Michigan approves law to spread toxic, mercury-contaminated coal ash across the state .

New legislation approved by the Michigan House of Representatives would repurpose coal ash produced by power plants as a base for roads across the state, as well as parking lots.

The three-bill package would reclassify coal ash and a few other byproducts that are presently classified as hazardous waste, which would essentially treat them as low-risk materials that are suitable for certain “beneficial use” projects.


As reported by Michigan Live:

State Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), who sponsored one of the bipartisan bills to amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, said the byproducts that could be re-used under the legislation, including coal ash, pose little threat to the public.

“We have the testing standards in place, and we’re doing the same thing as surrounding states,” said Schmidt. “We’re not going to be putting it into playground sand or anything like that. We’re making sure it’s used for roads or projects where it can be contained in a safe way.”

Reports said that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is supporting the package of bills, each of which have passed the GOP-controlled House in a series of 68-42 and 66-44 votes that mostly fell along party lines. A few Democrats co-sponsored the bills but at least two of them wound up voting against them when they came up on the floor.

Groups like the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Groundwater Association and the Michigan Manufacturers Association backed the bills during committee hearings last month, MLive reported.

‘Those roads will eventually crumble’

Environmental groups, however, have expressed concerns saying that the coal ash could potentially contaminate ground water. Also, they are worried that the potential impact of new federal regulations that are designed to reduce mercury levels in coal plant smokestack emissions.

James Clift, the Michigan Environmental Council policy director, says that much of the mercury will be captured in the coal ash, meaning that coal ash used beneath roads and parking lots could contain dangerously elevated mercury levels.

“Those roads and parking lots will eventually crumble,” Clift said in testimony in April. “Some will be rebuilt, others will be left for future generations to figure out how to repurpose. The placement of industrial byproducts at those sites will make their redevelopment more challenging and be a burden on local units of government.”

In addition, a group of environmental activists from separate organizations converged on the state capital in Lansing to provide lawmakers with copies of “Toxic Trash Exposed,” which is a 2013 report prepared by the Clean Water Fund documenting state coal ash pollution. The group, noting that the proposed bills exempt companies from legal liability on any byproducts that have been cleared for “beneficial use,” heavily criticized the House vote.

“It’s unconscionable that our legislature continues to protect the coal industry instead of the hardworking people of Michigan,” Margi Armstrong of Michigan Clean Water Action Lake St. Clair said in a statement. “We have very little knowledge about the potentially devastating impacts that these bills will have on our water, our health, and our communities.”

‘Full of chemicals’

As further reported by MLive:

The legislation would also allow byproducts like cement kiln dust, pulp and paper mill material, scrap wood, sand, asphalt shingles and sludge from the treatment of petroleum contaminated soil to be repurposed in various ways rather than end up in landfills.

The bills are similar to laws that have already been put in place by neighboring states, Schmidt said. He added that opposition from some environmental groups was itself a byproduct of general animosity towards coal-fired power plants.

“I think the main goal for many of those radical environmental groups is their war on coal,” he said. “What we’re dealing with is beneficial use of byproducts making sure that it’s used in a safe and beneficial way.”

According to the environmental legal group Earth Justice, coal ash “is full of chemicals that cause cancer, developmental disorders and reproductive problems. It poisons our water and kills fish and wildlife.”

The EPA says that some 70 percent of coal ash that is repurposed “was for concrete, blended cement and structural fills/embankments. The remaining usage was as road base, in snow and ice control, for mining applications and as an aggregate.”





“Is the human brain still evolving?”

When we daydream about the future, we tend to focus on the fabulous belongings we’re going to have. Jet packs, flying cars, weapons to kill aliens, cell phones that make today’s sleek models look clunky — you name it, we’re going to have it. We don’t tend to focus, however, on who we’ll be in the future. Most of us probably picture ourselves exactly the same, though maybe thinner, as surely we’ll all have robot personal trainers by then. While we see the world’s technology evolving to meet our needs, we may not think about how we ourselves might be evolving.­

Brain Image Gallery

­The story of evolution up to this point explains how we became the upright walking, tool-using homo sapiens of today. The turning point of this story so far concerns cranial expansion. About 2.5 million years ago, hominids started out with a brain weighing approximately 400-450 grams (approximately 1 pound), but around 200,000 to 400,000 years ago, our brains became much bigger than those of other primates . Now, we humans walk around with brains tipping the scales at 1350 to 1450 grams (approximately 3 pounds) .

­As humans, we enjoy a much larger neocortex. This area of the brain is the key ingredient that separates us from other species — it allows us to do our deep thinking, make decisions and form judgments. And while our brain has served us well so far, it certainly has a few defects we wouldn’t mind eliminating, like disease, depression and the tendency to make drunken phone calls at 2 a.m. to an ex-boyfriend. But until recently, scientists thought that we were done evolving, that we had reached a sort of evolutional apex. Now, though, some researchers think that we’re not quite done.

Could our brains be evolving right now? Could we gain the intelligence to make our dreams of the future come true, or will we return to the hominid state of yesteryear? Go to the next page to find out if brain evolution is possible.

Genetic Evidence of Brain Evolution

One way to determine if brain evolution is in our future is to consider how our brain evolved in the past. Since scientists don’t know exactly how we ended up with brains bigger than other primates, they’re left looking at examples of when the brain doesn’t grow to the expected size. One such condition is microcephaly, a disorder in which the brain is much smaller than normal; researchers believe that the size of a microcephalic brain is roughly similar to that of an early hominid .

Microcephaly has been tied to at least two genes: ASPM and microcephalin. When mutations in these genes occur, brain size is affected. Since ASPM seems to have evolved faster in apes than in creatures such as mice, it’s possible that it may have something to do with how our brains evolved. A 2004 study that compared ASPM in humans to other primates found that the sequence of the gene was roughly similar, which seems to suggest that ASPM alone wasn’t responsible for differentiating humans from chimps . But ASPM could have facilitated something else in the human brain that caused our noggins to expand so dramatically.

The following year, a study led by Dr. Bruce Lahn of the University of Chicago continued tracking the presence of ASPM, as well as microcephalin, in human populations. But Lahn had noticed that these genes were changing slightly; these alternative forms of a gene are known as alleles. Lahn’s group tracked the alleles in the DNA of several populations, including individuals from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and East Asia, to ensure diversity.

In the case of ASPM, a new allele emerged approximately 5,800 years ago, and is now present in about 50 percent of the populations of the Middle East and Europe . It’s found to a much lesser extent in the peoples of East Asia and Africa. The allele associated with microcephalin is believed to have developed about 37,000 years ago; about 70 percent of the European and East Asian populations exhibited this allele . Lahn’s team deemed the variations common enough to suggest that their presence was evidence of natural selection as opposed to an accidental mutation, suggesting that the brain may still be evolving .

Lahn’s hypothesis that these genes have evolved as they conferred advantages to the brain comes with the same caveat as the earlier study. Scientists simply aren’t sure what role ASPM plays in brain size, and it’s a given that not all of the brain-size determining genes have been identified yet. African populations, who didn’t appear to be carrying either gene in great frequencies, may have other genes at work on their brains, while it may turn out that ASPM and microcephalin have persisted in the other populations for some reason completely unrelated to the brain.

More work is needed on the role of ASPM, microcephalin and other genes involved in the growth of our brain, but one reason why scientists are so interested in brain size is that it has been linked with intelligence. Bigger brains might portend bigger IQs. So if the ASPM and microcephalin alleles are in fact causing our brains to evolve, what are the possible destinations? Will we be bigger-brained and smart enough to realize some amazing inventions? Or is mankind on a slippery slope down to Stupidtown? On the next page, we’ll investigate what the fallout of all this evolution might be.

Possible Outcomes of Brain Evolution

So if it turns out that the alleles in ASPM and microcephalin are causing our brains to evolve, what might the outcome be? We might like to think that there’s nothing but bigger and better things ahead of us, but British researchers have claimed that our brain is already operating at maximum capacity. After creating models of how our brain works now, it seems that we’ve reached our maximum ability to process information, or we’re probably within 20 percent of that number . If our brain did get bigger, other organs would have to grow as well, particularly the heart, which would have to work harder to power a bigger brain.

The researchers also found that we’re facing a bit of a vicious circle in terms of increased intelligence. For the brain to take in more information, the connections between brain cells would have to become wider, so as to speed up the rate of the brain’s information superhighway. But to support that, we’d need more insulation for those connections, as well as more blood flow to the brain to support the connections. That, in turn, leaves less room for the expanded connections. And if the brain became bigger, the messages would only have farther to go, slowing down our already efficient processing times . Other research suggests that the metabolic demands necessary for evolution mirror genetic changes that occur in schizophrenia, perhaps indicating that neurological disorders accompany brain evolution .

But no one wants to imagine a future in which we become dumber, right? That means the next step for our brains may not be a natural evolution so much as a genetic engineering to ensure that our brains are the best possible brains they can be. Think of how our society already relies on antidepressants and other drugs to correct brain malfunctions. Eventually, we may be able to engineer defects out of existence.

And if we wanted to improve our intelligence? Some are starting to stay that if we want to do that, we may have to form an alliance with computers. Roboticists at Carnegie Mellon University estimated that computers will surpass our processing capacity by 2030 . After we exhaust genetic engineering mechanism to improve our brains, we may have to supplement our minds with a computer interface. A futurist named Ian Pearson has considered how an evolution with the aid of computer parts might proceed.

First, Pearson suggests, we’d become a species called Homo cyberneticus, a human species that’s slightly assisted by some silicon enhancements. As this species proves successful, we’d use the practice more, to the point where our “brain” was entirely computer-based. This species would be known as Homo hybridus, as it would have a body similar to ours. But Pearson foresees one major flaw with Homo hybridus — eventually, the organic parts of the individual would wear out and die. This will lead to the rise of Homo machinus; this species will be made entirely out of silicon and will essentially have immortality. The brain will be able to back itself up, and parts will be repaired or replaced.

The thought of Homo machinus may make you uncomfortable, particularly if you’ve seen a little film called “The Terminator.” But you can already sense how our reliance on computers is growing; consider, for example, a job applicant who shows up without basic computer skills. That candidate likely doesn’t stand a chance against applicants who could whip up PowerPoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets in their dreams. Similarly, humans that try to opt out of machine-based parts may find themselves unable to compete successfully with the new species.

And sure, there will probably be things we’ll lose forever in this transition, some attributes that those computer brains can never have, like creativity. But really, one could argue that with the glut of reality shows that are already on the air, creativity may already have died.

So yes, the human brain could evolve and change. The question is, will we still be humans after it happens?

Born in the USA: Misunderstood songs

Born in the USA (Columbia)

Born in the USA (Columbia)

Born in the USA is 30 years old, and is one of Springsteen’s most popular – and misunderstood songs. Greg Kot takes a look at the most commonly misread lyrics.

Blame it on the chorus: the title track of one of the best-selling albums of all time, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA (released 30 years ago on 4 June) is one of the singer’s most beloved songs. It’s also one of his most misunderstood, and Springsteen is at least partially complicit.

With the American-flag backdrop on the album cover and the fist-pumping energy Springsteen and the E Street Band brought to the song on their subsequent stadium tour of the world, a lot of fans heard Born in the USA as a feel-good, patriotic anthem. One of those fans happened to be conservative columnist George Will, who wrote glowingly about the tune as a “cheerful affirmation” of all things good about America. Will’s pal, Ronald Reagan, who happened to be president of the United States at the time, then referenced Springsteen and his songs of “hope” during his re-election campaign.

Will, Reagan and countless others never got past that big, seemingly uplifting chorus to figure out what the song was really about. Hardly a declaration of nationalistic pride, Born in the USA confronts the emptiness of the American dream. It describes Vietnam veterans returning to a country in which working-class people are treated like little more than cannon fodder. Against the backdrop of an economic downturn that began to widen the gap between the have’s and have-not’s, the crestfallen verses mock the empty slogan in the chorus.

It takes a close reading of the song to come to that conclusion, though, and Springsteen made sure to underline the song’s true message a decade later when he performed Born in the USA as a bitter, bluesy dirge on a solo tour. The singer could also take solace in the notion that his hit song was hardly the first classic to be widely misinterpreted by the listening public, and it wouldn’t be the last. Here are a few more:

Every Breath You Take, The Police (1983)


Police (A&M)


It has a melody so elegant it sounds like the narrator’s swooning. He’s so enamoured with his girl that he proclaims, “Every step you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.” But read another way, those lyrics are more than a little creepy. Sting wrote the tune from the perspective of a jilted lover who wants to maintain control over his ex. Hardly the perfect wedding song, as it’s often cast, Every Breath You Take instead expresses the kind of sentiment that gets a guy tossed in prison for stalking.

The One I Love, REM (1987)




Speaking of inappropriate wedding songs, REM’s first top 10 hit had a seductive lilt to it as Michael Stipe crooned, “This one goes out to the one I love.” But less-than-attentive listeners missed the rest of the thought: “This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind/A simple prop to occupy my time.” Pure nastiness.

Perfect Day, Lou Reed (1972)


Lou Reed (RCA)


It’s a pretty melody, sung as a quiet thank-you to a friend for an idyllic day spent drinking sangria and feeding the animals at the zoo. Or so it seems. Nothing was ever quite so simple or sunny in Lou Reed’s complicated corner of the world. Is the song addressed to a person or a drug that allows the narrator to “forget myself”. Its chilling use in Danny Boyle’s smack-infested Trainspotting suggests as much. By the end, Reed is lamenting, “You just keep me hanging on,” and warning, “You’re going to reap just what you sow.”

Louie Louie, The Kingsmen (1963)


Kingsmen (Flip)


Amazing what a little lascivious-sounding slurring will get you. An FBI investigation, for one. The Portland, Ore, garage rockers slathered dirt, grime and unintelligibility all over their cover of Richard Berry’s 1955 tune, an innocent calypso-flavoured ditty. The FBI thought they heard a bunch of obscenities, but never compiled enough evidence to press their point in a court of law. The notoriety didn’t hurt The Kingsmen’s popularity, and pushed the song to Number 2 on the singles chart.

I Want Candy, Strangeloves (1965)


Strangeloves (Bang Records)


Who could deny the presumably innocent exuberance of the Bo Diddley beat and that child-like demand in the chorus? Apparently a lot of advertisers couldn’t, as they have frequently licensed the tune to entice kids to covet sweets and grown-ups to crave diamonds. Of course, what the song is really selling is sex. “I like candy when it’s wrapped in a sweater,” leered the songwriters.

What’s the lesson here? If a song sounds celebratory, lovestruck, childlike or salacious, chances are that’s the way the listening public will hear it, no matter what most of the lyrics try to convey. This is bad news for songwriters, who – as in the case of Springsteen – try to make every word count. Nuances are for poets. For those blasting a tune on their smartphones on a busy subway, it’s all about the vibe and a half-heard chorus. Born in the USA, baby!

Heart Failure: Early ICD May Boost Survival


From the desk of Zedie.

Stem cell approach for Parkinson’s disease gets boost

Transplanted cells can flourish for over a decade in the brain of a person with Parkinson’s disease, scientists write in the June 26 Cell Reports. Finding that these cells have staying power may encourage clinicians to pursue stem cell transplants, a still-experimental way to counter the brain deterioration that comes with Parkinson’s.

Penelope Hallett of Harvard University and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and colleagues studied postmortem brain tissue from five people with advanced Parkinson’s. The five had received stem cell transplants between four and 14 years earlier. In all five people’s samples, neurons that originated from the transplanted cells showed signs of good health and appeared capable of sending messages with the brain chemical dopamine, a neurotransmitter that Parkinson’s depletes.

Results are mixed about whether these transplanted cells are a good way to ease Parkinson’s symptoms. Some patients have shown improvements after the new cells stitched themselves into the brain, while others didn’t benefit from them. The cells can also cause unwanted side effects such as involuntary movements.

Aldous Huxley on Drugs, Democracy, and Religion | Brain Pickings


From the desk of Zedie.

Sugar in Sodas Higher than Labels Say

And you’d never know, because sugars aren’t broken down on food labels like fats are. The latest study shows just how much sweet stuff is hiding in sodas and fruit juices

Sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose—can you tell the difference? Probably not, even if you’re a careful reader of food labels. Unlike fats, which are broken down on nutritional labels as saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, sugars are listed as “sugar.” If you read the full ingredient list you may find clues as to what kind of sweetener is in there, such as high fructose corn syrup or dextrose or maltose. But when it comes to figuring out exactly how much of each is there, you’re on your own.

Michael Goran, professor of preventive medicine and the director of the childhood obesity center at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California, analyzed popular sodas and found that they contained more fructose—a form of sugar that essentially behaves like fat in the body and has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes—than their labels suggest. In Goran’s analysis, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, Arizona Iced Tea and 7-Up contained more than 58% fructose. These results were consistent across three different ways of analyzing their chemical makeup. “What was surprising was the consistency across the methods and the consistency across beverages,” he says. “We saw a consistent ratio of fructose to glucose of 60-40.”

He also found that some drinks that don’t list fructose as an ingredient also contained detectable amounts of the sweet stuff. Pepsi Throwback and Sierra Mist, which do not list HFCS as an ingredient, still contained 37% and 7% of fructose, respectively. Mexican Coca-Cola, which lists only sucrose, also showed higher concentrations of fructose than glucose; sucrose, even if it’s broken down, should lead to equal contributions from both. “If fructose is damaging, then we need to know how much fructose is in our food and beverages,” says Goran.

There’s a lot that scientists still don’t know about how the various forms of sugar work in the body, but here’s what they do know. Sucrose, or table sugar, is made up of two carbohydrate molecules paired together: glucose and fructose. Once in the body, the couple splits up and goes two very separate ways. Glucose is the body’s main form of energy, so those molecules are immediately used by cells or stored as fuel for later.

Fructose, on the other hand, can only be processed by the liver, where it behaves like fat. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a staple of processed foods and drinks, is glucose that is treated with enzymes so it produces various proportions of fructose; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for HFCS42 and HFCS55, which contain 42% and 55% fructose, respectively, with the remainder made up of other sugars, primarily glucose.

Why does all this matter? Since fructose isn’t used by the body for energy, it simply contributes to weight gain and diabetes—not exactly a desired effect. Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at University of California San Francisco, admits that there aren’t any studies showing how higher ratios of fructose greater than 50% may influence health. Still, that doesn’t mean that people should continue to be in the dark about how much fructose they’re consuming. Fats are more clearly labeled, and since research links trans fats to unhealthy outcomes, people can now see on labels how much trans fat foods contain. Likewise, he says, sugars should be broken down into fructose and glucose, so consumers have a better sense of how much of those sugars can potentially be burned off as energy, and how much will turn immediately into fat.

In response to TIME’s questions about the report, PepsiCo referred us to the International Society of Beverage Technologists (ISBT), a technical group of beverage industry professionals, which happened to publish a report on their own analysis of the fructose content of sweetened beverages on the same day. Not surprisingly, in their analysis of the same drinks, the results were very different. HFCS content in their analysis was right around 55%.



So who’s right? Larry Hobbs, co-author of the ISBT study, says that the method Goran and his team used is more appropriate for assessing honey, and not HFCS. Bela Buslig, a former research scientist with the Florida department of citrus who was not involved in either study, says that isn’t necessarily true—and that Goran’s methods were suitable to determine actual fructose content in these drinks. The fact that Goran’s group consistently found 60-40 ratios of fructose to glucose using three different analytical methods, Buslig says, suggests that the results are reliable.

Still confused? Until the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture start mandating labeling requirements for sugar as they do for fats, you might stay that way. “My advice to consumers is to reject anything with HFCS,” says Goran. “That would be the first line of defense.” And as Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University adds, “The bottom line: everyone would be healthier eating less sugars of any kind.”

Tanning Bed Overload


From the desk of Zedie.

Fasting Might Regenerate Human Immune System – The Daily Beast


From the desk of Zedie.

Sleep may help memories form by promoting new synapses – health – 05 June 2014 – New Scientist


From the desk of Zedie.