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Fracking isn’t contaminating groundwater, study finds

New research claims that fracking isn't contaminating groundwater.

New research claims that fracking isn’t contaminating groundwater.  (Reuters, File)

A major anti-fracking argument by environmentalists may not have the facts to back it up, a new study conducted by Duke University found.

Fracking has not contaminated groundwater in northwestern West Virginia, according to the peer-reviewed study published this month in a European journal.

“Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of our study,” explained Avner Vengosh, the professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

TAPPED OUT: SCIENCE SHUTS DOWN AN ANTI-FRACKING MYTH ABOUT DRINKING WATER

The growing industry could help create as many as 3.5 million jobs by 2035, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

While the study concluded that fracking didn’t contaminate groundwater, the researchers did say accidental spills of fracking wastewater could be dangerous to surface water in the area.

VIDEO: IS FRACKING REALLY SO BAD?

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”However, we did find that spill water associated with fracked wells and their wastewater has an impact on the quality of streams in areas of intense shale gas development,” Vengosh added.

“The bottom-line assessment,” he continued, “is that groundwater is so far not being impacted, but surface water is more readily contaminated because of the frequency of spills.”

To complete the research, water samples from 112 drinking wells in northwestern West Virginia were evaluated during a three year period. Twenty of the water wells were sampled prior to drilling or fracking started in the area in order to obtain a baseline for later comparisons.

Tests demonstrated the presence of saline groundwater and methane in both the pre-drilling and post-drilling well water samples. But the samples had a chemistry slightly but distinctly different from the methane and salts found in fracking fluids and shale gas. The findings indicated that the elements occurred naturally in the region’s permeable rock and weren’t related to the result of recent shale gas operations at the site.

The study appears in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.

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Casual marijuana use linked with brain abnormalities, study finds

Casual marijuana use may come with some not-so-casual side effects.

For the first time, researchers at Northwestern University have analyzed the relationship between casual use of marijuana and brain changes – and found that young adults who used cannabis just once or twice a week showed significant abnormalities in two important brain structures.

The study’s findings, to be published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, are similar to those of past research linking chronic, long-term marijuana use with mental illness and changes in brain development.

Dr. Hans Breiter, co-senior study author, said he was inspired to look at the effects of casual marijuana use after previous work in his lab found that heavy cannabis use caused similar brain abnormalities to those seen in patients with schizophrenia.

“The interaction of marijuana with brain development could be a significant problem.”- Dr. Hans Breiter, co-senior study author

“There were abnormalities in their working memory, which is fundamental to everything you do,” Breiter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told FoxNews.com.  “When you make judgments or decisions, plan things, do mathematics – anything you do always involves working memory.  It’s one of the core fundamental aspects of our brains that we use every day.  So given those findings, we decided we need to look at casual, recreational use.”

For their most recent study, Breiter and his team analyzed a very small sample of patients between the ages of 18 and 25: 20 marijuana users and 20 well-matched control subjects.  The marijuana users had a wide range of usage routines, with some using the drug just once or twice a week and others using it every single day.

Utilizing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers analyzed the participants’ brains, focusing on the nucleus accumbens (NAC) and the amygdala – two key brain regions responsible for processing emotions, making decisions and motivation.  They looked at these brain structures in three different ways, measuring their density, volume and shape.

According to Breiter, all three were abnormal in the casual marijuana users.

“For the NAC, all three measures were abnormal, and they were abnormal in a dose-dependent way, meaning the changes were greater with the amount of marijuana used,” Breiter said.  “The amygdala had abnormalities for shape and density, and only volume correlated with use.  But if you looked at all three types of measures, it showed the relationships between them were quite abnormal in the marijuana users, compared to the normal controls.”

Because these brain regions are central for motivation, the findings from Northwestern help support the well-known theory that marijuana use leads to a condition called amotivation. Also called amotivational syndrome, this psychological condition causes people to become less oriented towards their goals and purposes in life, as well as seem less focused in general.

Given these eye-opening results,  Breiter said that more research is needed to look into marijuana’s effects on the brain – even in those who use the drug only once or twice a month.

“We need to see what happens longitudinally,” Breiter said. “What happens as you follow people over time?  What happens if they stop using – do these bad effects continue? What happens if you can intervene early?…My worry is we haven’t studied this compound and here we are looking to change legislation on it.”

Although Breiter’s team members did not examine the patients’ cognitive symptoms, they do believe that the brain abnormalities seen in their study could lead to substantial effects on brain development and behavior, especially given the young ages of the participants.  Breiter also acknowledged the problems of analyzing a very small study sample – but said that their findings should still serve as a wake-up call to others.

“This study is just a beginning pilot study, but at the same time, the results that came out are the same as a canary in a coal mine,” Breiter said.  “…The interaction of marijuana with brain development could be a significant problem.”

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Modern humans no brainier than neanderthals, study finds

Modern humans no brainier than neanderthals, study finds

Modern humans no brainier than neanderthals, study finds

This Jan. 8, 2003 file photo shows a reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a modern human version of a skeleton, left, on display at the Museum of Natural History.AP PHOTO/FRANK FRANKLIN II, FILE

It’s a well-ingrained stereotype: That Neanderthals grunted their way through life as less than brilliant “club-wielding brutes.” A new study published in Plos One says that just isn’t so.

Scientists have long theorized that early modern humans had a cognitive advantage (which translated, they posited, into a better diet, better weapons, and better communication) that allowed them to survive when Neanderthals did not some 40,000 years ago.

Wil Roebroeks at the Netherlands’ Leiden University was one of two researchers who dug through archaeological records looking for research to support the idea of a dimwitted demise, but instead found “there is no archaeology to back them up.”

Adds Dr. Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, “The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there.” In terms of being able to communicate and work as a team, they point to a sinkhole in France where Neanderthals are believed to have steered hundreds of bison to their deaths; food remains at cooking sites suggest a diverse diet that included pistachios and wild olives, a press release notes.

Villa says part of the issue is that Neanderthals have long been compared to humans who came after them (in the Upper Paleolithic period) rather than those who were their Middle Paleolithic contemporaries.

Quips Villa, “It would be like comparing the performance of Model T Fords to the performance of a modern-day Ferrari and conclude that Henry Ford was cognitively inferior to Enzo Ferrari.” So why did they die out? Roebroeks and Villa think the answer is a complex one, but note that interbreeding with modern humans may have produced infertile male offspring, the Guardian reports.

(And there’s more evidence that Neanderthals weren’t the brutes their name suggests.)

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