Southern California environment news and trends

FCC moving towards first review of mobile phone radiation standards in 15 years

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

If you’ve ever wondered what if any affect the radiation from your mobile phone/device has on the human body, pressures are mounting for the FCC to find out. As reported by Bloomberg, Julius Genachowski, the Federal Communications Commission’s director, has proposed that the agency review its safety standards regarding mobile-phone radiation, the first such review since 1996, when the initial standards were set. Considering the vast advancements in mobile phone technology (not to mention the increased number of users) over the past 15 years, some would say such a review is long overdue.

“I’d say it’s taken this long for a new review to happen because of pressure from the cell phone industry,” said Renee Sharp, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group when reached by phone. “They’ve actually been lobbying to have the standards weakened, if you can believe it. They’re a very powerful group. We’re almost certain that they made sure the U.S. wasn’t part of Interphone, which is an international effort to begin asking the question could cell-phone radiation be causing brain tumors.”


Science chill after the BP spill: why lawsuits, lawmakers and journalists make researchers nervous

Courtesy of Rich Camilli, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Crew members in the Gulf periodically need to take extraordinary safety precautions from the hydrocarbon fumes in the air. Sean Sylva, Chris Reddy, Rich Camilli, and Lt. Jarrett Parker (USCG) were getting ready to deploy the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry in the Gulf of Mexico.

An op-ed written by two Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists in the Boston Globe this week is heating up a debate about how chilly legal scrutiny can be when it comes to ocean science.

Back in 2010, marine geochemist Chris Reddy and environmental engineer Richard Camilli pinged the plume of spilt oil in Gulf Coast waters with sonar. Remote-operated vehicles thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface helped tell them where the oil was. They analyzed the makeup of that subsurface plume and calculated an average flow rate of 57,000 barrels of oil a day, for a total release of 4.9 million barrels of oil.

That last part is the sticky wicket. Spilling oil in federal waters tends to yield fines, and in this case, quite large ones. The outcome of federal and scientific calculations is worth billions of dollars, and as a result, BP has been very interested in making Reddy, Camilli and other researchers show their work.


Animal Rights, Ethics, PETA, & Orcas

Civil War-Era Slave Auction Re-Enacted At St. Louis Courthouse

John Moore/Getty Images

St. Louis, MO had a slave-auction re-enactment earlier this year. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims that orcas are being enslaved at Sea World. Sea World dismisses the whole thing as a stunt.

I wish I knew where Derek St. Pierre is. Derek was in my first year law school study group. He was and probably still is a guy who cares and knows about animal rights law. I wonder what he'd think of PETA's lawsuit news, that we reported yesterday. I would have liked to ask him, like in the old days, when we were having bomb threats at UC Hastings and going to vegan pizza restaurants in the Tenderloin.

So I didn't get to speak to Derek or any other legal expert about the merits of the orca suit claim I reported yesterday. But today I read this in the ABA journal:

Animal rights law professors contacted by AP didn’t give the suit much chance of success. Law professor David Favre of Michigan State University predicted an early dismissal. “The court will most likely not even get to the merits of the case, and find that the plaintiffs do not have standing to file the lawsuit at all," he wrote to the wire service in an email.


Assassins of the Sea

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Grey days in Santa Monica Bay mean nobody else is out there except you and the dolphins.

Dolphin off of Palos Verdes, October 25, 2011.

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Two pods of dolphins kind of pushed a school of fish together so they could enjoy some Hobbit-like elevenses.

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Dolphins are the assassins of the sea, according to one aquarist from the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Molly Peterson/KPCC

We were all going pretty fast. Sometimes I like pretending I can stand up in a dinghy going 30. Then I slam back down and consider myself lucky not to have dropped the camera.

A downside of blogs is that I now reveal what I really do in the field to the literally tens of people who read them. Hopefully today that doesn't include my editor. 

Yesterday I was out in a dinghy out of King Harbor with Seth and Jose, two aquarists from the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. (I decided it was slightly moronic that I had never checked the aquarium out the whole time I've lived here, but I have been on the Ferris wheel.) They were working: gathering kelp and algae for their exhibits, talking to me about how they do it, where they do it, and what their conservation concerns are. I think I was working. It's hard to remember. 

On our way back from P.V. we ran into a pod of dolphins and so I pulled out the fancy camera I don't know how to use yet. Jose called the dolphins "assassins of the sea" which is sort of awesome; I wish I had a job description like that.


Sailing the Seas of Science to the Doll Factory

Tabitha Esther has a day job in a science field. She's a geologist for a private company. But over the last year, she's spent her free time designing and building a live-action childrens' show called "Seas of Science," that'll make its debut at the Doll Factory on Temple Street in Filipinotown Los Angeles. Show's happening October 8 & 9. 

Esther is a former Derby Doll, a friend of KPCC's own Alex Cohen, and since she was named most effective blocker for the Dolls in 2008, she comes to play. A graduate of USC's earth sciences department, her masters thesis concerned sicilic acid in the Cascadia Basin

Her blog self description puts it simply: "I am a young lady working in the sciences, but what I would love to do is make a show for kids about science. With music and puppets and sailboats and robots." Four out of four of those things are awesome, and people on Kickstarted seem to have agreed