Category : News

Survey Results Indicate Americans Use Mobile Apps in Emergencies

March 21st, 2013

A survey conducted by the American Red Cross in June 2012 reveals that mobile apps for emergency purposes are increasing in popularity. The survey results indicate that approximately 20% of Americans use mobile apps to get information about an emergency situation like a hurricane or tornado. Of course, the major communication channels like TV news, local radio stations, and online news are still the most popular sources of information. When the current survey results are compared with those from 2011, however, the reliance on these traditional communication channels have decreased by about 10% in each category while mobile apps usage for emergency purposes has remained constant at 20% and may very well increase in the near future.Mobile Phone

There are several Red Cross mobile apps available which include the First Aid, Shelter Finder, Hurricane, Tornado, Earthquake, and Wildfire Apps. According to the survey, the most popular type of emergency app is weather forecasting, with more than 80% of mobile users preferring this feature. Fortunately, location-based weather alerts are a feature of several of the Red Cross mobile apps. Another important feature of the Hurricane, Tornado, Earthquake, and Wildfire Apps is the one-touch, “I’m safe” messaging. With the touch of a button, users can notify their family and friends that they are safe via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. This is a worthwhile feature since 76% of the social media users that were surveyed said that if they saw emergency information posted on a social media site their first action would be to contact friends and family to see if they were safe.

Mobile apps can provide a large amount of essential information during an emergency. In addition to providing information and tools for survival, the Red Cross staff also believes the emergency mobile apps provide emotional support in a very stressful situation by allowing the user to stay connected with others during an emergency. Though the Red Cross still encourages individuals to first dial 9-1-1 in an emergency, the mobile apps now play a role in preparing for and surviving an emergency.

 

Simple Test Developed to Determine the Presence of Mercury in Water

February 28th, 2013

Earlier this month, researchers from the University of Burgos in Spain announced that they have developed a new test to detect mercury in water that can be used by anyone, even those individuals without knowledge of water chemistry. This innovative test, which is discussed in more detail in the Analytical Methods journal, only requires submerging a test sheet in the water for five minutes. If mercury is present in the water at or above the EPA maximum contaminant level of 2 parts per billion, the sheet will turn red.

Credit:  J.M Garcia et al.

Color analysis of the mercury water test using a mobile device. Credit: J.M Garcia et al.

In addition to being able to quickly detect the presence of mercury, the researchers have also created the ability for a mobile device to assist in determining the amount of mercury present as well. The user first takes a picture of the sheet with a mobile phone or tablet. Image treatment software such as GIMP, which is free, open-access software, is then used to compare the particular shade of red with reference values. Essentially each shade of red represents a different concentration of mercury.  The ability to simply use a mobile device to analyze a water sample makes this test very unique. The researchers claim that this test is inexpensive however it is currently unknown how it will compare to mercury water test kits currently available.

Mercury is a toxic metal that can be released through processes such as the burning of coal and oil, incineration of mercury-containing materials, or through natural erosion of rock and soil. The mercury eventually is deposited in the water. Drinking water with high levels of mercury can harm the nervous system, leading to nervousness, irritability, changes in vision or hearing, and memory issues. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury. It is unknown whether drinking water contaminated with low levels of mercury for a long period of time causes any effects as well.

Microorganisms in the water can also convert the mercury to methylmercury which is a highly toxic form of mercury that can accumulate in organisms such as fish and shellfish. When consumed, the methylmercury can damage the kidneys as well as the nervous system. Nearly all of the 50 states have had at least one fish consumption advisory related to mercury which suggests that it is an abundant contaminant. Since mercury is a contaminant of concern in both the US and abroad, an easy and potentially inexpensive analytical tool like this new mercury water test should prove to be very useful.

 

The Facts About the Novel Coronavirus

February 21st, 2013

Just a few days ago, the recently discovered novel coronavirus claimed the life of another person overseas. News of the fatality rapidly spread across the globe causing many to worry about the possibility of a new pandemic. If you would like to learn more about this new potentially deadly virus, read the facts listed below.

What is the novel coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus, also known as NCoV, is a new strain of coronaviruses, which is a large family of viruses that was first identified in the 1960s. This group includes viruses that cause the common cold as well as those that result in SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Coronaviruses get their name from the crown-like projects that are present on the virus’ surface.

Virus Cells Attacking the Body

Where did this coronavirus come from?

All of the 12 confirmed cases are linked to the Middle East. Five people were from Saudi Arabia, two were from Jordan, and one was from Qatar. There were also four cases in the United Kingdom.  These individuals are related to each other. The first family member to contract the coronavirus had recently traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

When was the first case of the virus reported?

The first confirmed case was reported in September of 2012 though the individual actually died from the illness in June 2012.

How many people have died after becoming infected with the coronavirus?

Six out of 12 known cases have been fatal.

How is this virus spread?

People contract the novel coronavirus when they inhale the air droplets that are produced when the infected individual sneezes, coughs, or talks. People can also contract the virus by touching a surface that is contaminated with the virus however this route is less likely.

What are the symptoms?

The confirmed cases have exhibited a fever, cough, shortness of breath, and overall breathing difficulties. It is unknown whether an infected person can experience more mild symptoms as well which would suggest the possibility that more people may be unknowingly infected.

What treatment is available?

There is no vaccine available. At this time, medical care can only help to relieve the symptoms.

How is the novel coronavirus different from SARS?

Thus far, there have only been a small number of confirmed cases indicating that this virus is not as easily spread from person to person as the virus that causes SARS. Experts believe that the novel coronavirus is not nearly as infectious.

Can infection be prevented?

The novel coronavirus can only survive for 24 hours when it is outside of the body and is easily destroyed by cleaning agents and detergents.

Are we at risk in the United States?

The CDC says that no cases have occurred in the US thus far and therefore the risk of Americans becoming infected with the virus is low. People can still travel to the Middle East but should seek medical treatment if they experience the symptoms listed above, especially if they have unexplained pneumonia or other respiratory illness that is not responding to treatment.

Though the novel coronavirus is related to SARS, experts do not currently believe that we should be concerned about an epidemic similar to the 2003 SARS outbreak in which the illness spread to more than two dozen countries, infecting over 8000 and causing 774 deaths. It is however a good idea to always practice good hygiene, especially if you will be traveling to the Middle East while the virus is still present.

 

 

Meteorite Explodes over Russia and a Near Earth Asteroid Expected to Fly by the Planet, February 15, 2012

February 15th, 2013

Today is a remarkable day for astronomical events.  Earlier today a meteorite streaked across the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia causing explosions that damaged buildings and injured approximately 500 people.  According to NASA , the meteorite, which was too small to detect far in advance, was flying by on a north to south trajectory when it entered the atmosphere.  Even though this event alone is newsworthy, NASA scientists predict that a small asteroid, called 2012 DA14, will pasAsteroids by the Earth today, though this object will be flying in the opposite direction, on a south to north trajectory. The asteroid is approximately 50 meters wide or about half the length of a football field. The near earth asteroid will be true to its name, passing about 17,150 miles above the planet’s surface which seems like a great distance but will actually be closer to the Earth than some of the man-made satellites. This flyby is quite an event since astronomers have never seen this large of an object come as close to the Earth since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s.

It is interesting that the meteorite event and the asteroid flyby will occur not even two months after the infamous date of December 21, 2012 which is the day that, according to interpretations of the Mayan prophecy, an apocalyptic event like an asteroid impact would cause the end of the world. Fortunately, the meteorite’s impact was localized and the asteroid, which is much larger in size, will not come close enough to be a threat to the planet in any way. NASA estimates however that if an asteroid that is the size of 2012 DA14 hit the Earth it could cause a local disaster or cause tidal waves that would flood low-lying coastal areas if it hit the ocean. Though this will not occur today, these impact events are expected to occur every 100 years or so. In fact, in 1908 an asteroid measuring 100 meters exploded in the atmosphere above a remote region called Tunguska in Siberia. It did not hit ground but the explosion was so large that it leveled more than half a million acres of forest.

While the likelihood of a large asteroid hitting the Earth and causing major damage is very low, NASA continues to monitor for any near Earth asteroids since the consequences of a collision could be devastating for a region. As of today, the Near Earth Object Program has classified 1,381 asteroids as potentially hazardous.  And after an eventful day like today, we all might want to watch the skies a little closer from now on.

 

Doomsday Clock: A Countdown to Catastrophe

January 24th, 2013

Many Americans enjoy watching the wildly popular television show “Doomsday Preppers” on the National Geographic Channel and musing over the elaborate disaster preparations that were created to aid in surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. Meanwhile the hands of human civilization’s hypothetical Doomsday Clock are hovering closely to midnight. The Doomsday Clock symbolizes humanity’s susceptibility to destruction and at the stroke of midnight; our civilization’s time will run out.doomsday1

Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock’s time setting is based on the current state of nuclear weapons, climate change, and other emerging technologies, and can change based on current events. A team of experts, including the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists board members, several Nobel Prize recipients, and leading authorities on nuclear weapons and other threats, determine the clock setting. At its inception, the clock was set at 7 minutes to midnight as a result of the recent creation of the first atomic bombs. This historical event resulted in the potential for universal destruction through the use of nuclear weapons.

In the past 65 years, the clock’s setting has changed 20 times. In 1953 the clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight, based on the decision of the United States and Soviet Union to create the hydrogen bomb. Earlier, and more optimistic, settings have been announced in the past, though they were not as hopeful as one would like. The earliest setting ever on the Doomsday Clock was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 and resulted from the end of the Cold War between the United States and Russia and the subsequent Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

On January 14, 2013 it was announced that the current clock setting is 5 minutes to midnight. Adjusted from the previous setting of 6 minutes to midnight, this setting signals the increase in destructive means available to the world population. Since some of the most powerful nations are still armed with nuclear weapons and it is estimated that 20 to 30 more countries intend to create an atomic bomb, nuclear weapons still provide the potential for world-wide destruction. But intercontinental ballistic missiles and the like are not the only weapons available that bring us closer to a catastrophe. The potential for widespread use of biological weapons that can cripple a nation force the hands of the Doomsday Clock slightly closer to midnight as well. Concerns about possible climate change events, like sea-level rise, that may also wreak havoc globally, also influenced the clock setting.

Is the Doomsday Clock an accurate depiction of the state of humankind? Are we teetering on the edge of destruction? The figurative clock’s setting is merely subjective, based solely on the opinions of a small team of experts. Nevertheless it is a little unnerving to think that the fate of humanity can be represented by the simple image of a clock nearing its final hour. Perhaps preparing for an apocalypse or other catastrophic event isn’t such a bad idea.  Take the time to put together an emergency preparedness kit so that you are ready to survive any disaster but remain hopeful that in the near future the human race will find a way to turn back the clock.

 

What is Fracking?

January 3rd, 2013

On January 4th, the drama “Promised Land” will premiere in theaters across the country. The basis of this film is centered on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, and the possible consequences of this drilling process on nearby communities. Though fracking may seem like an odd topic to choose for a Hollywood film, it has gained a lot of recent attention regarding concerns about environmental impacts, particularly water contamination.

Hydraulic fracturing is a means of extracting resources like natural gas and oil from underground by pumping fluid, usually a mixture of water and chemical additives, into geological formations like shale and coalbed. The pressure from the fluid creates fractures underground, allowing extraction of the resources. A large portion of fracking is conducted in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Ohio. These states are on top of the formation called Marcellus Shale which is one of the most important gas reserves in the United States. Fracking can also be found in other parts of the country, such as Colorado, Texas, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Natural Gas: A valuable resource extracted by fracking.

Though fracking has been performed for many years, it was brought to our attention in 2011 when the EPA reported that sampling showed that water contaminants in a local aquifer in Pavillion, Wyoming were possibly associated with fracking operations. This study was initiated because many local residents complained the drinking water had a bad taste and odor. EPA stressed that the fracking conditions in Pavillion were different from conditions in other parts of the country because it occurred in and below the aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells. Therefore, water sources in other parts of the country may not be at risk of contamination if the fracking conditions are different.

So how can fracking result in contaminated water?

As mentioned previously, fracking fluids contain chemical additives. These chemicals are added to change the fluid properties. For instance, some chemicals are used to increase the thickness of the fluid. Hundreds of different chemicals may be used and the types used will vary depending on the site and company performing the fracking. Many of these companies prefer to not publicly disclose the chemicals used which causes more concern.

As part of a 2011 study, the US Committee on Energy and Commerce surveyed 14 leading oil and gas companies to learn about the composition of the fluids used for fracking. The most common chemical used was methanol. Isopropyl alcohol, 2-butoxyethanol, and ethylene glycol were also frequently used. These chemicals are not regulated by the EPA due to their low toxicity. A small percentage of companies were found to use petroleum compounds like benzene and toluene which are regulated by the EPA because they are highly mobile in ground water and are known human carcinogens. Other additives, such as instant coffee and walnut hulls, are not chemicals of concern but people are curious about their purpose as an additive.

The additives can possibly contaminate water sources through several routes. A common method of fracking fluid disposal is via underground injection of wastewater. EPA determined that this method is not likely to contaminate drinking water sources though it is mentioned that they reserve the right to conduct additional studies if necessary. Other means of wastewater disposal have a greater risk of water contamination. Since there are no specific national standards for fracking wastewater disposal, some wastewater is transported to treatment plants which are not all equipped to treat this type of water, according to the EPA.

Spills are probably one of the greatest sources of surface water contamination. From January to July 2012, several natural gas drilling incidents occurred in Pennsylvania alone. Thousands of gallons of production fluid were spilled in several of these incidents.

Since this process of natural resource extraction is quickly gaining in popularity, the EPA is still in the process of establishing regulations for fracking. Proponents of fracking, which often include local residents, firmly believe that it is a drilling method that is necessary to increase economic development and energy independence. It is important, however, that the operations are conducted responsibly in order to prevent unnecessary contamination.

 

Mayan Calendar 2012: Should You Prepare for the End of the World?

December 13th, 2012

Amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, many people are discussing the possible end of the world on December 21, 2012. This supposedly was predicted centuries ago by the Mayan calendar. Some merely joke about this prophecy while others take it more seriously and seek to prepare for the possibility of the end of civilization as we know it. Since emergency preparedness is a serious issue, whether it is for the end of the world or a winter storm, it is worthwhile to investigate this prophecy a little further.

The Mayan Calendar

The Maya civilization was present from 2000 BC to AD 250. While they were known for their written language, art and architecture, in recent days they have become best known for their mathematical and astronomical calculations. The Mayans tracked lunar cycles to create short, monthly calendar periods while they also used planetary observations to establish longer range time cycles, or the Long Count calendar. For instance, the Mayans calculated that it takes 117 days for Earth and Mercury to complete one orbit and return to their original positions in relation to each other.

While many archaeologists and anthropologists believe that the Mayans only used the calculations to synchronize their sacred rituals with astrological events, many others believe that the Mayan calculations can be used to predict impending astronomical disasters as well. The Maya Long Count calendar is based on units of time called baktuns. Each baktun consists of 144,000 days and on December 21, 2012 the Long Count calendar will presumably have run through 13 baktuns which was a significant number for the Mayans. Many claim the December 21st date is the end of the Long Count calendar which signals the beginning of the apocalypse.

Possible Events on December 21, 2012

There are numerous speculations about the types of apocalyptic events that may occur on December 21, 2012. One possibility is either a planetary alignment, or an alignment of the earth and sun with the Milky Way Galaxy. Many believe that such an alignment will affect the earth’s magnetic surface. NASA denies that this claim because a planetary alignment is not expected to occur for the next few decades. Furthermore, NASA states that an alignment with planets or a galaxy will not affect the Earth in any way. Every year the earth and sun align with the Milky Way without any effects to the Earth.

Also feared by many is an impact by an asteroid or comet. NASA however reports that they conduct surveys for near-Earth asteroids and comets and there are no objects present that pose a risk to the planet Earth. Along with asteroids and comets, there is a rumor of a planet, Nibiru, on a collision course with the Earth. NASA has stated that there is no such planet and that all currently known dwarf planets are on orbits that will never bring them close enough to the Earth to cause a collision.

One final speculation is the possibility of solar flares powerful enough to disable power grids on the earth’s surface. According to NASA, solar flares occur on a regular basis, usually reaching a peak every 11 years. The next maximum solar flare is expected to occur sometime between 2012 and 2014 but its magnitude and timing is relatively unpredictable. The biggest solar flare ever recorded occurred in1859 and actually affected telegraph systems, causing sparks which shocked telegraph operators and set telegraph paper on fire. The following day, bright, multi-colored auroras also could be seen just before dawn by people across the globe. Another flare of this magnitude could possibly damage satellite electronics causing a disruption of radar, cell phone communications, and GPS receivers. The currents from the bright aurora displays of the Northern and Southern Lights may also affect power lines and telephone cables.

Is the End of the World a Possibility?

Archaeologists disagree with the claims that the Mayans predicted the end of the world because they do not believe the Mayans had apocalyptic visions. According to their findings, the Mayan culture was obsessed with cycles of time and believed in new beginnings but not endings. Newly discovered wall writings from the 9th century in Guatemala actually have calendars that go beyond 2012, indicating the Mayans did not believe the world will end just yet.

Experts do agree that the thirteenth baktun that we are approaching was predicted by the Mayans to be a milestone, but probably not an apocalypse. While the Mayans were known to prophesize, their prophecies were more likely to involve events like disease or drought and therefore many agree that these events would be more likely to occur than the end of the world. Interestingly, experts have not been able to agree upon the synchronization of our calendar with the Mayan calendar which means that the precise date of the thirteenth baktun is questionable and while it may actually be December 21st, there is a possibility it may have already occurred or may still lie ahead.

Preparedness is Always Recommended

There are many uncertainties surrounding December 21, 2012. This date could bring about anything from disease to an apocalyptic event to a solar flare that disrupts satellite communications. Or the day may pass without any unusual events at all. It is impossible to precisely predict the extent of a disaster, whether it is an impending winter storm, hurricane, or a prophesized apocalyptic event. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare for potential events far in advance. Review the blogs regarding emergency preparedness information, such as preparing an emergency supply kit. Even if nothing occurs on December 21, 2012, if you have practiced emergency preparedness, you will be adequately prepared for any emergency situation that might arise in the future.

 

Select Water Filters Now Available in California

December 4th, 2012

Sales of select Berkey water filtration systems are now available to customers in the state of California. For several years, Berkey Water Filters could not be shipped to California residents. This limitation was due to somewhat ambiguous regulations that went into effect January 1, 2010. The regulations were not only vague but the related requirements also made it very costly, if not impossible, for smaller companies to comply with the regulations that were unique to the state of California.

Recently, the state of California further defined the requirements that pertain to this regulation. While certain California regulations still prohibit residential filtration systems that make health –related claims, such as pathogenic bacteria removal, it was recently determined that the regulations do not apply to water filtration systems used in outdoor and sporting applications. The systems that fall under this category and are therefore now available to California residents are:

  • Sport Berkey®
  • Go Berkey®
  • Travel Berkey®
  • Berkey Light™ (with or without LED lights)

Replacement elements will also be available for these systems as well.  Feel free to contact Berkey Filters Customer Service with any questions or concerns.

 

Hurricane Sandy: Water Quality Issues are One of East Coast’s Biggest Scare this Halloween

October 31st, 2012

With the recent arrival of Hurricane Sandy on the east coast of the US, millions of Americans are now beginning to understand how natural disasters can severely impact their daily lives. Drinking water supplies were some of the first supplies to be completely depleted from the stores when the public was scrambling to prepare for this “storm of the century”. It seems almost ironic that despite the fact that in a region being inundated with water through rainfall and storm surge, hurricanes have an enormous impact on not only water quality but availability as well.

Flooding

Empty shelves in the water bottle aisle in an Ocean City, NJ grocery store, October 27, 2012.

We typically associate high winds and heavy rainfall with hurricanes. This extremely heavy rainfall overwhelms underground pipes, streets, and drains that normally carry away storm water leaving behind contaminated standing water. In combined sewer systems that collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater, the flooding will result in untreated sewage overflowing into local water bodies and contaminating local drinking water supplies. Wells also risk contamination from malfunctioning septic tanks leaking sewage and runoff contaminated with surface chemicals soaking into the ground. Currently, residents of many of the states affected by Hurricane Sandy are encouraged to disinfect their wells prior to use for these reasons.

Power Outages

The lack of electricity can also lead to contaminated water and low water availability. Municipal water systems often use pumps to move water and sewage through force mains to the treatment plants. If these pumps operate on electricity, they will be disabled in a power outage which can cause sewage backups and overflows. Many municipal water districts now have back-up generators but whenever generators are the sole power source, water conservation is required. For example, water suppliers like New Jersey American Water are currently asking customers to discontinue non-essential water usage for bathing, watering, and cleaning until further notice.

Rural areas usually rely on electricity to pump water in the home and may experience water shortages during a power outage. Most drinking water wells have electric pumps that will not work without electricity. If the power outage is extended for a longer period of time, water will stagnate and sediment will likely settle in the well and distribution lines. When the power is restored, the well water may be discolored due to the sediment and, while it is usually not harmful, the well may require disinfection to eliminate any disease-causing bacteria or other pathogens.

Solution: Prepare in Advance

Unfortunately, many of the current victims of Hurricane Sandy must either temporarily relocate or rely on relief workers for their water. It is best to prepare in advance for a natural disaster in order to avoid being in a situation where water is either contaminated, in limited supply, or altogether unavailable. It will also help to avoid fighting over the last container of water at a packed grocery store the day before the storm is predicted to arrive. FEMA and CDC recommend storing at least a three-day supply of water, enough for at least one gallon per person per day. See our blog about emergency water storage for more information. It is also a good idea to stockpile a portable water filter. Many of these filters now have the capability to remove contaminants like bacteria, heavy metals, and other potentially harmful pollutants, making water from any source drinkable. These filters can substitute storing water or can serve as a back-up if the water supplies are depleted.

Hurricane Sandy is a good example of how a natural disaster can limit the basic necessities that we take for granted. It is important for everyone to learn from this event and be better prepared.