China SOA uses large scale oil fingerprinting to catch spill culprits

Much like a criminal may leave a fingerprint behind at the scene of a crime, oil carries a molecular calling card that can enable scientists to track the general source in the event of a spill.

While the technology to capture an “oil fingerprint” – specific biomarkers that can identify the source of oil – is becoming increasingly commonplace, often the information can offer a  general idea, but cannot pinpoint a source spot.

“It is usually difficult to identify the source if the oil spill accident occurs during offshore petroleum exploration due to the highly similar physiochemical characteristics of suspected oils from the same drilling platform,” a  recently published paper, Combining molecular fingerprints with multidimensional scaling analyses to identify the source of spilled oil from highly similiar suspected oils, said.

In the paper, researchers from the China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) used oil rigs in the South China Sea to explore  combining  multidimensional scaling analysis (MDS) – large amounts of data – on oil fingerprints with a mathematical algorithm that allowed them to more accurately identify the sources of oil from a spill.

“The results suggest that the MDS calculation based on oil fingerprints and subsequently integrated with specific biomarkers in spilled oils is the most effective method,” it said.

The paper was published by the Marine Pollution Bulletin online in March.

50% tax on tobacco would save 231 million years of life for Chinese smokers

China could preserve 231 million years worth of life by implementing a 50% tax on tobacco products,  a recently published study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation said .

Emulating the numerous  smartphones apps that help smokers quit by offering individual statistics on the money and time  saved for each cigarette they skip, researchers have used cost-effectiveness analysis to determine the impact for the country’s entire smoking population.

Analyzing data from several studies, they determined 231 million  years of life and US$703 billion of additional tax revenues from excise tax could be accumulated over the course of 50 years.

As one of the world’s biggest smoking populations, with more than 300 million male smokers,  China has long mulled heavier taxes on tobacco but has avoided doing so because of the staggering impact it would have on the country’s poor.

China has already made some minor steps in reducing the country’s tobacco use by passing several smoking bans, with some more effective than others.

“Since China’s economy has grown enormously, cigarettes have become cheaper to smokers, which means that more aggressive tobacco taxation is now needed,” the study, The consequences of tobacco tax on household health and finances in rich and poor smokers in China: an extended cost-effectiveness analysis,  said.

The analysis, conducted by Havard’s T.H. Chan School of Health, with the help of several prominent U.S., Canadian and Chinese health institutions,  asserts that a higher tobacco tax could actually help the poor.

Of the $703 billion U.S. dollars of government revenue gained through excise tax, $98 billion would filter down to those in the lowest socio-economic bracket, it said.

The  50% tax would also save $6.6 billion on treatment of tobacco related illness for the poorest population – more than a quarter of the overall health expenditure saved.

“More than 30 years ago the World Bank argued in support of Chinese government policies initiated in late 1981 to increase the retail price of cigarettes by 30%,” it said.

“The current analysis has concluded that such policies are pro-poor in their financial as well as health consequences.”

It was published in Lancet Global Health on March 15, 2015.