By Joe Mendelson
Like many across the country, I enjoy gardening and yard work during the summer. Mosquito attacks, however, have a way of diminishing the fun. Last weekend, I was out in the backyard trimming some bushes when I felt “the bite," a nasty one going for some blood from my leg. When I looked down, there was a ravenous swarm. Let me be clear. I do not have any irrational fear of bugs, it’s been dry as all get out in my neck of the ‘burbs, and I make sure to rid my yard of all standing water. No matter . . . it was feasting time and I was on the menu.
As NWF’s new report Ruined Summer: Carbon Pollution’s Extreme Toll on Summer highlights, there can be another serious aspect to these attacks: West Nile virus. Transmitted by mosquitoes to humans, the Center for Disease Control says West Nile virus can cause severe symptoms, including permanent neurological effects, in 1 out of every 150 persons infected. And about 20 percent of those infected have significant symptoms like fever, headache and nausea for days.
The Climate Change Link
The first time the virus was detected in the Western Hemisphere was a New York City outbreak in 1999. More recent climate change science indicates that this was just the start of a problem that will increasingly plague our backyards. As climate scientists stated in 2007:
The strain of West Nile virus (WNV) that emerged for the first time in North America during the record hot July 1999 requires warmer temperatures than other strains. The greatest WNV transmissions during the epidemic summers of 2002 to 2004 in the U.S. were linked to above-average temperatures. Laboratory studies of virus replication in WNV’s main Culex mosquito vector show high levels of virus at warmer temperatures.
Worst West Nile Outbreak Ever
Unfortunately, the science appears to be holding true. So far in 2012, 47 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds or mosquitoes. A total of 1,118 cases of West Nile virus in people—including 41 deaths—have been reported to the CDC. Approximately 75 percent of the cases have been reported from five states: Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma. About half the cases are from Texas and the numbers are trending upward in most areas, including Texas. A lead scientist at the CDC recently indicated that the country is in the midst of one of the largest West Nile virus outbreaks ever seen in the United States. As Scientific American summed up:
The fact that the worst U.S. West Nile epidemic in history happens to be occurring during what will likely prove to be the hottest summer on record doesn’t surprise epidemiologists. They have been predicting the effects of climate change on West Nile for over a decade. If they’re right, the U.S. is only headed for worse epidemics.
The Cost of West Nile Virus and Who Pays
On the individual level you can protect yourself from West Nile virus by using an insecticide—like DEET (doesn’t sound appealing)—and trying to deal with mosquitoes in your yard (read the CDC’s prevention Q& A here). But there are broader attempts to deal with this public health issue and they highlight the building costs of climate change.
One attempt to deal with the outbreak is aerial spraying to control mosquitoes (maybe even more unappealing). On a recent CDC press call, the Texas State Health Commissioner discussed Dallas County efforts on such a plan. He stated that the aerial spraying is costing close to $3 million and is paid for from federal and state public health and emergency preparedness funds—i.e. you and me the taxpayers.
Even broader prevention efforts to address the growing West Nile virus threat are underway and focus on vaccination. If successful, it won’t be cheap. One study has estimated that the average cost per case prevented with a vaccine would be around $34,200, and it would cost $8.7 billion over ten years to vaccinate 100 million people. While there would be a significant benefit in reducing overall healthcare costs by reducing the number of cases of West Nile, I’m pretty sure if we go down this road much of the vaccination cost will be picked up through various federal and state health insurance and public health programs funded by our tax dollars.
Guess who won’t be picking up the tab? The polluters, i.e. the big oil and coal companies whose products fuel climate change and play a leading role in the West Nile Virus equation end up not paying a cent. According to a recent Center for American Progress analysis Exxon and Shell turn a $160,000 of profit every minute. This means that in less than twenty minutes these two oil companies make enough in profits to pay for the Dallas aerial spray program costs being that are being footed by the nation’s taxpayers.
In dealing with public health threats the best and most cost-effective policy is prevention, and the broadest West Nile virus preventative step we can take is limiting the carbon pollution that is causing climate change. And without a putting price on carbon pollution we end up with the current situation where the individual slathers on the DEET, lives under the aerial spray cloud and the polluters contributing to the problem pay nothing.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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