August 30, 2011 at 9:09 am By Roz Potter
From Life Scientist: Link
This threat should not be dismissed because it sounds like so many other warnings. A new lethal bird flu strain is spreading rapidly. If it mixes with the more tame but highly contagious swine flu now firmly established in humans and animals throughout the world, we could face a lethal flu pandemic.
Bird flu is back on the radar, with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warning of a new mutant strain that is spreading amongst bird populations in Asia and beyond.
According to the FAO, this could lead to a resurgence of the H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, which has already infected 565 people since 2003, and killed 331.
However, should such a strain of influenza happen to cross with the recent H1N1 ‘swine flu’ strain, it could morph into a serious threat, said Professor Peter Doherty, Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne.
“The recent H1N1 ‘swine ‘flu’ pandemic was caused by the reassortment of genes from two pig viruses. That virus was incredibly infectious and went around the world in six months though, fortunately, it was not especially virulent as it took about six months before we started getting vaccine into peoples’ arms.
“If, however, a pig became infected simultaneously with an HP H5N1 virus and the 2009 pandemic strain, it is possible that an extremely virulent variant that spreads readily between humans could emerge,” he said.
Professor Doherty has spent a lifetime studying the immune system, and in 1996 he and Professor Rolf Zinkernagel received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work uncovering the role of the Major Histocompatibility Complex in immunity.
Vaccination against individual strains is important, said Professor Doherty, although the virus has been able to mutate to get around vaccines targeted just as H5N1.
August 30, 2011 at 8:42 am By Roz Potter
From the Mainichi News: Link
A government map of soil radiation levels mainly within a 100-kilometer radius of the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant shows 34 locations with levels of cesium-137 exceeding 1.48 million becquerels per square meter, the level that was used for determining bans on living near the Chernobyl plant.
The map was released on Aug. 29 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Cesium-137 has a half-life of around 30 years. The greatest concentration was found in the town of Okuma, which holds part of the plant, at 15.45 million becquerels per square meter. The six municipalities with levels over the Chernobyl level are Okuma, Minamisoma, Tomioka, Futaba, Namie, and Iitate.
The distribution of cesium in the soil across the 100-kilometer radius zone was very close to that calculated from air samples taken in the same areas.
August 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm By Roz Potter
From the USDA. Important information to help you stay healthy in the aftermath of disaster. These tips will minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses in the event of power outages, supply chain disruptions, flooding, and other problems that could be associated with disasters. Link
Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:
- Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
- Make sure the freezer is at 0°F or below and the refrigerator is at 40°F or below.
- Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
- Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
- Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
- Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
- Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
- Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
Steps to follow after the weather emergency:
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
- The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
- Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
- Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
- Never taste a food to determine its safety!
- Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.
- If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
- If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
- Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
- Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
- Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Follow the Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches in the publication “Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency” at: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Keeping_Food_Safe_During_an_Emergency/index.asp
- Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.
When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
An FSIS Public Service Announcement (PSA), available in 30- and 60-second versions, illustrates practical food safety recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during and after a power outage. Consumers are encouraged to view the PSA at: www.fsis.usda.gov/news/Food_Safety_PSA .
News organizations and power companies can obtain hard copy (Beta and DVD) versions of the PSA by contacting the Food Safety Education Staff in FSIS’ Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education by calling (301) 344-4757.
FSIS’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/USDAFoodSafety , provides a video in English and Spanish titled “Food Safety During Power Outages.” The channel also includes the SignFSIS video in American Sign Language titled “Food Safety During a Power Outage.” Food Safety at Home podcasts regarding food safety during severe weather, power outages, and flooding are available on the FSIS website in English and Spanish at www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Food_Safety_at_Home_Podcasts/index.asp .
Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov . “Ask Karen” live chat services are available Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Podcasts and SignFSIS videos in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available online at
August 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm By Roz Potter
For those of you anticipating the obvious from serious earthquakes, here’s an eye-opening map of U.S. nuclear power plants from Greenpeace, Link
Nationwide, 108 million people live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant, yet many do not know they may be at risk if an accident or terrorist attack led to the release of radiation.
This nuclear locator map allows you to learn more about the risks of nuclear power in your community: how close you live to a nuclear plant, the record of near misses at each reactor, and government estimates of how many people could be killed or injured in an accident.
August 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm By Roz Potter
I’ll be adding to these view-worthy links: (Updated)
USGS report Link
Politico report on nuclear reactor shutdowns, Link
International Business Times report with graphics, Link
Discover Magazine’s seismic wave animation Link
Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch – a local view , Link
CBS News, Link
The Guardian, “What the east coast earthquake means to US Nuclear Plants”, Link
August 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm By Roz Potter
Returned home moments ago to many phone messages and hundreds of blog hits an hour. Until I can provide any new insight about the Virginia quake that struck at 1:51 EST today, I’m republishing a post from September 27, 2010 to remind fellow San Francisco Bay Area denizens of our unique earthquake risks and what can be done to protect our homes and loved ones.
Posted: September 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm by Roz Potter in Earthquake Preparedness, General Preparedness and Response, Infrastructure Failure, Preparedness Tips and Resources, Supply Chain Disruptions, Vulnerable Populations
More people live and work on or near the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay Area than any other fault in the United States. As of 2008, 2.4 million people lived close by. More than 1.5 million people “work at sites that would experience strong or very strong levels of shaking” from the next powerful quake on the Hayward Fault.
This is earthquake country. California has a 99% chance of having at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater quake anytime in the next 30 years. For the S.F. Bay Area, the risk is 63%. And of all the faults in the S. F. Bay Area, the risk is highest for the Hayward/Rodgers Creek Faults.
Homes, mass transit corridors, major freeways and roadways intersect the Hayward at many locations. It is crossed by many critical water and gas pipelines, and electrical transmission lines. It begins near San Jose and winds its way northward through Santa Clara, Alameda and part of Contra Costa County to San Pablo Bay.
The Hayward Fault has not ruptured since 1868, 142 years ago, in case you’re counting, and if you live in the Bay Area, you should be. The average period between the last 5 major quakes on the Hayward Fault is 138 years.
Pressures in the Hayward Fault have been building unabated, since 1868. Similar pressures in the San Andreas Fault were at least partially relieved by the 1906 San Francisco quake, and to a small extent by the 1989 Loma Prieta. There has been no relief for the Hayward.
The 1868 quake was felt as far away as Nevada. There was major damage in Hayward, San Leandro and Fremont, and lesser but significant damage in San Jose, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco. Even Napa, yes, that Napa suffered substantial damage from the 1868 quake.
So, residents of Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, Napa, Marin, Sonoma and other counties, the Hayward is your Fault too. Your counties suffered damage in the 1868 quake, you rely on services that traverse the Hayward Fault, or you live, work or commute on or near the Hayward Fault.
Residents of any area could find themselves in double- or triple-trouble. Some regions, like Marin and Sonoma counties have several large fault systems, in these cases the San Andreas and the Rodgers Creek Faults. Many have unknown faults, like the one that ruptured in Napa County, CA in 2000. In many cases, seismic waves from one fault rupture transfers to another, extending damage over a wider area than expected.
Oh yes, the United States Geological Survey (USGA) wants everyone to know that the 6.7 magnitude 1994 Northridge California earthquake occured on an unknown fault. The Northridge caused extreme damage to roadways, overpasses, buildings and other structures. 33 people were killed. Over 7000 were injured. (this is a correction to the original post).
12,000 homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings were structurally damaged. The USGS says the world has many unknown faults. We cannot use our knowledge of existing faults to predict future earthquakes. Future quakes are as likely to occur on unknown as they are on known faults.
Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Washington D.C., Alaska, Washington, and many other parts of the U.S. and the World, you have your faults too. The Earth is full of them. Take heed. Mother Nature gives no warning. You’ll be on your own when she strikes.
Ready? If not, here are some tips. More will be coming in future posts:
1. Your family may not be together when an earthquake strikes. They may not be able to get home
Complete a communication plan for emergencies and disasters and keep copies at home, work and in your car. Have wallet size versions with the most essential information for each family member. The plan should include emergency contacts, both local and out of state. When family members call the contact they should advise their exact location, whether injured or in need of help or not , and where they are going.
Teach each family member to text. Text messages get transmitted more readily than voice transmissions.
Telephones with transformers require electricity to work. This includes cordless phones and many business or advanced feature phones. Have at least one old-fashioned, no bells or whistles, plug in telephone at home, work, and hopefully, schools.
2. Essential services (water, electricity, trash service, sewage treatment plants, transportation and some roadways) may be inoperable for days to weeks. If transportation is disrupted, store shelves cannot be stocked. If electricity is out, ATMs, gas pumps, cash registers, and water pumps won’t work.
This will be more than an inconvenience for those who rely on oxygen concentrators, insulin and other drugs that require refrigeration, or those who don’t store extra water, baby formula or other essentials.
Store cash, water, food, medicines, baby formula, a solar or battery powered radio and extra batteries, first-aid and medical supplies and alternative light and heat sources in sufficient quantities to supply essentials to household members. Supplies must include at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and pet – a 3 day supply is minimal, a two week supply may not be enough. If possible, store extra supplies to help out neighbors, friends and family who will be caught unprepared.
3. Expert help (police, fire, medical, nursing, pharmacies, utilities, ambulance) could be delayed, inaccessible, or unavailable for hours, days or weeks.
Stock first aid supplies and a manual (available at the Red Cross, Amazon and bookstores) in your home. Take a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) course, available in most communities, and a First Aid class. Reach out to people in your neighborhood with special needs; the frail elderly, those with sight or hearing loss, in wheelchairs, with language barriers, or other needs who will require extra help in an emergency or disaster.
Before a disaster strikes, know how your community will respond. Where will emergency treatment locations be set up? Is there a local emergency warning system? Are there experts in your neighborhood that would be willing to help? What is your EAS (Emergency Alert Station) for your area? For the San Francisco Bay Area counties, it is KCBS, 740 on the AM dial.
August 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm By Roz Potter
From The Big Picture blog, Link and Washington’s blog, Link
It has been an amazing month for science.
MIT researchers have succeeded in printing solar panels onto any piece of paper.
Dutch company PlantLab has figured out how to triple the yield of plants using only 10% of the water typically needed:
When grown outdoors plant photosynthesis is only about 9% efficient. With the correct balance of colored LED light, PlantLab has increased that efficiency to 12 or 15%, aiming for 18%. Double the efficiency means increased yield (or more likely equal yield with less energy). By keeping the plants in a contained system, PlantLab can also recycle evaporated water, which helps them grow crops using just one tenth the water as with traditional greenhouses. Because PlantLab’s harvest is indoors, they don’t have pests (and could quickly isolate rooms that somehow got contaminated) and they don’t need pesticides. Finally, PlantLab’s production facilities can be built almost anywhere: from the Sahara to the Artic, it’s all going to look the same indoors. So everyone’s food can be grown as local as possible. That means fresher food with less costs of transportation.
PlantLab’s Gertjan Meeuws recently discussed some of the other benefits and results of their work on Southern California public radio (KPCC). He claims they’re able to increase crop yield by a factor of three so far!
Scientists at MIT have designed a drug that can cure virtually any viral infection.
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvannia have found a way of “turning the patients’ own blood cells into assassins that hunt and destroy their [leukemia] cancer cells.”
Half Animal, Half Plant
And Live Science reported last January:
A green sea slug appears to be part animal, part plant. It’s the first critter discovered to produce the plant pigment chlorophyll.
The sneaky slugs seem to have stolen the genes that enable this skill from algae that they’ve eaten. With their contraband genes, the slugs can carry out photosynthesis — the process plants use to convert sunlight into energy.
“They can make their energy-containing molecules without having to eat anything,” said Sidney Pierce, a biologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
“This is the first time that multicellar animals have been able to produce chlorophyll,” Pierce told LiveScience.
The sea slugs live in salt marshes in New England and Canada. In addition to burglarizing the genes needed to make the green pigment chlorophyll, the slugs also steal tiny cell parts called chloroplasts, which they use to conduct photosynthesis. The chloroplasts use the chlorophyl to convert sunlight into energy, just as plants do, eliminating the need to eat food to gain energy.
The babies of thieving slugs retain the ability to produce their own chlorophyll, though they can’t carry out photosynthesis until they’ve eaten enough algae to steal the necessary chloroplasts, which they can’t yet produce on their own.
The slugs accomplishment is quite a feat, and scientists aren’t yet sure how the animals actually appropriate the genes they need.
Here’s a photo of the slug:
August 18, 2011 at 8:06 pm By Roz Potter
From The Tyee, in British Columbia, Link
After months of hand-wringing, I am authorized to report that North America has moved beyond the pall of doom and gloom to a more pleasant oblivion.
The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan are all behind us now. No need to fret any further about the ugliness of natural disasters.
In the aftermath of this megathrust nightmare, we progressed briskly from a “teachable moment” through “disaster fatigue” to more important matters, like the royal wedding and who might replace Charlie Sheen as TV’s highest paid actor. What a relief to forget plate tectonics again.
In my recent (and thankfully transient) role as Harbinger of Doom, I had the unhappy task of warning people that a tectonic event just like the one in Japan (and in Sumatra before that) will — beyond any reasonable scientific doubt — hit the West Coast of North America. Same mega-quake. Same mega-tsunami. For the gory details, just Google the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
My book Cascadia’s Fault — The Deadly Earthquake That Will Devastate North America was published this spring, with the intention to wake people up in time to be safer and more resilient when the Big One hits.
But other than a few respectful book reviews, the reaction has been weirdly muted, as if people would rather not be bothered with an opportunity to save lives, even, very possibly, their own.
At first glance Cascadia’s threat might seem like a “regional” concern — which is code for saying “it’s just those wacky West Coasters getting all hyperbolic on us again.” But actually, it’s not.
Imagine five major cities — Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland and Sacramento, with dozens of smaller towns and villages in between — slammed all at once by the same earthquake. With tsunami wave damage across the entire Pacific Rim — from Hawaii and Alaska to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. Disaster on a scale so overwhelming that nothing in our history can serve as a reference point.
Get real, and prepare
When friends ask what it’s like being the bearer of so much dismal news, I say: “Honestly? I hate it. I just wish it would all go away.” Do you remember when Cher slapped Nicholas Cage in “Moonstruck” and told him to “Snap out of it!”? That’s what we should do about Cascadia’s fault. Snap right out of this depressing darkness and live in the moment. Whatever happens, happens. Right?
Perhaps Hollywood should make a movie of it. That would be a lot more fun. Think of how cool it would be to see five modern cities knee-deep in bricks and broken glass. Tall buildings and bridges collapsing, dams bursting. The special effects would be spectacular, especially when the tsunami starts washing away coastal towns from Canada to California.
August 11, 2011 at 8:33 am By Roz Potter
From KevinMD.com, Link
We tend to forget that these were (and are) serious illnesses. Call many of them the common diseases of childhood, but large numbers died of measles, and all too many lost their hearing even if treated promptly with antibiotics for Hemophilus meningitis.
Influenza still hospitalizes more than 100,000 Americans every year and leads to death in about 36,000 per year. At least 50% of flu cases could be prevented with vaccination – the key is to actually get vaccinated. The same can be said of polio. Americans tend to think of it as an eradicated disease but it still exists endemically in a few developing countries where vaccination has been either too expensive or thought to cause harm.
Do your kids need to be vaccinated now given that there are no cases in the United States? Yes, because the virus is just a jet plane trip away. Right now measles is a significant problem. Most kids get vaccinated and schools require proof of vaccination for entry.
But some kids do not get vaccinated, especially home schooled children. And that proved to be a serious problem a few years ago when a homeschooled, unvaccinated teenager came back from a vacation in Romania in the prodrome of measles. She went to a church function on the weekend mingling with about 500 people including many other unvaccinated children. Thirty four individuals developed measles, 12 of whom needed hospitalization and one nearly died. Measles is simply not a “minor” childhood infection of little import. Nor are the others that can be prevented today with vaccination.
August 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm By Roz Potter
From the Atlantic Wire, Link
Reuters is reporting that there have been three large explosions from the Sun over the past few days, and that “sun storms” are set to hit the Earth.
The U.S. government, which is pretty pressed for time as it is right now, is warning “users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days.” Or, as National Geographic informs us: “Storms are brewing about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away, and if one of them reaches Earth, it could knock out communications, scramble GPS, and leave thousands without power for weeks to months.”
Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the magnetic storm that is soon to develop probably will be in the “moderate to strong level.”
So how afraid should we be? According to Reuters, major disruptions from solar activity, rare though they may be, have had serious impacts in the past.
In 1989, a solar storm took down the power grid in Quebec, Canada, leaving about six million people without power for several hours…
The 1859 solar storm hit telegraph offices around the world and caused a giant aurora visible as far south as the Caribbean Islands. Some telegraph operators reported electric shocks. Papers caught fire. And many telegraph systems continued to send and receive signals even after operators disconnected batteries, NOAA said on its website.
Reuters adds that according to a 2008 report by the National Research Council, a similar storm could cause up to $2 trillion in damage, globally. But before hysteria sets in, Kunches said that, “I don’t think this week’s solar storms will be anywhere near that.” However, lest we relax too much, the International Business Times reports that solar activity is increasingly becoming a source of concern:
The NOAA predicted four extreme solar emissions which could threaten the planet this decade. Similarly, Nasa warned that a peak in the sun’s magnetic energy cycle and the number of sun spots or flares around 2013 could enable extremely high radiation levels.
Apparently, the sun is approaching what’s known as solar maximum—the high point in its roughly 11-year cycle of activity, according to National Geographic.
Scientists anticipate stronger storms around solar max, in 2013. So while Rich Lordan from the Electric Power Research Institute said that “based on the data and the scenarios we can reasonably expect, I believe the power-delivery system can operate through a solar storm,” overall the danger is becoming more critical.
August 7, 2011 at 9:11 am By Roz Potter
From U.S. Homeland Security via ABC news: Link
Sabotage by an insider at a major utility facility, including a chemical or oil refinery, could provide al Qaeda with its best opportunity for the kind of massive Sept. 11 anniversary attack Osama bin Laden was planning, according to U.S. officials.
A new intelligence report from the Department of Homeland Security issued Tuesday, titled Insider Threat to Utilities, warns “violent extremists have, in fact, obtained insider positions,” and that “outsiders have attempted to solicit utility-sector employees” for damaging physical and cyber attacks.
“Based on the reliable reporting of previous incidents, we have high confidence in our judgment that insiders and their actions pose a significant threat to the infrastructure and information systems of U.S. facilities,” the bulletin reads in part. “Past events and reporting also provide high confidence in our judgment that insider information on sites, infrastructure, networks, and personnel is valuable to our adversaries and may increase the impact of any attack on the utilities infrastructure.”
To read more, Link
August 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm By Roz Potter
From NHK World news: Link
The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has detected 10,000 millisieverts of radioactivity per hour at the plant. The level is the highest detected there since the nuclear accident in March.
Workers of Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, on Monday measured the extremely high level of radioactivity near pipes at the bottom of a duct between the No.1 and neighboring No.2 reactor buildings.
According to the science ministry’s brochure, if a human received 10,000 millisieverts, they would likely die within a week or two.
TEPCO has restricted access to the site and the surrounding area.