Archives for the month of: March, 2012

From NPR Blog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More.

Advertisements

From U.S. News and World Report, an article about Upstream expert, Dr. Frederica Perera’s most recent study:

Women exposed to higher levels of certain air pollutants while pregnant are more likely to have children with anxiety, depression and attention problems by ages 6 and 7, new research suggests.

“This study provides new evidence that prenatal exposure to air pollution at levels encountered in New York City can adversely affect child behavior,” said Frederica Perera, a professor of environmental health sciences and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

She led the new study, published online March 22 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers looked at pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). They are created by the burning of fossil fuels and are common in urban environments. Traffic emissions are a major source of these pollutants.

The study is believed to be the first to link behavior problems in school-age children with two measures of prenatal PAH exposure: air concentrations and a PAH-specific marker found in mothers’ blood samples and umbilical cord blood. The PAH, inhaled by the mom during pregnancy, can cross the placenta, experts know.

Perera’s team followed the children of 253 inner-city women who gave birth between 1999 and 2006. None of the mothers smoked.

The researchers measured the concentrations of PAH in the environment of the mothers for 48 hours during trimester two or three. They also took blood samples from the mothers and the umbilical cords.

In addition, the women answered questions about their children’s behavior, including describing any attention problems, anxiety or depression. The attention problems would not qualify as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Perera noted.

The investigators found a link between higher PAH exposure levels and behavior problems. “Symptoms of anxiety and depression were 45 percent higher in the higher exposure group versus the lower,” Perera said. Attention problems were 28 percent greater in the higher PAH exposure group.

When the researchers took into account other sources of pollutants such as tobacco smoke and diet, the link remained. However, although the study found an association between prenatal PAH exposure and childhood behavior problems, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The level of problems were those that could result in referral to a doctor for further evaluation, Perera noted.

Several mechanisms could explain the link, she said. Oxidative stress is one. Or, the chemicals may be “endocrine disrupters, which are capable of affecting the normal signaling that occurs in early brain development.”

Perera plans to follow the children until they are age 12.

“The study by itself is not convincing to me,” said Dr. Victor Klein, an obstetrician-gynecologist who specializes in high-risk pregnancies and is director of patient safety and risk reduction at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. He reviewed the study and said that “further research has to be done.”

More.

Read other Upstream posts about Dr. Perera’s work, including her Upstream interview videos, click here.

Brown University’s Department of Sociology and Program in Science and Technology Studies seek a postdoctoral fellow who studies ethical issues concerning emerging contaminants and technologies.  

This one-year postdoctoral fellowship is part of a new Research Training Program, “New Directions in Environmental Ethics: Emerging Contaminants, Emerging Technologies, and Beyond,” funded by NSF’s STS Program, which will also fund two doctoral students each year.  The Training Program synthesizes three areas on the cutting edge of STS research: 1) emerging contaminants and technologies, 2) public participation in science, and 3) reflexive research ethics. These areas are tied together by a commitment to developing and implementing research and methods that make science and technological innovation more accountable and responsive to public needs and wellbeing.  The Fellow will participate in the Contested Illnesses Research Group led by Dr. Phil Brown, a long-standing research group with many funded projects, which includes 2 faculty, 3 postdocs, and 6 graduate students.  The Fellow will also be involved with the Program in Science and Technology Studies, including its many seminar and colloquium speakers.  The Fellow will have a regular mentor, opportunities for collaboration on existing research, assistance in developing new research, involvement with other postdocs, multiple venues for presenting work in progress, the option to take or audit courses and special trainings (e.g. GIS), and opportunities for guest lecturing.  A laboratory and community component will provide for the Fellow to observe scientific practices and public engagement, and to connect with scientists and social movement leaders, by visiting laboratories and community-based organizations.

Brown University has a very strong environmental health presence, including a Superfund Research Program, Children’s Environmental Health Center, and National Children’s Study.  The STS Program has grown substantially in recent years, offering exciting learning opportunities.  The Contested Illnesses Research Group maintains many relationships with research organizations and community groups. The Fellow will have a unique opportunity to develop STS theoretical approaches and research directions for the study of emerging science, health social movements, public participation in science, and research ethics.

The Fellow will receive a stipend of $45,000, health and dental insurance (Brown pays 90%, postdoc pays 10%), and a small research travel fund.  This one-year postdoc may be extended to a second year, if appropriate.  The PhD must be received prior to beginning the Fellowship.  Degrees may come from any discipline, as long as the candidate has some STS background.

Candidates should send a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, writing samples (published or unpublished), and three letters of recommendation, including the dissertation advisor. The deadline for applying is April 15, 2012.  Applications received by the deadline will receive full consideration, but the search will remain open until the position is closed or filled. For additional information write: phil_brown@brown.edu. Applications should be sent in both hard copy and email to: Dr. Phil Brown, Chair, Postdoctoral Fellow Search Committee, Department of Sociology-Box 1916 Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912

From LinkTV:

An original investigative report by Earth Focus and UK’s Ecologist Film Unit looks at the risks of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale. From toxic chemicals in drinking water to unregulated interstate dumping of potentially radioactive waste that experts fear can contaminate water supplies in major population centers including New York City, are the health consequences worth the economic gains?

Marcellus Shale contains enough natural gas to supply all US gas needs for 14 years. But as gas drilling takes place, using a process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” toxic chemicals and methane gas seep into drinking water. Now experts fear that unacceptable levels of radioactive Radium 226 in gas development waste.

Fracking chemicals are linked to bone, liver and breast cancers, gastrointestinal, circulatory, respiratory, developmental as well as brain and nervous system disorders. Such chemicals are present in frack waste and may find their way into drinking water and air.

Waste from Pennsylvania gas wells — waste that may also contain unacceptable levels of radium — is routinely dumped across state lines into landfills in New York, Ohio and West Virginia. New York does not require testing waste for radioactivity prior to dumping or treatment. So drill cuttings from Pennsylvania have been dumped in New York’s Chemung and other counties and liquid waste is shipped to treatment plants in Auburn and Watertown New York. How radioactive is this waste? Experts are calling are for testing to find out.
New York State may have been the first state in the nation to put a temporary hold on fracking pending a safety review, but it allows other states to dump toxic frack waste within its boundaries.

With a gas production boom underway in the Marcellus Shale and plans for some 400,000 wells in the coming decades, the cumulative impact of dumping potential lethal waste without adequate oversight is a catastrophe waiting to happen. And now U.S. companies are exporting fracking to Europe.

From CHE Blog (post by Sarah Howard):

The UK nonprofit organization CHEM Trust (Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring Trust) just released a report on the links between chemicals and diabetes/obesity. Studies published in recent years provide compelling evidence that human chemical contamination can play a part in both conditions. The report concludes that the chemicals that we accumulate throughout life, via our everyday lifestyles, is likely to contribute to these modern epidemics. This is the same conclusion reached by the National Toxicology Program’s review of the scientific evidence on chemicals and diabetes/obesity, published last month.

The CHEM Trust report, entitled Review of the Science Linking Chemical Exposures to the Human Risk of Obesity and Diabetes, is written by two of the world’s leading experts: Professor Miquel Porta, MD, MPH, PhD, of Spain and Professor Duk-Hee Lee, MD, PhD, of South Korea.

The report focuses on endocrine disrupting chemicals in both obesity and diabetes. Exposures to these chemicals in the womb, at other critical periods of life, and in adulthood may be linked to obesity and disruption of the normal functioning of insulin in later life. Evidence of the role of hormone disrupting chemicals comes from both laboratory studies and studies on human populations.

In one example, the report describes a study from the general US population that found that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in fatty tissue, even more than the fat itself, plays a critical role in the development of diabetes. People who were obese did not have an increased risk of diabetes if their levels of POPs were low. People who were thin did have a higher risk of diabetes if their POP levels were higher. And those with higher POP levels who were also obese had the highest diabetes risk of all.

The chemicals suspected of increasing weight gain or diabetes in humans include a variety of chemicals, including numerous POPs, arsenic, BPA, phthalates, pesticides (including atrazine, organophosphorous and organochlorine pesticides), brominated flame retardants, metals (including cadmium, mercury, organotins), and more. Many of these are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and have the ability to disrupt our natural hormones which control both fat storage and blood sugar regulation, and hence can play a role in obesity and diabetes.

Professor Miquel Porta stated, “The epidemics in obesity and diabetes are extremely worrying. The role of hormone disrupting chemicals in this must be addressed. The number of such chemicals that contaminate humans is considerable. We must encourage new policies that help minimize human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy, as it appears to be the fetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk.

Elizabeth Salter Green, CHEM Trust Director stated, “If exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals is programming us to be fat, it is high time that public health policy takes into account cutting edge science. Obesity and diabetes are examples of the adverse health trends linked with endocrine disruption which need to be urgently addressed. We are talking about prevention, and in this time of financial squeeze, anything that can help with prevention is a good idea. CHEM Trust is calling for the UK Government and the EU to urgently identify hormone disruptors to ensure that chemicals suspected of playing a role in diabetes and obesity are substituted with safer alternatives.”

Summary of the report’s conclusions

  • Studies suggest that exposure to certain chemicals in the environment can play an important role in obesity and diabetes. The chemicals implicated include some to which the general population are exposed on a daily basis.
  • Substantial evidence exists to consider exposure to EDCs with estrogenic activity as a risk factor for the etiology of obesity and obesity-related metabolic dysfunction.
  • Evidence suggesting a relationship between human contamination with environmental chemicals and the risk of diabetes has existed for more than 15 years, with the volume and strength of evidence becoming particularly persuasive since 2006.
  • Obesity is a known risk factor for diabetes, and chemicals that accumulate in body fat (e.g., POPs) may play a role in the causal relationship between obesity and diabetes.
  • Many of the chemicals that can cause weight gain and related metabolic effects have endocrine disrupting properties.
  • Embryonic, fetal, and infantile stages may be especially vulnerable to obesity from relatively low doses of EDCs. Nonetheless, the risk of obesity due to obesogenic pollutants can also increase during adolescence and adulthood.

Summary of the report’s recommendations

  • Action to reduce exposures to such chemicals is warranted on a precautionary basis, and is likely to be cost-effective.
  • National governments and the EU need to urgently put forward mechanisms to identify EDCs to ensure that currently used chemicals suspected of playing a role in obesity and diabetes are substituted with safer alternatives.
  • Health professionals, citizens’ organisations, companies, authorities and society at large need to be better informed of the role that chemical exposures may play in causing diabetes and obesity.
  • Individuals, industry, the agricultural sector, dieticians and the medical professions all have roles to play in reducing exposures both in the home and in occupational settings.
  • Personal changes in lifestyle are certainly important for the prevention of obesity and diabetes, but this should not obscure the need for government policies within and outside the health sector to decrease human exposure to obesogenic and diabetogenic environmental compounds.
  • As many of the chemicals implicated widely contaminate the animal and human food chains and some are also released from some food containers, dietary interventions ignoring the presence of contaminants in food may hamper the expected beneficial effects of dietary recommendations.
  • In order to protect fetuses and newborn babies, specific advice is needed for pregnant women and midwives regarding EDCs in the diet and in consumer products used by pregnant women and/or babies.
  • Public health policies, including those seeking to reduce exposure to suspect chemicals, need to be implemented swiftly. To preserve quality of life, prevention in both cases is vastly preferable to treatment.
  • Evidence for the association between exposure to EDCs and obesity should lead to a paradigm shift in how to tackle obesity. The focus should be broadened from one based on individual lifestyle, diagnosis and treatment to one that includes population prevention measures.
  • Population-based biomonitoring must be strengthened to provide a better understanding of the extent of human contamination by environmental obesogens and diabetogens in the general population.
  • Progress is also needed in identifying the sources of exposure (e.g., which food products, which consumer products). Further research is particularly warranted on the role that food additives, contaminants in animal feed and human food, and packaging may play in obesity and diabetes.
  • Screens and tests to identify chemicals that can impact on obesity and diabetes should be developed, and certain chemicals should be required to undergo such testing.
  • More attention should be given to protecting populations in the developing world from exposure to environmental pollutants, including that arising from electronic waste, food contamination, air pollution and the erroneous use of certain pesticides.

CHEM Trust’s goal is to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals. They have published previous reports on chemicals and the developing brain, breast cancer, reproductive health, and more.

This report as well as others are available at the CHEM Trust website.

Visit the CHE Blog.

From

Animation on how mice are used to study changes in DNA that could also occur in humans and eventually lead to cancer. The genetic similarity of mice to humans accounts for mice being a good experimental model to study cancer. Mouse models that mimic human disease play a vital role in understanding the etiology (cause and origin) of cancer. Results of mouse model studies lend evidence toward the next step in biomedical research that leads to early detection of cancer, new cancer drugs, new combinations of treatments, or new methods such as gene therapy.]

From The Independent:

Man-made chemicals present in homes, schools, offices, cars and food are probably contributing to the sharp rise in obesity and diabetes in western societies, according to a review of scientific literature published today.

Until now lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and poor diet were believed to be the primary causes of the increased incidence of both conditions, whose proliferation has strained global health budgets.

While these remain undisputed factors, the review of 240 scientific papers by two leading experts, Professor Miquel Porta of Spain and Professor Duk-Hee Lee of South Korea, suggests chemicals in plastics and other surfaces play an important and avoidable role.

Their study assessed the impact of chemicals including the now banned PCBs, the plastic-softeners phthalates, and the plastic-hardener Bisphenol A, or BPA, a common substance in food packaging and plastic bottles which The Independent has written widely about. All 240 studies they reviewed – whether in test-tubes, on animals or on humans – had been peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals.

The paper, the Review of the Science Linking Chemical Exposures to the Human Risk of Obesity and Diabetes, found some of the chemicals appeared to have a causal effect on obesity, some on diabetes and some on both.

Many are endocrine disruptors, which can change human hormones, including the stimulation of appetite and fat storage and regulation of sugar.

* * *

One of the study authors, Professor Miquel Porta, of the Hospital del Mar Research Institute, Barcelona, said: “The epidemics in obesity and diabetes are extremely worrying.

“The role of hormone disrupting chemicals in this must be addressed. The number of such chemicals that contaminate humans is considerable.

“We must encourage new policies that help minimise human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy, as it appears to be the foetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk”.

* * *

BPA is commonly found in the plastic lining inside tinned foods, on thermal till receipts and in consumer electronics such as mobile phones and televisions, while phthalates are present in vinyl flooring, shower curtains and children’s toys.

CHEM Trust (Chemicals Health & Environment Monitoring Trust), the British pressure group which commissioned the research, urged the UK Government and the EU to press industry to find safer alternatives.

Elizabeth Salter Green, director of CHEM Trust, said: “If exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals is programming us to be fat, it is high time that public health policy takes into account cutting edge science. Obesity and diabetes are examples of the adverse health trends linked with endocrine disruption which need to be urgently addressed.

“We are talking about prevention, not cure here, and in this time of financial squeeze, anything that can help with prevention, reducing NHS spending, is a good idea.”

More.

From Big Think Blog:

What’s the Big Idea?

Over the last two weeks, pink slime has become the safe food movement’s equivalent of the Kony 2012 campaign. Over 200,000 people have signed an online petition to ban the use of what the food industry calls “lean beef trimmings” in school lunches. Larger questions have been raised about why it has taken consumer advocates and government watchdogs so long to catch on.

After all, haven’t we seen this movie before?

106 years ago Upton Sinclair blew the whistle on the Chicago stockyards meatpacking industry in his famous muckraking novel The Jungle. I have quoted a representative, nausea-inducing passage from the book below, but here is a quick tease:

These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.

These reports shocked an incredulous nation. President Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, initially concluded that Sinclair must be “a crackpot.” Yet subsequent investigation confirmed Sinclair’s reporting (although claims that workers who fell into rendering vats were ground into lard were not officially substantiated). Public outcry led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and ultimately the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

And yet, consumer protection requires vigilant oversight, and that is exactly what critics say was lacking during the administration of George H.W. Bush, when low-grade ammonia-treated “lean beef trimmings” previously reserved for pet food were declared safe for human consumption. According to The Daily, health concerns were muted by JoAnn Smith, Undersecretary of the USDA.

Then for the next two decades, apparently, Smith’s successors at the USDA were out to lunch.

What’s the Significance?

Pink slime is everywhere. It’s sold in grocery stores and served in school lunches, meaning most of us have probably consumed it at some point in our lives. The government purchased 7 million pounds of pink slime for school lunches just last year. While the USDA announced it would let schools opt out this week, food administrators and consumers alike have found pink slime to be so ubiquitous that it is nearly impossible to avoid. Some experts estimate it can be found in up to 70 percent of the ground beef sold in grocery stores.

In other words, we know how the sausage is made. We don’t like how it is made, but we don’t know how to avoid it. That is because you will never see packaged meat in the grocery store labeled “pink slime.”

How Can I Avoid Pink Slime In Meat?

Look for meat that is labelled “USDA Organic” and shop at stores such as WholeFoods and Costco that have guaranteed their products don’t contain pink slime. Your other choices are to go vegetarian, or grind your own meat (or watch a butcher do it for you).

More.

From :

Advancing Environmental Justice and Urban Sustainability, 6th Annual Arnold J, Alderman Memorial Lecture, Martin Luther King Celebration, Yale Peabody Museum

Upstream Contributor Peggy Shepard is one of several prominent celebrities to speak at an upcoming TEDX Conference at the Apollo Theater.  (The poster image above is from a recent Peggy Shepard speech.) Here are some details for the upcoming event.

From Harlem World:

The one-day interactive forum will feature presentations on inspiring ideas and innovations by prominent speakers across various industries . The theme, “Creating Waves,” speaks to the notion that ideas have the ability to spread and make an impact, no matter where they are conceived.

Throughout the day, approximately 20 speakers, including Harlemites Celebrity Peggy Shepard, Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Thelma Golden of Harlem Studio Museum, and Khadim Diop, among others, will facilitate a suite of short talks, demonstrations and performances on an array of subjects to foster learning, inspiration and wonder.

The aim is to provoke conversations that help propel the Harlem and the global community forward. Topics include health and wellness, civic engagement, science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.) and mobility and connectivity, to name a few. The visionaries showcased believe communities like Harlem have the potential to nurture and spread fresh ideas that create change beyond their community.

Participants will experience speakers that are sure to move and stimulate. Bina48, a robot that speaks, hears, and thinks like a human being, will share her personal testimony and take questions from TEDxHarlem social media followers at the conference. “I want people to see how far I’ve come,” Bina48 said. When asked how it feels to be a robot, she replied, “I dream about being human, but it’s not half bad. I’ve never been anything else.”

“We created TEDxHarlem to exemplify the spirit and culture of this great community. There has been a resurgence of the Harlem community that will be reflected throughout this transformative day of brilliance, entertainment and progressiveness. It is our hope that by bringing together big thinkers and community members, we will drive true impact within Harlem and beyond,” said Marcus Glover, TEDxHarlem organizer and founder of the Living Labs Foundation.

The Apollo Theater, March 27 from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

For more information about TEDxHarlem visit http://www.tedxharlem.com .

From :

 

From Environmental Health News (by Lindsey Konkel):

When Deidre Ramos moved with her infant son to the Parker Street section of New Bedford, Mass., little did she know that her new neighborhood was toxic.

Today, a decade later, Ramos is worried about the health of her two sons growing up in a community still contaminated by an old burn dump containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

“What will be the long-term effects on my children?” asked Ramos.

Now new research conducted in New Bedford suggests that these industrial chemicals, which were first linked to learning problems in children more than two decades ago, may play a role in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), too.

Boys who were exposed to higher levels of PCBs in the womb scored lower on focus and concentration tests, which indicates they are more likely to have attention problems often related to ADHD, according to a newly published study of New Bedford area children.

All of the children studied were born to mothers who lived near the contaminated harbor and dumpsites in these low-income communities, where twice as many people live below the poverty line than the Massachusetts average. But experts say that their exposures were fairly low, comparable to children’s levels throughout much of the United States, which means that a connection between PCBs and attention problems in boys could exist in other communities, too.

Banned in the United States more than 30 years ago, PCBs are long-lived industrial chemicals that accumulate in food chains. Nearly every U.S. resident still has detectable levels in his or her blood. PCBs have the ability to disrupt hormones, which can alter how the brain develops.

“These findings contribute to a growing literature showing associations between PCBs and ADHD-related behavior,” the scientists from Boston University, Harvard University and two other institutions wrote in the study, which was published in late February.

In the study, umbilical cord was collected from 788 newborns from four towns near New Bedford Harbor to see what they were exposed to in the womb. They were born between 1993 and 1998.

Blood from the umbilical cord “is one of the best measures of contaminants being transferred from mother to fetus,” said Sharon Sagiv, lead author of the study and an epidemiologist who now works at Boston University.

Roughly eight years after they were born, almost 600 of these children underwent two tests. One measured their ability to zero in on and react to a specific target  – in this case, the image of a cat on a computer screen — and to inhibit their response to another animal’s image. The other exam included parts of an IQ test that measured their processing speed and distractability, which tests whether they can maintain attention over time.

“It’s like playing whack-a-mole versus watching a radar monitor,” said Paul Eubig, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Eubig, who studies effects in lab animals, was not involved in the study but co-authored a published report linking  PCBs with changes related to ADHD.

Boys exposed to the highest levels of PCBs during their mother’s pregnancy failed to press a button for the on-screen cat 12 percent more often than children exposed to the lowest levels, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Those same boys also scored slightly lower in the other test.

The same link was not found in girls. Animal data suggest that hormone-disrupting chemicals including PCBs affect each gender differently, but the connection in humans remains unclear.

“It’s possible that these compounds can impact brain development by altering the hormonal balance of a developing fetus,” said Joe Braun, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health who did not participate in the research. “Boys and girls have different hormonal patterns,” he said.

Boys are two to three times as likely as girls to develop ADHD, the most common learning disorder reported in children worldwide. In 2007, U.S. parents reported that nearly 10 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers in their report called the effect of PCBs on attention skills “modest.” But they noted that the links were strongest for the children’s errors of omission and variability in reaction times, which they called “indicators of inattention.”

In their findings, the scientists took into account other factors that may contribute to ADHD-related behaviors, such as whether the mother smoked during pregnancy. However, they cannot rule out that chance – or some other factor – did not contribute to the results.

In the study, 31 percent of the children were non-white, 24 percent of the fathers did not finish high school and 20 percent had an annual household income of less than $20,000 per year.

The authors reported that PCB levels in the New Bedford area infants “were low relative to other population-based studies, given maternal residence adjacent to the PCB-contaminated New Bedford harbor.”

More.

Flickr.

From PBS’s Need to Know (2010):

Does eating organic really make a difference? A new study says it does.

The study, published in the May 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics, revealed that children exposed to toxic pesticides known as organophosphates are at increased risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders in children, with diagnoses increasing 3 percent a year between 1997 and 2006, and totaling 4.5 million children. Symptoms include difficulties paying attention and controlling impulsive behavior, and they can be caused by genetics as well as exposures to environmental toxins.

The study’s research team, led by Maryse Bouchard, a researcher at the University of Montreal, analyzed urine samples from 1,139 children ages 8 to 15. Children with higher urinary levels of dialkyl phosphate metabolites (DAP), which are markers of organophosphate exposure, were more likely to be diagnosed as having ADHD. With each tenfold increase in DAP, the odds of having ADHD rose by more than half.

“What was surprising was that we saw there was an increased risk of ADHD even at low levels of exposure,” Bouchard said in a recent phone interview. “We saw that children with above-average levels of exposure had twice the risk of ADHD as those with undetectable levels.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), organophosphate pesticides were first used as nerve agents in World War II. Today, they are the most widely used insecticides available, with more than 40 types registered for use. In 2001, approximately 73 million pounds of organophosphates were used in the U.S. The EPA states that all organophosphates “run the risk of acute and subacute toxicity” and “pose significant health risks to people who are exposed to them through their work.”

But CropLife America, which represents pesticide manufacturers, said in response to the study that “more research is needed” to ascertain if there is a direct link between pesticide exposure and ADHD: “The class of crop protection compound that is the subject of this study has been approved and registered by the U.S. EPA, and when used according to the label, the EPA has determined it to be safe.”

Organophosphates have already been proven to have adverse health effects in infants and children, Bouchard and her research team reported, including behavioral problems, developmental delays and poorer short-term memory. According to the National Academy of Sciences, infants and children receive most of their exposures to pesticides through diet. Because of their lower body weight and developing brains, they are more susceptible to pesticide toxicity than adults. A 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program found detectable levels of the organophosphate insecticide malathion in 28 percent of frozen blueberry samples, 25 percent of fresh strawberry samples and 19 percent of celery samples.

The Union of Concerned Scientists writes that the growth of industrial agriculture, which views the farm as a factory, has led to a rise in pesticide use. According to the group, a key feature of industrial agriculture is cultivating a single crop, or monoculture, which depletes the soil and invites pests, resulting in an increased need for more herbicides and pesticides. The U.S. grows all of its major commodity crops in monoculture, a practice bolstered by government subsidies and agribusinesses that manufacture seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

“This is the first study on the subject so we can’t be definitive, but I think it’s fair for parents to want to be prudent and reduce exposure to pesticides,” said Bouchard. She recommended not using pesticides in or outside of the home and washing all fruits and vegetables carefully, even with a little soap, to get rid of pesticide residues in produce like apples or bell peppers.

But even the organic label isn’t a guarantee. “Buying organic is a good idea, but I know it’s hard for a lot of families because it’s so expensive,” Bouchard said. As an alternative, she suggested buying fruits and vegetables at a farmers’ market. “Even if it’s not labeled organic, the produce from a small producer will contain less pesticides, since they don’t do monocultures.”

Related: Read the study

Image from Flickr.

%d bloggers like this: