Monday, 24 May 2010
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Tainted Lettuce Linked to Illness in Three States
A rare strain of E. coli never before associated with foodborne illness in the United States has sickened 29 people in three states, public health officials said Friday. The outbreak has been tied to romaine lettuce served in restaurants, school cafeterias and deli and supermarket salad bars.
Freshway Foods, an Ohio company, recalled the lettuce on Thursday. It said the lettuce had been sold primarily to food service and wholesale customers. The recall did not involve any bagged or mixed lettuce sold in supermarket produce sections, the company said, although some supermarkets appeared to have used the romaine in salad bars.
Officials traced the illness to a bacterial strain known as E. coli O145, which is different from the more widely known E. coli O157:H7, which has been associated with outbreaks linked to ground beef, leafy greens and other foods.
“This is the first time this particular type of E. coli has been associated with a foodborne outbreak,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, a deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Tauxe said the O145 outbreak “cements it in place as a cause of foodborne disease we need to be worried about.” He added, “Very little is known about it.”
Dr. Tauxe said the bacterium appeared to be a particularly virulent strain capable of causing severe illness.
The C.D.C. said there were 19 confirmed cases and 10 probable cases of people who were sickened, all in Ohio, Michigan and New York. Twelve people have been hospitalized, and of those, three have developed a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be fatal. Those who become ill from the E. coli strain can also get mild to severe diarrhea.
Many of those who were sickened are students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State University in Columbus and Daemon College in Amherst, N.Y., The Associated Press said. Some high school students in Dutchess County, N.Y., also fell ill, officials said.
The rare strain of E. coli was identified by a New York State Health Department laboratory when it tested a previously unopened bag of Freshway Foods romaine lettuce that came from a school cafeteria in Dutchess County.
While illnesses have been identified in only three states, Freshway said that the lettuce had been sent to customers in 23 states and the District of Columbia. The company said the lettuce was sold for use in salad bars at Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles and Marsh supermarkets.
The recall applied to bags of romaine from Freshway with “use by” dates of May 12 or earlier.
Officials said the wave of illnesses may have played itself out, since the last known case involved a person who fell ill in late April.
Dr. Tauxe said, however, said that it was likely that many more people than the 29 identified so far had been sickened, since few hospitals or health departments test for E. coli O145.
He said it was also possible that there had been previous cases of foodborne illness involving the bacterial strain, but that those, too, had gone undetected because of a lack of proper testing. Dr. Tauxe said two small previous outbreaks caused by the O145 strain were known in this country, but neither was linked to food.
Devon Beer, a vice president of Freshway Foods, said the company had traced the tainted lettuce to a grower in Yuma, Ariz.
The outbreak underscored growing concerns over food safety, in particular illnesses related to E. coli bacteria.
Food safety experts have been pressing for federal officials to pay more attention to a wider range of E. coli bacteria, and the new outbreak is likely to bolster that effort. “What it says is, This is getting really complicated, folks,” said Dr. J. Glenn Morris Jr., the director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute of the University of Florida.
William Marler, a lawyer specializing in such cases, said that while there were no previous foodborne outbreaks associated with the O145 strain in this country, one was reported in Belgium in 2007 in which 12 people fell ill.
Minnesota: Woman Paralyzed by E. Coli Settles With Agribusiness Company
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A woman who was left paralyzed from an E. coli infection after eating tainted hamburger has reached a settlement with the agribusiness giant Cargill Inc. The settlement was announced Wednesday by Stephanie Smith of Cold Spring and Cargill. The terms were confidential, but both sides said the settlement would provide for Ms. Smith’s care throughout her life. A statement said Cargill acknowledged responsibility when it first learned of her injuries and had provided financial help to her and her family. Ms. Smith, a former children’s dance instructor, was the subject of a New York Times article that spurred Congress to consider tougher food safety laws and was the centerpiece of a body of work that won a Pulitzer Prize this year.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
Canada's Oil Sands - North America's Saudi Arabia - Report Highlights Water and Greenhouse Gas Issues to Target
- The amount of water permitted to be withdrawn from the Athabasca River for all oil sands projects – existing and future – is equivalent to less than 3% of its average annual flow. During periods of low river flow, Alberta Environment limits water consumption to 1.3% of annual average flow. At times, this can mean that industrial users will be restricted to less than half of their normal requirement given current approved development. Source: Alberta Environment.
- Up to 90% of the water used can be recycled depending on the maturity of the facility and type of extraction. Industry is working on making production more efficient so fresh water use is further reduced.
- In mining operations, between 2.2 and 5 barrels of river water are withdrawn to produce each barrel of SCO.
- In SAGD operations, up to half a barrel of fresh water is required to produce each barrel of bitumen.
Land Management and Reclamation
- By law, industry must post financial security equivalent to the cost of reclamation before beginning oil sands activity to the Environmental Protection Security Fund.
- As of March 2008, the fund held over $875 million. The money is returned when reclamation certificates are issued.
- In March 2008, the Alberta government issued its first reclamation certificate to Syncrude Canada Ltd. for the 104 ha parcel of land known as Gateway Hill, approximately 35 km north of Fort McMurray.
- To date, about 602 km2 of land have been disturbed by oil sands mining activity (approximately 0.1% of Alberta’s boreal forest of 381,000 km2).
- Currently, over 67 km2 of disturbed lands are in the process of being reclaimed. Reclamation certificates will not be issued until monitoring through time demonstrates that these particular lands meet the Alberta Environment criteria for return to self-sustaining ecosystems.
- The Government of Alberta and private industry have each invested more than $1 billion in oil sands research. Combined efforts and investments of both the public and private sectors will continue to improve the efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of oil sands recovery and upgrading.
Canada Oil Sands Are Still a Gamble
By CHRISTOPHER SWANN and ROBERT CYRAN
Energy investors are showing their short memories. The stampede to the initial public offering of Athabasca Oil Sands is a tribute to the allure of Canada’s extra-heavyoil. Last week Athabasca priced at the high end of its range and raised $1.35 billion, twice its goal. Yet it was only two years ago the sector was hit hard by the economy. Greater bullying of private oil companies by governments around the world makes it all too easy to forget the risks of another price slump.
Practically no energy portfolio is complete without exposure to Canada’s oil sands. The country accounts for half the world’s oil reserves that aren’t locked up by national companies of foreign governments. Including oil sands, Canada’s reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s — around 175 billion barrels.
The Dudley Do-Right factor also helps. Canada’s stable and predictable government is a rarity in the oil business. True, the sand-rich province of Alberta irked producers in 2007 by demanding an extra cut from the sharp rise in prices. But this was nothing compared to the political risks energy companies are accustomed to in places like Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela.
Even so, Athabasca investors seem merely to be swapping potential troubles. The I.P.O. valuation — at about $1 for each contingent barrel — looks in line with the industry average as calculated by the research firm IHS Herold. But there is the looming possibility of environmental controls. Despite the industry’s best efforts, extracting oil from sands generates about 10 percent more carbon dioxide than conventional oil does. That could make the burden of greater regulation costly.
The economic hazards look dangerous, too. Oil sands stop being economical south of $65 a barrel. That proved especially painful for this corner of the business in 2008 when the price of oil fell below $35. Athabasca’s rivals Suncor Energy and Canadian Natural Resources lost 75 percent of their value while more diversified oil majors fell by much less. Some 90 billion Canadian dollars of the country’s sands projects were shelved. If the economy hits another serious bump, oil sands investors are likely to suffer the worst.
Report Weighs Fallout of Canada’s Oil Sands
In the tense debate between energy security and environmental sustainability, Canada’s vast oil sand reserves hold a special place.
Canada has the second-largest petroleum deposits after Saudi Arabia and the biggest in the Western hemisphere. Its oil sands produce 1.3 million barrels of oil a day, up from 600,000 a day in 2000. As a result, Canada has become the biggest foreign oil supplier to the United States, accounting for 19 percent of imports in 2008.
But the development of these sands in the Alberta region has also been sharply criticized by ecological groups, local communities and even Catholic bishops, for their impact on the environment, and their intensive use of both water and natural gas.
The growth in oil sands is the reason Canada has failed to contain its greenhouse gas emissions in recent years despite its commitments to do so. Critics refer to the bituminous deposits as tar sands, calling them the dirtiest fossil fuels on earth.
Trying to balance the size of Canada’s reserves and their environmental impact is a tough act. But a new report, to be released Monday by IHS CERA, an energy consulting group, sees big opportunities for the oil sands, shrouded in vast uncertainty.
“The oil sands are an immense resource in North America, and so they represent an opportunity to enhance energy security,” said James Burkhard, the managing director of IHS CERA’s global oil group. “But there are also questions about the future economic feasibility of oil sands, given the drop in oil prices, and second, there are a number of issues related to greenhouse gases, land and water use, on which there is a wide spectrum of views.”
Producing fuels from oil sands requires large amounts of natural gas and water and produces large quantities of waste material and carbon dioxide. In one process, steamed water is injected at high pressure to melt the dense, oil-bearing bitumen. In another, the sands are strip-mined and then cooked to release the oil.
Environmentalists would like President Obama to set strict limits on some of the dirtiest fuels, including heavy oil from Canada. They urge the administration to resist calls by the Canadian government to exempt oil sands from greenhouse regulations now being considered in the United States.
Canada’s oil sands industry has been hit hard by the recession and a 60 percent drop in oil prices since their peak last year. As prices tumbled, more than 70 percent of proposed heavy oil projects were postponed. But if economic growth eventually pushes up oil demand and prices rebound, the oil sand production could rise as high as 6.3 million barrels a day by 2035, according to CERA’s report. On the other hand, stringent regulation, weak economic growth or low energy prices could trim investments and result in production of as little as 2.3 million barrels a day within the next two decades, according to the report.
One of the most controversial issues related to oil sands is figuring out how much they contribute to global warming. According to CERA, which provided an analysis of 11 previous studies, producing oil sands emit 30 to 70 percent more greenhouse gases than the average oil consumed in the United States.
The CERA report points out, however, that once the total life of the fuel is considered, from the production phase to when the fuels are burned in engines — a so-called wells-to-wheels analysis — oil sands emit only 5 to 15 percent more greenhouse gases than the average fuels consumed in the country. The difference, CERA says, comes because 70 to 80 percent of total emissions come from the combustion of refined products, like gasoline and diesel, irrespective of their source.
The report recommends more research to reduce the use of natural gas in the production of oil from sands, as well as investing in technology that captures and stores carbon dioxide underground instead of emitting it into the atmosphere.
But environmental advocates point out that while Congress is looking at cutting carbon emissions in the United States 80 percent by 2050, the growing reliance on oil sands from Canada would offset some of those benefits.
“It’s not small potatoes when you stack it up against efforts to get carbon reductions,” said Matt Price, an analyst at Environmental Defence in Toronto.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Friday, 7 May 2010
E. Coli Outbreak Sickens 19 People in Three States
Friday , May 07, 2010
WASHINGTON —A food company is recalling lettuce sold in 23 states and the District of Columbia because of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 19 people, three of them with life-threatening symptoms.
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that 12 people had been hospitalized and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was looking at 10 other cases probably linked to the outbreak.
Freshway Foods of Sidney, Ohio, said it was recalling romaine lettuce sold under the Freshway and Imperial Sysco brands because of a possible link to the E. coli outbreak.
College students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State in Columbus and Daemen College in Amherst, N.Y., are among those affected, according to local health departments in those states.
The FDA is focusing its investigation on lettuce grown in Arizona as a possible source for the outbreak, according to two people who have been briefed by the agency. Donna Rosenbaum, director of the food safety advocacy group Safe Tables Our Priority and one of those briefed, said the agency held a phone call with public health advocates Thursday.
Rosenbaum and other public health advocates have long been pushing for stronger food safety laws. The House passed a bill last year that would give the agency much more authority to police food production, but the Senate has not acted on it.
The New York state Public Health Laboratory in Albany discovered the contamination in a bag of Freshway Foods shredded romaine lettuce on Wednesday after local authorities had been investigating the outbreak for several weeks. The bag of lettuce came from a processing facility that was also linked to the illnesses, the FDA said. The agency would not disclose the name of that facility or its location but said an investigation was under way.
E. coli infection can cause mild diarrhea or more severe complications, including kidney damage. The three patients with life-threatening symptoms were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can cause bleeding in the brain or kidneys.
It was not immediately clear why students on college campuses were sickened. Freshway Foods said the lettuce was sold to wholesalers, food service outlets, in-store salad bars and delis.
Susan Cerniglia, spokeswoman for the public health department in Washtenaw County, where the University of Michigan is located, said it doesn't appear that students who were sickened ate the contaminated food on campus. It is believed they may have been sickened at local restaurants, she said.
The Erie County, N.Y., health department issued an alert late last month, however, that linked at least one diagnosis of E. coli to a student who ate at a Daemen College dining facility.
The most common strain of E. coli found in U.S. patients is E. coli O157. The CDC said the strain linked to the lettuce, E. coli 0145, is more difficult to identify and may go unreported.
Freshway Foods said in a statement Thursday that the FDA informed the company about the positive test in New York on Wednesday afternoon. The statement said "an extensive FDA investigation" of Freshway Foods' facility in Sidney has not uncovered any contamination at the plant.
The recalled lettuce has a "best if used by" date of May 12 or earlier. The recall also affects "grab and go" salads sold at Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets and Marsh grocery stores.
The lettuce was sold in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
Alberta Addresses Oil Sands’ Gigantic FootprintBy JOHN LORINC
On the eve of President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Ottawa on Thursday, the Alberta government has released what it describes as a long-term “strategic” plan for developing the province’s oil sands — a subject likely to be on the agenda for tomorrow’s working meeting.
The 50-page document, entitled “Responsible Actions,” was published less than a week after both the federal and provincial governments laid charges against Syncrude Canada over an incident last April, when about 500 ducks died after landing in one of the company’s giant tailing ponds. The deaths attracted international media coverage and galvanized opponents of the massive bitumen extraction operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta.
The government’s document, two years in the making, is the result of public hearings and consultations with stakeholder groups representing both industry and environmental groups. Among the recommendations, it suggests the government will:
- Exercise more vigilance in enforcing reclamation of tailings ponds and “disturbed” areas;
- Encourage oil sands producers to “maximize” water conservation;
- Establish a carbon offset program to “secure” sensitive areas;
- Consider the possibility of increasing bitumen royalties as a means of investing in infrastructure in and around Fort McMurray.
Not surprisingly, the report hasn’t blunted criticism of Alberta’s management of the resource. “This is a plan to do more planning,” says Simon Dyer, the oil sands project director for the Pembina Institute, an environmental advocacy group based in Calgary. “It’s quite disappointing in terms of the lack of specifics. There’s no time lines and no accountability.”
Mr. Dyer says that when the government-appointed panel traveled around Alberta, most deputants called on Alberta to take tougher measures in managing oil sands development. “That’s not reflected in the plan at all.”
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday, President Obama said he believes technologies like carbon sequestration can contain emissions from bitumen upgraders and added that he’s interested in a continental approach to energy and environmental policy. “One of the promising areas for not only bilateral but trilateral cooperation is around this issue.”