August 6, 2014

British Columbia's Cariboo River, before the spill.     Photo: Mark Kortum/Wikipedia

Devastation After Dam Fails in Canada

Repeated warnings ignored

A gold and copper mine in British Columbia breached more than 5 million cubic meters of effluent early Monday morning, polluting two entire river systems near the town of Likely and prompting a state of emergency and a local water ban that affected at least 300 people. Although the spill stabilized on Tuesday, Canadian news organizations now report that the whole thing could have been prevented.

Environmental consultants hired by Imperial Metals expressed concern as early as 2011 that the company's Mount Polley Mine tailings pond, in B.C.'s Cariboo region, needed better monitoring. A report on emergency contigency planning was submitted to the provincial Ministry of the Environment, and Imperial Metals asked for and received permission to release more wastewater, but the mine was not legally obligated to act on the report's full recommendations and did not do so.

Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch said that the company had asked the ministry for permission to increase the amount of treated waste it could release only weeks before the breach.

"They know that they have faced a problem—a concern with more water coming in than water going out," environmental consultant Brian Olding told the Globe and Mail. "If they had started discharging the water and treating it some time ago, then it would take the pressures off the dam."

Although the ministry lists nothing on its website about the incident, the Globe and Mail reports that ministry officials made a statement Tuesday that they had been considering the increase request when the pond breached.

Residents of Likely are concerned for their health and economy in the wake of the breach, which released more than 2,000 football fields worth of effluent into waterways used for fishing, bathing, and drinking water. 

"It's going to stop the town, because none of these kids are going to be able to work here anymore," inn owner Darlene Biggs said. "What's going to bring people into Likely? You can't swim in our lake at this point. And you can't fish. It's going to really, really hurt us."

Kynoch said the tailings water was "very close to drinking-water quality" and not toxic to local fish populations, such as rainbow trout. A 2013 government report, however, found that the mine disposed of nearly 1,300 total pounds of arsenic, lead, and mercury that year. Kynoch still insists the water ban was a precautionary measure.

In any event, the Cariboo Regional Distrcit trucked drinking water into the area on Monday, and the ministry shipped contaminated water samples to a lab for 48-hour testing on Tuesday. 

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There are three types of squirrels in Arizona: the rock squirrel, round-tailed ground squirrel, and Harris's antelope squirrel. There are no flying squirrels.     Photo: Shannon McClean/Thinkstock

Squirrel Kicked Off Grand Canyon's Edge

Video goes viral

In a video that went viral this week, a shirtless man in a straw hat can be seen feeding an overly curious squirrel at the Grand Canyon. After luring the squirrel with treats to the edge of the cliff, he proceeds to put on his shoe and swiftly kick the squirrel off the canyon's edge.

Unlike many foolish human-animal video interactions, this one does not appear to be a hoax. Grand Canyon park spokesperson Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski said that the geographical features in the video match Grand Canyon structures.

Grand Canyon chief ranger Bill Wright said that although no one reported seeing the incident (rather, park officials were notified of the video on Saturday), he doesn't believe the video to be fake. "I think they took an opportunity to get something on video, which is really foolish," Wright said in a Fox report

Authorities are now looking for the shirtless scofflaw. If found, he could face a federal petty offense of disturbing/harassing wildlife with maximum penalties of $5,000 along with six months in jail. 

Jonathon Hildebrand, who posted the video to YouTube, said that he had no part in the punt. "I did not realize what was happening until it was too late," he told the Independent. "I do not know who they are. All I know is that they were French."

The Independent also reports that U.S., French, and UK branches of PETA have joined forces to offer a $16,870 reward to help track down the "heartless thug."

NOTE: Some viewers might find this video disturbing.

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Smart Bump labels could save time checking expiration dates at the grocery store. It's just touch and go.     Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A Real Time (Living!) Food Label

Breakthrough tech keeps constant tabs on your food

Many people take food expiration dates with a grain of salt. After all, grocery stores like to play it very safe, usually saying food should be tossed before it has actually gone bad—and that's wasteful. Now, an enterprising design student from London has invented a surefire way to show when it really is too late to eat that steak.

It's called Bump Mark, and the concept is simple: The label itself is a living, decaying thing that goes bad along with your food. When the small, triangular label is first applied to a package, it contains a gelatin layer atop a ridged plastic sheet. Because gelatin is a protein, it will decay at the same rate as other protein-based foods in response to the surrounding environment. As gelatin breaks down, it becomes liquidy. So when things are getting dire inside the packaging, you'll be able to feel the ridges that were once hidden beneath the solid layer of jelly.

The next step is to find a way to produce the labels on a large scale and develop a plant-based layer for produce and the like. As Bump Mark's designer, Solveiga Pakstaite, says, the label is a simple, tactile way to know the condition of fresh food, and it's a lot more accurate than a printed number. If these living expiration dates come to a grocer near you, trust the bumps. If you decide to keep that chicken way after the jelly's gone, that's all on you.

  Photo: Solveiga Pakstaite

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A ship going at 12 knots per hour gives blue whales like this one more time to get out of the way.     Photo: Kenny Ross14/Flickr

How Capitalism Can Save Whales

Barges offered compensation for easing up on the throttle

A voluntary initiative by federal wildlife officials and environmentalists will start paying cargo ships to slow down when they travel through the Santa Barbara Channel in an effort to help protect migrating blue whales and reduce coastal air pollution.

"It's a very simple but clever solution: When you slow ships down, you provide whale conservation and cleaner air for us to breathe here on shore,” Kristi Birney, a marine conservation analyst for the Santa Barbara–based Environmental Defense Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

The Times cited a study from scientists at UC Riverside that found carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions dropped by more than 50 percent when ships reduced their speed to 12 knots. Slower-moving vessels would also give feeding whales more time to get out of the way and avoid fatal collisions. The year 2007 was particularly grim for the world's largest animal: Four blue whales were killed within only a few weeks of each other after run-ins with ships in the Santa Barbara Channel.

To mitigate the risk of such strikes, commercial shippers will be paid $2,500 for reducing their speed to 12 knots or slower when passing through a 130-mile stretch from Point Conception to the Los Angeles–Long Beach port complex. The normal cruising speed for vessels traversing this area is 14 to 18 knots.

Although $2,500 might seem like a drop in the ocean for large shipping companies, whose revenues are dependent on timely delivery, the initiative has found some takers. Six global shipping companies will take part in the trial program, which runs from July through October.

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