Archives for the month of: November, 2011

From New York Times:

Energy companies have been pouring millions of dollars into television advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions as the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo enters the final phase of deciding when and where to allow a controversial form of natural gas extraction that is opposed by environmental groups.

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor. And national energy companies are advertising heavily in an effort to convince the public that the extraction method, commonly known as hydrofracking, is safe and economically beneficial.

Environmental groups, with far less money at their disposal, are mounting a more homespun campaign as they warn that hydrofracking — a process in which water mixed with sand and chemicals is injected deep into the ground to break up rock formations and release natural gas — could taint the water supply and cause untold environmental ruin.

One environmental group held a Halloween contest in which participants were asked to design costumes for drill rigs. And, claiming Mr. Cuomo is rushing the approval process for drilling by collecting public comments for 90 days, environmentalists delivered 180 water-powered clocks to the governor’s Capitol office, representing the number of days they are asking him to allow for people to weigh in.

The activity on both sides of the debate is intensifying as New York conducts four public hearings across the state, beginning Nov. 16 in Dansville, a rural community in the Finger Lakes region, and winding up next week in TriBeCa.

Interest in the issue is so widespread that Joseph Martens, the state environmental conservation commissioner, said people have taken to stopping him on the street in the Albany suburb where he lives.

“It’s very, very intense; there’s no question about it,” Mr. Martens said in a recent interview. “And it’s part of a national debate.”

Mr. Cuomo, whose first effort to field questions online from residents was swamped by the hydrofracking issue, is pleading for both sides to be patient.

“I know that the temperature is high,” he said recently. “We have a process. Let’s get the facts. Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”

The lobbying push in New York follows similar efforts by the energy industry to influence lawmakers and regulators in Washington and in other parts of the country that are rich in shale formations. Several other states, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio, have also seen millions of dollars in spending in recent years by drilling companies on lobbying, campaign contributions or both.

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From Associated Press:

Large and small companies have told Republican-led congressional committees what the party wants to hear: dire predictions of plant closings and layoffs if the Obama administration succeeds with plans to further curb air and water pollution.

But their message to financial regulators and investors conveys less gloom and certainty.

The administration itself has clouded the picture by withdrawing or postponing some of the environmental initiatives that industry labeled as being among the most onerous.

Still, Republicans plan to make what they say is regulatory overreach a 2012 campaign issue, taking aim at President Barack Obama, congressional Democrats and an aggressive Environmental Protection Agency.

“Republicans will be talking to voters this campaign season about how to keep Washington out of the way, so that job creators can feel confident again to create jobs for Americans,” said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the House Republican campaign organization.

The Associated Press compared the companies’ congressional testimony to company reports submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The reports to the SEC consistently said the impact of environmental proposals is unknown or would not cause serious financial harm to a firm’s finances.

Companies can legitimately argue that their less gloomy SEC filings are correct, since most of the tougher anti-pollution proposals have not been finalized. And their officials’ testimony before congressional committees was sometimes on behalf of — and written by — trade associations, a perspective that can differ from an individual company’s view.

But the disparity in the messages shows that in a political environment, business has no misgivings about describing potential economic horror stories to lawmakers.

“As an industry, we have said this before, we face a potential regulatory train wreck,” Anthony Earley Jr., then the executive chairman of DTE Energy in Michigan, told a House committee on April 15. “Without the right policy, we could be headed for disaster.”

The severe economic consequences, he said, would be devastating to the electric utility’s customers, especially Detroit residents who “simply cannot afford” higher rates.

Earley, who is now chairman and CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., said if the EPA had its way, coal-fired plants would be replaced with natural gas — leading to a spike in gas prices. He said he was testifying for the electric industry, not just his company.

But in its quarterly report to the SEC, Detroit-based DTE, which serves 3 million utility customers in Michigan, said that it was “reviewing potential impacts of the proposed and recently finalized rules, but is not able to quantify the financial impact … at this time.”

Skiles Boyd, a DTE vice president for environmental issues, said in an interview that the testimony was meant to convey the potential economic hardship on ratepayers — while the SEC report focused on the company’s financial condition.

“It’s two different subjects,” he said.

Another congressional witness, Jim Pearce of chemical company FMC Corp., told a House hearing last Feb. 9: “The current U.S. approach to regulating greenhouse gases … will lead U.S. natural soda ash producers to lose significant business to our offshore rivals….” Soda ash is used to produce glass, and is a major component of the company’s business..

But in its annual report covering 2010 and submitted to the SEC 13 days after the testimony, the company said it was “premature to make any estimate of the costs of complying with un-enacted federal climate change legislation, or as yet un-implemented federal regulations in the United States.” The Philadelphia-based company did not respond to a request for comment..

California Rep. Henry Waxman, the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the SEC filings “show that the anti-regulation rhetoric in Washington is political hot air with little or no connection to reality.”

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From The Mail:

Growing up in a remote community on the west coast of Scotland in the Fifties, there was little opportunity for a boy with an embarrassing problem to discuss it with anyone.

‘You can imagine how people would have reacted,’ says Wilf Stevenson, 64, now Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. ‘It is not a subject easy to raise even now.’

Lord Stevenson, opposition whip and former special adviser to Gordon Brown, was born with hypospadias, a condition where the urethra, which delivers urine and sperm, comes out on the shaft of the penis rather than the tip. It does not necessarily affect urinary or sexual function, but it can make urinating difficult.

As Lord Stevenson explains, with some understatement: ‘Although the condition is as common as hare lip or cleft palate, it simply wasn’t talked about, and isn’t now. I just had to deal with it, and it wasn’t easy.’

He is among the one in 50 people (around 1.2 million Britons) thought to have been born with some kind of disorder of sexual development (DSD) as a result of errors in their genetic code.

These cause abnormalities while a baby is growing in the womb, and range from mild genital abnormalities to ‘intersex’ conditions such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia — where the baby has female and male physical characteristics such as a womb and a penis.

Overall, DSDs causing ‘ambiguous’ genitalia affect an estimated one in 1,000 people.

However, Lord Stevenson’s condition is more common — and it may be becoming increasingly so, as a result of ‘gender-bending’ chemicals used in plastics and hormones excreted by women taking the Pill or similar drugs used in animal rearing.

Although the use of growth promoting hormones is illegal in the EU and other countries, there may still be a risk in imported meat. Traces of these hormones have also been found in drinking-water supplies in studies by the Environment Agency and Medical Research Council.

‘There is no doubt that male reproductive disorders are increasing, but for some reason it is hard to get people to recognise the fact,’ says Professor Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council’s Centre for Reproductive Health at Edinburgh University, who runs a research group looking specifically at men.

‘It is an issue which ought to attract a great deal more attention,’ he says.
Professor Ieuan Hughes of Cambridge University, whose research focuses on abnormal sexual development in humans, says studies show a rise in the problem of undescended testes, where the organs remain within the body cavity of male babies, creating a risk of future infertility.

‘The latest research shows 7 to 8 per cent of babies are affected, and it was half that in the Sixties,’ he says.

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From by :

Not sure which dangerous, toxic chemicals are in your household products? Neither is your government. See where hidden dangers may lurk in common household products, then tell Congress to pass legislation to protect our families from toxic chemicals. Because what you don’t know CAN hurt you.

From :

In an Arizona smelter town, people have endured decades of dirty air, disease — and bureaucratic dawdling. While the EPA and state regulators clash, citizens await relief. When it comes to toxic air pollution, help often arrives late.

We just discovered ToxicyTracker, a promising new blog with a focus on environmental health in Minnesota.  We have added ToxicyTracker to our links and look forward to following its posts.

The latest post is an interview with Dr. Deb Swackhamer, about shaping chemical policy in Minnesota.

Here’s a sample:

In this social media class, I’ve been scanning who out there is talking about chemical policy reform.  It’s a lot of concerned mothers and very involved advocacy groups. How do we get more every day citizens talking about the issue?

It’s a delicate balance because one of the only ways to get people’s attention is to make it relevant to their life.  Moms have kind of done that because of the whole “Oh my god, there’s BPA in baby bottles and teethers.”  So moms got it right away because of their kids.  You can over-alarm people, so it’s a difficult line to walk – to educate people about this issue but not have them walk away totally depressed or freaked out.  Like we do with any communications, we have to be careful how we communicate this.  It has to be at the right level of “This is what we know. This is what we don’t know. This is why we care about this.”

I don’t know why this issue is so hidden.  I have been surprised at how few people would actually say this is an important issue but when you explain it to them, they’re amazed.  I think the vast majority of people really do think, “Well we have the Clean Water Act. We have the Safe Drinking Water Act.  We have the Safe Air Act.  We have all sorts of things. So these chemicals must be at safe levels in the environment.”  I think part of it is that people simply think the government is protecting them.  And I’m not bad-mouthing the government.  We just don’t have the right tools to deal with this avalanche of chemicals.

The other thing is that I talk to people and people will say, “Chemicals – oh, I hated chemistry in high school. I don’t like chemistry.” They turn off at the word “chemistry.” Similarly, I don’t know economics, so when they start to talk about the forecast or hedge funds, I turn off.  So, I think for a lot of society, this is something they’re just not interested in talking about. They can’t pronounce them. They don’t understand them. They hated chemistry in high school. End of story.  So I think there’s a social barrier to getting the point across.

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From the Los Angeles Times:

The chairman of the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s most influential environmental groups, has stepped down amid discontent that the group founded by 19th century wilderness evangelist John Muir has strayed from its core principles.

The departure of Carl Pope, 66, a member of the club for more than 40 years, comes as the nonprofit group faces declining membership, internal dissent, well-organized opponents, a weak economy and forces in Congress trying to take the teeth out of environmental regulations.

Pope became chairman of the club in 2010, after serving for more than 17 years as executive director. He was replaced by Michael Brune, 40, a veteran of smaller activist groups, who has pledged to concentrate on grass-roots organizing, recruit new members and focus on such issues as coal-fired power plants. “We have different approaches,” Brune said of his relationship with his predecessor.

Pope said he will leave his position as chairman to devote most of his time to “revitalizing the manufacturing sector” by working with organized labor and corporations. That emphasis caused schisms in the club, most notably when he hammered out a million-dollar deal with household chemical manufacturer Clorox to use the club’s emblem on a line of “green” products and, more recently, with its support of utility-scale solar arrays in the Mojave Desert, the type of place the club made its reputation protecting.

“I’m a big-tent guy, ” Pope said in an interview in the group’s San Francisco headquarters. “We’re not going to save the world if we rely only on those who agree with the Sierra Club. There aren’t enough of them. My aim is getting it right for the long term. I can’t get anything accomplished if people think: ‘This guy is not an honest broker. He’s with the Sierra Club.’ “

Pope led the Sierra Club’s efforts to help protect 10 million acres of wilderness, including California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument, and brought litigation challenging the right of then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force to secretly hash out energy policy with major oil companies. Pope also co-wrote California’s Proposition 65, which allowed citizens to sue polluters if they failed to comply with the law. More recently, he helped block 150 proposed coal-fired power plants.

But his tenure was marked by controversial decisions that revealed the costs and political consequences behind the brand of environmental activism he practiced. Acrimony remains over the 2008 Clorox deal, which brought the club $1.3 million over the four-year term of the contract, according to Pope.

Many of the rank and file felt Pope diminished the role of chapter experts and volunteers who have sustained the organization since Muir first championed California’s Sierra Nevada and an expanding list of American wild places, favoring paid staffers and attorneys and chumming with political players such as United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The longest-serving executive director in club history, Pope pulled the group closer to large donors and redirected efforts toward fighting climate change over narrowly focused campaigns to protect wild places. The group’s support for utility-scale solar development, which threatens such species as the desert tortoise, captures the philosophical shift that occurred under Pope.

“If we don’t save the planet, there won’t be any tortoises left to save,” Pope said.

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From NBC News (11/22/2011):

From :

A report released by the Breast Cancer Fund documents the presence of the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in canned foods marketed to children. Every food sample tested positive for the chemical, with Campbell’s Disney Princess and Toy Story soups testing the highest.

Exposure to BPA, used to make the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans, has been linked in lab studies to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Childhood exposure is of concern because this endocrine-disrupting chemical can affect children’s hormonal systems during development and set the stage for later‐life diseases.

“There should be no place for toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer and other serious health problems in our children’s food,” said Jeanne Rizzo, president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund. “We hope this report will shine a spotlight on this issue and encourage companies to seek safer alternatives.”

From The Daily Climate:

Naomi Oreskes is a science historian, professor at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author (with Erik Conway) of Merchants of Doubt, a book that examined how a handful of scientists obscure the facts on a range of issues, including tobacco use and climate change. Her seminal paper in the journal Science, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” challenged – back in 2004 – the notion that climate change science was uncertain. Her work has documented the spread of doubt-mongering from an industry practice to a political strategy.

* * *

Somewhere between your undergraduate and graduate degrees, you became interested in the history of science. What drew you to that field?

I was always interested in the human side of science, especially why people disagreed about evidence, and the strong  – yet divergent –  opinions that my professors had about what constitutes good science. Beyond that, it is a long story.

What attracted you to the climate change deniers?

I fell into this. I was working on the history of oceanography, and came across the work of Roger Revelle, Dave Keeling and others who’d been working on climate change since the 1950s. I came to understand that the scientific basis for understanding anthropogenic climate change was much firmer than most people knew. That led to my 2004 work, which led  to me being attacked. So we started digging and found direct links to the tobacco industry.

How do most mainstream scientists view this contrary viewpoint from their colleagues?

They are thoroughly appalled.  Because it isn’t a “contrary viewpoint,” in the sense that the scientific evidence is contradictory or incomplete, or that our theories are inadequate to explain the observations. This is not the case, this is not a scientific debate.

Is the need to expose deniers that important in the policy world?  Aren’t other issues – such as economics and energy – far more important?

If we didn’t have the science, we wouldn’t know the cause. We wouldn’t know that we have to control greenhouse gas emissions, and we could just burn coal. It is science that revealed the problem, science that pinpoints its cause, and science (that) tells us what kinds of interventions will be efficacious.  Science is not sufficient to solve this problem, but it is necessary.

Are you frustrated by the continuing debate over the reality of climate change? 

Yes, because some people are now saying, we should just accept that climate change is happening and not worry about the cause.  Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases and that is why we need to do something about them. So it’s time we rolled up our sleeves and got to work doing what we know in our hearts we need to do.

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From WisconsinWatch.org:

In 1956, 17-year-old Janis Schreiber moved to this tiny city on the Mississippi River, married and settled downtown to raise a family. Several times a week she drove her three children to the countryside to escape what she called the “dirty mess” — the coal-fired power plant in Alma and the black soot that hung over Main Street like fog.

Now, half a century later, the sky is clearer. Schreiber and other residents can hang laundry outside without it turning black. Dairyland Power Cooperative, which owns Alma’s two coal-fired plants, is investing $400 million in pollution controls.

Dairyland and other Wisconsin coal-fired plants have begun lowering emissions, but not necessarily in response to demands by regulators at the federal Environmental Protection Agency or state Department of Natural Resources.

Many of the changes have resulted from pressure and lawsuits brought by the nonprofit Sierra Club, which has campaigned for a decade to cut emissions from coal combustion.

Some polluters in Wisconsin and nationwide have violated clean-air laws for years but faced no enforcement from state or federal agencies, according to a collaborative investigation by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, National Public Radio and other nonprofit investigative news organizations across the country.

In addition, enforcement actions are inconsistent. The Wisconsin Center found three coal-fired plants in Wisconsin at which federal regulators allege violations of the Clean Air Act but state regulators do not.

The EPA lists nine coal-fired power plants in Wisconsin as being “high-priority violators” of the Clean Air Act — sites that regulators believe are in urgent need of attention, where violations may have continued for years. But the DNR and EPA have yet to take formal enforcement action against five of these plants, records show.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is involved in enforcement actions at nine coal-fired plants in Wisconsin for alleged violations but declined to name them.

“There is a pattern of companies ignoring this (clean air) law,” said Kim Bro, a Washburn, Wis., environmental scientist and former state health official. “They’re trying to stay under the radar, and if the DNR and EPA are failing to enforce, the public suffers.”

Dairyland is not on the EPA high-priority violators list. In its most recent inspection, the DNR found no violations at the Alma facilities.

Yet in 2010, the Sierra Club sued the La Crosse-based company for alleged Clean Air Act violations. The suit charged that Dairyland failed to install modern pollution controls required by federal law when it made a series of major changes between 1993 and 2009 to its plants at Alma and Genoa, about 70 miles south of Alma on the Mississippi River. As a result, the suit said, Dairyland released unlawful amounts of pollution into the air.

The complaint also alleged Dairyland did not conduct required monitoring or get permits from the DNR during the upgrades.

When the lawsuit was filed in June 2010, the Sierra Club noted that the state agency still had taken no enforcement action for the alleged violations.

In an interview last month, Marty Sellers, the DNR engineer who inspects the plant, echoed the sentiments of other DNR officials in saying his agency lacks the staff and funding to fully enforce air-pollution laws. He said the DNR couldn’t afford to install an air-quality monitor in Alma, which one resident requested in 2006.

Dairyland spokeswoman Deb Mirasola defended the company’s actions, saying in a statement, “We remain firm in our belief that we operated our plants in compliance with state and federal regulations, including the provisions of the Clean Air Act.”

The utility company, the EPA and the Sierra Club are now negotiating a possible out-of-court settlement, said Bruce Nilles, senior director of the national Sierra Club anti-coal campaign.

In recent years, according to DNR data, emissions of some pollutants from the two Alma plants 190 miles northwest of Madison have fallen by 73 percent. Mirasola said this was due to pollution controls, adding that the upgrades will help the plants comply with state and federal environmental laws. Dairyland, she said, began retrofitting its plants with pollution controls in 2007, three years prior to the Sierra Club lawsuit.

So why did the group sue Dairyland, which already was spending hundreds of millions to clean up? In part, said the Sierra Club’s Jennifer Feyerherm, it’s to make up for years when the air around Alma should have been cleaner.

“It’s not like we’re singling out Dairyland,” said Feyerherm, an organizing representative with the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter. “They didn’t put on pollution controls when they should have … It’s part of the pattern of noncompliance that we see at coal plants across the state.”

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From Huffington Post:

“Who wouldn’t be against the poisoning of children?”

This was the rhetorical question posed by Dr. Robert D. Bullard during a recent phone interview that I had with him. Our talk covered topics from the genesis of his career as the “Father of Environmental Justice,” to the role that women and mothers have played in the struggle for the health of the planet. As Bullard stated, “Women have been the backbone of environmental justice — and women of color have consistently been fighting for their kids.”

African-American and Latinos have repeatedly found their communities targeted as prime locations for toxic facilities. I reached out to Bullard for an overview on the evolution of the Environmental Justice movement, which has served as a prism through which to examine policy based on race, environment, and waste. Bullard walked me through his work from the 1970s, when he developed the theory of Environmental Justice, to his current role as the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

* * *

Dumping In Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality, Bullard’s 1990 book, became a textbook primer for teaching the underpinnings of Environmental Justice. In it, Bullard illustrated how siting practices have created a full range of health problems in the African-American population as the result of incinerators, garbage dumps, hazardous waste, and chemical plants. Bullard meticulously used research based on science and facts to demonstrate that environmental waste was being located in economically poor and politically powerless neighborhoods. The same year, Bullard built a list of groups doing related advocacy initiatives, which led to the National People of Color Environmental Summit in 1991 and a Principles of Environmental Justice manifesto. His formulations on public policy branched out to the international level, when in 1999 he assisted in preparing environmental racism documents that were presented at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

When we spoke, Bullard expressed his concern about the current atmosphere of ongoing negativity toward the Environmental Protection Agency. He said, “When people demonize the EPA, it’s totally bogus. We need a strong, independent EPA.” Reflecting on what a lapse on enforcing standards could do to the public’s wellbeing, Bullard remarked, “Are we trying to race to the bottom?”

On the issue of “unequal protection,” Bullard emphasized the need of governmental agencies to work together so that “no community becomes a dumping zone.” He was definitive in his stance, “You need a strong Federal presence,” referencing how in too many circumstances, “states have done a lousy job.” Drilling down on the way equity issues impact low wealth communities, Bullard noted that the same neighborhoods that experience toxic sites are also the ones lacking in supermarkets, parks and other quality of life markers. Pointing to a Toxic Waste and Race Report, Bullard observed that of 413 commercial waste facilities, 56 percent were in locations inhabited by people of color. Using the term “clustering,” he pointed to hot spots in California, Texas, and New Mexico — as well as to the urban centers of Detroit, Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City — that shared similar patterns of toxic release.

* * *

In explaining how children of color were disproportionately affected by ozone, automobile and truck exhaust, coal-fired power plants — putting them on the front line, Bullard circled back to the efforts of mothers in East Los Angeles, reiterating how they had been battling against local incinerators for decades. He also mentioned the ongoing work of [Upstream Contributor] Peggy Shepard, executive director and co-founder (1988) of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), New York’s first organization devoted to improving environmental health in communities of color. Speaking of all youngsters, Bullard said, “If we protect children, we protect everyone. If we don’t, we put everyone at risk.”

His final words to me summed up why mobilizing to ensure and maintain the progress and regulations put into place by the EPA is so essential:

“Writing off an entire generation is not acceptable.”

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From the BBC News:

Researchers found a six-fold increase in the risk of developing Parkinson’s in individuals exposed in the workplace to trichloroethylene (TCE).

Although many uses for TCE have been banned around the world, the chemical is still used as a degreasing agent.

The research was based on analysis of 99 pairs of twins selected from US data records.

Parkinson’s can result in limb tremors, slowed movement and speech impairment, but the exact cause of the disease is still unknown, and there is no cure.

Research to date suggests a mix of genetic and environmental factors may be responsible. A link has previously been made with pesticide use.

‘Significant association’

The researchers from institutes in the US, Canada, Germany and Argentina, wanted to examine the impact of solvent exposure – specifically six solvents including TCE.

They looked at 99 sets of twins, one twin with Parkinson’s, the other without.

Because twins are genetically very similar or identical and often share certain lifestyle characteristics, twins were thought to provide a better control group, reducing the likelihood of spurious results.

The twins were interviewed to build up a work history and calculate likely exposure to solvents. They were also asked about hobbies.

The findings are presented as the first study to report a “significant association” between TCE exposure and Parkinson’s and suggest exposure to the solvent was likely to result in a six-fold increase in the chances of developing the disease.

The study also adjudged exposure to two other solvents, perchloroethylene (PERC) and carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), “tended towards significant risk of developing the disease”.

* * *

TCE has been used in paints, glue, carpet cleaners, dry-cleaning solutions and as a degreaser. It has been banned in the food and pharmaceutical industries in most regions of the world since the 1970s, due to concerns over its toxicity.

In 1997, the US authorities banned its use as an anaesthetic, skin disinfectant, grain fumigant and coffee decaffeinating agent, but it is still used as a degreasing agent for metal parts.

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From the Chicago Tribune:

Pregnant women sacrifice many of life’s simple pleasures — caffeine, sushi, a glass of wine — in the hope that their baby will be born healthy.

But according to a provocative new field of research, what happens during pregnancy can have lasting consequences that emerge decades after the child leaves the hospital. Studies are finding that adult illnesses like heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes can have roots in the mysterious months we spend in the womb.

Although genetics and lifestyle choices certainly influence an adult’s risk of getting a disease, researchers now believe that the food a pregnant woman eats, her weight and fitness, her stress level, and the drugs, pollutants and infections she is exposed to can trigger changes that also make her baby vulnerable to disease after birth.

For example, scientists have found that a diet containing excessive protein can suppress fetal growth and lead to adult-onset hypertension. Expectant mothers who starved during their final trimester as a result of the Dutch famine of 1944-45 were more likely to have babies who later developed Type 2 diabetes. And the children of obese mothers also are at high risk of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

“Human beings break down the same reason cars break down; they’re either driven on bad roads or made badly in the first place,” said David Barker, a professor of clinical epidemiology at England’s University of Southampton, who in 1989 initially advanced the idea that coronary heart disease might originate in fetal life. “Some people are just strong and some are not. Being made bad means, biologically, that you have fewer functioning units.”

Experts stress that this field of study is relatively new and that the physical mechanisms that might explain the correlations between stressors in the womb and mechanical problems down the road are unclear.

It is also not lost on researchers that some pregnant women already are wracked with guilt over forgetting their prenatal vitamins or eating hot dogs instead of broccoli.

“I feel like a walking bomb,” said Chicago’s Amy Elstein, 28, who is five months pregnant and fears that her stress levels are affecting her baby. “It’s like my body is not my own. Everything I put into it — what I eat, what I breathe — I worry that will have an effect on my child.”

“Pregnancy feels like a period in your life when you want very badly to do the right thing, but you don’t have control of what’s going to happen, so women look for areas they can control,” said Dr. Ann Borders, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. “We’re trying to help women be aware of unhealthy stresses but not freak out that they’re hurting baby for long term.”

The current advice for pregnant women still stands: Eat nutritious foods, exercise, reduce stress and avoid smoking and drinking.

But Barker and other scientists in the field want to step up prenatal care radically because they believe the diets of girls and young women are determining the health of the next generation.

Eventually, this area of research “will make a huge impact on not just what we tell women during pregnancy, but what our children’s health will be,” said Alan Guttmacher, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

It was once widely assumed that, aside from cigarette smoke, drugs and excessive alcohol, the uterus, or womb, sheltered the fetus from environmental influences. Scientists also thought that the growing fetus could siphon off necessary nutrients from a mother like a parasite to ensure its survival.

Two decades of research into the fetal origins of disease, however, have challenged both assumptions and led to a revolutionary shift into the thinking about health and development.

According to Barker’s widely accepted fetal origins theory, also referred to as the developmental origins of health and disease, stressors in the womb can permanently change a fetus’s body structure, physiology and metabolism. Those changes then can lead to a higher risk of illness in the future.

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(Image from Flickr.)

From the Provo Daily Herald:

The arsenic exposure risk in Fairfield is official, the health danger real.

Those who live in the Cedar Valley town stand a higher risk of getting some cancers, nerve damage and brain injury with exposure to contaminants from old mine tailings over an extended period of time, according to a new Utah study.

“I think this report will go a long way toward helping us get the visibility we need to get some help for this problem,” said Mayor Michael Burch at presentation of the study on Nov. 10 at the Historic Fairfield Schoolhouse.

Residents had some of their arsenic fears confirmed, other worries put to rest and questions answered by representatives from the Environmental Epidemiology Program and Utah Department of Environmental Quality as the agency representatives presented their public health assessment.

Fairfield residents anxiously looked at the map to identify their homes and farmlands and examined copies of the report at the town hall meeting.

Gardening, a popular pursuit in Fairfield, could potentially increase health risks both from exposure to the arsenic in the soil and from eating vegetables that have absorbed the arsenic in areas where the garden soil is contaminated. One of the community questionnaire tables showed that a majority of Fairfield residents have gardens, many watered with irrigation water, so it is important for residents to identify the properties and ditches where contamination levels are high.

“I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 45. I’ve lived here all my life and can’t help but think that the contamination is a factor,” said David Hansen, Fairfield resident and avid gardener.

“I can’t make the statement that it’s a direct result, but I can say that, based on this assessment, there is a risk,” said Dr. Craig J. Dietrich, a Utah Department of Health toxicologist.

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Image from Flickr.

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