Organised crime targets waste recycling


Organised crime has moved into the recycling industry – a development that has become clear over the past few months after a series of raids to enforce the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive.

In a raid at the start of June, police and officials from the Environment Agency targeted two east London locations – a farm at Upminster and an industrial site at Rainham – and forced open around 500 containers full of old computers, monitors, fridges and assorted electrical waste destined for illegal export to Africa, where it would be stripped down for raw materials.

“Our investigations have found that the majority of this equipment is beyond repair and is being stripped down under appalling conditions in Africa. But the law is clear – electrical waste must be recycled in the UK, not sent to developing countries in Africa where unsafe dismantling puts human health and the environment at risk,” said the Environment Agency’s national enforcement service project manager, Chris Smith.

“The Environment Agency has created a national team to stamp out this illegal trade and strong intelligence work has resulted in today’s operation – the most significant action to date in investigating suspected electrical waste being shipped to Africa.”

Read the full story on the Guardian website.


Pollution can change your DNA in 3 days


Breathing in polluted air may wreak havoc on our DNA, reprogramming genes in as few as three days and causing increased rates of cancer and other diseases.

So says a new study that tracked DNA damage in 63 steel-foundry workers in Brescia, Italy, who, under their normal factory conditions, were exposed to particulate matter. The same damage may occur in city dwellers exposed to normal air, the researchers say.

Particulate matter includes suspended, tiny bits of dust, metal, or soot in the air, which can lodge deep in the lungs. Exposure to the substance has been linked to respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and heart problems.

Scientists know little about how inhaling particulate matter can cause health problems, according to lead study author Andrea Baccarelli of the University of Milan.

But they did find that exposed workers’ DNA was damaged by a slowed rate of “methylation,” a biological process in which genes are organized into different chemical groups.

Fewer groups means that fewer genes are expressed – or made into proteins – a crucial process in the body’s regular maintenance.

Read the full story on the National Geographic website.

Mexican swine flu deaths spark worldwide action


Health officials across the world scrambled to contain the outbreak of swine flu today as the death toll in Mexico rose and new suspected cases emerged in other countries as far apart as Scotland and New Zealand.

The World Health Organisation said at least 81 people had died from severe pneumonia caused by the illness in Mexico, and tests on suspected cases were also taking place in Scotland, France and Spain.

The US declared a public health emergency as 20 cases were confirmed in the country, including eight in New York City, one in Ohio, two in Kansas and seven in California. The acting director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Richard Besser, said he expected more cases over the coming days.

The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, said the US government was releasing 12m doses of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu from a federal stockpile.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the virus had “pandemic potential”, but the world was better prepared than ever to withstand a pandemic. It stopped short of issuing a worldwide alert.

Read the full story on the Guardian website.

UK health body tracks Mexico flu


UK health officials are monitoring the deadly outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and the US, as tests are carried out to assess its potential to spread.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said it was assessing the situation involving human cases in case of any threat to people in the UK.

It described the outbreak as "unusual" and warranting "further investigation and vigilance" by other countries.

However, no cases have so far been identified anywhere in Europe.

At least 60 people in Mexico are thought to have died from pneumonia after contracting swine flu, sparking fears of a pandemic.

The World Health Organization said some of those affected in Mexico had tested positive for a strain that had infected at least seven people in the south-western US.

Director-general Margaret Chan said the H1N1 strain had "pandemic potential" but that it was too early to say whether one would actually occur.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.

‘Visions link’ to coffee intake


wtf coffeePeople who drink too much coffee could start seeing ghosts or hearing strange voices, UK research has suggested.

People who drank more than seven cups of instant coffee a day were three times more likely to hallucinate than those who took just one, a study found.

A Durham University team questioned 200 students about their caffeine intake, the journal Personality and Individual Differences reported.

However, academics say the findings do not prove a “causal link”.

They also stress that experiencing hallucinations is not a definite sign of mental illness and that about 3% of people regularly hear voices.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.

Internet use is good for the brain!


A University of California Los Angeles team found searching the web stimulated centres in the brain that controlled decision-making and complex reasoning.

The researchers say this might even help to counteract the age-related physiological changes that cause the brain to slow down.

As the brain ages, a number of changes occur, including shrinkage and reductions in cell activity, which can affect performance.

It has long been thought that activities which keep the brain active, such as crossword puzzles, may help minimise that impact – and the latest study suggests that surfing the web can be added to the list.

Wahooo! Surf’s up…

Read the full story on the BBC News website.