Category for media

Should the government get involved?

cerealCheck out this video from ABC news concerning the present state of affairs of cereal boxes.

Cereal companies are claiming that their products are healthy options, despite the fact that they contain tons of sugar and dyes. How far can companies go with misleading information before the government should get involved?
I find this fascinating 1) because people don’t stop and think, “Wow that’s a lot of sugar maybe it’s not so healthy” and 2) that it’s actually taken this long for the FDA to purpose a new method for labeling food… these labels have been around as far back as I can remember reading cereal boxes as a child.
It’s outrageous that companies can make scientific claims with really no scientific data to back it up, or rather with contradictory data and yet consumers continue to buy into it.

It all sounds a bit too familiar to the tobacco product ads that originally claimed cigarettes were a “healthy option.”

[via abcnews]

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So you’re writing your first post…

sharpie&paperYou found an article that really grabbed your attention and you cannot wait to share it. Great! So where do you begin? Start by choosing a specific idea, fact, or result and use it to focus your writing. Your enemy here is being overly broad and/or vague. Once you have a focus, prepare a list of 5-7 points/ideas/contexts/relationships/etc. that you may want to discuss. Do not concern yourself with order, length, or sentence structure as it is much more important to get your thoughts out of your head (I generally use a Sharpie and computation pad for this). Use your list to begin collecting appropriate references, links, images, etc. to support your argument(s). You may have to reframe your arguments in light of the information you collect. Use your research to rewrite each statement on your list into a clear and concise sentence. Consider these complete statements in the context of your topic and reorder (or eliminate) them in a coherent and logical sequence. Remember that there is not one correct way to arrange things – a little trial end error is warranted at this stage. Now that you have what amounts to a detailed outline, it is time to consider the length of your piece – is it a one paragraph summary, a five paragraph analysis, or should it be divided into a series? Once you have decided on length, use clear and concise language to layout and connect your statements/points; they should form a cohesive unit when combined. Construct strong and clear opening and closing statements to frame your work. Your reader may or may not continue reading on the basis of your opening statement so make it count. Review your piece as a whole and rewrite/edit as necessary. Reviewing and rewriting usually takes the most time and effort. You may want to consider having someone else read and comment on the work before submitting it for publication. When you are satisfied with your work, submit your post for review and publication, then sit back and bask in the accolades of a job well done!

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Rechargeable Fuels Cells Looming in the Future, but are They Safe?

batteryBetween all the posts about fluorescent light bulbs, nuclear energy, and decreasing green house gases, I thought it was only appropriate to add to the conglomeration of environmentally-friendly technology.  Just like CFLs, a major problem with conventional batteries used in laptops, ipods, cell phones, etc. is that they are difficult to recycle.  As a matter of fact, of the 3 billion batteries Americans purchase each year, 179,000 tons of those end up in landfills contributing to the toxic metal waste build-up in this country and around the world.

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel though!  Researchers at the technology company Lilliputian have just revealed that they are in the final stages of making portable fuel cell batteries available to the public.  These batteries allow a small amount of fuel such as methanol, butane, or formic acid into the system’s chip which produces electricity without any combustion, thus negating the release of any greenhouse gases.  Although the product Lilliputian is planning on releasing in the next year or two uses butane and can only be used on devices that charge via USB port such as digital cameras or cell phones, this would open the door for bigger, and more efficient fuel cells in the future.  However, there is an economic concern; the company is projecting a $100-150 price tag for their cigarette lighter sized fuel cell system.

Although I’m all about saving the environment by trying my best to recycle paper and soda cans, I’m a little concerned about the presence of butane, methanol, and formic acid present in fuel cells.  Because methanol and butane are flammable and formic acid is corrosive, it took research companies a while to convince the U.S. Department of Transportation and the International Civil Aviation Organization to allow the transport and use of the fuel cells on board aircraft.  I completely agree that fuel cells should eventually replace conventional batteries so our electronics not only last longer but drastically decrease the magnitude of battery waste, but is it worth the risk of people carrying around flammable and corrosive materials from day to day?

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CNN cuts science team…

CNN cut its science and technology news staff last week and The Weather Channel canceled their climate change program Forecast Earth during NBC’s ‘Green Week.’ (NBC purchased TWC this summer.) I honestly don’t know what to think, but the cynic in me isn’t surprised.

Science coverage is already nonexistent in mainstream media; do these moves give other media outlets the precedence they need to drop science coverage altogether? Maybe the “important” assignments will go to the celebreporters when they aren’t trying to figure out what Speidi* is doing. In a society so deeply rooted and dependent on science and technology, concerned and responsible science reporting should be a priority rather than being summarily flushed.

It is clear that if ‘news’ cannot be sensationalized, politicized, or monetized, it must not have worth so why report it. It’s also clear that the mainstream media is not going to take responsibility for accurately reporting on science and technology issues that affect our lives every day. What hope is there for mom and dad, the grade school teacher, or the local government official to make informed and responsible decisions rather than instinctually reacting to an overhyped media blitz?

(*Spencer & Heidi – thanks to the Soup!)

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Nuclear energy and religion?

If anyone has read the Wednesday, October 29, issue of the Villanova Times, you might have seen an article on nuclear power entitled Debate Over Nuclear Power Intensifies by Matt Crawford.  In this article, Crawford presents the political and environmental arguments for and against nuclear power.  He then inserts the opinion of sophomore student Mike Patson, who believes that nuclear power “is dangerous as well as possibly unethical according to the traditional Christian standards of moderation.”  Crawford goes on to say:

‘From a Christian perspective,’ said Patson, ‘nuclear energy is not an ideal technique to generate power.  While nuclear energy can provide a seemingly endless amount of energy, Christians are called to live simple lives.  The ethic of love thy neighbor is applicable.  Nuclear plants will be built in less powerful social and economic areas, and this is where radioactive waste will likely be kept as well.

Since when does the decision of whether or not to shift this country’s dependence on energy to nuclear power depend on its concurrence with “traditional Christian standards of moderation”?  Furthermore, the assertion that Christians are called to live simple lives does not apply here.  Nuclear energy is not an x-billion dollar piece of bling we can put on a chain.  No one basks in the luxury of fission.  The point is to utilize a more efficient and bountiful source of energy that will help everyone, not just a select few.

This argument could go on for quite some time.  Is anyone else concerned about an assertion such as this?

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Environmental (and Human Health) Protection vs. Industry Interests – Who Will Prevail?

Last Thursday the EPA strengthened its standards on lead pollution, updating the law that was 30 years old. “The new standards set the limits for exposure at 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from 1.5 micrograms, and well within the outer limit of 0.2 micrograms recommended by the advisers.” For me this was great news, as I am concerned about particulate pollution and industry standards for what they are allowed to dump, how much, and where. However, two days after this article was published, the NY Times printed another article stating that the Interior Department wants to relax the laws on mine waste dumping. Two government positions that are in complete conflict with each other, not a surprise.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states that in an average year, a coal plant burns 114 pounds of lead and other toxic heavy metals. If all of that goes into the air when the coal is burned, who knows how much drifts into nearby streams and valleys near the mountains where the coal is actually mined? The liquid waste generated by mountain top removal is dumped into a nearby valley, where the current law is that it must be at least 100 feet away from any stream (the new law states that this requirement can be skirted if “compliance is determined to be impossible” — how is that determined?). The solid waste is carted away into nearby valleys, usually in unlined and unmonitored landfills. How can the industries ask for a relaxation that would impede them from following the new, stricter lead concentration allowed in air? The qualification may be that the sources of pollution are different (water vs. air particulates), but once the waste has been dumped, some of it will be buried and some of the mine tailings can be kicked up into the air.

From this another problem arises – how far ahead are the companies required to plan to keep the dumping sites safe from leaching? This article states that mining pollution and the waste at the dumping sites stick around for quite awhile, affecting wildlife in the are. This means once the companies have stripped all the mountains, they have no long-term abandonment plan and instead leave the mess for the communities to clean up. If we are at all concerned about the quality of our streams or our air, the government cannot have double standards and pander to industries like surface mining.

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Bottled “Water”?

A recent article on Yahoo!’s Green page caught my attention when it claimed that another study found that bottled water also contains contaminants. Bottled water has been a hot topic of conversation lately – whether it be about recycling the bottles or the actual product behind the plastic. Although I’m pretty sick of this topic and have resorted to filtering water myself (via Brita/Pur products) I continually find myself interested in any new “findings” in the bottled water world. Perhaps it is the little analytical chemist inside me waiting for an opportunity jump on this never ending bandwagon.

The research included 10 different brands that were tested for purity and two came up with unsatisfactory contamination levels (which were never defined)- Wal*Mart’s brand and Giant Food’s brand.

The study’s lab tests on 10 brands of bottled water detected 38 chemicals including bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium. Though some probably came from tap water that some companies use for their bottled water, other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles, the researchers said.

This statement includes the results of all 10 brands of bottled water, however the rest of the article only focuses on the findings in Wal*Mart and Giant Food claiming that the levels in the other brands were not high enough to warrant further testing- and the article all together fails to mention what the other 8 brands studied were! Frankly, if all of these things are showing up in my water – which is supposed to be pure – I think even 1 ppb warrants more tests. And although they say these levels are comparable to the water we’re getting out of our taps, shouldn’t this be saying something about our filtration systems?  Perhaps we shouldn’t just be focusing on bottled water. (Germaphobe – I know) I suppose its the little analytical chemist in me again screaming out for numbers and quantities – this article is lacking in pertinent information! In the end, Wal*Mart basically claimed they were shocked because none of their tests revealed this same information. It made me think of Instrumental Lab – do I see a possible scenario in the works?

So what do you guys think… stay away from bottled water or consider the possibility that the quantities of contaminants are too small to kill anyone?

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How does a ‘toxic cloud’ warrant a radiation warning symbol?


I’m not sure what concerns me more, the actual reporting or the image of a nuclear power plant with radiation symbol being used for a story about a plume of fuming sulfuric acid released from a chemical plant. Don’t get me wrong, this was a serious event that could have resulted in serious injuries; however, I would have appreciated more responsible reporting e.g., what is fuming sulfuric acid, how long might it persist, what are the exposure risks, etc. I especially like the quote from a former employee of the plant (last line below). How would you have reported the incident?

Authorities surveyed the neighborhood in Petrolia and determined that no traces of the toxic chemical remained, said Freda Tarbell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

A leak at the Indspec Chemical Corp. plant in Petrolia on Saturday formed a cloud affecting at least 2,000 residents — some of whom fled their homes. Others huddled indoors with their windows shut, authorities said.

Ed Schrecengost, a former Indspec employee, said firefighters showed up at his son’s wedding reception, urging the guests to leave.

“It’s about as dangerous as you can get,” Schrecengost told CNN affiliate WPXI. “It’s a very fuming acid. A quart bottle of this material could fill a household in two seconds.”

[via cnn and googlenews]

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