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An Indian rescue team is struggling to reach a group of at least 15 miners who are trapped in an illegal “rat-hole” coal mine.

Rescuers are struggling to pump out water from the 370ft (113m)-deep pit where the workers have been stranded for more than three weeks.

Their relatives said this week they had lost hope that the miners were still alive.

The slow progress in the efforts in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, India, is in striking contrast to the dramatic rescue of 12 Thai boys who were stuck in a flooded cave in July 2018.

Indian navy personnel emerge from the mine in Meghalaya
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Indian navy personnel emerge from the mine in Meghalaya

While the drama in Chiang Rai province attracted international media coverage, the trapped miners in India are getting very little attention even within the country itself.

India’s Supreme Court this week said the workers “should have been rescued by now. We are not satisfied with the action taken by state government.”

It added: “For people who are trapped, every second counts.”

The Meghalaya mine became flooded after the workers descended into it on 13 December.

Santosh Kumar Singh, an assistant commandant with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said: “We are continuously engaged in our efforts but the terrain and conditions out here are extremely difficult.”

Nearly 86 rescue workers are said to have been involved in the effort
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Nearly 86 rescue workers are said to have been involved in the effort

Navy divers and NDRF personnel have not been able to reach the trapped miners.

Rescuers are now placing their hopes on a huge pump from state miner Coal India Ltd that is being installed on a concrete platform near the mine.

The Supreme Court has ordered the federal government and Meghalaya to file a report by Monday on the rescue operation.

The court was told on Thursday that nearly 86 people had been working on the rescue effort.

Meghalaya produced $4bn worth of coal a year at its peak, or about a tenth of India’s total production.

Rat-hole mines – where workers crawl into narrow shafts on bamboo ladders to extract coal – killed thousands of workers in Meghalaya before India’s environmental court banned the practice in early 2014.

Many of the pits continued operation in spite of the ban.

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Chinese authorities appear to confirm gene-edited babies

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A second woman is pregnant with a gene-edited baby, according to Chinese authorities investigating He Jiankui, the researcher who says he successfully edited the genes of twin girls born in November – a scientific first.

He, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Guangdong province, remains under investigation by local authorities.

The investigation confirmed that a second woman was pregnant.

Investigators told Xinhua, the official state news agency, that both the babies already born – known as Lula and Nana – and the second mother would be put under medical observation.

Investigators told Xinhua that He raised funding and evaded official supervision “in pursuit of personal fame and fortune” to conduct the human embryonic gene editing, which is banned by Chinese law.

From March 2017 to November 2018, he recruited eight volunteer couples – all HIV positive males and HIV negative females to take part in the trial.

Investigators said he forged ethical review documents. Two woman became pregnant, five women did not, and one quit the trial.

Xinhua reported: “This behaviour seriously violates ethics and morality, harms the honesty of scientific research, seriously violates relevant state regulations, and caused bad effects at home and abroad.”

The person in charge of the investigation said that He “will be dealt with seriously by the law.”

He Jiankui’s announcement of the first gene-edited babies, at a conference in November last year, shocked the world. The conference’s organisers called his work “deeply disturbing” and “irresponsible”.

Xu Nanping, a Chinese official at of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said the experiments were “extremely abominable in nature”.

Different aspects of He’s work have caused concern.

First, that an unproven and potentially risky technique was used in healthy human embryos to prevent the potential transmission of HIV – a disease which already has effective prevention and treatment.

Second, that his work heralded, in effect, the birth of the first genetically modified human. Many have warned that so-called ‘designer babies’ could lead to a new era of genetic inequality, with embryos modified for more desirable traits.

He has yet to present peer-reviewed evidence for his claims.

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Why disposable smartphones are threatening the periodic table

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Some of the world’s most important chemical elements are being seriously depleted – because we are throwing them away in our phones.

Many of the 30 elements included in smartphones are becoming increasingly scarce thanks to limited supplies, their source in conflict zones, and a failure to recycle.

And scientists will on Tuesday highlight the problem with a new periodic table showing the scarcity of the natural elements.

Among the chemical elements used in smartphones are copper, gold and silver for wiring, lithium and cobalt in the battery, and aluminium, silicon, oxygen and potassium in the glass screen.

The bright colours on your phone’s display are produced by small quantities or rare earth elements, such as yttrium, terbium and dysprosium, which are also used to help you phone vibrate.

Please hold for Sunday for issue with words and video .... PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday January 29, 2016. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
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Do we really need a new phone every two years?

Estimates suggest around 10 million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone – leaving the elements that make them effectively useless.

Professor David Cole-Hamilton, emeritus professor at St Andrews university, said this means people should question whether they need to replace their smartphone every two years.

“It is astonishing that everything in the world is made from just 90 building blocks, the 90 naturally occurring chemical elements,” he said.

“There is a finite amount of each and we are using some so fast that they will be dissipated around the world in less than 100 years.

“Many of these elements are endangered, so should you really change your phone every two years?”

The new periodic table will be revealed in the European Parliament on Tuesday by Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and Clare Moody.

It marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the original periodic table – a list of the known elements numbered and arranged in rows – whose invention is credited to Dimitri Mendeleev.

The design on the new table was carried out as part of a project by the European Chemical Society, representing more than 160,000 chemists.

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Search for plane missing near Alderney in the Channel Islands

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The aircraft was travelling from Nantes in western France to Cardiff.

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A search is underway for a light aircraft after it disappeared from radar near the Channel Islands on Monday evening.

The Guernsey and Alderney lifeboats as well as two helicopters are combing an area north of Alderney for the Piper Malibu plane.

Air Traffic Control have confirmed the aircraft was travelling from Nantes in Western France to Cardiff when it went missing.

The single-engined Piper Malibu can carry up to six people
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The single-engined Piper Malibu can carry up to six people

In a statement Guernsey Police said: “A search and rescue operation is currently underway off the north of Alderney
after a light aircraft disappeared from radar several hours ago.

“Two helicopters alongside the Guernsey and Alderney lifeboats are searching for it.”

It is not known how many people were on board the single-engine Piper Malibu, but it normally carries one pilot and up to five passengers.

More follows…

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