Study Finds that Firefighters Might Be More Susceptible to Melanoma

Beauty woman
Skin cancer is an extremely common disorder, with over 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers diagnosed in two million Americans annually. But while nonmelanoma cancers present their own risks, the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, is far rarer. Unfortunately, a new study suggests that workers in a certain profession might be more susceptible to developing melanoma: firefighters, particularly those who work in Australia.Monash University in Melbourne, in conjunction with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC), recently conducted an analysis on the cancer rates and causes of death among Australian firefighters. Over the course of three years, the research team studied 232,781 firefighters, comparing their information to data from the general population.

While previous studies around the world have found that people who choose this career have elevated incidences of a variety of cancers, the report found that firefighters in Australia have an increased risk of developing both melanoma and prostate cancer. Moreover, firefighters who had worked in the field for over 20 years were especially prone to this higher risk level. Due to smaller population sizes, the researchers are awaiting further data on female firefighters and volunteers who have been exposed to multiple fires.

In response to their findings, the research team has recommended that people involved in this profession take advantage of early detection measures for both prostate and skin cancers, as well as limit their sun exposure to reduce their chances of developing melanoma. The researchers also pointed out that as a population, firefighters seem to be healthier than most Australians.

However, even those who may be susceptible to an increased risk of melanoma may soon have reason to celebrate: an Australian oncologist recently predicted that a cure for melanoma may be “in our sights.”

At a meeting of the Society for Melanoma Research International Congress in Zurich, Dr. Grant McArthur closed the conference by reporting that the research that had been presented had left him feeling “upbeat” about the chances of discovering a cure for a condition that is usually considered incurable.

McArthur, a consultant medical oncologist at the University of Melbourne and director of skin and melanoma services at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, defended his claim by recapping the developments that have occurred in melanoma treatments since 1975. Beginning with chemotherapeutic dacarbazine and ending with interleukin-2, he explained that one year survival rates had increased from 33% to 46% as new treatments had been discovered. According to McArthur, 2014 had been an especially prodigious year for melanoma treatments due to a number of MEK and immune checkpoint inhibitors, which have increased one year survival rates to 80% in some cases. Because of this, he recommended that doctors begin focusing on long-term survival to further assist and potentially cure the disease.

“I think that we have cure in our sights for this disease, which has long been considered incurable,” he said.

For the sake of the millions of people around the world who have skin cancer, including a number of Australian firefighters, let’s hope he’s right.

As Data Shows the 2014-2015 Flu Strain To Be Deadlier Than Expected, A Shocking Number of Americans Are Still Not Vaccinated

Flu allergy. Sick girl sneezing in tissue. Health

Flu season has been well under way in the U.S. for a couple months now, but according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s flu strain is a little bit different — and a little more dangerous — than strains in previous years.

The flu tends to be a bit unpredictable from year to year, and because so many patients only have minor symptoms when they catch the virus, many instances of infection go unreported, thus making it difficult for researchers to know just how dangerous it is each year. In fact, experts note that anywhere from 5-20% of Americans could come down with the flu each year, meaning that anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans are infected annually.

Now that the 2014-2015 flu season is in full swing, researchers have been able to get a better idea of just how serious it will be. The Washington Post recently reported that this season’s flu strain has claimed five young victims already and has put an unusually large number of patients in the hospital.

The Post also notes that two particular anti-viral medicines in flu vaccines — oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) — are expected to be particularly important in combating the flu this year.

But as CDC Director Thomas Frieden has noted, only about one in every six Americans has received a vaccine this year, and experts are more than a little worried about that statistic.

Certain groups of people are more likely to get the flu than others, including children, the elderly, and pregnant women. In past years when vaccines have been scarce, these groups were targeted first to receive vaccines. But now that plenty of vaccines are available, and they’re more affordable than ever before, medical experts are worried that Americans aren’t taking the flu seriously enough.

As USA Today reporter Liz Szabo notes, flu vaccines don’t necessarily prevent the flu, but they do give immune systems an extra boost, and they make the symptoms milder and shorter in the event a person does contract the virus.

Perhaps, however, so much uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of vaccines is enough to convince people outside of the extra-vulnerable age groups that they can fight the virus well enough on their own. Unfortunately, researchers will probably only be able to answer this question for certain after this flu season has ended — and if this year’s strain is as dangerous as predicted, that might be too late for too many Americans.

Why Falling Oil Prices Won’t Reverse Our Move Toward Clean, Renewable Energy

Silhouette of offshore jack up rig at sea during sunset

Since June, global oil prices have fallen an incredible 40%.

Much of this can be attributed to the U.S. oil industry, which has ramped up crude oil production since 2008 and poured an extra four million barrels into the global oil supplyBloomberg reported in a December 3 article. In addition, OPEC has largely decided to not cut production, meaning the world now has much more oil on hand than it actually needs.

Another reason for this decline in global demand is the worldwide push toward cleaner, greener energy. According toBloomberg, green energy will receive nearly 60% of the predicted $5 trillion that will be invested in building new power plants throughout the next 10 years. Major economic powers like the U.S., China and the European Union are all pushing for more austere restrictions on greenhouse gases to help stimulate the shift toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

But while lower oil prices could spell trouble for oil companies and countries whose economies largely depend upon oil drilling, it’s good news for homeowners when the price of oil and natural gas determines how much they’ll pay to heat their homes this winter. That’s because heating and cooling make up more than 50% of the average home’s energy costs.

In fact, the New Yorker reports that these falling prices could put $75 billion dollars back into Americans’ wallets and even add 0.4 points to the U.S. GDP in 2015. This seemingly small GDP growth would be the first time the U.S. economy has grown by more than 3% since 2005.

All these facts don’t even take into account the fact that gas prices will be cheaper, as well. For the average American, the fall in crude oil prices around the world is something to be very happy about.

It’s great news for the environment, as well — with energy developers headed toward the $250 billion mark for this year’s spending on wind, solar, geothermal power and more, the increasingly rapid adoption of green energy should help slow down climate change and reduce the amount of pollution entering ecosystems everywhere.

Energy Efficient Building Occupants Don’t Understand High-Performance Features, According to New Study

View on the interior in skyscraper
Energy efficiency and sustainability may be the new buzzwords when it comes to environmentally friendly building construction, but a new study reveals that energy efficient lighting and windows don’t matter if building occupants don’t understand how those features work.

The study’s author, Julia Day, was a graduate student in interior design when she first encountered issues with building sustainability. Her interest in the subject began when she walked into an office designed for energy-saving daylighting techniques only to see the blinds closed and numerous lights turned on.

Worse, Day discovered that the controls for the blinds and lights were hidden high up on walls or down underneath desks, and not many of the workers knew how to properly use these devices.

From there, Day embarked on her study of effective training in using the features in high-performance buildings, which consist of over one-third of new commercial building constructions in the U.S.

Perhaps most encouraging is that Day discovered that those who had proper training in their building’s energy-saving features reported being the most satisfied with their work environments.

Day, who is now an assistant professor at Kansas State University, worked with WSU School of Design and Construction professor David Gunderson to examine more than 50 high-performance buildings across the United States. Day gathered data on the buildings’ architectural and engineering plans, and interviewed and surveyed the occupants of those buildings.

In many cases, Day found that workers in office buildings received an email or a quick overview of energy features in their buildings during a meeting, but they didn’t actually understand the best practices for those features.

Windows, for example, are often upgraded to provide daylight, ventilation and heat in the winter, but they can also account for at least 10% to 25% of a heating bill if they are outdated. As a result, many commercial and residential property owners upgrade their single pane windows to energy efficient models, especially as utility costs increase all around the country.

Day looked at energy efficiency for the windows of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings in her study. These spaces, certified as high-performance in energy efficiency by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program and/or the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED initiative, have increased from 5.6% in 2005 to 39.3% by the end of 2013, according to CBRE Research.

One building certified LEED gold by the Green Building Certification Institute had lights throughout to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows for natural ventilation. But out of the 15 people Day interviewed, all thought that the lights were part of the fire alarm system.

“There’s a gap,” she said of green building occupants’ knowledge, “and people do not really understand these buildings.”

Day found that the most successful of these green buildings had workers who were involved in the act of conservation by receiving adequate training on their buildings’ features.

After concluding her study, Day said she has plans to develop an energy lab to develop occupant training programs for these high-performance buildings.

“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” Day commented. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments.”

Navy to Host New Solar Energy Storage Project

Pannelli solari illuminati dai raggi del sole

Score one for renewable energy, particularly solar energy, as the U.S. Navy’s Mobile Utilities Support Equipment facility in Port Hueneme, CA, has announced it will be hosting a new cutting edge microgrid project.

This project aims to create a solar powered microgrid that will enable a system to operate in “island” mode, working off of only its own solar energy. This island mode is critical for security and resiliency.

The system uses vanadium flow batteries for solar energy storage, but how do these flow batteries actually work? Imergy Power Systems, the brains behind the flow batteries, explain that flow batteries generate a charge through the interaction of two liquids flowing next to each other.

Flow batteries have a huge advantage when it comes to lifecycle durability, and have have a strong safety and scalability advantage, because the liquids are stored in separate tanks.

The biggest challenges of this system have been compressing the energy density of the system into a useful size, and finding a cost-effective way to get the liquids close enough to interact, without contaminating each other.

The solution is valadium, a silvery transition metal that lends itself to this application, because it can exist in more than one state, which helps to cut down on cross-contamination. Unfortunately, there are no functioning valadium mines in the U.S., but Imergy is working to make that system more manageable.

The Navy has long proven to be ahead of the crowd when it comes to keeping its finger on the pulse of energy trends, whether its been wind power, coal, oil, or nuclear energy. It is the most progressive branch of the armed service when it comes to renewable energy.

With solar energy increasing in popularity, it’s no wonder the Navy has hopped on the solar bandwagon. Solar energy use has surged at about 20% a year over the past 15 years, and shows no signs of stopping, as the price of solar panels continues to drop.

Imergy is contributing an energy system it’s calling ESP30, which contains three vanadium flow batteries, to the Navy’s project. It has a capacity of up to 50 kilowatts and stores up to 200 kilowatt-hours.

ESP30 also delivers a cost of less than $300 per kilowatt-hour, and Imergy is confident it will meet the Energy Department’s energy storage goal of $220 per kilowatt-hour within about two years.

Three-Hour Frolic Ends Badly for LA Zoo’s Runaway Bighorn Sheep

Big Horn SheepUnfortunately, it’s fairly common to see news stories involving fatal injuries stemming from car accidents, usually claiming the lives of bicyclists or pedestrians, where the driver responsible for the crash tried to flee the scene. As many as 11% of all car crashes are compounded by hit-and-run offenses, in fact.

It’s also fairly common to see stories of zoo animals that manage to escape from their enclosures and suffer injuries because no one outside of a zoo in the U.S. expects to see African safari animals.

Rarely do the two stories intersect — but that’s exactly where this story is going.

This past Saturday, November 22, the Los Angeles Zoo at Griffith Park dealt with the loss of what the NY Post calls a “fugitive bighorn sheep.” The sheep reportedly escaped from the zoo around 1:20 PM, probably by jumping over a fence, zoo spokeswoman April Spurlock explains, and it spent about three hours “running free in the hills [and] enjoying its freedom in the great wide-open” while zoo staff frantically searched the area.

Unfortunately, the sheep then wandered onto a residential street about two miles from the zoo and was hit by a car. The driver, likely more than a little surprised to see a bighorn sheep on the loose in LA, did not stop after hitting the animal. Nevertheless, bystanders have confirmed that there was indeed a “car-on-sheep collision.”

The animal didn’t die immediately, officials state, but after veterinarians responded to the crash and tranquilized the sheep, it appeared that the crash injuries were too much for the sheep to overcome.

Zoo officials are still investigating how exactly the sheep escaped from its enclosure, and an official necropsy has been ordered to determine that the car crash was definitely the cause of death.

It appears that there were some direct person-and-sheep encounters before the animal managed to escape the zoo entirely, but perhaps the silver lining in this situation is that no human injuries resulted from that.

Still, it will be interesting to see if the LA Zoo will decide to pursue legal action against the driver responsible for the sheep’s death — it’s unlikely that the driver would be charged for the crash itself, but the zoo certainly could argue that the driver broke the law by fleeing the scene.

Furthermore, it’s unknown if the zoo will try to replace the sheep, or if the remaining four bighorn sheep will be left to entertain visitors while mourning the loss of their fifth comrade.

Latest SAT Results Lamentable, Students Ready to “Jump Into an Ocean Filled With Hungry Sharks” Over Scores

Teacher talking with students in the clasroomEarlier last month, students could finally access their anxiously awaited SAT scores, which — judging from reactions across social media — were lamentable.


In order to get a perfect score of 2,400, students would have had to have gotten an 800 on each of the three parts — critical reading, math, and writing — of the SAT. Last year, about 1.6 million students took the SAT, averaging a 496 in reading, 514 in math, and 488 in writing, for a composite score of 1,498.

This recent batch of test results are separate from what the College Board found to be the class of 2014’s average scores, which were also distressing. If Cyndie Schmeiser, the College Board’s chief of assessment, were to describe them, she told the Huffington Post that “flat and stagnant would be the words that we would use.”

The 1.67 million students in the class of 2014 averaged a 497 in reading, 513 in math and 487 in writing for a composite score of 1,497 — just one point worse than the class of 2013. These results also showed that only 42.6% of the class of 2014 had scores of 1550 or higher, meaning less than half of them were ready for college.

Though these averages did not include the most recent batch of results, and though the data is not quite yet available, students didn’t seem to do too well judging from the reaction on Twitter. As @Laynababy22, tweeted, “Got my SAT score back and it’s official, I’m stupid :-)”

Last March, the College Board announced plans to change the SAT’s format in an effort to curb the academic stagnation. The college preparatory exam will return to a 1,600-point scale, stop deducting points for wrong answers, and will focus on material closer to what students actually study in school.

However, the new format will roll out in 2016, which means that for now, students will still have to deal with the 2,400-point scale and older format.

Ferrari Set to Split From Fiat Chrysler



In an attempt to keep the focus on its mass-market audience, the newly formed Fiat Chrysler group has announced that it is splitting from its well-known luxury Italian brand, Ferrari. Fiat Chrysler plans to list shares of Ferrari stock on the New York State stock market and possibly on European stock markets, as well.

While there is no set date for when the stocks will be listed, the car company has said that 10% will be up for grabs, while the rest are to be distributed among Fiat Chrysler shareholders.

Fiat currently owns two luxury sports car brands: Ferrari and Maserati. Although it is an iconic car owned by many celebrities and used in many TV shows and movies, the Ferrari doesn’t align with Fiat Chrysler’s mass-market audience. The luxury sports car hasn’t performed well this year on the racetrack either, marking one of its worst years in Formula One racing history.

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Ferrari’s chairman of 23 years, was pushed out of his position back in September and replaced by Fiat Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne.

The separation of Ferrari from Fiat Chrysler is expected to be completed by next year, but an exact date hasn’t been announced.

“The separation of Ferrari will preserve the cherished Italian heritage and unique position of the Ferrari business and allow F.C.A. shareholders to continue to benefit from the substantial value inherent in this business,” said chairman of Fiat Chrysler John Elkann, according to The New York Times.

Fiat Chrysler only recently began trading on the New York Stock Exchange after the merger of the two automakers was approved. Fiat took full control of Chrysler earlier this year after Chrysler found itself facing major financial woes.

Fiat Chrysler’s main focus is on targeting middle-class families with its line of safe and affordable vehicles, like the FIAT 500, which won 2008 European Car of the Year award. By splitting from Ferrari, both automakers will be able to focus on selling their different vehicles to their separate target audiences.

Paper, Plastic or Apple Pay? Who Will End Up Coming Out on Top?

credit card

Public mistrust and outrage over several recent data breaches have focused mainly on retail giants that were hacked. However, several security experts are now saying that the credit card industry itself is also to blame.

Over a decade ago, major credit card companies — including American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa — launched a preemptive strategy to combat data thieves and hackers amidst growing public concern over cyberattacks. In 2001, businesses were required to meet a strict checklist of security criteria to prove they were taking measures to protect the personal credit card data of their customers.

Unfortunately, the security measures imposed by credit card companies failed to prevent an increasing number of cyberattacks against retailers during this past year. Home Depot and Target — two of the largest retailers affected by data breaches — claim they adhered to the security measures prior to hackers stealing the credit and debit card data of 96 million consumers from their computer systems.

It’s been debated whether complying with the credit card industry’s security regulations has been effective in protecting consumer information. However, the security tests have been instrumental in how credit card companies are attempting to keep consumer payment information secure. The credit card industry claims the tests provide insight as to how well a business is protecting its computer system, and those who meet all the security guidelines are still vulnerable to data breaches.

In an effort to minimize and prevent future cyberattacks, the credit card industry has began issuing credit cards embedded with a microchip and PIN access code, as opposed to the traditional magnetic stripe. This new technology is designed to make it more difficult for purchases to be made with stolen credit card data, or for hackers to create counterfeit cards.

With the release of the highly anticipated iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple has entered the data breach foray with a possible solution: Apple Pay. This mobile payment method allows consumers to pay for their purchases using their smartphone or other mobile devices, such as iPads and the new Apple Watch. Consumers don’t even have to open an app thanks to innovative near-field communication (NFC) technology used by both the iPhone 6 and participating retailers. One swipe is all it takes.

Apple Pay is said to be more secure than traditional payment methods due to its use of NFC technology and fingerprint identification. However, not all businesses are so quick to jump on the Apple Pay bandwagon. Retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy have opted out, choosing instead to offer their own form of mobile payment, CurrentC. However, CurrentC recently suffered its own data breach when hackers were able to break into the system and steal consumer email information, raising several eyebrows.

As the winter holiday season rapidly approaches, retails are preparing for consumers to empty both their traditional and mobile wallets. Forecasts for consumer holiday spending are surprisingly positive, with consumers expected to an average of $781 on Christmas and holiday gifts, the highest figure in nearly six years. Despite concern over data breaches, consumer optimism is high as the economy continues to pick up speed. In fact, credit card debt accounts for just 5.5% of total household debt in the United States.

While the debate over secure methods of payment will continue for quite some time, consumers are eager to spend and use their hard-earned cash, plastic, and mobile payment methods on gifts for the upcoming holidays.

Pope Francis Creates Commission to Help Divorced Catholics

couple getting divorcedFrom his first days as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has consistently presented himself as a more forgiving figure than many of his predecessors. Beginning with a Holy Thursday ritual in 2013, in which Francis bathed the feet of 12 prison inmates (including two women), the former Argentinian cardinal has come to be seen as a refreshing influence by many liberal Catholics. Now, he seems to be turning this spirit of mercy to a controversial topic: divorce.

While it is often overshadowed by hot-button issues like gay rights, abortion and child abuse, divorce has long been considered a contentious subject within the Catholic church. Although there are an estimated 46,523 divorces filed each week in the United States alone, the Vatican and many parishes adhere to a strict Biblical interpretation: unless a marriage is annulled by the church, divorcees are unable to receive Communion or have a religious ceremony if they remarry. In some cases, the spouses of remarried Catholics are also denied Communion, as the Vatican does not recognize their marriages as legitimate.

The controversy of the issue was made clear in February 2014, when a German cardinal, Walter Kasper, delivered a speech at a closed meeting of his peers, suggesting that divorced Catholics be given the right to receive Communion after a period of penance. In response, five prominent cardinals, including the Vatican’s supreme court chief justice, published a book refuting his position. Francis’s top economic adviser also refuted his position in another book.

However, Francis’s response was far more accepting. In his first Sunday blessing as pontiff, the pope praised Kasper by name and mentioned his book, “Mercy,” which argues that mercy is at the theological center of Christianity. Francis also spoke repeatedly of the importance of mercy when he was questioned about his position on divorce. Finally, on September 21, he ordered a group of theologians and papal lawyers to find a way to simplify the annulment process, which is often time-consuming and expensive. By annulling a marriage, the Church essentially states that the partnership was never valid, for reasons such as a spouse not wanting to have children.

While some might find Francis’s 11-member commission a hollow approach, particularly given the popularity of divorce in secular society, theologians say that streamlining the annulment process avoids issues caused by Kasper’s suggestion of penance and mercy. For example, some have called his plan an act of “pseudo-mercy” in which divorcees are told their second marriages are tolerated but not approved, as they remain married to their first spouse in the eyes of Christ. Though an improved annulment process has yet to be unveiled, Francis’s support of such a measure is typically seen as a continuation of his forgiving papacy. While it is unlikely that being granted annulment will ever be as easy as obtaining a legal divorce, this venture offers new hope to Catholic divorcees around the world, who may eventually be able to take Communion with the rest of their parish.