Archives for the month of: July, 2011

From Environmental Health News:

By Rebecca Fuoco

Tanner, a 12-year-old from Clyde, Ohio, had a difficult school year. He was only able to attend a few weeks of school. Summer activities are also limited for Tanner, who cannot swim in public pools because his leukemia has left him with a diminished immune system.

Tanner and his older sister are among nearly 40 children from Sandusky County who have been diagnosed with cancer. The community of 62,000 has fought for answers to explain the series of child cancers that began a decade ago.

While cancer clusters are a nightmare for families and communities, they also are frustrating for state and local health officials. Cancer cluster investigations are notoriously difficult because of small budgets, the variety of factors involved in cancer development and the multitude of possible sources and exposures. They are almost always inconclusive.

Earlier this year, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced a bill known as “Trevor’s Law,” named after Trevor Schaefer, a brain cancer survivor who was diagnosed at the age of 13 and has worked to raise awareness of disease clusters and possible links to the environment.

This legislation would direct and fund federal agencies to assist state health officials in investigating potential clusters. It also would create science-based guidelines for cluster identification. The bill was sparked by rising rates of childhood cancer and the President’s Cancer Panel’s 2010 statement that the burden of environmentally-induced cancer is grossly underestimated.

Cancer clusters should indeed be a public policy concern. Forty-two cancer and other disease clusters in 13 states were recently identified by the Natural Resources Defense Council. All of them are suspected of being caused by toxic exposures in the community.

However, Trevor’s Law will yield little benefit unless there also is a significant change in the way chemicals are regulated in the United States.

The Toxic Substances Control Act is the federal law responsible for ensuring safety of industrial chemicals. Among its weaknesses is that it does not require chemical producers to provide data on a chemical’s environmental fate or toxicity before it is introduced into the market. Under the 1976 law, the Environmental Protection Agency may require the manufacturer to provide this information only if a chemical poses certain health or environmental risks. Even then, the procedures EPA must follow to obtain test data from companies can take years.

The EPA does not have the resources to routinely assess the hazards of 700 some chemicals introduced into commerce each year and companies very rarely voluntarily perform such testing. Accordingly, the vast majority of chemicals on the market today have not been tested for toxicity. Without access to scientific information on potential exposure routes, toxic mechanisms and health effects of at least 85,000 chemicals on the market today, it will remain exceedingly difficult for agencies to investigate clusters and their possible environmental causes.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which will begin to close the data gap by requiring chemical manufacturers to develop and make publicly available toxicity and exposure information for all chemicals. . . .

More.

You can watch Trevor’s riveting testimony to the U.S. Senate (around 31:15) at this video link.

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An Ecology of Mind is a film portrait of Gregory Bateson, celebrated anthropologist, philosopher, author, naturalist, systems theorist, and filmmaker, produced and directed by his daughter, Nora Bateson.

From Charleston Gazette:

Cancer rates among residents near the Coal River Valley’s mountaintop removal operations are double those of residents in non-mining areas of Appalachia, according to the latest study of strip-mining possible impacts on public health.

West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx co-authored the new paper, which is based on door-to-door interviews with nearly 800 residents along the Coal River from Seth to Rock Creek.

“The odds for reporting cancer were twice as high in the mountaintop mining environment compared to the non-mining environment in ways not explained by the age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure, or family cancer history,” Hendryx wrote.

The study, published in the Journal of Community Health, does not say mountaintop removal caused the increased cancer rates. But it says more research is needed to examine mining pollution and potential impacts on people who live near mountaintop removal mines.

“The results of this study and others previously cited on coal mining populations demonstrate that health disparities are concentrated in mountaintop mining areas of the region,” the study said. “Efforts to reduce cancer and other health disparities in Appalachia must focus on mountaintop mining portions of the region.”

Hendryx and a collection of colleagues have published a series of papers examining possible links between mountaintop removal and various illnesses, including a study last month that found higher rates of birth defects in communities near mining operations.

Collectively, the papers have given weight to citizen complaints about coal’s impact on public health. Anti-mountaintop removal activists point to the research to show that the issue isn’t just about mining effects on salamanders, mayflies or isolated mountain streams.

Obama administration officials have said they are concerned about the findings of the public health studies, and cited the findings in supporting a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency crackdown on mountaintop removal permit practices.

Mining industry groups have disputed the findings of the studies, and coalfield political leaders have mostly tried to ignore them. On Wednesday, Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., refused requests for interviews about the growing body of research about mining and public health impacts.

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From Reuters:

Children living in high-stress households are more vulnerable to lung damage from traffic pollution than children whose parents are less stressed out, according to the results of a new study.

“It makes sense,” said Dr. Jane Clougherty from the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in this study. “The bodily wear and tear induced by…stress could make the individual more susceptible to the effects of traffic-related air pollution.”

The researchers took measurements of several indicators of lung function in nearly 1,400 children living in southern California.

They also predicted the amount of traffic pollutants the children were exposed to by sampling almost 1,000 different sites around the area. In particular the researchers were looking for nitrogen oxides, which are formed when fuel is burned. Nitrogen oxides can damage lung tissue and make asthma worse, they explain in an article in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Six years earlier, the children’s parents had filled out a questionnaire about their level of stress. The questions asked how often they felt able to handle personal problems or felt in control, for instance.

Air pollution levels varied widely depending on where the children lived, from six parts per billion of nitrogen oxides to 101 parts per billion.

For kids from high-stress homes, when the average amount of nitrogen oxides in the air went up by 22 parts per billion, their lung function got roughly five percent worse.

That same increase in pollutants around a child whose parents had a low level of stress made no difference to their lung function, however.

Dr. Talat Islam from the University of Southern California, the lead author of the study, said he expected that stress would lead to a bigger effect of pollution on kids, but he was surprised that increased air pollution had no effect on the kids from low-stress homes.

“We see the whole effect of traffic-related air pollution in those children who were exposed to higher stress,” Islam told Reuters Health.

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From The Charleston Gazette:

Despite strong pressure from the coal industry and its political allies, the Obama administration on Thursday finalized new guidance aimed at reducing the environmental and public health impacts of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has said that “no or very few valley fills” would be approved under new guidance that EPA regional offices will now impose on state regulators for permits under the federal Clean Water Act.

EPA officials said the guidelines — being challenged in court and under fire from Congress — are needed because of a growing body of science that details devastating water quality impacts downstream of large-scale surface mines.

“The science holds up the actions they are taking 100 percent,” said Margaret Palmer, a University of Maryland biologist who has been studying mountaintop removal’s effects on streams and aquatic life. “It is blatant that the biodiversity is just decimated when you have these valley fills above streams.”

The new EPA guidance calls for tougher permit reviews, including more detailed studies of whether mining impacts can be avoided or reduced, new testing of potential toxic impacts of mining discharges, and tough limits on the increases in electrical conductivity, a crucial measure of water quality.

EPA said in a statement that the guidance would not block all mining permits, and cited three examples over the last two years when agency officials worked out acceptable deals with coal operators to approve new mining projects.

“Under this guidance, EPA will continue to work with other federal agencies, state, local communities, and companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation’s waters and people’s health,” said Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for water. “We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and this guidance allows EPA to work with companies to meet that goal, based on the best science.”

In the 61-page guidance memo, EPA said that since 1992, more than 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled by Appalachian coal mining operations. EPA cited an ongoing rate of about 120 miles of streams per year being impacted.

“Further, while precise estimates are limited, the estimated scale of deforestation from existing Appalachian surface mining operations is greater in size than the state of Delaware, or 5,700 square kilometers, predicted to be affected by 2012,” the EPA guidance memo said. “The full cumulative effects of surface coal mining operations at this scope and scale are still largely unknown.”

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From the Charleston-Gazette:

Workers at DuPont Co.’s Wood County plant who were exposed to the chemical C8 were more likely to die from kidney cancer and other kidney diseases, according to the latest findings from a three-scientist panel studying C8’s potential health effects.

The C8 Science Panel found “significantly increased rates of death among the more highly exposed workers compared to low-exposed workers” for kidney cancer and nonmalignant, chronic kidney disease.

In a summary report made public Tuesday, the scientists said the increased deaths “could possibly be due to” C8 exposure because the kidney is one part of the body where the chemical is found.

Science Panel members issued two other reports Tuesday: One found that increased C8 levels in the blood of Mid-Ohio Valley residents were associated with increases in a liver enzyme that can be an indicator of liver disease. The other discovered a potential link between C8 exposure and pre-eclampsia, or diabetes among pregnant women.

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From Environmental Health News:

PFCs are associated with attention and behavior problems in children, suggest a pair of studies published online in June. These studies are some of the first to explore the relationship between PFC compounds and behavior problems, specifically attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and impulsive behavior.

In one study, preteen children were more impulsive when they had higher blood levels of six PFC compounds. The other reports that children with higher blood levels of one type of PFC – PFHxS – have an increased chance of ADHD.

A variety of products use PFCs during manufacturing, and the compounds are present in just about everyone. Together, the reports suggest further research is needed to discern human health effects of PFC exposure.

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From The Courier-Journal:

An Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis study has found mercury contamination in soil downwind from a coal-fired power plant in Indianapolis, supporting the notion of localized mercury hot spots.

The research examined soil near several plants across Central Indiana but zeroed in on an Indianapolis Power & Light plant on the city’s southwest side. That’s where scientists mapped a plume of soil contamination likely from the plant, which is the city’s largest source of mercury emissions.

“Mercury from coal-fired power plants has been found in the ice at the north and the south poles, so the fact that these noxious emissions are swept far away to other areas or even continents, with global environmental impact, is well known,” said lead author Gabriel M. Filippelli, an IUPUI professor of earth sciences.

He said the new research is among the first to document mercury’s impact on soils and the environment near specific coal-burning power plants.

He also said the study, published this month in the journal Water, Air & Soil Pollution, has important implications for other cities with coal-fired power plants, including the Louisville metro area, which has three.

“I would suspect you might have the same situation that we have here in Indianapolis,” he said of Louisville and Southern Indiana.

Louisville Gas & Electric operates the Mill Creek and Cane Run coal-fired plants in southwestern and western Louisville. Duke Energy operates the Gallagher plant in New Albany, immediately west of Louisville.

The three together emit more than twice as much mercury annually as the IPL plant, according to the most recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.

All three are also generally upwind from Louisville population centers.

An LG&E spokesman, Chip Keeling, said company officials have not reviewed the study, but still questioned its findings.

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From Charleston Gazette:

Federal environmental regulators are looking closely at a new scientific study that found Appalachian residents who live near mountaintop removal mine sites face an increased risk of birth defects.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials met last week with one of the study’s authors, and EPA is concerned about growing evidence about mountaintop removal’s potential adverse effects on public health in the coalfields.

Nancy Stoner, acting assistant EPA administrator for water, testified to a congressional committee last week about her agency’s concerns regarding the findings of a series of West Virginia University studies.

“In 2010, an independent, peer-reviewed study by two university professors found that communities near degraded streams have higher rate of respiratory, digestive, urinary and breast cancer,” Stoner told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.

“That study was not conducted in a far-off country,” Stoner said. “It was conducted in Appalachian communities — only a few hundred miles from where we sit today.”

In her testimony, Stoner noted the birth defects study and another WVU scientific paper that found Appalachian citizens who live near mountaintop removal “experience significantly more unhealthy days each year than the average American.”

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From the Colorado Independent:

At least 22 toxic chemicals, including four known human carcinogens, were found in nine separate air samples taken near natural gas drilling operations by community advocacy and environmental groups in Garfield and La Plata counties in Colorado and the San Juan Basin of New Mexico, according to a new report from Global Community Monitor.

Entitled “GASSED! Citizen Investigation of Natural Gas Development (pdf),” the report details how the air samples, taken near homes, playgrounds, schools and community centers, were analyzed by a certified lab.

“Carcinogenic chemicals like benzene and acrylonitrile should not be in the air we breathe – and certainly not at these highly alarming levels,” said Dr. Mark Chernaik. “These results suggest neighboring communities are not being protected and their long-term health is being put at risk.”

As part of the air-quality study, neighbors of natural gas drilling operations were asked to record various chemical odors, sample the air quality and appeal to various regulators to investigate complaints.

“My husband, pets, and I have experienced respiratory and other health-related problems during the 12 years we have lived on Cow Canyon Road in La Plata County, Colo.,” Jeri Montgomery said of nearby natural gas development. “We believe these health issues are related to the air quality in our neighborhood and in the area.”

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From iWatch:

With a handful of Democratic votes, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill Wednesday that limits the EPA’s ability to regulate coal ash and says coal ash residue deserves little more scrutiny and regulation than municipal trash.

Instead of giving the Environmental Protection Agency the mandate to regulate coal ash, the bill puts the onus on states to set up a program to deal with the issue. EPA would provide oversight. The bill passed by a 35-12 vote, with six Democrats joining the GOP.

As iWatch News has reported, coal ash’s metals have poisoned water supplies, damaged ecosystems and jeopardized the health of nearby residents. EPA has faced stiff resistance in trying to regulate the material as hazardous waste, led by coal-supported politicians such as one of the bill’s biggest proponents, David McKinley, R-W.Va.

“I’m going to defend the coal industry all across America,” McKinley said Wednesday. “We cannot afford any further attack in this war on coal.”

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From iWatch:

Stand before the pond known here in southwestern Pennsylvania as Little Blue Run, and you’ll see nothing that resembles its bucolic-sounding name.

The one-time stream is now an industrial pond, filled with arsenic-laced waste from a coal-fired power plant. The pond spans nearly 1,000 acres of rolling, rural landscape in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along the Ohio River. Millions of tons of coal ash have landed in the 35-year-old dump, looming over some 50,000 people in southeastern Ohio, held back by a 400-foot-tall dam, that federal regulators have deemed a “high hazard” to human life if it ever let loose.

Here in tiny Greene Township, where the pond consumes more than 10 percent of the total land, Little Blue Run seems a wasteland.

Coal ash, tinted blue, has overtaken the valley, rising each year by a million tons, blanketing the trees so they look like pixie sticks. Residents say dry ash wafts into their yards, its sulfuric smell burning their throats. At night, they hear a swooshing sound as coal ash cascades down a pipe stretching seven miles from the Bruce Mansfield Power Station, in Shippingport, Pa.

“It will keep rising,” says Marci Carpenter, who lives in a neighborhood dotted with vacant properties and abandoned homes, “and soon it’ll be above my house.”

Unless, that is, coal ash is regulated by the federal government.

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From :

Coal ash. It’s a byproduct of electric power plants. Residents near what is believed to be the largest dump site east of the Mississippi have lived with the environmental consequences for years. But now there’s new hope that proposed federal regulation may change the industry’s practices.

Check out the documentary about the uphill battle of the Ramapough Indian Tribe to secure a healthy future for their children. Premieres on Monday, July 18th at 9pm (tonight).

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Big Oil’s tar sands mining is destroying our continent’s greatest songbird nursery.

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