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Near-Record ‘Dead Zone’ Predicted in Gulf of Mexico

The annual dead zone this summer will cover more than 20,000 square kilometers

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Dead Zone, Gulf of mexico, US
Biofuels Unravel Efforts to Shrink Gulf Dead Zone. VOA

U.S. scientists say an area of oxygen-depleted water in the Gulf of Mexico, known as the “dead zone,” will reach a near-record size this season.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted Monday the annual zone this summer will cover more than 20,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Slovenia.

They say that size, if borne out, would be the second-largest zone on record, just smaller than in 2017, when the dead zone reached 22,700 square kilometers, close to the size of Turkey.

A separate forecast Monday from scientists at Louisiana State University also predicted an unusually large dead zone.

Dead Zone, Gulf of mexico, US
U.S. scientists say an area of oxygen-depleted water in the Gulf of Mexico, known as the “dead zone,” will reach a near-record size this season. Pixabay

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone — one of the largest dead zones in the world — is at the bottom of the body of water.  A dead zone occurs when there is not enough oxygen to support marine life. It threatens all aquatic life in the water, and can deplete the numbers of fish, shrimp and crabs caught in the Gulf.

NOAA said in its news release Monday that the prediction for a large dead zone is because of an “abnormally high amount of spring rainfall in many parts of the Mississippi River watershed,” which led to high amounts of fertilizer downriver.

The fertilizers feed algae, which then die on the sea floor and use up oxygen as they decompose.

The size of the average Gulf dead zone is about 15,000 square kilometers. U.S. federal and state officials have previously pledged to reduce its size to less than 5,000 square kilometers.

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NOAA said its forecast assumes typical coastal weather conditions, but said the actual size of the dead zone could be affected by major wind events, including hurricanes and tropical storms, which bring more ocean waters into the Gulf. Official numbers on the size of the dead zone will be measured later in the summer.

Annual measurements of the dead zone began in 1985. There is another annual dead zone in the mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay. (VOA)

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US Officials Identify ‘Strong Culprit’ in Vaping Illnesses

Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that a compound known as vitamin E acetate is a "very strong culprit"

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US, Vaping, Illnesses
FILE - A man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette, Oct. 18, 2019. VOA

U.S. health officials say they have found the likely cause of a mysterious illness in people who smoke e-cigarettes, describing the findings as a “breakthrough.” US.

Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that a compound known as vitamin E acetate is a “very strong culprit” in the search for the cause of the mysterious lung disease.

Schuchat, who is the CDC’s principal deputy director, said the compound was found in fluid samples taken from the lungs of 29 patients across the country who were diagnosed with the vaping illness.

“We are in a better place in terms of having one very strong culprit,” she said.

US, Vaping, Illnesses
File – In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, a man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette in Portland, Maine. VOA

Schuchat cautioned that more work needs to be done to confirm that vitamin E acetate causes lung damage when inhaled, and said there could still be other toxic substances in e-cigarettes that lead to lung disease.

More than 2,000 Americans who smoke e-cigarettes have gotten sick since March, and at least 40 of them have died.

Health officials say that vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, but that inhaling it can be harmful.

The compound is sometimes used as a thickener in vaping fluid, especially in black market vape cartridges and those containing THC — the component of marijuana that gets people high.

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E-cigarettes have been available in the United States for more than a decade. They work, in general, by using a battery to heat a liquid nicotine solution and turn it into an inhalable vapor.

While e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive, they have been considered safer than traditional cigarettes because they do not contain tar or many of the other substances in traditional cigarettes that make them deadly.

Advocates of e-cigarettes say they are a powerful tool to help adult smokers quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

However, critics say that e-cigarettes are making a new generation addicted to nicotine. They also point out that the long-term health consequences of vaping are not known, and say that e-cigarettes could contain other potentially harmful substances, including chemicals used for flavoring and traces of metals. (VOA)