Advice for Women and Children About Mercury in Fish / An Ancient Sea Creature Able to Do Push-Ups / Goldman Environmental Prize Winners
This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Sarah Long. On our program this week -- health advice about mercury in fish ...
How some ancient fish gained the ability to do push-ups, and it had nothing to do with exercise.
And, the winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
United States health officials have warned pregnant women to limit the amount of albacore tuna they eat. This is because of the levels of mercury in fish. The warning is also for young children, for women who may become pregnant and for women who nurse their babies.
Mercury is a danger to the nervous system, especially in babies and children. Even small amounts of this metal have been found to harm development. Mercury in water supplies and fish is connected to industrial waste. Electric power stations that burn coal are a major cause of mercury in the environment.
Albacore is also known as "white" tuna. Health officials say albacore contains more mercury than other kinds that are sold as "light" tuna in cans.
The government says women and young children should eat up to three-hundred-forty grams of fish and shellfish a week. It says this may include up to one-hundred-seventy grams of albacore.
Women and young children are advised not to eat any shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. All of these fish contain high levels of mercury. The advice says five kinds of seafood low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.
A committee advised the Food and Drug Administration on the issue of mercury in fish. One member resigned as soon as the public received the new advice.
Vas Aposhian is a mercury expert at the University of Arizona. He told the Washington Post that the committee wanted to add albacore to the list of fish not to eat at all. He says the experts thought children and pregnant women should not eat a lot of light tuna either.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection agency jointly released the new advice. The two agencies state that for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. They say people should know that seafood can be part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Scientists have reported the oldest arm bone ever found. They say it comes from a small animal that lived about three-hundred-sixty-five million years ago. The discovery may help explain more about how animals moved from the sea to live on land.
Scientists at the University of Chicago and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia reported the finding. Their report is in the magazine Science. Neil Shubin from the University of Chicago led the team.
Professor Shubin says the creature was a mix of ancient fish and early amphibian. Fish have fins. Amphibians have arms and legs. They are able to live on land or in water, like frogs or crocodiles. The bone is said to show the changing structure as fins became limbs.
The upper arm bone, or humerus, was hidden in rock from the state of Pennsylvania. The scientists collected the red sandstone in nineteen-ninety-three. But no one found the bone until two-thousand-one. Other evidence from the rock suggests that the animal lived in a freshwater system that flowed in ancient times.
The scientists say the animal was about sixty centimeters long and had thick front leg muscles. They think it looked something like a modern crocodile.
Professor Shubin says the arm bone was connected to the same muscles that a person uses to do push-ups. Such an ability would have helped the animal raise its head above water to breathe. Also, it would have helped the creature move through plants in water that was not very deep. The animal might even have walked on land. But probably not very well.
Scientists say animals began to move from water to land during the Devonian period. This was between three-hundred-sixty and three-hundred-seventy million years ago.
Other fossils from the area where the bone was found suggest that the animal lived among meat-eating fish. In fact, one of them may have killed the creature. Neil Shubin says the arm bone has marks that could have been left by teeth.
Seven activists are the winners this year of the Goldman Environmental Foundation awards. The winners each received one-hundred-twenty-five-thousand dollars. A ceremony took place in San Francisco, California.
Richard and Rhoda Goldman created the prize in nineteen-ninety. It is meant to show the difference that individuals can make to help the environment. Environmental groups nominate people. So do former winners, policymakers and others. Winners are chosen by a jury of foundation directors and environmental experts.
This year, two people share the prize for Asia. Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla were victims of the chemical leak in Bhopal, India, in nineteen-eighty-four. More than twenty-thousand deaths have been blamed on the poison gas from a Union Carbide pesticide factory. Many thousands more were severely injured. The two Goldman Prize winners were among them.
Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla have led efforts to make the new owner of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, take responsibility. They organized a hunger strike. They have traveled to protest at Dow shareholder meetings. The two women are also part a legal action to make Dow clean up the factory and take other steps to help people in Bhopal.
The Goldman Prize for North America went to Margie Richard of the United States. Mizz Richard grew up in Lorco, Louisiana, in an area with a high rate of cancer. People call it "Cancer Alley."
The Shell company has a chemical factory there. The factory releases tons of poisons into the air. Margie Richard led a thirteen-year campaign to demand that Shell pay for people to move to safer areas. Shell agreed. It also has agreed to reduce the factory's pollution by thirty-percent. Mizz Richard is the first African American to win the award.
The Goldman Prize for Africa went to Rudolf Amenga-Etego of Ghana. He is a lawyer from Accra. He stopped a plan to give control of the water system in Ghana to private companies. Mr. Amenga-Etego says getting clean drinking water is difficult enough already. He got many people involved in the campaign. These included farmers, teachers, trade groups and religious leaders.
Manana Kochladze of Tbilisi, Georgia, is the Goldman Prize winner for Europe. She established a group called Green Alternative. It pressured the government and British Petroleum about a major oil-pipeline project. The path would cut through the mountains where Georgian mineral water comes from.
Mizz Kochladze helped gain promises from the project leaders to protect local villagers and the environment. Her work also led to the creation of an international group of scientists. The group was formed to study possible environmental effects of the pipeline project.
The prize winner from South and Central America is Libia Grueso of Colombia. She helped other black Colombians win territorial rights to lands they have lived on for hundreds of years. The law now recognizes Afro-Colombians as a separate ethnic group with rights to more than two-million hectares of land. Mizz Grueso has also helped restrict activities that can harm the environment, like logging, gold mining and fishing.
The final Goldman Prize winner this year is Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho of East Timor, representing island nations. The former resistance fighter has established the Haburas Foundation. This private group helped to secure environmental language in the constitution when East Timor became independent from Indonesia. The document recognizes the right to a healthy environment. It also recognizes the need to deal with national resources in an intelligent, responsible way.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver, Robert Brumfield and Cynthia Kirk, who was also our producer. This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty. Listen next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America.