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Indiana Earthquake Rattles Midwesterners

A 3.8-magnitude earthquake hit north-central Indiana Wednesday morning at about 8 a.m. ET, The U.S. Geological Survey says.

The tremor occurred three miles below ground about 15 miles east-southeast of Kokomo, and 50 miles north of Indianapolis.

Earthquakes are rare for heartland areas like Indiana, so some residents were a bit shaken up.

“It was like a huge explosion under your feet,” said Kokomo denizen Debra Sholty, according to CNN.

But most people were more surprised than frightened.

“The whole building just shook,” local Laura Smith told CNN. “You could feel your body shaking.”

“It was amazing,” she added. “Personally, I thought it was exciting.”

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Posted in Earthquakes, Environmental Disasters0 Comments

Chesapeake Bay to Go on Pollution Diet

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday unveiled a restoration plan for the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.

EPA regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin called the agreement with six states and the District of Columbia “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation” and possibly “number one or number two” in the world, the Washington Post reported.

The comprehensive plan applies to the following areas in the bay’s watershed: Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. All the states and the District submitted individual plans this fall addressing how they hoped to slash pollution runoff into the bay by 2025. EPA compiled these proposals in its plan.

Pollution from farm, urban, and suburban runoff have stifled oxygen levels in the 200-mile-long estuary and harmed fish and oyster populations.

Garvin said EPA may have to “place additional controls on permanent sources of pollution” to counterbalance three potentially problematic areas: New York wastewater treatment, West Virginia’s agricultural sector, and Pennsylvania’s stormwater treatment.

The plan aims to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution by imposing total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits on areas in the estuary’s watershed.

Opponents of the new pollution measures say they will give farmers, developers, and local officials unneeded costs and difficulties. Environmentalists counter that the plan will bring economic benefits to the bay by boosting tourism and fishing.

“This is a very historic moment in the history, and the future, of the Chesapeake Bay,” Garvin told the press.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Oceans & Coastlines, Policies, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 Comments

Global Trade: U.S. Challenges China’s Clean Energy Subsidies

The U.S. on Wednesday filed a case against China before the World Trade Organization, claiming that Beijing has unfairly provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of subsidies to Chinese wind power companies.

The accusation follows a petition filed by the United Steelworkers in September, which claimed that China buoys its clean energy sector with subsidies, allowing Chinese businesses to sell wind and solar equipment at a lower rate on the international market.

The WTO request alleges that the funding is in violation of global trade rules.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Wednesday that the Obama Administration is targeting China’s wind power production grants, because they seem to require that Chinese manufacturers use only domestically-made parts.

“Import substitution subsidies are particularly harmful and inherently trade distorting, which is why they are expressly prohibited under WTO rules,” Kirk said in a statement. “These subsidies effectively operate as a barrier to U.S. exports to China.”

The case comes weeks before Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit President Barack Obama.

U.S.-China relations are already tense: the two superpowers are arguing over a number of trade issues, including China’s currency policy and Chinese barriers against U.S. beef imports.

During trade talks last week, the U.S. persuaded China to loosen restrictions on foreign contributions to the booming Chinese wind power industry. Foreign suppliers will no longer require previous experience in the Chinese clean energy sector.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard expressed the union’s satisfaction with the Obama administration’s decision to submit the WTO request.

“Today’s announcement by the administration comes as an early note of holiday cheer for those workers in the alternative and renewable energy sector,” said Gerard in a statement. “The goal is not litigation; it’s to end their practices.”

Posted in Energy Industry, Energy Policy & Advocacy, International Relations & Treaties, Solar, Wind0 Comments

United Nations Building Evacuated Due to Suspicious Odor

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly were forced to evacuate the U.N. building Tuesday because of a “suspicious” odor, Reuters reported.

Security officials first told the press that there was a gas leak in the Manhattan compound. But spokesman Farhan Haq said he could not confirm that was the case.

Haq said the evacuation was just a precautionary measure. “We are currently trying to identify the odor with local authorities,” he told reporters crowded outside the building.

The smell was later blamed on a sewage backup caused by high tides in the nearby East River.

“This is not a hazard, there were gases released by the sewage but it is not harmful,” Haq told reporters. “Public tours and General Assembly meetings should be able to resume by tomorrow.”

The U.N. compound is currently undergoing a $2 billion refurbishment. The Security Council has been meeting in the basement of the 39-story Secretariat building during renovations, and repairs have not begun for the adjoining General Assembly building, which is still being used.

Posted in Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, International Relations & Treaties, Organizations0 Comments

Hexavalent Chromium Carcinogen Found in Tap Water of Most Cities

Hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical at the center of the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich,” was found present in the tap water of 31 of 35 cities tested in a recent survey.

The findings, released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, are the first study of hexavalent chromium to be made public.

Researchers with the advocacy group have released the study at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is debating whether to set a cap on the “probable carcinogen”‘s levels in tap water, the Washington Post reports.

Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president of research, says the toxin has been linked to stomach cancer and leukemia along with other health problems, CBS News reported Monday.

Hexavelent chromium, also known as chromium-6, originates as refuse from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities, EWG said in a statement. It can also contaminate tap water through erosion of natural deposits.

The carcinogen first came into the public eye in 1993, when Erin Brockovich famously sued Pacific Gas & Electric for polluting the drinking water of Hinkley, Calif. The lawsuit eventually yielded $333 million in damages.

Today, the highest levels of chromium-6 can be found in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; and Riverside, Calif., EWG claimed.

“Every single day, pregnant mothers in Norman, Oklahoma, school children in Madison, Wisconsin, and many other Americans are drinking water laced with this cancer-causing chemical,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D said in the statement. “If the EPA required local water utilities to test for hexavalent chromium, the public would at least know if it was present in their local water. Without mandatory tests and a safe legal limit that all utilities must meet, many of us will continue to swallow some quantity of this carcinogen every day.”

With regulations on the water supply possibly in the works, what can consumers do to reduce their intake of the toxin?

“With levels this high, it’s critically important that people begin to think about filtering their water,” Houlihan told CBS News. Unfortunately, inexpensive carbon filters commonly found in filtration pitchers and faucet attachments don’t do much to remove chromium-6. Reverse osmosis filtration systems should do the trick, but they can cause hundreds of dollars.

There are no legal restrictions for hexavalent chromium in bottled water, so plastic water bottles may not be a safe option either.

“It is sometimes difficult to understand why I still have to warn the public about the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water 23 years after my colleagues and I first sounded the alarm,” Brockovich said in EWG’s statement. “This report underscores, in fairly stark terms, the health risks that millions of Americans still face because of water contamination.”

Posted in Carcinogens, Chemicals, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Policies, Water, Oceans, & Ice0 Comments

'Ring of Fire' Volcano Locations Explained

OXFORD, England, Oct. 14 (UPI) — British researchers say they’ve solved the mystery of why volcanoes on the Pacific “ring of fire” are confined to bands of only some tens of miles wide.

Scientists at Oxford University say most of the molten rock that comes out of the explosive volcanoes is rich in water, but paradoxically they lie in narrow regions in Earth’s mantle where water-free melting of rock can take place, reported Thursday.

“It has been recognized for almost 50 years that the volcanic arcs form where one oceanic plate sinks beneath another,” Professor Philip England of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences said, “but while many models of this process have been put forward, none has been able to explain the location, and narrowness, of the volcanic arcs.”

Ring of Fire eruptions are extremely violent because the molten rock contains a high proportion of water, which, as superheated steam, powers for the explosive eruptions.

This water comes from the plates descending beneath the volcanoes and lowers the melting point of rocks in the mantle.

“Most previous explanations for the origins of volcanoes suggested that this kind of ‘wet’ melting is responsible for getting a volcano started,” researchers Richard Katz said.

Wet melting occurs over very broad regions of the mantle, inconsistent with the narrowness of the volcanic chains.

Using a mathematical model of heat movement where two plates collide, the Oxford team found the narrowness of the pattern can only be explained if the volcanoes are above narrow regions in which mantle melts in the absence of water.

Researchers say they believe melt rising from this region blazes a trail for more water-rich magma to follow all the way to the surface where it erupts to form volcanoes.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Volcanoes0 Comments

Giant, Distant Galaxy Cluster Found

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 14 (UPI) — U.S. astronomers say they’ve discovered the biggest galaxy cluster ever seen, a massive grouping of hundreds of galaxies 7 billion light-years from Earth.

Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found the cluster using the South Pole Telescope, a Harvard release said.

“This galaxy cluster wins the heavyweight title. It’s among the most massive clusters ever found at this distance,” said Mark Brodwin, a Smithsonian astronomer at the center.

Because it’s 7 billion light-years distant, we’re seeing it as it was 7 billion years ago when the universe was only half its present age and our solar system didn’t exist yet, researchers say.

“This cluster is full of ‘old’ galaxies, meaning that it had to come together very early in the universe’s history — within the first 2 billion years,” Brodwin said.

The Harvard-Smithsonian team said it expects to find many more giant galaxy clusters once the South Pole Telescope survey is completed.

“After many years of effort, these early successes are very exciting. The full SPT survey, to be completed next year, will rewrite the book on the most massive clusters in the early universe,” Brodwin said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in History, Other, Solar0 Comments

Comet Watchers Waiting for Show

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (UPI) — A comet rapidly approaching Earth should put on a good light show when it nears our planet and the sun in late October, U.S. astronomers say.

But a NASA spacecraft will get the best view of all when it flies within 430 miles of the icy solar system wanderer on Nov. 4, reported.

Comet Hartley 2 orbits the sun ever 6.46 years and will come within 11 million miles of Earth, about 45 times as far away as the moon, on Oct. 20 when it will be visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere as a fuzzy object in the constellation Auriga.

Sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere will get their best chance to glimpse it as it moves away from the sun in November.

Images of the comet taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in September reveal a solid core not quite a mile in diameter with a highly regular-shaped coma, the comet’s tail of gas and dust.

NASA’s EPOXI mission will capture close-up images during its November encounter with the comet.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Solar0 Comments

'Wall to Wall' San Andreas Quake Overdue

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 10 (UPI) — Some U.S. seismologists are increasingly alarmed at the potential of an earthquake occurring along the entire length of California’s San Andreas fault.

The San Andreas has long been considered one of the most dangerous faults in the state; however recent research has some experts fearing a future major quake could occur along its entire 340-mile length.

“My concern is that we will get a series of large earthquakes along the San Andreas fault,” said Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Jordan told the Los Angeles Times the quakes could include a devastating 8.1 shaker and could run “wall to wall” from Monterey to the Salton Sea near the Mexican border.

Jordan based his opinion on research from Arizona State University and the University of California, Irvine that concluded a key section of the San Andreas northwest of Los Angeles was way overdue for a major quake.

The last major quake in the section was in 1857 and was halted at the Cajon Pass north of Los Angeles., a fortunate occurrence that seismologists say can’t be counted on in the future.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Earthquakes, Other0 Comments

Some Supplements May Help Treat Anxiety

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 8 (UPI) — A systematic review by U.S. researchers finds some nutritional and herbal supplements can be effective to treat anxiety without serious side effects.

Shaheen Lakhan and Karen Vieira of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation — a non-profit organization in Los Angeles that advocates for advancement of neurological and mental health patient welfare, education and research — says the research indicates strong evidence that extracts of passionflower, or kava, and combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine can help alleviate anxiety.

The researchers pooled the results of 24 studies involving more than 2,000 participants. Included in the review were 21 randomized-controlled trials, and of these 15 showed positive effects from either a nutritional or herbal remedy. Any reported side effects were mild to moderate, the researchers say.

“Our review and summary of the literature on herbal remedies and dietary supplements for anxiety should aid mental health practitioners in advising their patients and provide insight for future research in this field,” the researchers say in a statement. “We found mixed results — while passionflower or kava and L-lysine and L-arginine appeared to be effective, St. John’s Wort and magnesium supplements were not.”

However, for the kava, L-lysine and L-arginine supplements, more research needs to be done to establish the most effective dosage and to determine whether this varies between different types of anxiety or anxiety-related disorders, the researchers add.

The findings are published in the Nutrition Journal.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Education, Literature, Other0 Comments

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