Archives for category: Governmental Reports

From the Myrtle Beach Sun News: Mutant fish: A puzzle in the water (by Claudia Lauer, September 29):

Longtime Bucksport residents know every curve in the dirt road leading to the Bull Creek boat landing.

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Fishing and wading in the muddy waters is almost second nature for generations of residents who grew up as river folks, but something in the creek is starting to worry some residents.

A U.S. Geological Survey study released in September 2009 reported that 90 percent of the largemouth bass pulled from the creek during the study had male and were developing female reproductive cells. A year after the study was finished, residents still have questions about the effects of the fish on people and whether something in the water — the same water filtered for drinking water for many Horry County residents — is causing what biologists call endocrine disruption, which makes reproduction for the fish more difficult.

The problem is not confined to Bull Creek, but the Pee Dee Basin had the highest incidence of intersex fish in the study. The study looked at river basins all over the country and found that about half of them had some instances of intersex fish. The only river basin examined that didn’t show any problems was Alaska’s Yukon River Basin. In parts of the Mississippi River in Minnesota and the Yampa River in Colorado, 70 percent of the smallmouth bass had female signs. Scientists and residents say more research must be done to determine which of the many possible environmental contaminants to the water may be causing the issue in the fish and whether it’s something being done locally or upstream.

Steve Howell, like many of the lifelong residents, feels some ownership in the creek that he, his family and his friends have fished for generations.

“What about taking baths, drinking the water, cooking and etc. with the water from your tap that is coming straight out of the same river that is highly contaminated that it is screwing the fish up?” Howell said. “Since it is affecting the fish in such drastic ways as this, then what is it going to do to humans over a period of time, and why isn’t anyone or any group doing a study to try and find out?”

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A number of contaminants have been suspected as the cause of the endocrine disruption. Researchers are studying the effects of livestock farming, of industrial chemicals, and of hormones and other chemicals that find their way into waste water. Hormones and birth control pills have become more commonplace and leave the human body in our waste.

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Howell said he plans to continue fishing in the creek, but he’s wary of what the long-term effects could be.

“You want to know what is happening because if the water is doing that to the fish, then what happens to us?” he said. “What happens to women who are pregnant or babies that aren’t born yet? You want to know what they’re doing to make sure we’re safe and whether there’s more happening other than here’s this study and we don’t know why it’s happening or what it means.”

Read the entire article here.

From NPR Blog:

The number of children diagnosed with autism jumped 23 percent between 2006 and 2008, according to the latest federal estimate.

Now, 1 in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rapid rise prompted calls to declare the developmental disorder an epidemic. “This is a national emergency in need of a national plan,” Mark Roithmayr, president of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, said at a CDC media briefing Thursday.

But CDC scientists weren’t about to go that far. Instead, they said that most if not all of that startling increase could be due to better recognition of the disorder by parents, doctors and teachers.

“There is the possibility that the increase in cases is entirely the result of better detection,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, said at the briefing.

From 2002 to 2008, the number of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder has risen 78 percent, according to this ongoing study, which tracks diagnoses among 8-year-olds in 14 states. It was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The survey counted not just children who had been given an official diagnosis of autism, but those whose school or medical records included descriptions of behavior typical of the disorder. Those methods have been consistent throughout the study.

Because there is no known cause for autism, the question of what’s fueled the swift rise in diagnoses over the past 20 years has been a major point of contention between advocates and scientists.

“In very much respect to Dr. Frieden, only part of the increase is better diagnoses,” Roithmayr said at the CDC today. “There is a great unknown. Something is going on here that we don’t know.”

Autism Speaks and other advocacy groups have long pressed the federal government to do more research on environmental causes of autism, including the unproven theory that childhood vaccines caused autism. Scientists have tended to focus on genetic causes of autism, and factors such as advanced parental age and premature birth, both of which increase a child’s risk of autism.

More.

From the Washington Post:

The amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment nationwide in 2010 increased 16 percent over the year before, reversing a downward trend in overall toxic releases since 2006, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The spike was driven largely by metal mining, but other sectors — including the chemical industry — also contributed to the rise in emissions, according to the new analysis from the annual federal Toxics Release Inventory.

Air releases of dioxin, which is linked to cancer as well as neurological and reproductive problems, rose 10 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to the report. Other releases, such as landfill disposal, increased 18 percent.

Dioxins are formed as a byproduct of some processes with intense heat, such as smelting and recycling metals. The 2010 increase stemmed largely from the hazardous-waste-management and mining industries, according to the EPA.

In a statement Thursday, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson did not address the specific sources of emissions but said that the public reporting “has played a significant role in protecting people’s health and the environment by providing communities with valuable information on toxic chemical releases.”

According to EPA officials, a handful of metal mining operations helped drive the overall increase in toxic emissions.

“In this sector, even a small change in the chemical composition of the ore being mined — which EPA understands is one of the reasons for the increase in total reported releases — may lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally,” the statement read.

Some environmentalists said the new data show why the EPA should swiftly move to release a long-anticipated environmental assessment of dioxin, the first installment of which the agency plans to issue this month. EPA officials say they will issue a report addressing dioxin’s non-cancerous effects first and then later release a cancer-related report.

Some industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council, have urged the EPA to hold off issuing the report in what the trade association’s president and chief executive, Cal Dooley, has called “a piecemeal fashion.” Chemical manufacturers accounted for nearly 64 percent of total disposal of dioxins in 2010, though they reported a 7 percent decrease from 2009 to 2010.

More.

From the President’s Cancer Panel’s 2008 – 2009 Annual Report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks: What We Can Do Now,” here is an extended excerpt from the Report’s executive summary, describing the extent of the problem.

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Despite overall decreases in incidence and mortality, cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.

Public and governmental awareness of environmental influences on cancer risk and other health issues has increased substantially in recent years as scientific and health care communities, policymakers, and individuals strive to understand and ameliorate the causes and toll of human disease. A growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.

Between September 2008 and January 2009, the President’s Cancer Panel (the Panel) convened four meetings to assess the state of environmental cancer research, policy, and programs addressing known and potential effects of environmental exposures on cancer. The Panel received testimony from 45 invited experts from academia, government, industry, the environmental and cancer advocacy communities, and the public.

This report summarizes the Panel’s findings and conclusions based on the testimony received and additional information gathering. The Panel’s recommendations delineate concrete actions that governments; industry; the research, health care, and advocacy communities; and individuals can take to reduce cancer risk related to environmental contaminants, excess radiation, and other harmful exposures.

Key Issues for Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk

Issues impeding control of environmental cancer risks include those related to limited research on environmental influences on cancer; conflicting or inadequate exposure measurement, assessment, and classification; and ineffective regulation of environmental chemical and other hazardous exposures.

Environmental Cancer Research

Research on environmental causes of cancer has been limited by low priority and inadequate funding. As a result, the cadre of environmental oncologists is relatively small, and both the consequences of cumulative lifetime exposure to known carcinogens and the interaction of specific environmental contaminants remain largely unstudied. There is a lack of emphasis on environmental research as a route to primary cancer prevention, particularly compared with research emphases on genetic and molecular mechanisms in cancer.

Environmental Exposure Measurement, Methodologic, Assessment, and Classification Issues

Efforts to identify, quantify, and control environmental exposures that raise cancer risk, including both single agents and combinations of exposures, have been complicated by the use of different measures, exposure limits, assessment processes, and classification structures across agencies in the U.S. and among nations. In addition, efforts have been compromised by a lack of effective measurement methods and tools; delay in adopting available newer technologies; inadequate computational models; and weak, flawed, or uncorroborated studies.

Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Current toxicity testing relies heavily on animal studies that utilize doses substantially higher than those likely to be encountered by humans. These data—and the exposure limits extrapolated from them—fail to take into account harmful effects that may occur only at very low doses. Further, chemicals typically are administered when laboratory animals are in their adolescence, a methodology that fails to assess the impact of in utero, childhood, and lifelong exposures. In addition, agents are tested singly rather than in combination.

Regulation of Environmental Contaminants

The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful. Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.

U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective by five major problems: (1) inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, (2) fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with uneven and decentralized enforcement, (3) excessive regulatory complexity, (4) weak laws and regulations, and (5) undue industry influence. Too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.

Sources and Types of Environmental Contaminants

The line between occupational and environmental contaminants is fine and often difficult to demarcate. Many known or suspected carcinogens first identified through studies of industrial and agricultural occupational exposures have since found their way into soil, air, water, and numerous consumer products. People from disadvantaged populations are more likely to be employed in occupations with higher levels of exposure (e.g., mining, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, certain service sector occupations) and to live in more highly contaminated communities. The reality of this unequal burden is not just a health issue, but an issue of environmental justice.

While all Americans now carry many foreign chemicals in their bodies, women often have higher levels of many toxic and hormone-disrupting substances than do men. Some of these chemicals have been found in maternal blood, placental tissue, and breast milk samples from pregnant women and mothers who recently gave birth. Thus, chemical contaminants are being passed on to the next generation, both prenatally and during breastfeeding. Some chemicals indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to immune and endocrine dysfunction that can influence the effect of carcinogens.

Children of all ages are considerably more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures. In addition, some toxics have adverse effects not only on those exposed directly (including in utero), but on the offspring of exposed individuals.

Exposure to Contaminants from Industrial and Manufacturing Sources

Manufacturing and other industrial products and processes are responsible for a great many of the hazardous occupational and environmental exposures experienced by Americans. Many of these contaminants—even substances banned more than 30 years ago—remain ubiquitous in the environment because they break down very slowly, if at all. Other industrial chemicals or processes have hazardous by-products or metabolites. Numerous chemicals used in manufacturing remain in or on the product as residues, while others are integral components of the products themselves. Further, in the ongoing quest for more effective and efficient ways of making industrial and consumer products, new chemicals and other substances are being created continually and existing substances are being put to new uses. Limited research to date on unintended health effects of nanomaterials, for example, suggests that unanticipated environmental hazards may emerge from the push for progress.

Exposure to Contaminants from Agricultural Sources

The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other

chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition to pesticides, agricultural fertilizers and veterinary pharmaceuticals are major contributors to water pollution, both directly and as a result of chemical processes that form toxic by-products when these substances enter the water supply. Farmers and their families, including migrant workers, are at highest risk from agricultural exposures. Because agricultural chemicals often are applied as mixtures, it has been difficult to clearly distinguish cancer risks associated with individual agents.

Environmental Exposures Related to Modern Lifestyles

Conveniences of modern life—automobile and airplane travel, dry cleaning, potable tap water, electricity, and cellular communications, to name a few—have made daily life easier for virtually all Americans. Some of these conveniences, however, have come at a considerable price to the environment and human health, and the true health impact of others is unconfirmed. For example, mobile source air emissions (e.g., from cars, trucks, other passenger vehicles, ships), especially diesel particulate pollution, are responsible for approximately 30 percent of cancer resulting from air pollution. Disinfection of public water supplies has dramatically reduced the incidence of waterborne illnesses and related mortality in the United States, but research indicates that long-term exposure to disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes may increase cancer risk. Chemicals used for household pest control can become a component of carpet dust, posing a risk to children when they play on the floor.

Sharp controversy exists in the scientific community as to possible adverse health effects from exposure to low frequency electromagnetic energy. The use of cell phones and other wireless technology is of great concern, particularly since these devices are being used regularly by ever larger and younger segments of the population. At this time, there is no evidence to support a link between cell phone use and cancer. However, the research on cancer and other disease risk among long-term and heavy users of contemporary wireless devices is extremely limited. Similarly, current and potential harms from extremely low frequency radiation are unclear and require further study. In addition, ultraviolet radiation from excess sun exposure and tanning devices has been proven to substantially increase skin cancer risk.

Exposure to Hazards from Medical Sources

In the past two decades, improved imaging technologies, nuclear medicine examinations, and new pharmaceutical interventions have made possible significant strides in our ability to diagnose and treat human disease, including cancer. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that some of these same technologies and drugs that have contributed so greatly to health status and longevity also carry risks.

While ionizing radiation exposures from radon, occupational, and other sources have remained essentially stable over the past 30 years, Americans now are estimated to receive nearly half of their total radiation exposure from medical imaging and other medical sources, compared with only 15 percent in the early 1980s. The increase in medical radiation has nearly doubled the total average effective radiation dose per

individual in the United States. Computed tomography (CT) and nuclear medicine tests alone now contribute 36 percent of the total radiation exposure and 75 percent of the medical radiation exposure of the U.S. population. Medical imaging of children is of special concern; compared with adults, children have many more years of life during which a malignancy initiated by medical radiation can develop. Many referring physicians, radiology professionals, and the public are unaware of the radiation dose associated with various tests or the total radiation dose and related increased cancer risk individuals may accumulate over a lifetime. People who receive multiple scans or other tests that require radiation may accumulate doses equal to or exceeding that of Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors. It is believed that a single large dose of ionizing radiation and numerous low doses equal to the single large dose have much the same effect on the body over time.

Moreover, radiation dose for the same test can vary dramatically depending on the equipment used, technologist skill, application of dose-reduction strategies, and patient size, age, and gender. Licensure of imaging and radiation therapy technologists varies depending on the type of test performed by the technologist. Some states have only partial regulation; six states and the District of Columbia have no licensure or regulatory provisions of any kind.

In addition, pharmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown.

Exposure to Contaminants and Other Hazards from Military Sources

The military is a major source of toxic occupational and environmental exposures that can increase cancer risk. Information is available about some military activities that have directly or indirectly exposed military and civilian personnel to carcinogens and contaminated soil and water in numerous locations in the United States and abroad. However, we may never know the full extent of environmental contamination from military sources. Nearly 900 Superfund sites are abandoned military facilities or facilities that produced materials and products for or otherwise supported military needs. Some of these sites and the areas surrounding them became heavily contaminated due to improper storage and disposal of known or suspected carcinogens including solvents, machining oils, metalworking fluids, and metals. In some cases, these contaminants have spread far beyond their points of origin because they have been transported by wind currents or have leached into drinking water supplies.

Hundreds of thousands of military personnel and civilians in the United States received significant radiation doses as a result of their participation in nuclear weapons testing and supporting occupations and industries, including nuclear fuel and weapons production, and uranium mining, milling, and ore transport. Hundreds of thousands more were irradiated at levels sufficient to cause cancer and other diseases. These populations include the families of military and civilian workers, and people—known as “downwinders”—living or working in communities surrounding or downstream from testing and related activities, and in

relatively distant areas to which nuclear fallout or other radioactive material spread. Federal responses to the plight of affected individuals have been unsatisfactory. Those affected lack knowledge about the extent of their exposure or potential health problems they may face. Similarly, most health care providers are not aware of cancer and other latent radiation effects and therefore are unlikely to adequately monitor patients for these health conditions. Exposure to ionizing radiation related to nuclear weapons testing is an underappreciated issue worldwide.

Exposure to Environmental Hazards from Natural Sources

Most environmental hazards with the potential to raise cancer risk are the product of human activity, but some environmental carcinogens come from natural sources. For example, radon gas, which forms naturally from the breakdown of uranium mineral deposits, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked. Radon-induced lung cancer is responsible for an estimated average of 21,000 deaths annually. People who smoke and also are exposed to radon have a higher risk of lung cancer than from either exposure alone.

Although human activities such as mining, ore processing, use of arsenic-containing pesticides, and burning of fossil fuels are major contributors to waterborne arsenic in the U.S., most inorganic arsenic in drinking water is from natural sources. Inorganic arsenic in drinking water has been linked to skin, lung, bladder, and kidney cancer in both sexes and with prostate cancer in men, as well as numerous non-cancerous conditions including endocrine, reproductive, and developmental effects.

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You can download the Report, which includes details on what might be done about the problem, here.

The Report was also the focus on NPR’s On Point.

From Forbes:

The debate over air pollution and, more specifically, the regulation of air pollution, raged on this week as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) watered down its cross-state pollution rule and House Republicans moved to delay new rules on toxic air pollution from cement plants, solid waste incinerators, and industrial boilers.  These latest debates come on the heels of President Obama’s move last monthto reneg on promises to tighten up smog standards, a decision that angered environmentalists and led to speculation that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson might be ready to walk. In all cases, the argument against regulation goes something like this: The last thing a down economy needs is new regulation, and the EPA is overstepping its boundaries.

These arguments center largely around the idea that current air pollution regulation is good enough as-is, and that any further restrictions are aimed at tackling environmental issues and climate change, both typically seen as luxuries in a down economy. But research is continuing to pile up in support of the claim that not only are current air pollution regulations inadequate, but that air pollution is very much a public health issue.

When viewed through the public health lens, the economic arguments against regulation of air pollution begin to unravel, particularly in the face of rising healthcare costs. Consider, for example, a spate of new studies that have found a rather convincing correlation between the presence of small particulate matter (PM2.5, the ultrafine particles blown into the air by road traffic, coal-fired power plants, industrial manufacturing, and residential wood fuel combustion) and both obesity and diabetes.

Medical research has long supported the fact that exposure to ultrafine particulate matter increases the risk of various respiratory, cardiovascular, and pulmonary illnesses. Incidences of asthma, heart attacks, and chronic bronchitis are all higher in areas where the concentration of ultrafine particulate matter is higher. The correlation between particulate matter and these health issues is particularly pronounced in children, as well as low-income communities, which are often located closer to the sources of particulate matter (highways, factories, power plants) than their higher income neighbors.

Over the past decade, new studies have emerged that link air pollution to two of this country’s most pressing (and expensive) health epidemics: obesity and type II diabetes. Both are not only on the rise in terms of diagnoses, but also in terms of the costs associated with treatment. According to a January 2011 study by the Society of Actuaries, the current cost of the obesity epidemic in the United States is $270 billion a year.  The American Diabetes Association puts the current cost of dealing with diabetes (over 90 percent of U.S. diabetes cases are type II) at $174 billion. According to the Center for Disease Control, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism in the United States, and the cost of treating asthma in children 18 and under alone is $3.2 billion per year. Meanwhile, financial analysts estimate the cost of tightened air pollution regulations at $130 billion. Granted, these are not budget line items that are easily swapped in for each other, but a tie-in to obesity and diabetes may just make tackling air pollution more economically viable.

Of course, no one is saying, “hey, forget about diet and exercise, just take care of air pollution!” Nonetheless, even after controlling for factors such as genetics, income levels, weight, diet and exercise, Harvard researchers found a “consistent and significant” relationship between Type II diabetes prevalence and exposure to ultrafine particulate matter in a recent study.

More.

From Mother Jones:

Here is a document the USDA doesn’t want you to see. It’s what the agency calls a “technical review”—nothing more than a USDA-contracted researcher’s simple, blunt summary of recent academic findings on the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections and their link with factory animal farms. The topic is a serious one. A single antibiotic-resistant pathogen, MRSA—just one of many now circulating among Americans—now claims more lives each year than AIDS.

Back in June, the USDA put the review up on its National Agricultural Library website. Soon after, a Dow Jones story quoted a USDA official who declared it to be based on “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals.” She added that the report should not be seen as a “representation of the official position of USDA.” That’s fair enough—the review was designed to sum up the state of science on antibiotic resistance and factory farms, not the USDA’s position on the matter.

But around the same time, the agency added an odd disclaimer to the top of the document: “This review has not been peer reviewed. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Agriculture.” And last Friday, the document (original link) vanished without comment from the agency’s website. The only way to see the document now is through the above-linked cached version supplied to me by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What gives? Why is the USDA suppressing a review that assembles research from “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals”?

To understand the USDA’s quashing of a report it had earlier commissioned, published, and praised, you first have to understand a key aspect of industrial-scale meat production. You see, keeping animals alive and growing fast under cramped, unsanitary conditions is tricky business. One of the industry’s tried-and-true tactics is low-level, daily doses of antibiotics. The practice helps keep infections down, at least in the short term, and, for reasons no one really understands, it pushes animals to fatten to slaughter weight faster.

Altogether, the US meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year. To put that number in perspective, consider that we humans in the United States—in all of our prescription fill-ups and hospital stays combined—use just over 7 million pounds per year. Thus the vast bulk of antibiotics consumed in this country, some 80 percent, goes to factory animal farms.

For years, scientists have worried that the industry’s reliance on antibiotics was contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The European Union took action to curtail routine antibiotic use on farms in 2006 (taking Sweden’s lead, which had banned the practice 20 years before).

But here in the United States, the regulatory approach has been completely laissez-faire—and the meat industry would like to keep it that way. The industry claims that even though antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been found both in confined animals and supermarket meat, there’s simply no evidence that livestock strains are jumping to the human population.

Here is where we get back to that now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t USDA research summary, which reads like a heavily footnoted rebuttal to the industry line. Assembled by Vaishali Dharmarha, a research assistant at the University of Maryland, the report summarizes research from 63 academic papers and government studies. Here are few of her findings:

• “Use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs in food animal production and human medicine is the main factor accelerating antimicrobial resistance.”

• “[F]ood animals, when exposed to antimicrobial agents, may serve as a significant reservoir of resistant bacteria that can transmit to humans through the food supply.”

• “Several studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella showed that [antibiotic resistance] in Salmonella strains was most likely due to the antimicrobial use in food animals, and that most infections caused by resistant strains are acquired from the consumption of contaminated food.”

• “Farmers and farm workers may get exposed to resistant bacteria by handling animals, feed, and manure. These exposures are of significant concern to public health, as they can transfer the resistant bacteria to family and community members, particularly through person-to-person contacts.”

• “Resistant bacteria can also spread from intensive food animal production area to outside boundaries through contact between food animals and animals in the external environment. Insects, flies, houseflies, rodents, and wild birds play an important role in this mode of transmission. They are particularly attracted to animal wastes and feed sources from where they carry the resistant bacteria to several locations outside the animal production facility.”

Naturally, such assertions didn’t please the meat industry—and the fact that they were backed up by dozens of peer-reviewed science papers no doubt only sharpened the sting. In the trade paper National Hog Farmer, a National Pork Producers Council official lashed out. Perhaps lacking factual ammunition, the official resorted to an attack on the researchers’ credentials: “We find it very disappointing that a research assistant at a university, who is not an Agricultural Research Service scientist, can develop and post such a review without it going through an agency or peer review process.”

Well, the pork producers can rest a bit easier. The researcher, Dharmarha, has been silenced. Not only has her report been erased from the USDA site, but she has been forbidden to talk to media.

More.


From Charleston Gazette:

Dozens of coal-fired power plants across the country lack the most modern pollution controls to limit air emissions linked to respiratory diseases and premature deaths, according to a report issued Friday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Most of those plants instead built taller smokestacks, in an effort to disperse their emissions over a broader area — a practice that Congress tried to largely discourage when it amended the Clean Air Act more than 30 years ago, according to the GAO report.

The GAO review, requested by a Senate subcommittee, focused on issues concerning the use by utilities of taller smokestacks at coal-fired power plants.

Tall stacks can be used to help disperse sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants and limit air quality impacts in communities where power plants are located. But, they can also increase the distance that pollutants travel, harming air quality in downwind communities.

In 1977, Congress sought to encourage the use of pollution control equipment over tall-stack dispersion techniques to meet national air quality standards. The law does not limit stack height, but prohibits sources of emissions from using stacks taller than those considered “good engineering practice” to meet emissions limits.

Lawmakers interested in follow-up on the issue asked the GAO to report on the number and location of tall stacks of 500 feet or higher, the contribution of those plants to regional pollution problems, and the number of stacks built above the “good engineering practice” height.

Using Department of Energy data, GAO investigators found 284 “tall smokestacks” operating at 172 coal-fired power plants in 34 states as of Dec. 31, 2010. Of those stacks, 207 are 500 to 699 feet tall, 63 are 700 to 999 feet tall, and the remaining 14 are 1,000 feet or taller.

About one-third of these stacks are concentrated in five states along the Ohio River Valley, including 12 in West Virginia at power plants with a generating capacity totaling nearly 14,000 megawatts. The report did not list the individual plants.

“While about half of tall stacks began operating more than 30 years ago, there has been an increase in the number of tall stacks that began operating in the last 4 years, which air and utility officials attributed to the need for new stacks when plants installed pollution control equipment,” the GAO report said.

More.

From the New York Times:

Recent studies suggest that smog-filled air kills more people and causes more breathing problems than previously thought, U.S. EPA scientists say in a new draft paper, but due to a procedural twist, the findings can’t be taken into account as Administrator Lisa Jackson decides whether to set stricter limits than the George W. Bush administration chose in 2008.

The new research provides stronger evidence that short-term spikes in ground-level ozone can cause premature death, according to the 996-page scientific assessment, which was released late Friday. And on top of that, EPA scientists found evidence that long-term exposure could lead to more premature deaths — a conclusion that was not reached when the agency last reviewed the state of smog science in 2006.

It is well-established that ozone can have health effects at the current limit of 84 parts per billion (ppb), which still has not been met in parts of the Northeast, much of Southern California and industrial cities such as Houston. According to the assessment, recent studies found a robust link between health effects and smog levels below either the current limit or the standard of 75 ppb that was selected by the last administration.

More.

From the Herald-Tribune and ProPublica:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Army released a long-awaited report [pdf] Thursday about a rash of unexplained infant deaths at Fort Bragg, N.C., concluding that no environmental issue—including contaminated drywall—was to blame for the babies’ deaths.

But three experts who reviewed the report for the Herald-Tribune and ProPublica said the tests used to examine the drywall were unreliable and incomplete—and that more tests should have been done.

At least nine infants have died of unknown causes at Fort Bragg since 2007, including three infants of different parents who lived in a single house.

In Spring 2010, Army criminal investigators who probed one baby’s death noticed corrosion and other signs that can point to problematic drywall—most of it imported from China during the housing boom—and ordered that a sample from the infant’s room be tested.

The results from a laboratory chamber test revealed high levels of two sulfur gases associated with contaminated drywall—levels that exceeded a known sample of tainted Chinese board used for comparison and that were 14 to 18 times greater than an untainted control sample. Many experts consider the chamber test the most definitive for tainted drywall.

“The only test result I’ll accept is a chamber test,” said Michael Foreman, head of Foreman & Associates, which has been investigating tainted drywall since the crisis emerged more than two years ago. “It’s the only one that measures off-gassing. That’s the only thing that matters when we’re talking about tainted drywall.”

Foreman is a member of the American Society for Testing and Materials committee that is studying the drywall problem.

After the Army received the test results, the family was told to leave their home, and Fort Bragg’s commanders ordered additional tests. Instead of chamber tests, however, the new tests measured certain elements within the drywall. Based on those results, the Army announced that the drywall was not problematic.

The report that the CPSC and Army released Thursday reinforced that finding. It said that the homes didn’t have tainted drywall or any other environmental problem.

But the new report relied on the same questionable methods that were used in the Army’s second round of tests. The findings also are at odds with a report produced by one of the CPSC’s own inspectors, who was sent to Fort Bragg to examine the two homes last year. Based on the chamber test, and on corrosion, failing electronics and health symptoms described by the families, he reported that the homes contained signs consistent with tainted drywall.

At the news conference on Thursday, officials said the conclusions in that report were premature.

Dean Woodard, the CPSC’s director of defect investigations, said that based on the new report the agency does “not believe there is a connection between the drywall and the tragic deaths.” He called the test results associated with the drywall “unremarkable” and said the CPSC believed they “do not require any follow up.” Only more pesticide- related tests were recommended, he said.

But the testing methods detailed in the new report raised concerns among the experts who reviewed the document for the Herald-Tribune and ProPublica.

“If you want to see what’s wrong with the drywall, you test the drywall. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that when you’re trying to address how much the drywall is off-gassing,” said Michael Shaw, vice president of Interscan Corp. and a member of the ASTM drywall committee. “The idea that they are skating around this and not doing the obvious measurement is very troubling.”

Shaw said then when doing any scientific study, the most direct approach is generally the best.

“If you want to know how much someone weighs, you put him on a scale. You don’t throw him in a swimming pool and try to calculate how much water he displaces,” he said.

Foreman was more blunt: “A company or government official that won’t do a chamber test is one that in my opinion is scared to death of what the results could show.”

More.

Two WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham, NC I-Team Videos about the infant deaths at Fort Bragg:

The 2010 Report by the President’s Panel on Cancer had this to say about the inefficacy of existing regulations of chemical toxins:

The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful. Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.

U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective by five major problems: (1) inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, (2) fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with uneven and decentralized enforcement, (3) excessive regulatory complexity, (4) weak laws and regulations, and (5) undue industry influence. Too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.

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