Boing Boing 

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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Kids are mostly sexually solicited online by classmates, peers, teens

The respected Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that one in seven children is sexually exploited online. This figure is both credible and alarming. But the context is vital: as danah boyd writes, the average predator isn't a twisted older man trawling for kids; rather, "most children are sexually solicited by their classmates, peers, or young adults just a few years older than they are."

Now, it's absolutely possible for a child to sexually exploit another child, so this isn't to minimize the potential harm to kids. But for so long as we model the threat to kids as being weird, strange grownups, rather than the young people they know and see every day, we will fail to prepare them to comport themselves wisely and safely.

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Murder machines: why cars will kill 30,000 Americans this year

Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says, "We just published a piece about how streets came to be the exclusive domain of automobiles (spoiler alert: they didn't start out that way). Among other sources, we interviewed Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic, and Ben Fried, the New York editor of Streetsblog."

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Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!


Kevin C Pyle and Scott Cunningham's non-fiction, book-length comic Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun! is a marvellous and infuriating history of censorship, zero-tolerance, helicopter parenting, and the war on kids.

The comics form turns out to be just perfect for presenting this material. The book opens with a history of the fight over comics publishing in America, where the liar Frederic Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocents hoax led to a harsh regime of comics censorship, book banning, book burning, and decades of pseudoscientific vilification and dismissal of artists and the young people who loved their work. Presenting this story in a comics form only drives home how wrong Wertham and the Comics Code Authority were.

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Bike helmets and safety: a case study in difficult epidemiology


Ben Goldacre and David Spiegelhalter have published a paper in the British Medical Journal called " Bicycle helmets and the law", exploring the complex epidemiological conundrum presented by research on safety and bike helmets. As Goldacre pointed out, this is a perfect teaching case about the difficulty of evaluating risk and its relationship to law and the behavior. The paper is short and very clearly written, and makes a great companion to Goldacre's excellent books, Bad Science and Bad Pharma.

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Carjackers doomed to die in petty theft gone horribly wrong

Two days ago, a truck carrying a container of radioactive cobalt-60 (enough to make a dirty bomb) was stolen by carjackers off a highway near Tijuana. Today, authorities found the truck. The thieves probably aren't terrorists, just some guys who wanted a truck with a crane attached to it. But, at some point, they opened the container of cobalt-60 and will now almost certainly die from radiation exposure.

The laissez faire world of dietary supplements

Every year, more than 2000 Americans experience a serious negative effect (either death or illness) from taking over-the-counter dietary supplements. Since 1994, it's been legal to sell supplements without prior safety testing. Even when someone gets sick, the burden of proof is on the FDA to prove the supplement caused it, rather than on the supplement company to prove it didn't. The Dallas Morning News reports on the lack of oversight and what it costs us.

A strange school bus safety film from 1963, and a review of said film

Below is GE_Pretzel's review of the 1963 film "Special Delivery," from Safety Enterprises Corporation. The film stars John Butler, then-police chief of Mansfield, Ohio, as the bus driver.

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Public Resource kickstarting free, open publication of the world's safety standards

We've written often about Carl Malamud, the rogue archivist who has devoted his life to making the world's laws, standards, and publicly owned information into free, accessible, beautiful online documents. Now, I'm pleased to help him launch an ambitious, vital Kickstarter project aimed at raising at least $100,000 to turn the world's public safety codes into thoroughly linked, high-quality HTML documents (presently, many of the 28,040 public safety codes that Carl and public.resource.org have put online exist as scanned bitmaps that can't be searched or linked). The project involves a careful re-typing of all that scanned material and re-tracing of images and formatting them as vector-based SVG files.

Carl and his colleagues have fought in the courts for their right to publish the law that we, the people, are expected to follow. They have passed on lucrative careers in the private sector to devote themselves to public interest, public spirited work that makes the sourcecode for the world's governments available at our fingertips. The work they are doing unlocks untold billions in value -- from being able to ensure that your weekend DIY rewiring project meets code and won't burn down your house, all the way up to giving workers in deadly factories in Bangladesh access to the laws that are supposed to be honored in their workplaces.

$115 gets you a copy of their giant, amazing book of global safety standards, but there are interesting and awesome premiums at price-ranges from $10 (public acknowledgement on the Wall of Safety) to $475 (the Big Box of Propaganda!). I've put in my $115 -- not for the book, but as a way to thank Carl and co for the amazing work they do, and as a means of funding more of it. I hope you'll give, too.

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Inside NASA's rubber room

If a Saturn V rocket had ever exploded on the launchpad, it would have been a catastrophic event. NASA engineers once calculated that the resulting fireball would have been 1048 feet wide and would have hit temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. In the hopes of not losing astronauts or launch crew to the inferno, NASA tricked out the Apollo launchpad with some safety systems that still exist today, including an underground, rubber-lined bunker that was accessible from the launch platform via a 200-foot twisty slide. (Which almost sounds like fun, until you consider the context.)

Amy Shira Teitel is one of the few people who have been inside the rubber room recently. In the video above, and she shares photos and stories about it in the video above, at her blog, and on Discovery.com.

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Meet your newest meat safety problem

A faster meat safety program, with fewer government inspectors and more inspectors employed directly by the meat companies themselves, is associated with higher levels of contaminated meat. So why is the USDA planning to expand this program nationwide?

Burning Man drone rules

This year, the Burning Man Organization has set out rules for drone operation on the playa, developed in concert with drone-hobbyist/burners who attended a summit at BMOHQ on July 17. The rules include a common-sense safety code, parameters on where/when/who can be videoed; fire safety rules; spectrum management procedures; and guidance on elevation and wind.

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Testicle-eating fish spotted in Swedish/Danish waters


Experts from the Danish National History Museum have warned that pacus -- a relative of the piranha -- have been spotted in the Danish/Swedish Øresund channel. The pacu has been known to bite swimmers, and have been known to attack men's testicles, because "testicles sit nicely in their mouth." So men are being cautioned to avoid nude swimming in the channel, though the museum's Henrik Carl stresses that the risk is not very high, in the grand scheme of things: "You're more likely to drown than get your nuts bitten off."

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Truckload of gas cylinders explodes 39 times

On a Russian highway, a truck filled with propane cylinders explodes 39 times, boom, boom, boom, each explosion more spectacular than the last.

Взрыв газели с балонами на МКАДе (via Kottke)

Unnecessary shark attack safety advice

Your chances of being killed by a shark are 1 in 3.8 million. But, you know, just in case, here's what you do to survive a shark attack.

Derren Brown show's unepxected finale: wife pushes husband off balcony

Mentalist and conjurer Derren Brown got a hell of a shock during his Saturday night show: a woman pushed her husband off a 45' balcony "for a joke," sending him over the edge. He caught hold of a light-rig about halfway down and was pulled to safety.

Derren Brown describes man's 'terrifying' fall from theatre balcony [Press Association/The Guardian]

(via Dan Hon)