Category Archives: Health & Environment

An Orchestra of Elephants

Dave and Jojo the elephant. Courtesy Dave Soldier

Mother Jones

Imagine building a xylophone for a 6,000-pound mammal. Columbia University neuroscientist slash experimental musician David Soldier (aka David Sulzer) teamed up with elephant expert Richard Lair, and did just that. At the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC), in Lampang, Thailand, the two men taught elephants to play oversized xylophones, drums, chimes, and even harmonicas. An American expat, Lair knew about Ruby, an elephant that had famously learned how to paint pictures. He also understood that elephants loved music. After meeting Soldier, he asked him to join the Thai Elephant Orchestra project, an endeavor that, beyond science and art, was intended to draw attention to the elephants’ plight.

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Can You Live Without Money for a Year?

Courtesy Mark Boyle

Mother Jones

By choice, Mark Boyle basically doesn’t have a cent—or, more accurately, a pence—to his name. Boyle lives in rural England in a trailer he spotted on Freecycle.org. He feeds himself by growing everything from barley to potatoes, foraging wild edibles like berries and nettles, and occasionally dumpster-diving for luxuries like margarine and bread. He cooks with a wood stove fashioned from large restaurant olive cans; brushes his teeth with his own mixture of cuttlefish bones and fennel seed; and makes paper and ink from mushrooms. He barters labor for rent, Internet service, and whatever else he can’t find, grow, or make.

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Hey, Kids! All Aboard the Clean Coal Bus!

Mother Jones

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an astroturf front for a group of big coal, railroads and power companies, is on tour with a 42-foot “mobile classroom” bus. The bus is mostly traveling in coal communities throughout West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, wending its way through university campuses and community gatherings.

The bus features exhibits demonstrating why coal is getting cleaner and reminds the locals that moving towards clean coal preserves jobs.

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Are Stronger Chemical Regulations Really Bad for Business?

Mother Jones

In April, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced The Safe Chemicals Act, a bill that if passed would make sweeping changes to the 34-year old Toxic Substance Control Act. While the old law allowed chemicals to enter the market with little or no testing, the new one would force manufacturers to prove a chemical’s safety before introducing it to the market.

Manufacturers worry that the Safe Chemicals Act would put US industry at an economic disadvantage, since other global players, like India and China, have fewer chemical regulations, meaning they don’t have to spend as much money proving chemicals are safe for workers and consumers. The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, a trade group, says the act could endanger a sector that employs 800,000 Americans.

Union leaders, though, disagree. They argue that poorly regulated chemicals actually endanger the labor force, since they represent a major health risk to factory workers.

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Paying People To Take Their Meds

Mother Jones

An experimental program in Philadelphia is giving financial incentives to patients who follow their prescriptions for warfarin, a generic anti-blood clotting medication. Patients who don’t properly fill and follow their prescriptions cost the US $100 billion in additional health care costs every year, reports the New York Times. To reduce this waste, the Aetna-sponsored program in Philly creates a lottery-like pool in which patients can win up to $100 a day for taking their prescribed meds.

Two leading causes of prescription non-compliance are cost of medicine and forgetting to take it. In addition, says IMC2, a “brand engagement” company, patients also complain about side-effects and insufficient information. Prescriptions may help certain diseases, but lead to potentially deadly side effects: for example, studies have shown warfarin (prescribed for heart conditions) can significantly raise the risk of death from stroke or internal bleeding. And even without the side-effects, some patients simply believe they don’t really need the medication. NYT reader Booth Selig, says: “As a 74-year-old, I have fought doctors for years when it comes to various prescribed medicines—multiple heart meds and wafarin being two examples… It is difficult and time consuming to manage, requires weekly doctor visits until regulated, and has caused countless hospitalizations and deaths… Many people no longer trust the FDA or their doctors advice and with good reason.”

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Spill Workers Get Sick, Chemicals Get a Pass

Mother Jones

Photo by Deepwater Horizon/ Flickr

Last week, seven oil-spill clean-up workers were hospitalized after reporting nausea, headaches, dizziness, and chest pains. Doctors said the symptoms could have been caused by airborne chemical exposure while cleaning up oil slicks. The workers’ families have blamed chemicals in the dispersants being used to break up the oil. However, BP has said that air quality tests done at the clean-up sites before the workers fell ill found nothing unusual; it first blamed the workers’ condition on fatigue and sun exposure.

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Part II: Hoosier Cities Struggle to Meet Mass Transit Needs

NPR/WFIU

KOKOMO, IN. Despite a surge of federal transportation stimulus grants, recession-riddled cities in southern and central Indiana are struggling to meet transportation needs.  Transit directors are receiving similar rider requests for program expansions, but the money just isn’t there.

Surviving in a Hoosier city without a car is difficult.  And transportation between cities or on weekends is, in many cases, nearly impossible.

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