Antibiotics, Rivers and PFAs

There’s a new warning about PFAs, the group of more than 4700 chemicals used for industrial and food production and known to be harmful to health including cancer. In nearly half the meat and fish tested levels could be as high as twice the recommended levels, and therefore dangerous. They were also found in extremely high levels in items such as chocolate cake. PFAs are used in things like non-stick cookware, packaging, Styrofoam and their wide use means that they are now in the blood of just about all Americans and responsible for  contaminating the drinking water of at least 16 million people.

In another study, this one global, studying the rivers of the world, high levels of antibiotics were found. In every continent, the rivers tested exceed the levels safe for humans.  Rivers affect soil, their waters leak affecting things like sewage treatment plants which directly or indirectly affect humans. This at a time when there is already a crisis about antibiotics resistance, something that can have wide repercussions in the treatment of many illnesses. And further such high antibiotic levels in rivers such as the Thames and the Danube, affect all the organisms and creatures living within them.

It’s a distressing, troubling picture in an era when the current US  administration is not addressing these issues and developing countries do not have the technological and financial means to undertake measures such as the removal the antibiotics from their rivers. But because knowledge is still power, an issue of this magnitude must come to the foreground and we must each do what we can.

Self-Driving Cars And Racist Technology

Like many I’m waiting for self-driving cars, but I’m also increasingly concerned about how safe they will be. Now there’s another issue. The technology working on those safety issues looks to be programmed to be racist. It identifies white faces but the darker someone is the harder it is for the machine to identify it as a person, in the case of self-driving cars, pedestrians. Researchers from Georgia Tech found that machines consistently failed at recognizing darker skin tones. It’s actually not only self-driving cars, AI in Google image recognition system couldn’t recognize black people, and couldn’t tell the difference between them and an a dark ape. The researchers called such finding alarming, as I hope you will too. There are apparently radars which can better differentiate skin tones, but these are very expensive and to include them in cars would make them very expensive.

It seems to me that since the machines were once programmed by humans and that since the algorithm they function on were devised by humans that the time has come to change the algorithm. That should be the responsibility of the researchers who erred in the first place by revealing their own view of race. So my message to the companies developing AI for self-driving cars is, correct the AI race biases the original engineers programmed in before you even think of cost.

Biosolids Into Bricks

Biosolids are the disinfected remains from the water treatment process once we’ve flushed. It’s a good fertilizer but now it can be made into bricks, the bricks used in construction. Civil engineers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia developed the process. They look the same as fired bricks and when processed locally can save land, energy and reduce carbon emissions, thus becoming a green alternative.  Daily, for example, New York City has 1200 tons or 50 truckloads of what would become biosolids. As it is, what’s not used as fertilizer goes into the sea or landfills. Since population is growing and human waste grows with it, there is pressure to find alternatives. Although biosolids bricks meet industry requirements, they may not be as durable. A proposed usage would be for biosolids to be mixed with soil in some proportion. And given that we make a trillion bricks a year incorporating some biosolids into them would not be a small contribution to the environment.  As they decompose biosolids emit carbon dioxide, so the advantages of turning them into a green alternative become clearer and more compelling.

I may have a soft spot for viable green alternatives, but what impresses me about this one is that somewhere people had to overcome our usual reaction to human waste. They saw beyond!

Threats to Global Health

WHO, the World Health Organization, has issued its annual report of health threats around the world and you’d think it would be dull reading—I suppose it would for those who don’t care what happens in the world. I found it instructive, scary, helpful, and informing about what our priorities ought to be. It is also a reminder that no country is an island. What happens far away affects us eventually. Here is the list. Please note the first threat, due to air pollution and climate change, and note too the threat coming from what they term here vaccine hesitancy. While it is true that some have the right to not be vaccinated, we must now ask when does that right contribute to a public health threat?

  • Air Pollution and Climate Change (yes!!!)
  • Non Communicable Diseases (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, diet)
  • Global Influenza Pandemic (will come but don’t know when and how strong)
  • Fragile and Vulnerable Settings (drought, displacements)
  • Anti-Microbial Resistance (including diseases like TB)
  • Ebola and Other High Threat Pathogens (we already know what happens)
  • Weak Primary Health Care (lack, access and cost)
  • Vaccine Hesitancy (something that is growing in the US)
  • Dengue (390 million infections a year)
  • HIV (still affecting many millions)