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New research is showing that carbon dioxide is not only causing global warming, but it’s also causing sea water to become more acidic. As this ScienCentral News video explains, the implications of this on underwater life is becoming a hot topic for everyone from scientists, to IMAX filmmakers.

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Sick Child

Healthy Child Healthy World recently interviewed Upstream Contributor, Dr. Leo Trasande, about environmental health.  Here are some of the questions and answers.

So what is environmental health?

Defining our field is often the major challenge of our field! It can be all encompassing—not only exposures to synthetic chemicals, it can go as broadly as impacts of climate change to the physical environment that influences children’s physical activity, diet, and ultimately obesity as well as other health outcomes.

Are people starting to pay more attention to the link between the environment and human health?

Yes. There are multiple drivers. There has been progress in improving medical curricula and research. Second, parents are presenting these concerns to their pediatricians and asking for answers with greater frequency and consistency. The third is the power of the purse. People are acting with their wallets and buying products that don’t have environmental contaminants and reducing their exposure. This creates a significant market force.

Where should parents wanting to raise healthy kids begin?

Start with some of the Healthy Child Easy Steps. Focus on the leading environmental issues we understand he most about. Lead is terribly important. And you can reduce your intake of fish contaminated with methylmercury while still eating the good omega-3s so critical for brain development.

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Does caring about environmental health mean you have to be a rich or a scientist? Or both?

You don’t need a PhD in chemistry or a millionaire’s salary to identify and protect your children from environmental hazards. There are safe and simple steps we can take, like avoiding lead and mercury exposure. You don’t have to spray pesticides in your house. You can open your windows every few days to get rid of organic chemicals and dust and mold.

Read all of the questions and responses here.

Visit Dr. Leo Trasande’s main Upstream page.

Plasticware

From UPI (an article about a study co-conducted by Upstream Contributor, Dr. Frederica Perera):

Bisphenol-A — a chemical found in plastics — was detected in at least 94 percent of urine samples in U.S. urban mothers and children, researchers say.

Lori Hoepner, Robin M Whyatt, Allan C. Just, Antonia M. Calafat, Frederica P. Perera and Andrew G. Rundle of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health in New York said BPA was a chemical found in certain plastics and has applications in everyday consumer products. It is found in toys, reusable water bottles, medical equipment, food and beverage can linings and glass jar tops.

Diet is the most common route of BPA exposure, but it is also in store receipts. Past research has linked BPA with health effects such as cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and metabolic disorders, the researchers said.

The study involved 568 mothers and children enrolled in the Center’s Mothers & Newborns study. Study leader Hoepner and colleagues analysed BPA concentrations found in urine samples collected prenatally and at ages 3, 5 and 7 years.

The study detected BPA in 94 percent of prenatal samples and at least 96 percent of the childhood samples, but the maternal prenatal BPA concentrations were significantly lower than those of their children.

Additionally, the study found concentrations were significantly higher among African-Americans as compared to Dominicans.

BPA concentrations were also correlated with concentrations of another chemical of concern, phthalates, used to soften plastics to increase their flexibility and found in a variety of products including enteric coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements, adhesives, electronics, building materials, personal care products, medical devices, detergents, children’s toys, modeling clay, waxes, paint, ink, pharmaceuticals, food products and textiles, the researchers said.

Read article here.

Visit Frederica Perera’s main Upstream page.

From Expose:

Bis-Phenol A is an additive in clear, hard plastics. It is used in water bottles, baby bottles, soda can liners, etc. and is known to leach into the foods and liquids which are stored in it. It is in recycling category 7 (on the bottom of the bottle, in the triangle). Independent academic studies suggest it presents a variety of risks to humans. The government, relying on industry studies, claims the facts are unclear.

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Visit the PBS archives to see the complete show and more of Bill Moyers.
http://www.pbs.org/moyers

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Disappearing Male – CBC Documentary, posted with vodpod

While we’re lucky that we no longer make PCBs, there are so many other chemicals in our lives, and we don’t really know what their cancer-causing potential is.

CBC Marketplace investigates the growing concern that common household chemical cleaners are causing health issues for families and business.

From Wired:

Since returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, an untold number of soldiers have come down with puzzling health problems. Chronic bronchitis. Neurological defects. Even cancer. Many of them are pointing the finger at a single culprit: The open-air “burn pits” that incinerated trash — from human waste to computer parts — on military bases overseas.

Pentagon officials have consistently reassured personnel that there was no “specific evidence” connecting the two. But now, only days after Danger Room uncovered a memo suggesting that Army officials knew how dangerous the pits were, an animal study is offering up new scientific evidence that links burn pits to depleted immune systems.

“The dust doesn’t only appear to cause lung inflammation,” says Dr. Anthony Szema, an assistant professor at Stony Brook School of Medicine who specializes in pulmonology and allergies, and the researcher who led this latest study. “It also destroys the body’s own T-cells.” Those cells are at the core of the body’s immune system, “like a bulletproof vest against illnesses,” Szema tells Danger Room. When they’re depleted, an individual is much more prone to myriad conditions.

For scientists, trying to establish a definitive connection between those diffuse health problems and the pits has been exceedingly difficult to do. Most notably because the Department of Defense, as a report issued by the Institutes of Medicine noted last year, didn’t collect adequate evidence — like what the pits burned and which soldiers were exposed — for researchers to draw any meaningful conclusions about the impact of the open-air incinerators. Szema’s study is only on 15 mice, so it’s by no means definitive. But it is an important first step.

Regardless, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Pentagon officials were aware of the risk posed by the pits. Another memo (.pdf), written by Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis in 2006 and obtained by Danger Room, warned of “an acute health hazard” to personnel stationed at Iraq’s Balad air base. “It is amazing,” he noted, “that the burn pit has been able to operate … without significant engineering controls being put in place.”

But as recently as yesterday, when asked about the leaked Army memo obtained by Danger Room (which cited a risk of ”long-term adverse health conditions” from the pits), Pentagon spokesperson George Little told reporters that “we do not have specific evidence that ties these kinds of disposal facilities to health issues.”

Perhaps not. But researchers just got way, way closer. A team, led by Dr. Szema at Stony Brook University, this week revealed to Danger Room the results of their ongoing investigations that are trying to directly link health problems to the air emitted by burn pits. And the results should cause those who served near the pits — which burned trash at most major bases in Iraq and Afghanistan during at least some period over the last decade — to be concerned.

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 Harvard Public Health Review:

Could a sunny outlook mean fewer colds and less heart disease?

Do hope and curiosity somehow protect against hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory tract infections?

Do happier people live longer—and, if so, why?

These are the kinds of questions that researchers are asking as they explore a new—and sometimes controversial—avenue of public health: documenting and understanding the link between positive emotions and good health.

A vast scientific literature has detailed how negative emotions harm the body. Serious, sustained stress or fear can alter biological systems in a way that, over time, adds up to “wear and tear” and, eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt cardiac function by changing the heart’s electrical stability, hastening atherosclerosis, and increasing systemic inflammation.

Jack P. Shonkoff, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development at HSPH and at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, explains that early childhood “toxic stress”—the sustained activation of the body’s stress response system resulting from such early life experiences as chronic neglect, exposure to violence, or living alone with a parent suffering severe mental illness—has harmful effects on the brain and other organ systems. Among these effects is a hair-trigger physiological response to stress, which can lead to a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, and a jump in stress hormones.

FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE
“But negative emotions are only one-half of the equation,” says Laura Kubzansky, HSPH associate professor of society, human development, and health. “It looks like there is a benefit of positive mental health that goes beyond the fact that you’re not depressed. What that is is still a mystery. But when we understand the set of processes involved, we will have much more insight into how health works.”

Kubzansky is at the forefront of such research. In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years, for example, she found that emotional vitality—a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not smoking and regular exercise.

Among dozens of published papers, Kubzansky has shown that children who are able to stay focused on a task and have a more positive outlook at age 7 report better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later. She has found that optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half.

Kubzansky’s methods illustrate the creativity needed to do research at the novel intersection of experimental psychology and public health. In the emotional vitality study, for example, she used information that had originally been collected in the massive National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, an ongoing program that assesses the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States. Starting with the NHANES measure known as the “General Well-Being Schedule,” Kubzansky crafted an adaptation that instead reflected emotional vitality, and then scientifically validated her new measure. Her research has also drawn on preexisting data from the Veterans Administration Normative Aging Study, the National Collaborative Perinatal Project, and other decades-long prospective studies.

In essence, Kubzansky is leveraging gold-standard epidemiological methods to ask new public health questions. “I’m being opportunistic,” she says. “I don’t want to wait 30 years for an answer.”

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