Your summer in extreme weather
A dangerous “superbug” has made its way into the North American food supply for the first time, Canadian researchers announced Wednesday. Routine testing of raw squid, imported from South Korea, revealed a strain of bacteria resistant to carbapenems, a class of antibiotics used to treat life-threatening infections.
This is concerning because carbapenems are a “last resort” antibiotic, one doctors turn to when common antibiotics fail. Health officials have been watching them closely; in April, the World Health Organization warned that antibiotic resistance had become a serious, global threat to public health, listing the spread of carbapanem resistance as a main reason for that.
Carbapanem-resistant bacteria have been detected in the environment and in animals used for food, but this is the first time they’ve been found in food itself. That raises the stakes considerably, Joseph Rubin, assistant professor of veterinary microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan and head of the research team, explained, because it means “the risk of exposure in the public goes beyond people with travel histories and beyond people who have been previously hospitalized” — a select group — to the general public.
Maryn McKenna, who first broke the news, has more on why this is such a big deal:
Beyond the obvious, that this is a first finding of a resistance factor where it has not previously been, here are some concerns: Because the carbapenem-resistant bacteria tend to be gut bacteria, anything that conducts them into your gut—like, for instance, swallowing them—is problematic. The issue isn’t that the bacterium is going to cause a foodborne illness immediately; the bacteria carrying this gene was not a disease-causing variety. Rather, the concern is that the DNA conferring this resistance passes from this bacterium into the vast colony of diverse bacteria that live in your gut for your entire life, becoming incorporated into your gut flora and posing a risk of drug-resistant illness at some future point when the balance of your immune system slips.
That this was found on seafood—a type of food that we tend to undercook and sometimes eat raw—just increases the risk of transmission. And that’s not even to mention the possibility that bacteria containing the gene spread to other seafood or other foods in that store, or in the kitchens of anyone unlucky enough to bring them home.
“Finding this organism in food is extremely disturbing,” Rubin told the Washington Post. “This widens the possibilities for the spread of resistance.”
As a reminder, that would be very, very bad.
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Lindsay Abrams.
Great Plains tornadoes
From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.
"It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."
But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."
On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.
Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."
An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.
Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.
Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.
Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."
Florida red tide
A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.
The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.