The Queque - September 22, 2010


Concerned mothers of the world, unite! Following up on a call from a Bexar County mom, Que2 discovered that three new cases of mumps have flared up in the Bexar County Jail over the past week. The outbreak brings to 25 the total number of mumps cases the jail has seen since July. This time, only one pod of inmates is affected, being put under quarantine for 25 days from last Wednesday, said spokesperson Linda Thomasini. Officials at the University Health System said they have requested more mumps vaccine from the state and are giving vaccinations to inmates and jailers who either haven’t had the vaccine or don’t remember getting it.

Vision 2020

Expect a veritable pageant of social transformation to be paraded out (sprinkled over with the growing celebrity sugar of the National Democratic Party’s darling San Anto Mayor Julián Castro) when Vision 2020 kicks off Saturday at the TriPoint YMCA `3233 N St Mary’s`. Castro and his co-chairs — Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace Hosting; Darryl Byrd, managing director of Pearl Brewery; and Sonia Rodriguez, attorney and chairwoman of the Mayor`s Commission on the Status of Women — hope to stimulate the city’s capacity to dream big dreams as we collectively “map our priorities and decide what kind of community we want to be in 2020.” The process is expected to last 4-6 months, all told, but don’t fret: the Tri-Point has clean restrooms and a coffeeshop on premises.

Rad Coal

Cut the ribbons and damn our eyes, San Antonio’s newest coal plant is almost online after nearly four months of test runs. Thanks to a cadre of environmental activists, Spruce II will be our cleanest coal plant yet — and still remain a testament to the picket-line chants: no such thing as “clean” coal. As ironic as it may sound after years of squabbling over the nuclear plants planned for Matagorda County, the new Spruce likely will be releasing more radioactive material into the environment during operations than the nukes would, barring serious dysfunction or meltdown of the later (and not including those final disposal issues).

Toxicologist Steven King has studied the radioactive releases at coal plants for years. “It comes out of the cold side of the flue. It does go out. It is not all filtered,” King said of the radioactive particles emitted by coal plants. “Also, the ashes, the piles where they take the coal ash, it’s concentrated. When they have those big piles like that, it emits radon gas.”

While coal itself may only be very slightly radioactive, due to the large amount of coal burned those by-product wastes add up. “Some of the radionuclides are carcinogenic, like Radium-226, primarily,” King said. “Then we have Lead-210, Polonium-210, are carcinogenic. Texas law doesn’t even count that lignite coal, bituminous coal, contain naturally occurring radionuclides.” `CPS Energy officials failed to return calls for an interview.`

Neither global warming concerns nor the looming regulation of greenhouse emissions by the U.S. EPA have been able to significantly slow the construction of coal plants in Texas. It also hasn’t helped that alternative power sources have been tied up by the difficulty of charting a course for transmission lines from Texas population centers to wind- and sunshine-rich West Texas (See “High Wire Act,” Page 13). As Travis Brown at the Texas Department of Rural Affairs told the QueQue this week: “Nobody wants it in their backyard, but they have to go somewhere.”

If not wind, it will be coal, or nuclear, or natural gas. “They all have to have transmission lines to get it on the grid. No matter which part of the state, it’s going to cross somebody’s property.” And the promise of renewable resources is vast. “We’ve barely scratched the surface. What we’ve seen in Nolan County could be duplicated in numerous counties across West Texas,” Brown said.

Living Stones

It wasn’t that long ago the QueQue went to bat for the folks at Living Stones Ministries, an Eastside church and (illegal?) shelter. At the time, area soup kitchens and shelters were feeling both the pressure of Haven for Hope’s imminent opening and facing down City inspectors on a hypercritical tear. A little dog poop here, a missing wall there: it adds up. In recent weeks, however, teams of builders have donated an estimated $12,000 in materials and services to bring Living Stones into code compliance, Pastor Jim Spicer told Que2. After a successful re-zoning hearing before the San Antonio Planning and Development Board on Tuesday, the ministry has just one more date in court with city inspectors to win, Spicer said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any problem with that, we’re trying to help people.”

One former resident felt none-too grateful, though. Eddie Salgado, who listed his address as “transient,” urged the zoning board members to scrutinize the shelter by asking why they threw out a female resident last week. Members didn’t take the bait and instead approved rezoning the shelter as a boarding home by a unanimous vote.

Que2, at least, felt Salgado’s challenge merited examination.

Last week, the shelter’s director met us inside where a handful of residents milled about in the dark, escaping the heat of the day. We were told Spicer was ill at home, and that he was the only one cleared to speak with the media. On the door, a new notice on orange construction paper read: “Breaking the Rules can result in Automatic Out!”

When reached by phone, Spicer said he had tried to help the former resident in question for several years before piling her belongings outside the shelter’s fence on a recent Sunday night. He added that he tried to find her a home at another shelter before evicting her. But after sharing intimate details about the resident’s sexual behavior and mental health, he refused to say where exactly he tried to find her assistance. That, he told the QueQue, would be a violation of her “confidentiality.”

“When they cuss you out, it’s time to go,” he said, leaving us unimpressed and looking forward to next week’s court case.

Chimps chumped

The Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research’s primate research center grew by 14 chimpanzees in recent weeks, with another 186 chimpanzees from New Mexico’s Alamogordo Primate Facility at Holloman Air Force Base expected to arrive in the near future.

Some are descendants of the infamous Coulston Foundation colony, the so-called “space chimps” used to test the effects of zero gravity and life-support systems aboard the Mercury capsules used prior to manned space flights. At San Antonio’s hidden gem, the San Antonio’s Southwest National Primate Research Center (“world’s largest captive baboon population” and “world’s largest pedigreed primate population,” according to the website) they will be used in an attempt to find sought-after HIV cures and an ever-elusive Hepatitis C vaccine.

Chimpanzees at the Southwest Foundation played a major role in development of the vaccine for hepatitis B, which is now administered to children in 116 countries and has resulted in a dramatic decline in the incidence of hepatitis B in young people,” Dr. John L. VandeBerg, director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center said.

For nearly a decade, the chimps were safely housed at APF, a strictly research-free military facility, as part of an agreement with the National Institutes of Health. But the vegetable-foraging, sun-soaking life the chimps have grown accustomed to is in jeopardy (Flo, the oldest, turns 53 on September 29. Happy birthday Flo!), as an agreement with the private for-profit Charles Rivers Laboratories, who held the 10-year, $42.8 million dollar contract to manage the chimps while housed at APF, expires in 2011.

The reversal of fortune inspired the primate-loving Jane Goodall to chime in with a letter she wrote to the health institute stating, “My most immediate concern is for the well being of these particular chimpanzees who will surely suffer considerable physical and emotional distress from this plan.”

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