• DHS response plan to the Zika virus

    The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the U.S. government’s lead for efforts to respond to the Zika virus. As the White House announced last Monday, the president is also seeking more than $1.8 billion in supplemental funding from Congress to address the virus and our government’s response efforts.

  • Extreme weather likely to result in “food shocks”

    A panel of British and American researchers, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C., presented updated research revealing how extreme events which affect the food system are increasingly likely to occur, resulting in “food shocks.”

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  • Food for billions: Inland fisheries and global food security

    Inland capture fisheries are much more crucial to global food security than realized, according to the first global review of the value of inland fish and fisheries. The review shows that although aquaculture and inland capture fisheries contribute more than 40 percent of the world’s reported finfish production, their harvest is greatly under-reported and value is often-ignored. Topping the list of the value of inland fish and fisheries is food and economic security: these fisheries provide food for billions of people and livelihoods for millions worldwide. They are a primary animal protein consumed by many of the world’s rural poor, especially those in developing countries.

  • Nurturing the future of agriculture

    Climate change and man-made events put global food security at risk. But researching how plants produce seeds and evolve could help us find new ways to ensure food security. For the first time in its history, the Global Seed Vault on the Svalbard Islands, Norway, has authorized a withdrawal. It was requested in 2015 by Syria, a country where the war is endangering the local agricultural seed collections.

  • Are tighter EPA controls on mercury pollution worth it?

    Over 300,000 babies every year are born in the United States with levels of mercury that put them at risk of neurological and developmental problems. How much would you be willing to spend to reduce this number? This might seem like an abstract question, but the judgments regulators make on this question can determine whether or not a proposed regulation survives challenges in court. This was a key question addressed when the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) was reviewed by the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 vote in June 2015, the Supreme Court held that the EPA should have considered costs when deciding to regulate mercury. Research suggests that including a larger set of health effects of high levels of mercury – namely, both IQ and heart attacks – and the impact on specific populations could lead to mercury-related benefits estimates that are orders of magnitude larger than those reported by the EPA. Regardless of the approach used to weigh advantages and disadvantages of policy, the research is now clear: the benefits of MATS are substantial.

  • WHO “must reform” to deal effectively with pandemics like Zika

    The World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency response capabilities are “lacking” and will put thousands of lives at risk if they are not reformed now, a UN panel, convened in the wake of the Ebola crisis, said. “This may be the last opportunity to ensure the WHO is empowered” to build an effective emergency response capacity, an advance unedited copy of the UN panel’s report warned.

  • Obama urges Americans not to panic, asks Congress for emergency funding

    President Barack Obama has urged the American public not to panic about the Zika virus, and has asked Congress for more than $1.8 billion emergency funding to combat further infections. Speaking in an interview on CBS This Morning, Obama said: “The good news is this is not like Ebola, people don’t die of Zika — a lot of people get it and don’t even know that they have it.”

  • Toxic lead can stay in the body for years after exposure

    The ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan has highlighted just how harmful lead contamination is. What you may not realize, however, is that lead exposure is a problem throughout the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over four million households with children in the United States are exposed to elevated levels of lead. At least half a million children have blood lead levels above five micrograms per deciliter, the threshold that prompts a public health response. Because lead causes irreversible damage, making sure that people are not exposed to lead is especially important. Lead exposure in the United States has been minimized by two government actions – in 1973 and 1977 — but there is still plenty of lead out there. And those who are poor or live in the shadow of abandoned industrial sites are often at greatest risk.

  • Severe drought no longer caused just by nature

    Scientists are calling on drought researchers and managers around the world to consider both human activity and natural phenomena in their battle to preserve increasingly scarce global water supplies. The experts say that severe droughts experienced recently in countries such as China, Brazil and the United States can no longer be seen as purely natural hazards. Changes to the way people use the water and the landscape contribute to extreme water shortages.

  • Planes arriving from Zika-infected regions to be sprayed with insecticides

    The U.K. government announced that planes landing in the United Kingdom  from areas affected by the Zika virus will be sprayed with insecticide as part of the government’s response to the outbreak. So far there have been no Zika cases reported in the United Kingdom, but two adults in Ireland were confirmed to have been infected. Both have since fully recovered.

  • Florida declares state of emergency in four counties with Zika virus

    Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in four counties where nine residents have been diagnosed with the Zika virus. Miami-Dade in south Florida, Hillsborough in Tampa Bay, Lee County in southwest Florida, and Santa Rosa County in Florida Panhandle have all been affected under the executive order. Health officials believe, however, that the residents became sick outside the United States.

  • FBI launches investigation of lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water

    The FBI has launched an investigation into the contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan, which has left Flint children and other residents poisoned by lead. In a hearings on the Hill yesterday, lawmakers from both parties described what is happening in Flint as a “a man-made public health catastrophe.” Flint’s drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 after a state-appointed emergency manager ordered city officials temporarily to switch the city’s water source from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water from the Flint River, treated at the Flint water treatment plant. The order by the state-appointed emergency manager was part of the state’s cost-cutting measures.

  • In kids, even low lead levels can cause lasting harm

    Until a few years ago, the federal standard for action was 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood, and in 2012 it was lowered by half in recognition of evidence showing a lower threshold of concern. But the truth is there is no known safe level of blood lead for children, and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said as much. The medical research community has documented negative impacts on children with even lower levels of lead exposure than the current 5 micrograms per deciliters standard. With that view, we might consider every child with a confirmed nonzero lead test as at-risk. Testing lead blood levels in children is simply too late. This is akin to the TSA searching for lethal weapons after the passengers have boarded the flight and the plan has taken off. Once the lead is in the bloodstream, the damage is real and lasting for these children, and the options for response are far fewer and less effective. Children living in low-income neighborhoods, children of color, and children whose families live in rental housing are statistically at the greatest risk of exposure to lead. That means the children most at risk of lead exposure also disproportionately face the effects of poverty, low-resource communities, and trauma.

  • Gun deaths in U.S. highest among high-income nations

    New study finds that the United States, despite having only half the population of the other twenty-two high-income nations combined, accounted for 82 percent of all firearm deaths. In addition, the United State accounted for 90 percent of all women, 91 percent of children aged 0 to 14 years, and 92 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 years who are killed by firearms.

  • LA, Calif. file criminal charges against SoCalGas over massive methane leak

    Criminal charges were filed on Tuesday against Southern California Gas, the utility company whose blown-out natural gas well forced thousands of people in the Los Angeles area to evacuate their homes. The charges claim that the company failed to report the massive leak to the authorities, as it operating license requires.Papers filed in court yesterday claim that the company allowed the release of 80,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.