Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Not the Most Ideal of Renters

"These are people [renters of her property] I'd be friends with. They dressed well, they presented themselves well, they have an online company -- what's where they told me they make their income. The website looks legit."
"[They -- Alberta Health Services -- said] my property had been condemned, and did I know about this incident that occurred on the weekend."
"I kind of thought someone was pulling a prank on me. And then he went into the details and I was absolutely shocked."
Jennifer Schwitzer, rental property owner, Edmonton, Alberta
Health authorities deemed this house in southwest Edmonton uninhabitable last month after an ambulance call led authorities to a suspected fentanyl lab in the basement. Owner Jennifer Schwitzer paid more than $10,000 to have the interior cleaned. POSTMEDIA NETWORK

"I think the myth is that people in the downtown core are the ones who are 'causing' the problem."
"[But] the people downtown don't have the money to put together a lab, for example. That's a very suburban thing ... the inner city tends to be much more the victims, if you will."
Marliss Taylor, director, harm reduction program Streetworks

Two well-dressed 25-year-olds, prospective renters of a new house in a new housing development in the suburbs of Edmonton, claiming to have just returned from a prolonged holiday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, looking for a house to rent. The house owner, with 16 years of experience in renting property took an instant like to the couple. They made application in late August for the house rental, to move in on the first of September. The house owner, Ms. Schwitzer, ran the usual background checks.

Their references checked out well, and she made the decision that they would be ideal renters. What could go wrong? It took a month after that decision to find out exactly what could go wrong. Mind, what happened to Jennifer Schwitzer is also happening to other property owners across Edmonton where police have conducted raids on fentanyl labs. Investigators publicized the issue, to make it public knowledge that in one neighbourhood $1-million worth of drugs, including heroin look-alike fentanyl was seized.

At yet another private house that was rented out and contained yet another lab, Edmonton police on a raid at the large house outside St.Albert, discovered the largest fentanyl pill cache in Canadian history so consequently the larges seizure took place accordingly. And according to Mike Wiebe, of haz-mat cleanup company Rapid Response Industrial Group, it is in newer neighbourhoods with unfinished basements that his company mostly cleans up fentanyl contamination.

 But Ms. Schwitzer was aware of none of this when she decided to rent to the two normal-in-appearance and evidently well-adjusted couple who expressed interest in her rental  house. And now she is aware that though statistics indicate deadly overdoses to be concentrated in the city's core, it is in the suburbs where those who produce the drugs construct laboratories for their thriving businesses. In those rental houses production and processing takes place, in the city's suburbs.

It seems that an ambulance was called by someone at the rented house on October 6 when the male renter overdosed. Obviously taking too much of his own medicine. He failed to recover from that fatal overdose. His fiance was in the house at the time, along with another person unknown to Ms. Schwitzer. Which was when she discovered that the house she had rented out to the nice couple was the shell where they existed to produce illegal drugs.

It cannot have been very comfortable, the only furniture was a bed, a couch and some chairs, a game system, computers and a few dishes in a kitchen cupboard. The paramedics of course reported what they had found and the police entered the scene. And they called on the health authorities who declared the house uninhabitable. And all it took was a month for the house to become contaminated with drug residue to produce that unsafe environment.
Cleanup crews work at a house in southwest Edmonton that health authorities deemed uninhabitable due to a fentanyl lab in the basement. The owner said she rented the house to a pair of new tenants in September. By early October, one of them had overdosed and died. Edmonton Journal
Inspection of the house revealed that there was drug residue in the basement, the air circulation system, kitchen cabinets and upstairs bathrooms. Alberta Health Services advised Ms. Schwitzer she would be required to hire a remediation company to clean up her property before it could be declared habitable again. That cleanup cost her $10,200. Crews clad in special haz-mat suits sprayed a solution to break down fentanyl on house surfaces.

The carpeting and basement wall panels required replacing. The furnace had to be cleaned. And she was required to attend court in an effort to evict the remaining tenant. Opioids have been linked to 477 accidental deaths in the city of Edmonton since January of 2016. And yes, the highest concentration of overdoses take place in the city core.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Concussion Awareness in Children

"In our study girls across age groups were more symptomatic [of concussion] than boys, and adolescent girls' symptoms change was slower than that of adolescent boys."
CHEO Research Institute/University of Ottawa study

"It's important to start figuring out what's causing these differences between male and female adolescents, because this is really significant."
"[Researchers] need to tease out exactly what's going on [to enable improved concussion treatment for young patients]."
"When you look at a pediatric brain, the brain of an 18-year-old is very different from the brain of a five-year-old. So the question is: Are the recovery patterns going to be the same?"
"Are they the same between males and females?"
Dr. Andree-Anne Ledoux, Research Associate, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario
uOttawa  New Research Shows Symptom Improvement after Concussion in Children Varies Across Age Groups and Sex

According to senior scientist at the CHEO Research Institute, and co-author of the study Dr. Roger Zemek, the findings give doctors a track to guide them in understanding whether a child's recovery from concussion is within expected ranges. One other finding out of the study was its acknowledgement that the rate of reported head injuries in North America during the past decade has increased two to fourfold. Making it even more important for treating physicians to try to fully understand all the variables of recovery from concussion.

This discussion resulted from a large, national study taken on by CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa investigators. They concluded from the evidence they studied that over half of adolescent girls (aged 13 to 18) experience post-concussion symptoms following 12 weeks after the initial injury. Over half of all adolescent boys after four weeks following a concussion were free of symptoms, by contrast.

The study, published recently in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found as well that age was a factor in concussion recovery, that symptoms had a tendency to last for a longer period in adolescents than they did in younger children. As the latest published research on the matter, it adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting girls are more vulnerable to concussions and slower to recover from them.

Data from 2,716 children and adolescents diagnosed with concussions at nine pediatric hospitals across Canada was examined by the researchers. Individuals were followed through the research period for up to a year, with patients reporting their symptoms based on a standardized questionnaire. Both the rate of change in symptoms and the point where patients claimed to be fully recovered were tracked. Across all age groups, the first week of recovery was the most critical, according to the study, with many symptoms resolving themselves within the first seven days post-concussion. 

In the youngest patient cohort (ages five to seven) individuals being tracked reported most improvement in the first week. Within that group, 63.8 percent noted their concussion symptoms had abated. Headaches, nausea. anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, memory or concentration issues and sensitivity to light or noises ranked among the symptoms identified.

In the older age group representing preteens (ages eight to 12) and adolescents (ages 13 to 18), symptoms had a tendency to improve markedly over the first two weeks, then for another two weeks, to plateau. Irrespective of their ages or sex, at least half of all patients fully recovered following four weeks post-concussion. Adolescent girls represented the sole exception as their recovery tended to be substantially protracted, most not free of symptoms a full three months following injury.

The reason for the differences between adolescent males and females in their recovery remains elusive to scientists. Dr. Ledoux hypothesized that testosterone may offer the brain protection of a kind, or that the hormones that puberty releases makes female more vulnerable to the concussion's effects. Other scientists are known to have theorized that adolescent girls are more likely to report their concussion-related symptoms than their male counterparts.

Concussion symptoms

Cognitive (thinking):

  • Difficulty concentrating and paying attention
  • Trouble with learning and memory
  • Problems finding words and putting thoughts into words
  • Easily confused and losing track of time and place
  • Slower thinking, acting, reading and speaking
  • Easily distracted
  • Trouble doing more than one thing at a time
  • Lack of organization in everyday tasks


  • Headache, neck pain
  • Nausea
  • Lack of energy
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, loss of balance
  • Blurred or double vision and sensitivity to light
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Loss of sense of taste and smell
  • Change in sleep patterns, especially waking up at night

Social and emotional:

  • Mood changes: irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Less motivation
  • Easily frustrated, overwhelmed, tearful
  • More impulsive and lacking normal inhibitions
  • Withdrawn, wanting to avoid social situations with lots of people
  • See your family doctor if your child or teen is having trouble coping with moods and emotions. If things don’t improve, you may need to consult a mental health specialist. CHEO Logo

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Wait ... Don't Flush!

"[Many manufacturers of wipes claim they're] flushable [but most contain rayon or viscose]."
"Unfortunately, the natural water bodies these get into do not have the heat or micro-organism levels to effectively degrade these. That is why we see rayon accumulating in the oceans."
"[Dental floss?] It seems like, 'oh, it's just a little string', but it tends to wrap things up. It'll collect other things and make kind of a big wad of stuff. It's incredibly strong."
Rob Billee, executive director, Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority, Middlesex, New Jersey
I told you not to flush that

To most people it's almost automatic. Just get rid of it. Garbage pail or toilet... Well, isn't the toilet kind of a garbage pail? Um, not exactly. It's meant to flush away urine and excrement and toilet paper that is designed to be flushable. The sewage system of any municipality is just that, a system meant to receive the human waste that we flush away and very little else. Sometimes we look at objects so tiny it seems absurd they could ever become a problem, but depending on what they're made of and the similar thoughts of countless others all flushing those tiny objects they stand a good chance of becoming a sewage headache.
So, if in doubt, forbear. Go directly to the garbage pail and deposit it there. Where it belongs and won't become a problem. Dental floss threads in the toilet or contact lenses seem harmless and they are, disposed of properly. Proper disposal of both is never, ever down the toilet. They'll flush away all right, but they'll also end up becoming a nuisance and more than that. Think of the frequency of use of both dental floss and contact lenses and their casual disposal in the population. Sheer weight of numbers ensures that those tiny, thin contact lenses will end up floating en masse as a durable plastic mess somewhere in the ocean.

In fact those small fragments representing plastic contact lenses are being identified as a contributor to the growing situation of microplastic pollution. And then there are pharmaceuticals and their disposal. They represent items we want to rid ourselves of once they've served their purpose. But the chemicals in those pharmaceuticals, flushed down a drain or the toilet find their way into drinking water. What the final results will be of pharmaceuticals swishing around, however diluted, in our water systems is a big unknown but the potential is not reassuring.

Billions of dollars in maintenance and repair costs is associated with the flushing of larger consumer products such as wipes and tampons which clog sewer systems. 

So then there are items of everyday use that appear innocent of any potential problem should they be flushed. Should they be flushed? If we're discussing facial tissues and paper towels, think again. They may resemble toilet paper but they are distinctly unlike paper meant for wiping bottoms and flushing down the toilet. Facial issues are treated with a chemical binder, it's why they don't fall apart when you flush mucous out of your nostrils. But the binder needs time to release and break apart when it's flushed, so it doesn't fare well in the sewer system at all.

Waste water treatment plants do a fairly good job at what they're designed to do, but they're not designed to filter out pharmaceuticals. It's guaranteed; dump your pharmaceuticals in the toilet or the sink drain and they'll end up entering streams, rivers and lakes. The U.S. Geological Survey discovered the presence of low levels of organic waste water compounds inclusive of prescription and non-prescription drugs and hormones in 139 streams across the United States between 1999 and 2000.

In 80 percent of the streams sampled one or more chemicals traced to pharmaceuticals were identified. Some pharmaceuticals persist in spite of water treatment processes, a more recent study concluded after sampling water from 25 drinking-water treatment plants in the United States. As for those contact lenses failing to biodegrade readily; they're impervious to the bacteria that break down biological waste at treatment plants. When contact lenses were submerged in chambers with the bacteria the lenses were intact seven days later.

The only things to flush down the toilet are pee, poop and toilet paper, thank you very much. Metro Vancouver

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sexual Addiction aka Compulsive Sexual Behaviour (Disorder)

"[Symptoms of 'compulsive sexual behaviour disorder' can include] repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person's life."
"[Attempts to reduce the behaviour failing, and] continued repetitive sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences [are recognized symptoms]."
"Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges or behaviours is not sufficient to meet this requirement [defining compulsive sexual behaviour]."
World Health Organization (WHO)

"From Tiger Woods to Harvey Weinstein, news articles have conjectured that 'sex addiction' is a growing and heretofore unrecognized 'epidemic', while the scientific community debates whether such a problem even exists."
Newly published study: JAMA Network Open

"There is a lot of controversy here, but we wanted to assess the one thing that is common in all these different conceptualizations -- the difficulty in controlling sexual urges and behaviours."
“It’s a lot more people than we expected to be having difficulty controlling sexual urges and behaviors and who are feeling distressed and impaired."
"The differences between the sexes are a lot less than we would have expected, raising concerns that the difficulty in controlling sexual behavior affects more than just men."
Janna Dickenson, lead author, post-doctoral fellow human sexuality, University of Minnesota

"It's interfering in the woman's life, she's paying for services, she feels a sense of it being out of control."
"In the cases I've seen there was a very kind of obsessional component to it, an anxiety-relieving component to it."
Dr. Lori Brotto, director, sexual health laboratory, University of British Columbia

"There are a lot of people in my patient population - regular folks - who really struggle with their sexual impulses. There are folks who are engaging with sex workers when they travel. Others struggle with pornography or the temptation to step away from marital fidelity. Many take risks even when it can impact their lives."
"I’ve had a lot of patients like that. They start out just poking around on the Internet. Then they’re doing it more and more. And then it becomes a problem for them. Their spouse gets all upset, or someone walks in on them. Then they come looking for help."
Thomas G. Plante, professor of psychology, Santa Clara University, California, adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry, Stanford University School of Medicine

A recently published study indicates that a significantly measurable percentage of any population is haunted with a newly identified (and controversial) disorder named compulsive sexual behaviour. The study set out to examine just how prevalent it is among the general population that overt sexual behaviour control has become a problem for people, given the revelations of the last several years of sexual misconduct on the part of people from all walks of life.

What the behavioural researchers discovered came as a surprise to them -- out of their study of 2,325 adults in the U.S. -- ten percent of whom were men professing by their responses to a set of questions to be evaluated with respect to prevalence and urges and repeat behaviours, and a more surprising seven percent comprised of women. All met the clinical cut-off point for 'compulsive sexual behaviour disorder' newly recognized as a sexual pathology involving an inability to control intense, repetitive urges and feelings of a persistent nature.

That sexual behaviour of a type identified as "that causes marked distress or social impairment". The condition was assumed to be prevalent in fewer numbers; between one and six percent of the population, men assumed to rate between two and five times likelier to express the disorder than women. So when the researchers set out to evaluate the results of the study, they assumed that 20 to 30 percent of those meeting the clinical cut-off point would be female. Their conclusion was otherwise; women accounting for 41 percent of those qualifying for a CSBD diagnosis.
About 10 percent of men and six percent of women in the US struggle with hard-to-control sexual urges raising concerns among psychiatrists

Both sexes exhibited a complete range of sexual symptoms from "problematic" yet nonclinical out-of-control sexual behaviour (failing to meet the standard for a formal diagnosis), to the opposite end of the spectrum; certifiable psychiatric disorder. The conclusion is anything but definitive in that the lines are hazy between when sexual urges, feelings and behaviours cross from normal to compulsive to become a pathological brain disorder.

A 13-item screening tool was used, meant to categorize their sample subjects (adults aged 18 to 50) who met criteria for a potential diagnosis of compulsive sexual behaviour, with questions such as How often -- never to very frequently -- people felt unable to control their sexual feelings and urges; How often they've concealed or hidden their behaviour from others; and How often they relied on excuses to justify their behaviour.

Lead author Dickenson felt that a reasonable explanation for women accounting for a larger than anticipated percentage of sexual disorder could be the result of a cultural shift toward more "permissive female sexual expression", along with the ready accessibility of online sexual imagery and a general social atmosphere of casual sex. The newer access to sexuality sites, along with anonymity given the Internet's ubiquitous use by people to forge relationships may also be counted as a possible vector. 
"They kind of mix things up, for example, using ‘impulsive’ and ‘compulsive’ interchangeably. They do find a high rate of people with some sort of distress with their sexuality. But is it impulsive, compulsive, addictive? Is it something else? You can’t tell from what they did."
"What you can take from this research is that there are a pretty decent percentage of people who are complaining about some sort of negative feelings about their sexuality. And those negative feelings are leading to some distress."
Robert Hudak,  associate professor of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania, medical director, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders Outpatient Program, Western Psychiatric Hospital, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

To Serve and Protect

"From the point of view of public interest, the impact is profound. The conduct here you cannot describe as anything other than stupid."
"On the continuum, this is on the very low end, but nevertheless this is an evidence-tampering case before me."
"He might have taken cough syrup [rather than cannabis] or a pair of woolly comfortable socks that he wanted to try on his feet. It's interfering with evidence."
Justice Mary Misener, Toronto

"The first place to start is to say I’m sorry, sorry for my actions, my judgment and for being so inconsiderate. My actions were wrong, and the community that I served deserves that I be held accountable for those actions."
"My heart was pounding. I felt like it was going to come out of my mouth. I realized instantly what a stupid thing I had done [in consuming cannabis-laced chocolate]. At that point, I did not care any more about the prospects of getting caught or the professional consequences. I just wanted medical help."
Vittorio Dominelli, 36, 13-year constable, Toronto Police Services

"He assumed it would be a minor mellow feeling."
"He did not think consuming a small amount would impair each officer."
"He was sweating heavily and believed he was going to pass out."
Crown attorney Philip Perlmutter

"I would say it was an act of utter stupidity, quite frankly."
"He has done everything he can to show remorse and make reparation for what he's done."
Peter Brauti, lawyer for the defence
Const. Vittorio Dominelli, left, is one of the officers charged with multiple counts of professional misconduct under Ontario’s Police Services Act. - Twitter
As the son of a long-time Toronto police officer it could be fairly assumed that Vittorio Dominelli knew a thing or two about policing and the responsibilities inherent in that profession. Moreover, he is mature, married, the father of three children under ten years of age. He was with the force for thirteen years. The very basic of protecting criminal evidence whatever it happens to be is no trifling matter. But when the opportunity came to lift a few chocolate bars from the scene of an arrest, the temptation evidently proved too much for the man.

He had been part of a police raid team of an illegal pot-shop. Illegal sellers of marijuana were popping up everywhere in major cities of Canada in anticipation of legalization to arrive in October of 2018. Until legalization became a reality, setting up those shops represented a criminal offence under Canadian law. And police were tasked to uphold the law, as was being done on January 27 of 2018. When the raid was wrapping up at the dispensary, he had been nominated along with his partner to pick up dinner for the squad.

On his way out of the illegal marijuana dispensary he noticed a shelf of cannabis-oil-infused chocolate bars, and casually pocketed several. Then he and his partner went to a nearby pizza establishment to place their orders. Dominelli informed his partner, Constable Jamie Young what he had in his possession, telling her he was of a mind to leave the bars at the pizza place, and she failed to agree. Later in the evening the two constables were assigned to an after-hours bar surveillance.

While seated in their vehicle they discussed the pending legislation for legalization of marijuana. Each revealed to the other that neither had experienced marijuana and knew nothing about its effects. They decided they would conduct an impromptu experiment, consume some of the chocolate and discover first-hand what the effects would be. Between them they consumed eight squares of one of the chocolate bars, becoming "seriously intoxicated".

About twenty minutes after consuming the chocolate Dominelli became acutely aware of feeling unwell. He felt, he said, as though he was going to die and asked his partner to radio for help, but she refused. He then grabbed the radio and called for help: "Send an ambulance" he orders the dispatcher, saying he was on the brink of passing out.
The warning on the back of the packaging of a cannabis-infused chocolate bar, presented in court on Friday.
The warning on the back of the packaging of a cannabis-infused chocolate bar, presented in court on Friday.  (Court exhibit)
When other officers responded to the call, rushing to the scene of two of their own being in medical distress, one officer slipped on the icy surface suffering a severe head injury. That man remains with "significant difficulties with speech and vision" as a result, and ten months later is still off work on medical leave. As for the illegal pot-shop, seven people were charged after the raid. Charges laid against them were dropped because evidence had been tampered with.

Weeks following the raid, when the entire episode had become well known through media reports Dominelli had offered to resign. He remains in a depressed state, shakes with emotion when he speaks of the incident and breaks down in tears. While the Crown proposes a conditional sentence to be served in the community, the defence argues for a conditional discharge with the withdrawal of the charge of breach of trust.

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Friday, November 09, 2018

Full-Term Breech: Caesarian vs Vaginal Delivery

"You develop a relationship with that midwife, they understand you, and you develop a trust so that when you are in labour the person there is someone you have a relationship with."
Jamie Brignell McCallum, mother of two breech babies, one caesarian delivery

"Even though breech birth is within midwives' scope of practice, hospitals can decide to limit midwives' scope."
"This means that the types of births midwives are allowed to attend in hospital are limited, forcing clients to transfer care to an obstetrician, even though they have a midwife who has followed them through their pregnancy and is willing and able to care for them."
Mothers of Change of the National Capital Region

"[The Ottawa Hospital's board looks forward to the] presentation by the Mothers of Change of the National Capital Region." 
"Our hospital continues to work closely with our own midwives, the College of Midwives, and the midwife and patient community at large to support a patient's birth delivery of their choice."
The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, OntarioImage of breech birth positions
Midwives operating in Ontario are routinely trained to delivery breech babies -- babies that present buttocks or feet first in the birth canal when preparing to emerge -- and are competent in their professional capacity to meet the needs of mothers whose babies are breech, not by caesarean section but vaginally, as a normal procedure treated with a little extra care and manipulation. In Canada, around 2000, vaginal breech delivery came to a virtual halt when research linked it to higher complication risks. Doctors faced with breech birth switched to caesarean section.

However, in 2009 new evidence persuaded the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada to reverse that trend and to recommend that physicians should no longer automatically decide that caesarean sections for breech births represented the option of first choice. Many women, urged the Society, can safely deliver breech babies vaginally. Caesarean sections in Canada had become so commonplace -- though it is serious surgery with greater chances of things going awry for mother and child in complications, as well as a longer recovery time -- they became a matter of concern.

Doctors however, with little exposure to the alternative and experience in the vaginal delivery of breech babies preferred to continue high rates of caesarean sections for women delivering breech babies, in spite of the official policy recommendations. Mothers and advocates for change have observed that midwives still face obstacles in hospital settings in practising the full extent of their skills, notably including vaginal birth deliveries for breech babies.

This situation has led to a protest against hospital requirements that only physicians be authorized to tend to breech births, leading to the necessity of midwives being forced to transfer the care of patients they have served throughout pregnancy to the physicians deployed at the hospital in the delivery of breech babies -- by caesarean section exclusively, a policy that is of great concern to area mothers along with their advocates.

Women complain they experience "a lot of pressure" to agree to having a caesarean section when their babies present in the breech position. Apart from the group Mothers of Change, The Coalition for Breech Birth advocates as well for "the return of vaginal birth to the normal options offered to women with breech babies". One out of every 25 full-term births turns out a breech delivery, so the issue is one of substantial measurement.
  • Complete breech: Here, the buttocks are pointing downward with the legs folded at the knees and feet near the buttocks.
  • Frank breech: In this position, the baby’s buttocks are aimed at the birth canal with its legs sticking straight up in front of his or her body and the feet near the head.
  • Footling breech: In this position, one or both of the baby’s feet point downward and will deliver before the rest of the body.                                    
Risks associated with a caesarean birth for women include:
  • Nausea and vomiting after the surgery.
  • Difficulty moving around easily after the surgery.
  • Developing blood clots that could travel to your lungs or brain.
  • Pain that lasts days to weeks after the birth.
  • Re-opening of the surgical wound.
  • Infection.
  • Scarring of the uterus, which can cause complications in future pregnancies and births.
  • Accidental cuts to your bladder or bowel.
  • Complications from the anesthetic.
  • Bleeding. If uncontrollable, in rare circumstances your uterus may need to be removed.
  • Death (extremely rare with today’s advanced technology and care processes).

"The thing that we have to keep in mind is that there will always be women who want a normal, natural childbirth."
"There's major fear around vaginal birth. And trying to undo it is really difficult when you've got an entire cohort of physicians who have not been trained to do it."
"And more have been trained to fear it."
Ottawa midwife Betty-Anne Daviss, practising for 30 years, attended 150 vaginal breech births
Leanne Moussa with Isa Russell Qureshi. delivered by Betty-Anne Daviss in complete breech at 42 weeks.

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Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Thawing Arctic

"These lakes speed up permafrost thaw. It's an acceleration."
"I love the solitude of remote lakes and the mystery of what lies beneath the water surface."
"You’re just looking down into this stream of bubbles coming up right into your face, and they’re so soft they go all around you. And the sunlight’s on them. It’s like out of this world but under this world."
Katey Walter Anthony, aquatic ecologist, Arctic expert, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

"It’s kind of freaky. [Diving into the under 60 degree Wow 2 waters, in wetsuit and snorkel, feeling his way around the scant visibility].
"Right where the hole goes in, it slopes, and it’s flattened out, and it coned back down, and that was where some really loose sediment was, and I could stick my hands into it."
Philip Hanke, research assistant
Methane gas released from seep holes at the bottom of Esieh Lake send ripples to the surface. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)
Below the peaks of the Western Brooks Range a vast lake had the appearance of boiling over as its water hissed, bubbled and popped, activated by gas escaping from the lake bed, bubbles rising as large as grapefruits, seen to 'lift' the water's surface, dredging up muck from the bed of the lake. This was different, this was unique, thought aquatic ecologist Katey Walter Anthony as she sat at the shoreline, watching the unusual action, knowing that the gas was in fact, methane.

As the Arctic continues to warm, permafrost begins to thaw, releasing carbon dioxide from soil to air. The thaws spur the growth of lakes in the sunken ground and these bodies of water have a tendency to unleash the gas known as methane from decomposing, ancient deposits of plant material. This lake, to the scientist, looked different than those she had become familiar with in her research, and she named it Esieh Lake. It was the volume of gas being produced that captivated her interest.

When she first saw the lake and witnessed the activity on its surface, the thought occurred that it might explode. The very thought of a methane-induced explosion was one that would reduce anyone knowing its potential to instant fear. She once took a video and posted it in 2010 of herself standing on the frozen surface of an Arctic lake, lighting a methane stream on fire as a tower of flame resulted whooshing over her own height.

She returned in August of this year with a small research team to further explore the possible secrets within Esieh Lake; whether what she had witnessed was an anomaly or a sign that the Arctic as it thawed had initiated a serious release of methane from an ancient source that might conceivably aggravate climate change. If the warming Arctic releases increasing amounts of planetary heating methane ... more warming could ensue.

She had been tasked by a Native Alaskan group, the NANA Regional Corporation, to search for seeps of methane gas in northwest Alaska, hoping to be able to take advantage of its presence as a source of fuel to benefit remote communities. In the course of that search she studied some 300 lakes across the Arctic tundra. In 2017 Walter Anthony sent a message to residents of KIotzebue, Alaska of her search for unusual lakes whose surface was unfrozen.

A pilot responded, leading her to the Noatak region, a near distance above the Arctic Circle, and last September her first visit to the lake took place, so remote days of camping are required to finally reach it. Once her initial fear elicited by the sight and potential of all that gas dissipated, her scientific mind took control as she grew more comfortable with the constant spluttering of the lake.
A rainbow shines over Esieh Lake, with the seep field of methane gas visible in the centre. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

Sounding devices identified huge holes at the lake's bottom. Esieh Lake is shallow, averaging about a metre deep. However, the gas bubbles cluster indicate a floor beneath that suddenly drops, a plunge so deep all visible signs of plant life vanish and measurements indicate the lake dips to about 15 metres in one area and close to 4.5 metres in another. Those seep clusters were named W1 and W2.

When the scientific team examined samples of the gas in the laboratory they identified the chemical signature of a "geological" origin. The methane venting out of the lake emerged from a reservoir of far older fossil fuels than would be the case if direct thawing of frozen Arctic soil represented its source. The extrapolation seemed clear enough; should fossil fuels buried for thousands of years now be exposed to the atmosphere, the situation would represent a clear risk of greater warming threat.

As a result of the unremitting Arctic cold, carbon-rich remains of countless generations of vegetation that died and sank below the surface of the Arctic where permafrost soils can reach depths of 1,500 metres were preserved for tens of thousands of years if not more. The research team examined the presence of thermokarst lakes, formed when wedges of ice within permafrost melt to create voids that fill with water.
Frederic Thalasso, of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico, uses a gas analyzer at Esieh Lake. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)
Continuing growth of those lakes formed in the tundra could more than double the greenhouse gas emissions emanating from Arctic soil by 2100. The use of instrumental gas measurements around the lake identified Esieh Lake emissions to be extremely high, identified with fossil fuels. Aside from methane, measurement instruments detected ethane, butane and propane representing classic signatures of fossil origin.
Graduate student Janelle Sharp who accompanied researcher Katey Walter Anthony to Esieh Lake. The team brought shotguns as protection against grizzly bears, which frequent the area. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

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