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Plastic Masks, PPE, Biomedical Waste Choke Water Bodies In India



On September 16, when Subhash Chandran, a scuba diver, along with four others, went for their first underwater clean-up post the lockdown at Rushikonda beach in Visakhapatnam, they found floating in the seabed N-95, surgical and cloth masks and other biomedical waste. The divers removed over 1500 kg of waste over three rounds till September 27.

The Rushikonda beach was recommended by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for the coveted ‘Blue Flag’ certification on September 19, the International Coastal Cleanup day. The eco-label is given to the cleanest beaches in the world meeting stringent environmental and safety criteria. Over the years, there has been a 70 percent decline in marine species with many figuring as endangered species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. The single-use plastic protective gears are a new threat to aquatic lives.

Chandran, the founder of the scuba diving centre Platypus Escapes, had removed 17,000 kg of wet plastic over 57 days in November, last year. “It is an ocean of plastic and biomedical waste, flowing through open drainage systems from hospitals and litter on the beach,” he said.

According to the World Health Organization, every month the world needs 89 million plastic medical masks and 1.6 million protective goggles, which are made of polypropylene and may take even 500 years to degrade in the ocean.

While flamingos flocked to a locked-down Mumbai and a nilgai was reported to have walked on an empty road in Uttar Pradesh, the jubilation over nature having an edge over mankind stops short right there. “In our Mumbai’s Juhu beach clean-up drives during May-August, we found 10,000 masks, 1050 gloves and PPE kits discarded along the coastline,” claimed Braja Kishore Pradhan, founder, Aahwahan Foundation.

Chennai’s lakes polluted with medical waste

The National Green Tribunal had taken suo moto cognizance of indiscriminate dumping of biomedical waste in water bodies in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, earlier this year. “On July 6, panic-stricken fishermen from the Thiruchinakuppam road in Tiruvottiyur, Chennai found masks, syringes, blood bags and testing equipment dumped along the seacoast. Biomedical waste has also been traced in the Anakaputhur and Manivakkam lakes (in Chennai). The waterbodies in Vandalur, Otteri Nalla, Porur, Maduravoyal, Muttukadu and Puzhal had always been dumping grounds for medical supplies. Before Covid-19, a government hospital bed would generate around half a kg of biomedical waste per day which has now gone up to 3-5 kg (per day). Though the city leads the biomedical waste generation in the state, the handling capacity is only 25 percent,” said Prabhakaran, an environmental engineer at Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental group.

Ezhilan Nanganathan, a consultant physician said that while medicos take appropriate precautions in managing waste from Covid-19 wards, it is the biomedical waste generated from infected persons under home care that needs utmost focus.

A senior official from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) stated that reckless dumping along water bodies by clinics, smaller hospitals and pharmacies has escalated in the last seven months.

“We have identified two pharmaceutical companies among the violators. We cannot operate CCTVs everywhere as illegal dumping happens at odd hours in isolated, open spaces and waterbodies. TNPCB officials are working round-the-clock with manpower crunch as most districts have a single officer with just two engineer subordinates to assist. Monitoring and penalising offenders can only help to a degree. Inculcating responsibility and accountability among the public and stakeholders is more important,” said the official.

Poovulagin Nanbargal had sent its recommendations to the Tamil Nadu government demanding that at least one Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facility (CBWTF) be set up per district. They stated that nearly 47 tonnes of medical waste is produced every day in the state but there were only 11 facilities that could handle a maximum of 34 tonnes of waste as per pre-pandemic figures.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Tamil Nadu had generated 401.29 tons of biomedical waste in August and engaged only eight CBWTFs. N. Mahesan, Chief Engineer, Solid Waste Management, Chennai Corporation was unavailable for comment.

Waste segregation and management

“We need to constitute a separate collection and disposal system for masks and gloves at source, without leakages. States like Goa and Kerala had a relatively better segregation system in place even before the pandemic and added just another vertical. The strengthening of Panchayati Raj institution, effective communication till the grassroots, decentralisation of responsibilities and funding are crucial. Small and medium enterprises must be incentivised and more emphasis laid on local initiatives. Around 70 percent of marine litter is a result of mismanagement on land,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, an independent waste management expert.

“Biomedical waste disposal is not lucrative enough for hospitals since they have to pay recyclers and therefore, some of them go for illegal dumping,” noted Anil Choudhary from the Green Waves Environmental Solutions, Telangana. A senior official from the CPCB said that it is upon the state pollution boards to keep the violators in check.

“The waste that we see ashore is only the tip of the iceberg as ocean beds end up taking the brunt. We removed 1000 kg of plastic in Kodi beach in a four-week cleanup drive since July. There weren’t many masks as villagers prefer cloth over single-use masks,” said Bharath Bangera, a Clean Kundapura Project volunteer, Udupi district, Karnataka.

Covid-19 has also backfired the significant wins over plastic waste. “The quarantine centres in Trivandrum have switched from stainless steel utensils to plastic cups and plates. No one is disputing the importance of keeping frontliners well-protected but it is time to go beyond single-use plastic safeguards and come up with environment-friendly and sustainable alternatives. Reusable masks, gloves and frequent handwash should become the norm. PPEs can be sterilised, washed, reused later to be shredded and recycled,” said Shibu Nair, India Coordinator, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives- Asia Pacific.

Marine litter

It is estimated that Asian rivers are responsible for 86 percent of the total global plastic emission to the ocean. An ongoing UNEP project started out last year studying plastic litter entering the Ganga river and as a second phase it will survey the types of single-use plastics that had increased due to Covid-19.

“The CounterMEASURE project aims to find how plastic waste enters river Ganga and the types of single-use plastics that had increased due to Covid-19,” said Atul Bagai,who heads the United Nations Environment Programme’s India office. The United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the ‘Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’.

“We have seen plastic debris in microscopic planktons, which form the basis of marine food chain but the quantum of plastic that has made it to the system of larger predatory fish like sharks, tuna and snappers is unknown,” said Naveen Namboothri, a marine biologist. Abandoned fishing nets are also deadly for marine lives and they constitute the majority of plastic pollution in oceans, last year’s report by Greenpeace had stated.

“Right now I am treating four turtles, which were entangled in nets and had their limbs amputated due to the strangulation. A large piece of plastic was found in one of them too. Consuming plastic can injure their internal organs and unable to feed, they die in pain and starvation. Lockdown or not, we continue to have dolphins and turtles, landing dead ashore. Oil spill is also another concern,” said Dr. Shantanu Kalambi, a veterinarian with the Reef Watch Marine Conservation Centre in Kundapur.

India joined the United Nations Environment’s ‘Clean Seas Campaign’ in 2018. The first step towards the goal was to frame a National Marine Litter Policy by studying marine pollution on the country’s 7,500 km coastline. “The work on formulating the policy got stalled due to lockdown. Marine litter is threatening to change the entire ecosystem as once debris enter the sea, we lack resources to clean-up. Plastic and biomedical waste littered near river mouths, get washed down the waterways and end up in ocean beds during monsoons. While it is dangerous for aquatic lives, it also makes marine food unsafe as once microplastics enter the human chain, they could be carcinogenic in the long-term. There have been sporadic developments in Chennai and Pondicherry on filtering plastics in the estuaries just before they enter the sea but marine litter issues can be tackled only through a collective discourse by all states along the coastline. Unless there are proactive measures to ensure awareness and nil littering by people, the high-budget river cleaning projects will only be a temporary solution,” said MV Ramana Murthy, Director, National Centre for Coastal Research.

According to M Rajeevan, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, there is a need to conduct studies on PPE and mask litter. “Research has been initiated to find the effects of the pandemic on marine ecosystem. The way forward is to estimate the source and also investigate how marine litter is reaching the ocean. There should also be policies to control at source by augmenting biomedical waste treatment facilities and improving the collection system to meet the increased load of marine litter,” he said.

India’s discourse is dominated by terrestrial issues, with a bare understanding of coasts. “Oceans make up three-fourths of the earth’s surface, produce 50 percent of the oxygen we need to survive and are a large carbon sink. Protection of the marine ecosystem has to begin by addressing the concerns of coastal communities, developing marine tourism guidelines, funding research on marine species, restoring beach habitats and stopping port expansions handling hazardous cargo in biodiversity-rich areas, home to key marine species such as cetaceans, sea turtles, corals etc.,” said Puja Mitra, founder, Terra Conscious, Goa.

This was first published on Mongabay-India.


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Sex Toy Company Receives Award From Queen For ‘Outstanding Continuous Growth’



British sex toy company Lovehoney has received a royal seal of approval.

The adult retailer was this week honored with The Queen’s Award for Enterprise “for outstanding continuous growth in overseas sales over the last six years,” per a press release on its website.

The accolade, announced by the official journal of record The London Gazette, allows the company in Bath, southwest England, to fly The Queen’s Awards flag at their office and use its emblem on marketing and packaging materials for five years. It also won the award in 2016.

“We are thrilled to have received official recognition from the Queen,” said Debbie Bond, Lovehoney’s chief commercial officer. “Her Majesty has been a wonderful supporter of Lovehoney as we have grown into being the world’s leading sexual wellness brand.”

“Royal patronage will help us to create more jobs at our Bath headquarters and in our international offices and spread the sexual happiness message globally,” added Bond, who said royal approval shows how shoppers “are embracing sexual wellness products as never before and appreciating their importance in improving overall well-being ― a particularly important message as we come out of lockdown after a stressful year living with the pandemic.”

The first Queen’s Awards — described on the United Kingdom government’s website as “the most prestigious awards for UK business” — were issued in 1966. This year, some 205 companies were honored for their work in innovation, international trade, sustainable development and promotion of opportunity through social mobility.


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Joe Rogan Admits He’s A ‘F**king Moron’ After Offering Selfish COVID-19 Vaccine Advice



Wildly popular podcast host Joe Rogan admitted he’s a “f**king moron” and “not a respected source of information, even for me” when he addressed his selfish comments about young, healthy people not needing to get vaccinated from COVID-19.

Rogan, whose audience is in the hundreds of millions, drew backlash — and a rebuke from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert — when he said on an episode of his “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast released on Spotify last week that “if you’re a healthy person and you’re exercising all the time and you’re young and you’re eating well, I don’t think you need to worry about this.”

On Thursday, Rogan clarified in a video shared on YouTube that he was “not an anti-vaxx person.” “In fact, I said I believe they’re safe and I encourage many people to take them. My parents were vaccinated,” he explained. “I just said, ‘I don’t think that if you’re a young, healthy person that you need it.’ Their argument was, you need it for other people.”

“So you don’t transmit the other virus,” said his cohost.

“That makes more sense,” agreed Rogan. “But that’s a different argument. That’s a different conversation.”

Rogan, whose show was snapped up by Spotify in a $100 million deal last year, later attempted to explain away the comments by saying how he doesn’t plan what he says on air.

He’s often high or drinking alcohol during the shows, he said, before accusing “clickbaity” journalists of blowing his comments out of proportion.

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a fucking moron and I’m a cage fighting commentator who’s a dirty standup comedian who just told you I’m drunk most of the time and I do testosterone and I smoke a lot of weed but I’m not a respected source of information, even for me,” he said.

“If I say things, I’m always going ‘check on that Jamie, I don’t know if that’s true,’” Rogan added. “But I at least try to be honest about what I’m saying.”

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus


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Dozens Killed In Stampede At Jewish Religious Festival In Israel



JERUSALEM (AP) — The director of an Israeli ambulance service has confirmed that nearly 40 people died in a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel.

Eli Beer, director of Hatzalah, said he was shocked by the size of the crowd at the Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mount Meron. Police were quoted as saying some 100,000 people were there.

He told Army Radio that there were four to five times the number of people that should have entered a location like this. “Close to 40 people died as a result of this tragedy,” he said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS EVENT. AP’s earlier story is below.

A stampede broke out early Friday at a Jewish religious gathering attended by tens of thousands of people in northern Israel, leaving 150 hospitalized, authorities said. Israeli media reported that as many as 44 people were killed and published photos of rows of bodies.

The disaster occurred at Mount Meron at the main celebrations of Lag BaOmer, a holiday when tens of thousands of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gather to honor Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there. Large crowds traditionally light bonfires, pray and dance as part of the celebrations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “great tragedy,” and said everyone was praying for the victims.

 The incident happened after midnight, and the cause of the stampede was not immediately clear. Videos circulating on social media showed large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews packed together in tight spaces.

A 24-year-old witness, identified only by his first name Dvir, told the Army Radio station that “masses of people were pushed into the same corner and a vortex was created.” He said a first row of people fell down, and then a second row, where he was standing, also began to fall down from the pressure of the stampede.

“I felt like I was about to die,” he said.

Zaki Heller, spokesman for the Magen David Adom rescue service, said 150 people had been hospitalized and confirmed there had been some deaths. Army Radio, citing anonymous medical officials, said the death toll had risen to 44.

Heller told the station “no one had ever dreamed” something like this could happen. “In one moment, we went from a happy event to an immense tragedy,” he said.

Photos from the scene showed rows of wrapped bodies.

The Israeli military said it had dispatched medics and search and rescue teams along with helicopters to assist with a “mass casualty incident” in the area. It did not provide details on the nature of the disaster.

It was the first huge religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The country has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.

Health authorities had nevertheless warned against holding such a large gathering.

But when the celebrations started, the Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, police chief Yaakov Shabtai and other top officials visited the event and met with police, who had deployed 5,000 extra forces to maintain order.

Ohana, a close ally of Netanyahu, thanked police for their hard work and dedication “for protecting the well-being and security for the many participants” as he wished the country a happy holiday.

Netanyahu is struggling to form a governing coalition ahead of a Tuesday deadline, and the national tragedy is sure to complicate those efforts.


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Gabrielle Union Talks Baby Kaavia’s Free Spirit: ‘Shade Is Her Super Power’



Gabrielle Union recently talked about her daughter, Kaavia James, and her funny “shady” moments, characterizing those times as her 2-year-old’s “super power.”

“Shade is her super power because when Kaavia gives you a look, it’s either you’re not respecting her boundaries or something is happening that she doesn’t like,” the actor told People in an interview published Wednesday.

Union and her retired NBA star husband, Dwyane Wade, welcomed Kaavia in November 2018.

The couple has since poked fun at the toddler’s occasional adorably shady facial expressions — and hilarious side-eyes — like when a photo of Kaavia seated on a couch looking pensive and slightly unbothered became a meme last year.

Or when the little one looked less than pleased with the outcome of her face paint design at her second birthday party:

Inspired by Kaavia’s witty personality, Wade and Union created an Instagram account for the little girl, often using the hashtag ”#Shadybaby” in the posts’ captions. The couple also collaborated to write a Kaavia-influenced children’s book titled “Shady Baby” due for release next month.

Union explained in Wednesday’s People interview that she celebrates Kaavia’s freedom to be her authentic self amid a long history of harmful ways Black women and girls have been treated in society.

“The main takeaway is that she’s free to be this amazing, dynamic, shady at times, loving at times Black little girl when the world has not been so kind to Black girls and women,” she added.

In addition to Kaavia, Wade is father to Zaya, Zaire and Xavier. Union and Wade also parent his nephew Dahveon Morris.

Wade told People that he and Union make a point to encourage their children to be their true selves.

“If we allow our kids to be their true selves we don’t have to worry about them conforming with anything or anyone,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we push our kids to be their authentic selves?”

Last month, Kaavia took a side-eyeing break to enjoy a sweet play date with 2-year-old Cairo, the daughter of actors Tia Mowry and Cory Hardrict.

After some hugs, Kaavia generously took Cairo for a spin in her toddler-sized electric car:


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Anne Heche Says Ellen DeGeneres Didn’t Want Her To ‘Dress Sexy’



Anne Heche took an unexpected swipe at former girlfriend Ellen DeGeneres this week during an online fashion retrospective.

In a short TikTok video Tuesday, Heche looked back at some of her favorite looks from years past, including the 1998 VH1 Fashion Awards and a memorable “Dancing with the Stars” routine from last fall.

The actor’s enthusiasm for nostalgia, however, notably dipped when she came upon a photo of her and DeGeneres from the 1998 Golden Globe Awards. The pair appear to have color-coordinated their outfits, with DeGeneres in a navy suit and Heche in a blue velvet gown and matching coat.

“Why do I look like a hippie? It’s because Ellen didn’t want me to dress sexy,” Heche, who has starred in films like “Donnie Brasco” and “Six Days, Seven Nights,” declared. After giving the look a zero out of 10 and a thumbs down, she added, “Bye, no!”

Heche and DeGeneres dated from 1997 to 2000. During their time together, the women were among Hollywood’s most-buzzed-about same-sex couples.

The former couple has remained mostly tight-lipped about the specifics of their relationship in the media. Heche, however, touched on her ex in a number of interviews timed to her appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” last year.

Chatting with Mr. Warburton magazine last year, she recalled angering Hollywood executives when she brought DeGeneres as her date to the premiere of 1997’s “Volcano.”

“I was told by Fox Studio executives that if I brought Ellen to the premiere, my contract would be terminated,” she told the publication. “I brought Ellen despite those threats, and we were escorted out of the theater before the lights came on by security and not allowed to attend the premiere party because they did not want any photos of us together.”

Ellen DeGeneres (left) and Anne Heche at the 1998 Golden Globe Awards.

“I was a part of a revolution that created social change,” she added, “and I could not have done that without falling in love with her.”

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight last October, Heche noted that she hadn’t spoken to DeGeneres “in years,” but would be open to a reunion under the right circumstances.

“With relationships, I think many of us have [been there], you come to a fork in the road, ‘What do you want and what do I want?’” she said. “Those goals, that intent in life, is determined by the individual. Her intent and my intent were different and that’s why we separated.”


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Elliot Page Emotionally Shares What’s Given Him The Most Joy Since Coming Out As Trans



Elliot Page is sharing the moment that has brought him the most joy since he announced he was a transgender man in December 2020.

In a peek at an interview with Oprah Winfrey slated for release on her Apple TV+ series “The Oprah Conversation” on Friday, the 34-year-old said that he’s found “the most joy.”

“Getting out of the shower and the towel’s around your waist and you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re just like, ‘There I am.’ And I’m not having the moment where I’m panicked,” he said, before breaking down in tears. “It’s being able to touch my chest and feel comfortable in my body for the — probably the first time.”

The actor added his tears were “tears of joy.”

Earlier this year, Page talked to Time magazine about his decision to get top surgery and described the experience as something that allowed for him to recognize himself. Page recalled puberty as “total hell” and told the publication that the surgery “has completely transformed my life.”

He also told the publication that he spent much of his energy being uncomfortable with his body and the surgery has helped bring that energy back.

Page notably came out to fans last year with a heartfelt Instagram post, sharing that he would be using the pronouns “he” and “they” and said: “I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life.”

He went on to say: “I love that I am trans,” Page wrote. “And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive.”  


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India Adds Another 379,257 Virus Cases As Vaccines Open To All Adults



NEW DELHI (AP) — India set another global record in new virus cases Thursday, as millions of people in one state cast votes despite rising infections and the country geared up to open its vaccination rollout to all adults amid snags.

With 379,257 new infections, India now has reported more than 18.3 million cases, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry also reported 3,645 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 204,832. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.

India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge. And the country’s already teetering health system is under immense strain, prompting multiple allies to send help.

A country of nearly 1.4 billion people, India had thought the worst was over when cases ebbed in September. But mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue, and relaxed attitudes on the risks fed by leaders touting victory over the virus led to what now has become a major humanitarian crisis, health experts say. New variants of the coronavirus have also partly led the surge.

Amid the crisis, voting for the eighth and final phase of the West Bengal state elections began Thursday, even as the devastating surge of infections continues to barrel across the country with a ferocious speed, filling crematoriums and graveyards.

A coronavirus patient is shifted to a ward after admission at GTB hospital in New Delhi on April 29, 2021. 

More than 8 million people are expected to vote in at least 11,860 polling stations across the state. Election Commission has said social distancing measures would be in place.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have faced criticism over the last few weeks for holding huge election rallies in the state, which health experts suggest might have driven the surge there too. Other political parties also participated in rallies.

The state recorded more than 17,000 cases in the last 24 hours — its highest spike since the pandemic began.

Starting Wednesday, all Indians 18 and older were allowed to register on a government app for vaccinations, but social media were flooded with complaints the app had crashed due to high use, and once it was working again, no appointments were available.

The vaccinations are supposed to start Saturday, but India, one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, does not yet have enough doses for everyone. Even the ongoing effort to inoculate people above 45 is stuttering.

One state, Maharashtra, has already said it won’t be able to start on Saturday.

Since January, nearly 10% of Indians have received one jab, but only around 1.5% have received both required doses.

Amid the acute shortage of oxygen and other hospital supplies, the White House said the U.S. will send more than $100 million worth of items, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests. It said they will begin arriving Thursday, just days after President Joe Biden promised to step up assistance.

The U.S. and Britain have already sent a shipment of medical items. France, Germany, Russia, Ireland and Australia have also promised help.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has advised its citizens to leave India. An alert on the U.S. Embassy’s website warned that “access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited in India due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.”

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus


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