Friday Finds: Toilet Talk
California flushes carbon emissions down the toilet
The California Energy Commission has its head in the toilet, but surprisingly, that's a good thing. Human waste is a huge pollution problem in the U.S. In fact, Californians alone produced 661,000 dry metric tons of biosolids in 2009. But instead of getting rid of the waste by fertilizing crops and filling up landfills—which both pose major environmental problems—the commission recently granted a Bay Area solid waste company almost $1 million to convert biosolids into a "hydrogen-rich gas that could be used in fuel cells to generate electricity," reports Grist. Though the process hasn’t been proven, it could go a long way in adding renewable power to California's alternative energy portfolio.
BP's environmental hits keep on coming
A recent study by cetacean researchers estimates that the number of whales and dolphins killed by the BP spill last spring could be much higher than previously thought, reports Mother Jones. Though the original count of marine mammal mortalities was approximately 101 dead whales, dolphins and porpoises as of November 2010, that number is misleading since it doesn't factor in the number of deaths that never make it to shore. To come to a more precise number, the researchers unearthed a bunch of historical records to determine whether carcass counts have previously been good indicators of total numbers of cetacean mortality. Sadly, they found that the actual body count only represented about 0.4 percent of total deaths, which indicates that the BP spill's death toll for dolphins and other cetaceans could number in the thousands. That, of course, is in addition to all the other damage that BP has caused, which Earthjustice is currently working to rectify in a number of spill-related lawsuits.
While America watches Japan's nuclear disaster from afar, questions about the safety of nuclear power in the U.S. continue to be front and center. One recurring theme among journalists and nuclear safety experts is the radioactive issue of nuclear waste, reports ProPublica. Currently, about 70,000 tons of highly radioactive waste is stored in reactor sites across the country. And it's quickly adding up to a dangerous level. Though the U.S. possesses a $24 billion "nuclear waste fund" to deal with this material by permanently storing it in one central and presumably safe location, no one can agree on where the waste should go. In the meantime, both the money and the waste remain.
Australia's Tasmanian devil, which looks like a tiny bear or a giant rat depending on the viewer's perspective, is suffering from a highly infectious cancer known as Devil facial tumor disease, reports the LA Times. The disease, which spreads through facial bites between competing devils, causes the small creatures to develop tumors around their mouths that eventually cover their entire faces, preventing them from eating or drinking. Though not as cute as a kangaroo, Australian researchers are fighting to save the devilish creatures by creating a so-called "Devils Ark" that houses uninfected animals. It's just in time, too. Sadly, only about 10 percent of the Tasmanian devil population remains today.
Superbugs are stalking the hallways of U.S. hospitals and today's antibiotics are largely unable to stop them, reports Reuters. One of the more well-known of these drug-resistant bugs is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, which is estimated to kill about 19,000 people in the U.S. per year. Thanks to a lack of research and antibiotic overuse, doctors are finding it hard to combat these evolutionary critters, a phenomenon that could set modern medicine back almost a century. Luckily, one of the best ways to put the kibosh on these bugs is also one of the easiest. Wash your hands!