The issue with arsenic

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Arsenic. Hearing the word in America usually brings up black and white mental images of the film "Arsenic and Old Lace." Yet, it is not an old issue. People around the world are exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic in their water.

Speaking today at the American Geophysical Union, Lex van Green discussed the issue of arsenic in well water in the Asian sub-continent, primarily in Bangladesh and Bihar, India. His concern is that even though people are aware of the problem, very little is being done to address it.

People continue to drill new wells without determining their safety (safe levels are set at less than 10 micrograms per liter of water). Van Green's data, collected from 2012-13, show that 50% of people in the area assessed drink water containing arsenic at unsafe levels. However, 100% of people live near safe wells. Additionally, only about a third of people who become aware that their wells are contaminated switch to new wells by either drilling new wells or using their neighbor's wells.

The difference between a safe well and an arsenic contaminated well is depth. Sedimentation by ancient arsenic rich waters along river deltas left layers of arsenic containing soil near the surface of the Earth. To get past the arsenic to clean aquifers, one has only to drill deeper than 100 meters down. However, wells are expensive to drill, and the deeper the well, the more expensive it will be.

So, the problem in these areas where there is no infrastructure to deliver treated water to people boils down one of inequality. Only the wealthy are able to afford a deep enough well. And, although the government has initiated subsidy programs to help with the digging of wells, research suggests that the wells end up clustered within a small subset of villages where the inhabitants are wealthy and support the political party in power.

In response, he and a team of researchers have developed affordable field test kits that can be used by private individuals or organizations to test wells for their arsenic content. The test results can be localized using GPS and smartphones. One of his collaborators is using Formhub, a system for mobile data collection, to improve data collection itself, quality control, and dissemination of information to impacted areas and individuals.

It's already looking like technology will speed up the spread of awareness about arsenic levels in wells and the availability of tests. Van Green showed a couple of slides supporting this point with data collected in the past week that visually demonstrated that many more people are beginning to take advantage of the testing compared to the 2012-13 test period.

This project, while important in the developing world where many millions more people are affected, could also be useful within the United States and Canada. The USGS has collected data on arsenic in water, and based on that information it is estimated that more than 40 million people in the U.S. are drinking arsenic laden water, many at levels well above 10 micrograms/liter.

The test kits do contain strips laden with mercury bromide, so there are concerns about their use. No one wants a baby getting one of the little strips in their mouth. But, there is no reason to think that an affordable, at home solution to testing for arsenic shouldn't be implemented if safety concerns are properly addressed. The risk from ingesting arsenic is much more serious and pressing.

So, do you know how safe your well is? You should, and you can.

Predictable: bare-rotored flying misletoe-copter at T.G.I. Friday's slices up bystander's face


A newspaper photographer reporting on a TGI Friday's flying "Mobile Mistletoe" drone had her face sliced open by the 23" drone's six bare rotors, and Friday's blamed her for the injury, saying she flinched when the restaurant's drone pilot landed a smaller copter on her outstretched hand.

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Spies can't make cyberspace secure AND vulnerable to their own attacks


In his Sunday Observer column, John Naughton makes an important point that's hammered home by the escape of the NSA/GCHQ Regin cyberweapon into the wild: spies who make war on the Internet can't be trusted with its security.

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National Response Center: now THAT's a logo


via Bruce Sterling

Brazil's amazing, underground hot-air balloon subculture


An exquisitely researched and endlessly fascinating long article tells the history of Brazil's centuries-old baloeiro craft, whereby painstakingly handmade paper balloons are lofted trailing ladders of pyrotechnics and long banners, powered by melted-down candle-stubs from churches and graveyards, cheered on by sometimes violent gangs who labor over them for months before releasing them.

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Buster Keaton narrowly avoids certain death


As Millionmovieproject puts it: "Crew members threatened to quit and begged him not to do it, the cameraman looked away while rolling. A six ton prop, it brushes his arm as it comes down, and he doesn't even flinch."

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How to stay safe in the workshop

Steve Hoefer still has all his fingers.

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Tangled Fox cub rescued, massaged

"I'm quite surprised how cute he is". [via Arbroath.] nma

The Cobra Effect: law of unintended consequences, squared

In British-ruled, cobra-infested India, a bounty was offered for cobra-skins, so enterprising folks started breeding cobras, leading to the program's cancellation, whereupon all those farmed cobras were released into the wild, a net increase in cobra population. That's not the only example, either.

(Image: Cobra, Kamalnv/Wikipedia, CC-BY)

Moral dilemma: rescuing the miners, rescuing the babies:


On Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns presents a tough moral calculus: if you can save 50% of a group of trapped miners with 100% certainty, knowing the remainder will die; or you can try to rescue all the miners, with a 50% chance that they'll all die, which would you choose (And then: what if they were babies, not miners?)

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New FAA rules class toy UAVs as illegal drones


The latest FAA rules on UAVs are so broad that they class adorable toy quadcopters as drones and require special permits to operate them. Meanwhile, hot air balloons and unpiloted model aircraft are fair game for unlicensed play. The drone hobbyists are pissed:

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How GM silenced its whistleblowers

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The cover of Bloomberg Businessweek this week riffs on a classic Vietnam-era Esquire cover. Sometimes, words speak louder than pictures.

Possibly the most genius don't-text-and-drive PSA ever

Volkswagen and ad agency Ogilvy Beijing created this powerful and sneaky PSA for moviegoers in China, to warn of the dangers of being distracted by your smartphone while driving. We don't know that the footage is genuine, but even it not--it's a powerful concept. More at Ads of the World.

Kickstarting safety badges made with engineering-grade reflective film

Tonky (previously) has created a line of "Rydesafe" arty safety buttons made from an engineering-grade reflective film that he's Kickstarting. $5 gets you a button, $14 gets you a kit of four. I'm guessing they'll also dazzle flash-happy paparazzi!

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Graphic, violent old public safety posters from Holland

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Man, these vintage Dutch safety posters from the early through late 20th century are scary and beautiful as hell. If you're squeamish, maybe don't click. The messages are also blunt, with no attempt at making people feel good about bad things that befall others.

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