Archives for the month of: February, 2011

From New York Times:

But the relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A.and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. . . .

Full article.


“In healthy children, lungs grow as the body develops, but the greatest growth rate is during puberty. From ages 10-14, healthy children see their lungs grow by about 12% each year. By the late teens or early twenties, lungs have essentially stopped growing. The Children’s Health Study shows that during the crucial puberty years, the lungs of a child exposed to high levels of pollution will grow 10% less each year. Over a period of four years, that is a significant deficit in lung function compared with kids growing up in low-pollution neighborhoods.”

Air pollution from diesel vehicles can affect everyone, especially children. Exposure to the toxic particles of diesel exhaust has been linked to cancer, asthma, and other diseases and conditions.

The clip discusses the findings of the Children’s Health Study, which was begun in 1992. The study was conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Southern California and funded by the California Air Resources Board. Scientists looked at 5,500 children from 12 communities in Southern California with differing types and levels of air pollution. The scientists followed children from each of these communities and then compared their respiratory health with the pollution levels in their communities.

The full-length video can be viewed below:

Peggy Shepard 

Peggy Shepard is executive director and co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. Founded in 1988, WE ACT was New York’s first environmental justice organization created to improve environmental health and quality of life in communities of color.

In this portion of my interview, she discusses the policy reforms that WE ACT has helped to advance and that she would like to see adopted in the future, as she responds to the prompts listed below.

(Duration 10:15)


Part 6 – Policy Reforms

  1. What sorts of policy reforms has WE ACT helped to promote locally? 00:40
  2. How do your local efforts connect to the environmental justice movement around the country? 02:00
  3. What activities does your organization specialize in when engaged at the national level? 03:40
  4. Would you say that the environmental justice movement has been successful? 04:30
  5. What are some other policies that you would like to see enacted? 06:10

Go to Part 7 – “Environmental Activism”.

Title Duration
Part 1 – Early Career 10:30
Part 2 – The Origins of WE ACT 8:24
Part 3 – The Work of WE ACT 11:02
Part 4 – Environmental Health & Justice 6:29
Part 5 – Collaborating with Scientists 7:51
Part 6 – Policy Reforms 10:15
Part 7 – Environmental Activism 14:22
Part 8 – Five Favorites 5:45
Full Interview 66:41

Visit Peggy Shepard’s main Upstream page.

From CNN:

The radiation emitted after just 50 minutes on a mobile phone increases the activity in brain cells, according to a new government-funded study.

The effects of that brain activity are not known, said the researchers, who called for more study.

Phones that were turned off did not create the same brain activity.

The small study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, is the first to look specifically at how electromagnetic radiation from cell phones affects glucose metabolism, a normal function, in the brain.

“When glucose metabolism goes up, it activates cells. The findings are an indication that exposure to cell phones activate the brain much more easily than we previously thought,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, National Institutes of Health neuroscientist and lead study author.

Brain activity means that the cells are using glucose to create energy. The brain normally produces the amount of glucose it needs to function properly. But these new findings don’t tell us whether activating the cells artificially, in this case by cell phone radiation, will have a negative effect on health. Volkow says she simply doesn’t know and calls for further investigation.

Full article here.

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From Unnatural Causes (Episode 5 – Place Matters):

Community activist Torm Nompraseurt leads a “toxic tour” of Richmond, California where high levels of industrial pollution are wreaking havoc on the health and wellbeing of residents.

From Scientific American:

Many agricultural pesticides – including some previously untested and commonly found in food  – disrupt male hormones, according to new tests conducted by British scientists.

The scientists strongly recommended that all pesticides in use today be screened to check if they block testosterone and other androgens, the hormones critical to a healthy reproductive system for men and boys.

“Our results indicate that systematic testing for anti-androgenic activity of currently used pesticides is urgently required,” wrote the scientists from University of London’s Centre for Toxicology, led by Professor Andreas Kortenkamp.

Thirty out of 37 widely used pesticides tested by the group blocked or mimicked male hormones. Sixteen of the 30 had no known hormonal activity until now, while there was some previous evidence for the other 14, according to the study, published online last Thursday in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Most of the newly discovered hormone disruptors are fungicides applied to fruit and vegetable crops, including strawberries and lettuce. Traces of the chemicals remain in foods.

“This study indicates that, not surprisingly, there are many other endocrine disruptors that we have not yet identified or know very little about,” said Emily Barrett, a University of Rochester assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology who was not involved in the study.

“This underlines the glaring problem that many of the chemicals that are most widely used today, including pesticides, are simply not adequately tested and may have serious long-term impacts on health and development,” said Barrett, who studies how environmental chemicals affect human reproduction.

The findings come as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency faces opposition from the pesticide industry after expanding its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which requires testing of about 200 chemicals found in food and drinking water to see if they interfere with estrogen, androgens or thyroid hormones.

None of the 16 pesticides with the newly discovered hormonal activity is included in the EPA’s program, which means they are not currently screened and there are no plans to do so. . . .

Full article here.

From IMBD:

A true story about a concerned housewife, Pat Melancon, who tries to block Shintech, a massive Japanese petrochemical conglomerate, from building a plant in her toxic township already known as “cancer alley”. Pat and a few newly recruited, fledgling activitsts face the full force of Shintech’s wealth and influence peddling, which has bought the cooperation of the government from the local level all the way up to the Governor’s office.

From NRDCflix:

Newt GIngrich recently proposed eliminating the EPA and putting in its place a bureaucracy that would cater to polluters. Now, some in Congress want to eliminate the EPA’s ability to update Clean Air Act standards in order to reduce life-threatening pollution like carbon dioxide, soot, smog and toxic pollution. This video explains what’s a stake. Make sure to tell Congress to let the EPA do its job.

From Reuters:

The United States’ reliance on coal to generate almost half of its electricity, costs the economy about $345 billion a year in hidden expenses not borne by miners or utilities, including health problems in mining communities and pollution around power plants, a study found.

Those costs would effectively triple the price of electricity produced by coal-fired plants, which are prevalent in part due to the their low cost of operation, the study led by a Harvard University researcher found.

“This is not borne by the coal industry, this is borne by us, in our taxes,” said Paul Epstein, a Harvard Medical School instructor and the associate director of its Center for Health and the Global Environment, the study’s lead author.

“The public cost is far greater than the cost of the coal itself. The impacts of this industry go way beyond just lighting our lights.”

* * *

The estimate of hidden costs takes into account a variety of side-effects of coal production and use. Among them are the cost of treading elevated rates of cancer and other illnesses in coal-mining areas, environmental damage and lost tourism opportunities in coal regions where mountaintop removal is practiced and climate change resulting from elevated emissions of carbon dioxide from burning the coal.

* * *

“This is effectively a subsidy borne by asthmatic children and rain-polluted lakes and the climate is another way of looking at it,” said Kert Davies, research director with the environmental activist group Greenpeace. “It’s a tax by the industry on us that we are not seeing in our bills but we are bearing the costs.”

Full article here.

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From The Fort Myers News Press:

The Caloosahatchee’s water is often compared to caffeinated drinks – tea, coffee or Coke.

Yet before the river was connected to Lake Okeechobee, it was gin-clear and sandy-bottomed.

Now, in addition to the tannic tint, puddingy muck blankets the river’s bed, just as it does the 730-square-mile lake’s.

The muck is from more than a century of nutrients washing into the lake from development and farm fields. Pollutants taint the spoiled egg-scented ooze, including arsenic and an estimated 51,000 tons of phosphorus.

From Edinburgh Scotsman:

CARRYING out X-rays on pregnant women and babies could increase the risk of childhood cancers, research suggests.

A study published in the British Medical Journal said the potential risk – although small – meant doctors should take extra care when using X-ray and CT scans on this group.

The results back up what has long been suspected by clinicians, which means women are always asked about the possibility of pregnancy before images are taken.

The researchers, from the University of York and the National Cancer Institute in the United States, are more concerned about the potential effects from CT scans, which use much higher doses of radiation than X-rays.

The team looked at 2,690 children with cancer and 4,858 healthy children, all born between 1976 and 1996. They found 305 children received 319 radiographic examinations while in the womb, while 170 children received 247 X-ray examinations in early infancy.

Overall, the researchers found the risk of cancer was potentially increased by 14 per cent in children exposed to X-rays in the womb, and 16 per cent for those exposed as young babies. The strongest risk appeared to be for lymphoma.

But the researchers warned that the small number of cancer cases the results were based on meant more research was needed. The study found no increased risk caused by ultrasound scans.


Burlington County Times: Where there’s smoke, there’s trouble.

Where there is wood smoke, there is fire – as well as invisible toxins you could be inhaling.  A little soot exposure probably isn’t harmful to most people, pulmonologists say, but a new Danish-led study suggests regular exposure could damage DNA. Local doctors call the findings interesting, though the implications in the United States are unclear since wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are generally used only a few months of the year. Short-term health effects of wood-smoke particles on people with airway problems are well-known, the doctors said, as are other potential health hazards such as carbon-monoxide gas buildup, which is also invisible and dangerous.

* * * Wood-smoke particles are the fine powder containing mostly carbon, left after wood is burned. Long-term exposure increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to equal that of a cigarette smoker, Dhand said. Recent medical literature has found that smoke from burning solid fuels like wood worsens respiratory diseases. More . . .

New Bedford Standard-Times: Boston University professor undertakes New Bedford-wide public health study.

A Boston University professor is spearheading a three-year, wide-ranging public health study of the city’s population that will look for trends and patterns of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — commonly referred to as ADHD — and cardiovascular disease amid a confluence of health factors, ranging from urban pollution to personal dieting.Jon Levy, a professor at the university’s School of Public Health, is leading the study, which he says will analyze health risks for people who have multiple “stressors.”

Part of the study will focus on chemicals that may contribute to ADHD and cardiovascular disease.  For the former, the study will examine links to environmental tobacco smoke, lead, mercury, and PCBs. Levy’s analysis of ADHD in the community also will take into account risk factors such as prenatal tobacco and alcohol exposure, family history of ADHD, gender, socioeconomic status and low birth weight. For cardiovascular disease, the study will consider traffic-related particulate matter, lead, mercury and environmental tobacco, as well as “non-chemical stressors,” such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and age.

The study will cover the entire city, said Levy, not just neighborhoods that abut sites that have a history of contamination, such as New Bedford Harbor or the Parker Street Waste site.

Levy and researchers from Harvard Unviersity and Brigham and Women’s Hospital hope to create a “cumulative risk assessment,” through culling existing population data throughout the city and meshing that with other sources of information. 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.”


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

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