Saturday, 28 August 2010

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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

NPR- Hungry for Oil - Highlights Industry and Environmental Issues - Hydraulic Fracturing - Points to BioLargo Technology Opportunity

Link to Audio File Here

Hungry For Oil: Feeding America's Expensive Habit

Jeff Brady/NPR

Jim Brown, senior vice president of Whiting Petroleum. Fourteen of the company's Denver-based rigs have drilled over 100 wells in the Bakken Formation, which covers a huge area in North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan.
text size A A A August 18, 2010
Every day the United States goes through another 20 million barrels of oil. Finding enough crude to supply the country's oil habit is difficult because much of the oil that's easy to get to is gone. Now companies are extracting oil in places that are expensive to drill and raise concerns about safety and the environment. BP's disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the most obvious example.

Out on the rolling prairies of North Dakota — and just about everywhere else — oil doesn't bubble up out of the ground anymore. You have to go in and force it out.

North Dakota Oil Boom

Jim Brown knows the difficulties of modern-day drilling; he's senior vice president of Denver-based Whiting Petroleum. His company plans to drill more than 383 wells as part of the surge in oil drilling in western North Dakota.

The crude is locked away in a layer of sediment 2 miles underground. Not only did his crew drill down that far; they took a sharp turn and drilled another 2 miles horizontally through the sediment. Now they'll use a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing to create a series of small cracks underground to free the oil.

Related NPR Stories

"This total job, we'll pump about 40,000 barrels of fluid and about 4 million pounds of sand in this well," Brown says, standing near his company’s Hagey 12-13H well outside Stanley, N.D.

Brown says fracturing the sediment will boost oil production about tenfold for the first month the well is operating.

"I've been in this business for over 35 years and we are doing something here today that we did not have the technology to do seven years ago," he says.

Hydraulic fracturing — or frac'ing — also is used for natural gas, and it's controversial. The fluid is mostly water, but it also contains about one-half percent chemicals. Despite industry assurances, environmental groups worry frac'ing is polluting groundwater, and they want more regulation. Some even want an outright ban. But without this technology, the boom in North Dakota wouldn't be happening.

... Shell's platform cost more than three times as much as NASA's Mars Pathfinder, and arguably involved more sophisticated technology and more sophisticated remote engineering.
- Tyler Priest, clinical assistant professor and director of global studies at the University of Houston
Oil: Beyond NASA

New technology has changed oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico too. As seen in the wake of BP's blown-out well in the Gulf, companies have sophisticated technology like remote-controlled submarines. That means they can explore for oil in places humans can't even go. Sometimes the projects resemble a space mission.

"The space program and the offshore industry have long shared technologies and learned from each other," says Tyler Priest, clinical assistant professor and director of global studies at the University of Houston.

In 1996 NASA launched a probe to Mars, and that same year Shell launched a drilling platform in 3,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico. "The difference being that Shell's platform cost more than three times as much as NASA's Mars Pathfinder, and arguably involved more sophisticated technology and more sophisticated remote engineering," Priest says.

Now companies are drilling in 10,000 feet of water. The cost creates a new floor for the price of oil — meaning don't expect $2-per-gallon gasoline to return anytime soon.

Still, the technology that makes this possible is impressive, but the developments are weighted heavily to the production side of the business.

EnlargeJeff Brady/NPR
An oil drilling rig stands amid a farmer's field near Stanley, N.D.

Cleanup Technology

"The concern we have is that the technology to contain and then clean up a spill has not kept pace with the increased technology to drill for oil," says Sarah Chasis, senior attorney and director of the National Resources Defense Council’s Ocean Initiative. Chasis says the federal government needs to figure out the best way to respond to a low-probability, high-cost event like the Gulf spill.

Former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister prefers to focus on the low-probability side of that equation — and he thinks companies should brag more about their history. "The fact that you can count on one hand the kind of blowouts that have occurred in the face of these tens of thousands of wells is a pretty remarkable testimony to the safety and the risk management that the companies provide," Hofmeister says.

Hofmeister has started a nonprofit group to prompt more discussion about energy policy and the oil industry. He says it's time the public had a better understanding of what it takes to provide those 20 million barrels of oil Americans use every day.

NPR Covers Environmental Concerns of Oil Sands Industry- Points to BioLargo's Technology- Nature's Best Solution

Link to Audio File Here

Can U.S. Take The Heat Of Canada's Oil Practices?


Jimmy Jeong/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Devon Energy Corp.'s steam generation plant uses steam-assisted gravity drainage to extract bitumen from oil sands near Conklin, Alberta, on June 28.

August 18, 2010
The BP spill left Americans with lingering questions about where their oil comes from — and the ever-greater lengths to which the industry goes to find it. Canada, America's biggest foreign supplier, has been changing its production methods to meet demand, even while easily accessed oil is disappearing. But environmentalists have raised concerns over the impact of Canada's latest trend in oil extraction.

Oil Sands

On hot days, Fort McMurray, Alberta, can smell like hot asphalt. The distinctive aroma comes from the vast oil sands mines that dot this region of boreal forests and muskeg. Oil sands — also called "tar sands" — are the vast natural deposits of bitumen, mixed into the local soil.

"Different winds, different smells," Raymond Cardinal says. "A lot of people use the phrase, 'the smell of money.' "

Since the 1960s, energy companies have been digging open-pit mines to get at the sand. The holes are huge; Cardinal, who worked in the mines for 20 years, figures it takes half an hour to drive around some of them.

Everything about the oil sands is huge. The electric shovels are several stories high; the dump trucks weigh 400 tons, and the upgrading facilities that turn the oil sands into usable petroleum dominate the landscape.

Shift From Pit Mining

Heated water from the Athabasca River is used to separate the oil from the sand. It can take up to four barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. After the process, the water is too dirty to go back in the river, and it's stored in vast "tailings ponds," which can be as big as the mines. The oil companies use cannons and scarecrows to keep migrating birds off the water, but the system sometimes fails; in April 2008, 1,600 ducks died after landing in a tailings pond run by a company called Syncrude.

Martin Kaste/NPR
A tailings pond next to an upgrading facility for an old pit mine in Alberta, Canada.
The companies put a lot of effort into trying to restore the landscape. Spent mines are filled in, and the companies replant a version of the original forest. Cardinal is a native of northwestern Alberta — he belongs to the Athabascan-Chipewyan tribe — and he says the reclaimed lands look good. But he doesn't consider them natural.

He seems to regret his years working in the oil sands mines.

"It was hard, because you saw what they were doing to the landscape," he says.

The pit mines may become a thing of the past. Canada's oil sands reserves cover an area roughly equivalent to North Carolina, but most of it is too deep to dig up. To get the deeper oil sands, the Canadians are switching to newer techniques, such as steam-assisted gravity drainage.

The Latest Trend

Greg Fagnan of Cenovus Energy shows off the technology in a forest clearing in Eastern Alberta. In the middle of the clearing, a series of pipes sends 500-degree steam down into the ground.

Hungry For Oil: Feeding America's Expensive Habit
Easily reachable oil is drying up, and companies are using more complicated, riskier techniques.
"Think about an 800-meter straw," Fagnan says. That straw is sending the steam through the tarry oil sands, deep underground, melting it and sending it back to the surface in what Fagnan calls a kind of "percolation."

The melted bitumen and the steam are pumped to the surface, and more pipes send it through the forest to a central separation tank, where the oil and water part ways.

The company reuses the water, and the oil is sent to market.

This steam process is what the engineers call in situ oil sands production, meaning the bitumen is removed while leaving the soil in place. All together, the various forms of in situ production are on track to eclipse open-pit mining in Alberta, perhaps by the middle of the decade. Supporters say that's good news, because these methods do less harm to the landscape.

But there are drawbacks. Environmentalists say the roads and the network of steam and oil pipes can fragment the ecosystem of Canada's pristine boreal forests, getting in the way of migrating species such as caribou.

And then there's global warming. Oil companies burn vast amounts of natural gas to boil the water to steam the oil sands. At its Christina Lake facility, Cenovus uses about 750 cubic feet of natural gas for every barrel of oil it steams out of the ground.

Forecast: Canadian Crude Oil Production (In Thousands Of Barrels/Day)

In oil sands production, in situ techniques are projected to surpass pit mining. In situ methods are used to get the oil that open pit mining can't reach. Supporters of in situ methods say it will preserve the landscape more than pit mining, but environmentalists say it will upset the ecosystem and contribute to global warming.

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, June 2010
Credit: NPR

"Some people have described this as a kind of reverse alchemy," says Simon Dyer, oil sands director at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank. "You're taking a relatively clean-burning energy in natural gas and using it to create a much dirtier source of energy."

Christina Lake is one of the more fuel-efficient operations in Alberta, and Cenovus is experimenting with techniques to generate the necessary steam using less natural gas. Dyer acknowledges there have been improvements, but he says the companies aren't solving the larger problem.

"Virtually every environmental indicator is actually worsening, in a cumulative sense, because those per-barrel improvements are being washed away by the increase in production."

Meeting Demand

And production will keep increasing. The oil reserves contained in those Alberta sands are estimated at 170 billion barrels of bitumen. From the U.S. point of view, that's a couple of decades worth of oil, conveniently located on the territory of our friendly northern neighbor.

An Oil Pipeline From Canada? Some Say 'No Way'

But getting at those reserves will require steam, or some other high-energy method. Cenovus Vice President David Goldie says that's just the new reality.

"The age of easy oil is over," Goldie says. "Fields are depleted, and we're going after the harder-to-get oil, and having to use technology to figure out how to get it out of the ground."

And at Christina Lake, Cenovus is planning for the long term. It's building new facilities designed to last 30 years, including big new storage tanks, where oil that's been steamed out of the Canadian wilderness will be stored before being fed into the new network of pipelines that's being built to refineries in the United States.

NPR - Tracing Salmonella - Contaminated Eggs - Points to BioLargo Opportunity

Tracing Salmonella: Find Out Who Eats What, Where


Link to NPR Audio File

Nirmalendu Majumdar/AP
Food safety experts traced the salmonella outbreak to Wright County Egg, near Galt, Iowa, which is one of two companies whose eggs are believed to have been contaminated. More than 500 million eggs have been recalled.

August 24, 2010
Investigators from the Food and Drug Administration are carrying out tests at two large egg producers in Iowa. They think the two enterprises, Wright County Eggs and Hillandale Farms of Iowa, supplied eggs that carried salmonella bacteria and made thousands of people sick this summer.

More than 500 million eggs from those farms have now been recalled, and investigators are piecing together how the outbreak spread.

So this week, millions of Americans are opening their refrigerators, pulling out a carton of eggs and looking for information that will indicate whether theirs are safe to eat. On the cartons, they might find a code like 225 P 1979.

But just what does that code mean?

The first three numbers are the ordinal date — so for Jan. 1, it would be 001, and Dec. 31 would be 365. That date indicates the date the eggs were packed. And the information after the date?

"That's a code that tells you which actual processing plant processed those eggs, and each plant has an individual number," says Pat Curtis, the director of the National Egg Processing center at Auburn University.

You can learn which numbers to look for, and which eggs to throw out, at the website

These numbers also helped scientists identify the farms that now are under investigation.

The outbreak began last May. By August, at least 1,000 more people than usual, all around the country, had gotten very sick with salmonella poisoning. But no one knew what was causing it.

Hospitals reported the cases to state health authorities, who took a kind of genetic fingerprint of the bacteria and passed that information along to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Ian Williams, who is in charge of the outbreak response and prevention branch at the CDC, says in this case, the genetic fingerprint wasn't very helpful. It was a very common strain of the salmonella enteritidis bacterium, so investigators couldn't tell if all those people really were getting sick from the same thing.

"So one of the approaches we did to try to address this was to identify clusters of cases who had eaten at a common restaurant or event in a similar time period," Williams said. "You all went to a prom together, or a church picnic — something like that."

Investigators then would search for the common link: What did all of these people eat? And did people in the other clusters eat the same thing?

"And the real breakthrough came toward the end of July when our colleagues in California had actually identified six of these clusters and they asked the simple question of 'We know there was salmonella enteritidis, and common sources are either chicken or eggs,' " Williams said. "And they simply asked the question, 'I wonder where these six clusters are getting their eggs from.' "

The egg cartons carried dozens of brand names — from Albertson to Wholesome Farms — but the plant numbers on the side of those cartons told the real story. Most of the people in the clusters had eaten eggs from just three different packing plants operated by two companies in Iowa.

FDA investigators now are trying to confirm the presence of salmonella at those farms. Often, it comes from mice that get into chicken feed and leave droppings, which then infect the chickens, who in turn pass it on to the eggs.

The Iowa facilities are huge — each one of them has more than 1 million chickens. Some critics of the food industry say that such mammoth industrial operations are giving us more contaminated eggs. But Hongwei Xin, director of the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, says scientists haven't found that to be true.

"Whether you have a flock of 100 birds or 100,00 birds, if mice get into your system you'll be equally vulnerable," Xin said.

But if your chicken house is huge, any problem is really big, too. FDA officials say they can't be sure that this egg recall is the biggest one in history, but they can't remember a bigger one.

Related NPR Stories

Egg Recalls Ripple Through Food Supply Aug. 24, 2010

NPR - EPA Started Testing for Odor from Pig Farms in 2006 - The ripple has grown into a wave- Points to BioLargo Technology Solution

NPR Link to Audio Here

Chicken and Hog Farms Measured for Air Pollution

Greg Allen, NPR

Hog farmer Max Schmidt stands in front of sows being held in an outside pen at his farm in Elma, Iowa.

March 7, 2006

Hog farms are known for their odor. But so far, no one has paid much attention to whether these smells actually pollute the air. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is testing chicken and hog farms for gases and particles that can make air harmful to breathe.

Copyright © 2006 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Federal environmental officials are starting to monitor a source of air pollution in that they largely ignored in the past: farms. As part of a legal settlement, the Environmental Protection Agency will test emissions on chicken and hog farms. Some environmental groups are challenging this agreement, saying it goes to easy on farming operations that are known polluters.

From Kansas City, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: On Max Schmidt's farm, near Elma, Iowa, it's hog feeding time.

(Soundbite of hogs)

About 60 sows are jostling for grain in an outside pen. Schmidt runs a farrow to finish operation, raising pigs from birth to the slaughterhouse. Each year, he raises about 23,000 pigs. In a state where some producers market hundreds of thousands of pigs each year, Schmidt is only a mid-sized hog farm.

Even so, along with pigs, he also has a lot of manure--a bi-product he considers valuable, and uses to fertilize his corn and soybeans. He holds it in deep pits, under the buildings where the pigs are raised.

Mr. MAX SCHMIDT (Farmer): It's just like a huge basement underneath there, you can step inside here.

ALLEN: Schmidt leads the way into one of his hog containment buildings. It's a long, barn-like structure with several big ventilation fans. On this day--although it's below freezing outside--inside, it's warm and humid. No wonder, when you get a look at the 1,000 pigs that live here. The pigs, Schmidt points out, are all standing on slats.

MAX SCHMIDT: And if you look down through there, you can catch the light, you can see the manure down there, about six feet down, and there's probably about two feet of it under, it was pumped out last fall. And we're in a barn now, where these pigs are getting close to market. In the next two weeks, all of these pigs will be gone. The barn will be completely power washed, and we can clean this, you could eat off the floor when we're done.

ALLEN: Maybe so, but not now. To say there's a pungent odor in this barn would be a severe understatement. There's an old saying among farmers--they say it smells like money.

Odor is a big problem on hog farms, one that can have a dramatic impact on the quality of life in rural areas. But in recent years, researchers are paying increasing attention to the particulates and gasses that are also produced on hog farms.

Peter Thorne, a Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Iowa, says these emissions can pose a health risk. Particulates can include animal dander, bacteria, and viruses. And the danger posed by gases like hydrogen sulfite and ammonia is even more clear.

But while much is known about the dangers these substances pose to workers in industrial settings, Thorne says there's been much less research on how these emissions effect those who live near livestock operations.

Professor PETER THORNE (Professor of Environmental Health, University of Iowa): At these lower levels of exposure, such as we're talking about in the rural environment, they're likely to be more subtle--subtle neurological problems, some aggravation of lung, particularly in susceptible individuals such as young children, or people with asthma.

ALLEN: Thorne cites one study, showing that the incidence of asthma among children who live on hog farms is double that of children who don't live near hogs.

Rising concerns about how emissions from livestock operations might be affecting nearby communities have lead to a number of lawsuits in recent years. Farmers had been charged with violations of a Clean Air Act and Right to Know laws, requiring them to monitor and report emissions. But that's something that, up to now, few farmers have ever done.

To bring them into compliance, the EPA reached an agreement with poultry farmers, pork producers, and dairy operators that allows the government to begin monitoring emissions on farms. In return, while the study is going on, farmers can't be prosecuted for air pollution violations. That amnesty provision has angered some environmental groups.

Mr. ED HOPKINS (Sierra Club): This agreement is actually a fraud, because it won't result in compliance over the next few years.

ALLEN: Ed Hopkins is with the Sierra Club, one of the environmental groups that sued to block the agreement. Hopkins isn't opposed to the testing; it's being overseen by experts at Purdue University, and is expected to provide a database that will allow producers to estimate their emissions.

Hopkins is concerned about the open-ended amnesty period, which he suspects is part of a delaying action, aimed at postponing the day when livestock producers have to begin reporting on their farm's emissions.

Mr. HOPKINS: Two years from now, after these studies are done, I predict that the livestock industry will say to EPA, well, we didn't monitor enough farms. We don't really know exactly what the emissions are. We need to continue to study this, and we need to be continue, to exempt us from the law while you do study it.

And meanwhile, don't forget the livestock industry is lobbying in Congress today to get an exemption from the Public Right to Know law.

ALLEN: Cattle producers have not entered into the agreement with the EPA, and are strongly lobbying Congress for an exemption from environmental laws. And the agreement is far from popular, even among pork producers. It requires farmers to pay a fine, anywhere from $200 to $100,000, depending on the size of their operations. Fewer than 10 percent of the nation's 60,000 hog farmers has signed on. The EPA says that leaves the others, more than 50,000, open to potential prosecution.

(Soundbite of pigs)

ALLEN: Back on his farm near Elma, Iowa Farmer Max Schmidt is a strong supporter of the testing program. He says farmers need to come grips with a new reality: that like every other industry, they too must comply with environmental laws.

Mr. MAX SCHMIDT (Farmer): I don't think that we need to be given free reign any more than any other industry. We've all gotta be good citizens of this planet here. And, if indeed, we're contributing to it, let's find out what the problem is and then let's work to solve it.

ALLEN: The EPA hopes to begin testing on chicken and hog farms by the summer. In the meantime, environmental groups are back in court, asking a federal judge to set aside the agreement and to order the agency to immediately begin cracking down on all livestock producers and the emissions that come from their farms.

Greg Allen, NPR News.

Hog Farming Industry Under Great Pressue to Deal with Odor Issues- Lawsuits and Regulatory Pressure Points to BioLargo Technology Opportunity

Hog giant PSF
(Premium Standard Farms) passes smell test, but clock ticking

Panel says PSF technology meets odor mandate; opponents urge state to stand firm on deadline

Link Here

Bill Draper, Associated Press Writer, On Sunday May 16, 2010, 3:24 pm EDT
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Hog processing giant Premium Standard Farms LLC spent $40 million over the last decade developing technology after a court ordered it to sharply reduce odors at its Missouri farms, but a looming deadline is threatening another costly lawsuit.

A panel of experts recently approved a barn-scraper system that met goals established under a 1999 court settlement with environmental groups to develop "next-generation technology." But the deadline to implement the system is July 31, and the company -- which said it had little success developing the technology until now -- needs another two years to get the system in place.

Missing the deadline would allow the state to sue, and the Missouri attorney general's office said July 31 remains its target. The deadline has already been pushed back once.

"It's going to take some time, and people need to be aware of that," Premium Standard President Bill Homann said.

The Princeton, Mo.-based company employs about 1,100 people in the state, mostly in economically depressed communities in northern Missouri. It has roughly 97,000 sows that are expected to produce about 1.8 million market hogs this year.

An expert panel established by the court approved biofilters as next-generation technology in 2008, but Premium Standard called them ineffective and too costly to install at its dozens of farms in northern Missouri.

The three-member expert team turned down all of the company's other plans until April, when it determined the criteria also was met by a system that would use giant scrapers to push manure into gutters, where it would be removed from the barn and trucked away.

The method would replace current systems that use water to flush hog manure from barns and into big lagoons for treatment.

But the panel's decision came barely three months before Premium Standard's deadline to have new technology implemented.

The Missouri attorney general's office must now decide whether to grant Premium Standard another extension or to file a lawsuit against the company. In 2004, the original deadline for compliance, the target date was pushed back to July, 2010.

"Discussions between the parties are ongoing," Attorney General Chris Koster's spokeswoman Nancy Gonder said. "There has not been a resolution. The July 31 deadline remains our target."

But it could get tricky.

Premium Standard officials warned in March that the company's Missouri operations could be moved elsewhere after a Jackson County jury awarded 15 plaintiffs more than $11 million in a nuisance lawsuit. Many other lawsuits are pending.

At a mid-March meeting that packed a junior college gymnasium in Trenton, Premium Standard supporters pleaded with the expert panel to look favorably upon the company's latest odor-management proposals.

"Finally we have found a solution amiable to both sides," Homann said Thursday. "We can go back and say the missing link was barn odor control technology. Now it's up to the attorney general's office to agree or offer alternatives."

But the Citizens Legal Environmental Action Network, or CLEAN, has urged the attorney general to stand firm on the deadline.

CLEAN was part of the original lawsuit against Premium Standard and its affiliate, Continental Grain Co., that led to the 1999 court decree and another in 2004 that extended the deadline to 2010.

"CLEAN is frustrated that after a decade of effort PSF's view of next-generation technology to reduce barn odor is about as old-fashioned as a pitchfork," said Rolf Christen, an officer in the group. "We are interested in seeing whether PSF implements the scrapers it is championing on paper and whether the scrapers make a difference in our lives."

Charlie Speer, a Kansas City attorney who has more than 200 lawsuits pending in Missouri courts against Premium Standard, doesn't think the new technology will do anything to alleviate odors at the company's mega-confinements.

"It won't surprise me if nothing's done for five years, and at the end of five years they will say 'let us look at it again' and ask for five more years," said Speer, one of the lead attorneys for plaintiffs in the lawsuit earlier this year.

He criticized Premium Standard's efforts to control odors and likened the farms' waste treatment to "engineering 101."

"It's cheaper to study a problem than to fix it," Speer said. "When the odors stop, the lawsuits will stop."

Homann said the barn scraper system will cost $7.5 million to implement at a time when Premium Standard and its parent company, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc., have been hit hard by the economy and last year's swine flu scare.

Though experts say the U.S. pork industry is showing signs of turning around, producers have lost money in 27 of the last 29 months and their future relies heavily on the country's shaky economic recovery.

"We're making money in the hog industry again," said Ron Plain, an agriculture economics professor at the University of Missouri. "If the economy can continue to improve and generate economic growth, it is probably going to last for a while.

"If, on the other hand, things don't improve in the overall general economy, we'll probably slide back into red ink this fall."

New York Times Reports Egg Industry Reels From Salmonella Outbreak and Recall - Points to another BioLargo Technology Opportunity

Egg Industry Faces New Scrutiny After Outbreak

As it reeled from the recall of half a billion eggs for possible salmonella infection, the American egg industry was already battling a movement to outlaw its methods as cruel and unsafe, and adapting to the Obama administration’s drive to bolster health rules and inspections.

The cause of the infections at two giant farms in Iowa has not been pinpointed, Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said Monday in a television interview. But “there is no question that these farms that are involved in the recall were not operating with the standards of practice that we consider responsible,” Ms. Hamburg said in the strongest official indication yet that lax procedures may be to blame.

One of those producers, Wright County Egg, responded that it “strives to operate our farms in the most responsible manner, and our management team has worked closely with F.D.A. through their review of our farms.”

The company, which has also been cited for farm-labor and animal cruelty violations in the past, said that “any concerns raised verbally during F.D.A.’s on-farm visit were immediately addressed or are in the process of being addressed.”

The other farm under intense scrutiny is Hillandale Farms.

Federal officials have not questioned the intensive methods that have produced cheap eggs and meat but that some criticize as cruel and bad for the environment and public health.

Animal rights advocates, who have campaigned to end the housing of hens in tiers of cages, were quick to seize on the recall. “Confining birds in cages means increased salmonella infection in the birds, their eggs and the consumers of caged eggs,” the Humane Society of the United States wrote last week in a letter to Iowa egg producers.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used the recall to press its case for vegan diets, sending an e-mail on Sunday to two million followers that said “half a billion eggs recalled and counting — each egg represents 34 hours of total hell for a hen,” a reference to the average time between egg output. Recipients were asked to urge their friends to view videos starring Paul McCartney and Alec Baldwin that decry the cruelties of egg production.

But the link between cage farming and disease is not so clear, say many academic and government experts who add that some aspects of cage production, which prevents birds from wallowing in their droppings, may be safer than letting hens run loose.

“Some groups tend to cherry-pick studies to show the results that they want consumers to see,” said Jeffrey D. Armstrong, dean of agriculture and natural resources at Michigan State University.

“The bottom line is we don’t know” whether caged or cage-free production is safer, Mr. Armstrong said.

By any historical measure, American egg production is efficient and comparatively safe. The current recall is the largest in memory, but involves only a small fraction of the 70 billion eggs produced annually, mostly by hens who spend their lives with six or seven others in cages the size of an open newspaper, their droppings carried away by one conveyer belt while the eggs are whisked off by another.

Modern egg farms take elaborate steps to keep germs out of barns. But the persistence of salmonella in eggs has been a major concern of health agencies.

The problem of salmonella on eggshells was largely solved in the 1970s, when regulations required the washing and inspection of eggs. In the 1980s, a more insidious threat was recognized: infected hens passing the pathogen to eggs still in formation.

One challenge is the size of farms and flocks today. A single barn may house more than 150,000 birds in tight proximity, allowing infections to spread quickly and widely.

In July, the F.D.A. started requiring large farms to improve refrigeration and do more disease testing, steps it said would reduce salmonella infections by more than half.

Critics still say the cages producing 95 percent of American eggs will remain more dangerous than alternatives.

“The latest science and the best science very clearly show elevated risk in caged facilities,” said Dr. Michael Greger, director of public health and animal agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States, who contested the assertion that he was “cherry-picking” the evidence.

Some experts say the science Dr. Greger cites does not clinch his case, in part because many of the studies, which were mainly done in Europe, compared older, more vulnerable caged facilities with new cage-free barns. One expert review this summer said the evidence was inconclusive.

Egg producers have watched in dismay as the political winds seemed to turn, largely because of growing concern about animal rights. The European Union will bar small cages for egg hens as of 2012. By public referendum, California will ban small cages in 2015, and the state will not allow the sale of eggs produced that way in other states. Michigan, Ohio and other states have placed limits on future caging of hens.

William Neuman contributed reporting.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Kazakhstan Tackles Iodine Deficiency - Points to Another BioLargo Technology Opportunity

Iodine Deficiency Slide Show

Fighting Iodine Deficiency
Fighting Iodine Deficiency

Worldwide, iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Donald G. McNeil Jr. describes Kahakstan's success at eliminating the problem.

In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt

Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times
MAKING A DIFFERENCE Salt, excavated from a field at the Aral Tuz salt processing plant in Aral, Kazakhstan, in train carriages. In 1999, only 29 percent of the nation’s households were using iodized salt. Now, 94 percent are.

Published: December 16, 2006
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Valentina Sivryukova knew her public service messages were hitting the mark when she heard how one Kazakh schoolboy called another stupid. “What are you,” he sneered, “iodine-deficient or something?”

Joseph Swenkyj for The New York Times
GETTING THE WORD OUT In Kzyl-Orda, Kazakhstan, seventh graders passing information booklets to one another about the importance of iodized salt.
Ms. Sivryukova, president of the national confederation of Kazakh charities, was delighted. It meant that the years spent trying to raise public awareness that iodized salt prevents brain damage in infants were working. If the campaign bore fruit, Kazakhstan’s national I.Q. would be safeguarded.

In fact, Kazakhstan has become an example of how even a vast and still-developing nation like this Central Asian country can achieve a remarkable public health success. In 1999, only 29 percent of its households were using iodized salt. Now, 94 percent are. Next year, the United Nations is expected to certify it officially free of iodine deficiency disorders.

That turnabout was not easy. The Kazakh campaign had to overcome widespread suspicion of iodization, common in many places, even though putting iodine in salt, public health experts say, may be the simplest and most cost-effective health measure in the world. Each ton of salt needs about two ounces of potassium iodate, which costs about $1.15.

Worldwide, about two billion people — a third of the globe — get too little iodine, including hundreds of millions in India and China. Studies show that iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Even moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points, shaving incalculable potential off a nation’s development.

The most visible and severe effects — disabling goiters, cretinism and dwarfism — affect a tiny minority, usually in mountain villages. But 16 percent of the world’s people have at least mild goiter, a swollen thyroid gland in the neck.

“Find me a mother who wouldn’t pawn her last blouse to get iodine if she understood how it would affect her fetus,” said Jack C. S. Ling, chairman of the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, a committee of about 350 scientists formed in 1985 to champion iodization.

The 1990 World Summit for Children called for the elimination of iodine deficiency by 2000, and the subsequent effort was led by Professor Ling’s organization along with Unicef, the World Health Organization, Kiwanis International, the World Bank and the foreign aid agencies of Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and others.

Largely out of the public eye, they made terrific progress: 25 percent of the world’s households consumed iodized salt in 1990. Now, about 66 percent do.

But the effort has been faltering lately. When victory was not achieved by 2005, donor interest began to flag as AIDS, avian flu and other threats got more attention.

And, like all such drives, it cost more than expected. In 1990, the estimated price tag was $75 million — a bargain compared with, for example, the fight against polio, which has consumed about $4 billion.

Since then, according to David P. Haxton, the iodine council’s executive director, about $160 million has been spent, including $80 million from Kiwanis and $15 million from the Gates Foundation, along with unknown amounts spent on new equipment by salt companies.

“Very often, I’ll talk to a salt producer at a meeting, and he’ll have no idea he had this power in his product,” Mr. Haxton said. “He’ll say ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Sure, I’ll do it. I would have done it sooner.’ ”

In many places, like Japan, people get iodine from seafood, seaweed, vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil or animals that eat grass grown in that soil. But even wealthy nations, including the United States and in Europe, still need to supplement that by iodizing salt.

The cheap part, experts say, is spraying on the iodine. The expense is always for the inevitable public relations battle.

In some nations, iodization becomes tarred as a government plot to poison an essential of life — salt experts compare it to the furious opposition by 1950s conservatives to fluoridation of American water.

In others, civil libertarians demand a right to choose plain salt, with the result that the iodized kind rarely reaches the poor. Small salt makers who fear extra expense often lobby against it. So do makers of iodine pills who fear losing their market.

Rumors inevitably swirl: iodine has been blamed for AIDS, diabetes, seizures, impotence and peevishness. Iodized salt, according to different national rumor mills, will make pickled vegetables explode, ruin caviar or soften hard cheese.

Breaking down that resistance takes both money and leadership.

“For 5 cents per person per year, you can make the whole population smarter than before,” said Dr. Gerald N. Burrow, a former dean of Yale’s medical school and vice chairman of the iodine council.

“That has to be good for a country. But you need a government with the political will to do it.”

‘Scandal’ of Stunted Children

In the 1990s, when the campaign for iodization began, the world’s greatest concentration of iodine-deficient countries was in the landlocked former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

All of them — Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrghzstan — saw their economies break down with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Across the region, only 28 percent of all households used iodized salt.

“With the collapse of the system, certain babies went out with the bathwater, and iodization was one of them,” said Alexandre Zouev, chief Unicef representative in Kazakhstan.

Dr. Toregeldy Sharmanov, who was the Kazakh Republic’s health minister from 1971 to 1982, when it was in the Soviet Union, said the problem was serious even then. But he had been unable to fix it because policy was set in Moscow.

This article is part of a series examining diseases that hover on the brink of eradication, and the daunting obstacles that doctors and scientists face to finish the job. A final article will report on the challenges of campaigns that try to offer prevention of a number of diseases at once.

“Kazakh children were stunted compared to the same-age Russian children,” he said. “But they paid no attention. It was a scandal.”

In 1996, Unicef, which focuses on the health of children, opened its first office in Kazakhstan and arranged for a survey of 5,000 households. It found that 10 percent of the children were stunted, opening the way for international aid. (Stunting can have many causes, but iodine deficiency is a prime culprit.)

In neighboring Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazov — a despot who requires all clocks to bear his likeness and renamed the days of the week after his family — solved the problem by simply declaring plain salt illegal in 1996 and ordering shops to give each citizen 11 pounds of iodized salt a year at state expense.

In Kazakhstan, the democratic credentials of President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who has ruled since 1991, have come under criticism, but he does not rule by decree. “Those days are over,” said Ms. Sivryukova of the confederation of Kazakh charities. “Businesses are private now. They don’t follow the president’s orders.”

Importantly, however, the president was supportive. But even so, as soon as Parliament began debating mandatory iodization in 2002, strong lobbies formed against the measure.

The country’s biggest salt company was initially reluctant to cooperate, fearing higher costs, a Unicef report said. Cardiologists argued against iodization, fearing it would encourage people to use more salt, which can raise blood pressure. More insidious, Dr. Sharmanov said, were private companies that sold iodine pills.

“They promoted their products in the mass media, saying iodized salt was dangerous,” he said, shaking his head.

So Dr. Sharmanov, the national Health Ministry, Ms. Sivryukova and others devised a marketing campaign — much of it paid for by American taxpayers, through money given to Unicef by the United States Agency for International Development.

Comic strips starring a hooded crusader, Iodine Man, rescuing a slow-witted student from an enraged teacher were handed out across the country.

A logo was designed for food packages certified to contain iodized salt: a red dot and a curved line in a circle, meant to represent a face with a smile so big that the eyes are squeezed shut.

Also, Ms. Sivryukova’s network of local charity women stepped in. As in all ex-Soviet states, government advice is regarded with suspicion, while civic organizations have credibility.

Her volunteers approached schools, asking teachers to create dictation exercises about iodized salt and to have students bring salt from home to test it for iodine in science class.

Ms. Sivryukova described one child’s tears when he realized he was the only one in his class with noniodized salt.

The teacher, she said, reassured him that it was not his fault. “Children very quickly start telling their parents to buy the right salt,” she said.

One female volunteer went to a bus company and rerecorded its “next-stop” announcements interspersed with short plugs for iodized salt. “She had a very sexy voice, and men would tell the drivers to play it again,” Ms. Sivryukova said.

Even the former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, who is a hero throughout the former Soviet Union for his years as champion, joined the fight. “Eat iodized salt,” he advised schoolchildren in a television appearance, “and you will grow up to be grandmasters like me.”

Mr. Karpov, in particular, handled hostile journalists adeptly, Mr. Zouev said, deflecting inquiries as to why he did not advocate letting people choose iodized or plain salt by comparing it to the right to have two taps in every home, one for clean water and one for dirty.

By late 2003, the Parliament finally made iodization mandatory.

In Aral, Mountains Made of Salt

Today in central Kazakhstan, a miniature mountain range rises over Aral, a decaying factory town on what was once the shore of the Aral Sea, a salt lake that has steadily shrunk as irrigation projects begun under Stalin drained the rivers that feed it.

Drive closer and the sharp white peaks turn out to be a small Alps of salt — the Aral Tuz Company stockpile. Salt has been dug here for centuries. Nowadays, a great rail-mounted combine chews away at a 10-foot-thick layer of salt in the old seabed, before it is towed 11 miles back to the plant, and washed and ground. Before it reaches the packaging room, as the salt falls through a chute from one conveyor belt to another, a small pump sprays iodine into the grainy white cascade. The step is so simple that, if it were not for the women in white lab coats scooping up samples, it would be missed.

The $15,000 tank and sprayer were donated by Unicef, which also used to supply the potassium iodate. Today Aral Tuz and its smaller rival, Pavlodar Salt, buy their own.

Asked about the Unicef report saying that Aral Tuz initially resisted iodization on the grounds that it would eat up 7 percent of profits, the company’s president, Ontalap Akhmetov, seemed puzzled. “I’ve only been president three years,” he said. “But that makes no sense.” The expense, he said, was minimal. “Only a few cents a ton.”

An Ounce of Prevention
Kazakhstan was lucky. It had just the right mix of political and economic conditions for success: political support, 98 percent literacy, an economy helped along by rising prices for its oil and gas. Most important, perhaps, one company, Aral Tuz, makes 80 percent of the edible salt.

That combination is missing in many nations where iodine deficiency remains a health crisis. In nearby Pakistan, for instance, where 70 percent of households have no iodized salt, there are more than 600 small salt producers.

“If a country has a reasonably well-organized salt system and only a couple of big producers who get on the bandwagon, iodization works,” said Venkatesh Mannar, a former salt producer in India who now heads the Micronutrient Initiative in Ottawa, which seeks to fortify the foods of the world’s poor with iodine, iron and other minerals. “If there are a lot of small producers, it doesn’t.”

Now that Kazakhstan has its law, Ms. Sivryukova’s volunteers have not let up their vigilance. They help enforce it by going to markets, buying salt and testing it on the spot. The government has trained customs agents to test salt imports and fenced some areas where people dug their own salt. Children still receive booklets and instruction.

Experts agree the country is unlikely to slip back into neglect. Surveys find consumers very aware of iodine, and the red-and-white logo is such a hit that food producers have asked for permission to use it on foods with added iron or folic acid, said Dr. Sharmanov, the former Kazakh Republic health minister. And the salt is working. In the 1999 survey that found stunted children, a smaller sampling of urine from women of child-bearing age found that 60 percent had suboptimal levels of iodine.

“We just did a new study, which is not released yet,” said Dr. Feruza Ospanova, head of the nutrition academy’s laboratory. “The number was zero percent.”

New York Times- fresh water scarcity impacts energy industry for cooling systems, recycling, and contaminated water issues- BioLargo Opportunity

I.H.T. Special Report: Water and Energy

Water Adds New Constraints to Power

Robert Galbraith/Reuters

A fisherman along a slough of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta near Clarksburg, California. The state has adopted a policy that discourages freshwater use for power plant cooling.

SAN FRANCISCO — In the Mojave Desert, solar developers are scrambling to secure permits to build vast expanses of new generating capacity. But they are discovering that cost and carbon emissions are not the only limiting factors in new energy decisions in California. They are bumping up against water scarcity.


A blog about energy and the environment.

In the United States, thermoelectric power generation — mainly coal, nuclear and natural gas — accounted for 41 percent of U.S. freshwater withdrawals in 2005, U.S. Geological Society data show.

“Typically, project developers have wanted to use water for cooling because it’s more efficient and capital costs are less,” said Terry O’Brien, the California Energy Commission’s deputy director for power plant licensing. “That makes the project more economic.”

But there is a growing awareness in California and throughout the United States that the use of water for energy generation may be reaching its limits.

California has extensive experience with water shortages, resulting in its adoption of a policy, included in the energy commission’s 2003 Integrated Energy Policy Report, that discourages freshwater use for power plant cooling. The commission’s regularly updated reports provide current data and set the parameters for state energy and conservation policies.

“It’s just not possible anymore in California, and increasingly anywhere, to find unlimited water for the old water-intensive cooling systems,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, which researches water issues and advises on policy. “If you want to build a big central power plant, whether it’s oil, gas or nuclear, you can’t take the water for granted.”

In the past decade, water availability has increasingly had an effect on the reliability of power supplies in many countries, with droughts leading to temporary closings of nuclear plants in Australia, France, Germany, Romania and Spain. Similar shutdowns have been threatened in the United States.

For a thermoelectric plant, the cooling technology used is the biggest factor in its water needs.

Once-through cooling, an inexpensive, energy-efficient and therefore widely used process, sucks up huge quantities of river, lake, or sea water. A typical 500-megawatt power plant takes in almost 19 million gallons, or 72 million liters, an hour, according to a 2005 report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

After running through the plant, almost all of this is returned to the river, lake or ocean. The used water, however, may be polluted, and the heat that it has absorbed can be lethal to fish, while the intake can kill wildlife and microorganisms. Research of the environmental consequences has led to tighter regulations in recent years, making it nearly impossible to get permits for new plants using once-through cooling anywhere in the United States.

The California state water board, going further, adopted rules this month tightening environmental protection requirements for existing coastal once-through plants — a step toward phasing out the technology at 19 plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating whether to follow California’s lead.

As once-through cooling has fallen out of favor, wet cooling, which exploits the chilling effect of evaporation, has become more common. It uses only about 3 percent of the water needed for once-through cooling — but it loses 90 percent of that to vapor. Wet-cooling systems are more expensive to build than once-through and consume as much as 3 percent of the energy generated by the plant. But a point in their favor is that they can use non-freshwater sources, like wastewater or mine pools.

Recent government data show that 56 percent of U.S. thermoelectric generating capacity is now wet-cooled, against 43 percent using once-through systems.

A newer process, dry cooling, which uses fans to push waste heat into the atmosphere instead of into water, is still more expensive and less efficient. On hot days, as much as 15 percent of the energy generated by a plant may be expended on cooling, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, a research body funded by the energy industry.

(Page 2 of 2)

The sort of cooling technology used has more of an effect on water consumption than the type of thermal generating technology, said Kent Zammit, senior program manager for the research body. “Any of these technologies — nuclear, coal, natural gas, solar thermal and biomass — will have roughly comparable water requirements for cooling.”


A blog about energy and the environment.

But for non-thermoelectric renewable energy, various technologies have very different water footprints, said Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel, project director for River Network, a water conservation organization. Hydropower, for example, causes large-scale water losses, mainly due to evaporation from the increased water surface area behind the dam.

And then there is the example of corn ethanol, which is used as a transportation fuel. “The biggest example of complete ignorance of water consumption is the big biofuels mandate,” Mr. Griffiths-Sattenspiel said. “It wasn’t until after it passed that people really started looking at it and considering the consequences of it. If we were to replace gasoline with biofuels, we’d be looking at a 2- to 200-times increase in water consumption for energy-related fuels,” depending on crop irrigation intensity.

Dr. Gleick, of the Pacific Institute, said: “The best alternatives from a water perspective are wind and photovoltaics, that require effectively no water. If the only thing we cared about was carbon, the problem of climate change, we would move toward nuclear and renewables. But we also have to think about water.”

Photovoltaics consume some water in manufacturing. But no one has published comparative full-cycle data on the water used in manufacturing, operating and decommissioning the various energy generating technologies.

Dr. Gleick, who has done some preliminary research, said: “The biggest water inputs come not in the manufacturing of the energy system but in the operation of the plants themselves. There’s water required to make photovoltaics, but there’s also water required to make the steel that goes into power plants, and the difference is not all that significant compared to the 30 years of operations.”

Despite the growing attention paid to water consumption, comparative costs still mainly determine construction choices. Costs, and cost estimates, vary widely and are highly sensitive to variable inputs such as raw materials, fuel and labor prices. But a study published by the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration in December gave a sense of the playing field.

Estimating the “levelized” full lifecycle cost of power generation at new plants to begin operations in 2016, the study put the cost at $100.40 per megawatt-hour for a conventional coal-fired plant; $83.10 for a conventional combined-cycle natural gas plant; $119 for nuclear; $111 for biomass; $149.30 for wind; $256.60 for solar thermal; and $396.10 for solar photovoltaic. These costs exclude potential liability for external risks such as pollution clean-up, or fines.

Nevertheless, California’s policy of discouraging the use of freshwater for power plant cooling is having an effect on that state’s power infrastructure.

Mr. O’Brien, of the energy commission, said developers were still driven by economics. “But in California we’ve sent a strong signal to power plant developers through the 2003 Integrated Energy Policy Report on water,” he said, “and we’ve seen a major change in the projects that are being proposed because of that.”

The policy has affected the developers looking to build solar thermal plants in the Mojave. “We have three applications in-house for a solar-trough technology from Solar Millennium, and they made the decision to go to dry cooling before they filed with us,” he said. Solar troughs use arrays of long parabolic mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on oil-filled pipes that capture the heat.

The solar industry is young and innovative, but it is not alone in looking for ways to reduce water requirements.

“Many natural-gas-fired power plants that the commission has approved have used reclaimed water in lieu of using freshwater,” Mr. O’Brien said, referring to water recycled from waste treatment facilities. “A few of those projects have also been dry cooled. Clearly, that’s in response to water availability issues.”

Mr. Zammit, of the Electric Power Research Institute, concurs that the availability of water, not its cost, is the limiting factor. “The cost of the water may not be that expensive, but it may be very expensive if your plant is delayed or you never can build it because of water concerns,” he said.

Water limitations are now affecting even historically wet regions, like the southeastern United States. “Ten years ago, did anyone in Georgia think that water availability would constrain their growth and development?” Dr. Gleick said. “No. But that’s certainly what’s happening today.”

Salmonella in Eggs- New York Times Article Points To Another BioLargo Technology Opportunity

Link Here

Growing Concern About Tainted Eggs After Recall

A national outbreak of salmonella was linked on Friday to another major egg producer, Hillandale Farms, prompting the recall of an additional 170 million eggs in 14 states.

Reed Saxon/Associated Press

A warning identified lots that might contain salmonella.

Scott Perry for The New York Times

The firm that recalled eggs on Aug. 13 is owned by the family of Jack DeCoster, in Maine in 1996.

The latest action — the third recall announcement in two weeks for eggs — is bound to shake the confidence of consumers rattled by a succession of food safety scares in recent years, most prominently for foods like beef and lettuce.

The idea that half a billion suspect eggs have been circulating in the food supply comes as an embarrassment for the egg industry and federal regulators. New egg safety rules went into effect in July that the Food and Drug Administration had said would prevent tens of thousands of salmonella illnesses a year.

“You have to treat eggs with the assumption that they’re contaminated with salmonella,” said Carol Tucker Foreman, a food safety expert of the Consumer Federation of America. “We may all object to the fact that we have to treat food like toxic waste, but if we don’t want to get sick, and especially if you have someone in your house that’s immune-suppressed, you have to handle things carefully and demand that the standards be set higher.”

Hillandale Farms, one of the nation’s largest egg companies, said it was recalling eggs produced at two Iowa sites, in some cases as far back as April.

It follows an even larger recall by Wright County Egg, also of Iowa, which recalled 228 million eggs on August 13, and then expanded its recall by an additional 150 million eggs on Wednesday.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases of salmonella since May have been linked to tainted eggs, according to federal health officials. Investigators are continuing to look at the clusters of illness to see whether any other egg producers might be linked to the outbreak.

Investigators are also looking at ties between the two egg farms operated in Iowa by Hillandale and the five farms run by Wright County Egg, which is owned by the DeCoster family, a major egg producer.

“Hillandale Farms of Iowa and Wright County Egg Farm share a number of common suppliers because they are in the same industry in the same state,” Hillandale said in a statement late Friday. The company said that it bought young birds, called pullets, and feed from a company run by the DeCosters.

F.D.A. officials said the chicks used by both farms came from a hatchery that participated in a national program meant to ensure that its chicks were free of salmonella infection.

Chickens can get salmonella from rodents in hen houses, from contaminated feed or from workers who may not follow sanitary procedures. Infected hens can lay eggs with the bacteria inside them, and people can become sick if they eat tainted eggs that are not fully cooked.

Health experts say that people should make sure that they cook eggs fully to destroy any possible bacteria and wash their hands and utensils after handling raw eggs.

Salmonella commonly results in diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. In rare cases, it can lead to more serious conditions, like arterial infections.

Even though the recall numbers are large, they represent a small fraction of national egg production. The recalled eggs have also been produced over several months, meaning that most have long since been cooked and eaten.

The recalls at both companies stem from a single large outbreak of salmonella.

Sherri McGarry, a director at the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said federal and state officials were working hard “to get contaminated product off the market so consumers are protected and public health is protected.”

She said the Hillandale recall was prompted when Minnesota officials traced a cluster of illnesses in that state to the eggs from the company’s Iowa plants.

Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota health department, said seven people had become ill with salmonella in mid-May after eating chile rellenos at a Mexican restaurant called Mi Rancho in Bemidji, Minn. He said that investigators established a connection to Hillandale eggs on May 24.

It was not clear why the F.D.A. did not act on the information sooner.

The Wright County eggs have been distributed nationwide. The Hillandale eggs went to 14 states, according to the company: Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. They were sold under the brand names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, Sunny Meadow, Wholesome Farms and Werst Creek.

Hillandale also operates plants outside Iowa, but those plants were not included in the recall. One complication for consumers is that some of the Wright County firm’s eggs were sold in cartons bearing the Hillandale name.

The outbreak and the recalls, both by far the biggest in years, have stunned the egg industry. “Now, all of a sudden, we’ve got this big one going on,” said Howard Magwire, vice president of United Egg Producers, an industry organization. “Something happened here that shouldn’t have happened.”

Darrell Trampel, a poultry veterinarian at Iowa State University, said that the problem should not be viewed as something unique to Iowa.

“The production methods for large commercial egg operations are very, very similar all across the United States,” he said. “It’s just that Iowa is the biggest egg-producing state in the nation by a large margin. The probability of things happening here is greater because we have more chickens.”

In a separate notice Friday, the Food and Drug Administration issued an urgent recall of a type of frozen fruit pulp sold under the La Nuestra and Goya brands.

The pulp, made of the tropical fruit mamey and originating in Guatemala, has been linked to an outbreak of typhoid fever that has sickened nine people in California and Nevada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Water Treatment Key to Hydraulic Fracturing's Future -Points to BioLargo Technology Opportunity


Water Treatment Key to Hydraulic Fracturing's Future
Rigzone Staff|Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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The Marcellus shale gas exploration rush that has washed over Pennsylvania has created concerns over how hydraulic fracturing impacts local water supplies.

A single well hydrofracture in the Marcellus may require two million to five million gallons of fracturing fluid, of which an average of 25 percent may be returned to the surface as "flowback" or "produced water." Historically, flowback and produced water has traditionally gone to metals-precipitation plants, where metals and items are removed. The fluid that leaves the plant is clean salt brine, which has gone to sewage treatment plants where the salt is not removed, but diluted with treated sewage and discharged to the rivers.

In the past, this was never an environmental concern as the salt levels were very low and did not harm the environment. However, the sharp rise in Marcellus shale drilling in recent years means that the amount of water from shale gas operations being released into state waters would grow from a trickle to a tidal wave.

To address the issue of TDS levels in recycled water, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission on June 17 passed new stringent treatment regulations for the recycling of flowback and produced water in the Marcellus shale. The ruling, which takes effect in January 2011, mandate a maximum of 500 parts per million (ppm) TDS and 250 ppm chlorides in water discharged into the state's water supply.

The amount of produced water generated by drilling will likely increase as oil and gas companies continue drilling the Marcellus shale play, which contains an estimated 489 Tcf of gas.

Recycling solution
Fountain Quail Water Management, a Fort Worth, Texas-based subsidiary of Calgary-based Aqua-Pure Ventures Inc., recently partnered with Eureka Resources of Williamsport, Pa., to offer wastewater recycling to shale gas drillers in Pennsylvania.

Last month, Eureka opened its expanded 60,000-square foot water treatment facility in Williamsport, which will be capable of recycling up to 200,000 gallons of wastewater every day. Eureka plans to add additional capacity at the facility later this summer. Customers include Range Resources, XTO Energy and Chesapeake Energy.

Brent Halldorson, chief operating officer of Fountain Quail, said Fountain Quail's technology, originally developed by Aqua-Pure for use in northern Alberta's oil sands, offers a cost-effective solution for recycling wastewater in the Marcellus.

Fountain Quail said it is currently recovering an average of 75-80 percent of pure distilled water from the Marcellus shale wastewater it receives, with total dissolved solids (TDS) measuring well below 150 ppm and only trace chlorides. Under current treatment processes, most of the TDS present in flowback water are not removed during conventional water and wastewater treatment at municipal facilities and flowback will contaminate waterways.

"Our recycling technology is achieving results that many people in the industry thought were impossible," said Brent Halldorson, Fountain Quail's chief operating officer. "Our evaporators are capable of producing pure distilled water, regardless of the feed composition. The only difference is in our recovery rates."

Fountain Quail's NOMAD evaporator, which utilizes the Mechanical Vapor Recompression Evaporation Process, can create 2,000 b/d of distilled water. In this process, the feed water is boiled to produce steam, leaving behind all dissolved solid contaminants. The steam is then condensed into pure distilled water. The process is far more efficient than running a boiler, taking only 1/40 of the energy a boiler requires.

The explosion in shale drilling and lack of treatment/disposal facilities means many operators in Pennsylvania have had to transport wastewater from shale drilling up to 10 hours away to Ohio injection facilities for disposal. Wastewater also is being stored in large pits in Pennsylvania, but this has raised concerns among local residents about odors and effects of chemicals emitted from these pits. The Eureka facility will eliminate the risk associated with trucking wastewater long distances, which increases the risk of leaks and spills.

The great challenge with treating flowback wastewater from shale wells is the variability of contaminants in the water. Current methods for treating wastewater, including membranes and ion exchanges, work when treating water with consistent levels of specific contaminants. The variability requires machinery to be constantly cleaned, recalibrated or for treatment to fail altogether. Water in the early stage flowback is likely very contaminated, while later flowback will typically have more salt it picks up from the ground.

Companies such as Range Resources report that they take 100 percent of flowback and produced water and recycle by diluting the water and using on other shale wells. Range is pre-treating all of its water either at a facility such as Eureka Resources' or others in Pennsylvania. Range spokesperson Matt Pitzarella said the company also believes operators will eventually employ onsite equipment that pre-treats the water for reuse. "It's not only a better environmental solution, but it also saves us money," the company said in a recent conference call.

Halldorson said the long-term solution may be a mix of onsite recycling and centralized treatment of wastewater, but the economics and decision of regulators in each state will determine that mix. In Pennsylvania, the company is releasing treated water back into rivers but also offering it to producers for use in fracturing wells.

Barnett, Fayetteville Shale
Fountain Quail in the last six years has recycled more than 500 million gallons of Devon Energy's wastewater associated with Devon's Barnett Shale activity in north Texas. The treated water, which would otherwise have been injected into disposal wells and permanently removed from the hydrological cycle, is instead re-used in Devon's drilling operations in the Barnett.

Shale drillers in the Texas Barnett shale have the advantage of very abundant disposal formations. Salt water is typically injected into a disposal well into the Ellenberger formation, which underlies the Barnett shale. The disposal wells provide a low-cost solution for flowback and produced water.

Fountail Quail's experience with Devon has allowed Fountain Quail to learn to treat wastewater from a company that pioneered shale gas drilling. This experience will enable Fountain Quail to treat flowback and produced water from other shale formations. Halldorson said its no-incident track record in Texas has earned it the trust of the Texas Railroad Commission and a long-term permit to treat wastewater in the state.

In two months, the company will begin operations in Arkansas, where land has been purchased for a facility site north of Conway near Little Rock, and permits have been obtained. Fountain Quail spent the past two years working with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to demonstrate its capability in treating wastewater from Fayetteville shale drilling in the state. "The ADEQ studied our distilled water in their own labs and came to the conclusion that it is cleaner than river water and will actually benefit rivers in Arkansas."

In Arkansas, wastewater from shale wells was being disposed of at land farms, or facilities that accepted water-based fluids and mud. At the land farms, which contain storage ponds, storage tanks, application fields, and monitoring wells, drilling solids and drilling mud were being spread on the ground to biodegrade.

However, ADEQ shut down 11 of the 13 land farms in the state in April 2009 following inspections of these facilities, noting that soil chloride concentrations exceeded permitted levels and that oil-based drilling fluids had been applied at some sites, which was not allowed under the permit issued. The sodium adsorption ratio found in some soil indicated that some farms would need to cease application on some fields and some fields may have been irreversibly damaged, ADEQ said in an April 2009 report.

Halldorson anticipates a higher recovery rate of 95 percent in Arkansas because the water is less salty compared to Marcellus water, which is saltier due to the formations. In the Barnett shale, Fountain Quail averages 80 percent to 85 percent recovery of distilled water from the saltwater.

The company is interested in the Eagle Ford shale in Texas and the Horn River shale play in northern British Columbia, and plans eventually to be in every shale play in North America. "We've operated on very thin margins in the Barnett, but that experience has prepared us well for our expansion into the Marcellus and Fayetteville shales," said Halldorson.

* Remember to read the earlier post by BioLargo describing our role in this industry segment.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

MRSA - A dangerous new mutation heading to US - New York Times Reports - Points to another BioLargo Technology Solution Opportunity

Link Here

August 11, 2010

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Moving From South Asia to U.S.

A dangerous new mutation that makes some bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics has become increasingly common in India and Pakistan and is being found in patients in Britain and the United States who got medical care in those countries, according to new studies.

Experts in antibiotic resistance called the gene mutation, named NDM-1, “worrying” and “ominous,” and they said they feared it would spread globally.

But they also put it in perspective: there are numerous strains of antibiotic-resistant germs, and although they have killed many patients in hospitals and nursing homes, none have yet lived up to the “superbug” and “flesh-eating bacteria” hyperbole that greets the discovery of each new one.

“They’re all bad,” said Dr. Martin J. Blaser, chairman of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center. “Is NDM-1 more worrisome than MRSA? It’s too early to judge.”

(MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a hard-to-treat bacterium that used to cause problems only in hospitals but is now found in gyms, prisons and nurseries, and is occasionally picked up by healthy people through cuts and scrapes.)

Bacteria with the NDM-1 gene are resistant even to the antibiotics called carbapenems, used as a last resort when common antibiotics have failed. The mutation has been found in E. coli and in Klebsiella pneumoniae, a frequent culprit in respiratory and urinary infections.

“I would not like to be working at a hospital where this was introduced,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. “It could take months before you got rid of it, and treating individual patients with it could be very difficult.”

A study tracking the spread of the mutation from India and Pakistan to Britain was published online on Tuesday in the journal Lancet.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the first three cases of NDM-1 resistance in this country and advised doctors to watch for it in patients who had received medical care in South Asia. The initials stand for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase.

“Medical tourism” to India for many surgeries — cosmetic, dental and even organ transplants — is becoming more common as experienced surgeons and first-class hospitals offer care at a fraction of Western prices. Tourists and people visiting family are also sometimes hospitalized. The Lancet researchers found dozens of samples of bacteria with the NDM-1 resistance gene in two Indian cities they surveyed, which they said “suggests a serious problem.”

Also worrying was that the gene was found on plasmids — bits of mobile DNA that can jump easily from one bacteria strain to another. And it is found in gram-negative bacteria, for which not many new antibiotics are being developed. (MRSA, by contrast, is a gram-positive bacteria, and there are more drug candidates in the works.)

Dr. Alexander J. Kallen, an expert in antibiotic resistance at the C.D.C., called it “one of a number of very serious bugs we’re tracking.”

But he noted that a decade ago, New York City hospitals were the epicenter of infections with other bacteria resistant to carbapenem antibiotics. Those bacteria, which had a different mutation, were troubling, but did not explode into a public health emergency.

Drug-resistant bacteria like those with the NDM-1 mutation are usually a bigger threat in hospitals, where many patients are on broad-spectrum antibiotics that wipe out the normal bacteria that can hold antibiotic-resistant ones in check.

Also, hospital patients generally have weaker immune systems and more wounds to infect, and are examined with more scopes and catheters that can let bacteria in.