Health and Science

PETRO PERIL: The cross-country odyssey of Bakken crude

By Bryce Gray

From its Late Devonian and Early Mississippian resting place of some 300 million years, the light, sweet crude of “Bakken gold” is extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling techniques. As soon as the oil bubbles to the wellhead at the surface, the process of converting it into a market-ready commodity begins in earnest.

At the wellhead, the crude is stored in stock tanks, and eventually undergoes preliminary heating to remove water.

Natural gas also exits the wells through the drilling process. Satellite imagery shows widespread flaring that sets the region aglow at night, as approximately 30 percent of the area’s natural gas is burned off. When possible, the gas is captured and stored separately from tanks of crude, to be processed into fuels such as propane or butane.
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Chicago hosts Dutch king and queen

By Meghan Morris

The king and queen of the Netherlands completed a whirlwind visit to the Windy City on Wednesday, taking on-stage selfies and tours of local educational institutions.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima arrived Tuesday night after spending time in Canada, Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, Mich. The couple came to the U.S. to commemorate Americans’ role in liberating the Netherlands during World War II and to solidify existing business and academic relationships.

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Food industry looks to import eggs as bird flu spreads, prices spike

By Traci Badalucco and Christina Bucciere

The egg product industry is feeling the effect of the biggest avian flu outbreak in U.S. history more than consumers, so far, as the virus has infected more than 35 million egg-laying hens across the country.

The wholesale price of a dozen large eggs nearly doubled since the beginning of April from $1.25 to $2.48, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Egg products include liquid, frozen and powdered eggs that go into industries such as food manufacturers, baking products and common consumer goods such as fast food, said Kevin Burkum, senior vice president of the American Egg Board.

The egg board doesn’t anticipate much impact on consumer egg prices or an egg shortage on the grocery store shelves, Burkum said.

Of the 300 million egg-laying hens in the U.S., 80 percent supply the egg product market, said Cory Martin, director of government relations for the American Bakers Association.

“It’s somewhat unprecedented in that we can’t get ahold of any ingredients,” Martin said. “Some bakers went to other suppliers or venues for these eggs, and they couldn’t provide any. If it were a price issue we would find a way to deal with that. We can’t get it at any price.”

In the meantime, the food industry is working with different organizations to find egg substitutes for bakers, Martin said.

The food industry is working with the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration to look for ways to increase both shelled egg and egg product imports from other countries, Martin said.

The USDA approved a plan Monday to import from individual companies in the Netherlands to individual companies in the U.S., Martin said.

“We hope that there is a long-term solution put in place so we aren’t dealing with this year and year,” Martin said. “It has a ripple effect far and wide beyond the U.S. because bakers are everywhere.”

Oak Brook-based McDonald’s uses egg products, also known as “breaker” eggs, or liquid eggs, for its breakfast items.

Although one of its suppliers has been directly affected by the virus, its franchises are not affected by the outbreak and reduced supply yet and are not seeking out new suppliers, said Lisa McComb, director of McDonald’s media relations.

The flu has affected flocks in much of the Midwest and infected 40 percent of Iowa’s hens, said Dustin VandeHoeuf, communications director at the Iowa Department of Agriculture.

As of today, about 29 million chickens and turkeys are infected on 71 sites across Iowa, and all of them will need to be killed, VandeHoeuf said.

About 24 million egg-laying hens, nearly 1.2 million turkeys and about 3.8 million pullets—hens raised to become layers—have already been killed in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture.

Avian influenza or “bird flu” is a virus that infects domestic poultry. The H5N2 strain is affecting many other states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, South Dakota and Kansas.

Experts believe the H5N2 strain is being spread by the droppings of wild birds, such as geese or ducks, migrating across the U.S., said Dr. Kyoung-Jin Yoon, a veterinarian and professor at Iowa State University.

Humans can unknowingly spread the droppings by tracking them through farms or trucks and cars whose wheels pick it up.

The virus may even be carried in an aerosol from the droppings as birds migrate, and in the warmer months when farmers open cage windows for better circulation, the birds could be more exposed, Yoon said.

The virus can cause low energy, diarrhea, sneezing, runny nose, purple discoloration of the legs, decreased egg production and sudden death in infected birds, according to the USDA.

“No one knows how long the virus will hang around,” Burkum said, but the World Organization for Animal Health has said the worst of the virus’ spread is over and will be under control in four months.

Photo at top: The egg product industry is hardest hit by the avian flu outbreak in the Midwest, not consumers. (Steven Lilley/Flickr)

Wilmette teen documentary spurs food allergy awareness, more training

By Traci Badalucco

Restaurant workers need to know if a salad dressing has peanut oil or whether the pasta is made from eggs.

With food allergies on the rise in the U.S., experts and consumers want food handlers in restaurants to improve their knowledge and awareness about ingredients.

Allergy prevalence in the U.S. increased 50 percent among children 17 and younger between 1997 and 2011, according to a 2013 study released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Even young kids know a peanut allergy can be life-threatening, but they can’t always rely on food servers to protect them.

“I meet servers that just don’t take it seriously, and that puts me in danger,” said Jack Yonover, 13, of Wilmette, who is allergic to tree nuts.

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Video: Northwestern’s scientist uses baker’s yeast to create a laboratory in a bottle

By Angela Barnes

A compact, affordable device to diagnose how well your kidneys function is under development at Northwestern University.

Adebola Adeniran, a third year Ph.D. candidate in the department of Chemical and Biological Engineering is creating this laboratory in a bottle using yeast, the simple ingredient we usually knead into bread dough. This yeast will help detect chronic kidney disease, especially in underdeveloped areas with limited medical facilities.

Adeniran said she hopes people eventually could use the device themselves. Continue reading

Dutch company popularizes veggies with snack packs

By Meghan Morris

Getting kids to eat vegetables is tough – even if they’re royalty.

The king of the Netherlands said in an interview in the Hague last week that he and his wife fight a continuous battle against sugar consumption by their three daughters, ages 11, 9 and 8. But the princesses will eat Tommies, a Dutch brand of vegetables packaged in portable containers that’s exploded in popularity during the last decade.

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New Amphibians exhibit at Shedd Aquarium highlights conservation

By Elise Steinberger

Standing in the shower, watching soap suds disappear down the drain as you shampoo your hair, your mind wanders through your to-do list. You’re probably not giving those shampoo bubbles at your feet a second thought. The mudpuppy wishes you would.

This Great Lakes salamander is just one of the many amphibian species affected by what goes down our drains. Amphibians, a new exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium, examines the slippery creatures’ lives.

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VIDEO: Canines train to detect thyroid cancer

By Angela Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A German Shepherd mix named Frankie and his two canine counterparts can detect thyroid cancer with 97-100 percent accuracy, according to researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

This life-saving role is a big change for Frankie who himself was rescued four years ago and has become the poster canine for the non-profit Frankie Foundation.
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Expert shares the benefits of rock-climbing

By Carmen Lopez

Rock climbing is gaining traction in Chicago with the addition of the Malkin-Sacks Rock Climbing Walls at Maggie Daley Park. Keith Geraghty, 38, is the director of climbing programming at the Chicago Athletic Clubs has been scaling walls for 15 years. Geraghty discusses how those who participate in the sport reap the benefits.

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Kale sheds bum rap on kidney stones

By Angela Barnes

Kale is one of America’s current health food crazes. Studies show the trendy veggie is exceptionally rich in nutrients, antioxidants and other cancer fighting properties.

But now some critics are warning the ubiquitous leafy green super food may pose a risk. Website articles and health gurus are warning that eating too much kale can cause kidney stones. Continue reading