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Sewage plants could be creating ‘super’ bacteria

Andrew McGlashen, Environmental Health News
Some bacteria at sewage treatment plants thrive, becoming extra-hardy and resistant to antibiotics, a new study shows. These “super” bugs remain in wastewater and wind up in the environment.

A wastewater treatment plant’s job description is pretty straightforward: Remove contaminants from sewage so it can be returned to the environment without harming people or wildlife.

But a new study suggests that the treatment process can have an unintended consequence of promoting the spread of extra-hardy bacteria.

Some bugs are resistant to antibiotics, so they dodge the medical bullets that wipe out others. The more drugs that are used, the more robust they become. Since bacteria reproduce quickly – one organism might turn into a billion overnight – and they share DNA with others, antibiotic-resistant genes spread like Darwinian wildfire when conditions are right.

And at sewage treatment plants, it seems, the conditions are right, said microbiologist Chuanwu Xi, whose University of Michigan lab conducted the study.

“Wastewater treatment plants are most effective at treating sewage when they have conditions that allow beneficial bacteria to thrive and improve the quality of the water,” said Karen Kidd, a University of New Brunswick ecotoxicologist familiar with the study.

“However, this study indicates that these conditions can also favor the mutation of some and act as a source of antibiotic resistant bacteria to the environment.”

“To me,” she added, “that’s sobering.”

These “super” organisms in the treated sewage wind up in rivers and other waters, potentially infecting people with infections that are difficult to treat.
(16 April 2009)

Economic slump provides tinder for global conflicts

David R. Francis, Christian Science Monitor
With more people pushed into poverty, the probability of armed rebellions increases around the world.

The new director of the National Intelligence Agency caused something of a stir last month when he warned Congress: “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications.”

On that theme, Hampshire College professor Michael Klare sees the world economic meltdown as already prompting “economic brush fires” around the world and worries whether these could prove “too virulent to contain.”

… Last November Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank Group, noted that the global financial crisis would hit hardest the “poorest and most vulnerable” in the developing world. At that time, Mr. Zoellick calculated another 100 million people around the world had been driven into poverty as a result of soaring food and oil prices. These prices have eased. Nonetheless, hundreds of millions in poor nations must try to balance household budgets on incomes of $2 a day or less.

Now he’s forecasting the world economy will shrink by 1 to 2 percent this year, with difficulties possibly extending into next year. That’s much worse than the bank group’s forecast last year. It will be the first time world output has actually declined since World War II.
(15 April 2009)

Spain’s Costumed Debt Collectors: Final Notice?

Lisa Abend, Time
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Montserrat Vila sat in her Barcelona apartment, waiting for the bullfighters to appear. They were not coming to show off some cape work in her living room. In fact, they were not real bullfighters at all. Rather, the three men, dressed like matadors in garish tight pants and embroidered jackets, were coming to collect a debt.

It’s safe to say that at the same time elsewhere in Spain, a monk, a Zorro, a clown and a Pink Panther were doing the same thing. (See pictures of Spain’s Madcap Tomato Festival.)

Thanks to the country’s lax debt laws, the judicial route for lenders to recover what’s owed to them is slow and torturous, so many lenders are turning to a more direct approach to get their money back — tapping into the Spaniard’s fear of public humiliation. As a result, companies offering costumed collectors who recoup debts simply by showing up at a home or office and embarrassing the debtor in question have proliferated in Spain. But their days may be numbered, now that a committee of the Spanish parliament has approved a proposal that regulates the industry, a first step to bringing an end to the tradition of collection via humiliation.
(9 April 2009)

The dark side of Dubai

Johann Hari, The Independent
Dubai was meant to be a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La, a glittering monument to Arab enterprise and western capitalism. But as hard times arrive in the city state that rose from the desert sands, an uglier story is emerging. reports
(7 April 2009)