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An ill wind

Posted 07/11/2012 by sevans

Just seven years ago, the petrochemical industry and the populations along the US Gulf Coast endured the impact of hurricane Katrina; last week it was the turn of the US life science sector and the inhabitants of the US East Coast, as hurricane Sandy roared in from the Atlantic. While the people in those areas suffered tremendously from flooding, infrastructure loss and power outages lasting days if not weeks, the chemical and related industries in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors bordering the Atlantic seaboard had already established contingency plans that effectively limited damage.

In states from North Carolina in the south to Massachusetts in the north, companies closed their operations in anticipation of Sandy’s landfall. Even the New York Stock Exchange was closed. And residents took shelter, turning New York City, the city that never sleeps into a ghost town.

Thankfully for the industry, the impact has not been on its facilities but rather on the maintenance of drug supplies out to the market, not just locally and domestically but also internationally due to the closures of airports across the affected region. There has also been some impact on drug research due to the trend for outsourcing of R&D and manufacturing and the need to ship products around the world.

Even Chemistry & Industry’s publisher John Wiley & Sons was affected by flooding at its offices in Hoboken and Somerset, New Jersey, with knock-on effects around the world in terms of IT and administration issues.

But while hurricane Sandy had an impact on research, it is also reported to have had an effect on the assessment of new pharmaceutical products. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says that as a result of the closure of its offices there will be a delay in meeting the regulatory timelines for prescription drugs with target dates on 29 and 30 October, while those drugs with target dates of 31 October and later a delay is being considered but should not be longer than two days.

While the cost of infrastructure damage is expected to rise to $20bn or more, the greatest loss of life, thankfully not human, was at New York University. According to The New York Times, more than 10,000 laboratory mice and rats died as a result of flooding at the university’s Smilow Research Center, which specialises in cancer, mental disorders, cardiovascular disease and epigenetics.

The collection of specially bred animals was claimed to be one of the largest in the US. And most of the animals were saved except those housed in one facility. ‘These animals were the culmination of 10 years of work, and it will take time to replace them,’ Gordon Fishell, associate director of the New York University Neuroscience Institute, told the newspaper.

Clearly, extreme weather events have impacts far beyond the obvious ones, and many observers are keen to emphasise that such events are likely to increase both in terms of numbers and severity.

Interestingly though, researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra have determined that according to existing data, rather than increasing in variability as claimed by climate change researchers, precipitation, that’s rain to the rest of us, has become less variable on a global basis over the period 1940 to 2009 (Geophys. Res. Lett., doi: 10.1029/2012GL053369). And the researchers believe this decrease in variability is due to the effects of atmospheric aerosols rather than climate change.

They emphasise that there has been a change in the pattern of precipitation in that wetter areas became drier and vice versa. Precipitation has increased in mid and high latitudes and decreased near the equator and the subtropics. So once again the distinction between  weather and climate change has been re-emphasised.

Neil Eisberg – Editor

Has hurricane Sandy had an impact on you personally? If so, why not add a comment below?

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  • Anonymous said:
    22/06/2013 12:48

    It looks great, I will buy a copy and will recommend to fernids on the strength of the first 50 pagesA few of the first 50 pages are not there, for instance page 34 is missing - it would be useful to have it since it is part of the summary of chapter one, to promote your book to othersI wonder if you could give me an existing reference (so I don't have to read all your papers - due to lack of time) to your argument that revenue for increased R&D into energy alternatives (and whatever else you are advocating) should come from a not very high carbon tax rather than out of general taxation.