Sunday, December 22, 2019

Ugly fix preserves options for a classic steel library cart

I was presented recently with a 60-plus year-old library cart whose solid rubber wheels had flattened from sitting for years under load.

You could force it to roll, but it went "Ka-lunk Ka-lunk Ka-lunk," which is an annoying sound in a library. My job was to make it roll quietly.

It is a classic blue-painted steel cart with two bins and four wheels, two of which turn and two that donʻt. The rubber wheels still had the legible name of the manufacturer: The Colson Company of Elyria, Ohio.

Turns out Colson still exists, and their customer service is excellent. They had to refer me to one of their old-timers, who told me they closed their Elyria plant in 1957. So the cart is at least 62 years old, and maybe older.

Colson still makes wheels for library carts, but theyʻre modern designs. They no longer make the bulletproof steel wheels that were on this cart.

The cartʻs wheels still turn on their original greased bearings. Each wheel axle has its own Zerk grease fitting, and they still work. I greased them. The wheels can be taken apart to replace the solid circle of rubber that serves as a tire. I took one apart and removed the tire, to prove to myself that it was possible.

But as far as a couple of hours of internet searching was able to determine, the tires for this wheel are no longer made. Colson had no idea where to look.

Their Honolulu agent recommend I go ahead and replace the whole wheel mechanism with a modern plastic caster. But that seemed wrong. This American steel wheel was still functional, and someone long ago had designed and built it, understanding that it would last a long time. It could be serviced and was built so that the tires could someday be replaced.

After giving up on the internet, I went to local tire stores, local hardware stores, local car parts shops, all with no luck. I could not locate a replacement tire of the right size—three-inch center diameter, five-inch outer diameter, with the tire itself an inch thick in cross-section.

I even thought about using a giant O-ring to replace the tire, but the rubber would be too soft. Another option would be to find wheels the same size, and tear them apart to get the rubber wheels off and switch then to these wheels. Someone at a hardware store even suggested I could 3-D print a tire. Maybe thatʻs the eventual fix in the modern era.

Instead, for now, I used an abrasive grinder to grind the hard rubber wheels round again. It took a third of an inch off each wheel, but the old wheels are still turning, the cart is rolling quietly, and if anyone ever again makes a tire to fit them, theyʻll still be ready for a new set.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Everybody knows to avoid tuna when pregnant, right? Not so fast. Eating tuna might actually yield better results, says a large new study.

Eating ocean fish is good for you, but some fish have significant levels of methylmercury which is bad for you, so you should avoid those fish, right? Wrong, says a new study.

Mothers who ate seafood, even when it contained high levels of methyl mercury, had smarter kids than those who didnʻt eat seafood, says the comprehensive, peer-reviewed study.  

"Moderate and consistent evidence indicates that consumption of a wide range of amounts and types of commercially available seafood during pregnancy is associated with improved neurocognitive development of offspring as compared to eating no seafood," it said.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, and some medical wisdom. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend against pregnant women eating ahi, over concerns about methyl mercury exposure.

There is no question that thereʻs methylmercury in yellowfin, bigeye and bluefin tuna, and that the amount has been increasing in recent years. There are also significant amounts of mercury in blue marlin and other species. 

The Hawai`i Department of Health warns against pregnant women eating any blue marlin, swordfish and shark and recommends severe limits on consumption of tunas. 

Yet the new study suggests women who eat some ocean fish, even when mercury levels are high, actually have kids who have better mental outcomes. The authors wrote: " No net adverse neurocognitive outcomes were reported among offspring at the highest ranges of seafood intakes despite associated increases in mercury exposures."

The paper is entitled, "Relationships between seafood consumption during pregnancy and childhood and neurocognitive development: Two systematic reviews." It is published in the journal, Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. Its authors come from some of the most prestigious medical and scholarly institutions in three countries, including the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, American Society for Nutrition, National Institutes of Health and others.

So whatʻs going on? The authors say thereʻs something in seafood that counteracts the impacts of mercury, and makes it even healthier for kids to eat seafood than not to eat it.

Here is the technical way they say that: "This evaluation of seafood consumption inherently integrates any adverse effects from neurotoxicants, and benefits to neurocognition from omega-3 fats, as well as other nutrients critical to optimal neurological development."

Even small amounts of seafood have a beneficial effect, and the study found no downside to large amounts: 

"Benefits to neurocognitive development began at the lowest amounts of seafood consumed in pregnancy (4 oz/wk) and up to >100 oz/wk, with benefits to age appropriate measures of neurocognitive development including an average increase of 7.7 IQ points, in evaluating 44 publications reporting on 102, 944 mother-offspring pairs, no adverse effects on neurocognitive development were found."

It is not that the mothers and children arenʻt exposed to methyl mercury. They are, but there appear to be no negative impacts from that exposure from seafood, the paper says: "No net adverse neurocognitive outcomes were reported in offspring at the highest ranges of seafood intakes despite associated increases in mercury exposures."

The authors are aware that this is controversial stuff, and they urge the scientific community to do more research. There needs to be work, they say, that follows the children into older age, research into whether fatty or oily fish like tuna are healthier than white-fleshed fish, on making sure the IQ tests in studies are comparable, and research on differences based on species of fish and of how it is prepared.

But how is it possible that mercury exposure in kids is dangerous, except when it comes from fish? 

The authors of this paper donʻt say in the publication, but others have suggested that seafood contains something else that protects against mercury- namely, selenium.

This study from 2010 argues that selenium protects against mercury poisoning, and it cites studies indicating selenium can actually reverse some of the effects of methylmercury toxicity. 

"Studies of populations exposed to MeHg (methyl mercury) by eating Se-(selenium) rich ocean fish observe improved child IQs instead of harm."

Tuna and most billfish tend to have high levels of selenium, which may help explain things. Hereʻs a useful report from NOAA and other agencies.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Monday, November 18, 2019

Kauai koloa: the native ducks on the Garden Island are still pure

The native Hawaiian duck, koloa, still rules on Kaua`i—retaining nearly all its native genetic heritage.

You can see pairs and even families of ducks lift off the newly cleared sections of Niumaluʻs Alakoko Fishpond on Kaua`i, and from the ancient taro lo`i in Hanalei. You can see them swim in streams around the island of Kaua`i, and waddle along the banks of the ponds at Kaua`i Lagoons at Nawiliwili.

A new genetic study, published today in the journal Molecular Ecology, says most ducks on Kaua`i are pure koloa, although many on other islands have interbred with mallards.
Kaua`i koloa. Credit: FWS image.

The paper is entitled "Persistence of an endangered native duck, feral mallards, and multiple hybrid swarms across the main Hawaiian Islands." The lead author is Caitlin P. Wells, of the University of California at Davis. 

Co-authors are Philip Lavretsky, Michael D. Sorenson, Jeffrey L. Peters, Jeffrey M. DaCosta, Stephen Turnbull, Kimberly J. Uyehara, Christopher P. Malachowski, Bruce D. Dugger, John M. Eadie and Andrew Engilis Jr.

Koloa were once present on all the islands, but due to predation, hunting and other causes, they were gone by the 1960s from all islands except Kaua`i and Ni`ihau. Captive breeding and release have returned some koloa to other islands since, but the populations remain low.

The researchers, in attempting to get a sense of how significant was the hydbridization with non-Hawaiian birds, collected blood samples from 425 ducks across the Hawaiian Islands.

Their finding was that Kaua`i birds are still close to pure koloa, while those on the other islands are blends—hybrids between koloa and mallards.

"We found that despite a population decline in the last century, koloa genetic diversity is high. There were few hybrids on the island of Kauaʻi, home to the largest population of koloa.

"By contrast, we report that sampled populations outside of Kauaʻi can now be characterized as hybrid swarms, in that all individuals sampled were of mixed koloa × mallard ancestry," the paper reported.
Many species that have dropped to really low numbers suffer from a decline in genetic diversity, meaning they have a reduced capacity to evolve in response to changing conditions. 

In a press release about the study, lead author Wells said that the genetic diversity in the Kaua`i birds suggests they can respond well to changes in the environment. 

"Should the environment change, due to things like climate change, there's a lot of potential for the koloa to evolve on its own, given the genetic diversity we've seen," she said.

"The fact that the koloa on Kauai are pure and have a lot of genetic variation are two really positive things that came out of this study," Wells said.

The two-decade study involved researchers from the University of California at Davis, Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Texas at El Paso, Wright State University, Oregon State University and the Hawai`i state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. 

 © Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Fiddling as the planet burns. Climate change is upon us.

We saw it coming, but we did not know it would come so fast.

Climate change, long a threat for future decades, for the grandchildren, is here now.

In part, after a century of comparatively stable climate, the very concept of sudden dramatic change seemed so bizarre that many scientists have underplayed the possibilities.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in early years issued conservative predictions. Some say the authors felt nobody would pay attention to the more alarmist predictions. Bizarrely, when scientists couldnʻt agree on how much Antarctic and Greenland ice melting would add to sea level, they just left those contributions out of their calculations entirely, vastly understating possible sea level rise.

In the Hawaiian Islands, king tides now regularly flood low coastal areas that 50 years ago and 25 years ago were always dry. Thatʻs going to keep getting worse.

The IPCC is getting up to speed and has been more realistic in its 2018 report. It has had to: "One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 degree of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes," said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPPCʻs Working Group 1.

In Hawai`i, as temperatures rise, mosquitoes are able to survive at higher and higher elevations—where they carry fatal diseases to Hawaiian forest birds. I attended a meeting last week at which a bird researcher, when asked what was happening right now with Kaua`i forest birds, he said "theyʻre quietly dying of malaria."

Recently 11,000 scientists, exhausted with inaccurately conservative predictions, raised the alarm in a paper in Bioscience Magazine. There is an "urgent need for action," they said. 

Our planet has a fever, itʻs just starting on a long uphill trajectory, and so far, weʻre doing virtually nothing about it.

In our Hawaiian Islands, reduced rainfall associated with climate change has parched forests, and exacerbated wildfires that have burned thousands of acres on all the major islands. 

So, if we continue doing too little, itʻll get a little hotter and weʻll just to adapt, right? Wrong. All the evidence suggests it will keep getting worse, keep getting hotter, keep getting less tolerable.

The central Pacific—our part of the ocean—is seeing corals bleaching and dying. They are impacted by changes in water temperature, changes in ocean acidity, changes in current patterns, all related to climate change.

Here is the summary for policymakers issued by the IPCC in October 2018.

Little blogs like this one have been raising the alarm for years, with little apparent impact on policymakers. Examples? Here from January this year, here from 2016,  here from 2015, here from 2012, here from 2010, here from 2009. And those are just a few of the articles. 

But itʻs hard to feel isolated, because mainstream science has been suggesting ever more alarming scenarios. And while smaller responses to climate change might have worked in the past, what is now required is perhaps more alarming than the threat.

"Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values."

That is from a paper, "Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene," published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

It suggests that if we donʻt act fast and now, the warming instead of stabilizing, will run out of control. That we are on a path to a tipping point, a threshhold, that will keep driving despite our intervention: "If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies."

In the Hawaiian Islands, on several islands, coastal roads are already being eroded away, forcing highway engineers to consider alternative routes, or extraordinary coastal armoring scenarios.

Here is the list of the more than 10,000 scientists who signed the extraordinary paper in Bioscience. They represent 153 countries, including the U.S., China, Russia, Canada, India, France, most of the nations on the planet, and all the major nations.

Their message is stark: "Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still rapidly rising, with increasingly damaging effects on the Earth's climate. An immense increase of scale in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis."

It is not a long paper. Please consider reading it. Hereʻs the link again.

And yet globally, human populations continue to rise. Our energy use continues to rise. Weʻre raising more ruminant animals. Our forest cover is dropping.  In Hawai`i, we celebrate increased air travel as a good thing, we keep buying gas guzzler vehicles, we buy our air conditioners as we complain about the heat.

The first rule about holes is that if youʻre in one, stop digging.

Our Legislature this year started the session with a laudable array of bills to address climate change, and then killed almost all of them. Nathan Eagle at Honolulu Civil Beat reviewed the distressing result

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Blazing sunsets, redux

Raikoke Volcano in the Kuril Islands
in the northwest Pacific, taken June 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA.

Those spectacular Hawaiian sunset photos that have been showing up recently on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are likely the result of volcanic emissions being dumped into the upper atmosphere during the summer.

But volcanic activity hasnʻt stopped. Just in the past week, in addition to ongoing volcanic eruptions, there have been four new ones. The volcanic haze that gets ejected into the atmosphere can color sunrises and sunsets in blazing oranges and purples.

The recent eruptions include these:

Kikai at Japanʻs Satsuma Iwo-jima, which is a small eruption probably not contributing a lot to sunsets. The dust plume was estimated at a kilometer high.

Klyuchevskoy in Russiaʻs Central Kamchatka, which has a dust and steam plume blowing 130 kilometers downwind.

The volcano at Metis Shoal, Tonga, erupted Nov. 1 and created a new island, but it appears to have stopped.

And Shishaldin in the Fox Islands of Alaska is reported still an active eruption, but without reports of a lot of dust and steam.

So those volcanoes that erupted most recently are comparatively small have not created a lot of the color weʻre seeing in the early evening. Most of the impact of recent sunsets comes from Ulawun volcano in Papua New Guinea, which erupted June 26, 2019, and Raikoke in the Kuril Islands, which erupted June 22, 2019.

Ulawun sent up a plume 20 kilometers or more high. Raikoke went 13 to 17 or more kilometers high. At those elevations, the dust and gas got into upper level winds and were transported around the globe.

"The dominant aerosol layer is actually formed by sulfur dioxide gas which is converted to droplets of sulfuric acid in the stratosphere over the course of a week to several months after the eruption. 
Winds in the stratosphere spread the aerosols until they practically cover the globe. Once formed, these aerosols stay in the stratosphere for about two years," said a NASA article.  

If you want to keep track for yourself, hereʻs a website that monitors recent eruptions. It is produced jointly by the Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program and the U.S. Geological Survey.  

For some reason, there has been an upsurge in sunset picture taking. Perhaps itʻs associated with clearer weather. But the underlying causes havenʻt changed much since RaisingIslandsʻ last report on the 2019 sunsets here. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

All-electric pickup trucks, still right around the corner--but now weeks away instead of years

What everyone in Hawai`i knows is that electric vehicles wonʻt fully take off in the Islands until there are electric pickup trucks with plenty of range.

Okay, theyʻre here, or should be before the end of the month, and certainly before the end of the year, and more are coming.

Itʻs a big deal in Hawai`i, which annually sells twice as many light trucks as cars. And the number is growing. The Hawai`i Auto Dealers Association said the percentage of light trucks sold in the first half of this year compared to last year was up from 67.1 percent to 68.8 percent.

So when is the electric wave going to sweep into the truck category? Within weeks...or months...the record for meeting deadlines on electric trucks hasnʻt been great.

Hereʻs a rundown of whatʻs coming soonest.

Bollinger (seen above, from the company website) has a boxy electric pickup, its B2, under construction. Think a three-way cross between a Land Rover, a Jeep and a Hummer.

It should have  200-mile range, and more than 600 horsepower! Itʻs all aluminum and designed to last, and Bollinger says they plan for it to be the last truck youʻll ever need to buy. Their first model is promised any time now, maybe before the end of the month, although that deadline is approaching fast.

The Bollinger has an unconventional pickup truck look, and Tesla has also promised a different truck look. After that, most of the announced e-trucks look more conventional.

Elon Musk has promised the Tesla pickup will be—"most likely"—available by November this year. 
Thereʻs not much detail on the Tesla website, and Musk has said the design was still being tweaked just two months before his announced sale date. He has suggested a $49,000 sale price.   

There is the Rivian, a pickup truck with four-wheel-drive (electric motor on each wheel) and 400 plus miles of range. You can pre-order it, but you canʻt buy it yet. Maybe next year. The first one ought to start at $69,000.

A company called Atlis has a hot looking truck. Four-wheel-drive, 500 miles of range, but of course, you canʻt quite buy it yet. You can reserve one, and you can invest in the company. It might be on sale next year. One fun feature: cameras instead of mirrors.

Ford has said its all-electric F-150 will come maybe in 2021. And it is working with Volkswagen on a smaller electric pickup, maybe available in 2022. Ford has also invested in Rivian, so is there a Ford-branded Rivian in the future?

General Motors earlier this year said it will certainly have an electric pickup truck option when the market is ready for it. Within the past few days, it suggested it could have one on the market maybe as early as late in 2021, for the 2022 model year.

The United Auto Workers is currently on strike against GM, and the electric pickup is part of the negotiation. 

Several companies have released or are talking about hybrid pickups, but weʻre talking all-electric here.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019

Those blazing new internet sunsets? Thank a couple of summer volcanic eruptions.

Great sunsets are the new kitties on social media.

Lots of folks are posting their photographs of 
spectacular glowing orange and purple sunsets. Whereʻd they come from? 

Once again, this pulse of superb sunsets is thanks to atmospheric pollution from a volcano.

(Since youʻll find sunset shots elsewhere, hereʻs a shot of whatʻs causing them. This is the plume from Kuril Islands volcano Raikoke, taken from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.)

This time, it is the Russian volcano, Raikoke, which erupted in June this year. The volcano dumped vast amounts of sulfur gas into the upper atmosphere, giving sunsets a new reddish-purple tinge.

High altitude balloon measurements just found sulfur density 20 times normal in the stratosphere. The story was reported in last weekʻs issue of the journal Science

There were some great sunsets in 2008, that time due to the ash-filled eruption of the Alaskan volcano Kasatochi. It exploded in August of that year.  

And there were years of great sunsets in the 1990s from the Philippine volcano Pinatubo, which erupted in June 1991.

(In the NASA images from space at left, the upper shot is before Pinatubo. In the lower image, the layers of aerosols from 1991ʻs eruption of Pinatubo are visible in the atmosphere.)

The latest bit of atmospheric pyrotechnics is thanks to Raikoke or Raykoke, a Russian volcano that dominates an island in the Kuril chain of the Northwest Pacific. The June 22 eruption ejected a plume of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter 50,000 feet into the atmosphere.

The Raikoke event may be helped a little by another eruption in the first week of August, this one from the volcano Ulawun in Papua New Guinea. Its plume is believed to have reached 63,000 feet.

But while those are impressive events, the volume is not believed to be sufficient to alter climate. Pinatubo was identified responsible for a two-year period of global cooling that temporarily halted the planetʻs pattern of warming.

Pinatubo lifted 15 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it formed a layer of sulfuric acid droplets that both blocked sunlight and made great sunsets. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

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:

© 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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

El Nino fading out--good news for hurricane-phobic islanders

The mild El Nino that has been in place this spring and early summer appears to be on the way out.

Statistically speaking, thatʻs good news in terms of hurricanes. The Hawaiian Islands tend to have a couple fewer hurricanes per year in periods when El Nino is not in play. 

Here is a rundown on whatʻs been going on, from NOAAʻS Climate Prediction Center. 

And here is the latest news—todayʻs assessment that the current El Nino will dissipate in the next month or so. 

This is the synopsis from todayʻs report: "A transition from El Niño to ENSO-neutral is expected in the next month or two, with ENSO-neutral most likely to continue through Northern Hemisphere fall and winter."

That doesnʻt mean weʻre out of the woods. Itʻs still hurricane season, but this suggests weʻll move statistically back to normal conditions, which is about 3.5 named storms per season in the Central Pacific.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019