Lots of Groundwater Will Stay Polluted; More Work Needed on Malaria Vaccines

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Discovered: Thousands of nasty groundwater sites won't be cleaned anytime soon; malaria vaccine's effectiveness declines; ash tree attacks are here to stay; coral reef defense tactics.

Many groundwater sites will remain contaminated. The U.S. government has protocols in place for treating the most horrendously polluted bodies of water, as anyone familiar with the Superfund program will know. But even these efforts aren't able to keep up with the crushing amount of work to be done on the 126,000 groundwater sites across the country that remain very contaminated, such as the Columbia River in Richland, Washington, the polluted body near the Hanford nuclear site pictured above. About 10 percent of those sites come under the "complex" category, which means that they're not likely to be cleaned up in less than 50 to 100 years according to a new report from the National Research Council. It will cost up to $127 billion to clean these sites up, they estimate. [National Academy of Sciences]

More work needed on malaria vaccines. Researchers working to develop inoculations for malaria must be so frustrated. Last year the RTS,S vaccine was 56 percent effective at immunizing babies from the mosquito-borne disease that ravages sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and other regions. But a new clinical trial shows that it now prevents malaria contraction in only 31 percent of those vaccinated between the age of six and 12 weeks. Malaria's adaptability to the shots prove that more work will need to be done before RTS,S becomes a reliable staple of childhood immunization routines. "RTS,S can help," says a still-hopeful Salim Abdulla, the director of one of the vaccination sites studied. "Efficacy was lower than what we saw last year, but there are many possible explanations. We will continue to explore the complex factors behind the differences." [Science Now]

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UK Environment Secretary throws in the towel on ash tree deaths. Treehuggers, you might want to skip over this terribly depressing story of arboreal death. British ash trees have been succumbing to a disease known as ash dieback. Caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea, the disease has been killing off an alarming number of trees despite the government's attempts to combat the disease. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has now informed the public that the government is no longer trying to quash the disease. They can only hope to contain it at this point by cutting down young trees who've caught the disease. Mature affected trees will be left standing, Paterson assures conservationists, but all other disease-carriers will be chopped. "If we can slow its spread and minimise its impact, we will gain time to find those trees with genetic resistance to the disease and to restructure our woodlands to make them more resilient," he told reporters. [BBC]

Coral reef defense mechanisms. Coral reef ecosystems have a perpetual enemy in seaweed, the leech of the deep. Seaweed descends on reef surfaces, snatching prime sunlight-gathering spots by hitting the innocent reef with noxious chemicals. But coral reef has many sea homies to come to its defense, according to a new paper in Science authored by a team of researchers led by Georgia Tech's Mark Hay. Plant-eating fishes and various underwater invertebrates that live in their reefs are summoned to eat up the seaweed by chemicals secreted by threatened coral reef organisms. "This species of coral is recruiting inch-long bodyguards," says Hay. "This takes place very rapidly, which means it must be very important to both the coral and the fish. The coral releases a chemical and the fish respond right away." So even when humans aren't being great stewards of underwater biodiversity, these ecosystems have ways of helping themselves weather attacks. [Scientific American]

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