Posts tagged with "EPA"

Latest buzz: Genetically modified mosquito startup raises $6.8 million in venture capital

April 26, 2021

Oxitec— a U.S.-owned startup with headquarters and R&D facilities in the U.K., just a few miles from Oxford University—has raised US$6.8 million in venture capital from the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest chqritable foundations, Axios reports.

The company is generating buzz worldwide for its insect-based biological solutions for controlling pests that transmit disease, destroy crops, and harm livestock.

In its latest headline-making news, Oxitec will start releasing a total of 12,000 genetically modified,  non-biting male mosquitos from boxes into the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to mate with the local biting female mosquitoes over  a period of 12 weeks.

The female offspring of these encounters cannot survive, the company says—making it possible to control the local population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The Aedes aegypti mosquito makes up about 4 percent of the mosquito population in the Florida Keys—but is responsible for virtually all mosquito-borne diseases transmitted to humans. This species of mosquito transmits dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and other human diseases; and can transmit heartworm and other potentially deadly diseases to pets and animals.

According to Axios, Oxitec is one of the world’s most controversial startup—even though everyone applauds its mission of reducing instances of mosquito-borne diseases.

Oxitec already has released more than a billion bugs, including in Brazil and the Cayman Islands—and, last year, the EPA and state officials approved field tests in the Florida Keys.

In the the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba, Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquito suppressed disease-carrying Aedes aegypti by up to 95%* in urban, dengue-prone environments following just 13 weeks of treatment, as compared to untreated control sites in the same city.

It’s a novel solution to human disease spread—particularly where native mosquitoes are increasingly resistant to insecticides—but many locals are concerned about how this will impact the broader ecosystem.

Research contact: @axios

Going down? Biden commits to cutting U.S. emissions by 50% over next decade

April 23, 2021

On April 22, Earth Day, President Joe Biden signaled his Administration’s intention to set aside four years of retrograde national policy by formally pledging the United States to reducing its carbon emissions by at least half (of 2005 levels) over the next decade, Slate reports.

During the opening of a two-day climate summit of world leaders, announced and virtually hosted by the White House, Biden framed the issue not just as a moral obligation, but an economic opportunity, saying, “The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable, and the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Biden said from the White House. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative— a moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”

In 2019—the most recent year for which complete data are available—U.S. emissions came in roughly 13% below 2005 levels, according to the EPA.

To provide another angle on how far the U.S. still needs to go to reduce its carbon footprint, last year, when much the country essentially did nothing at all—drove less, flew less, moved less—U.S. emissions were barely down.

In fact, Slate notes, U.S. emissions are still only projected to be down less than a quarter—roughly 21 %—for the year compared to the 2005 baseline. Even before four years of Trump, America had a lot of work to do to meet its emission targets. When former President Barack Obama signed the United States on to the Paris accord in 2016, the outgoing Obama administration pledged a 28% reduction in emissions levels by 2025.

“Administration officials said they see multiple paths toward achieving their goals, through a combination of federal policies and action by states, companies and other subnational groups,” The Wall Street Journal reports, adding,. “Biden has proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that includes measures to reduce emissions, such as a proposed standard mandating that the country’s electricity be produced with low-carbon energy sources.”

According to Slate, American climate leadership faces domestic opposition from Republicans, who say that say it’s unfair for the U.S.A. to have to make sometimes difficult cuts, with economic consequences, if other developing nations—most importantly, China—don’t have to do the same.

Research contact: @Slate 

Exercise caution: Gyms and coronavirus

March 10, 2020

Is it healthy to visit a health club right now? The spread of the coronavirus could make even the most ardent gym rats stress out about picking up barbells, using equipment and mats, or even just taking a crowded class where everyone is huffing and puffing.

There’s a lower risk of picking up the coronavirus at a gym or health club than at a church service, for example Dr. David Thomas, a professor of medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine., told The New York Times this week. By comparison, church services may include shaking hands and being in closer proximity to people.

But if you’re in a community where there have been cases of the coronavirus, “that’s, perhaps, a time to be more cautious with all types of exposures, including a gym,” Dr. Thomas advised the news outlet.

Sweat cannot transmit the virus but high-contact surfaces, such as free weights, can pose a problem, he said.

Scientists are still figuring out how the virus exactly spreads but have provided some guidance on how it seems to be transmitted. A study of other coronaviruses published in The Journal of Hospital Infection found they remained on metal, glass and plastic for anywhere from two hours to nine days.

Certain objects, like handles and doorknobs, are “disproportionally affected by hands, and those are the surfaces most likely to have viruses for that reason,” Dr. Thomas said.

The owner of a yoga studio in Washington State, where several coronavirus patients have died, according to The Yoga Journal, “says she’s seen a direct impact from all the hysteria in the area on both attendance and business.”

Equinox, the luxury fitness club brand, has sent notices to members, reassuring them that additional steps are being taken during the peak flu season and amid growing concerns about the coronavirus, the Times reports.

The additional steps include disinfecting all club areas with a hospital-grade solution three times a day, reminding people to stay home if they are sick and asking instructors to eliminate skin-to-skin contact, like hands-on adjustments during yoga, a spokesperson told the newspaper.

Brian Cooper, chief executive of YogaWorks, sent an email to the company’s clients, reassuring them that it was stepping up its cleaning processes “to keep our facilities a safe and welcoming environment for all students and staff.”

David Carney, president of Orangetheory Fitness, listed precautions in an email on Thursday. “Wipe down your equipment after every block, and don’t hesitate to request a new wipe whenever you need to,” he wrote.

But do you actually know what’s in those nondescript spray bottle at gyms that you’re supposed to use to wipe down your machine, mat and equipment? If you’re not sure, ask staff members what’s in the bottle or take your own wipes to the gym.

“I’ll probably bring my own wipes,” Dr. Thomas told the Times of his gym trip planned for later that day. “I’ll know that they’re the right wipes and they have the right concentration of alcohol.”

Diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and several common household disinfectants should be effective against the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a list of disinfectants against the virus.

Most important: If you’re feeling sick, stay home. “This is mostly about how you keep from getting sick at a gym, but please don’t go to the gym if you feel sick,” Dr. Thomas said. “Don’t give it to other people.”

Research contact: @nytimes

A ‘loo’ review: Trump says people are flushing toilets 10-15 times, asks EPA to rethink efficiency

December 10, 2019

President Donald Trump’s mind is in the toilet—but not necessarily in a bad way, for a change.  Complaining that  “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once” in homes with low-flow appliances, the president said on December 6 that he wants the EPA to review water efficiency standards in bathroom fixtures, The Chicago Tribune reported.

He said other bathroom fixtures have slowed water flow to a trickle. “You can’t wash your hands practically, there’s so little water comes out of the faucet, and the end result is you leave the faucet on and it takes you much longer to wash your hands, you end up using the same amount of water,” Trump said at an event with small-business owners at the White House.

According to the Tribune report, the president said it was “common sense” to review standards he said resulted in showers with water “quietly dripping out” and toilets that “end up using more water” because of repeat flushing.

Trump has championed rolling back regulations since taking office in 2017, with a focus on environmental rules imposed or proposed during the Obama administration. The president routinely portrays himself as a champion of clean air and water, while his critics say he’s weakened regulations intended to fight climate change, conserve resources and promote clean air and water.

While the president said the Environmental Protection Agency was looking at the standards “at my suggestion,” the Tribune pointed out that a review of the WaterSense program was mandated under 2018 legislation passed by Congress that said the agency should look at any regulations adopted before 2012. That means the government is forced to revisit specifications for tank-type toilets, lavatory faucets, and faucet accessories, showerheads, flushing urinals, and weather-based irrigation controllers.

Those regulations include a 20% reduction in water use on tank-type toilets compared to standards adopted in 1992, and a 32% reduction in maximum water flow on lavatory faucets, according to the EPA.

Use of low-flush toilets started in the 1990s after President George H.W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act. That 1992 law said new toilets could use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. The law went into effect in 1994 for residential buildings and 1997 for commercial structures.

But the government has also said that the water savings make a difference—particularly in bathrooms, which represent more than half of all indoor water use. The EPA says an average family can save $380 in water costs per year and save more than 17 gallons per day by using appliances certified to WaterSense standards.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

Trump nominates pesticide pro to be USDA’s chief scientist

July 19, 2018

On July 16, President Donald Trump nominated a former Dow Chemical executive who had worked in the company’s pesticide division to be the next chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This would represent the POTUS’s third major hire of a Dow alumnus for his administration.

In recent history, Dow has been at odds with environmentalists and the USDA, not only over its pesticides, but over its genetically modified seeds.

Trump drafted Scott Hutchins for a position that has remained open since Sam Clovis’s’ nomination failed to clear the Senate, largely due to his lack of scientific background, Mother Jones reported this week.

Hutchins earned a doctoral degree in entomology—the study of insects and their relationship to humans, the environment and other organisms—from Iowa State University in 1987; so he has some knowledge of science. Since then, in addition to working in Dow’s pesticide division, Hutchins has served as global director for the company’s entire “crop protection” services division—which manufactures and markets pesticides, herbicides, and fungus killers.

In his role as chief scientist—formally known as undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics—Hutchins would set the agenda for the USDA’s $2.9 billion research budget.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded Trump’s selection of Hutchins this week, saying, “I am very excited …. [Dr. Hutchins’] extensive background in research and commitment to sound science and data make him exceptionally qualified for this post, and I am eager to have Dr. Hutchins join the team.”

The nomination still must be confirmed by the Senate.

Research contact: press@oc.usda.gov