AM Update 7/24/12
7:54 am
Tue July 24, 2012

AM Update: West Nile in Travis Co., Barton Springs Reopens, Oil Drilling Improvements

Local West Nile Virus Case Confirmed

The Texas Department of State Health Services confirms there have been 32 cases of West Nile neuroinvasive disease in Texas so far this year. One case has been confirmed in Travis County.  The individual has been hospitalized.

The neuroinvasive form of the disease can affect a person’s brain or spinal cord, and can be fatal. The first deadly case of the disease was confirmed in Texas earlier this month, but there are reports of as many as three deaths in the state. West Nile virus, carried by mosquitoes, causes the disease.

West Nile fever, also caused by the virus, is generally considered less serious because it does not invade the nervous system. The CDC reports that roughly half the cases that states have reported so far this year are of the the more serious form of the disease.

Mosquitoes breed in standing water. To help reduce the risk of exposure to the virus,  public health officials urge residents to ensure they empty containers which collect rain and otherwise eliminate standing water from their properties. You can also protect yourself from exposure by using insect repellent or wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when spending time in mosquito-infested areas.

Although not all mosquitoes carry the virus, it has been detected in the Central Texas population of the insects this season.

Barton Springs Pool Open After Storm

Barton Springs Pool is back open this morning after being closed for more than a week.

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department shut down the pool last Monday after a rain storm caused flooding and debris collected in the springs.

The pool has now resumed its normal operating hours – 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will be closed on Thursday as usual for regular cleaning.

Safety Board: Oil Rig Blowout Indicators Need Improvement

A government safety panel says the procedures BP and other offshore drilling companies use to identify and quell rig blowouts would not significantly decrease the likelihood of another incident like the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has a series of presentations scheduled as part of a public hearing in Houston today and tomorrow. Testimony is expected to recommend offshore drilling companies be required to gather and publicly report effective safety performance indicators.

“There is a need for indicators specifically related to the risks of a blowout, especially offshore,”  safety expert Andrew Hopkins says in “Safety Indicators for Offshore Drilling,” one of the reports to be presented and reviewed at the public hearing.

Eleven workers were killed in the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and about 200 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf from the blown-out Macondo well. On the night of the blowout, drillers took about 40 minutes to recognize that a "kick" – a pressure-building precursor to a blowout – had occurred, by which time it was too late.

“One can therefore easily imagine an indicator based on response time to kicks,” Hopkins says.

Other proposed effective safety performance indicators include the reporting of the number of well cementing failures and the number of gas alarms. The public hearing starts at 9 a.m.