'History Going in the Wrong Direction' as Worst Form of Black Lung Disease Rises Again
By Andrea Germanos
Spotlighting the terrible human impact of the nation's continued reliance on coal, new research shows the most severe form of black lung disease, progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), is on the rise—big time.
"This is history going in the wrong direction," said lead researcher Kirsten S. Almberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The findings are based on information from the U.S. Department of Labor, which has the data on former miners seeking benefits from the Federal Black Lung Program.
From when that program began in 1970 until 2016, 4,679 miners were determined to have PMF. Yet about half of those cases—2,318—were identified since 2000.
The overall trend was not a shock to the researchers, given that the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, using surveillance data of active coal miners, found a similar upward trend in 2014.
"We were, however, surprised by the magnitude of the problem and are astounded by the fact that this disease appears to be resurging despite modern dust control regulations," Almberg stated.
The largest increase of the miners with PMF was in central Appalachian states. Virginia experienced the greatest increase in percentage of PMF cases over the past four decades, surging from 0 to 12 percent in 2015. West Virginia came in second place, increasing from 0 percent in 1972 to 11 percent in 2016.
The new research was presented at the American Thoracic Society's International Conference, which ended Wednesday.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, continues to try to save the dying industry and boast that it's "saving coal." Coal workers, however are not being saved. As Newsweek reported earlier this year, "The president has been quick to celebrate the 771 net workers that were hired in 2017, but the administration's push to support the dirtiest of fossil fuels has been accompanied by a surge in deaths of the workers who procure it. The 2017 death toll was the highest since 2014—when there were roughly 60,000 more miners at work in America."
According to Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, "Whether coal will rebound or not (it won't) isn't the real issue. These are the questions we should be asking: What will replace it? And how will the transition affect the same coal-mining communities that received spurious promises from candidate Donald Trump that he could bring coal back from the brink? For the answers, we need only consider what most Americans agree on: Investing in clean, renewable energy makes more sense than going from one dirty fuel (coal) to another (gas)."
New Black Lung Epidemic Emerging in Coal Country https://t.co/iLotNusK4E @BeyondCoal @dirtyenergy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1519440604.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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