Glowing In The Dark

Because we have a profit-based system, these tests are ordered when they shouldn’t be – but doctors are between a rock and a hard place, because insurance companies won’t pay them for treating a condition unless it was verified by a test:

We fret about airport scanners, power lines, cell phones and even microwaves. It’s true that we get too much radiation. But it’s not from those sources — it’s from too many medical tests.

Americans get the most medical radiation in the world, even more than folks in other rich countries. The U.S. accounts for half of the most advanced procedures that use radiation, and the average American’s dose has grown sixfold over the last couple of decades.

Too much radiation raises the risk of cancer. That risk is growing because people in everyday situations are getting imaging tests far too often. Like the New Hampshire teen who was about to get a CT scan to check for kidney stones until a radiologist, Dr. Steven Birnbaum, discovered he’d already had 14 of these powerful X-rays for previous episodes. Adding up the total dose, “I was horrified” at the cancer risk it posed, Birnbaum said.

Second Look

Gee, ya think?

LONDON, June 8 (UPI) — The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is transforming the regulatory environment in the waters of the North Sea, energy officials in London said Tuesday.

British Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said environmental agencies in London found systems in place to monitor offshore drilling in the North Sea were adequate, though the situation in the Gulf of Mexico prompted another look.

“The events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico are devastating and will be enduring,” he said. “What we are seeing will transform the regulation of deep water drilling worldwide.”

British petroleum giant BP is scrambling to control a steady flow of oil and natural gas spilling into the Gulf of Mexico following the April sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform.

Huhne said the regulatory regime in his country was “fit for purpose,” but the BP disaster gave London “every reason to increase our vigilance.”

Cruise Industry Will Cover For BP

Mother Jones is doing remarkable work on the Gulf oil spill. If you can, go donate a few bucks:

After a BP refinery in Texas exploded in 2005, killing 15 workers and injuring scores more, the oil giant paid $1.6 billion in settlements to employees and their families. But the families of the workers killed on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexcio probably won’t receive a similar windfall. That’s because the Deepwater rig is legally considered an ocean-going vessel, and was more three miles offshore at the time of the accident. As a result, the families of the dead workers can only sue BP and its contractors under a 90-year-old maritime law, the Death on the High Seas Act, which severely limits liability. In some cases, BP could get away with shelling out sums as paltry as $1,000.

Gordon Jones, a mud engineer killed on the Deepwater rig, left behind a pregnant wife who had quit her job to stay home with their two-year-old son. But thanks to DOHSA, the most BP could owe them is the equivalent of Gordon’s salary over his working life, minus what he would have paid out in taxes and personal expenses. So if Gordon made $60,000 a year for the next 30 years, BP could owe the family less than a million dollars.

The math works out even worse for workers without dependents. Jones’ brother Chris testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that one of the other Deepwater workers who was killed was single and childless. That means his family would only be entitled to recover funeral expenses under DOHSA. But because his body was never recovered after the explosion, the funeral costs will be lower. BP could end up paying his family as little as $1,000 for their loss.

Chris and his father Keith have pleaded with Congress to fix the law so that any employer can be held accountable for negligence—regardless of whether an employee dies on land or at sea. Last week, Senate Judiciary chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation that would do just that.

But Leahy’s bill faces an ugly political fight. And giant oil corporations—the most obvious potential opponents of such legislation—may not even have to flex their lobbying muscle. There’s another powerful industry with an interest in doing BP’s dirty work to preserve the status quo. That would be cruise line operators—and when it comes to Beltway battles, the cruise lobby is no Love Boat.

Cracks In The Seafloor

This nightmare just keeps getting worse:

There have been several reports of oil and gas leaking on the cracks in the Gulf of Mexico seafloorwhich may cause problems with BP capping the gushing oil well.

Although BP denies that there is oil or gas leaking from the cracks in the sea floor many people watching the BP Oil leak cam have witnessed explosions and leaks from the seafloor.

I discussed this issue in detail when I was recently interviewed by Fintan Dunne.

Well those reports from Senator Nelson and Matt Simmons among other experts are now confirmed and if you didn’t already now it could be really bad news.

As Keith Olbermann put it on his MSNBC show “Countdown” when reporting about the possibility of the sea floor leaking “What’s Worse Than Doomsay? … This is It”.

In any case, BP denying these reports is absolute proof that BP is not being truthful about what is really going on the sea floor.

Poor Afghanistan

We’ll never leave now.

Via a reader (h/t Corrine), something that adds more perspective:

Read a little more carefully, though, and you realize that there’s less to this scoop than meets the eye. For one thing, the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. More information is available on the Afghan mining ministry’s website, including a report by the British Geological Survey (and there’s more here). You can also take a look at the USGS’s documentation of the airborne part of the survey here, including the full set of aerial photographs.

Nowhere have I found that $1 trillion figure mentioned, which Risen suggests was generated by a Pentagon task force seeking to help the Afghan government develop its resources (looking at thechart accompanying the article, though, it appears to be a straightforward tabulation of the total reserve figures for each mineral times current the current market price). According to Risen, that task force has begun prepping the mining ministry to start soliciting bids for mineral rights in the fall.

Don’t get me wrong. This could be a great thing for Afghanistan, which certainly deserves a lucky break after the hell it’s been through over the last three decades.

But I’m (a) skeptical of that $1 trillion figure; (b) skeptical of the timing of this story, given the bad news cycle, and (c) skeptical that Afghanistan can really figure out a way to develop these resources in a useful way. It’s also worth noting, as Risen does, that it will take years to get any of this stuff out of the ground, not to mention enormous capital investment.

Moreover, before we get too excited about lithium and rare-earth metals and all that, Afghanistan could probably use some help with a much simpler resource: cement.

According to an article in the journal Industrial Minerals, “Afghanistan has the lowest cement production in the world at 2kg per capita; in neighbouring Pakistan it is 92kg per capita and in the UK it is 200kg per capita.” Afghanistan’s cement plants were built by a Czech company in the 1950s, and nobody’s invested in them since the 1970s. Most of Afghanistan’s cement is imported today, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. Apparently the mining ministry has been working to set upfour new plants, but they are only expected to meet about half the country’s cement needs.

Why do I mention this? One of the smartest uses of development resources is also one of the simplest: building concrete floors. Last year, a team of Berkeley researchers found that “replacing dirt floors with cement appears to be at least as effective for health as nutritional supplements and as helpful for brain development as early childhood development programs.” And guess what concrete’s made of? Hint: it’s not lithium.

UPDATE: Missed this Wall Street Journal story earlier. Money quote:

[T]he Mines Ministry has long been considered among Afghanistan’s most corrupt government departments, and Western officials have repeatedly expressed reservations about the Afghan government awarding concessions for the country’s major mineral deposits, fearful that corrupt officials would hand contracts to bidders who pay the biggest bribes — not who are best suited to actually do the work.

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