Sunday, May 3, 2009

'Teen repellent' gives young people headaches

"It sucks! It gives me a headache," 10-year-old Mohammed says about the mosquito - a device that emits an annoying sound with a frequency that can generally be heard only by people under the age of 25. His friends Ercan, Anass and Nordin agree. "It's like when you've been listening to loud music for a long time and then you stop. This buzzing sound."

The kids all live in the Rotterdam neighbourhood of Oud Charlois, where mosquitoes first appeared a year ago. We take a walk from the Wolphaertsbocht to an interior court off Clemens Street. Within this small perimeter there are no less than six mosquitoes: above snackbar Marlena, clothing shop Hans, the bakery and the supermarket, and on the courtyard itself.

The mosquito - or 'teen repellent' - is meant to discourage groups of kids from loitering in the streets and making a nuisance of themselves. Opinions about its efficiency diverge. A group of older kids are willing to comment. "It hurts my ears but I've grown used to it. We're still here," says one. "It's like swimming under water but we're used to it," says another.

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The Mosquito or Mosquito alarm (marketed as the Beethoven in France and the Swiss-Mosquito in Switzerland) is an electronic device, used for solving loitering problems, which emits an annoying sound with a high frequency. The newest version of the device, launched late in 2008, has two frequency settings, one of approximately 17.4 kHz  that can generally be heard only by people under the age of 25, and another at 8 kHz that can be heard by most people. The sound pressure ranges from 85 to 94 decibels (dB). The sound can typically only be heard by people below 25 years of age, as the ability to hear high frequencies deteriorates in humans with age (a phenomenon known as presbycusis).

The device is marketed as a safety and security tool for preventing youths from congregating in specific areas. As such, it is promoted to reduce anti-social behaviour such as loitering, graffiti, vandalism, drug abuse, drug distribution, and violence. In the UK, over 3,000 have been sold, mainly for use outside shops and near transport hubs. The device is also sold in Australia, France, Denmark, Italy, Canada and the USA.

The Mosquito has attracted controversy on the basis of human rights. Critics say that it discriminates against young people and infringes their human rights, while supporters argue that making the Mosquito illegal would infringe the human rights of shopkeepers who suffer business losses when "unruly teenagers" drive away their customers.[5] Mosquito distributors have said that they keep standards to ensure that the device is not abused, and Howard Stapleton who invented the device has asked European governments to legislate guidelines governing its use.

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The manufacturer's website:

Ikaria - island of longevity

Free Hugs prank: $2 Deluxe Hugs

Howling Bells - 'Setting Sun'

Biosafety Bites #21: 'Is UT trying to cover up a more serious accident than it has admitted to?'

The Sunshine Project
Biosafety Bites #21 (v.2) - 11 January 2007

The Bird Flu Lab Accident that Officially Didn't Happen, or
How the University of Texas at Austin Could Have Caused the Next Influenza Pandemic, but Everybody Lived to Cover It Up

Don't ask the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about the genetically engineered influenza pandemic that might have started in Austin, Texas in April 2006. That's because until NIH reads this Biosafety Bites, they almost certainly haven't heard anything about it. And that shows yet again that the US biotechnology and laboratory safety oversight system is a dangerous failure.

NIH's Office of Biotechnology Activities (OBA) doesn't enforce biosafety rules, so the University of Texas (UT) didn't report the unsettling Bird Flu accident. UT must have reasoned: Why draw attention to a lab accident when there's no cost for burying such incidents? It surely wouldn't be the first time such an event has been swept under the rug.

BSL-3 in the Heart of Texas
According UT records obtained by the Sunshine Project (PDF link), the accident happened on a Wednesday afternoon, 12 April 2006. A postdoc was working in the Molecular Biology Building ("MBB") on the University of Texas campus in Austin, just a couple minutes' walk away from tightly packed dormitories, the kind of place where a virulent new influenza strain might eagerly take hold. A little over a kilometer south is the Texas Capitol and a warren of state office buildings teeming with public employees.

Centrifuge Accident Aerosolizes Genetically Engineered Influenza
The postdoc was working alone in a beefed-up BSL-3 laboratory wearing a full lab suit. A respirator system provided oxygen through an air hose. The high-tech safety measures were in place because the viruses in the lab were not your average flu. They were something much more dangerous. They were genetically engineered influenza strains that mixed and matched genes of the common human H3N2 influenza and those of deadly H5N1 "Bird Flu". The kind of unpredictable reassorted flu strain that public health officials fear could cause the next human pandemic.

In the BSL-3 lab, a quantity of the engineered influenza was ready for work. It had been grown mixed with cells. The experiments required purified virus. So, a little after 2:00PM, the researcher transferred a quantity of the virus mixture into a tube. The tube was capped and placed in a centrifuge on a lab bench. The centrifuge would separate out the virus through spinning - centrifugal force.
But the tube was of the wrong type for the centrifuge. There were two almost identical centrifuges in the lab, and their non-interchangeable parts had become mixed up.

The postdoc pushed a button and the centrifuge began to spin. Because the tube was the wrong type, its cap didn't fit correctly. It cracked. The centrifuge lost balance. Turning the machine off and then opening it, the postdoc observed that the level of virus fluid in the tube had gone down and that its exterior had become wet, both indicators of a leak. This was a serious problem because as the machine spun around, the leaked virus had become aerosolized, at least within the centrifuge.

The Inevitable Human Error
By now the cracked cap problem had been compounded by human error, an ever-present factor in lab work. Rather than waiting for the aerosolized flu to settle, the centrifuge had been immediately opened. In an invisible puff of air, virus particles wafted out of the machine. Now, the virus was floating around the whole lab, stirred by air movements, then slowing settling on exposed surfaces or being sucked out the exhaust which, hopefully, had effective HEPA filtration (the UT documents are silent on this item).
It was something like a Bird Flu victim walking into the room and coughing all around, spreading virus where he went. Except this mixed up lab creation of H5N1 virus was possibly more efficient at infecting humans than natural "Bird Flu" because of its H3N2 human influenza parts.

The researcher sprayed Lysol and wiped up surfaces in the work area, exited the lab, took a shower, and put on new clothes. Within hours, the postdoc was taking Tamiflu, in the hope that it would stop the virus if the researcher had been infected. For several uncomfortable days, the University of Texas staff waited to see if the researcher developed symptoms. None are reported to have appeared.
The University of Texas at Austin had dodged a bullet. It took longer for a UT biosafety team to straighten out the lab and reopen it. Under any of a variety of plausible scenarios, the accident might resulted in disaster. For example, if the cap leaked but didn't crack, without the postdoc noticing, thereby multiplying the danger to include everyone working in the lab over a longer time.

UT's Bird Flu Hybrid and Deceptive Records
Reading UT's records (view the PDF accident report here), it is clear that the University was thinking in terms of public relations from practically the moment that the accident occurred. UT records unscientifically discuss (downplay) the risks and neglect to precisely describe the flu strain. For example, they state that the virus should be considered like far less dangerous H3N2 despite it being a hybrid with "some genes from H5N1". This is deceptive, because the bug that causes flu is composed of only 8 short pieces of RNA that collectively encode just 11 proteins.

Assuming "some genes from H5N1" means at least three RNA pieces or more, or the RNA to encode three proteins, UT's hybrid Bird Flu virus would be about 25% H5N1 (somewhere between 3/11ths and 3/8ths), and potentially much more if the "some genes" were larger ones. That's certainly enough H5N1 genetic material to create an unpredictable and potentially extremely dangerous (pandemic) reassortant. Tiny differences in genes can make huge differences in the bug. Nobody knows for sure how dangerous UT's flu was because, by good fortune, this story doesn't end in human infection.

UT's report also deceptively states "CDC recommends BSL2 practices for H3N2, but it was decided that BSL3 would be prudent for use with this agent," as if UT was acting with an abundance of caution. But UT was was working with a potentially pandemic combination of H5N1 and H3N2. And well before April 2006, there had been scientific discussion and government recommendations made about the need for BSL-3 or higher containment for flu viruses like UT's. Thus, contrary to the implication of its PR-wise assertions, UT was not taking any major steps above and beyond the basic measures that should have been used for such a virus.

Echoes of 2005's Flu Accident
It must have weighed heavily on the minds of University of Texas public relations officials (who were called less than 2 hours after the accident) that one year before, on 12 April 2005, global headlines were dominated by the story of Meridian Biosciences Inc., which sent 3,700 samples of potentially dangerous noncontemporary H2N2 flu to labs in the US and across the world. If the UT accident became public at that time, its occurrence on the anniversary of the Meridian story might have cast an extra bright and unflattering light on the University of Texas, potentially unsettling the Molecular Biology Building's many neighbors, many of whom would be unhappy to learn that they came too close for comfort to being ground zero of a deadly flu pandemic.

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John Harris - 'It's an illusion' talk at the Stoke 'Lawful Rebellion' Conference

Political, economic and legal experts like to say the world is complicated. 'Complicated' is another way of saying that explaining things to you would embarrass someone or put them in trouble. Things are complicated for them who are culpable, not for you. If they aren't explaining something to you it is because they either can't or won't. Here is a simple carpenter simplifying things beautifully:


image from

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