preventing-urinary-tract-infections
The Cranberry Institute view is at http://www.cranberryinstitute.org/healthresearch.htm
Cambridge Consultants, a product development and technology consulting firm based in the US and the UK, has developed a product that illustrates how design for waste reduction and energy efficiency can provide more sustainable products and lifestyles in the most unexpected areas. One of the featured products is a blood glucose monitor. According to Cambridge Consultants, more than 346 million people worldwide have diabetes and many of them use blood glucose monitors that use disposable needles and test strips.
The new blood glucose monitor developed by the company reduces the lifecycle environmental impact of the monitor by 65% through a unique 28-test cartridge based design. Not only does the new monitor have a significantly reduced environmental footprint but it is also said to be more convenient and discrete for the user. Cambridge calls its approach to new product design ‘Ecovation’.
More details of the more environmentally responsible blood glucose monitor can be found at http://www.cambridgeconsultants.com/news/pr/release/102/en
Cambridge Consultants have also developed a vacuum cleaner that it says that would use 43% less energy than the average vacuum cleaner, whilst maintaining the same cleaning performance. Details of the vacuum cleaner at http://www.cambridgeconsultants.com/news/pr/release/14/en
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a liberal leaning think tank exists to broaden discussions about economic policy to include the needs of low- and middle-income Americans.
Earlier this month EPI published a report on the green economy. Among the findings:
- Greener industries grow faster than the overall economy. For every percentage-point increase in an industry’s green intensity (the share of employment in green jobs), annual employment growth was 0.034 percentage points higher. Projections for the next 10 years suggest continued jobs benefits from green intensity.
- States with greater green intensity have generally fared better in the current economic downturn.
- Green jobs are accessible to workers without a college degree. For every one percentage-point increase in green intensity in a given industry, there was a corresponding 0.28 percentage-point increase in the share of jobs in that industry held by workers without a four-year college degree.
- Manufacturing plays a strong role in the green economy. Although it represents only 10.8 percent of total private employment, manufacturing accounts for 20.4 percent of green jobs.
- Green jobs go beyond the renewable energy industry. For example, nearly 50 percent of jobs in the water industry are green jobs, and the sector has opportunity to grow not just overall but in green intensity.
The US Government Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the following definition of green jobs:
- jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or
- jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or ensuring that they use fewer natural resources.
EPI discusses the limitations of this definition and of the green jobs concept while analyzing green jobs in a number of sectors, public and private, including:
- Energy from renewable sources.
- Energy-efficiency equipment, appliances, buildings and vehicles, and goods and services that improve the energy efficiency of buildings and the efficiency of energy storage and distribution.
- Pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction, and recycling and reuse.
- Organic agriculture; sustainable forestry; and soil, water, and wildlife conservation.
- Government and regulatory administration; and education, training, and advocacy related to green technologies and practices.
The full paper is well worth detailed review by anyone interested in the green jobs concept and the opportunities which it presents. The full paper is available at http://www.epi.org/publication/bp349-assessing-the-green-economy/
Global insurer and reinsurer Munich Re has published a report which shows that North America has been more affected by extreme weather in terms of insurance loss events than any other major part of the globe.
For the period 1980 to 2011 the overall loss burden in North America from weather catastrophes was US$ 1,060bn (in 2011 values).The insured losses amounted to US$ 510bn, and some 30,000 people lost their lives due to weather catastrophes in North America during this time frame.
The Munich Re study states that “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America. Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways.”
Munich Re operates in all lines of insurance, with around 47,000 employees throughout the world and has premium income of about $35 billion from reinsurance alone. A detailed summary of the study is available at http://www.munichre.com/en/media_relations/press_releases/2012/2012_10_17_press_release.aspx
A review of the antimicrobial action of silver ions and silver nanoparticles recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives emphasizes that use of silver nanoparticles requires some care to minimize environmental risks and improve product efficacy. Silver in various forms is widely used to provide a persistent antimicrobial surface on items ranging from surgical tools to shopping totes.
The review article focuses on research from Rice University designed to improve knowledge of how silver works in its role as an antimicrobial.
The research found that silver nanoparticles are a more effective delivery mechanism for the antimicrobial effects of silver than silver ions derived from such substances as silver nitrate. The research found that it is silver ions that have the antimicrobial effects but nanoparticles can more effectively deliver the ions to the place where they are needed than free ions themselves. Silver nanoparticles have a much smaller antimicrobial effect but are much less easily disrupted by other chemicals in the environment than silver ions.
Silver is an environmental contaminant and the study reinforces that care needs to be taken in any use of silver as a disinfectant to avoid collateral environmental damage.
Future studies could lead to more regulation of use of silver as a disinfectant.
The review article is available at http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/2012/10/understanding-the-germicidal-effects-of-silver-nanoparticles/
Siemens has opened a 6,340 square metre building in London’s Green Enterprise District, in the docklands area, that it claims as one of the most sustainable buildings in the world. The building contains a 2,000 square metre public exhibition space dedicated to sustainable urban development.
The exhibition’s zones explore a range of issues including water, transport, city design and management, energy, environment, buildings and lighting, safety and security and healthcare. Numerous case studies from cities around the world showcase innovative ideas that others can learn from. A final gallery, ‘Future Life’, invites visitors to imagine how their city might look in 2050.
The building itself features numerous sustainable building components including:
- average energy use of 83 kWh/square meter/year, more than 50 percent less energy than other comparable office buildings.
- an all-electric building, the Crystal uses solar power and ground-source heat pumps to generate its own energy, meaning that no fossil fuels are burned in the building.
- two thirds of the Crystal’s roof is covered in PV panels generating around 20 percent of its electrical energy.
- taking into account the renewable energy produced on site, CO2 emissions – at an expected 23 kg/CO2/square meter/year on average – will be more than 65 percent lower than in comparable office buildings, based on the UK grid mix.
- rainwater is harvested for use, and not a drop of water is lost throughout the building, it can all be recycled or reused.
Gallon Environment Letter will be visiting The Crystal within the next few months. Watch for our report in a future issue of gallon Environment Letter.
Meanwhile, lots of information about The Crystal is available on http://www.siemens.com/press/en/events/2012/infrastructure-cities/2012-09-thecrystal.php and on links from that page. The exhibition area brochure is at http://www.siemens.co.uk/pool/news_press/news_archive/pdfs/the-crystal-brochure.pdf.
A report from the National Association for PET Container Resources presents what GallonDaily considers good news regarding recycling of PET bottles in the US and North America. Recycling rates are growing steadily, though there is still some distance to go for PET to achieve general targets that are expected in recycling of other materials. PET is the clear flexible plastic used for a great deal of packaging, especially beverage bottles. It is actually the same material as polyester, used for clothing and many other applications, but in a different form.
According to NAPCOR data, the 2011 gross recycling rate for PET bottles is 29.3%, up from 19.9% ten years ago. There are 23 US PET recycling plants in operation with a combined capacity of 1.755 billion pounds, significantly more than the 1.052 billion pounds of PET currently being recycled. Prices for bales of PET bottles varied during the year from a low of 25 cents a pound in December to a high of 40 cents a pound in the spring months.
The big jump in use of recycled PET in 2011 came from Canadian manufacturers and for bottles made in the US but sold into Canada. Use of recycled PET for fibre applications also showed strong growth.
Lightweighting of bottles is something of a challenge for the PET recycling industry with collectors, intermediate processors, and reclaimers having to handle more containers to obtain the same weight. This increases recycling costs and creates logistical issues in handling the lighter containers throughout the system. NAPCOR expresses confidence that the challenges of recycling lighter weight bottles will be overcome. Labels that are not compatible with recycling systems are another big challenge for recyclers.
The 2011 Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity is available at http://www.napcor.com/pdf/NAPCOR_2011RateReport.pdf
Cogeneration, also known as combined heat and power (CHP), is making good progress as an energy efficient technology in the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Cogen generally means making concurrent use of energy generation technology with heat. For example, thermal (coal, oil or gas) electricity generation puts out large quantities of waste heat. By making use of that heat a cogen facility can improve its energy and economic efficiency. An existing heating plant can often be modified so as to produce electricity as well as steam heat for an industrial plant.
According to EIA, there are nearly 70 gigawatts (GW) of combined heat and power generating capacity in the United States, accounting for almost 7% of total U.S. capacity, with 25 GW in the industrial sector, 2 GW in the commercial sector, and 43 GW in the electric power sector. In 2011, the average capacity factor for generators at industrial CHP plants was 57%, the equivalent of running at full capacity 57% of the time.
Useful thermal output accounts for most CHP fuel consumption, rather than electricity production. CHP systems operate with a wide range of fuels. Natural gas is the most common primary energy source used in combined heat and power stations, followed by coal and biomass (often in the form of waste products at paper mills). The technology choice for a CHP facility depends on available fuel and the amount of generating capacity needed. Reciprocating internal combustion engines are widely used in small-to-medium applications (under 10 MW). Larger systems use industrial boilers, simple-cycle steam turbines, and gas turbines, as well as combined-cycle systems that are similar in design to combined-cycle units used in power production.
Many Canadian energy facilities are still not taking advantage of cogeneration opportunities. Owners often think that they are not appropriately sited, are too small, or have other barriers to expanding a steam heat plant to a cogen facility. The US is showing that cogen can be a real economic and environmental benefit.
For the EIA report visit http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=8250