TIME public health

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria From Texan Cattle Yards Are Now Airborne, Study Finds

A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas
Tom Pennington—Getty Images A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas

Researchers say the bacteria are capable of "traveling for long distances"

A new study says the DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in American cattle yards has become airborne, creating a new pathway by which such bacteria can potentially spread to humans and hinder treatment of life-threatening infections.

Researchers gathered airborne particulate matter (PM) from around 10 commercial cattle yards within a 200 mile radius of Lubbock, Texas over a period of six-months. They found the air downwind of the yards contained antibiotics, bacteria and a “significantly greater” number of microbial communities containing antibiotic-resistant genes. That’s according to the study to be published in next month’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

“To our knowledge, this study is among the first to detect and quantify antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes…associated with airborne PM emitted from beef cattle feed yards,” said the authors, who are researchers in environmental toxicology at Texas Tech University and at a testing lab in Lubbock.

Co-author Phil Smith told the Texas Tribune that the bacteria could be active for a long time and “could be traveling for long distances.”

His colleague, molecular biologist Greg Mayer, told the paper that some of the study’s findings “made me not want to breathe.”

Because antibodies are poorly absorbed by cows they are released into the environment through excretion. Once in the environment, bacteria will undergo natural selection and genes that have acquired natural immunities will survive.

The genes that have gone airborne are contained in dried fecal matter that has become dust and gets picked up by winds as they whip through the stockyards.

The Texas Tribune reported that representatives from the Texas cattle industry (estimated to control around 14 million beef cows) criticized the study, saying it portrayed the airborne bacteria as overly hazardous to human health.

But the mass of PM2.5 particles (the kind that can be inhaled into lungs) released into the atmosphere is eye opening, with the study estimating the total amount released by cattle yards in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas exceeds 46,000 lbs.(21,000 kg) per day.

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial DNA is already known to be transferable to humans if ingested via water or meat.


TIME climate change

Antarctica May Have Just Set a Record for Its Hottest Day Ever

Antarctica
Getty Images Emperor penguins on an ice edge in Antarctica.

The continent appears to have hit 63.5 F for the first time thanks to global warming

You may want to consider balmy Antarctica for your next Spring Break. Weather bloggers at Weather Underground report that the continent likely hit a record-breaking high of 63.5 F (17.5 C) on Tuesday.

Antarctica has been heating up in recent years, thanks to global warming. The region’s temperature has risen an average of about 5 F (2.8 C) in the last half century, according to the British Antarctic Survey. Studies have also documented melting ice along Antarctica’s coasts.

Tuesday’s record is all the more impressive considering that it was set just one day after Antarctica had reached a new high of 63.3 F (17.4 C) on Monday. Prior to those two record-setting days, the hottest the continent had ever gotten was 62.8 F (17.1 C) on April 24, 1961.

But the record is not yet official. The reading was logged on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, which may not be considered part of the continent in weather record keeping. The World Meteorological Organization is expected to examine whether the area was indeed in Antarctica or whether it is technically located in Argentina.

Read Next: The Antarctic’s Floating Ice Shelves Are Melting At an Alarming Rate

[Weather Underground]

TIME health

Watch a GMO Advocate Claim a Weed Killer Is Safe to Drink but Then Refuse to Drink It

'I'm not stupid'

Correction appended: March 27, 2015.

In an interview with the French television station Canal Plus, an advocate for genetically modified foods said Roundup, a weedkiller that is manufactured by chemical giant Monsanto, is safe for human consumption but refused to drink the herbicide when offered a glass by an interviewer.

Patrick Moore says he leads a campaign in support of “golden rice,” a genetically modified grain that contains high amounts of vitamin A. In the interview, which Moore says he believed would focus on “golden rice,” he says the active ingredient in the herbicide, glyphosate, is not causing cancer rates in Argentina to increase.

“You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you,” he said.

But when the reporter told him that they had prepared a glass and invited Moore to drink it, he refused, saying “I’m not stupid.”

“So, it’s dangerous?” the interviewer asked.

“It’s not dangerous to humans,” Moore replied.

He insisted that people “try to commit suicide” by drinking Roundup but “fail regularly.” Moore then walked out of the interview.

Last Friday, the World Health Organization’s cancer-research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified the widely used herbicide as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Correction: The original version of this story identified Moore as a paid lobbyist for Monsanto. In a statement published Friday, Monsanto said Moore “is not and never has been a paid lobbyist for Monsanto.”

Read next: What Experts Got Wrong About Viagra

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

Americans Don’t Care That Much About the Environment, Poll Shows

Rain drops on green leaf
Getty Images

Americans concerns near record lows

Americans care less about environmental issues now than they have in the past—and they’re no more worried about global warming than they were decades ago, a new poll shows.

The Gallup survey released on Wednesday shows Americans were more concerned about the environment in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but interested dropped off in the early 2000s. Since then it’s remained close to historic lows. And when it comes to global warming specifically, Americans are no more worried now than they were in 1989.

In the recent survey, which questioned 1,025 U.S. adults in early March, Americans reported feeling the most concerned about drinking polluted water and least worried about global warming. In 1989, 35% of the men and women surveyed said they cared a great deal about climate change, but only 32% said the same thing in 2015. Even when it came to polluted water, just 55% of Americans reported caring a great deal, down from 65% in 1990.

Gallup notes that the state of the economy could play a roll in how concerned Americans are about the environment. Americans tend to give environmental concerns a higher priority when the economy is doing well, Gallup says.

TIME portfolio

Discover the Cultural Treasure Turkey Threatens to Flood

Construction of the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam threatens the ancient village of Hasankeyf

“Absurd.” That’s how documentary photographer Mathias Depardon describes the surreal scene of a mosque’s minaret jutting out from the water as a boat passes by in Savaçan.

The tiny community along the Euphrates River in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region was flooded by the filling of the Birecik Dam’s reservoir about 15 years ago, pushing its residents and others nearby into a new settlement erected by the country’s housing authority.

Activists worry Hasankeyf is next. The small village with ancient roots on the edge of the Tigris River is upstream from the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam, the last major dam to be built within the decades-long Southeastern Anatolia Project, Turkey’s largest hydropower project that is comprised of 22 dams and 19 power stations. Once construction on Ilisu is done—Turkey was forced to secure alternative funds after European backers pulled out, putting it behind schedule as environmental campaigns steadily lobbied against it—the filling of an 11 billion cubic-meter reservoir will inundate some 74,000 acres, including Hasankeyf.

Ankara has long-positioned the dam as a provider of irrigation and jobs to an impoverished corner of Turkey, and considers it part of the solution to the country’s dependence on foreign energy imports amid increasing domestic demand, as the dam is expected to generate some 2% of Turkey’s current electricity supply. The tradeoff, aside from the further of squeezing crucial supplies downstream in Syria and Iraq, exacerbating already strained tensions from decades of cross-border water disputes, is that part of Hasankeyf—along with its found and still hidden archaeological treasures—and other nearby sites will morph from open air exhibits on ancient Mesopotamia to underwater treasure chests. (Hasankeyf was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s 2008 Watch List.)

Turkey says archaeologists are working to excavate, record and preserve “as much as possible.” And, like others impacted by dams, residents due to be displaced by water can move into a new settlement built across the river.

Depardon, who is half-French and half-Belgian, heard about the project after he moved to Turkey a few years ago. For the 34-year-old photographer, who estimates that he shoots 30 to 50 assignments in a given year, the disappearing village became part of his personal project: an environmental portrait of a land steeped in history before it’s drowned.

A lot of people have assumptions about what Hasankeyf will be like, he says, especially in light to what happened to Savaçan: “People don’t go [to Savaçan] with the nostalgia of the place. Obviously, they didn’t know the place before that, they’d never been there. But they go there and they visit as they would an entertainment park.” Still, he adds, not everyone in the area is against the dam.

Hasankeyf is the iconic at-risk community, Depardon says, but his project is more of a visual look at overall Turkish dam policy that’s driven, he says, by anti-environmental policymakers in Ankara. That’s part of why he named the project Gold Rivers. The expected completion of the dam this year, and the energy that it will help generate, will help pad state coffers while impacting local tourism industries: “The water is now money.”

Mathias Depardon is a documentary photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Follow him on Instagram @mathiasdepardon.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Andrew Katz is a News Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME Environment

America’s Second-Worst Oil Spill Is Still Scarring the Shores of Alaska

Exxon-Valdez spill
Chris Wilkins—AFP/Getty Images An oil skimming operation near the southwest end of Prince William Sound in April 1989 in Valdez, a week after the beginning of an oil disaster which occurred when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989

March 24, 1989: The Exxon Valdez runs aground, leaking 11 million gallons of crude oil

It was the worst man-made environmental catastrophe in U.S. history — that is, until five years ago, when it was eclipsed by a disaster roughly 20 times its scope. On this day, March 24, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and spewed an estimated 11 million gallons of oil into pristine arctic waters. Only the 2010 drilling-rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was worse; then, over the course of 87 days, more than 200 millions of crude oil gushed into the Gulf.

Twenty-six years ago, however, it was hard to picture a more destructive oil spill than the one in Prince William Sound. The oil slick fanned out as far as 500 miles from the tanker’s crash site and oozed along 1,300 mi. of shoreline. Tarred, feathered sandpipers and oil-coated otters featured in devastating nightly news footage. Salmon and eagle populations were decimated. Thousands of seals and a quarter of a million shorebirds died, per TIME. And despite a massive, multi-year cleanup effort that cost Exxon billions of dollars, the region is still suffering.

While the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico teem with bacteria that have helped break down some of the crude unleashed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, the icy waters of Prince William Sound inhibit decay, and oil patches that can be traced back to the Valdez still linger on remote beaches, just below the sand.

“The oil may not leak out in quantities that are immediately visible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there,” one scientist told TIME in 2009, when random tests along the shoreline revealed that an estimated 20,000 gallons of oil remained. “We thought the cleanup would be a one-shot deal — but it’s still lingering.”

As of the spill’s 25th anniversary last year, only 13 of 32 affected wildlife populations and habitats monitored by the government since the spill were listed as “fully recovered” or “very likely recovered,” according to CNN. Some were listed as “not recovering,” including the herring population, once the source of a booming fishery, and a pod of killer whales that lost 15 of its 22 members after the spill and is expected to die off completely in the coming years.

While the lessons learned in the Alaskan cleanup may have led to a better response to the spill in the Gulf, the most enduring lesson is that maritime oil spills are devastating even with the best possible response.

“Whether it’s Prince William Sound or the Gulf of Mexico, seldom is more than 10 percent of the spilled oil recovered,” Alaskan writer Marybeth Holleman concluded in a CNN opinion piece. “This will be especially true in Arctic waters. And regardless of how safe we make oil drilling, tankers, or pipelines, we’ll never reduce spill risk to zero.”

Read TIME’s 1989 cover story about what really happened on the Exxon Valdez, Fateful Voyage

TIME Archaeology

World’s Largest Asteroid Crater Unearthed in Australia

Evidence of 250-mile wide impact zone found deep underground

Scientists have discovered evidence of a 250-mile wide crater in central Australia they believe was created by a colossal asteroid hundreds of millions of years ago.

The largest impact zone ever discovered is no longer visible on the Earth’s surface, researchers from the Australian National University said in a statement Monday, but could be identified by evidence buried deep in the earth’s crust.

The scientists had been drilling for another geothermal research project when, by chance, they came across rock layers that had been turned to glass, which usually signifies a high-energy impact. Their findings, published recently in the journal Tectonophysics, contributes to the understanding of the Earth in prehistoric times.

“Large impacts like these may have had a far more significant role in Earth’s evolution than previously thought,” said lead researcher Andrew Glikson. Still, the exact details of when the impact occurred remain unclear. While the rocks surrounding the impact zone are around 300 million years old, scientists said they have not yet found a similar layer in other sediments the same age.

“It’s a mystery — we can’t find an extinction event that matches these collisions,” Glikson said. “I have a suspicion the impact could be older than 300 million years.”

TIME Environment

Pollutants Created by Climate Change Are Making Airborne Allergens More Potent

Smog arrives at the banks of Songhua River on January 22, 2015 in Jilin, Jilin province of China.
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images Smog arrives at the banks of Songhua River on Jan. 22, 2015, in Jilin, China

It could explain why more people are suffering from year to year

If you think your seasonal sneezing, wheezing and sniffling is getting worse, you aren’t simply imagining it.

Currently, some 50 million or so Americans suffer from nasal allergies, but the number is going up, and researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany say a pair of pollutants linked to climate change could be to blame. That’s according to a report in Science Daily.

The two gases are nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone, which appear to set off chemical changes in some airborne allergens, increasing their potency.

“Scientists have long suspected that air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide,” said the institute’s Ulrich Pöschl. “Our research is just a starting point, but it does begin to suggest how chemical modifications in allergenic proteins occur and how they may affect allergenicity.”

Pöschl’s team found that ozone (a major component of smog) oxidizes an amino acid that sets off chemical reactions that ultimately alter an allergenic protein’s structure. Meanwhile, nitrogen dioxide (found in car exhausts) appears to alter the separation and binding capabilities of certain allergens.

Researchers believe that together, the two gases make allergens more likely to trigger the body’s immune response, especially in wet, humid and smoggy conditions.

The team hopes to identify other allergenic proteins that are modified in the environment and examine how these affect the human immune system.

[Science Daily]

TIME public health

5 Ways to Celebrate World Water Day

water
Getty Images

A holiday for H2O

Sunday is World Water Day, a United Nations initiative to celebrate clean water and bring attention to those who don’t have enough of it. A new report released ahead of World Water Day warns about a looming shortage, and centers on this year’s theme: water and sustainable development.

Here are five ways to celebrate World Water Day

Learn about poop water

First charcoal juice becomes a thing, and now poop water? Hey, Bill Gates drinks it—thanks to a new machine called the Omniprocessor that literally transforms waste into water through a steam engine. On his blog, Gates writes about drinking a “delicious” fresh glass of it and marvels at the possibilities to improve sanitation in low-income countries. “The processor wouldn’t just keep human waste out of the drinking water; it would turn waste into a commodity with real value in the marketplace,” Gates writes.

Take a break from meat

Showering and hydration are hardly your main uses of water—but food is. The average American uses 7,500 liters of water each day, according to the U.N. If you’re eating meat, your water usage shoots way up; a steak dinner for two requires 15,000 liters of water for the meat alone. Eating more meat and dairy has been the single greatest factor for water consumption in the past 30 years, says the group—so going vegetarian, even temporarily, can make a difference.

Wash your hands the right way

Only 5% of Americans do, according to a study of men using public restrooms. (If you need a refresher on proper technique, you should use soap and water and wash for at least 15 seconds.) Sounds gross—and it is a public health hazard, according to UNICEF, organizers of Global Handwashing Day, another water-related holiday worth celebrating. “Handwashing with soap prevents disease in a more straightforward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine,” supporter UNICEF writes.

Support a future female farmer

Most of the world’s hungry are women, says the U.N.’s new report, and most don’t own land—or even have time to make an income, since 25% of their day is spent collecting drinking water. “With equal access to resources and knowledge, female farmers, who account for the majority of all subsistence farmers, could produce enough additional food to reduce the number of the world’s hungry by 150 million,” the report says. Investing in water and sanitation actually helps improve equality, which helps stimulate the economy—every dollar invested yields between $5-28, the UN estimates.

Give better water to the world

A new report from WaterAid America found that one in five babies born in the developing world dies during its first month of life because of a lack of clean water. And 35% of facilities in middle- and lower-income countries didn’t have water and soap for hand-washing, another report from the World Health Organization found.

John Green, author of The Fault In Our Stars, recently teamed up with Bill Gates to raise money for clean, safe water in Ethiopia. You can donate to water.org here.

TIME Environment

The World’s Water Supply Could Dip Sharply in 15 Years

A warning ahead of World Water Day

Global water resources may soon meet only 60% of the world’s water demands, the United Nations warned in a dire new report.

The World Water Development Report, issued ahead of World Water Day on Sunday, says demand for water around the world will increase by 55% over the next 15 years. With current supplies, that means only 60% of the world’s water needs will be met in 2030.

The reason for the shortfall include climate change, which causes irregular rainfall and dwindling underwater reserves. The results of the shortage could be devastating to agriculture, ecosystems and economies. With less water, health could also be compromised.

New policies that focus on water conservation, and more optimal treatment of wastewater, could alleviate some of the shortfall.

“Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the report says.

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