US Air Force dumped more soldiers’ dead bodies at landfill

King George County landfill

From the Washington Post in the USA:

Air Force dumped ashes of more troops’ remains in Va. landfill than acknowledged

By Craig Whitlock and Mary Pat Flaherty, Thursday, December 8 2011, 2:01 AM

The Air Force dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill, far more than the military had acknowledged, before halting the secretive practice three years ago, records show.

The landfill dumping was concealed from families who had authorized the military to dispose of the remains in a dignified and respectful manner, Air Force officials said. There are no plans, they said, to alert those families now.

The Air Force had maintained that it could not estimate how many troops might have had their remains sent to a landfill. The practice was revealed last month by The Washington Post, which was able to document a single case of a soldier whose partial remains were sent to the King George County landfill in Virginia. The new data, for the first time, show the scope of what has become an embarrassing episode for vaunted Dover Air Base, the main port of entry for America’s war dead.

The landfill disposals were never formally authorized under military policies or regulations. They also were not disclosed to senior Pentagon officials who conducted a high-level review of cremation policies at the Dover mortuary in 2008, records show.

Air Force and Pentagon officials said last month that determining how many remains went to the landfill would require searching through the records of more than 6,300 troops whose remains have passed through the mortuary since 2001.

“It would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually,” Jo Ann Rooney, the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.).

Holt, who has pressed the Pentagon for answers on behalf of a constituent whose husband was killed in Iraq, accused the Air Force and Defense Department of hiding the truth.

“What the hell?” Holt said in a phone interview. “We spent millions, tens of millions, to find any trace of soldiers killed, and they’re concerned about a ‘massive’ effort to go back and pull out the files and find out how many soldiers were disrespected this way?” He added: “They just don’t want to ask questions or look very hard.”

Senior Air Force leaders said there was no intent to deceive. “Absolutely not,” said Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel.

This week, after The Post pressed for information contained in the Dover mortuary’s electronic database, the Air Force produced a tally based on those records. It showed that 976 fragments from 274 military personnel were cremated, incinerated and taken to the landfill between 2004 and 2008.

An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains were collected from the battlefield and disposed of in the same manner, the Air Force said. Those fragments could not undergo DNA testing because they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The total number of incinerated fragments dumped in the landfill exceeded 2,700.

A separate federal investigation of the mortuary last month, prompted by whistleblower complaints, uncovered “gross mismanagement” and documented how body parts recovered from bomb blasts stacked up in the morgue’s coolers for months or years before they were identified and disposed of.

The problems also transpired at a time when the mortuary was shielded from public scrutiny. News coverage of the return of fallen troops to Dover was banned by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 before the first Persian Gulf War. The ban remained until April 2009, when the Obama administration lifted it.

The Air Force said it first cremated the remains and then included those ashes in larger loads of mortuary medical waste that were burned in an incinerator and taken to a landfill. Incinerating medical waste is a common disposal practice but including cremated human ashes is not, according to funeral home directors, regulators and waste haulers.

Air Force officials said they do not know when the landfill disposals began. They said their first record of it is Feb. 23, 2004. The mortuary database became operational in late 2003.

The Air Force said mortuary leaders decided to end the practice in May 2008 because “there was a better way to do it,” Jones said. The military now cremates unclaimed and unidentified body parts and buries the ashes at sea.

Jones said the Air Force did not need to inform relatives of troops whose remains ended up in the landfill because they had signed forms stipulating that they did not wish to be notified if additional remains were identified. The forms authorized the military to make “appropriate disposition” of those subsequent remains.

Asked if the landfill was a dignified final resting place, Jones said: “The way we’re doing it today is much better.”

Gari-Lynn Smith, the widow of an Army sergeant killed in Iraq, said she received an e-mail in July from Trevor Dean, the mortuary director, saying that incinerated remains had been taken to landfills at least since he began working at Dover in 1996. Dean is one of the officials facing discipline for his role in the reported mismanagement at the mortuary.

Smith’s husband, Sgt. 1st Class Scott R. Smith, a member of a bomb-disposal unit, was killed on July 17, 2006. In 2007, she began asking the military what happened to some of his remains that were identified after his funeral.

After four years of letters, phone calls and records requests, she received a letter from the mortuary in April stating that the military cremated and incinerated those partial remains and disposed of them in the King George landfill.

“I hope this information brings some comfort to you during your time of loss,” read the letter, signed by Dean.

Smith was infuriated. “They have known that they were doing something disgusting, and they were doing everything they could to keep it from us,” she said in a phone interview.

In May 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered a detailed review of policies at Dover after an Army officer complained that the mortuary had cremated a fallen comrade at a nearby funeral home that also cremated pets in a separate chamber.

The review team ordered changes, emphasizing the need to ensure the highest levels of dignity and honor.

The Pentagon would not release the report, which was overseen by David Chu, who was undersecretary of defense for personnel. A copy obtained by The Post, however, shows that the landfill disposal practice was never reviewed or mentioned. Chu, now president of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, declined to comment.

Private contractors hired by the Air Force to handle the remains’ incineration and disposal of the residue said they were unaware that they were transporting the ashes of dead troops. Records show that the Air Force hired the contractors to dispose of medical waste and did not specify that cremated body parts were included.

MedTrace Inc. of North East, Md., had Air Force disposal contracts between 2004 and 2007, records show. Don Holland, a manager for the company, said his employees picked up boxes of sealed containers from the Dover mortuary.

“They were certified as medical waste that had been properly treated — that’s it,” Holland said. “We don’t go looking at what’s in there. It’s sealed.”

MedTrace took the items to an incinerator in Baltimore, according to state records in Delaware, where the mortuary is located. Holland declined to discuss the incineration and which landfill his company used.

Lisa Kardell, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, which operates the King George landfill, said the firm has no record of a contract with MedTrace for the years 2003 through 2008.

She said that Air Force officials have not returned calls over the past two weeks from her company’s attorneys, asking which haulers would have been handling the Dover materials and the disposition of the ashes.

“Obviously, we would be opposed to taking cremated remains of our servicemen and servicewomen and putting them in our landfill,” Kardell said. “But it sounds like a lot of us were pulled in unknowingly to this unfortunate situation with the Air Force,” she added.

“It’s a moral thing,” said Jeff Jenkins, the manager of the King George landfill. “Someone killed overseas fighting for our country, I wouldn’t want them buried — any part of them — in the landfill.”

See also here. And here.

Snakebite antivenom discovery in American opossums

This video from the USA says about itself:

Virginia Opossum Family

12 July 2012

A short video clip of a Virginia Opossum family in wildlife rehabilitation at Evelyn’s Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach, VA. The mother Opossum came into care with an eye injury and front feet injuries.

From the East County Magazine in the USA:


By Miriam Raftery

April 5, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Opossums aren’t typically thought of as a powerhouse in the animal kingdom. The term “playing possum” after all refers to one way opossums react to predators –by playing dead. But it turns out that opossums have a peptide that gives them a natural immunity to snakebites and other toxins – and now scientists are working to harness it to create anti-venoms.

Scientists have isolated the peptide, and in lab tests with mice exposed to venom, those opossum peptides proved effective against Western diamondback rattlers and Russell’s vipers from Pakistan. The results offer hope that a universal antivenom could be developed to counter the poisonous effects of snakebites from multiple species, National Geographic reports.

That’s big news, since worldwide, about 421,000 poisonous snake bites occur each year, and 20,000 deaths result, according to International Society on Toxicology. Human testing is next on the horizon.

Moreover, Newswise reporters, scientists found they could reproduce the peptide from E-coli bacteria, meaning it can be replicated cheaply and easily—no opossums need to be harmed in the process. Unlike standard snakebite anti-venoms, this one has thus far produced no serious side effects such as wheezing, rash or rapid heartbeat.

The anti-venom may even prove effective against other forms of toxins, since opossums also have a natural resistance to poisonous scorpions and some forms of toxic plants as well.

The results were presented in late March at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Denver.

The opossum, which resembles a large rat, is a marsupial tracing its origins back 65 million years, around the time dinosaurs went extinct. But only now have we learned a key secret to its survival against threats that kill many other animals.

So the next time you see a lowly opossum hanging by its tail from a fence or waddling across a road, remember – this ancient animal just may hold the key to saving your life if you’re ever bitten by a snake.

Why diving gannets don’t break their necks

This video says about itself:

7 March 2015

How can seabirds dive into the water at 55 MPH without breaking their necks? Studying actual birds, 3D printed replicas, and simple weighted models entering water, researchers at Virginia Tech and the Smithsonian Institution found that northern gannets dive just slowly enough to prevent their necks from buckling. More information here. (Video courtesy Sunny Jung, Virginia Tech, et al.)

See also here.

New Dutch beetle species discovery

This video from the USA is called A Red Palm Weevil in Virginia Beach.

On 28 July 2014, Dries Mulder found a beetle in Haaften in the Netherlands.

It turned out to be a red palm weevil. That species had never been seen in the Netherlands before.

Hurricane Arthur threatens USA, what will birds do?

This video from the USA says about itself:

31 August 2011

These tiny baby birds were found by caring citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. They were brought to Evelyn’s Wildlife Refuge, a non- profit wildlife rehabilitator in Virginia Beach, VA. They are expected to make a full recovery and be released back into the wild.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

How Do Birds Deal With Hurricanes Like Arthur?

Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2014 by eNature

Hurricane Arthur is working its way up the East Coast, threatening the beach vacationers from Florida to Maine with bad rain, highs winds and big surf.

While Arthur’s wind, rain and storm surge will certainly affect many people, some folks are also wondering about the effects the hurricane may have on birds.

Numbers are hard to come by, but it’s clear that many birds are killed outright by hurricanes. This is especially true of seabirds, which have nowhere in which to seek shelter from these storms. Beaches may be littered with seabird carcasses following major storm events. Most Atlantic hurricanes occur in late summer and early fall—and fall storms coincide with bird migration and may disrupt migration patterns severely.

Many birds get caught up in storm systems and are blown far off course, often landing in inhospitable places or simply arriving too battered and weakened to survive. Others, while not killed or displaced by storms, may starve to death because they are unable to forage while the weather is poor. The number of birds that die as a result of a major hurricanes may run into the hundreds of thousands.

Healthy bird populations are able to withstand such losses and have done so for eons. However, hurricanes can have severe impacts on endangered species, many of which occur on tropical islands, often among the places hardest hit by hurricanes. For example, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 killed half of the wild Puerto Rican Parrots existing at that time. The Cozumel Thrasher, found only on Mexico’s Isla Cozumel, was pushed to the edge of extinction by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Hurricane Iniki may have wiped out the last survivors of as many as three bird species when it hit Hawaii in 1992.

Apart from the direct, physical effects hurricanes may have on birds, they also can have detrimental effects on bird habitats. Cavity-nesting species can be especially hard hit because the trees in which they nest often are blown down or snapped off at the cavity. Hurricane Hugo, which hit the Carolinas in 1989, destroyed most of the area’s nest trees of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker; one forest lost 87 percent of its nest trees and 67 percent of its woodpeckers. Only through the installation of artificial nest boxes have these populations been restored to pre-storm levels.

Although birds blown out of their normal haunts by storms often don’t survive, bird-watchers by the hundreds may flock to see them. Usually, such sightings involve seabirds blown inland and appearing on lakes and reservoirs. First state records of many species have been obtained in this way. Some birders even head into hurricanes to see lost birds.* Others raptly study weather maps to try to predict where hurricane-swept birds will wind up. A few years back, during Isabel, birders were staked out in an organized fashion around New York’s Cayuga Lake to see what showed up. Land birds blown out to sea typically perish unnoticed.

It’s important to remember that the long-term effects of hurricanes on birds aren’t necessarily negative. Every disturbance event is bad for some species but good for others. For instance, hurricanes create gaps in forests, creating habitat for species that require a brushy understory. Birds blown off course occasionally establish entirely new populations; such events may be responsible for much, if not most, colonization of remote islands by birds. Furthermore, hurricanes have been around for a long time and are part of the system in which birds evolved. It is only when they have impacts on species already pushed to the brink by humans, or if hurricane activity is increased by global climate change, that there is cause for concern.

*Epitaph for a hurricane-chasing birder (not original):

Here he lies
A little wet
But he got
His lifelist met.

Have you noticed changes in bird or other animal populations in the wake of hurricanes or other disturbances?

We’re always interested to hearing (or read) your experiences and stories.

Where do the birds go for protection during severe weather such as blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes? Here.

What You Need to Know About Hurricane Arthur, the July Fourth Party-Crasher: here.

Girl expelled from party by bigots

Clare Schlaudt's dress

Translated from Dutch daily SP!TS today, about Virginia in the USA:

Glittery dress deprives girl of her high school gala

The 17-year-old Clare Schlaudt has been expelled from a school dance, because the glittery dress which she wore could cause ‘impure thoughts’ among the boys present. …

Schlaudt did not understand that at all. As the dress fitted exactly within the dance’s theme “Twilight in Paris“, and was consistent with the only dress code rule; dresses were supposed to cover the hips. Yet, shortly after she arrived she was told that she could go home again. The dress had been characterized as ‘offensive’ by some fathers present.

The teenager thinks that not one of the boys present, but especially one of the fathers thought the dress a little too tempting. “It’s ridiculous that I have become the victim of a 45-year-old pervert who cannot control his lust for a girl with somewhat large buttocks in a glittery dress,” Schlaudt writes indignantly in a blog post.

See also here.

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