Archives for category: Asthma

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.”

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.

From :

Is eating organic more expensive? In the long-run the answer would be NO. Synthetic pesticides or fertilizers used on vegetables and fruits affects our health. Pesticides have demonstrably elevated rates of asthma, leukemia, and prostate cancer.

From Forbes:

The debate over air pollution and, more specifically, the regulation of air pollution, raged on this week as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) watered down its cross-state pollution rule and House Republicans moved to delay new rules on toxic air pollution from cement plants, solid waste incinerators, and industrial boilers.  These latest debates come on the heels of President Obama’s move last monthto reneg on promises to tighten up smog standards, a decision that angered environmentalists and led to speculation that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson might be ready to walk. In all cases, the argument against regulation goes something like this: The last thing a down economy needs is new regulation, and the EPA is overstepping its boundaries.

These arguments center largely around the idea that current air pollution regulation is good enough as-is, and that any further restrictions are aimed at tackling environmental issues and climate change, both typically seen as luxuries in a down economy. But research is continuing to pile up in support of the claim that not only are current air pollution regulations inadequate, but that air pollution is very much a public health issue.

When viewed through the public health lens, the economic arguments against regulation of air pollution begin to unravel, particularly in the face of rising healthcare costs. Consider, for example, a spate of new studies that have found a rather convincing correlation between the presence of small particulate matter (PM2.5, the ultrafine particles blown into the air by road traffic, coal-fired power plants, industrial manufacturing, and residential wood fuel combustion) and both obesity and diabetes.

Medical research has long supported the fact that exposure to ultrafine particulate matter increases the risk of various respiratory, cardiovascular, and pulmonary illnesses. Incidences of asthma, heart attacks, and chronic bronchitis are all higher in areas where the concentration of ultrafine particulate matter is higher. The correlation between particulate matter and these health issues is particularly pronounced in children, as well as low-income communities, which are often located closer to the sources of particulate matter (highways, factories, power plants) than their higher income neighbors.

Over the past decade, new studies have emerged that link air pollution to two of this country’s most pressing (and expensive) health epidemics: obesity and type II diabetes. Both are not only on the rise in terms of diagnoses, but also in terms of the costs associated with treatment. According to a January 2011 study by the Society of Actuaries, the current cost of the obesity epidemic in the United States is $270 billion a year.  The American Diabetes Association puts the current cost of dealing with diabetes (over 90 percent of U.S. diabetes cases are type II) at $174 billion. According to the Center for Disease Control, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism in the United States, and the cost of treating asthma in children 18 and under alone is $3.2 billion per year. Meanwhile, financial analysts estimate the cost of tightened air pollution regulations at $130 billion. Granted, these are not budget line items that are easily swapped in for each other, but a tie-in to obesity and diabetes may just make tackling air pollution more economically viable.

Of course, no one is saying, “hey, forget about diet and exercise, just take care of air pollution!” Nonetheless, even after controlling for factors such as genetics, income levels, weight, diet and exercise, Harvard researchers found a “consistent and significant” relationship between Type II diabetes prevalence and exposure to ultrafine particulate matter in a recent study.

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From Environmental Health News:

Cumulative risk assessment posits that multiple agents work together to induce disease and that multiple stressors therefore must be considered in order to gain a true understanding of why adverse health effects occur.  Now a small but growing number of scientists are pushing the envelope by investigating whether chronic psychological stress might be one of those factors, enhancing a child’s vulnerability to certain chemical exposures and contributing to effects that later show up as asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and other problems. These researchers are also starting to identify biomarkers that may shed light on the mechanisms by which psychological stress acts on a child’s developing immune system and brain to modify or enhance the response to certain pollution exposures such as
traffic-related air pollutants and lead.

“We really don’t know how broadly such interactions may occur across chemicals. They are much more likely to occur when the chemical itself acts directly upon stress systems,” says Deborah Cory-Slechta, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry.

“We know some chemicals that interact with stress, such as lead exposure, but we don’t know which others do.”

Observations of links between stress and disease date back to at least the twelfth century, when the philosopher Maimonides cited emotional upset as a factor in asthma. But proving such links poses a significant challenge, says Malcolm P. Cutchin, a professor at the School of Medicine of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Much has been hypothesized about the linkages, but we are just now beginning to tease out relationships and understand the processes,” Cutchin says. As researchers have learned more about techniques that can identify chemical and stress exposures in the human body, they have begun to apply techniques to estimate how people respond to stress and how that response, if it goes awry, can facilitate the development of diseases.

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From Arizona Daily Star:

Infants and very young children in Tucson exposed to high levels of vehicle diesel pollution are more likely than other kids to suffer from early childhood wheezing, a potential asthma indicator.

That’s the finding of a new University of Arizona study, the first in Tucson to link vehicle air pollution to respiratory problems in children.

Based on a study of 700 people, it found a connection between the diesel exposures and what’s known as “transient wheezing,” which starts in infancy and goes away at about age 5 or 6, said Paloma Beamer, an assistant UA professor of environmental health sciences and a principal investigator and one of six researchers on the study.

The study compared children from census tracts with the highest diesel emissions, including areas along Interstates 10 and 19 and the Aviation Parkway, with kids in the entire metro area. The researchers got the diesel data from the Environmental Protection Agency. The main sources of the diesel emissions were trucks, buses and trains.

The study found that children with higher diesel exposure were 1 1/2 times more likely than other kids to have a respiratory illness that included wheezing in their first three years of life. They were nearly twice as likely to have transient wheezing in early childhood that went away by age 6, Beamer said.

In short, young kids who wheeze “are more likely to have diesel exposure than those who don’t wheeze,” said a second UA researcher who worked on the study, Anne Wright, a professor of pediatrics.

Wright is also a founder and a co-principal investigator of a much broader research effort known as the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study from which the kids studied in the wheezing research were drawn. The larger respiratory study has monitored the health of a target group of Tucsonans since they were newborns back in 1980.

Wheezing is a constriction in the lungs that sounds like whistling and makes it hard for air to move in and out of the lungs. A majority of children have wheezing problems in the first few years of their lives due to viral infections, but for most of them it goes away later, Wright said.

Later in life, wheezing is more common among allergy sufferers and is a leading symptom of asthma for older people. For younger kids, wheezing patterns are more complicated, Wright said. A lot of kids who get asthma later in life will wheeze in their early years, but most kids who wheeze in their early years do not go on to have asthma, she said.

The association between diesel exhaust exposure and transient wheezing was stronger in kids whose parents don’t smoke, Beamer said. With kids of smokers, the smoking is a much bigger factor than the diesel emissions affecting the kids’ respiratory health.

Kids of mothers without at least a high school diploma also had a higher chance of being affected by the diesel particulate emissions, she said.

“Those households may already be under other types of socio-economic stress,” Beamer said.

Numerous university studies in the Los Angeles area have in the past decade linked a variety of health problems to living near and breathing fumes from freeways. They include respiratory ailments, autism, premature births and hardening of the arteries.

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From Los Angeles Times:

To understand the latest brouhaha about safe levels of ozone, it helps to understand the difference between science and policy.

First the back story. In 2008, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson, reduced the allowable level of ozone in the air from 84 parts per billion to 75 ppb. Johnson said the change would lead to cleaner air and improve public health.

However, the EPA’s independent advisory panel had recommended that the limit be set even lower, in the range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb. Critics, including scientists, environmental advocates and medical associations, such as the American Thoracic Society, accused Johnson and the George W. Bush administration of prioritizing the economic concerns of polluters over the interests of the general public.

Depending on your point of view, you may see things Johnson’s way or you may side with his critics. But the process worked exactly as it was supposed to, with scientists analyzing the data and policymakers exercising their authority to take other factors into consideration, says Dr. Roger McClellan, a toxicologist and former chairman of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. “They were an advisory panel, not a standard-setting panel,” he says.

Fast-forward to the Obama administration. Lisa Jackson is now the EPA administrator, and she wanted to revisit the ozone standard. She asked the current members of the advisory panel to take another look at the data, and they agreed with the previous panel’s conclusion that lowering the standard to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb range would have beneficial effects on public health. In a 2010 regulatory impact analysis report, the agency estimated that setting the limit at 70 ppb would prevent about 2,200 heart attacks, 23,000 asthma attacks and between 1,500 and 4,300 premature deaths each year; a limit of 60 ppb would avert 5,300 heart attacks, 58,000 asthma attacks and 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths.

So this month, when President Obama put the kibosh on any reconsideration of the ozone standard, all those who railed before railed again.

The Clean Air Act mandates that the standards for certain pollutants, including ozone, be revisited every five years. So even as the advisory panel was digging into the old reports to answer Jackson’s queries, its members have also started reviewing more recent evidence for 2013, says the current committee chairman, Dr. Jonathan Samet, professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

Here’s a closer look at the scientific case against ozone.

What is ozone?

Ozone is the main component of smog and is created when certain volatile chemicals emitted from cars and factories react with sunlight. The ozone level in Southern California frequently is higher than the EPA standard, with the South Coast Air Basin out of compliance on 109 days last year, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

How is ozone harmful to health?

Ozone is a gas that you inhale with the surrounding air. It can cause irritation and inflammation of the airways as well as coughing and shortness of breath. These effects depend on the concentration of ozone in the air you’re breathing, how rapidly and deeply you’re breathing and your own sensitivity to the pollutant.

Researchers have documented wide variability in people’s symptoms when they are exposed to controlled levels of ozone. These experiments usually have young, healthy nonsmokers breathing high concentrations of ozone — greater than 80 ppb and sometimes as high as 120 ppb — for six to eight hours. Subjects spend up to half of that time exercising, forcing them to inhale more of the pollutant.

The EPA panel said it was a “scientific certainty” that under these conditions, ozone decreases lung function (as measured by the amount of air a person breathes out when exhaling as hard as possible). The decline, of at least 10%, may sound small, but it is considered “clinically relevant,” according to the American Thoracic Society. Even when ozone levels were only 60 ppb, one study found that two out of 30 healthy subjects had at least a 10% decrease in lung function and six others showed symptoms of respiratory distress. That report was published in 2006 in the journal Inhalation Toxicology.

Who is most at risk?

The problem worsens for certain groups of people, notably children, seniors and those with asthma or other respiratory health issues.

* * *

What are the public health consequences of having too much ozone?

Researchers in real-world settings have correlated ozone-level spikes to increased mortality and greater numbers of emergency room visits for respiratory problems.

For example, Delfino and his colleagues studied more than 23,000 emergency room admissions at 25 Montreal hospitals in the summer of 1993. They found that on days after the ozone level was at or above the average of 36 ppb, the number of older patients with respiratory symptoms who came to the ER jumped by 21%. However, ER visits for patients younger than 64 with respiratory symptoms or for patients with other kinds of health problems did not vary with ozone level. The results were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“Hundreds of similar studies have been done throughout the world,” Delfino says.

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From CNN Health:

Catherine Garceau doesn’t go to the pool anymore. The former Olympic swimmer has trained at many fitness centers over the years that smelled strongly of chlorine. While most would assume that means the water is clean, Garceau now knows it’s just the opposite.

After winning bronze in 2000 with the Canadian synchronized swimming team in Sydney, Australia, Garceau was a “mess.” Her digestive system was in turmoil, she had chronic bronchitis and she suffered from frequent migraines.

Garceau retired in 2002 and began looking into holistic medicine. Experts suggested detoxifying her body to rid it of chemicals, including what fellow teammates used to jokingly refer to as “eau de chlorine — the swimmer’s perfume.”

“As part of my journey to determine the factors that affected my health, I delved into the possible effects of chlorine and discovered some shocking facts,” Garceau writes in the appendix of her upcoming book, “Heart of Bronze.”

Outdoor pool season is ending in many parts of the country, and competitive swimmers are heading indoors for their workouts and team meets. But how safe are the waters they’re diving into? Researchers are examining the longterm effects of the chemicals in pool water.

Chlorine inactivates most disease-causing germs within a fraction of a second. That’s why it’s found in our drinking water as well as 95% of pools in the United States, said Dr. Tom Lachocki, the CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

As Lachocki points out, access to clean water is what often separates first and third world countries. Without chlorine, swimmers are at risk of contracting many dangerous waterborne illnesses. But the chemical compounds formed in pools have some scientists worried.

“When you open up a tap and pour yourself a glass of water, you don’t normally put someone’s backside in it,” Lachocki said. “But in a pool there are people getting into that water. Every time a person gets in they’re adding contaminants.”

Those contaminants — sweat, hair, urine, makeup, sunscreen, etc. — combine with chlorine to form chloramines, said pool consultant and researcher Alan Lewis. Chloramines are what bathers smell when they enter a pool area; a strong smell indicates too many “disinfectant byproducts,” or DBPs, in the water.

Indoor pools create an additional a danger because of the enclosed atmosphere. Volatile chemicals from the water are transferred, often via vigorous activity like a swim team’s kicks, to the air. Without a proper ventilation system, the chemicals can hang around to be inhaled by coaches, lifeguards or spectators.

Some DBPs, like chloroform, are known as trihalomethanes, and are considered carcinogenic, Lewis said. They’ve been linked specifically to bladder and colorectal cancer.

Dr. Alfred Bernard is a professor of toxicology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels and one of the world’s leading researchers on aquatic environments. He has published a series of studies documenting the effects of chlorine and its byproducts in swimming pools.

In June, Bernard published a study in the International Journal of Andrology linking chlorine with testicular damage. Swimming in indoor, chlorinated pools during childhood was shown to reduce levels of serum inhibin B and total testosterone, both indicators of sperm count and mobility. Bernard notes in the study summary that the “highly permeable scrotum” allows chlorine to be absorbed into the body.

Bernard has also substantiated previous studies’ claims of a link between swimming in indoor chlorinated pools and the development of asthma and recurrent bronchitis in children. His 2007 study showed airway and lung permeability changes in children who had participated in an infant swimming group.

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From Newcastle Herald:

Overwhelming evidence exists that coalmining and the burning of coal is harmful to health and can have a significant effect on communities, a medical study to be published today has found.

The Medical Journal of Australia article also declares that to persist in mining and burning coal will condemn future generations to catastrophic climate change, which the study’s authors say is the biggest health problem of the future.

The Hunter Valley is singled out as cause for concern, with a parallel drawn between coalmines opening and the region’s inhabitants developing depression, anxiety and ill health.

The authors, William Castleden, David Shearman, George Crisp and Philip Finch, are from Western Australia’s Fremantle Hospital, Perth Pain Management Centre and Murdoch University, and South Australia’s University of Adelaide and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

They said concerns about the expansion of coalmining were growing.

As a result, doctors were being asked about coal and its effects on health.

The article said Australian work on the subject was lacking, but limited evidence suggested health effects were similar to those reported in other developed countries, such as the United States.

Deaths and injuries to miners, lung disease, and coal transport’s traffic accident risk and greenhouse gas emissions are raised in the article.

So too potential environmental damage to water supplies and air pollution.

The Hunter Valley is highlighted in regard to social and mental health concerns.

‘‘Coalmining can change the lifestyle and character of a community,’’ the article said. ‘‘Medical practitioners in coalmining areas have reported that increases in asthma, stress and mental ill health have become more common.

‘‘As more coalmines are opened, as has occurred in the Hunter Valley in NSW, the social fabric of a region changes, the role and function of a township alters, and many inhabitants of these regions have developed depression, anxiety and ill health.’’

Also flagged in the study were the potentially heightened risk of premature death for people living near coal-burning power plants, and release of toxic elements with coal combustion, such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

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From ProPublica:

On a summer evening in June 2005, Susan Wallace-Babb went out into a neighbor’s field near her ranch in Western Colorado to close an irrigation ditch. She parked down the rutted double-track, stepped out of her truck into the low-slung sun, took a deep breath, and collapsed, unconscious.

A natural gas well and a pair of fuel storage tanks sat less than a half-mile away. Later, after Wallace-Babb came to and sought answers, a sheriff’s deputy told her that a tank full of gas condensate — liquid hydrocarbons gathered from the production process — had overflowed into another tank. The fumes must have drifted toward the field where she was working, he suggested.

The next morning Wallace-Babb was so sick she could barely move. She vomited uncontrollably and suffered explosive diarrhea. A searing pain shot up her thigh. Within days she developed burning rashes that covered her exposed skin, then lesions. As weeks passed, any time she went outdoors, her symptoms worsened. Wallace-Babb’s doctor began to suspect she had been poisoned.

“I took to wearing a respirator and swim goggles outside to tend to my animals,” Wallace-Babb said. “I closed up my house and got an air conditioner that would just recycle the air and not let any fresh air in.”

Wallace-Babb’s symptoms mirror those reported by a handful of others living near her ranch in Parachute, Colo., and by dozens of residents of communities across the country that have seen the most extensive natural gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing, along with other processes used to drill wells, generates emissions and millions of gallons of hazardous waste that are dumped into open-air pits. The pits have been shown to leak into groundwater and also give off chemical emissions as the fluids evaporate. Residents’ most common complaints are respiratory infections, headaches, neurological impairment, nausea and skin rashes. More rarely, they have reported more serious effects, from miscarriages and tumors to benzene poisoning and cancer.

ProPublica examined government environmental reports and private lawsuits, and interviewed scores of residents, physicians and toxicologists in four states — Colorado, Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania — that are drilling hot spots. Our review showed that cases like Wallace-Babb’s go back a decade in parts of Colorado and Wyoming, where drilling has taken place for years. They are just beginning to emerge in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale drilling boom began in earnest in 2008.

Concern about such health complaints is longstanding — Congress held hearings on them in 2007 at which Wallace-Babb testified. But the extent and cause of the problems remains unknown. Neither states nor the federal government have systematically tracked reports from people like Wallace-Babb, or comprehensively investigated how drilling affects human health.

“In some communities it has been a disaster,” said Christopher Portier, director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health. “We do not have enough information on hand to be able to draw good solid conclusions about whether this is a public health risk as a whole.”

Exemptions from federal environmental rules won by the drilling companies have complicated efforts to gather pollution data and to understand the root of health complaints. Current law allows oil and gas companies not to report toxic emissions and hazardous waste released by all but their largest facilities, excluding hundreds of thousands of wells and small plants. Many of the chemicals used in fracking and drilling remain secret, hobbling investigators trying to determine the source of contamination. The gas industry itself has been less than enthusiastic about health studies. Drillers declined to cooperate with a long-term study of the health effects of gas drilling near Wallace-Babb’s town this summer, prompting state officials to drop their plans and start over.

These factors make a difficult epidemiological challenge even tougher. Doctors and toxicologists say symptoms reported by people working or living near the gas fields are often transient and irregular. They say they need precise data on the prevalence and onset of medical conditions, as well as from air and water sampling, to properly assess the hazards of drilling.

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From Leadership:

Why are some people predisposed to being anxious, overweight or asthmatic? Why are some of us prone to heart attacks, diabetes or high blood pressure? You may say it’s our genes. Or our childhood experiences: How we were treated especially during those crucial first three years. Or maybe our well-being stem from lifestyle choices we make as adults, like our diet and how much exercise we get.

But what about your life in the womb? The nutrition you received; the pollutants, medicines and infections you were exposed to; your mother’s health, stress and state of mind while she was pregnant with you – pioneers in the controversial field of fetal origins say these factors shaped you as a baby – and for the rest of your life.

They assert the nine months in the womb permanently influence the wiring of the brain, the functioning of organs such as the heart, liver and pancreas, how prone we are to disease, our appetite and metabolism, our intelligence and temperament.

Much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life – the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the chemicals she’s exposed to, even the emotions she feels – are shared with her fetus. It incorporates these into its own body, making them part of its flesh and blood.

Research on fetal origins, also called the developmental origins of health and disease, is prompting revolutionary shifts in thinking about where human qualities come from and when they develop.

* * *

Two decades ago, a British doctor named David Barker noticed an odd . pattern on a map: The poorest regions  of England and Wales had the highest rates of heart disease. But heart disease was supposed to be due to a sedentary lifestyle and rich food?
After comparing the health of 15,000 adults with their birth weights, he discovered an unexpected link between small birth size, often an indication of poor prenatal nutrition, and heart disease in middle age.

Dr Barker theorized that when a fetus does not get enough nutrition, it diverts nutrients to the brain, while skimping on other parts of its body. This shows up in later life as a weaker heart.

When he presented his findings to colleagues, he was mocked. “Heart disease was supposed to be all about
genetics or adult lifestyle,” says Dr Barker, now 72, and a professor at the University of Southampton in  England and at Oregon Health and Science University. “People scoffed at the idea that it could have anything to do with intrauterine experience.”
For years, the idea was just known as the Barker hypothesis. But in time, it began to win converts. Dr Janet Rich-Edwards, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analysed findings from the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-running investigation of more than 120,000 nurses in the US.

* * *

The good news is that fetal researchers are also finding out that life in the womb can make things go better for your child in later life.

* * *

Take your weight. Two studies by researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest your mother’s weight affects  yours. One study found that the more weight a woman gains during pregnancy, the more likely her child is to be overweight by age three.

* * *

“The bodies of the children conceived after their mothers had weight-loss surgery process fats and carbohydrates in a healthier way than the bodies of their brothers and sisters  who were conceived at a time when their mothers were still overweight,” says John Kral, a professor of surgery and medicine and a co-author of both papers.

“It may be the intrauterine or womb environment is more important than genes or shared eating habits in passing on a tendency to be obese,” says Professor Kral. If that’s so, helping women maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy may be the best hope for stopping obesity before it starts.

* * *

How does air pollution affect a baby in the womb? More than 30 years ago, [Upstream Contributor] Dr. Frederica Perera, the director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University, was researching air pollution and cancer in adults. “I was looking for control subjects to compare to adults. I wanted individuals completely untouched by pollution,” she says.

She decided to use babies just out of the womb as her controls. So she sent samples of umbilical-cord blood and placental tissue to a laboratory to be analysed. When she got the results back, “I was shocked. These samples already had evidence of contamination.”

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From The Atlantic:

The evening of September 11, 2001, after the towers fell and a torrent of toxic dust inundated the arteries of downtown New York City, Mariama James returned to her Lower Manhattan home, to a white apartment. “Every inch was covered in dust,” she says of her Southbridge towers unit, located just blocks from where the World Trade Center stood that morning. “It was a beautiful day and my windows were wide open,” she recalls.

James was 8 1/2 months pregnant at the time. “My children were completely covered in dust, they couldn’t escape it,” she says of her son and daughter, then 9 and 6 years old. “I swept, I vacuumed, but you couldn’t get rid of it, it was everywhere. It’s like if you took pounds and pounds of chalk and chopped it up and rolled around in it for four days. … You know that feeling when you hit two erasers together and breathe it in? This was like sticking the entire eraser down your throat.”

Two years after the attacks her eldest daughter Armani, now 15, started experiencing chronic sinuses infections, ear infections, throat infections, and a persistent cough. Soon after that all three of her children, including her newborn daughter, had a host of health conditions including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and acid reflux. They were seeing a pediatric pulmonologist once a month without fail and were missing school more than any child probably should. At one point, each child was on at least seven different medications.

“I initially came to the conclusion that my kids were sick from 9/11 on my own, but my pediatrician just didn’t buy it at all,” says James, adding that both of her older children were more of less healthy prior to the attacks. “I still love my pediatrician, but I only go to him for regular annual visits.”

All of James’ children are now being treated in the pediatric program at the  World Trade Center Environmental Health Center, which operates out of Bellevue Hospital in New York City. A study based on the Dept of Health and Mental Hygeine’s WTC Health Registry cites that 25,000 children were either living or attending school in Lower Manhattan the day of the attacks, and projects that tens of thousands more “were in the path of the plume of building debris and smoke, close enough to inhale particulates and toxic substances.”

Dr. Elizabeth Fiorino, a pediatric pulmonologist who joined the WTCEHC’s pediatric program in 2009, says that most common ailments she encounters in patients are upper and lower respiratory conditions, mostly asthma and allergic rhinitis. “We also see acid reflux disease and a variety of behavioral, learning and mental health issues,” she says. Fiorino contends that the pediatric program at the Health Center is best equipped to deal with 9/11-related issues because it is “a multidisciplinary program.”

During the initial four-hour visit, she says, “we do a full evaluation, with a full history including exposure history. We do pulmonary function tests that same day, which is definitely different from what would occur in a general pediatrician’s office, and we also do a full mental health screening.” She is quick to note, however, that the pediatric program is “more of a consultative service working with the child’s own pediatrician.”

Similarly, Terry Miles, the World Trade Environmental Health Center’s executive director, classifies the program at large as a specialized expertise service that is not intended to act as a replacement for a child or adult’s medical home: “We’re not trying to take people away from their community physicians. Rather, there is a certain level of expertise that we’ve developed because we do what we do. We have learned to understand the cause and effect, the nuances of the difference between 9/11-related asthma and regular asthma, and the more detailed diagnostic procedures that might be called for to address these issues.”

Yet for all the expertise and resources available at the Health Center, and the estimated number of children exposed to toxic dust, there is a shockingly small number of children actually utilizing those resources. Just under 80 children are enrolled in the pediatric program. Dr. Fiorino surmises that “there probably isn’t as big of an impetus for parents to seek care here [at the pediatric program] as opposed to the adult exposed population, because in New York state we’re lucky enough that kids pretty much have universal health care.” (The program treats patients free of cost.)

She adds that after the attacks, “pediatricians in the area stepped up. Kids got care in their medical home right after the disaster. Many of the common conditions that at least we’re seeing are fairly common conditions in the pediatric population as a whole, and are conditions that a general pediatrician will definitely be comfortable treating.”

Many parents also simply don’t know that the Center exists. The creation of the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center as we know it today was only announced in 2006, with Mayor Bloomberg funneling $16 million to the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation to expand an already extant WTC clinic at Bellevue. (The announcement of two new Center locations soon followed.)  The Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene only issued its WTC pediatric clinical guidelines in 2009. Miles maintains that simply reaching the lower Manhattan population has been difficult.

“There is a common misconception about what lower Manhattan is,” he says. “People don’t realize the diversity of the population–socio-economically, culturally. And so it takes a variety of methods to reach those people. We’ve learned that no one way works. Effective ways have been to work with community organizations, with labor organizations so that they reach out to their communities. Yet even that is met with its own challenges.”

The lack of patient inflow is certainly not for lack of trying. “There have been a lot of efforts to reach to these communities. We have been running ad campaigns for the past few years that has worked to bring in hundreds of new patients,” says Miles referring to subway posters that asked “Lived there? Worked there? You deserve care,” as well as print, radio and television spots that began airing in 2008. “But should it have been thousands,” he adds.

Another key to understanding why so few families have come forward to enroll their children in the program may lie in unraveling the psyche of New York City parents. “We’ve seen 10 different layers of denial come into play when it comes to people’s health as it relates to 9/11,” says Kimberly Flynn, Executive and co-founder of 9/11 Environmental Action, an activist organization that fought for proper cleanup of affected communities following the attacks, “People don’t want to admit they are sick, or admit that their children are sick. They have a hard time tolerating the idea that 9/11 is still with them.”

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From Los Angeles Times:

We’ve all heard that the overuse of antibiotics is making them less effective and fueling the rise of dangerous drug-resistant bacteria. But did you know it may also be fueling the rise of obesity, diabetes, allergies and asthma?

So says Dr. Martin Blaser, microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center who studies the myriad bacteria that live on and in our bodies. He explains his theory in a commentary published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature.

In recent years, scientists have developed a growing appreciation for the “microbiome,” the collection of mostly useful bacteria that help us digest food, metabolize key nutrients and ward off invading pathogens. Investigators have cataloged thousands of these organisms through the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, begun in 2008.

Blaser is interested in why so many bacteria have colonized the human body for so long – the simple fact that they have strongly suggests that they serve some useful purpose. But these bacteria have come under attack in the last 80 or so years thanks to the development of antibiotics. The drugs certainly deserve some of the credit for extending the U.S. lifespan, Blaser notes – a baby born today can expect to live 78 years, 15 years longer than a baby born in 1940. But in many respects, an antibiotic targets a particular disease the way a nuclear bomb targets a criminal, causing much collateral damage to things you’d rather not destroy.

“Antibiotics kill the bacteria we do want, as well as those we don’t,” Blaser writes. “Sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover.”

And that can leave us more susceptible to various kinds of diseases, especially considering that the typical American is exposed to 10 to 20 antibiotics during childhood alone. Blaser points out that the rise (let along overuse) of antibiotics coincides with dramatic increases in the prevalence of allergies, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. That isn’t proof that the two are related, but it’s a question worth exploring, he says.

Take the case of Helicobacter pylori. As Blaser explains, this bacterium was “the dominant microbe in the stomachs of almost all people” in the early 1900s. But 100 years later, it is found in less than 6% of American, Swedish and German kids. One likely reason is that a single course of amoxicillin or another antibiotic to treat an ear or respiratory infection can wipe out H. pylori 20% to 50% of the time.

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From WFPL News:

You can’t see the smokestacks of the Cane Run Power Station from Stephanie Hogan’s home, even though she lives a block away. And while the power plant isn’t visible, it’s still a looming presence in Hogan’s life.

“Oh, he breathes so bad, he sounds like Darth Vader.” Hogan shakes her head, and her two-year-old son Cody wheezes. “You ain’t even been running.”

The family bought their trailer near the Louisville Gas and Electric-operated power plant about 15 months ago, and since then, Cody has developed serious respiratory problems. Eventually, his mom took him to a specialist, who pinpointed the potential cause of Cody’s sickness.

“I think it was the second visit, she asked where we lived,” Hogan said. “And I told her, and she said ‘oh, you live next to that power plant. You need to move.’”

But Hogan can’t move. She’s trapped by her trailer’s low resale value, as well as her son’s rising medical expenses. Cody has asthma. He’s had tubes installed in his ears twice and three times he’s come down with an unexplained fever. Hogan estimates she spent nearly $4,000 in doctor’s visits and medication last year.

She says the culprit is coal ash: the sometimes-fine, sometimes-chunky material that’s leftover after coal is burned. It coats her porch, and she doesn’t let Cody play outside anymore, no matter how much he begs.

* * *

Coal generates more than half of the nation’s energy and it’s burned in power plants in all but four states. One inevitable byproduct of burning coal is ash, and there’s a lot of coal ash in America.

So much, in fact, that “you could fill the boxcars of a freight train that would stretch from New York City to Melbourne, Australia every year with the coal ash that American power plants generate,” Jeff Stant said. He’s the director of the Environmental Integrity Project’s Coal Combustion Waste Initiative.

“A lot of this ash has got the consistency of talc. People breathe it in, their lungs never get rid of it. It has metals that cross the lung’s tissue into the blood stream. There have been studies done of the exposure of rats to this dust and other lab animals, and the results have been very disturbing.”

At the Cane Run plant, the ash is stored in a landfill and a pond. The pond is invisible from the road, but the landfill is pretty obvious: huge piles of slate-grey coal ash rising off the banks of the Ohio River. At the base of the landfill is a pauper’s cemetery.

“It’s kinda fitting, you know,” Kathy Little said, walking through the cemetery. “It really is because that’s where they want to be, within the poorest of the poor areas.”

Little lives in one of the houses facing the power plant. The Cane Run Power Station is one of three area LG&E coal-fired plants. It burns 1.3 million tons of coal every year. Last year, it produced 160,000 tons of coal ash.

Before the ash is placed in a landfill, it’s mixed with different materials that create a cement-like consistency. It’s loaded into piles, which is where LG&E’s Mike Winkler says it stays.

“It’s plenty heavy enough to stay in place,” he said. “And during the placement process if it’s too dry, then it’s wetted. We’ll have trucks that come through and spray it to give it wetness. But it’s got enough moisture in it that it doesn’t blow off in general.”

But as we walk down the street, Little points to the air above the landfill.

“Yeah. There it goes,” she said. “You see the black up there? If you notice, you’ll see some ash blowing. That’s what they’re trying to keep on their property, and it’s not happening.”

Sure enough, ash wisps are flying off. They end up on nearby porches and siding. For the neighbors, this is annoying, and also worrisome. Samples taken by the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District and, most recently, LG&E itself have confirmed the presence of fly ash on several area homes.

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From Houston Chronicle:

rom Dana Janczak’s home in a secluded rural area east of Cleveland, it’s a 40-mile ride to the nearest asthma doctor in Kingwood, so she tries to keep trips to a minimum by stocking up on nebulizers: four in her house and two in her car.

Janczak is one of 25 million Americans who suffer from asthma, but what distinguishes her and other rural residents in the Houston region — which has the highest prevalence of asthma in Texas — is that, despite her best efforts, she still has ended up in the hospital three times.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of state health records found that rural Cleveland in Liberty County has the highest rate of hospitalization for asthma-related conditions in the 10-county region. In the Houston area overall, nearly 10,000 people were hospitalized between 2007 and 2009 for asthma, according to data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“We had to live in the ER for a while,” Janczak recalls of her most serious attack in 2007. “I felt like my airway was closed. I heard my husband’s voice was getting farther and farther away.”

Liberty County health professionals say several factors contribute to the elevated hospitalization rate, such as a high percentage of smokers and the fact that much of the area is densely covered by woods and their naturally aggravating allergens. But the primary factor, they say, is likely the lack of access to medical care.

“We have few pediatricians in Liberty,” said Alexis Cordova, president of the Liberty County Health Awareness Coalition. “We have limited health care, which means people don’t take their children to doctors as often so their respiratory problems become more serious.”

Other rural areas such as Coldspring and Shepherd in San Jacinto County also had significantly elevated hospitalization rates. Experts attribute that mainly to one thing: Urban areas, with more health care options, are better equipped to treat the respiratory disease that kills almost 4,000 people and puts 456,000 Americans in hospitals every year.

“(Asthma) specialty services are really concentrated in urban areas,” said Dr. William Calhoun, a lung disease professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “In Central and West Texas, up to the Panhandle, there are entire counties that don’t have pulmonary or allergy specialists.”

* * *

Uniformly, though, the areas in the greater Houston region that also have elevated hospitalization rates for asthma are all in pockets where the median household income is lower than the average.

Sunnyside, mere miles from the Texas Medical Center and its dense knot of top-notch medical clinics, ranked second-highest in its hospitalization rate in the Chronicle analysis. With a household median income level of $17,000, however, it is much poorer than the rest of Harris County where the median income is nearly $43,000, suggesting poverty may be the greatest single contributor.

* * *

Generally, the east side of Houston – with the Ship Channel and an array of oil refineries – has a higher rate of asthma hospitalizations than the west.

North Pasadena, La Porte, Highlands and Baytown – which are all along the Ship Channel – have higher than average rates. So do La Marque and west Texas City, near the oil and gas facilities in Galveston County.

“You’re right in the road of refineries and that is a very significant source of pollution, and pollution is documented to trigger asthma,” said Dr. Harold Farber, a professor and pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital. “I know some pediatricians have said when the wind from the refineries is blowing in our direction, you get more kids coming into the office with asthma.”

* * *

Medical research shows that environmental factors can trigger asthma attacks, including air pollution, secondhand smoke, dust mites and even cockroach allergens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that higher levels of the ozone pollutant is a significant risk to asthma patients, and the Houston region is classified as being in “severe nonattainment” by EPA standards.

* * *

The CDC says the asthma rate has been increasing steadily over the past decade: while about 20 million people, or 7 percent of the population, had asthma in 2001, 25 million had it in 2009.

In 2007, the total charges for asthma hospitalizations in Texas were more than $446 million, according to the report conducted in 2009 by the state health department. While a third of that is paid by private insurance firms, more than half falls to Medicare and Medicaid.

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