• Two major U.S. aquifers contaminated with high levels of natural uranium

    Nearly two million people throughout the Great Plains and California live above aquifer sites contaminated with natural uranium which is mobilized by human-contributed nitrate. Data from roughly 275,000 groundwater samples in the High Plains and Central Valley aquifers show that many Americans live less than two-thirds of a mile from wells that often far exceed the uranium guideline set by the Environmental Protection Agency. A new study reports that 78 percent of the uranium-contaminated sites were linked to the presence of nitrate, a common groundwater contaminant that originates mainly from chemical fertilizers and animal waste.

  • Pfenex awarded contract valued at up to $143.5 million to develop anthrax vaccine

    San Diego, California-based Pfenex Inc. the other day announced it has signed a five year, cost plus fixed fee contract valued at up to $143.5 million with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for the advanced development of Px563L, a mutant recombinant protective antigen anthrax vaccine. The company says the U.S. government is looking to have a stockpile of seventy-five million doses.

  • What if it happened again? What we need to do to prepare for a nuclear event

    As we observe the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it may seem like the threat from nuclear weapons has receded. But it hasn’t; the threat is actually increasing steadily. This is difficult to face for many people, and this denial also means that we are not very well-prepared for nuclear and radiological events. Any nuclear weapon exchange or major nuclear plant meltdown will immediately lead to a global public health emergency. The Ebola outbreak taught the world that we should have resources in place to handle a major health emergency before it happens. What would a Nuclear Global Health Workforce need to be prepared to manage? For that we can look back at the legacy of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

  • Warming-driven substantial glacier ice loss in Central Asia imperils water supplies

    Central Asia is the outstanding case for human dependence on water seasonally delayed by glaciers. Nowhere the question about the glacier state is linked so closely to questions of water availability and, thus, food security. The glaciers in Central Asia, however, experience substantial losses in glacier mass and area. Along the Tien Shan, Central Asia’s largest mountain range, glaciers have lost 27 percent of their mass and 18 percent of their area during the last fifty years. Scientists estimate that almost 3,000 square kilometers of glaciers and an average of 5.4 gigatons of ice per year have been lost since the 1960s, saying that about half of Tien Shan’s glacier volume could be depleted by the 2050s.

  • Researchers carefully protect dangerous pathogens – but how secure are all their data?

    Ebola, smallpox, anthrax and many others: the most dangerous microorganisms are strictly regulated in the United States. The federal government oversees use of sixty-five so-called select agents with “the potential to pose a severe threat to public, animal or plant health, or to animal or plant products.” There has never been as much research performed with these pathogens —to learn more, find cures, or create vaccines — as in the past decade. The sprawl of high containment laboratories has led to a parallel increase in individuals with access to these agents. As of January 2015, approximately 11,000 individuals were on the list. The deadly infectious agents must be kept safely under lock and key, where they can’t threaten the general population or fall into the wrong hands. But even the most physically secure research lab could be the site of a devastating data security breach. As they stand now, information security guidelines published by science regulators with regard to select agents lack the critical level of detail needed to protect data effectively.

  • Agroterrorism a serious risk to Americans, U.S. economy: Experts

    The word “terrorism” is typically associated with bomb and bullets, but security experts say that there are other types of terrorism which may bring death and disruption, chief among them is agroterrorism. Agroterrorism is the use of animal or plant pathogens to disrupt a nation’s food supply, or use the food supply to spread deadly disease.In 2004, Tommy Thompson, then secretary of Health and Human Services, said that, “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”

  • view counter
  • Toxic blue-green algae a growing threat to nation’s drinking, recreational water

    A new report concludes that blooms of toxic cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are a poorly monitored and underappreciated risk to recreational and drinking water quality in the United States, and may increasingly pose a global health threat. Several factors are contributing to the concern. Temperatures and carbon dioxide levels have risen, many rivers have been dammed worldwide, and wastewater nutrients or agricultural fertilizers in various situations can cause problems in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

  • U.K. conducted chemical weapons experiments on “unconsenting participants”

    In 1963 the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s Porton Down military science center carried out the first of a series of tests to release zinc cadmium sulphide in the atmosphere over Norwich. It was one of many examples of secret experiments conducted in the name of military research during the 1950s and 1960s, now chronicled for the first time in a new book. The book provides a comprehensive overview of state military scientific research on chemical and biological weapons by Britain, the United States, and Canada since the First World War. Between 1946 and 1976, “Britain was turned into a large-scale open-air laboratory; her people into an army of unconsenting participants,” the author writes.

  • Polluting waterways with antibiotics may create superbugs of tomorrow

    Researchers have proved for the first time that even low concentrations of antibiotics are polluting waterways. Using low, realistic concentrations of antibiotics that might be found in waste water, the team showed a series of worrying effects on both environmental and clinical bacteria, including rearrangements of the bacterial DNA, changes in the colonies that the bacteria form, and most importantly, the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains.

  • Single dose Ebola vaccine is safe and effective in monkeys against outbreak strain

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists report that a single dose of an experimental Ebola virus (EBOV) vaccine — VSV-EBOV — completely protects cynomolgus macaques against the current EBOV outbreak strain, EBOV-Makona, when given at least seven days before exposure, and partially protects them if given three days prior. The scientists also observed that the experimental VSV-EBOV vaccine appears to provide initial protection by triggering innate virus-fighting host responses; these responses partially protected animals challenged with EBOV-Makona within a week after vaccination.

  • Smart hand pumps to bring a reliable water service to rural Africa

    Worldwide 780 million people live without basic and reliable water supplies, with parts of rural Africa facing particular challenges achieving water security. Groundwater from hand pumps is a primary water supply for many communities — but up to one third of these pumps are out of action at any one time and can take weeks to be repaired. Researchers have created a device that generates data on hand pump usage and transmits this information over the mobile phone network. The smart hand pump, being trialed in rural Kenya, alerts the maintenance team if the hand pump is not functioning.

  • FDA to hospitals: Infusion system vulnerable to hacks, should not be used

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning in which it “strongly encourages” hospitals to stop using Hospira’s Symbiq Infusion System, because the device is vulnerable to attacks by hackers who could remotely control dosages delivered via the computerized pumps. The FDS said that tests have shown that an unauthorized third party – hackers – could access the Symbiq infusion system by breaching hospital networks.

  • State immunization laws should eliminate non-medical exemptions: Internists

    Support for eliminating existing exemptions, except for medical reasons, from immunization laws was among the policy recommendations adopted last weekend at the summer meeting of the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians (ACP). “Allowing exemptions based on non-medical reasons poses a risk both to the unvaccinated person and to public health,” said Wayne J. Riley, M.D., president of ACP. “Intentionally unvaccinated individuals can pose a danger to the public, especially to individuals who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.”

  • More extreme heat coming to the Southeast

    The Southeastern United States and Texas are uniquely at risk from climate change, according to a new report release the other day by the Risky Business Project. The Southeast region also faces the highest risks of coastal property losses in the nation as seas rise and storms surge. Between $48.2 billion and $68.7 billion worth of existing coastal property in the Southeast will likely be below sea level by 2050. Cities like Miami and New Orleans will likely be severely affected. The dramatic increase in the number of days above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will have a deleterious effect on people’s health, agricultural yields.

  • CDC to review oversight of bioterror labs as concerns grow over lax supervision

    Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, has ordered a review of how the agency oversees and implements safety and security measures in bioterror laboratories across the country. Documents obtained through FOIA request show that dozens of labs handling the most dangerous bioterror pathogens have time and again failed to comply with key safety and security measures, but CDC inspectors allowed these labs to operate for years before offering to put them on a “performance improvement” plan. Even when inspectors identified significant violations of safety or security practices in work with “Tier 1” select agents – the deadliest of bioterror weapons — the agency only “strongly recommend[ed]” the labs stop work with the pathogens, but without mandating it.