Thursday, December 29, 2011

Study finds moderate link to improved health after mold remediation

Researchers from the Finnish Occupational Institute of Health report moderate evidence for a reduction in asthma related symptoms and acute care visits when comparing buildings with and without mold remediation.  Further study will be needed to confirm or refute the efficacy of mold remediation.

Based on my experience, effective mold remediation has resolved allergy and asthma symptoms associated with mold exposure.  There was evidence of reduced antihistamine use and the ability of asthmatic individuals to return to the workplace.  When the mold remediation was poorly done or when areas were missed, the occupants symptoms did not improve.

Mold remediation - photo N. Carlson

Infectious fungi in bathroom drains

Fusarium spp. growing on fruit - Photo: N. Carlson
NPR news reports that Fusarium spp. found in bathroom drains has been linked to sinus and toenail infections.  It is also allergenic and is in rare occasions fatal to people with compromised immune systems.

Fusarium spp. - microscopic photo N. Carlson

In my experience Aureobasidium spp. is more commonly found in bathrooms on the caulk and in the corner of a shower.  It is allergenic and associated with a malady known as sauna takers lung.  The fungi is black and slimy in texture when wet.  

Aureobasidium spp. photo - N. Carlson

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sweden is leading the way in energy efficiency

As reported in cleantechnica Sweden has reduced carbon emissions and improved GDP at the same time.  This is similar to Germany's experience reported in an earlier blog.   Sweden has increased the use of biomass, reduced the use of heating oil and reduced the amount of electric heat. 

Mold remediation course in rescheduled for April 24-25, 2012

This course has now been completed.  We had good attendance from around the state of Minnesota with a good mix of students from schools, industry, non profits, graduate school and consultants.
The course may be repeated in 2013.
Register at

Brain eating amoeba in neti pot?

Web MD reports that there have been two confirmed deaths in Louisiana which appear to be related to the use of tap water in neti pots.  The brain eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, has been identified as the culprit.  It is recommended that sterile water, distilled water or boiled water cooled to room temperature be used in neti pots. 

Image from the CDC

Neti pots are used to rinse out the nasal cavities using water usually with dissolved salts.

If this 2 minute video stops due to buffering problems press pause, wait and restart.

Train your brain to see fine shades of gray

A U of MN psychology professor Stephen Engel has been able to train individuals to see progressively lighter shades of lines on a computer screen.  Subjects were trained to improve the ability of their primary visual cortex (V1) to see progressively fainter objects flashed on a computer screen.  The researchers point out that this would be useful for a person reading Xrays. 

Photo- U of Minnesota

After looking into a microscope for more than twenty years, I have found it to be helpful for looking at fungal spores.  Trained microscopists will often draw structures at the edge of the ability for an optical microscope.  The structures have later been verified with electron microscope imaging. 

Shades of Gray - Monkees YouTube Video

Moldy house equals lump of coal for Xmas

KARE 11 TV from Minnesota reports on a White Bear Lake,MN family displaced after mold was found in the lower level of their home.  An August, 2011 rainstorm brought soil and water into the lower level of their house.  This created a microclimate for fungal growth.  An improperly designed addition in 1993 was to blame.  The occupants are feeling better after moving out of the house.

A moldy lump of coal?  A microsopic photo of Nigrospora spp. - N. Carlson

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Climate sustainability plan at U of MN Crookston

The U of MN Crookston has produced a comprehensive sustainability plan.     The plan reviews wind, biodigester and geothermal options.  It also includes information from the U of MN Morris Campus.  The goal of the plan is to make the campus carbon neutral.  Warning: the document may take some time to load it is a 6 MB file.

Morris Wind turbine

Wind power transmission and resources for the northern hemisphere

As early as 2017 pending regulatory approval the Grainbelt Express power line will bring wind power from Kansas to states east of the Mississippi river.  According to an AP report the first phase of the project has been given preliminary regulatory approval.

The problem of stranded wind energy has been a known problem for decades, with most of the wind reserves in areas of low population density.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory produced a map of the wind reserves for the United States.  I have also included wind maps for a good portion of the northern hemisphere.

Continental US windmap by NREL
European Wind energy resources at 80 Meters above the ground
Russian wind resources - Darker areas have more wind.
Chinese wind resources
Asia wind power
Wind resources in Africa and the Middle East are rather limited. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fracking and ground water cleanup

Fracking may be responsible for the contamination of drinking water in a small town in Wyoming according to reports from Reuters.   A preliminary report from the EPA suggests that fluids from the shallow natural gas deposit moved up to the overlying drinking water aquifer.  Fracking is a common practice in the US for extraction of natural gas.  If drinking water contamination becomes a more frequent problem this could curtail or shut down this practice. 

Update: University of Minnesota Researchers have developed methods to reduce contamination of the water used in fracking. According to a MN Daily article researchers are using natural soil bacteria in porous silicon beads to seperate out the chemicals from the water.  They are working on ways to scale up the operation to use on water filtration systems on site.

As a teenager, I recall being on a dairy farm where the methane from the feedlot entered the drinking water for the family.  They were able to light the surface of the water on fire with a match.  This is very dangerous and I would not suggest that anyone do this.  It points out the need for careful design of  both feedlots and fracking operations to prevent ground water contamination.

                        Diagram from

                                                       MSNBC :  Tap water on Fire

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Quorn an ecofriendly mycofood meat substitute

photo from
For several years Quorn has been marketed as a tasty meat substitute for vegetarians.  It is made from the soil mold Fusarium venenatumIts fibrous quality gives it a similar texture to chicken or turkey.  For some individuals Quorn can cause a stomach ache.  As of right now there does not appear to be a way of determining if the Quorn will agree with a person or not without trying it.  If one is adventurous it would be prudent to try it in small quantities to determine if works for you.   Putting it out as a meat substitute at a neighborhood barbeque may not be the best option unless everyone has prevously had a good experience with the food.

MSNBC reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has been pressuring the FDA to pull Quorn from the shelves or add a warning label to the product.  Some consumers have reported reactions of throat tightening after ingesting the product which resolved after they took antihistamines.   There is some question if the adverse reactions to the product are considered food intolerance or an allergic reaction.  The CSPI has compiled adverse reactions from US, European and Australian customers. 

A Quorn spokesman related that the intolerance for Quorn is less than that for eggs, shelfish and other foods.  As the exclusive patent for this product will be running out expect to see this protein source in other foods not labled as Quorn. 

Thomas M. Burton of the Wall Street Journal provides additional background on the controversy listing a 56 year old Minnesota women, Ginney Linnham's adverse reaction to the turkey subsitute last year.  He also quotes Dr. Ves Dimov, A University of Chicago allergist who reviewed a case of Quorn allergy in a colleague's patient.  "The warning should mention that patients allergic to mold and eggs can have a severe reaction."

Fusarium spp. photo N. Carlson

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Canada dumps Kyoto

China News reports that Canada is no longer going to comply with the Kyoto protocol.  Canada has failed to meet its carbon emission targets of 5% below 1990 levels.   A WSJ article contains the reason for Canada's change of heart.  Canada has seen an increase in oil reserves over 3,000% over the past ten years.  Oil and gas exploration has shifted from politically unstable countries to the more politically stable Brazil, Australia, Canada and the United States. 

Chart published in WSJ  article

Bloomberg also reports that Canada may escape a 6.7 billion dollar carbon offset bill by exiting Kyoto.  While more than 60% of Canada's electricity is produced by hydropower, the increase in oil sand production will create problems with carbon offsets.  Canadian companies are advocating improving technology rather than spending money on carbon offsets.

Update on December 13, 2011: CNN confirms reports that Canada will no longer be part of the Kyoto protocol. Canadian Environment Minister, Peter Kent stated that Canadian's would be giving other countries $14 billion dollars with "no impact on emissions or the environment."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Detroit Michigan's unsustainable budget

CBS news reports that the state of Michigan is considering taking over the management of the city of Detroit.  The city has a 150 million dollar budget deficit.  Concerns about the budget were raised in 2001 but the decline in the auto industry and the loss of 25% of the cities residents in the last decade has made fiscal solvency difficult.  In many areas the city is behind the times.  The city still has its employees doing garbage collection.  It has not changed from a pension plan to a 401K plan.  The cities finances will be examined over a 90 day period with a decision about state control to come in late February, 2012.

Update: Forbes Magazine has now put Detroit at the top of the 2013 list of the Most Miserable Cities in America.

Detroit  has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation at over 11%.  According to The National Institute for Literacy, 47 percent of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate.  On the bright side, the Detroit's Mayor has promised to demolish 10,000 of the 90,000 abandoned properties.

It will take some sacrifice, creativity and leadership to revitalize this city.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Geoengineering: setting the world's thermostat

CBS news reports on an international groups analysis of methods to reduce global temperatures through solar radiation management. The solutions are not meant to replace efforts to reduce greenhouse gases but are to be thought of as stop gap measures.  It would theoretically be possible to bring global temperatures to preindustrial levels of 250 years ago.  There are questions about who would set the global thermostat and what are the unintended consequences of global temperature reduction.  A report from the Bipartisan Policy Center in the US is also looking at geoengineering solutions.

Mark Gunther covers this topic well in his Geoengineering blog.
The above photo is a design for an unmanned cloud producing ship by engineer Stephen Salters.

Climate discussion from various news sources

Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal reports that the developed countries no longer have the appetite to transfer money to developing countries to prevent climate change.  The global economic downturn has made the transfer of wealth from formerly wealthy countries to even less wealthy countries a non starter.

Ira Kalb from the Business Insider suggests that renewable energy investment has finally
turned the corner.  In 2011, for the first time the amount of money invested in renewable energy exceeded the amount invested in traditional energy sources.   The technical issues of getting the cost of solar energy which is currently at 11 to 14 cents per kilowatt down to the cost of coal at 5 cents per kilowatt is a major hurdle.  He was optimistic that it could be achieved.  He also suggested that proper marketing of renewable energy is also part of the solution.

Supporters in the climate community have suggested that carbon credits is a way of solving the cheap as coal problem.  I have a preference for forcing the solar panel manufactures to find ways of making the technology cost effective.  This includes some government funding of basic research and quickly transferring this basic research to engineers who can work on process efficiency.

AP reports that UN Climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri says the cost for controlling climate change which he estimates at 0.12% of GDP is worth it because it will reduce droughts, minimize heat waves and mitigate damage to coastal development.

Don Shelby from MinnPost reports on the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.  At the conference, World Meteorlogical Association Deputy Secretary General, Jerry Lengoasa stated that 2010 was the warmest year on record and that 2011 will go down as one of the warmest years since records have been kept.  He also claimed unequivocal proof that human activities were causing global warming.  On a happier note for 2011, stations in Siberia reported temperature increases of 7 degress F (4 degrees C).

Mark Seeley - MPR news photo

Don Shelby also included information from University of Minnesota Climatologist, Mark Seeley.  Mark noted that Minnesota set an unofficial record for the highest dewpoint of 82 degrees F on July 19, 2011.   

For those of you in more tropical climates you may be used to the high dewpoints.  In Minnesota, spending time outdoors from the middle of July through the first part of August of 2011 was a miserable experience unless you were in a swimming pool.