Archives for category: Chemicals

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.

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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.”

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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.

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.

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 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.

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.

More . . .

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.”

More . . .

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.

More . . .

Houston Traffic

From: The New York Times:

The tiny black particles released into the atmosphere by burning fuels are far more powerful agents of global warming than had previously been estimated, some of the world’s most prominent atmospheric scientists reported in a study issued on Tuesday.

These particles, which are known as black carbon and are the major component of soot, are the second most important contributor to global warming, behind only carbon dioxide, wrote the 31 authors of the study, published online by The Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

The new estimate of black carbon’s heat-trapping power is about double the one made in the last major report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 2007. And the researchers said that if indirect warming effects of the particles are factored in, they may be trapping heat at almost three times the previously estimated rate.

The new calculation adds urgency to efforts to curb the production of black carbon, which is released primarily by diesel engines in the industrialized world and by primitive cook stoves and kerosene lamps in poorer nations. Natural phenomena like forest fires also produce it.

Read entire article here.

Erin Clayton at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health wasrecently interviewed about her leading-edge research on the effect of BPA and other chemicals on people’s immune systems.

You can link to the podcast here.

Professor Brenda Eskenazi discusses the “Environmental Chemical Influences on Neurobehavioral Development of Children: The CHAMACOS Study.”

John Wargo is a Professor of Risk Analysis, Environmental Policy, and Political Science, and Chair of the Yale College Environmental Studies Major and Program. He has been a professor at Yale since 1985 and has lectured extensively on the limits and potential of environmental law, with a focus on human health.

His latest book, Green Intelligence Creating Environments that Protect Human Health, winner of several prestigious awards, compares the history of five environmental threats to children’s health over the twentieth century: nuclear weapons testing, pesticides, hazardous sites, vehicle particulate emissions, and hormonally active ingredients in plastics.  Below is a video of  the introductory portion of a public-radio interview he gave about the book.

From wnycradio:

Yale University professor John Wargo discusses the impact of chemical exposures on women and children, and how, although people are growing more environmentally aware, there are still more than 80,000 synthetic compounds whose effects on human health havent been sufficiently studied. In his book, Green Intelligence: Creating Environments that Protect Human Health, he explains our misunderstanding of everyday chemical hazards and offers a plan for improving our awareness.

Listen to the entire interview here.

Click here to listen to John Wargo interviewed on NPR’s Living on Earth.

From Rollbackcampaign:

Camden has the second highest cancer rate in New Jersey, and the eighth highest in the nation thanks to over 100 toxic waste sites. When the St. Lawrence Cement Company tried to build yet another polluting factory in Camden, citizens banded together and convinced a district court to halt construction. Then the Supreme Court ruled in Alexander v Sandoval that citizens could not sue based on discriminatory effect. In order to block the construction of yet another polluter, citizens would need to show that there was intentional discrimination.

This clip is part of a video made by award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, which exposes the negative consequences of a federal judiciary that is increasingly opposed to civil rights protections. Mr. Nelson puts a human face on what has come to be known as the “rollback” of civil rights.

Greenwire: Prenatal exposures prompt EPA to re-examine chemical regulations.

U.S. EPA regulators convened with scientists last month to discuss how to design regulations for chemicals based on emerging science that connects exposures during pregnancy with disease much later in life.

A mother exchanges with her child in the womb chemicals that have remained constant for much of human evolution. They dictate which genes will be turned on and off in the child, which proteins the child will make in his body and how much of them.

New research, in a field called epigenetics, now suggests that these changes, made during the earliest part of gestation, could spell out the child’s longer-term medical record. It could determine his propensity for mood swings, his tendency to gain weight into the realms of obesity, his risk of developing cardiovascular disease or cancer when he hits 50, and his propensity of passing on his genes to his children.

The idea is that the child adapts to environmental cues in the womb that will reflect the chemical composition of the world, thus conferring a Darwinian fitness advantage.

The mix of chemicals a fetus is exposed to has exploded in the past 200 years, heralded by the Industrial Revolution. Technology has outstripped evolution, said Robert Chapin, senior research fellow in drug safety research and development at Pfizer Inc. People were suddenly surrounded by particulate matter from cars, coal-plant emissions, metals, organic molecules from hand sanitizers, body lotions and other chemicals, some of which could cross into the placenta and merge into the child’s aqueous world.

Some, such as folic acid, were intentionally given to moms as beneficial; others such as bisphenol A became common in the modern environment and had the ability to mimic hormones that are naturally present in humans. Yet others, such as arsenic and tin, are naturally present in some places.

Scientists now suspect that the altered chemical cues during the critical windows of pregnancy — at stages when gender is still developing and the human is little more than a collection of cells — could trigger pathways that manifest as disease well into adulthood.

More . . .

You can link to an illuminating podcast interview, titled “Better Living Through Chemistryfrom the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), here.

Here is PSR’s brief description of the interview:

We depend on chemicals in consumer products to perform as expected, and to be safe. But our regulatory system is not adequately protecting us from potential hazards in our food cans, diapers, shower curtains, baby bottles, and other consumer products. Listen to Washington State PSR President, Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist, together with pediatric urologist and Phsicians for Social Responsibility (“PSR”) board member Dr. Rich Grady, discuss chemicals policy in an illuminating radio interview, touching on “chemical trespass,” the precautionary approach to chemical regulation, and the importance of state-level policy change. They also discuss the federal bills, currently before Congress, intended to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act — including the need to strengthen these bills. The interview was aired on Seattle radio station KEXP on June 19, 2010.

Listen to the interview here (mp3, 10 MB).

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