Saturday, September 14, 2019

El Nino has faded to neutral, but those storms are still there


Although storm activity in the eastern and central Pacific is pretty active right now, itʻs not due to El Nino conditions, which have faded away.

The latest NOAA El Nino update  says the ocean continues to be in an ENSO-Neutral condition. (ENSO is for El Nino Southern Oscillation). The NOAA Climate Prediction Center says there is a better than even chance that neutral conditions will continue through the winter.

Thatʻs important to folks in the Islands, because El Nino is associated with a higher risk of major storms like hurricanes. Ocean surface water temperatures in the mid-Pacific tend to be higher in El Nino years and lower in La Nina periods.

But that said, itʻs a game of percentages. We can still get hurricanes in neutral or even La Nina conditions.

As this is written, there are four tropical disturbances and one tropical storm, Kiko, spinning in the waters from south of Hawai`i east to Mexico. Kiko is expected to die out, but still might bring us some rain in a week or so.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

You have a pile of yard waste. How best to deal with it?


Walking stick, coulda been a bonfire.
So, youʻve got a pile of yard waste or pruned tree limbs. What to do with it?

1. You could use it; 2. You could let it rot (compost); or 3. You could burn it.

This is an argument for the first and the second, but not the third.

Some yard waste, if it doesnʻt have a bunch of weed seeds in it, can be mulch to keep weeds down and retain soil moisture. Or parts of it can be used as planting material (stick a plumeria stalk or a trimmed hibiscus branch in the ground and theyʻll grow). Chunks of wood can be slabbed up for construction projects, or carved into art objects. Really, you donʻt need to buy a walking stick...itʻs called a stick for a reason.

Composting is magical. It turns waste into a valuable soil amendment. And you can get all scientific about it to get the best, fastest results that produce enough heat to kill weed seeds. Or you can just pile the stuff up and the natural world will break it down in its own time. The crawly bugs and fungi and bacteria, the mesophylic and thermophylic organisms, the worms and the larvae, theyʻll do all the work.

What about the burning option? It gets the volume down fast, and creates wood ash, which has a lot of potash and other micronutrients that you could use in your yard.

There are times when burning is appropriate, but the downsides to burning are compelling. The heat sterilizes the soil under the fire and kills anything living in the greenwaste. If composting is a technique that celebrates life, fire is the opposite. Fire can be a natural process, but weʻre not talking about lightning-lit fires in native forests or savannahs.

(We can concede that for some species fire is a friend—grasses in many cases thrive after fires, both because the competition is killed off and because the ash fertilizes the soil. And we note in passing that a dry compost pile can sometimes catch fire, but thatʻs another discussion.)

What else?

Smoke from fires can be irritating to human (and other species) breathing and to eyes. It can make allergies worse. Sometimes toxic compounds that were locked up in the biological matter can be released into the atmosphere.

Wood smoke contains particular matter as well as chemicals in gas form. Breathing that stuff can have both short-term and long-term health impacts.

Hereʻs a paper on hazards of wood burning. And hereʻs a warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And then, of course, thereʻs the elephant in the room—the whole climate thing. Every time you burn, youʻre dumping a pulse of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Itʻs why folks are so exercised about the burning of the Amazon forests.

A few boring statistics: For every pound of wood you burn, you create 1.5 to 1.9 pounds of carbon dioxide (depending on the carbon density of the wood). Carbon dioxide, of course, is a big greenhouse gas. You also produce other greenhouse gases, like nitrogen oxides.

So to go back to the start, weʻre all better off if you make something (compost, mulch, a carved elephant, a picture frame) than if you immediately convert your woody waste to greenhouse gas. Youʻre just locking up that carbon for longer.

It seems clear that keeping that carbon in the soil rather than in the atmosphere is a good thing. And itʻs a good thing for more than just the climate, according to a 2005 article by Canadian researcher Henry H.Janzen. 

"Soil organic matter is far more than a potential tank for impounding excess CO2; it is a relentless flow of C atoms, through... myriad...streams—some fast, some slow—wending their way through the ecosystem, driving biotic processes along the way."

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Sunday, September 8, 2019

More on vaping deaths: black market vape fluid implicated, and the aerosol not the liquid has most caustic lung impacts


There is intriguing new evidence, but no hard conclusions yet, in the wave of hospitalizations and deaths associated with vaping.

Nearly 500 people have been hospitalized across the country with lung disease in the past few months, and five have died. All confirmed they had used e-cigarettes in the weeks or months before becoming ill.

Vaping has only been in the United States since 2006, but the sudden upsurge in hospital admissions starting early this summer is new. Researchers have recognized health issues with electronic cigarettes for some time, but now people are getting serious lung damage and some are dying.

It raises the question: It was always medically questionable, but what happened thatʻs new? What is making all these people so very sick, all of a sudden?

Early reports indicate that all the patients had used nicotine-based vaping fluids, but most of the sick had also used fluids containing a product from marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (cannabidiol). Some of the THC vape fluid came from black market sources, so itʻs hard to know how they were created.

New York State health officials reported they have found unapproved compounds in some of the black market THC vape fluids.

Researchers say the disease appears to be one associated with chemical attack on the lungs. That is relevant since much of the early concern about vaping impacts was about the impact of heat—the electrically heated smoke that could potentially "cook" mouth and lung tissues.

Many of the sick admitted acquiring cheap THC vaping oil from online sites or from "pop-up" retail vendors. Most of the victims admitted using both tobacco and marijuana compounds. It is possible that nearly all the victims used at least some THC fluid, but wonʻt admit it, one researcher said.

"Not everyone reported using THC oil, but we can't say if that was because they were scared to acknowledge it or because they never used it," Ngozi Ezike, MD, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a report in MedPage Today. 

The Centers for Disease Control said that some patients reported getting nausea, vomiting or diarrhea before they noticed lung problems like trouble breathing or chest pain. Several went for medical care several times before they were admitted to hospitals.

Many are being treated with supplemental oxygen, and some medical centers have had treatment success with heavy doses of steroids. In North Carolina, they used intravenous doses of methylprednisone. 

Some patients who have been released after treatement continue to have long-term lung damage.

There appears to be some suggestion that itʻs not (or not just) the nicotine or THC that is causing the problem, but some other compound in the vaping fluids. More than 100 such compounds are being tested, but as yet, the CDC says it doesnʻt have a prime culprit.

"To date, the investigation has not identified any single substance or e-cigarette product that has been consistently associated with illness," the CDC said in an August 30, 2019, report. 

That said, some health officials are focusing on a product called vitamin E acetate, which has been recovered from the vaping gear and in the lungs of many victims. The New York State Department of Health issued a statement last week, that indicated this compound is a target of its investigation.

"Laboratory test results showed very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analyzed by the Wadsworth Center as part of this investigation. At least one vitamin E acetate containing vape product has been linked to each patient who submitted a product for testing. Vitamin E acetate is not an approved additive for New York State Medical Marijuana Program-authorized vape products and was not seen in the nicotine-based products that were tested."

While vitamin E products are not known to be harmful when eaten or applied to the skin, there is concern that when heated and taken into the lungs, they could cause disease. The New York State Department of Health "continues to investigate its health effects when inhaled because its oil-like properties could be associated with the observed symptoms."

But before we all go pointing fingers at specific compounds, there is at least some evidence that itʻs the vaping process itself that causes health effects.

A scientific paper released in the journal Thorax just a month ago tested live human lung tissue against vaping fluid in liquid form, and vaping smoke both with and without nicotine. (In this test, THC was not included.) 

It is a small but elegant study conducted by British and American institutions, and researchers found that human lungs react badly to vape aerosol, and worse to the smoke than to the raw fluid.

Here is Science Dailyʻs report on the study. And here is the paper itself.

Unvaped fluid increased inflammation of lung tissue, but exposure to vaped fluid was far worse, causing more inflammation and also lung cell death. There was evidence vaped fluid also reduced the lungʻs ability to deal with bacteria—possibly setting people up for more severe infections.

"We show a significant increase in cytotoxicity caused by the vaping process itself," the authors write. Cytotoxicity is the quality of being poisonous to cells.

While the study was small and has limitations, its conclusions are consistent with other medical advice.

"While further research is needed to fully understand the effects of e-cigarette exposure in humans in vivo, we suggest continued caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe," the authors write.

For more on the vaping issue, see our previous post: https://raisingislands.blogspot.com/2019/09/hundreds-hospitalized-five-dead.html

© Jan TenBruggencate

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Hundreds hospitalized, five dead: Alarming new disease threat from vaping


There is increasing evidence that vaping can be even more dangerous, and dangerous faster, than smoking.

And within the past week, researchers identified a strange new lung disease associated with vaping, but itʻs just the start. Very little is known about it. Hundreds of vapers are being admitted to hospitals with lung disease.

(Image: Lipid-laden macrophages found in patients with vaping-related respiratory illness. Oily lipids are stained red. Credit, Andrew Hansen, Jordan Valley Medical Center)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control yesterday issued a report recommending Americans stop using vaping technologies. They said health departments in 25 states have reported more than 200 new cases of lung disease linked directly to vaping.

The Washington Post says that since that report, the count has risen to 450 cases in 33 states and one territory, with five deaths. 

Ironically, vaping was hailed as the great middle ground. Get the nicotine without all the other dangerous chemicals in cigarettes. A safer alternative. Instead, itʻs getting people sicker with lung disease even faster than cigarettes.

And it is potentially an epidemic. Vaping is huge, with a quarter of Hawai`i high school students using the e-cigarettes and a sixth of middle school students using.

There are fewer chemical compounds in vape fluids than in cigarettes, but increasingly, itʻs clear that there are other issues. Johns Hopkins produced an older balanced look at vaping here

It cites both the increased nicotine addiction hazard, and the direct health impacts of huge hits of nicotine, far stronger than you can get from a cigarette. But the new reports within the past week up the ante: the danger is from far more than nicotine.

There are other chemicals in vape fluids, and researchers do not yet know which one or which ones are causing the lung diseases theyʻre seeing. A New England Journal of Health report has just identified a new vaping lung disease that has sickened hundreds and has killed. Lung scans show damage that looks like severe pneumonia, but is not.

Ailing patientsʻ lungs have large white blood cells filled with globs of fat, and itʻs not yet clear whatʻs going on with them. Whether they are a symptom or a cause of the disease is not clear.

"While it is too soon to be sure, these lipid-laden macrophages may turn out to be useful to confirm or rule out this disease," said co-author Scott Aberegg, a critical care pulmonologist at the University of Utah.

Researchers across the country are seeing hospital admissions of vapers with breathing problems. A paper by doctors from Wisconsin and Illinois reported that of 53 reported cases, most of the patients are male, with an average age of 19, and that a majority (but not all) was taking both nicotine and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products via e-cigarettes. Almost all required hospitalization and one died.

The Utah doctors reported: "A previously healthy 21-year-old man who had been vaping nicotine and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) daily presented with 1 week of dyspnea, cough, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting." (Dyspnea is shortness of breath.)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a paper this week citing hundreds of cases of severe lung disease associated with vaping. In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC said itʻs too early to know what the chemical cause is, but that thereʻs enough information to recommend against using e-cigarettes.

"Based on available information, the disease is likely caused by an unknown chemical exposure; no single product or substance is conclusively linked to the disease.

"Until a definitive cause is known, persons should consider not using e-cigarettes. Those who use e-cigarettes should seek medical attention for any health concerns. Clinicians should report possible cases to their local or state health department," the CDC said.

One of the issues is not knowing just what youʻre taking into your lungs: "Aerosols produced by e-cigarettes can contain harmful or potentially harmful substances, including heavy metals such as lead, volatile organic compounds, ultrafine particles, cancer-causing chemicals, or other agents such as chemicals used for cleaning the device," the CDC report said.

Symptoms may start with an unproductive cough, and as it progresses, many patients require oxygen to help them breathe.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019