Stories tagged law

The Boston Globe reports on a group of political scientists and more classical scientists alike, who suggest that we should submit potential legal changes up for scientific randomized trails, like how the FDA tests new drugs. Would you submit to experimentation in the law lab?

Sep
23
2010

You might be aware of phosphorus, P, as a key ingredient in your lawn fertilizer. Or, perhaps you’ve seen “Does not contain phosphates” labels on your household detergents. If you haven’t seen these labels yet, chances are high you’ll see them soon. Why??

Phosphorus is Useful as Fertilizer and Detergent...

Fertilizer with P: See the N-P-K?  The P stands for phosphorus.  The number 21 below it tells us the percent of P in the fertilizer.  Many lawn fertilizers are now 0% P.
Fertilizer with P: See the N-P-K? The P stands for phosphorus. The number 21 below it tells us the percent of P in the fertilizer. Many lawn fertilizers are now 0% P.Courtesy Malawi MV project work

Phosphorus is a life-supporting mineral, which is why so many fertilizers contain it. Phosphates, the naturally occurring form of phosphorus, help soften water, form soap suds, and suspend particles making them choice detergents. Supporting life and keeping clean would normally be good things, but phosphorus has a dark side too.

... But, Phosphorus Causes Smelly, Dead Eutrophication

Because phosphorus is so good at growing stuff, it is actually harmful to the environment when it becomes dissolved and concentrated in bodies of water. Phosphorus-rich lakes cause algae blooms – huge increases of algae in a short period of time (kind of like the post-World War II Baby Boom, but for algae). Besides being smelly and turning water green, algae “breathe” the oxygen right out of the lake! Stealing dissolved oxygen even in death, algae create hypoxia – low oxygen, which prevents most other living things from surviving in the surrounding area. This whole process, from phosphorus-loading to algae bloom to hypoxia, is called eutrophication. There are other environmental and health risks to phosphorus, but eutrophication is what politicians are talking about around the water cooler these days.

Icky Algae Bloom: Algae blooms occur in nutrient-loaded water bodies and often led to hypoxia in a process called eutrophication.
Icky Algae Bloom: Algae blooms occur in nutrient-loaded water bodies and often led to hypoxia in a process called eutrophication.Courtesy Felix Andrews

Seventeen States Banned Phosphorus in Automatic Dishwashing Detergents

Deciding that euthrophication was yucky, in July, 17 states, including the entire Great Lakes Commission of which Minnesota is a member, passed laws banning phosphates from automatic dishwasher detergent. That might not seem like a big deal, but automatic dishwasher detergent is said to comprise between 7-12% of all the phosphorus making it into our sewage system (source). Previous legislation has limited or banned phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and laundry detergents.

Consumers Asked to Cope

According to a recent New York Times article, some consumers are getting their feathers ruffled as detergent manufacturers re-do their formulas to comply with state laws. The primary complaint is that the phosphate-free detergents don’t clean as well as traditional formulas. Consumer Reports concurred: of 24 low- or no-phosphate detergents tested, none matched the cleaning capabilities of detergents with phosphates. It may be uncomfortable at first, but learning to cope in a low-phosphorus world is already having environmental and human health benefits.

Green Cleaning: There are several line of green cleaning products that contain low- or no-phosphates.
Green Cleaning: There are several line of green cleaning products that contain low- or no-phosphates.Courtesy Becoming Green

Rest assured, industry officials still want your business and are continually improving their formulations. Indeed, the same Consumer Reports article mentioned above rated seven low- or no-phosphate detergents as “very good.” For the curious, there is a multitude of other websites reviewing phosphate-free detergents online. Pre-rinsing and/or post-rinsing have also been cited as ways to deal with phosphate-free dishwashing detergents.

Peak Phosphorus: Another Consideration

If you still aren’t convinced of the switch, consider this: we’re running out of phosphorus like we’re running out of oil. Phosphorus is a mineral, mined from naturally occurring phosphates, and we’re mining it faster than geologic cycles can replenish it. One Scientific American article cites the depletion of U.S. supplies in a few decades (world supplies may last for roughly another 100 years) given current consumption rates. Without phosphorus, world food production will plummet and with a global population soaring towards 9 billion people, that would be a very sorry state of affairs. If we succeed in limiting our phosphorus consumption, say, through eliminating it from household detergents, we may be able to continue using it in fertilizers and thus keep the human population fed well into the future.

What do you think? Is the phosphate-ban worth it?

A British court has ruled that belief in climate change qualifies for protection under laws safeguarding freedom of religion in that country. (The ruling stems from a case where a man was fired from his job as head of sustainability at a real estate firm because of his strongly held ecological beliefs.) According to the ruling, “A belief in man-made climate change and the alleged moral imperatives is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religious and Beliefs Regulation.”

This is wrong. Whatever your position on climate change, it is a scientific issue, one based on observable evidence and interpretation of said evidence. Calling it “a philosophical belief” removes it from debate, and means you can accept it or deny it, regardless of evidence. That’s not science, and that’s not right.

Jan
08
2009

Recycling plastic: A patent on sorting, grinding, and reusing plastic for manufacturing or energy
Recycling plastic: A patent on sorting, grinding, and reusing plastic for manufacturing or energyCourtesy Meaduva

Don't throw it away. Recycle.

Each day millions of tons of plastic and organic products are "thrown away". Where is "away"? Probably a land fill. A better idea would be to somehow recycle these materials into a useful product, or use it as a source of energy.

Plastic and cellulose waste recycling idea "owned"

A new patent application claims that a blend of waste plastic and cellulose from plant material can make a good building material or the plastic/cellulose mix could be burned for fuel. (click to view patent application, 38pg PDF)

It would be beneficial to develop a process that can efficiently and cost effectively convert multiple types of waste byproducts into useful materials usable for: (i) heat and/or energy generation; and/or (ii) structural, sound attenuation, and/or insulation materials.

Do you think "Recycling" should be patented?

Would someone explain what this patent does? To me it claims to own the concept of turning garbage into stuff or burning it. If someone works out detailed methods of doing what is described in the blockquote above, would they have to pay money to the person who patented the concept?

Sources:
" Invention: Recycled trash construction materials" New Scientist
Abstract: "Blending Plastic and Cellulose Waste Products for Alternative Uses"

Dec
15
2008

Karl Pha feels like he is in prison—he has been confined to an Eau Clair Hospital. Mr. Pha has active TB and refuses to take his medicine. The medication causes extreme itching. I understand his unhappiness, but he has 5 young children. If he doesn’t care about his own life he should at least worry about his kids. TB is a serious disease. Public health officials are not only concerned about Mr. Pha’s health and his family’s health but also the development of an antibiotic resistant strain.

This case brings up a few questions:

  • Should public health officials have the authority to confine someone with an infectious disease?
  • How would you define a situation that requires confinement?
  • Who pays for this hospitalization or other confinement costs?
Nov
04
2008

Yellowstone snowmobiles: A guide leads a pack of snowmobiles through Yellowstone National Park on a recent winter trip.
Yellowstone snowmobiles: A guide leads a pack of snowmobiles through Yellowstone National Park on a recent winter trip.Courtesy National Park Service
A federal judge is working through proposals that would lower the number of snowmobiles that can zip through Yellowstone National Park each year. And as seems to be the case with conflicting ideas over uses of public recreational lands, there are lots of ideas on what the optimum level should be. You can get the full details here.

The newest plan would lower the current snowmobile limits by 40 percent, or 318 snowmobiles a day. That’s a little more than the average of 294 snowmobiles per day the park saw last year, but significantly lower than the 557 that were in the highest daily number recorded last winter.

Pristine snow blanket: Environmental purists want winter in Yellowstone to look more like this without snowmobile noise, exhaust or tracks.
Pristine snow blanket: Environmental purists want winter in Yellowstone to look more like this without snowmobile noise, exhaust or tracks.Courtesy Apollomelos
The judge has been drawn into the debate between environmentalists who want no or minimal snowmobile presence in the park versus snowmobile enthusiasts who enjoy motoring through the picturesque park. Snowmobile limits for the park haven’t been adjusted in 28 years.

What role, if any, do you think snowmobiles should have in a national park like Yellowstone? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Oct
09
2008

Pipe down: What's causing all this noise we're hearing down here under the water?
Pipe down: What's causing all this noise we're hearing down here under the water?Courtesy Whit Welles
“Hey, quiet down up there. We can’t hear a thing down here.”

No, it’s not the lament of some landlord who’s rented out the upper level apartment to a rock-and-roll loving tenant. It’s a case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court right now pitting whales off the coast of California against the U.S. Navy.

Justices heard oral arguments yesterday on the case. Environmentalists are challenging the Navy’s claim to perform training exercises along the California coast which use extensive and strong sonar transmissions. The sound waves of those sonar blasts can harm whales and other marine mammals, petitioners contend, with sounds that can be up to 2,000 times louder than a jet engine. Some scientists feel that sounds that loud can cause whales to lose hearing loss, bleed on the brain and possibly lead to mass strandings on beaches.

Decision spot: The U.S. Supreme Court is the site of a pending decision pitting U.S. Navy sonar training exercises against the health of marine mammals like whales.
Decision spot: The U.S. Supreme Court is the site of a pending decision pitting U.S. Navy sonar training exercises against the health of marine mammals like whales.Courtesy Thor Carlson
The Navy says that strong sonar level is critical to be able to detect submarines that can elude weaker modes of sonar.

Based on justices’ questions and reactions, however, it appears that court is leaning toward siding with the Navy and national security concerns.

Here’s a full report on yesterday’s court session. Justices were pretty upfront in stating their lack of expertise in mammal biology and national defense matters.

So if you had to decide on this conflict, where would you come down on this question? Does the health and a comfort of whales trump national security? Is loud sonar just an unfortunate byproduct of keeping our national interests safe? Share your thoughts here with other Buzz readers.

May
27
2008

Robots are everywhere! So is news about robots. Here are a few stories that caught our eye recently:
A sign of the times: JGordon isn't the only one who knows how to find wacky stuff on the Web!
A sign of the times: JGordon isn't the only one who knows how to find wacky stuff on the Web!Courtesy Veronica Belmont

High school students compete in a robot-building competition.

A robot conducts the Detroit Symphony.

A robot dials 911.

And lawyers are beginning to debate the legal ramifications of robots on the battlefield.

Which, inevitably, leads to the society to prevent cruelty to robots

Dec
28
2007

Kicked out of St. Paul: The sugar glider -- a small marsupial version of a flying squirrel, has gotten the boot from the St. Paul City Council, which doesn't want the creatures to be kept as pets in the city any longer.
Kicked out of St. Paul: The sugar glider -- a small marsupial version of a flying squirrel, has gotten the boot from the St. Paul City Council, which doesn't want the creatures to be kept as pets in the city any longer.Courtesy Anke Meyring -- Wikipedia Commons
You’d think our civic leaders would have enough on their plates these days: fixing shaky bridges, untangling bad traffic jams, getting the snow plowed in a timely manner.

On Wednesday, the St. Paul City Council took action on another issue. It has banned sugar gliders from being house pets in homes in the city. The sugar glider is a marsupial version of a flying squirrel that comes from the South Pacific. As adults, they measure about 7.5 inches long and weigh up to five ounces.

Animal control officials for the city recommended the ban fearing owners might abandon the animals and they would have no ability to survive in our environs on their own. Also, they’re afraid that the critters make a lot of noise and can get to be quite smelly.

Checking with wildlife officials in Australia, the St. Paul leaders got the same word: that sugar gliders are not good house pets. But yesterday’s Star-Tribune news story on the issue also found people in Minnesota who have a lot of sugar gliders in their home. A St. Paul woman has six of the animals in her home while a married couple in Lino Lakes, who breed the animals for sale, has 34. On the market, a sugar glider goes for about $200.

The vote on the matter was 6-1 in favor of the ban. Dave Thune, the one vote against the measure, wasn’t so much in favor of sugar gliders as he was in wondering how far a city should go in banning different types of exotic animals from ownership by residents.

What do you think? How far should cities go in control the kinds of animals that people keep as pets? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.