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air pollution

From Bloomberg (by Nicole Ostrow):

Children whose mothers have an increased exposure to air pollution from motor vehicles while pregnant may have a higher chance of developing certain cancers, a study found.

Each increase in exposure to pollution from gasoline vehicles and diesel trucks was associated with a 4 percent higher risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, as well as increased chances of developing rarer cancers of the eye and of cells that form the reproductive system, according to data presented . . . at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington.

Research in adults has shown that carbon monoxide can damage the retina and have an effect on germ cells of the reproductive system, said Julia Heck, the lead study author. Today’s findings are the first to link air pollution with rarer pediatric cancers, she said.

“With childhood cancers, there’s a lot less known about the causes,” Heck, an assistant researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health, said in an April 5 telephone interview. “My results have to be confirmed in other studies. This is the first real study to report on these rare tumors.”

She said it is unknown why exposure to pollution in utero can raise childhood cancer risks.

Read entire article here.

Upstream Contributor, inspirational community organizer, and environmental justice advocate Peggy Shepard has been nominated for a Lady Godiva award.  Please vote for her here.  If you want to learn more about her remarkable work, view her Upstream interview here.  Below you can find the summary of her nomination.

It is startling to realize how one person’s vision can open our eyes to new vistas; how one person’s leadership can inspire others to strengthen community resilience and acknowledge our collective responsibility to each other. The environment is where we live, work, play, and go to school, and Peggy Shepard helps us understand that the environment is everyone’s challenge because our communities share a common destiny. She inspires us to believe and to organize to achieve access to clean air, clean water, healthy food, a toxic-free environment, and to improve children’s environmental health i.e. asthma and lead poisoning. She is co-founder and executive director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT), based in Northern Manhattan,home to over 630,000 mostly low-income African-Americans and Latinos, which has a 25-year history of combining grassroots organizing, environmental advocacy and environmental health research.

Recently a Washington DC office was opened to voice the concerns of underserved communities in developing policies. A West Harlem resident, she spent 8 years developing a grassroots organization of volunteers into a staffed organizing and advocacy non-profit which raises $1.6 million per year to assist in training over 500 parents to have healthier homes, and has conducted public education campaigns on children’s health that reached over 1 million homes citywide through workshops, radio, and bus ads. By engaging residents like me to develop and implement a common vision around commonly held values, she inspires us to embrace challenge and pursue solutions that might otherwise elude us.

When she moved to Harlem in the ‘80s and 3 senior citizens came to her and asked for her help in organizing the community around environmental exposures, she began what has been a 25-year history of commitment to a set of principles that value community knowledge and engagement in achieving a more sustainable environment, and to building community capacity through organizing, training, and partnerships with academics and scientists.

Her drive and commitment and community organizing skills achieved the retrofit of the North River Sewage Treatment Plant whose emissions were exacerbating asthma attacks in neighborhood children, and a $1.1 million community environmental benefits fund. Her work contributed to the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) retrofitting its citywide diesel bus fleet to cleaner fuels resulting in cleaner air citywide.

View Peggy’s Upstream interview here.

groundwater pollution

From the AP:

Jurors in the longest state trial in New Hampshire’s history will return to the courtroom this week after a nearly two-week hiatus to hear closing arguments in the state’s groundwater contamination case against Exxon Mobil Corp.

Lawyers for the state want jurors to hold Exxon Mobil liable to the tune of $240 million to monitor and clean up wells and public water systems contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether.

Lawyers for Exxon Mobil counter that MTBE was used to comply with federal Clean Air Act requirements to reduce smog. They also blame any lingering contamination on third parties not named in the state’s decade-old lawsuit.

* * *

The jury will be asked to determine whether MTBE is a defective product and whether Exxon Mobil failed to warn its distributors and vendors about the characteristics and care needed in handling gasoline containing it.

MTBE, experts on both sides agreed, travels farther and faster in groundwater and contaminates larger volumes of water than gasoline without the additive.

If jurors find Exxon Mobil is liable for damages, they must then determine what was the oil giant’s market share of all gasoline sold in New Hampshire between 1988 and 2005. The state contends it was 30 percent; Exxon Mobil says it’s closer to 6 percent.

The state banned MTBE in 2007.

Lawyers for Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil claim state environmental officials knew or should have known about the contaminating qualities of MTBE. * * *

Exxon Mobil is the sole remaining defendant of the 26 the state sued in 2003. Citgo was a co-defendant when the trial began, but it began settlement negotiations with the state on day two and withdrew from the trial. Citgo ultimately settled for $16 million – bringing the total the state has collected in MTBE settlement money to $136 million.

Read the entire article here.  Image from here.

Pollution in China

From New York Times:

Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total, according to a new summary of data from a scientific study on leading causes of death worldwide.

Figured another way, the researchers said, China’s toll from pollution was the loss of 25 million healthy years of life from the population.

Read article here.

cans

From UPI:

U.S. researchers report a link between early childhood exposure to bisphenol A — a chemical used in can liners and store receipts — and higher asthma risk.

Lead author Dr. Kathleen Donohue, an assistant professor of Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, and colleagues tracked 568 women enrolled in the Mothers & Newborns study of environmental exposures.

BPA exposure was determined by measuring levels of a BPA metabolite in urine samples taken during the third trimester of pregnancy and in the children at ages 3, 5 and 7.

Physicians diagnosed asthma at ages 5 to 12 based on asthma symptoms, a pulmonary function test and medical history. A validated questionnaire was used to evaluate wheeze, Donohue said.

The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found after adjusting for secondhand smoke and other factors known to be associated with asthma, post-natal exposure to BPA was associated with increased risk of wheeze and asthma.

BPA exposure during the third trimester of pregnancy was inversely associated with risk of wheeze at age 5, the study found.

“Asthma prevalence has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, which suggests that some as-yet-undiscovered environmental exposures may be implicated,” Donohue said in a statement. “Our study indicates that one such exposure may be BPA.”

From Earth Justice:

Each year, nearly one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed into fields and orchards around the country. As the families who live nearby can tell you, those pesticides don’t always stay in the fields and orchards.

GBD Image

Executive summary:

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) is the largest ever systematic effort to describe the global distribution and causes of a wide array of major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors. The results show that infectious diseases, maternal and child illness, and malnutrition now cause fewer deaths and less illness than they did twenty years ago. As a result, fewer children are dying every year, but more young and middle-aged adults are dying and suffering from disease and injury, as non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, become the dominant causes of death and disability worldwide. Since 1970, men and women worldwide have gained slightly more than ten years of life expectancy overall, but they spend more years living with injury and illness.GBD 2010 consists of seven Articles, each containing a wealth of data on different aspects of the study (including data for different countries and world regions, men and women, and different age groups), while accompanying Comments include reactions to the study’s publication from WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The study is described by Lancet Editor-in-Chief Dr Richard Horton as “a critical contribution to our understanding of present and future health priorities for countries and the global community.”

Link to the study here.

From Living On Earth (portions of radio discussion of the “the health effects of the deepwater disaster”):

GELLERMAN: . . . . It’s been more than six months since BP finally capped its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But now come reports of a wave of illnesses and puzzling symptoms from some residents along the Gulf Coast. Their blood contains high levels of chemicals found in oil and the dispersants that were used to clean up the mess.

Many who are suffering say firm answers and adequate treatment are hard to come by, and there’s a growing sense of frustration with government agencies and the medical community. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has the first part of our special report: “Toxic Tide – Discovering the Health Effects of the Deepwater Disaster”.

[HEARING: OIL SPILL COMMISSIONER DON BOESCH Okay, questions and comments from the floor…]

YOUNG: When the National Oil Spill Commission presented its final report in New Orleans, commissioners expected to get an earful from rig workers and fishermen worried about their jobs. Instead they heard speaker after speaker worried about something else: their health.

SPEAKER 1: I worked 60 days on the frontline for BP out here. I’m sick today, nobody wants to take care of me.

SPEAKER 2: The issue is ongoing; people are getting sick and dying.

SPEAKER 3: I have seen small children with lesions all over their body. We are very, very ill. And there’s a very good chance now that I won’t get to see my grandbabies.

YOUNG: Some had worked cleaning up the oil, others lived in or had visited places where oil washed ashore. All complained of mysterious ailments that arose after the spill.

Robin Young was one of those who spoke out. She manages vacation rental properties in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she has lived for 10 years.

When the spill started, Young helped form a citizen group called Guardians of the Gulf. At first, the group was not focused on health issues. Then, people, including Young, started getting sick.

R YOUNG: Headaches, I would get nauseous – and these are all things that I don’t normally experience at all, I’ve always been very, very, very healthy. Then the coughing – I coughed up so much nasty looking mess.

J YOUNG: Young says symptoms started after she spent a day near the water in June and she still hasn’t fully recovered. She heard from others in her community and across the Gulf coast with similar problems.

* * *

J YOUNG: Young’s group paid for more blood sampling. The Louisiana Environmental Action network asked biochemist and MacArthur grant winner Wilma Subra to analyze the results. The blood samples came from cleanup workers, crabbers, a diver who’d been in oiled water, and at least two children who live on the coast. All had reported recent health problems. Subra compared the levels of volatile organic compounds in those samples to a national database of VOC’s in blood compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.

SUBRA: They’re as much as 5 to 10 times what you’d find in the normal population. And again, these are chemicals that relate back to chemicals in the BP crude and the dispersants.

* * *

SUBRA: I think it’s demonstrating that the chemicals they are being exposed to are showing up in their blood. We’ve briefed the federal agencies on it, tried to get them interested – they are evaluating the results. And I think there’s a lot of frustration in the community members across the coastal areas. They are really requesting answers.

* * *

YOUNG: Solid answers will take time. There’s little in the scientific literature on long term health effects of oil spills. In March the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to start enrolling Gulf spill cleanup workers in a long-term health study. The principal investigator is Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at NIEHS. She hopes to track some 55,000 subjects for at least five years.

SANDLER: This will be by far the largest study of individuals exposed during an oil spill disaster that’s ever been conducted. So we have been moving heaven and earth to make this go quickly.

YOUNG: Sandler’s study has funding, thanks in part to BP. The study is a few months behind its original schedule. But researchers face another hurdle that may prove more difficult. Signing up tens of thousands of participants and getting people to accept results depends on credibility and trust. After the BP spill and Hurricane Katrina, trust is in low supply on the Gulf Coast. Here’s how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kinnon sums up the attitude.

KINNON: The bottom line is very few people trust governmental agencies. They think there’s this incestuous relationship between BP and the government, and I tend to agree with them.

J YOUNG: And even as Robin Young asks the government to help her community, the plea comes with a note of deep suspicion.

RYOUNG: I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist – that’s what I’m starting to feel like. Because it’s hard to believe that something like this is going on in the United States and no one’s helping.

More . . .

Link to Living on Earth podcast.

Wilma Subra’s analysis of blood samples from sick Gulf Coast residents.

The NIEHS plan for a large-scale, long-term study of cleanup workers.

Upstream Microphone

Deborah Cory-Slechta Podcast

Exposure to certain chemicals or stressors in utero can cause immediate health effects for fetuses and babies including lowered birth weight, birth defects, and impaired neurodevelopment. New lines of research are now showing that prenatal exposures may also contribute to health problems that typically arise later in life—such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Parkinson disease—via changes to DNA transcription and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. In this podcast, Deborah Cory-Slechta discusses the phenomenon known as the fetal basis of adult disease. Cory-Slechta is a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Listen to the podcast here.

Podcast Transcript

AHEARN: It’s The Researcher’s Perspective. I’m Ashley Ahearn.

When we are exposed to certain chemicals or stressors in the womb, research has shown there are certain immediate health problems that may arise—lowered birth weight, birth defects, or impaired neurodevelopment, to name a few.

But what about health problems that typically arise later in life—obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease? Could these also be the result of exposure to certain substances early in our development?

More and more research is being done to explore what’s called the “fetal basis of adult disease hypothesis.”

Joining me to talk about it is Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta. She’s a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Dr. Cory-Slechta, thanks for being here.

CORY-SLECHTA: Glad to be with you.

AHEARN: Let’s start by laying out this hypothesis, the fetal basis of adult disease. What is it?

CORY-SLECHTA: Well, it actually started with some work done by Dr. Barker1 back many years ago looking at victims of a Dutch famine. And what he saw in those individuals was that those who suffered under-nutrition in the womb later in life had a much higher incidence of a variety of different diseases and disorders, particularly cardiovascular disease, hypertension. There were also cognitive kinds of problems, a real assortment of different diseases, and that’s what really got this whole area of the fetal basis of adult disease off and running, so to speak—that you could have something going on early in life, this under-nutrition, and even if those children ultimately caught up nutrition-wise with children who didn’t have early under-nutrition, they still ended up having this higher episode incidence of diseases and disorders later in life.

AHEARN: But this hypothesis now stretches beyond just under-nutrition in terms of stressors. We’re looking at exposures as well, right?

CORY-SLECHTA: We’re looking at, actually, a variety of different things. Yes, it does expand beyond that. So one of the things that’s become clear is that early under-nutrition itself can cause a variety of diseases and disorders later in life, and there are multiple ways in which that seems to happen. One is through something called epigenetics where you have an influence on what’s called the transcription of DNA—not a change in the DNA itself, the structure of the DNA, but in how it gets transcribed or activated. You can have what appear to be permanent changes in something called the HPA axis, the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. That’s the body’s system that controls responses to stress, and when you have early or maternal prenatal stress you can cause increases in stress hormones in the fetus that basically result in permanent changes in the HPA axis. That HPA axis change can lead, itself, to many different diseases and disorders because it controls a lot of those organ systems.

Also, now we’re beginning to look at a lot of environmental exposures that probably through these different mechanisms, like epigenetics or changing the HPA axis, among others, thereby lead to these diseases and disorders by permanently changing these mechanisms.

AHEARN: What other diseases that manifest later in life do you think could be tied to early developmental exposures?

CORY-SLECHTA: Well, let me use lead exposure as an example of that, something we know a lot about. We know that lead exposure early in life is one of the kinds of exposures that can permanently change this HPA axis function. Lead exposure early in life has been tied to later hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, schizophrenia, neurodegenerative changes, all of which may occur through these changes in the HPA axis function. That’s just one example. We haven’t studied a lot of these other chemicals, but I think we’re going to be seeing some similar kinds of things. Other examples are endocrine disruptors, things like bisphenol A or phthalates, which affect sex steroid hormones. Those two are producing permanent changes early in development, in this case in hormonal systems that basically target lots of different organs in the body. So it’s really going to be a variety of different diseases and disorders that are ultimately, I think, going to get tied back to some of these kinds of exposures.

AHEARN: Why does it take so long? When you’re looking at a disease that can crop up 65 years later, 70 years later, what’s going on in the interim?

CORY-SLECHTA: Things like epigenetics really can explain that because you’re producing changes in essentially the transcription or activation of a gene that can be lifelong kinds of changes. If they occur in the sperm or the egg, they can actually then be transmitted to the next generation so now we have the possibility not only of you having these epigenetic changes that can manifest themselves in diseases and disorders later in life, but that you could transmit to your offspring. When you change things like the HPA axis early in life it can be thought of like a thermostat that you’ve now reset and you can’t change it back again. So it never operates correctly later in life either. The brain development has to unfold; a sequence of steps has to unfold perfectly in time. If you change that early in life, then it’s broken. It never can refix itself because the time at which it goes through development has long since passed. So there’s really no way to repair some of these changes. They’re basically now set in stone for life.

And I think partly the other really important thing about this whole field of fetal basis is that those effects are extremely gender-specific.

AHEARN: Could you talk a little bit more about those gender differences? I mean, am I more vulnerable as a baby boy than a baby girl?

CORY-SLECHTA: Well, it depends on the disease that we’re talking about. So if you think about something like Parkinson’s disease we know that it has a higher prevalence in males; that is, females are protected against this disease. One of the thoughts about that is that it relates to estrogen somehow, and estrogen, of course, is something that if you modify that early in life during the differentiation of the brain, you can have permanent kinds of consequences. Or if you modify testosterone early in life, you can have permanent consequences.

If we’re talking about schizophrenia, there’s not so much of a different incidence or prevalence in males and females, but the schizophrenic syndrome manifests very differently by gender. If you think about things like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, again, something that we really don’t understand in terms of its etiology, it has a higher prevalence in boys than girls, whereas Alzheimer’s disease has a higher prevalence in women than in men; at least, most studies would say that. So you see these very, very clear gender differences, and these are things that are very likely to translate back into epigenetic changes that differ [between males and females], changes in HPA axis programming, which are different in males versus females, or hormonal changes that occur very early in life.

AHEARN: Dr. Cory-Slechta, what’s to be done with this growing body of research we have on the fetal basis of adult disease?

CORY-SLECHTA: Well, let me take it a couple directions. One, I think it will tell us a lot about what we need to do better maternal health, maternal screening, in terms of preventing these kinds of effects that might lead to later diseases and disorders in children. With respect to experimental exposures, we really haven’t had the data to be able to incorporate this kind of information into risk assessment paradigms. Once it comes there will really be policy issues about how we’re going to deal with this kind of information. What would it mean with respect to exposure levels that are safe? How much would it cost to decrease those kinds of exposures? So it can have a lot of those sorts of implications above and beyond the scientific data that comes out of these studies.

AHEARN: What makes you want to study the fetal basis of adult disease?

CORY-SLECHTA: Well, it’s a really interesting area because it’s this connection between something that happens early on and something later in life. I hope it’s, as I said before, going to really allow us to understand how environmental chemicals influence health or lead to diseases and disorders. I think without that understanding we may be underestimating the risks that are actually posed by environmental chemicals, because we don’t understand or we aren’t aware at this point of whether they are having these kinds of influences. I think it’s a really exciting area of research. It may hold a lot of answers to things that have eluded us for a long time.

AHEARN: So you’re in this for the long haul.

CORY-SLECHTA: Oh yeah, I think it’s a great area of research. It just has a lot of promise for better understanding of human diseases and disorders, and that’s why you’re in this field to begin with.

AHEARN: Dr. Cory-Slechta, thanks so much for joining me.

CORY-SLECHTA: Thank you, Ashley. Nice to be here.

AHEARN: Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta is a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

And that’s The Researcher’s Perspective. I’m Ashley Ahearn. Thanks for downloading!

Note

  1. David J.P. Barker first reported an association between impaired fetal growth and chronic disease later in life in the seminal article “Infant Mortality, Childhood Nutrition, and Ischaemic Heart Disease in England and Wales” [Lancet 327(8489):1077–1081 (1986)]. Barker’s hypothesis is sometimes called the thrifty phenotype hypothesis.

dirty water

From UC Berkeley Press:

When it comes to climate change, deforestation and toxic waste, the assumption has been that conservative views on these topics are intractable. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that such viewpoints can be changed after all, when the messages about the need to be better stewards of the land are couched in terms of fending off threats to the “purity” and “sanctity” of Earth and our bodies.

A UC Berkeley study has found that while people who identified themselves as conservatives tend to be less concerned about the environment than their liberal counterparts, their motivation increased significantly when they read articles that stressed the need to “protect the purity of the environment” and were shown such repellant images as a person drinking dirty water, a forest filled with garbage, and a city under a cloud of smog.

Published today (Dec. 10) in the online issue of the journal Psychological Science, the findings indicate that reframing pro-environmental rhetoric according to values that resonate strongly with conservatives can reduce partisan polarization on ecological matters.

“These findings offer the prospect of pro-environmental persuasion across party lines,” said Robb Willer, a UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of the study. “Reaching out to conservatives in a respectful and persuasive way is critical, because large numbers of Americans will need to support significant environment reforms if we are going to deal effectively with climate change, in particular.”

Researchers conducted a content analysis of more than 200 op-eds published in such newspapers as The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, and found the pro-environmental arguments were most often pitched in terms of moral obligations to care about the natural environment and protect it from harm, a theme that resonates more powerfully with liberals, they added, than with conservatives.

They hypothesized that conservatives would be more responsive to environmental arguments focused on such principles as purity, patriotism and reverence for a higher authority. In their study, the authors specifically tested the effectiveness of arguments for protecting the purity of the environment. They said the results suggest they were on the right track:

“When individuals view protecting the environment as a moral issue, they are more likely to recycle and support government legislation to curb carbon emissions,” said Matthew Feinberg, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Stanford University and lead author of the study which he conducted while at UC Berkeley.

Scientific consensus on the existence of warming global land and ocean temperatures – attributed in large part to human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions – continues to grow and influence public opinion, especially with such extreme weather events as Hurricane Sandy. A recent Rasmussen poll reported that 68 percent of Americans view climate change as a “serious problem,” compared to a 2010 Gallup poll in which 48 percent of Americans said they thought global warming was exaggerated.

In the first experiment, 187 men and women recruited via several U.S. Craigslist websites rated their political ideology on a scale of “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative.” They then rated the morality of such activities as recycling a water bottle versus throwing it in the garbage. The results of that experiment, and a similar one conducted on 476 college undergraduates, showed that liberals are more prone to viewing sustainability as a moral issue than are conservatives.

Next, researchers conducted a content analysis of pro-environmental videos on YouTube and more than 200 op-eds in national newspapers, sorting them under the themes of “harm/care,” which they expected to resonate more with liberals, and “purity/sanctity,” which they predicted would appeal more to conservatives. They found that most pro-environmental messages leaned strongly toward liberal moral concerns.

In the last experiment, 308 men and women, again recruited via Craigslist, were randomly assigned to read one of three articles. The harm/care-themed article described the destruction wreaked on the environment by humans and pitched protection of the environment as a moral obligation. Images accompanying the text were of a forest with tree stumps, a barren coral reef and drought-cracked land, which are more typical of the visuals promoted by pro-environmental groups.

The purity/sanctity-themed article stressed how pollution has contaminated Earth and people’s bodies, and argued for cleaning up and purifying the environment. To enhance those themes and elicit disgust, the accompanying images showed a person drinking filthy water, a city under a cloud of pollution and a forest full of garbage. The neutral article talked about the history of neckties.

Participants were then asked to rate how strongly they felt certain emotions, including disgust, in response to what they’d read. Next, they reported how strongly they agreed or disagreed with such statements as “It is important to protect the environment,” “I would support government legislation aimed at protecting the environment” and ‘I believe humans are causing global warming.”

Overall, the study found that the purity-themed message inspired conservatives to feel higher levels of disgust, which in turn increased their support for protecting the environment.

Miller-McCune: America’s hidden diseases.

Millions of poor Americans living in distressed regions of the country are chronically sick, afflicted by a host of hidden diseases that are not being monitored, diagnosed or treated, researchers say. From Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the segregated inner cities of the Great Lakes and Northeast, they say, and from Navajo reservations to Latino communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, more than 20 chronic diseases are promoting the cycle of poverty in conditions of inadequate sanitation, unsafe water supplies and rundown housing. “These are forgotten diseases among forgotten people,” said Peter Hotez, a microbiologist at George Washington University, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Sabin Vaccine Institute and co-founder of the institute’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease Control. “If these were diseases among middle-class whites in the suburbs, we would not tolerate them. They are among America’s greatest health disparities, and they are largely unknown to the U.S. medical and health communities.”  More . . .

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently completed an amazing series of reports on the cancer clusters in Western Pennsylvania. Here is a sample from Day 3 of their 8-day series.

A more accurate and thorough air-monitoring network is necessary to assess human health risks and support enforcement of environmental regulations. And that’s especially true in rural areas where few monitors now exist.

“We do not have the kind of robust monitoring network we need nationally,” said S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. “And we never have enough monitors in environmental justice areas, poorer areas, and rural areas that cannot protect themselves as well.”

State Department of Environmental Protection documents show that only seven of the 18 ambient air-quality monitors in 13 western counties measure levels of nearly invisible particulates — known as PM2.5 because they are smaller than 2.5 micrometers — that can be inhaled deeply into human lungs and cause or aggravate a variety of health problems, including asthma and cardiac and respiratory disease.

More . . .

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently completed an amazing series of reports on the cancer clusters in Western Pennsylvania. Here is a sample from Day 2 of their 8-day series.

In many places around Western Pennsylvania residents see clusters of death and clusters of people sickened by cancer or heart and lung diseases.

And, like Lee Lasich, a Clairton resident, they’re frustrated that government health and environmental agencies don’t see them too, don’t do something about the problems and don’t take a tougher stance on enforcement of air pollution regulations.

* * *

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s analysis of Pennsylvania Department of Health mortality data from 2000 through 2008 found that 14,636 more people died from heart and respiratory disease and lung cancer in 14 Western Pennsylvania counties than national rates would predict, or 12,833 after adjusting for excess smoking in the region. And the yearlong investigation found numerous people throughout the region who talked about what seemed like unnatural and unexplained clusters of illnesses and death in their communities.

This overlap of high mortality rates and pollution raises questions about whether there is a causal relationship. The question has not been definitively answered, but for the people who live among these clusters, the connection seems clear.

More . . .

When it comes to particulate pollution, what you can’t see can hurt you.

“The stuff now is more insidious but much harder to perceive,” said Lester B. Lave, the Carnegie Mellon University economics professor who pioneered pollution mortality research in the 1970s. “There is no rotten egg smell. There is no dirt. It is less easily perceived. People are usually astonished that Pittsburgh still is one of the worst, but air pollution is continuing.”

Studies estimate that pollution kills 20,000 to 60,000 each year in the United States. Even at the lower range, pollution deaths would equal the nation’s annual rate of homicides.

The upper range would equal traffic fatalities and suicides combined and rank pollution as the nation’s eighth leading cause of death, just behind diabetes — another disease pollution has been linked with — and just ahead of the combined category of influenza and pneumonia.

And what’s true about pollution deaths holds true about particulate pollution: Both remain largely imperceptible to the general public.

Science to the rescue

For the past 40 years, science time and again has implicated particle pollution as a major killer.

In 1970, Dr. Lave and Eugene B. Seskin for the first time calculated health damage from pollution. Their subsequent book, “Air Pollution and Human Health,” published in 1977, found not only “a close association between air pollution and mortality,” but determined the relationship to be substantial.

Drs. Lave and Seskin’s work stirred such controversy that it prompted an effort to get Dr. Lave fired from his teaching position. But their science stood the test of time and helped inspire major epidemiological studies in subsequent decades.

More . . .

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has just completed an amazing series of reports on the cancer clusters in Western Pennsylvania.  Here is a sample from Day 1 of their 8-day series.

Numerous studies show that southwestern Pennsylvania has poor air quality and a yearlong Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation has found that those pollution problems remain far from solved in communities such as Shippingport and Monaca, Bellevue and Sewickley, Masontown and Clearfield, Cranberry and Bridgeville, Pittsburgh and hundreds of others.

At the same time, the Post-Gazette’s review and analysis of state Department of Health mortality statistics shows that 14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict.

Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure.

After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from those three diseases is 12,833. That’s still a more than 10 percent higher mortality rate overall than would be expected in the population of approximately 3 million people in 14 counties, based on national risk rates for those three diseases.

More . . .

The Post-Gazette mapped the mortality rates for heart and lung disease and lung cancer for each of 746 municipalities in the 14-county region and found higher rates around many of the region’s 16 coal-fired power plants and 150 other companies considered by the EPA as major stationary sources of pollution emissions. High mortality rates also turned up irregularly in the “plume shadows” of the utilities and industrial sources, that is the downwind area where their emissions can be transported.

The mortality mapping, while not establishing any direct cause-and-effect link to any single or specific pollution source, shows associations that are consistent with accepted scientific health risk models and formulas used by the EPA and other pollution research scientists. It indicates that pollution may play as big a role in the region’s high mortality rates for those three diseases as Pall Malls, pilsners and pierogies.

“The maps do actually form some evidence that reinforces the literature that coal burning does have those effects,” said Conrad Dan Volz, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities and an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health.

He noted that the mortality rates from 2000 through 2008 are “lagging indicators” that could reflect past pollution exposure for the region’s population. But they might also show the health impacts of continuing exposure and that regulations aren’t as effective as they could be.

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On Sunday morning U.S. Steel finally shut down its Donora mills. By that afternoon, when a rainstorm blew into the valley ending the inversion and clearing the pollution, 22 people had died in Donora and the town of Webster, just across the Mon. Almost half of Donora’s 13,000 residents were sickened, and hundreds were evacuated or hospitalized.

“Dr. Clarence Mills, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati, said at the time that if the inversion had lasted another day, hundreds more would have died and life as we know it would not exist in Donora,” Dr. Stacey said.

In the months that followed, an additional 50 people died in Donora over the number that would normally be expected. And the town’s mortality rate remained significantly higher than that of neighboring towns in the Mon Valley for a decade.

U.S. Steel refused to accept blame at the time and still has not turned over to researchers its archival data related to the fatal smog.

Lawsuits totaling $4.5 million in claims were filed by more than 100 Donora residents against U. S. Steel. All were settled in 1951 for $256,000, according to a new book, “The Polluters,” written by Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter.

“No one got rich,” said Dr. Stacey. “After the lawyers were paid, most people had enough to buy a television set.”

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Although FirstEnergy sent workers through the affected communities to power-wash the ashy black residue from the exterior of homes, outdoor deck and lawn furniture and vehicles, and cleaned indoor carpeting — and did so at Gracie’s grandparents’ home in Raccoon Township — it did not remove the sand pile where she continued to play daily, and, as was her wont, put things in her mouth.

Then, the lawsuit states, on Aug. 7, 16 days after what had become known in the community as the “black rain event,” FirstEnergy notified local officials and made public announcements recommending that farmers not allow livestock to graze in fields carpeted with the soot and that residents not use or eat from their home gardens for a year. In the weeks that followed, while company workers mowed the affected hay and yards, and harvested and paid for backyard garden produce, Gracie’s long brown hair was falling out in big clumps.

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From St. Louis Beacon: Where we live can determine how long we live (by Robert Joiner).

* * *  Larry Chavis, George Banks, Tracy Blue and Carolyn Dickerson are among the St. Louisans featured in this Beacon series about how and why some health and social conditions afflict African Americans in certain zip codes at a much higher rate than whites. They are known as health disparities or inequities. And, for the most part, they have been accepted as perplexing but unsolvable facts of black and white life in St. Louis and the nation.Public health as prevention

Until now, that is. One aim of the new health-reform law is to reverse the notion that health disparities are inexplicable and inevitable. The new law is expected to address the issue in part by re-energizing the public health movement.

While medical doctors treat disease, public health workers identify trends, explain why people get sick and address conditions that trigger illnesses. Public health work includes screening children for lead poisoning, offering nutrition programs for diabetics, and setting up sex education classes to try to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. Over the years, this work has faltered from a lack of manpower and money. That has allowed some diseases to move way beyond the prevention stage. Traditional medicine has been left to fill the void with a case-by-case approach to treating disease. It as if we had responded to the massive BP oil spill by dealing with one oil-soaked fish at a time.

Still, the news in some poor St. Louis neighborhoods isn’t all bad. Examples include the city Health Department’s sustained attack on lead poisoning and a similar effort planned for childhood asthma. Another is the Maternal and Child Health Coalition’s push to reduce infant mortality. These challenges have prompted providers to be more imaginative in the ways they view and tackle health problems.

Looking upstream

We can trace the roots of such efforts all the way back to the 19th century and the work of Dr. John Snow. He’s credited with looking beyond conventional thinking during a cholera outbreak in London. Snow eventually traced the epidemic to a contaminated public water pump. Removing the pump is said to have helped end an epidemic that claimed 600 lives. Fast forward to 2010, and the moral might be that high-tech medicine isn’t always the answer and certainly not the cheapest solution to some diseases in St. Louis.

“The public fails to realize that some illnesses have an environmental influence and are preventable,” says Dr. William Kincaid, former head of the St. Louis Health Department and now head of the local Asthma Coalition. “We develop systems to treat them after they happen, but we don’t look upstream to see why we are having these problems. And we lose an opportunity to make some of them go away. Lead is a classic example. So is asthma.”

Location influences wellness

Hope and despair run on parallel tracks in some of the worst neighborhoods on the north side. Hope surfaces unexpectedly as a motorist takes in street after street of gloomy sights, then turns a corner and finds a suburban-like setting of a block or two of stately, market-rate brick homes, trimmed lawns, fenced-in backyards and newly poured concrete sidewalks out front. These neighborhoods still include many working-class and middle-class families, some of who can’t afford to leave. Others stay out of a sense of pride in a part of town that is rich in black history.

But the north side’s decay is never far away. Some neighborhoods have been reduced to a treeless landscape with crumbling houses, weedy sidewalks, cracked storefront windows and closed factories. The higher than average concentration of health problems in this part of town mirrors the conditions of many of its residents. You find many here with stooping bodies, burned out by cancer and respiratory conditions, heart disease and other illnesses that are the results of inhaling too much nicotine and bad air and consuming food high in fat and low in fiber.

The stress of living in what amounts to a racially isolated, crime-ridden wasteland also takes its toll. Many residents have no choice except to settle for substandard housing, unreliable public transportation, limited access to grocery stores and the trauma of hearing gunshots and witnessing occasional fights and other forms of violence. It is a community where Larry Chavis’ mom might be more likely to happen upon a crack house than a store that sells WIC-approved fresh fruits and vegetables essential to the health of her lead-poisoned son.Just as location affects the value of property, it influences wellness. In other words, where people live and how they live matter. Last February, that point was brought into sharp focus with a study from the University of Wisconsin’s Population Institute. The institute ranked the quality of life of communities within states, the first such study of its kind.

Stable St. Charles County ranked at the top. St. Louis, despite its world-class health facilities and providers, ranked at or near the bottom for most indicators, ranging from smoking to STDs. The survey showed that where people live, rather than access to clinical care, can make a big difference in health outcomes, according to Julie Willems Van Dijk, an associate scientist at the University of Wisconsin’s Population Institute.

“St. Louis is a perfect example of what we’re trying to show,” she says. “You have very good access to care and pretty good quality of care for those who get the care. But that alone is not enough to produce good health. It’s not just having a doctor. We’re saying it’s all of those factors working together to determine health outcomes.”

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