Daily Archives: June 2, 2011

Oil clean-up chemical dispersants more dangerous than oil itself?

digitaljournal.com | Jun 1, 2011

by KJ Mullins

The use of chemical dispersants to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast may be more damaging to the ecosystem than the oil itself, according to preliminary findings by University of West Florida researchers.

The chemical dispersant, Corexit, used by BP is toxic when mixed with oil to phytoplankton and bacteria. Those every elements are vital to the food chain within the Gulf of Mexico’s waters.

“That (effect) may cascade itself up through other larger organisms as you go up the food web,” Wade Jeffrey, a UWF biologist with the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation said Tuesday in an article from Pensacola News Journal. “It’s one of those small pieces of a big puzzle of effects. We can’t say if we’ve seen big shifts yet. I don’t know that answer yet.”


Ban on Corexit Approved by Louisiana Senate Environmental Quality Committee

The BP oil spill dumped 2 million gallons of dispersant chemicals into the Gulf after 4.1 million barrels of oil polluted the waters from the Deepwater Horizon’s April 20, 2010 explosion.

The study has found that the chemicals used to fix the problem caused the oil to become smaller droplets. Those droplets are more available to animals in the waters. One of those animals that have suffered are dolphins. Dolphin mothers appear to have not been able to build up blubber to weather the cold as a result of the chemicals used in the water.

Full Story

China bans BPA in babies’ bottles

China Daily | Jun 1, 2011

By Cheng Yingqi

BEIJING – Six ministries announced on Monday that they have banned the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in the production of babies’ bottles in an attempt to protect the health of infants.

The Ministry of Health and five other ministries issued a joint notice on their websites calling for an end to the production of such bottles starting on June 1. The ministries have also forbidden the import and sale of such bottles starting Sept 1.

BPA is widely used in the production of plastics, including tableware and beverage containers. However, BPA is now understood to be an endocrine disruptor and experts say it could lead to the early sexual development of children and may cause cancer. Its use was banned in Canada in September 2010 and in the European Union in March.

On April 20, China’s health ministry solicited opinions from related government agencies on a draft proposal to prohibit the manufacture and import of infant food containers incorporating the chemical.

When the final regulation was released, the ministry changed the phrase “infant food containers” into “infant nursing bottles” for clarification.


China bans BPA from plastic baby bottles

Beijing News quoted an official from the ministry who explained that people sometimes put milk in nursing bottles and then heat them, which makes it more likely that the BPA in the bottles will leech into the milk.

The notice from the ministries also asks local food security inspectors to be vigilant in looking out for violations of the ban.

“Before the EU banned BPA in March, I had no idea about this chemical at all, although I had seen some people discussing the issue on the Internet before who said plastic contained something that was bad for children,” said Yang Yang, a 30-year-old Beijing mother who is typical of people who were unaware of the risks until recently.

“I ended up buying glass bottles for my son, even though they were way heavier than plastic bottles and are harder for a baby to hold.”

She said she was still worried about the safety of the plastic or rubber teats.

“And I believe the government is responsible for warning us of possible health risks in baby products in advance, instead of following developed countries in banning dangerous chemicals,” she said.

BPA is not the only endocrine disruptor babies are exposed to. Around 70 such chemicals have been identified. Although some are already forbidden under the law, others remain in use in the production of plastic containers, toys and pesticides.

Twelve distinct chemicals were listed in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which is an international environmental treaty that was signed by many countries in 2001 with the aim of eliminating persistent organic pollutants.

“After entering the human body, endocrine disruptors act like the female hormone estrogen and thus probably cause hormone disorders in people,” said Pan Xiaochuan, a professor with the School of Public Health at Peking University.

Homeland-Security Business Still Booming Ten Years Later

A decade after the 9/11 terror attacks, homeland security is still a growth business.

CNBC.com | May 29, 2011

By Constance Gustke

The niche—that includes James Bond-like tools such as infrared cameras, explosive detectors and body scanners—is expected to grow 12 percent annually through 2013, according to Morgan Keegan.

“Homeland security is reactive,” says Tim Quillen, a senior equity analyst at investment banking firm Stephens Inc. “The stocks are hedges against bad things happening.”

One example: the underwear bomber, who was thwarted in late 2009. After that a bell weather homeland security stock OSI Systems [OSIS  39.63    -0.35  (-0.88%)   ] rocketed 30 percent within a month. “The stock went on a tear,” says Brian Ruttenbur, a research analyst at Morgan Keegan. Why? OSI makes X-ray and metal detectors used to scan people, baggage and cargo that it sells worldwide. During the past 12 months ending yesterday, the stock has popped from $25 to $40, driven by border and port growth.

Much has changed, since the government spent over $20 billion beefing up airport baggage screening nationwide with X-ray devices.

Airline security is a small business: about $1 billion. There’s 2,100 airport security lanes in the U.S., and 90 percent use X-ray scanners.

“The scanners are ten plus years old now,” says Ruttenbur and “going through an upgrade cycle.” Recently, the government has ordered another 500 scanners though.

John Whitehead – US is a police state

Screening cargo going on aircraft and boats at ports is also spiking. Now, only a small percentage of all cargo is scanned. Security screening will grow ten percent to 15 percent annually in coming years, says Ruttenbur in a recent report. This driver will help OSI Systems pump out strong security earnings.

Tiny Niche, Big Clout

There aren’t any pure plays within homeland security though—neither stocks or ETFs. Some players like OSI Systems sell their screening devices to healthcare companies too, so their homeland security earnings are diluted.

“You have to spread the net wide and separate reality from hype,” says Quillen

Both OSI Systems and Flir Systems [FLIR  35.10    -1.05  (-2.9%)   ] are undervalued right now, says Quillen.

Flir Systems is a well-managed market leader in infrared cameras used to protect critical buildings, he says. This fast-growing market is slated to expand 20 percent annually, though only half of Flir Systems’ revenue come from government business. The  stock rose from $29 to $36 in the past year. And Quillen has a 12-month price target of $43 on it.

OSI Systems is another favorite. In the first quarter of the year, OSI’s security group revenues grew 27 percent over last year’s.

“The stock is a long-term play,” says Jonathan Richton, an analyst at Imperial Capital, citing OSI’s developing cargo scanning business. Analysts peg five-year earnings growth at 20 percent. Another plus driving earnings: OSI Systems is aggressively tightening operating margins.

A third player, American Science and Engineering [ASEI  85.00    -1.53  (-1.77%)   ] makes cargo and parcel search systems. But the stock is expensive right now, say analysts, since the company missed first-quarter revenue targets.

In the past year, the stock has risen from $77 to $88. Ruttenbur expects only 4-percent earnings growth this year but 10 percent to 15 percent in the next few years, as orders pick up. His 12-month price target: $94.

For investors casting a wide net, L-3 Communications [LLL  80.40    -1.25  (-1.53%)   ] is a homeland security monolith. It’s also the sixth largest U.S. defense contractor.

The company makes surveillance equipment for airports and checkpoint scanners. “They’re playing a meaningful role,” says Quillen, “but security revenue is only about 5 percent.”

Its stock price has been flat over the last year.

These days, homeland security niche players are a safe bet though — even after the recent death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Egypt general defends forced “virginity tests”

Reuters | May 31, 2011

CAIRO (Reuters) – An Egyptian general has said the military conducted forced “virginity tests” on female protesters in March, CNN reported, actions that have outraged Egyptian activists who called for demonstrations to condemn the incident.

“The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the U.S. broadcaster quoted the senior general, who asked not to be named, as saying. “We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place.”

“These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs),” he said.

Amnesty International had previously called on the government to investigate accusations that the army tortured and abused women arrested in the protests.

Rights groups said at least 18 women were arrested on March 9, when army officers forcibly cleared Tahrir Square in Cairo, center of the protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February. A military council now rules Egypt.

Some of those detained said the abuse included forced “virginity tests,” beatings, electric shocks and strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers.

Military officials, who have previously denied the army had any part in such abuses, could not be reached for comment.

Activists on online social networking sites scrambled to organize demonstrations to condemn the military’s actions in the wake of the CNN report. Protesters who ousted Mubarak had in part been driven to the street by human rights abuses by police.

“Women were in the front lines in Tahrir. They have always played a role and they deserve for their dignity to be regained,” wrote one group of activists on their Facebook page.

Did BP’s oil-dissolving chemical make the spill worse?

A sea turtle swims through a muck of oxidizing oil mingling with chemical dispersants used by BP to break up oil in the Gulf of Mexico in this May 2010 photo — just a few weeks after the spill began. NICOLE BENGIVENO / NEW YORK TIMES

heraldtribune.com | May 30, 2011

By Kate Spinner

BP succeeded in sinking the oil from its blown well out of sight — and keeping much of it away from beaches and marshes last year — by dousing the crude with nearly 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals. But the impact on the ecosystem as a whole may have been more damaging than the oil alone.

The combination of oil and Corexit, the chemical BP used to dissolve the slick, is more toxic to tiny plants and animals than the oil in most cases, according to preliminary research by several Florida scientists. And the chemicals may not have broken down the oil as well as expected.

Scientists reported some of their early findings last week at a Florida Institute of Oceanography conference at the University of Central Florida. The researchers were funded a year ago through a $10 million BP grant.


Scientists find Corexit made BP Gulf catastrophe worse is not news

The initial findings require more research for scientists to reach definitive conclusions. But scientists said they were struck by the studies so far.

They added BP oil to a jar of sea water and saw all the oil float to the top. After adding a little Corexit to the mix, the entire bottle of water turned the color of dark coffee.

In theory, the chemically dissolved oil should be a feast for bacteria that would break down some of the most harmful products in the oil.

But the Corexit may not have done its job properly, said Wade Jeffrey, a biologist with the University of West Florida’s Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation.

“So far — and this is very preliminary — we’re not seeing a big difference,” Jeffrey said. “The way we’re doing the experiment, the Corexit does not seem to facilitate the degradation of the oil.”

Additionally, the Corexit and oil mixture tends to be more toxic to phytoplankton — tiny microscopic plants — than the oil itself.

Jeffrey subjected water samples, mostly from the Pensacola region, to heavily diluted concentrations of oily water and oily water mixed with Corexit. Most of the time the mix of Corexit and oil was more toxic to the phytoplankton in the sample than oil alone. Additionally, the Corexit did not prompt the oil-eating bacteria in the samples to gobble the oil any faster.

Jeffrey worked with a concentration of 1 part per million of oil and a tenth of that concentration for Corexit. Higher doses of oil killed the phytoplankton immediately, leaving Jeffrey with nothing to observe.

To see whether Corexit is more effective at breaking down larger concentrations of oil, Jeffrey plans more experimentation without the phytoplankton.

A similar study showed toxic effects of oil and Corexit on larger species, including conch, oysters and shrimp.

Susan Laramore, assistant research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, used somewhat degraded oil from tar mats collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to conduct her research.

Not all of the results are in, but early evidence shows the oil and dispersant mixture to be more toxic than the oil alone.

“These results are backwards of what the oil companies are reporting,” Laramore said.

The findings raise questions about whether the federal government should have let BP use so much dispersant on the oil. The Environmental Protection Agency tried to force BP to use a less damaging product, but no other product was available in sufficient quantities.

The dispersant effectively kept a great deal of the oil at sea, where it was not easily visible to the public. Although as much as half the oil that spewed from the well — 186 million to 227 million gallons — is unaccounted for, plenty of it still washed ashore, from the border of Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

Reports and videos taken last week by scientist Dana Wetzel of Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory also show that the marshes of Louisiana’s Barataria Bay remain heavily choked in oil.

Evidence also is growing that the Corexit did not degrade as promised. A study in January by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts indicated that Corexit applied at the well-head — some 800,000 gallons — did nothing to break up the oil and simply drifted into the ecosystem.

FIO researcher Wilson Mendoza similarly has found potential evidence that Corexit remains in the environment much longer than expected. Wilson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, is developing a fingerprint for the BP oil and the Corexit.

In testing 75 different water samples taken from around the Gulf of Mexico, some contained signatures identified for both the oil and the Corexit a year after the spill.

Mendoza is running another test, using equipment that can analyze substances at a molecular level to verify the findings.

“If some of the other teams found out that Corexit is actually toxic and if it’s still there after a year, then I suppose it could cause environmental problems to a lot of organisms in the Gulf of Mexico,” Mendoza said.

ISI denies murdering journalist who reported on militants’ penetration of Pakistan security services

The Envoy | Jun 1, 2011

By Laura Rozen

Shahzad's body was found on Monday outside of Islamabad, reportedly with torture marks on his face and a gunshot wound to his stomach.

Pakistan’s intelligence service has denied involvement in the death of a Pakistani investigative journalist who was found murdered this week.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, 41, the Pakistan bureau chief for Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online and for Italy’s Adrkronos International news agency, disappeared Sunday en route to a television interview in Islamabad. Prior to leaving, Shahzad told associates he feared he was in danger from the ISI–the Pakistani intelligence and security services.

Shahzad had recently reported that a May 22 attack on a Pakistani naval base near the port of Karachi was linked to al Qaeda sympathizers who had infiltrated the ranks of the Pakistani navy.

Shahzad’s body was found on Monday outside of Islamabad, reportedly with torture marks on his face and a gunshot wound to his stomach.

Human Rights Watch’s Pakistan director Ali Dayan Hasan told the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall that he had confirmed Monday that Shahzad was being held by Pakistan’s intelligence services, the ISI.

“It is quite clear by his own account and from his reports that they were deeply unhappy with his reporting,” Mr. Hasan said.

An ISI official called the claim absurd.

“Show us the proof,” an unnamed ISI official told the Washington Post’s Karen Brulliard. “Otherwise, it’s totally absurd.”

U.S. officials have suggested that it’s highly unlikely that elements of the Pakistani intelligence services were unaware Osama bin Laden was hiding in the country. Bin Laden was residing at a fortified compound near an elite Pakistani military officers’ academy in Abbottabad for over five years before U.S. commandos killed him last month.

Pakistani security services arrested last Friday a former Pakistani naval commando, Kamran Malik, and his brother for questioning in connection with the 16-hour attack on the Karachi naval port, Gall writes.

(Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who investigated al-Qaeda’s alleged infiltration of the Pakistani navy, was found murdered Monday near Islamabad: Cristiano Camera, Courtesy of Adnkronos/AP)

Nigerian ‘baby factory’ children used ‘for rituals or other purposes’

Cases of child abuse and people trafficking are common in West Africa Photo: Justin Sutcliffe

Nigerian police have raided a home allegedly being used to force teenage girls to have babies that were then offered for sale for trafficking or other purposes, authorities said on Wednesday.

Telegraph | Jun 1, 2011

“We stormed the premises of the Cross Foundation in Aba three days ago following a report that pregnant girls aged between 15 and 17 are being made to make babies for the proprietor,” said Bala Hassan, police commissioner for Abia state in the country’s southeast.

“We rescued 32 pregnant girls and arrested the proprietor who is undergoing interrogation over allegations that he normally sells the babies to people who may use them for rituals or other purposes.”

Some of the girls told police they had been offered to sell their babies for between 25,000 and 30,000 naira (£113) depending on the sex of the baby.


Babies in most cases sold to ritualists, who in turn use them for different rituals

The babies would then be sold to buyers for anything from 300,000 naira to one million naira each, according to a state agency fighting human trafficking in Nigeria, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).

The girls were expected to be transferred to the regional NAPTIP offices in Enugu on Wednesday, the regional head Ijeoma Okoronkwo told AFP.

Hassan said the owner of the “illegal baby factory” is likely to face child abuse and human trafficking charges. Buying or selling of babies is illegal in Nigeria and can carry a 14-year jail term.

“We have so many cases going on in court right now,” said Okoronkwo.

In 2008, police raids revealed an alleged network of such clinics, dubbed baby “farms” or “factories” in the local press.

Cases of child abuse and people trafficking are common in West Africa. Some children are bought from their families for use as labour in plantations, mines, factories or as domestic help.

Others are sold into prostitution while a few are either killed or tortured in black magic rituals. NAPTIP says it has also seen a trend of illegal adoption.

“There is a problem of illicit adoption and people not knowing the right way to adopt children,” said Okoronkwo.

Human trafficking is ranked the third most common crime after economic fraud and drug trafficking in the country, according to UNESCO.