Stories tagged something different

Mar
04
2011

This started as a reply to Bryan's comment on the Freaky Frogs post, but it quickly turned into its own blog entry...

Here's Bryan's comment:

I thought the whole BPA freakout was an interesting look at how we think about environmental and personal contaminants like this. People seemed to get all up in arms about BPA in water bottles and bought tons of new plastic or aluminium vessels to replace them. But that switch over raised some questions for me.

Where did all those old bottles go? In the trash?

How much energy does it take to make those aluminium bottles? Is it lots more than the plastic ones?

How many bottles can you own before it'd just be better to use disposable paper?

Bauxite: It takes a lot of energy to get the aluminum out of this rock to make a can.
Bauxite: It takes a lot of energy to get the aluminum out of this rock to make a can.Courtesy US Government

And my response...
It took some searching, but I did find one article discussing a life cycle analysis from Australia which showed that, in a comparison between aluminum, stainless steel, and plastic, plastic has the smallest carbon emissions footprint, uses the least water, and produces the least manufacturing waste. However, it was unclear whether this comparison included recycled metals in its evaluation. Steel and aluminum are 100% recyclable (vs. plastic, which loses quality every time it's recycled), so over time and on a large scale, their use would lead to less material waste.

Steel plant: This place is probably recycling steel RIGHT NOW.
Steel plant: This place is probably recycling steel RIGHT NOW.Courtesy Matthew Baugh

It's also interesting to note that recycling metals uses significantly less energy vs. what it would take to smelt "new" metal. To paraphrase this reference, recycling steel and aluminum saves 74% and 95%, respectively, of the energy used to make these metals from scratch. As it turns out, we recycle about half the steel we use in a year in the US, and so almost all the steel we use contains recycled content. In contrast, we recycle just 7 percent of the plastic we use.

And then there's glass--we have lots of options, really.

Bottled water: Probably the least efficient option all around.
Bottled water: Probably the least efficient option all around.Courtesy Ivy Main

I can't speak to how much material was wasted when people discarded all those bottles (I think I recycled mine?). Personally, I do think that making reusable bottles in general uses less energy than is needed to make all those disposable plastics and recycle them--at least in terms of lifetime footprints. Of course, when it comes to a strict comparison between reusable bottles, switching to a new bottle will always consume more energy than just sticking with your old one.

Unfortunately, it turns out that most plastics, even the ones labeled BPA-free, leach estrogen-mimicking chemicals. So if you're looking for a long term solution, it may be best to just avoid plastics altogether. This does seem to be one of those cases where we have to consider our own health vs. the environment and pick our battles wisely. If people want to switch once to avoid health problems, at least they're still sticking with reusable bottles. Readers, do you agree?

Ice cold water: Wait, what's in here?
Ice cold water: Wait, what's in here?Courtesy Clementina

Of course, it would be great if choosing a water bottle were the only drinking water issue we faced. The other day I read about a study by Environmental Working Group, which found that the carcinogen chromium-6 contaminates tap water throughout the US. Are we exposing ourselves to this toxic metal by drinking tap water instead of pre-bottled water? Or is chromium in the bottled water, too? What about other unregulated pollutants in our water?

I guess my point of going into all this is that it's complicated to make these decisions, and we'll probably never be able to avoid every single toxic substance. But does that mean we shouldn't try to make drinking water safer?

For now, I'm gonna stick with the steel and aluminum bottles that I already have and try to get the most out of them. Luckily, I live in the Twin Cities, which don't rate high on EWG's chromium map. Every day, I learn more about my health and the health of our environment, and hopefully by searching, I'll find a direction that hits on a fair compromise.

Nov
20
2007

A different tree man entirely: But he may also have HPV.
A different tree man entirely: But he may also have HPV.Courtesy Esther17
First of all, the photo posted here has nothing to do with the story. It’s just something to look at. What you should do is go to the original article, and look long and hard at the pictures there. Then you’ll have a nice visual reference, as well as something to keep you awake for the rest of your life.

But here’s the story: ever since a teenage accident in which he received a cut on the knee, an Indonesian man has been growing bizarre root-like projections from his hands and feet. Seriously, check out that link. For years, doctors could make neither heads nor tales of the 35-year-old man’s condition.

One would like to imagine that root hands and feet would be accompanied with super powers (super strength, nourishment from the ground, the ability to tear down the walls of Isengard, etc.), but this man had no such luck. Instead, his wife left him, and he’s no longer able to use his hands for much of anything (not exactly super powers).

Recently, however, a dermatological specialist from the University of Maryland traveled to the man’s village to examine his case. After testing his blood and samples of the growths, the doctor has concluded that the “roots” are in fact lesions caused by HPV, the Human papillomavirus. They’re warts, more or less.

HPV gets some attention here on Science Buzz, but usually in reference to its association with cervical cancer. Fortunately, this is a little different, and a lot more rare. The HPV is a normal strain, but this particular guy has a genetic fault that impedes his immune system (so much so that the doctor initially thought that he might have the AIDS), and prevents his body from containing the warts. So they just kept on growing, to the point where they could be considered “cutaneous horns.”

Cutaneous horns don’t generally develop past normal warts on humans, obviously. However, Cottontail rabbit papillomavirus (yes, a real thing, which I will mentally file next to Wobbly hedgehog syndrome) can cause that sort of thing on rabbits. Advanced CRPV (also known as shope papillomavirus) can even look like little bunny horns, or antlers, which probably gave rise to the legend (if you want to call it that) of the Jackalope. The SMM had a stuffed rabbit with shope papillomavirus on display recently, but if you missed it you can check out some pictures here.

In the case of the “Tree Man,” the doctor thinks that daily doses of synthesized vitamin A (often used for severe cases of HPV) should clear up the bulk of the growths, and the more resilient warts could be removed by freezing or surgery. It’s unlikely that the man will ever have a completely “normal” body, but hopefully this treatment should allow him use of his hands again.

Isn’t that all unusual?