Archives for category: Food

From Associated Press:

John Adams can’t see the nearly 3,000 cows on the dairy farm two miles from his Wisconsin home, but when the wind blows he can smell them.

The stench gives him and his wife headaches. They blame the big farm for contaminating their air and polluting the groundwater well they use for drinking, bathing and watering their garden. They no longer feel safe eating the vegetables they grow.

Adams also blames the state, which requires local governments to grant permits to large farms that meet certain limited criteria, even if there are additional environmental concerns. The rural farming town where he lives tried to impose stricter rules, only to be overruled by the state agriculture department.

Adams and seven neighbors, along with the town of Magnolia, sued the state and the farm in the first case of its kind to reach a state supreme court and the result could set a precedent throughout the Midwest. Similar cases have been filed in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma, and two juries in Missouri have already handed out multimillion-dollar awards to homeowners who complained of intolerable odors from so-called factory farms.

At the same time, several states have passed or are considering laws that would make it easier for big farms to get permits. Lawmakers say the move creates uniformity, allowing farms to expand under predictable circumstances, and strengthens one of the few industries that didn’t tank in the recession.

Critics argue the laws deprive residents of a voice.

“A township should have the right to establish guidelines to keep its people safe, but it doesn’t,” said Adams, 61. “Those of us who are being affected, it’s like there’s nothing we can do.”

The owner of the big farm, Mike Larson, supports the state law. Consistency across the state makes it easier for farmers to expand and, in turn, strengthens the dairy industry in the nation’s No. 2 milk-producing state, he said.

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From The Atlantic:

The latest skirmish in the battle over bisphenol A (BPA) — the synthetic chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics, to make the epoxy resins that line food and beverage cans, and as developers in thermal receipt papers — came last week when the Breast Cancer Fund, an Oakland-based non-profit, released the results of its testing for BPA in canned food marketed to children (PDF). The report found BPA in Campbell’s Disney Princess Cool Shapes, Toy Story Fun Shapes Pasta in chicken broth, Spaghettios With Meatballs, Earth’s Best Organic Elmo Noodlemania Soup, Chef Boyardee Whole Grain Pasta Mini ABCs &123s With Meatballs, and Annie’s Homegrown Organic Cheesy Ravioli at levels that ranged between 13 and 114 parts per billion, levels that have been shown to be biologically active, meaning they’re high enough to interact with and affect our cells.

In response, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), a trade association representing the food-and-beverage metal-packaging industry, fired off a press release citing a study ostensibly showing that there’s no health risk from BPA exposure through canned food.

“This comprehensive, first-of-its-kind clinical exposure study, funded entirely by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), offers definitive evidence that even the highest exposure levels of BPA from canned foods and beverages did not lead to detectable amounts in the human blood stream,” said NAMPA. “The EPA-funded study emphatically showed there is not a health risk from BPA exposure in canned foods because of how the body processes and eliminates the compound from the body, in children as well as adults,” said NAMPA chairman Dr. John M. Rost in the press release.

Trouble is, this study — by Teeguarden et al. — which was indeed funded by the EPA and conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and published in the September issue of Toxicological Sciences, shows nothing of the kind. No children were included in the study, and researchers did not measure how much BPA was in the food the subjects ate so there’s no way to tell if the BPA in their systems came from that food. But why should we care?

BPA, which has long been identified as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, has been linked in numerous studies to health effects that include adverse impacts on developmental, metabolic, reproductive, neurological, cardiovascular, and other systems. Childhood exposure is a particular concern because early life exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can set the stage for later life health disorders, including diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers.

Concern over these effects have led ten U.S. states and several local governments to bar BPA from children’s reusable food and beverage containers, and prompted major manufacturers of baby bottles and toddlers’ sippy-cups to switch to alternate materials. Canada has added BPA to its list of toxic substances, Japan took BPA out of can linings and receipt papers in the 1990s, and China and Malaysia have now instituted bans on BPA in baby bottles, but the U.S. federal government does not bar the use of BPA in such products. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policies have been inching in that direction, though.

In 2010, after having been sent back to the drawing board by its science advisory board in 2008, the FDA issued a policy statement that supports a shift toward stronger regulation of BPA and that supports efforts to find safe alternatives to BPA for infant formula and other food and beverage can liners. Meanwhile, the EPA has issued an “action plan” for BPA that could lead to more oversight on its use.

The chemical industry, NAMPA, and other industry groups have consistently defended the safety of BPA — and lobbied extensively against its regulation. But that such a flawed study would be published and its findings so misrepresented has outraged prominent members of the scientific community. “Its conclusions are preposterous,” says Fred vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia whose research on endocrine hormones dates back to the 1970s. “How could a federal agency be associated with this? It is profoundly bad.”

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Synopsis from Culture Unplugged:

During the last 100 years, the world has experienced an enormous growth, unequaled in the entire history of mankind. Production has increased more than 13 times, and this enormous step is linked to our capacity of exploiting the fossil fuels – coal and oil. In early industrialization, smoky chimneys, swinging cranes and burning melting furnace were potent symbols of power, optimism and money. But progress had its price. During the 20th century, millions of people die of lung cancer, heart and respiratory diseases – only due to the air pollution in the big cities all over the world.

From Bay Citizen:

Organic-produce buyers who think they are striking a blow against a chemical-heavy industrial food system may be surprised when it comes to one of California’s signature fruits: those “organic” strawberries that overflow from baskets at local farmers’ markets are not nearly as organic as they may think.

In a letter sent to the United States Department of Agriculture last month, an advocacy group in San Francisco and a triad of local growers demanded an end to what they say are vague federal regulations that allow millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to be used to grow plants that eventually produce strawberries labeled as organic.

“Seeds and plant stock widely used in organic agriculture are grown with prohibited materials that violate existing regulations and that jeopardize the credibility of the organic label,” the letter reads. Signed by three growers and the Pesticide Action Network, it added that officials with the National Organic Program at the department “must act with some urgency” to support production of a berry that is sustainable from start to finish.

Berries — including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries — present a unique challenge to growers of organic crops. They all go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting nursery plants, and during that stage are fumigated with chemicals including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

The letter singles out strawberries, a particularly pest-prone crop and the jewel of California’s fruit basket. The state pumps out crates of the berries by the millions, shipping them across the country and internationally. It also produces the majority of the world’s strawberry nursery plants.

What it lacks is a single organic nursery.

In 1984, California produced the nation’s first commercially farmed organic strawberry, sold out of the back of a truck in Santa Cruz. The owner of that truck, Jim Cochran, who now manages a 20-acre organic berry farm, Swanton Berry Farm, in Davenport on the coast north of Santa Cruz, is one of the letter’s signers.

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides. Strawberries in California are grown over a five-year cycle, often starting as nursery plants in the fields of Southern California before being transplanted to the sandy soils of Northern California.Before they begin bearing fruit, virtually all plants — whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones — are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides.

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From California Watch:

California’s former top pesticide regulatory official dismissed safety guidelines suggested by her own staff scientists on the grounds that they were “excessive” and too onerous for the pesticide manufacturer, recently released internal documents show.

In response, the scientists lodged a formal protest, calling the official’s actions “not scientifically credible,” according to the documents released by court order last week.

The documents amount to a “smoking gun,” says Paul Blanc, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at UC San Francisco. Last year, Blanc helped advise the staff scientists on their evaluation of the pesticide, methyl iodide.

“The decision by the regulatory superiors was not science-based,” Blanc said.

In one of the documents, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, who led the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation until this year, weighs a recommendation from her staff that farm workers be exposed to no more than a trace amount of methyl iodide per day. The recommendation – intended to protect farm workers from cancer and miscarriage – is “excessive and difficult to enforce,” Warmerdam wrote in April 2010, about two weeks before the department made its recommendation that California approve methyl iodide. If the restrictions on methyl iodide were approved, she wrote, the pesticide manufacturer might find the recommendations “unacceptable, due to economic viability.”

“(Warmerdam’s) method was to consult with the pesticide manufacturer and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was,” said Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist for the Pesticide Action Network, a group suing the state.

Department spokeswoman Lea Brooks declined to comment on the documents, citing the pending litigation. “It is inappropriate to try this case in the media,” Brooks said.

Warmerdam resigned from the department in January. Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to appoint a successor.

Methyl iodide was approved in December 2010, at the tail end of the Schwarzenegger administration. It’s a chemical fumigant used primarily by strawberry growers. A coalition of environmental and farm-worker groups has sued the state to try to ban the chemical.

As part of the suit, the groups asked the Department of Pesticide Regulation to release documents explaining how the agency decided to approve the chemical. The plaintiffs wanted to know how the agency had settled on exposure levels more than 100 times higher than what scientists within the agency believed were safe.

When pressed for documents that might reveal the agency’s rationale, Warmerdam declined to release them, citing the “deliberative process” exemption, which allows government agencies to keep the thought process behind a decision private. A public records act request filed by California Watch and KQED QUEST elicited the same response.

Earlier this month, a judge disagreed, ordering the department to release the documents, which plaintiffs shared with reporters on Thursday.

“DPR has an obligation to explain to the public the basis for its decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who is representing the plaintiffs. “The public has every right to know that DPR approved methyl iodide over the objections of its own staff scientists.”

That rift between scientists and regulators first became public last year, in an e-mail exchange unearthed by KQED QUEST and California Watch’s Public Records Act request. In the e-mails, two staff toxicologists – Lori Lim and Ruby Reed – said they had not been part of the decision to approve methyl iodide, and they stood by their original work.

“We had to read between the lines to figure out how the target levels were calculated,” they wrote. Both Lim and Reed have since resigned from the department.

The new documents show staff scientists sending their complaints up the department’s chain of command.

“I am puzzled by the numbers,” staff scientist Jay Schreider wrote in a memo to the state’s top toxicologist, Gary Patterson. Approving methyl iodide was “management’s prerogative,” Schreider wrote. But he said managers should not imply that the scientists’ findings “are the basis for that decision, or that the apparent ‘mix and match’ approach provides a scientifically credible basis for the decision.”

In his order, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court found that the “great majority” of the department’s documents should never have been withheld in the first place. As for the rest, Roesch found “the interest in public disclosure clearly outweighs agency interest in non-disclosure.”

The documents reveal a rare point of agreement between the department’s scientists and its managers: that methyl iodide may cause brain damage in developing fetuses.

When California first began evaluating methyl iodide, it took the unusual step of bringing in an outside group of scientists, hired to work alongside department scientists, as an independent peer-review group. The scientists, including UCSF’s Blanc, worried that methyl iodide could drift up from strawberry fields and be inhaled by pregnant farm workers or children playing nearby, causing subtle effects such as IQ loss, which might never be detected or traced back to the chemical.

“Methyl iodide concentrates in the fetal brain to levels well above those in the mother,” they wrote in their assessment. “There is a high likelihood that methyl iodide is a developmental neurotoxin.”

The new documents show department managers also contending with the lack of data about methyl iodide’s potential effects on developing brains. In animal tests, they wrote, “several measures of neurological deficiency were measured. … Overall, there is a need for a more thorough investigation into developmental neurotoxicity in pre- and post-natal exposures to methyl iodide, because the existing data do not address these exposures.”

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(Image Creative Commons by Donnaphoto.)

From

Meet Dr. Erin Lipp, Associate Professor in the University of Georgia’s Department of Environmental Health Science. Her research interests include: Ecology of human pathogens in coastal and other natural waters; Role of environmental exposures in waterborne disease transmission; Coastal water quality and wastewater impacts on coral reefs; Climate change and waterborne disease; Oceans and human health.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Scientists are learning that health is the function of genes and environment. The work of Milwaukee-based researchers suggests that this principle also applies to the health of a growing fetus and a premature infant.

Michael Laiosa, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Public Health, and neonatologist Venkatesh Sampath, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, want to understand how genetics and the environment affect the health of humans during the most vulnerable stages of development.

In Milwaukee, there were 807 infant and fetal deaths between 2005 and 2008, according to the city’s Fetal Infant Mortality Review. A disproportionate number were African-American. Of the 499 who were not stillborn, nearly 54% died from complications of being born too soon.

During gestation and early in life, infants reach developmental milestones at a rapid pace. But in the presence of a dysfunctional gene, toxic exposures, or a combination of both, development is prone to error.

According to Sampath, who is collaborating with colleague Ronald Hines, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Medical College, some premature babies may be more susceptible to necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, a leading cause of mortality and disability in very low birth-weight preterm infants weighing less than 3½ pounds.

What causes this disease is unknown, but doctors believe that an underdeveloped immune system or intestinal lining may leave a preterm infant’s bowel vulnerable to infection or injury. What results is severe inflammation, which can lead to a deadly infection. Between 25% and 40% of babies afflicted with NEC die.

In their recent study published in the Journal of Surgical Research, Sampath and Hines detected a variant of a gene called NFKB1, differing slightly from the normal form, which is involved in mounting an immune response. Investigators said premature infants with a genetic variant may be at higher risk for developing the potentially fatal NEC.

In the study of 270 very low birth-weight preterm infants, investigators reported that of the 15 infants diagnosed with NEC, all had at least one copy of the defective gene and were disproportionately African-American.

“African-American infants run a higher risk of NEC,” Sampath said of the study findings.

The defective gene turned up in 65% of infants not diagnosed with NEC, suggesting that other factors are involved in the onset of the disease. Sampath said it may be the presence of a particular bacteria, poor blood flow to the intestines, or another malfunctioning gene.

Infants with NEC experience pain, according to Sampath. “It’s a nasty disease,” he said.

Sampath added that those infants who survive a severe case of NEC are at greater risk for developmental delays and cerebral palsy.

Jackie Sevallius, supervisor of the newborn intensive care center at Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph hospital in Milwaukee, cares for infants with NEC and said signs of pain in a preterm infant are often subtle and manifest as changes in blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and color.

Very low birth-weight babies unable to muster a cry will express their pain through a facial grimace, said Sevallius.

Whether the variant gene can be used as a marker of NEC susceptibility in preterm infants is not yet clear.

“At this stage, it is preliminary, which means it needs to be addressed in a large amount of patients before we can tell for sure. It is worth further digging,” Sampath said.

David Hackam, professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said Sampath’s studies may one day offer doctors a way to screen premature infants for increased risk for NEC. Early screening could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, he said. Current treatments include changes in feeding, antibiotics and surgery. “These studies make a strong case for further genetic studies to understand this complex and devastating disorder,” Hackam said.

Sampath said he hopes to explore whether this genetic variant can be used to predict other diseases of prematurity.

Developmental origins

How the outside world leaves its imprint on a growing fetus and potentially affects health later in life is an emerging field of research. A pregnant woman’s lifestyle choices, nutrition, exposure to toxicants – and even stress – may modify when and how genes are expressed during the course of fetal development.

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From the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

One of Heather Cooke’s favorite meals is a fresh garden salad. But finding the ingredients for the dish in her Hamilton neighborhood isn’t easy.

The nearest ShopRite is a 15-minute drive. When Cooke’s aging Ford is in the shop, as it was in June, she can take two NJ Transit buses to the supermarket and haul her bags home.

There are plenty of fast food joints and a small grocery store within walking distance. But the produce prices are “outrageously expensive,” said Cooke, 44.

Welcome to the desert.

Cooke’s neighborhood on the Hamilton-Trenton border is one of 134 “food deserts” in New Jersey, according to the federal government. They are mostly low-income pockets of big cities, sprawling suburbs and small towns that lack easy access to a supermarket but are usually brimming with expensive convenience stores and fast food restaurants.

Experts say food deserts are the equivalent of nutritional wastelands, where families who can’t afford to hunt down fresh food are often left to subside on Slurpees, Big Macs and calorie-laden packaged foods. Studies show food desert residents are more likely to be obese and spend a greater percentage of their time and income shopping for meals.

“There’s food in these communities,” said Alan Berube, a senior fellow and research director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. “It’s just expensive food, or not particularly healthy food.”

More than 340,000 New Jerseyans — or about 4 percent of the state’s population — live in food deserts and have limited access to supermarkets, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The areas, which dot the map from Sussex County to Cape May, include some obvious food wastelands, including an industrial section of Newark near the New Jersey Turnpike and a sparsely populated stretch near the Bayonne port that is far from any shopping centers.

But other Garden State food deserts are more surprising: Nearly a third of Carteret in Middlesex County. A large portion of Manville in Somerset County. A swath of Piscataway near Rutgers University. Relatively upscale sections of Parsippany in Morris County and Margate on the Jersey Shore.

South Jersey fared the worst in the federal study released this spring. Researchers found 83 food deserts in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties, accounting for more than 60 percent of the state’s total. Experts say less populated areas, like portions of South Jersey, are difficult for shoppers because they lack both large supermarkets and the mass transportation needed to get to far-away stores.

Another report issued last year by a nonprofit group says New Jersey’s food desert problem is even worse that the federal government estimates. The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit group that researches urban issues, concluded more than 924,000 Garden State residents — or more than 10 percent of the population — lack adequate access to supermarkets offering fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.

Though they may have never heard of the term food desert, many residents in affected areas know their access to food is limited.

With no car and no affordable grocery store within walking distance of his Hamilton apartment, John Korrow relies on his two sisters to give him a ride to a supermarket in a neighboring town every few weeks.

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Image source.

From Mother Jones:

Here is a document the USDA doesn’t want you to see. It’s what the agency calls a “technical review”—nothing more than a USDA-contracted researcher’s simple, blunt summary of recent academic findings on the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections and their link with factory animal farms. The topic is a serious one. A single antibiotic-resistant pathogen, MRSA—just one of many now circulating among Americans—now claims more lives each year than AIDS.

Back in June, the USDA put the review up on its National Agricultural Library website. Soon after, a Dow Jones story quoted a USDA official who declared it to be based on “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals.” She added that the report should not be seen as a “representation of the official position of USDA.” That’s fair enough—the review was designed to sum up the state of science on antibiotic resistance and factory farms, not the USDA’s position on the matter.

But around the same time, the agency added an odd disclaimer to the top of the document: “This review has not been peer reviewed. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Agriculture.” And last Friday, the document (original link) vanished without comment from the agency’s website. The only way to see the document now is through the above-linked cached version supplied to me by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What gives? Why is the USDA suppressing a review that assembles research from “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals”?

To understand the USDA’s quashing of a report it had earlier commissioned, published, and praised, you first have to understand a key aspect of industrial-scale meat production. You see, keeping animals alive and growing fast under cramped, unsanitary conditions is tricky business. One of the industry’s tried-and-true tactics is low-level, daily doses of antibiotics. The practice helps keep infections down, at least in the short term, and, for reasons no one really understands, it pushes animals to fatten to slaughter weight faster.

Altogether, the US meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year. To put that number in perspective, consider that we humans in the United States—in all of our prescription fill-ups and hospital stays combined—use just over 7 million pounds per year. Thus the vast bulk of antibiotics consumed in this country, some 80 percent, goes to factory animal farms.

For years, scientists have worried that the industry’s reliance on antibiotics was contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The European Union took action to curtail routine antibiotic use on farms in 2006 (taking Sweden’s lead, which had banned the practice 20 years before).

But here in the United States, the regulatory approach has been completely laissez-faire—and the meat industry would like to keep it that way. The industry claims that even though antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been found both in confined animals and supermarket meat, there’s simply no evidence that livestock strains are jumping to the human population.

Here is where we get back to that now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t USDA research summary, which reads like a heavily footnoted rebuttal to the industry line. Assembled by Vaishali Dharmarha, a research assistant at the University of Maryland, the report summarizes research from 63 academic papers and government studies. Here are few of her findings:

• “Use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs in food animal production and human medicine is the main factor accelerating antimicrobial resistance.”

• “[F]ood animals, when exposed to antimicrobial agents, may serve as a significant reservoir of resistant bacteria that can transmit to humans through the food supply.”

• “Several studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella showed that [antibiotic resistance] in Salmonella strains was most likely due to the antimicrobial use in food animals, and that most infections caused by resistant strains are acquired from the consumption of contaminated food.”

• “Farmers and farm workers may get exposed to resistant bacteria by handling animals, feed, and manure. These exposures are of significant concern to public health, as they can transfer the resistant bacteria to family and community members, particularly through person-to-person contacts.”

• “Resistant bacteria can also spread from intensive food animal production area to outside boundaries through contact between food animals and animals in the external environment. Insects, flies, houseflies, rodents, and wild birds play an important role in this mode of transmission. They are particularly attracted to animal wastes and feed sources from where they carry the resistant bacteria to several locations outside the animal production facility.”

Naturally, such assertions didn’t please the meat industry—and the fact that they were backed up by dozens of peer-reviewed science papers no doubt only sharpened the sting. In the trade paper National Hog Farmer, a National Pork Producers Council official lashed out. Perhaps lacking factual ammunition, the official resorted to an attack on the researchers’ credentials: “We find it very disappointing that a research assistant at a university, who is not an Agricultural Research Service scientist, can develop and post such a review without it going through an agency or peer review process.”

Well, the pork producers can rest a bit easier. The researcher, Dharmarha, has been silenced. Not only has her report been erased from the USDA site, but she has been forbidden to talk to media.

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From Environmental Health News:

PFCs are associated with attention and behavior problems in children, suggest a pair of studies published online in June. These studies are some of the first to explore the relationship between PFC compounds and behavior problems, specifically attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and impulsive behavior.

In one study, preteen children were more impulsive when they had higher blood levels of six PFC compounds. The other reports that children with higher blood levels of one type of PFC – PFHxS – have an increased chance of ADHD.

A variety of products use PFCs during manufacturing, and the compounds are present in just about everyone. Together, the reports suggest further research is needed to discern human health effects of PFC exposure.

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From :

Kent Berridge, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, discusses his lab’s research into fundamental question about the brain and behavior. He discusses how food pleasure is generated in the brain, the neural bases of wanting and liking, and how fear and stress relate to desire.

From TheStar.com:

Just below the soaring Scarborough Bluffs, 17-month old Piper Clark scoops the fine sand into gloppy pies. Her brother Reed, 4, bravely ventures deeper into the water.

Around them on this hot summer day, bikini-clad girls frolic and tease boys in the waves, while the lifeguard warns them from straying too far out.

Colonies of swallows, warily eyeing the hawks soaring above, cling to the sandy face of the cliff.

Colleen Clark, a nurse, stands watch over her toddlers, her feet in the water, her dress hitched up above her knees.

“Oh sure, I let them go in,” she says, pointing to the green flag indicating the water is safe. “But I wouldn’t let them drink it.”

A few kilometres west of Bluffer’s Park, just below the Gardiner, two adult geese paddle around Keating Channel with their four fluffy goslings

That’s where the Don River spills into Toronto Harbour, spewing sewage as it flows.

It’s also where heavy trucks rumble on their way to the Leslie Spit to dump their loads of asphalt and rusty steel, bricks and rebar — what the city calls “clean fill.”

A boom spreads just beneath the trees where the geese shelter, there to catch the “floatables,” the used condoms, plastic tampon applicators and hypodermic needles that bob among the mini-explosions of methane bubbles.

Unlike Colleen Clark, Mother Goose can’t read the menace in the soupy black water.

Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a criminal lawyer turned, appropriately enough, environmental lawyer, surveys the scene and says, “I’ve been investigating the channel for 20 years, and this is as bad as it’s ever been.

“These carp go all over the lake, the birds migrate,” continues Mattson, as one of the geese elegantly dips its beak into the water. “They’re still part of the diet of northern communities. I wouldn’t want to be the hunter who shoots one of these geese and feeds it to his children.”

This, folks, is your water, what comes out of your tap, what you drink, what you bathe in and, if you aren’t lucky enough to have a cottage, what you swim in.

Some 4 1/2 million humans who have made their homes around Lake Ontario depend on this water — as does the wildlife on, in, above and around it.

“It’s our only source of drinking water,” says Mattson. “We’re very fortunate because, unlike so many other cities, Boston, New York, Vancouver, they don’t have their drinking water at the bottom of their street.

“But think about it: if Lake Ontario became undrinkable, if we had a Fukushima disaster at one of Ontario’s 21 reactors, there would be no alternative potable drinking water. We’d have to build a pipeline to Lake Huron or James Bay or something.”

In the Huron language, Lake Ontario means Lake of Shining Waters.

Stand on the crest of the slope on Jones Avenue, just below the Danforth, and, when the sun hits the water it’s like a mirror.

But of all the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario, which is furthest downstream, is almost certainly the most polluted.

“Your fish warnings are more ominous in Lake Ontario,” says Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller. “If you look at the guidelines for eating fish, you’ll find that the highest level of contaminants is in Lake Ontario.”

Just check out the Environment Ministry’s 2011-2012 “Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish.” No kids under 15 and no women considering getting pregnant should even think of a fish fry.

Here’s an appetizing bit: “In the various species of trout and salmon found in Lake Ontario, dioxins, furans, dioxin-like PCBs, mirex, photomirex, toxaphene and chlordane can be elevated in the same fish . . .

“Consumption of species such as walleye, pike, bass and perch is usually restricted because of mercury. In total, 58.6 per cent of the advice given for sport fish from Lake Ontario results in some level of consumption restriction.”

Lake Ontario is the 14th largest lake in the world: 19,529 square kilometres, 1,146 kilometres of shoreline, 244 metres at its deepest.

Which is one reason it’s not a total cesspool, experts say.

Its size and depth help dissipate the bacteria, which our drinking-water filtration plants kill off with chlorine.

But what about the agricultural runoff? The sewage? The industrial sludge? The nuclear waste? The pesticides? Herbicides? Road salt? The toxic by-products of burning medical and municipal waste? The engine oil you poured down the storm sewer? The leftover prescription pills you flushed down the toilet?

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From The New York Times:

People in a large area of the American South have long been known to have more strokes and to be more likely to die from them than people living elsewhere in the country.

Now, a large national study suggests the so-called stroke belt may have another troubling health distinction. Researchers have found that Southerners there also are more likely to experience a decline in cognitive ability over several years — specifically, problems with memory and orientation.

The differences to date in the continuing study are not large: Of nearly 24,000 participants, 1,090 in eight stroke-belt states showed signs of cognitive decline after four years, compared with 847 people in 40 other states.

But the geographic difference persisted even after the researchers adjusted for factors — like age, sex, race and education — that might influence the result. The most recent data from the study were published in Annals of Neurology.

None of the people with cognitive decline in the study had had detectable strokes. But some experts believe their memory problems and other mental issues could be related to the same underlying risk factors, including lifestyle patterns that contribute to hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

Is it the fried food beloved by Southerners? Limited access to doctors? Too little exercise? Researchers are investigating those and other possible causes. Some experts also suggest that the participants could have had small, undetectable strokes that subtly affected brain function.

* * *

Experts do not know exactly why more strokes occur in a region stretching across Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee (sometimes additional Southern states are included in the stroke belt). . . .

* * *

In both stroke-belt and non-stroke-belt groups, older age, less education, and being African-American were associated with increased chances of cognitive decline. But even when those factors were accounted for, residents of the stroke belt still were 18 percent more likely to show impairment.

“These effects are so large, it overcomes these differences in the population,” Dr. Howard said. Most memory and orientation problems detected in the four years were subtle, he added, although a few cases were more severe.

Virginia Wadley, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her colleagues are now looking for possible causes, including genetic predisposition, nutrition, smoking, exercise, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, emotional or work-related stress and environmental factors like air quality. “It’s likely a mixed bag,” Dr. Wadley said.

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From Slate:

The last quarter of a century has taught science some newfangled things about breasts. For one thing, they appear to be showing up earlier in young girls, with possible consequences for breast cancer later on. For another, the way they grow and develop varies from woman to woman, and—if lab animals are any indication—normal exposures to commercial chemicals can alter that process. The growing human breast is also more vulnerable than we thought. Data from atomic-bomb survivors in Japan show that it was adolescents—not grown women—near the explosions who were most likely to develop breast cancer in later years. Since then, there’s been similar data for girls who were exposed to medical X-rays or radiation therapy, as well as research showing that the pesticide DDT, now banned but pervasive in the 1950s and 1960s, is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women exposed as girls.

So it may come as a surprise that the federal agencies responsible for public health don’t routinely take childhood exposures into account when testing whether commercial chemicals cause mammary tumors. In fact, in many lab-animal tests, they don’t bother to look at the mammary gland at all. Breast cancer may be the No. 1 killer of middle-aged women in the United States, but as a new set of reports makes clear, the breast is a major blind spot in federal chemical-safety policy. “They just throw the mammary glands in the trash can,” says Ruthann Rudel, research director with the nonprofit Silent Spring Institute and lead author of one of the papers, a review of the latest science on mammary gland development and toxic exposures.

The reports, published last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, grew out of a 2009 workshop on mammary gland risk assessment, which involved scientists from federal and international agencies as well as independent groups. Breast cancer is just one of the areas federal agencies neglect, the reports show, along with health issues surrounding lactation and the timing of breast development in puberty. “Few chemicals coming into the marketplace are evaluated for these effects,” state Rudel and her co-authors.

But blowing off these tests is a big mistake. The mammary gland—the breast’s intricate milk-making structure—is uniquely sensitive to toxic chemicals, says Suzanne Fenton, a reproductive endocrinologist with the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health, and a co-author of the science review. In both rodents and humans, it starts to develop in the fetus, undergoes a colossal growth spurt at puberty, and doesn’t fully develop until late pregnancy. During these times, its cells appear particularly vulnerable to carcinogens and other organ-altering substances. While lab rats and mice aren’t perfect proxies for humans, their mammary glands undergo similar development patterns under similar hormonal influences, says Fenton.

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From Reuters:

Exposure to even moderate amounts of certain pesticides during pregnancy may affect infants’ birth size, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among nearly 500 newborns whose umbilical cord blood was tested for pesticide residues, those with higher levels tended to be smaller at birth.

The chemicals in question include DDT and three other organochlorines — an older group of pesticides that are now banned or restricted in the U.S. and other developed countries, after research linked them to cancer and other potential health risks.

However, the pesticides persist in the environment for years. In the U.S., diet is the main potential source of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — with fatty foods, like dairy products and oily fish, topping the list.

In the new study, researchers found that for each 10-fold increase in any of the four pesticides in newborns’ cord blood, birth weight dipped by roughly 2 to 4 ounces.

Higher levels of DDT were also linked to a decrease in head circumference, while another pesticide — hexachlorobenzene (HCB), once used as a fungicide — was tied to a shorter birth length.

The findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics, do not prove that the pesticides themselves hindered fetal growth.

One problem, the researchers say, is that people are exposed to a “huge variety of chemicals” — in the environment, household products and food, for example.

So higher pesticide levels could simply be a marker of higher chemical exposures in general.

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