Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for April, 2015

Nature pass off the cards

Iceland’s Minister for Industry and Tourism, Ragnheidur Elin Arnadottir, has just announced that the proposed nature pass will not happen. She had been working on the idea for a long time but it was very controversial, to say the least, and has now been lost in committee. The head of the committee had previously said that it would not return to the Althingi without being changed radically, due to opposition. But the Minister says that alternatives for funding the upkeep of tourist sites, such as increasing the accommodation tax or taxing everyone who enters the country, would also be subject to controversy. So now funding will be budgeted in the annual budget, just like healthcare, etc.

Meanwhile, the Reykjavik District Court yesterday confirmed that making people pay 800 krona to enter tourist sites in the north, around Lake Myvatn, was illegal. The fee was set last summer, a few months after the failed attempt to collect fees from the Geysir site, which was also deemed illegal.

It looks like budgeting for tourism is the only viable option at the moment.

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Potential health risks from 3-D printers and other new technologies

I have just discovered a new (at least to me), very interesting EU body called the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, or SCENIHR. It looks, yes, at potential health risks caused by new technologies, one of which is 3-D printers which they say might have a large impact and may be an emerging health risk due to high emissions of tiny plastic particles. A report published by them in February states the following:

“Most desktop 3-D printers work by extruding a string of plastic at high temperatures. There are two kinds of plastic used: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and polylacticacid (PLA), which is softer and used for medical devices, cups and plastic silverware.

The researchers tested some popular brands of 3-D printers measuring how much particulate plastic is released by the machines. The particles themselves are tiny, a few nanometers across. Printers that use ABS plastic release about 190 billion particles per minute, while PLA machines release about 20 billion. That amount of particles classifies both types of machines as “high emitters.”

Breathing ABS plastic might have harmful effects. What’s more, because the plastics are heated to high temps, they can change into other substances that might be toxic as well.
The solution is relatively simple: use your 3-D printer in a room with good ventilation or at least open a window.”
Well, I never thought of that.
The above-mentioned report also covers 3-D videos; haemodialysis and drinking water; the use of nanomaterials for medical imaging and drug delivery (which they say is an urgent issue as the carrier systems may pose risks to patients); electromagnetic fields; direct current extra-high-voltage power lines, which must be designed “so as to avoid excessive DC electric emissions”; high-focused ultrasound for cosmetic use; e-cigarettes; health effects from different composition of exhaust resulting from biobased fuels; graphene nanomaterials; and faecal transplantation (!), which is either a medical device or drug and is used for severe diarrhoea or the prevention of infectious complications in immunosuppressed patients.

The body thoughtfully has a page called Easy to read summaries of scientific opinions It’s worth an investigation.

Whales do not always die immediately when harpooned

Last year, two Norwegian experts came to Iceland and spent time on the Hvalur fin whaling boat, checking to see whether the whales died instantly and if not, measuring how long it took them to die. They found that out of the 50 whales they researched, 42 died instantly but the others lived for up to 15 minutes. Those that did not die instantly were shot again. If it’s any consolation, apparently the situation is worse in Norway, i.e. a higher proportion of whales do not die instantly. Here is the new report in English.

The researchers were going to record the time taken for minke whales to die, but they could not do this as no minke whaling was happening while they were here. They will return this summer to do that.

More about whales: There is a brand-new video out about pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands. The video is called “The Grind: Whaling in Faroe Islands” and was made by two film producers, one American and one Canadian. It is almost half an hour long, and documents how pilot whales are killed and the Sea Shepherd campaign to save them, but also has interviews with some Faroese people who explain how it is necessary for the Faroese to kill whales as they have no agriculture to speak of and have to rely on the sea. A direct link to the film is here, or you can click on the clip at the bottom of this Icelandic report to see the whole film. . . Check it out.

By the way, pilot whales are called grindhvalur in Icelandic and it seems the name is similar in the Faroes. They call the hunt “the Grind”.