Archives for the month of: October, 2011

From Science News:

In a new study of people with diabetes, blood pressure rose in rough lockstep with short-term increases in soot and other microscopic air pollutant particles. Such transient increases in blood pressure can place the health of the heart, arteries, brain and kidneys at risk, particularly in people with chronic disease.

In contrast, when ozone levels climbed, blood pressure tended to fall among these people, independent of particulate levels. “And that was certainly not what we expected,” notes study coauthor Barbara Hoffmann of the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Temperature also had an independent effect: A five-day average increase of 11.5 degrees Celsius, for instance, was associated with a small drop in blood pressure, Hoffmann and her colleagues report online October 21 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Earlier studies suggested that particulates of the size measured in this study — just 2.5 micrometers in diameter — can hike blood pressure, particularly in people with diabetes.

To further investigate, Hoffman and her colleagues followed 70 Boston-area men and women, ages 40 to 85, with long-standing type 2 diabetes. All lived within 25 kilometers of a major air pollution monitoring station. Each participant submitted to repeated health tests at intervals of several weeks, which the researchers matched up with air pollution values from the preceding five days.

The team found pollution-related changes primarily in systolic blood pressure, the pressure exerted by the pumping action of each heartbeat. Systolic pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading.

Since levels of particulates and ozone don’t necessarily track, one type of air pollutant cannot be expected to cancel out blood pressure alterations posed by the other, the researchers say. And ozone-associated drops in blood pressure aren’t necessarily beneficial. In fact, Hoffmann says, they offer additional evidence of a diabetes-related impairment in the ability of blood vessels to quickly adjust to changing environmental conditions by relaxing or constricting.

Changes in ozone and air pollution levels had no effect on people whose blood sugar was well controlled. Similarly, people with healthy baseline blood pressure readings exhibited little vulnerability to pollution.

“So especially if you want to positively influence your risk from air pollution,” Hoffmann says, “it seems a very good idea to tightly control your blood pressure and your blood sugar.”

The fact that a rise in concentrations of near-nanoscale particulates as small as 3.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air could raise systolic blood pressure “corroborates that current levels of particulate matter disrupt blood pressure control,” says physician Robert Brook of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. The new data, he maintains, confirm that short-term inhalation of fine airborne particulates at ambient levels — and perhaps traffic-related soot in particular — “have small but potentially clinically meaningful effects.”

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From Reuters:

People who have never smoked, but who live in areas with higher air pollution levels, are roughly 20 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than people who live with cleaner air, researchers conclude in a new study.

“It’s another argument for why the regulatory levels (for air pollutants) be as low as possible,” said Francine Laden, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved in the research.

Though smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, about one in 10 people who develop lung cancer have never smoked.

“Lung cancer in ‘never smokers’ is an important cancer. It’s the sixth leading cause of cancer in United States,” said Michelle Turner, the lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of Ottawa.

Previous estimates of how many non-smokers get lung cancer range from 14 to 21 out of every 100,000 women and five to 14 out of every 100,000 men.

The fine particles in air pollution, which can irritate the lungs and cause inflammation, are thought to be a risk factor for lung cancer, but researchers had not clearly teased apart their impact from that of smoking.

In this study, Turner and her colleagues followed more than 180,000 non-smokers for 26 years. Throughout the study period, 1,100 people died from lung cancer.

The participants lived in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico, and based on their zip codes, the researchers estimated how much air pollution they were exposed to — measured in units of micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air.

Pollution levels in different locations ranged from a low of about six units to a high of 38. The levels dropped over time, however, from an average of 21 units in 1979 – 1983, to 14 units in 1999 – 2000, producing an overall average pollution level of 17 units across the study period.

After the team took into account other cancer risk factors, such as second-hand smoke and radon exposure, they found that for every 10 extra units of air pollution exposure, a person’s risk of lung cancer rose by 15 to 27 percent.

The increased risk for lung cancer associated with pollution is small in comparison to the 20-fold increased risk from smoking.

And the study team didn’t prove that the pollution caused the cancer cases, but “there’s lots of evidence that exposure to fine particles increases cardiopulmonary mortality,” Turner told Reuters Health.

Fine particles in air pollution can injure the lungs through inflammation and damage to DNA, Turner’s team writes in its report, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Back in the 1990s, the federal government tried an unusual social experiment: It offered thousands of poor women in big-city public housing a chance to live in more affluent neighborhoods.

A decade later, the women who relocated had lower rates of diabetes and extreme obesity – differences that are being hailed as compelling evidence that where you live can determine your health.

The experiment was first aimed at researching whether moving impoverished families to more prosperous areas could improve employment or schooling. But according to a study released Wednesday, the most interesting effect may have been on the women’s physical condition.

About 16 percent of the women who moved had diabetes, compared with about 20 percent of women who stayed in public housing. And about 14 percent of those who left the projects were extremely obese, compared with nearly 18 percent of the other women.

The small-but-significant differences offered some of the strongest support yet for the idea that where you live can significantly affect your overall health, especially if your home is in a low-income area with few safe places to exercise, limited food options, and meager medical services.

“This study proves that concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it’s bad for your health,” Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But no one believes the deficit-plagued federal government is going to expand the program and start moving low-income women to better neighborhoods en masse.

“It’s not enough to simply move families into different neighborhoods,” Donovan said. Instead, new ways must be found to help families “break the cycle of poverty that can quite literally make them sick.” He did not mention specific proposals.

Public-health experts have long thought that living in poor neighborhoods could ruin a person’s health, but this study put the idea to a rigorous test.

Here’s how it worked: Women believed to be about the same in most respects were randomly assigned to one group or another and then followed through time, in a model customarily seen in pharmaceutical studies. That makes it more scientifically rigorous than most research linking health problems to a social environment.

The study’s good design “provides a basis to infer cause and effect” between poverty and bad health, said Robert Califf, a noted Duke University cardiologist who is leading a vast study on neighborhoods and health outcomes.

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From Harvard Gazette:

Exposure in the womb to bisphenol A (BPA) — a chemical used to make plastic containers and other consumer goods — is associated with behavior and emotional problems in young girls, according to a study led by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia.

BPA is found in many consumer products, including canned food linings, polycarbonate plastics, dental sealants, and some receipts made from thermal paper. Most people living in industrialized nations are exposed to BPA. BPA has been shown to interfere with normal development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in people. In a 2009 study, HSPH researchers showed that drinking from polycarbonate bottles increased the level of urinary BPA.

In this study, published Oct. 24 in an advance online edition of Pediatrics, lead author Joe Braun, research fellow in environmental health at HSPH, and his colleagues found that gestational BPA exposure was associated with more behavioral problems at age 3, especially in girls.

The researchers collected data from 244 mothers and their 3-year-old children in the Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment Study, conducted in the Cincinnati area. Mothers provided three urine samples during pregnancy and at birth that were tested for BPA; their children were tested each year from ages 1 to 3. When the children were 3 years old, the mothers completed surveys about their children’s behavior.

“None of the children had clinically abnormal behavior, but some children had more behavior problems than others. Thus, we examined the relationship between the mom’s and children’s BPA concentrations and the different behaviors,” Braun said.

BPA was detected in more than 85 percent of the urine samples from the mothers and more than 96 percent of the children’s urine samples. The researchers found that maternal BPA concentrations were similar between the first sample and birth. The children’s BPA levels decreased from ages 1 to 3, but were higher and more variable than that of their mothers.

After adjusting for possible contributing factors, increasing gestational BPA concentrations were associated with more hyperactive, aggressive, anxious, and depressed behavior, and poorer emotional control and inhibition in the girls. This relationship was not seen in the boys.

The study confirms two prior studies showing that exposure to BPA in the womb impacts child behavior, but is the first to show that in utero exposures are more important than exposures during childhood, Braun said.

“Gestational, but not childhood BPA exposures, may impact neurobehavioral function, and girls appear to be more sensitive to BPA than boys,” he said.

Although more research is needed to fully understand the health effects of BPA exposure, clinicians can advise those concerned to reduce their BPA exposure by avoiding canned and packaged foods, thermal paper sales receipts, and polycarbonate bottles with the number 7 recycling symbol, the authors wrote.

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From Harvard Gazette:

Every day, the government’s food stamp program buys Americans 20 million servings of soda, paying billions for a program that fosters the obesity that the government then has to pay again for in increased health care expenditures.

“That is arguably the single largest contributor to obesity,” said David Ludwig, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston and professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). “It makes no sense … especially when we might wind up paying for that as a society in obesity and diabetes.”

The food stamp program was front and center on campus and on the Internet Thursday during a session of The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health, which regularly brings experts together to discuss important issues in the field. The session examined reforms needed in the federal government’s farm bill to improve public health. The farm bill, expected to come up for discussion in Congress in 2012, is the federal government’s major agriculture subsidy program.

Participants included Ludwig; Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the HSPH Department of Nutrition; Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition and of economics at the University of North Carolina; and Gary Williams, a professor of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University. The event was moderated by former Washington Post health editor Abigail Trafford.

Several panelists blamed U.S. agricultural policy over the past four decades for creating a food system where healthier fruits and vegetables are relatively expensive while high-starch, processed foods and red meats are cheap and widely available. The first farm bill was passed in the 1930s as a way to help the nation’s struggling agricultural sector, which at the time not only fed the country but, in a more rural America, also provided many jobs.

With ensuing technological changes in the years after World War II, the United States ramped up its subsidies, steering production toward what at the time was thought to be a healthy diet of starches and meat. Popkin said the program worked well, as illustrated by statistics showing the prices of those staples came down in the ensuing decades, while those left alone by government policy — fruits and vegetables — became more expensive.

“What is cheap today is what we made cheap. What we ignored, we made more expensive,” Popkin said.

The problem, Willett said, is that we now know that a healthy diet is not dominated by processed starches and red meat, but is just the opposite. A healthy diet is composed of whole grains, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables, with red meat in moderation and very little refined starches and added sugar. The result is that today two-thirds of Americans are overweight or even obese, diabetes is rising across the country, and in some parts of the country, life expectancy is actually dropping.

“If we judge by its impact on human health, the American food supply is a disaster,” Willett said. “We’re not using the levers we potentially have to make an impact.”

Williams, however, said it is wrong to blame the farmers for doing what was asked of them by the government. In addition, he said, there is a lot that is right with the American food supply, which made food plentiful and inexpensive.

Williams pointed out that subsidies to farmers make up just 15 percent of the farm bill’s expenditures and, given the nation’s budget problems, farmers are bracing to see those subsidies cut. The lion’s share of expenditures in the bill go toward providing food for America’s poor through what was formerly the food stamp program, and is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Panelists decried the lack of limits on the kinds of food that SNAP can fund, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rejection of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s request that purchase of sugar sweetened beverages be banned from the city’s SNAP program.

Panelists said there is an opportunity to change the incentives in the system to emphasize healthy eating, and they suggested separating the food assistance from the farm assistance portions of the bill in order to treat the two issues separately. They cited the federal government’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program as a successful example of federal food aid. Poor mothers can get food assistance through WIC, but the program includes healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, along with nutritional education.

Other issues discussed by the panel include the school lunch program, whose menu was described by one panelist as largely junk food, and food marketing to children, a major focus of food manufacturers — and something Ludwig recommended banning. Ludwig told of seeing a 200-pound, 8-year-old girl in his clinical practice who was pre-diabetic and who insisted her mother buy food branded after iCarly, a popular children’s show.

“Busy working parents are undermined by this massive marketing campaign,” Ludwig said. “The industry knows that parents are going to cave.”

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From Scranton Times-Courier:

The figure is so astounding it appears to be a misprint at first glance.

One in 110.

That’s the number of American children living with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), based on the most recently published estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Boys are four to five times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with an ASD. And with a 10 to 17 percent annual growth rate, it is the country’s fastest growing developmental disability, according to the Autism Society.

A 2005 census study commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare’s Bureau of Autism Services estimated about 20,000 Pennsylvanians, children and adults, were living with autism, although the study noted that the number was on the conservative side. The bureau now believes that number has grown to between 25,000 and 30,000 state residents.

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While a clear and definitive cause for autism has yet to be determined, most physicians believe genetic makeup plays a significant role. Children who have a sibling or parent with an ASD are at a higher risk of also having one, and ASDs tend to occur more often in people who have certain other medical conditions or genetic disorders, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and Down syndrome.

“Really, where we’re sort of at is that the genetic investigations are at their earliest stages,” Dr. Challman said. “A variety of genes have shown to be involved in autism. They have to do with how the brain organizes itself. Brain circuitry. But we don’t know what they do. We just know they affect autism.”

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There may also be environmental factors related to the cause of autism, but, as of yet, “there’s no clear evidence,” Dr. Challman said.

Right now, there are countless studies investigating a number of things that might be a potential environmental contributor, be it prenatally or during the child’s early development. The list includes prenatal vitamins, neurotoxins in the air, water and food supply, industrial waste, levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in kids’ canned foods, food additives and preservatives and pesticides, said Donna Ferullo, director of program research for the Autism Society.

Even maternal stress and age at the time of the child’s birth are being studied, Ms. Ferullo said.

“We live in this soup of low-level exposure. There’s so many threats to the developing brain that we weren’t exposed to years ago,” Ms. Ferullo said. “Environment is suspect, but not clarified. There are numerous environmental factors under investigation. The problem is isolating it.”

For years, there have been fears among many parents’ groups that vaccines were a potential cause of autism. This was due in large part to a study that came out of England several years ago that implicated the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. That study, though, was later found to be fraudulent, Dr. Challman said.

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“So there was some information that was published and it was incorrect and it made people scared,” Dr. Challman said. “It’s a belief that’s not based in science. There’s a mountain of evidence that exonerates vaccines.”

As the CDC collects more data and enhances its surveillance techniques, researchers will begin to understand more about the disease, Mr. Baio said. One recent development, he said, is the establishment of a controlled testing of three groups – children with autism, children with other developmental disabilities and children who appear to be developing typically.

“We’ll be able to compare and contrast across these three groups. The hope of that is we’ll identity some factors, be it risk factors, or things that can assist us with identifying children earlier,” he said. “Then they can get autism-specific treatments much earlier, which would have a much greater outcome.”

“In a lot of ways, we’re behind other fields of study,” Dr. Challman said. “It is frustrating for families. Sometimes the wheels of science do turn rather slowly, but if we persist, we make progress.”

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 the Montreal Gazzette:

Early childhood living conditions provoke biological changes in genes leading to DNA “memory” that can last a lifetime, an international study has found.

Experts have already noted that income, education and neighbourhood resources can have a dramatic effect on children’s health, and that a poor socio-economic environment in infancy can translate into a higher risk of adult disease and early mortality.

But a study published online Thursday in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that early experience works changes that are far more than skin deep.

The environment of early childhood influences brain and biological development and leaves a “memory” in the genetic code that affects the way genes function, say researchers from McGill University, the University of British Columbia and the UCL Institute of Child Health in London, England.

“Biological embedding” may help explain why health disadvantages linked to a lower socio-economic origin — including obesity, mental health problems, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses — can last a lifetime even if living conditions improve later.

The team focused on a small sample — 40 men — from the ongoing British cohort study, which has followed 10,000 people born in March 1958 from birth onward.

The team looked at the DNA of men aged 45 who came from one of two economic extremes: children whose fathers were unskilled workers; and those whose dads were company CEOs and Oxford/Cambridge graduates.

“We wanted to sample from the extremes so that if there was an epigenetic (gene) signal, it would be as clear as possible — and that’s in effect what emerged,” said Clyde Hertzman, director of the UBC-based Human Early Learning Partnership and an author of the study.

After looking at control areas of 20,000 genes, researchers found twice as many genetic differences (1,252 changes) in those brought up in wealth and comfort compared to those raised in poor living conditions (545 changes), making a link between the economics of early life and the biochemistry of DNA.

More.

From the Telegraph:

A large study of mobile phone users has found no evidence that longer-term users are at an increased risk of developing brain tumours.

However, the Danish study, published in the journal BMJ Open, has been criticised as being “worthless” by fellow academics who say its methods are “seriously flawed”.

The team from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen looked at over 350,000 people who subscribed to mobile phone contracts before 1996, comparing brain tumour rates in them with non-subscribers. They looked for new diagnoses of brain tumours between 1990 and 2007.

The team concluded: “There was no association between tumours of the central nervous system or brain and long term (10 years or more) use of mobile phones.”

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But others strongly disagree.

Denis Henshaw, emeritus professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, said the researchers had wrongly classified the 88 per cent of the Danish population who started using a mobile phone since 1996 – for whom there is no subscription information for legal reasons – as non-users.

They also removed business users from the study, who are likely to have been the heaviest users.

He concluded: “I consider the claims in the study to be worthless. This seriously flawed study misleads the public and decision makers about the safety of mobile phone use.”

Critics of such studies also point out that brain tumours tend to take decades, not years, to develop.

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Former EPA administrator Carol Browner explains why clean air and water are good for America’s economy.

From Reuters:

Adding to the mixed bag of research on bisphenol A and diabetes, a new study suggests that people with higher urinary levels of the controversial chemical do have a higher risk of diabetes.

Bisphenol A — better known as BPA — is a so-called endocrine disruptor, which means it may affect normal hormone activity in the body.

It’s also all around us. BPA has been used for decades to make hard plastic containers, as well as linings for metal food and drink cans. Research suggests that most people have some amount of BPA in their blood, including about 95 percent of Americans.

Recent animal studies have hinted that the chemical could play a role in certain cancers, heart disease and abnormal brain development in children. But BPA’s true effects in humans remain unknown.

Two large studies have found a link between higher BPA levels and higher heart disease risk. And a 2008 study found that of Americans in a government health survey, those with higher BPA levels showed a higher diabetes risk.

None of that, however, proves cause-and-effect. And a recent study of Chinese adults found no link between BPA levels and diabetes risk.

This latest study is based on data from a federal health study done between 2003 and 2008. Researchers found that of nearly 4,000 U.S. adults involved, those with the highest urinary BPA levels were more likely to have diabetes.

Just under 12 percent of all study participants had diabetes, based on blood sugar tests. And the odds of having the disease rose as urinary BPA increased.

Of people with the highest levels (more than 4.2 nanograms per milliliter, ng/mL), almost 13 percent had diabetes, versus 8 percent of adults with the lowest BPA levels (less than 1.1 ng/mL)

For comparison, the typical urinary BPA level among Americans has stood at about 2 ng/mL in recent years.

The findings, reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, do not prove that BPA is responsible for the higher diabetes risk.

“Since BPA measurements as well as diabetes diagnosis were conducted at the same time, we cannot say for sure that BPA exposure preceded diabetes development,” lead researcher Dr. Anoop Shankar, of the West Virginia University School of Medicine, said in an email.

The researchers did account for a number of other factors in diabetes risk — like body weight, age and race. And the BPA-diabetes link still held; people with the highest levels had a 68 percent greater risk of diabetes than those with the lowest levels.

But what’s needed, according to Shankar, are long-term studies that start with diabetes-free adults, measure their BPA levels, then see who develops diabetes over time.

Shankar said he and his colleagues are planning such a study.

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Image from Flickr.

From The Fresno Bee:

From her living room window, Valeriana Alvarado can see the Friant-Kern Canal, where pristine snowmelt flows to farm fields.

She loves walking along the canal, knowing the sparkling water will irrigate oranges, peaches and grapes that keep her farmworker family employed.

But she wouldn’t mind getting some of that irrigation water at the drafty two-room trailer where she lives with eight family members.

“It’s much better water than we get from the tap,” she said through a Spanish interpreter. “It’s not easy for us to buy bottled water all the time.”

The water is often laced with nitrates, a chemical linked to a potentially lethal infant illness as well as cancer.

Rural Valley residents in an area half the size of Maryland live day-to-day wondering if the next drink of water will make their children sick.

As long ago as 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey said nitrates appeared to be a greater threat to ground-water quality than thousands of tons of pesticides.

While on a worldwide investigation of dirty drinking water — with stops in Bangladesh, Uruguay and Namibia — a United Nations investigator visited the Tulare County community of Seville in March. After seeing conditions, the investigator urged state and federal authorities to consider healthy drinking water a human right and clean up the mess.

In a state with the world’s seventh-largest economy, it wouldn’t take a lot of money to clean up the Valley’s small-town water problems — $150 million total for projects on record. San Francisco last year committed the same amount of money to help homeowners and businesses finance solar panels and water efficiency.

But small-town residents face an uphill fight for the healthy drinking water that most Californians take for granted. Townfolk feel they have nowhere to turn. State public health authorities make a habit of inviting them to apply for cleanup funding, then turning them down for technicalities.

Residents, activists, engineers and local officials say the Valley’s small drinking water systems are barely a blip on the state’s radar.

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From The Telegraph:

Scientists have found living in areas with high levels of traffic pollution can reduce people’s performance in cognitive tests.

They found that people older than 51 who had lived in polluted areas had lower cognitive scores than those who had been exposed to lower levels of pollution during their life time even after their results had been adjusted for social and educative status.

A second study in animals has also revealed that fine airborne particulates that are typically emitted by diesel engines can lead to learning and memory problems by reducing the growth of neurons in the brain.

Dr Melinda Power, from the department of epidemiology and environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, said that long term exposure to air pollution related to traffic seemed to affect the way the brain functions.

She said: “Cognitive decline and impairment in the elderly is a huge public health issue. Our study suggests that traffic-related air pollution, particularly diesel exhaust, may play a role.

“Our results suggest an adverse effect of traffic related air pollution on global cognitive function in older men.

“When we explored the potential for effect modification, our results suggest the effect of traffic-related air pollution on cognition may be greater in smokers or overweight and obese individuals.

“Although we looked at the effect in men, I believe the findings are applicable to women as well.”

The study examined the average lifetime exposure to traffic-related pollution and the cognitive test scores of 680 men aged between 51-years-old and 97-years-old.

It found that those living in areas that were exposed to twice as much black carbon as low pollution areas were 1.3 times more likely to have lower cognitive scores.

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From the Rock River Times:

On a Sunday in the late 1970s, Mike Molander was performing his assigned duties as a pollution control technician at the Amerock Corporation when he said he witnessed the suspicious pouring of highly toxic materials into an old farmer’s well located at the facility.

The old well head, from a farm that was used on the land before Amerock purchased the property, was where construction was under way for a new addition to the massive plant on Auburn Street, Molander said. The 10-year employee said he witnessed a curious, unexplainable siphoning of nickel and hexavalent chromium liquid from containers into the well head by three employees.

Molander’s job at the time was to collect water samples from around the hardware manufacturing plant for testing, then he was to report the results to the federally-run Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“It was a holiday when nobody was around,” Molander told The Rock River Times in an exclusive interview. “I didn’t know anyone else was in the building. I was walking around while going on my route. The company was building the new tool room with a climate-controlled environment.”

Molander said the expansion featured wall and ceiling construction, but the floor was not yet finished, and the well head was still accessible.

“I heard voices coming from the north end,” Molander said. “I looked over, and here was [sic] these three guys with a container that was used to put chromium and nickel in, about 25 to 30 gallons. Those containers held very, very toxic waste. They had a lot of that stuff lying around. They had one of those containers with a hose on top, siphoning the fluids from the drum. There was no reason to put fluids into the well head.”

Molander identified two of the three men as maintenance foreman Rollie Lindquist and maintenance lead man John Dahle.

Molander, who possesses a certificate of competency from the EPA to allow him to perform this type of work in a professional manner, has been a whistleblower no one would hear until now. He said during his time at Amerock in his pollution control job, Amerock never had negative citations from the EPA or the Rockford Sanitary Department regarding polluting.

“As part of my job, I had to do Federal Registry testing,” Molander said. “I had to do a week’s worth of samples from all over the building, test them and incubate them in a refrigerator. I recorded results and did analysis, then filled out a form for my supervisor. It took 21 days to do the testing process, seven days of collecting, seven for incubation and seven for final analysis. The tests were to determine the quality of effluent (waste water) BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand) and COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand). COD tells you basically how much oxygen the chemicals are seeking from the water.”

Water that came from the plating lines and other machines was monitored by Amerock and the EPA beginning in the mid-1970s, Molander said, when new EPA guidelines came out for waste water put into the city sanitation system.

After seeing the siphoning of chemicals from the drums into the well head, Molander took his observations to his boss, Roger Julin, who was in charge of all laboratory, pollution control and chemical research activities.

“Monday, I went and told my boss, Roger Julin,” Molander said. “He said he thought that was unusual. He told me he would look into it and get back to me. A couple days later, I asked him for information. He said he talked to the proper people and that everything was under control and not to worry about it. That, to me, was really strange. It never went anywhere.”

Dissatisfied with the answer he received, Molander said he called the City of Rockford Sanitary District a week later.

“I called the Compliance Department,” Molander said. “I had been down there on a few occasions as part of my job. I left messages, but they never responded back.”

Molander said he left a message for the department supervisor, Violet Chen.

“No one ever got back to me,” he said. “Her husband was in charge of the Rockford EPA at the time. I told them the same thing. I mentioned I had talked to the Sanitary Department to see if I had the right department. They never got back to me. It never went anywhere.”

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