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Sick Child

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

So what is environmental health?

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

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

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

Where should parents wanting to raise healthy kids begin?

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

* * *

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

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

Read all of the questions and responses here.

Visit Dr. Leo Trasande’s main Upstream page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

More . . .

Link to Living on Earth podcast.

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

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

An Northeastern University article about Upstream Contributor Phil Brown:

Many con­t­a­m­i­nants are easy for the public to spot, like emis­sions from the tailpipe of a car or the sludge from a mas­sive oil spill washing up on the ocean’s shores.

But Phil Brown, who joined Northeastern’s fac­ulty this fall, says many others are far less easy to iden­tify — including those found in beauty prod­ucts like deodorant and cologne or in flame retar­dants, which he has studied extensively.

“It’s the things we don’t think about being toxic that are in our everyday lives,” said Brown, Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Soci­ology and Health Sci­ences with joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties and the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences.

For Brown, a renowned scholar whose inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research com­bines social sci­ence and envi­ron­mental health, issues like these are con­stantly in his crosshairs. Over the last 13 years at Brown Uni­ver­sity, he led a research group on envi­ron­mental health sci­ence that was sup­ported by a range of grants from sev­eral fed­eral agen­cies, including the National Insti­tutes of Health, the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion and the Envi­ron­mental Pro­tec­tion Agency.

His research included focusing on bio­mon­i­toring, which mea­sures the level of con­t­a­m­i­nants in the human body, and on house­hold expo­sure mon­i­toring, which mea­sures tox­i­cants found in the air and dust inside our homes and the air in our driveways.

Now at North­eastern, Brown is the director of the new Social Sci­ence Envi­ron­mental Health Research Insti­tute. The institute’s mis­sion is to bring together an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of researchers to con­duct socialscience research, teaching, com­mu­nity engage­ment and policy work in the field.

Brown said envi­ron­mental health researchers should be nimble and attuned to the world’s emerging envi­ron­mental health issues. Brown, for his part, nav­i­gated to the field of envi­ron­mental health sci­ence in the 1980s while working in mental health policy. At the time, a col­league was serving as an expert wit­ness in a high-​​profile groundwater-​​contamination case in Woburn, Mass., in which civil suits were brought against two com­pa­nies fol­lowing com­mu­nity con­cerns over rising levels of child­hood leukemia and other illnesses.

The Woburn case cap­tured Brown’s atten­tion imme­di­ately, com­pelling him to investigate.

“I spent a lot of time with the fam­i­lies who had been affected, whose chil­dren died or became sick, and that really changed my life,” said Brown, who wrote a book on the topic called “No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Com­mu­nity Action.”

Brown soon real­ized that many other com­mu­ni­ties grapple with sim­ilar envi­ron­mental health issues, which led him to engage in the larger debate about envi­ron­mental causes of ill­nesses. Over the years, he has also exam­ined health-​​focused social move­ments in America dating back to the begin­ning of Medicare and Medicaid.

“You never know where the work will take you next,” said Brown, who earned his Ph.D. in soci­ology from Bran­deis Uni­ver­sity. “I’m always looking for inter­esting new things that are impor­tant, that con­cern people and that have an effect on many people’s lives.”

Many envi­ron­mental health issues are local by nature, but Brown said they also serve as cat­a­lysts for world­wide envi­ron­mental change. He praised inno­va­tors before him who paved the way for this type of thinking — including Barry Com­moner, one of the founders of modern ecology, who passed away last week, and Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book “Silent Spring” exposed the dan­gers of the pes­ti­cide DDT. Both thought leaders, he said, brought envi­ron­mental dan­gers to the public eye and helped spark the global envi­ron­mental movement.

“We need to have those big visions and not be afraid to say, ‘This is how the world can be better many years down the road,’” Brown said.

Visit Phil Brown’s main Upstream page.

From Big Think:

William Souder’s 2004 autobiography of John James Audobon, Under a Wild Sky, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  His newest book, On a Farther Shore, chronicles the life and times of Rachel Carson, author of the controversial book Silent Spring — a tome that many consider to be the Bible of the environmental movement.  Souder discuses why Carson is such an inspiration, how Silent Spring might be received if it were to be released today and why it’s important to read biographies of notable figures in science.

Q:  What inspired you to write Rachel Carson’s biography?

William Souder:  My interests are diverse, but I write mainly about science, history, and the environment. A really vexing question is why we have this divisive, intensely partisan disagreement over environmental issues. Why should the left and the right feel differently about the environment we all share? I knew Rachel Carson had been at the forefront of the modern environmental movement—it can be argued she was its founder—and so I thought there might be answers to how we got to where we are on the environment that were embedded in her story. And that turned out to be true. The language and the shape of the continuing environmental debate were formed in the response to Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring. Now that book is about the collateral damage caused to the environment by the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT. But you could substitute climate change for pesticides and the case would be argued out the same way—now as it was a half century ago. On one side you have the interests of industry and its allies in government and on the political right that resists the regulation of economic activity. On the other you have science and the voices that speak for a reasonable preservation of the natural world.

That seems like a simple confrontation between greed and morality, but it’s more complicated than that. The critics of Silent Spring attacked the book by claiming it was hysterical and one-sided—but more importantly that it was un-American, an attempt to strangle the free enterprise that was our advantage over the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc. To its detractors, Silent Spring wasn’t science. It was ideology. The irony, of course, is that it’s the reverse.

I should add that, as a practical matter, Rachel Carson is a terrific subject—and you cannot hope for more as a writer. She lived a consequential life that peaked just before her death from breast cancer in 1964. And she left an enormous legacy that includes the creation of the EPA and a motivated—if insufficiently effective—environmental movement. She also left behind the kind of vast paper trail of correspondence that is gold to a biographer.

Q:  As you did your research, what most surprised you about her?

William Souder:  I think most readers of my book are going to be shocked by the extent of atmospheric nuclear testing that took place during the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s—and surprised at how the roots of the environmental movement can be found in the chilly voids of the Cold War. All-in, more than 500 nuclear devices were exploded in the atmosphere between 1945 and 1963, when most of the nuclear powers agreed to halt above-ground testing. The United States accounted for more than 200 of these tests—including ten in June of 1962, or one about every three days. That was the same month Silent Spring—in which Carson argued that pesticides and radiation were parallel threats to the environment—was serialized in the New Yorker magazine.

I knew Carson had argued a connection between pesticides and radiation, but I didn’t realize how important it was until I closely re-read Silent Spring as a commentary not just on pesticides, but on American sensibilities in the Cold War. When you read the short, bleak opening chapter of Silent Spring—it’s one of the great set-pieces in American literature—it’s easy to see that gray, lifeless town, where no birds sing, where farm animals sicken and die, and where a pale residue lies in the gutters and on the rooftops as the result of either pesticides or the fallout from a nuclear apocalypse. And in that lifeless, colorless void was also the shadow of an existence Americans imagined inside the Soviet Union—the cold hardness of totalitarianism that was our darkest fear. It’s no accident that baby boomers became the vanguard of the environmental movement. They came of age with such images and terrors. When they read Silent Spring, they got it.

Q: Do you think the reception of Silent Spring would have been different today? Why or why not?

William Souder:  It’s hard to imagine the same circumstances today because so much has changed that would reshape the response to this kind of work. Rachel Carson was one of the most famous and beloved authors in America when she published Silent Spring, and it was a startling departure from her earlier works, which were lyrical, moving portraits of the sea. But her credibility was enormous, as was her audience. That was a world still dominated by print—by many newspapers and magazines that no longer exist, but which back then devoted substantial space to covering the world of literature. I think books mattered then in a way that, sadly, they no longer do. And it has to be conceded that after years of a concerted attack on the media from the right, a significant portion of Americans don’t believe what they read or hear, regardless of how credible the source is.

The fact is, we have seen the perils of climate change exhaustively reported on for years now. And the country is pretty much evenly divided on whether it’s a problem and so we’ve done next to nothing to address it. So, no, I don’t think Silent Spring would have the same impact today. In fact, I think it’s more influential for being half a century old and still relevant.

Read the entire interview here.

From EurActiv:

Shanna H. Swan, a renowned scientist specialising in reproductive medicine, has warned about the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) known as phthalates which can end up in food via pesticides or plastics. In an interview with EurActiv, she calls on regulators to better protect consumers against those “hidden chemicals”.

Shanna H. Swan, PhD is Professor and Vice-Chair for Research and Mentoring Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr Swan is known for her work on the impact of environmental exposures on male and female reproductive health and has served on the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Hormone-Related Toxicants. She was speaking to EurActiv’s editor, Frédéric Simon.

You are a well-known scientist in the field of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), which you have been researching for many years. What were your main findings?

The major findings I have are that certain EDCs – and I’ve looked specifically at pesticides, phthalates and Bisphenol A – are significantly related to human development, more strongly when exposure is foetal but also some adult exposures.

Has exposure tended to increase over time?

There are some studies of old stored samples. That’s the only way we can know about a person’s exposure. So to put this in context, unlike studies of smoking or pharmaceuticals where you can ask the person what their exposure was, you cannot learn anything – or very little – about a person’s exposure from EDCs by asking them what they do.

These are chemicals that are hidden – I call them stealth chemicals – and for this reason the only way we can know what the exposure was is to measure it in biological samples, either in urine or blood. Urine is usually easier and for various technical reasons preferable for the non-persistent chemicals.

When older samples are available and have been looked at, they have shown that levels were lower in the past. I can’t unfortunately be more specific but I could point you to some references.

So these go as far back as the 1960s?

There was one study in 1958 called the Collaborative Perinatal Project which had stored urine. There was a Kaiser California study in the early 60s which had stored samples. So these are very rare studies, they are the only ones.

In the most recent years some of the phthalates, for example DEHP, has decreased with the substitution. So we can pick up certain trends in use in these national samples of urinary metabolites.

Do we know precisely what the sources of exposure are?

For that, you have to go chemical by chemical. So if we restrict ourselves to phthalates, you still have to narrow that further because phthalates have different uses. Some phthalates are added to tubing to make it soft, particularly DEHP.

This is in the tubing in hospitals, in the tubing for milking cows, whenever you want a soft, flexible, plastic, you will take DEHP. Whatever is passing through that, particularly if it’s warm, it will absorb that. In this way we get exposure through material that has passed through this.

And also from milk?

It is measurable in milk, yes. So for DEHP, our dominant route of exposure is through food and there’s some in water. But you also get DEHP if you are in a medical department and hooked up to a tube.

Phthalates have been banned in some uses already such as toys, etc. So can we consider the problem solved?

Let me just go back for a second. Phthalate is a chemical class and so it’s important because you ask me if there are many exposures.

If we put cosmetics on our skin, our face – men, women, children, babies – we immediately get another phthalate in our body, which is DEP. And this is very clear. If we put hair spray or put a nail polish, then we inhale that phthalate which is primarily DBP.

So it’s a complicated story because we have many sources and many routes of exposure and also differing toxicity. Now, as for whether the problem is solved – not at all. We’ve only begun to solve the problem.

But there have been bans on some of the uses of phthalates which were of most concern, such as baby bottles…

No, this was Bisphenol A, it’s another chemical class. Think of it this way. Phthalates makes plastic soft, BPA makes plastic hard. So if you have one of these sports water bottles, those were made with BPA. Hard baby bottles, that’s BPA. Lining of tin cans, that’s also BPA. But Phthalates are on the soft side of the equation although they are both plasticisers.

Ok, so why do I say the problem is not solved? The primary elimination of phthalates has been from children’s toys. Certainly this is important but it does not protect the most sensitive organism, and that is the developing foetus.

So a toy is something you play with after birth, the pregnant mother is getting an exposure which is for the foetus much more potent than what the child will get with a toy.

By eliminating these phthalates from children’s toys – I think it is important, excellent, I certainly support it – but I would not do that at the expense of eliminating phthalates in products to which pregnant women are exposed. Because that is the most critical target for phthalates.

There has been a lot of controversy for many years over the health risks of low-dose exposure to chemicals such as phthalates. Looking at the science, is there any evidence to support this?

Let me say three things.

First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that tiny, tiny doses of hormones can permanently alter the development of the foetus – at the right time. You cannot look at the dose alone, you must look at the dose in a particular time window, because otherwise you don’t have the toxicity captured because that’s really a product of two things: Not just the dose but the timing as well.

The next thing is a story that isn’t obviously about chemicals but just to point out that we know from some human and many animal studies that when a rodent is in utero  (in the mother’s womb), each one of those is hooked up in the uterine horn and they will be located between two other pups.

So if you look at a male between two males, and a male between two females, you can measure how much testosterone is in those two males. And the difference is significant and measurable and very, very small. It’s about a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool. That’s how small it is. It’s an extremely low dose, one part per trillion.

And what is the consequence of exposure to this?

The consequence is that the rodent that is a male between two males grows to be more aggressive, more masculine in behaviour and in his general development. He will have a stronger sperm count; he will be more fertile. And there’s no question about that, it has been shown in a number of species. And there are a number of supporting human studies. I only mention this as proof of principle that a very small amount of hormonal substance at the right time alters development.

Now let’s just go to the human situation. When people say, ‘Well the doses are too low,’ I say two things. One is, ‘Maybe so, but we are seeing effects’. So whatever dose it is, it seems to be doing something. There are probably close to 30 studies that find associations between phthalates and a variety of human health end points.

The counter-argument could be that these effects could be coming from something completely different.

Exactly. Not the counter argument, but a relevant, additional point is that, we are never exposed to one chemical. In fact a recent study found 200 chemicals on average in babies at birth.

That means that in utero the babies had 200 chemicals circulating in their bodies affecting their development, on average. The maximum in that study sample of ten was 287. So we are unquestionably exposed, and the foetuses as well.

So yes, there are many chemicals and statistically you can ask what are the associations with just DEHP metabolites, just DBP metabolites. But it’s not the most efficient way to do it. Better is to ask what about co-exposure to all of those? What about the cocktail effect?

Now, we cannot reasonably, with the sample sizes we have available, yet look at the 200 all together. But we could look at and do look at multiple exposures. So the fact that they may be quite low individually, we know that these doses add up, and so if you have several of these, you already add up to a much higher dose.

Do we know specific combinations that are particularly harmful?

Yes, among the DEHP metabolites, there are many of them, we currently look at four or five of them and can assess the sum of them. That’s one example but there are others.

This sounds quite scary. How should consumers behave or react? If my wife was pregnant what should I be telling her?

I get this question all the time. It’s a frustrating question because I can only give you a partial answer. On a simple side, I would tell her she could limit her exposure to harmful personal care products.

And the reason we can give this advice is that they have been looked at quite carefully by a number of NGOs, and specifically I point you to the Environmental Working Group website called ‘Not Too Pretty’, where they actually go through product by product and talk about the chemicals in them. That’s a nice tool for consumers.

You can also say, just a blanket precaution: Do not use air fresheners, do not spray things in your house, products and so on.

Where it gets more problematic is that even when we tell people all these things, only in rare situations can we remove these chemicals from their body. And one of the major reasons is that they are so deeply hidden, you can check the label on the lotion but you can’t check the label on your spaghetti sauce or on your bottle of milk and so on.

So we need to give consumers the tools to make informed choices. And at this point we don’t have those tools.

You mean labelling?

Labelling, yes, and also advice about behaviour – for example not to store in plastic, not to microwave in plastic.

What I tell people if you want to do the best you can, buy local produce, buy it unprocessed, buy it organic. There is a population in New York that does this, and that is the Old Order Mennonites [an anti-technology religious group similar to the Amish]. They’re quite severe, they grow everything themselves, they don’t drive in cars, they don’t use sprays… and they have very low levels of environmental chemicals.

And that has been scientifically measured?

Yes, we measured how many phthalates and phenols were in their urine and they had almost none. And it’s interesting because a couple of women did have peaks. One was a woman who used a hairspray. And you could see this because we asked what did you do before you came here and gave your urine? And this woman said, ‘Well, I was not supposed to but I used hairspray because I was going out.’ And there we see the peak for MBP in her urine.

And then another woman rode in a car even though they don’t do this normally and you see another peak. So in an extreme situation – which to most consumers is quite radical action – you can eliminate.

Another population was given regular food and then they fasted. Their urine was tested under the normal diet and after 48 hours of fasting and they had no DEHP in their urine at all.

Of course we can’t all fast! So I think we have to make it much easier for consumers to avoid these products.

In terms of chemical presence in food, there have been measures taken at EU level to reduce the use of pesticides. In France for example there is an objective of halving the use of pesticides by 2018, and there have been bans on aerial spraying and things like that. Are these steps sufficient to reduce the risk of contamination in food?

Well, removing pesticides certainly removes one source of exposure to EDCs – and a very important one, and I think this is great.

By the way, aside from phthalates, we found a number of pesticides and herbicides in the Midwest where they were associated with a lower sperm count. So these are acting as well. Also I should point out that phthalates are actually in pesticides – they are put in there to increase absorption.

So these measures to reduce pesticide use are certainly a good thing to do but it won’t do the whole job. As long as the food is processed in contact with phthalates or Bisphenol A, canned, shipped in plastic, stored in plastic or cooked in Teflon, there are just a lot of occasions along the way to pick endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

And pesticide removal is certainly a very important first step but then we have to worry about what happens to the food after it is picked and along the rest of the chain from farm to fork.

In Europe, we have minimum residue levels for pesticides in food below which ingestion is not considered to pose any risk for human health. Are you saying these should be lowered further?

I cannot comment on permissible level of pesticides. But I can comment on the question of a threshold. We have many examples in environmental science – the best I think is lead – that no matter how we keep dropping the permissible level, we see adverse effects still at a lower level.

And I think that what we have to keep in mind is that to some particular sensitive populations and particularly sensitive periods, perhaps the level has to be reduced further. But there will have to be some practical level – obviously we can’t remove everything entirely.

You may be aware that in Europe we have this REACH regulation on chemicals which is undergoing a review this year. Are you encouraging policymakers to tighten REACH even further?

For me the most important thing about REACH it that it alters the burden of proof. Of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce in the world, 62,000 were just blessed and assumed to be safe in the United States.

That is actually the default assumption still in the United States: That until a chemical is proven harmful it is assumed to be safe. This of course places the burden of proof on the consumer, to prove harm, which is not where the burden should be in my opinion. So generally shifting the burden of proof I think is extremely important and should be implemented in US policies as well.

The US must actually follow REACH if they are going to export to Europe. What has been the impact on the US industry the way you see it?

I can’t tell you that. I do know that that is not the default assumption in regulation. So whether they do something different to send things to Europe, I’m sure they have to, and I’m sure they do, but it is not what they accept as their burden to prove safety before a product is marketed.

As far as whether the regulation should be tightened, that is a very broad question. And what I have an opinion about is that I feel that endocrine disruption is a category deserving its own regulation. It’s different enough from reproductive toxicity and carcinogenicity. The risk assessment for endocrine disruption is different. The scientific issues are different enough that it would protect public health much further if we could deal with this as a class of chemicals. So that’s where I see maybe tightening up.

For you as a scientist, the link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the ones you have been studying, and lower fertility has been proven and is scientifically watertight? Can it be argued against?

Watertight? This is never the case, of course. There are still people here who argue cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. Of course it will always be argued against.

I think we have now a lot of data that environmental chemicals can and do lower sperm count, impact time to conception, increase foetal loss in early pregnancy, affect pregnancy outcomes. Do we need more studies? Of course we do. But do we have enough information to act on these studies that we have? I say that we do.

More.

From Huffington Post:

“Who wouldn’t be against the poisoning of children?”

This was the rhetorical question posed by Dr. Robert D. Bullard during a recent phone interview that I had with him. Our talk covered topics from the genesis of his career as the “Father of Environmental Justice,” to the role that women and mothers have played in the struggle for the health of the planet. As Bullard stated, “Women have been the backbone of environmental justice — and women of color have consistently been fighting for their kids.”

African-American and Latinos have repeatedly found their communities targeted as prime locations for toxic facilities. I reached out to Bullard for an overview on the evolution of the Environmental Justice movement, which has served as a prism through which to examine policy based on race, environment, and waste. Bullard walked me through his work from the 1970s, when he developed the theory of Environmental Justice, to his current role as the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

* * *

Dumping In Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality, Bullard’s 1990 book, became a textbook primer for teaching the underpinnings of Environmental Justice. In it, Bullard illustrated how siting practices have created a full range of health problems in the African-American population as the result of incinerators, garbage dumps, hazardous waste, and chemical plants. Bullard meticulously used research based on science and facts to demonstrate that environmental waste was being located in economically poor and politically powerless neighborhoods. The same year, Bullard built a list of groups doing related advocacy initiatives, which led to the National People of Color Environmental Summit in 1991 and a Principles of Environmental Justice manifesto. His formulations on public policy branched out to the international level, when in 1999 he assisted in preparing environmental racism documents that were presented at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

When we spoke, Bullard expressed his concern about the current atmosphere of ongoing negativity toward the Environmental Protection Agency. He said, “When people demonize the EPA, it’s totally bogus. We need a strong, independent EPA.” Reflecting on what a lapse on enforcing standards could do to the public’s wellbeing, Bullard remarked, “Are we trying to race to the bottom?”

On the issue of “unequal protection,” Bullard emphasized the need of governmental agencies to work together so that “no community becomes a dumping zone.” He was definitive in his stance, “You need a strong Federal presence,” referencing how in too many circumstances, “states have done a lousy job.” Drilling down on the way equity issues impact low wealth communities, Bullard noted that the same neighborhoods that experience toxic sites are also the ones lacking in supermarkets, parks and other quality of life markers. Pointing to a Toxic Waste and Race Report, Bullard observed that of 413 commercial waste facilities, 56 percent were in locations inhabited by people of color. Using the term “clustering,” he pointed to hot spots in California, Texas, and New Mexico — as well as to the urban centers of Detroit, Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City — that shared similar patterns of toxic release.

* * *

In explaining how children of color were disproportionately affected by ozone, automobile and truck exhaust, coal-fired power plants — putting them on the front line, Bullard circled back to the efforts of mothers in East Los Angeles, reiterating how they had been battling against local incinerators for decades. He also mentioned the ongoing work of [Upstream Contributor] Peggy Shepard, executive director and co-founder (1988) of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), New York’s first organization devoted to improving environmental health in communities of color. Speaking of all youngsters, Bullard said, “If we protect children, we protect everyone. If we don’t, we put everyone at risk.”

His final words to me summed up why mobilizing to ensure and maintain the progress and regulations put into place by the EPA is so essential:

“Writing off an entire generation is not acceptable.”

More.

From the Wall Street Journal (a report about Upstream contributor Dr. Frederica Perera):

Congested cities are fast becoming test tubes for scientists studying the impact of traffic fumes on the brain.

As roadways choke on traffic, researchers suspect that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks—especially tiny carbon particles already implicated in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments—may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory.

New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that, at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability. “There are more and more scientists trying to find whether and why exposure to traffic exhaust can damage the human brain,” says medical epidemiologist Jiu-Chiuan Chen at the University of Southern California who is analyzing the effects of traffic pollution on the brain health of 7,500 women in 22 states. “The human data are very new.”

So far, the evidence is largely circumstantial but worrisome, researchers say. And no one is certain yet of the consequences for brain biology or behavior. “There is real cause for concern,” says neurochemist Annette Kirshner at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. “But we ought to proceed with caution.”

To be sure, cars and trucks today generate one-tenth the pollution of a vehicle in 1970. Still, more people are on the road and they are stuck in traffic more often. Drivers traveling the 10-worst U.S. traffic corridors annually spend an average of 140 hours, or about the time spent in the office in a month, idling in traffic, a new analysis reported.

No one knows whether regular commuters breathing heavy traffic fumes suffer any lasting brain effect. Researchers have only studied the potential impact based on where people live and where air-pollution levels are highest. Even if there were any chronic cognitive effect on drivers, it could easily be too small to measure reliably or might be swamped by other health factors such as stress, diet or exercise that affect the brain, experts say.

* * *

Scientists believe that simple steps to speed traffic are a factor in reducing some public-health problems. In New Jersey, premature births, a risk factor for cognitive delays, in areas around highway toll plazas dropped 10.8% after the introduction of E-ZPass, which eased traffic congestion and reduced exhaust fumes, according to reports published in scientific journals this year and in 2009. The researchers, Princeton University economist Janet Currie and her colleagues at Columbia University, analyzed health data for the decade ending 2003.

After New York traffic managers rerouted streets in Times Square recently to lessen congestion, air-pollution levels in the vicinity dropped by 63%.

Scientists are only beginning to understand the basic biology of car exhaust’s toxic neural effects, especially from prenatal or lifetime exposures. “It is hard to disentangle all the things in auto exhaust and sort out the effects of traffic from all the other possibilities,” says Dr. Currie, who studies the relationship between traffic and infant health.

Researchers in Los Angeles, the U.S.’s most congested city, are studying lab mice raised on air piped in from a nearby freeway. They discovered that the particles inhaled by the mice—each particle less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair—somehow affected the brain, causing inflammation and altering neurochemistry among neurons involved in learning and memory.

To study the effect of exhaust on expectant mothers, Frederica Perera at Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health began in 1998 to equip hundreds of pregnant women with personal air monitors to measure the chemistry of the air they breathed. As the babies were born, Dr. Perera and colleagues discovered a distinctive biochemical mark in the DNA of about half of the infants, left by prenatal exposure to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in exhaust.

By age 3, the children who bore the mark of exhaust in their genes were developing mental capacities fractionally more slowly. By age 5, their IQ scores averaged about four points lower on standard intelligence tests than those of less exposed children, the team reported in 2009. The differences, while small, were significant in terms of later educational development, the researchers said.

By age 7, the children were more likely to show symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention problems, the researchers reported this year in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“The mother’s exposure—what she breathed into her lungs—could affect her child’s later behavior,” Dr. Perera says. “The placenta is not the perfect barrier we once thought.”

More.

See the excellent interview of WSJ journalist covering this story (Lee Hotz) below:

View the extended Upstream Interview of Dr. Frederica Perera here.

 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Former EPA administrator Carol Browner explains why clean air and water are good for America’s economy.

From

[Upstream Contributor] Dr. Frederica Perera touches on how the environment around us can make a big impact very early in life and stick with us for a long time. This short take was shot during a break at Keystone Symposia’s meeting on Environmental Epigenomics and Disease Susceptibility held in March 2011 in Asheville, North Carolina.

 

From :

Editor Sandy Johnson speaks with reporter Jack Farrell about the his story on the Koch Industries’ lobbying.

 

Link to related  iWatch article.

From :

Editor Sandy Johnson interviews reporter Jack Farrell about the latest story by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News’ latest piece on Koch Industries: how the refinery giant has been spending money lobbying against federal regulations for securing chemical plants.

Link to related  iWatch article.

From PBS NewsHour:

A chemical used to produce baby bottles, cups and plastic packaging may cause male mice to act like females, a new study finds.

Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study shows that male deer mice exposed to the organic compound Bisphenol A – or BPA – appeared more anxious and lost their ability to quickly navigate a maze. Both traits are highly uncommon for male deer mice but typical in females, the scientists say.

The male mice also appeared to lose their ability to attract females. At a rate of 2-to-1, test females rejected BPA-exposed males as potential breeding partners, leading the study’s authors to conclude that BPA exposure for males “could impact behavioral cues, pheromone signaling, or both.”

The study is just the latest strike against BPA, which many scientists call an endocrine-disrupting agent that mimics the body’s hormones and causes a slate of health defects in humans. Previous animal studies have found that BPA may accelerate puberty and could lead to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Even so, it continues to be widely used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastics – especially plastic bottles – as well as in the lining of canned food containers, dental sealants and some medical devices.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration said products in the American marketplace did not contain enough of the substance to be dangerous. But that same year, the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program issued a report expressing “some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures.”

Just last week, the American Medical Association adopted a policy at its annual meeting officially “recognizing BPA as an endocrine-disrupting agent and urging that BPA-containing products with the potential for human exposure be clearly identified.” The organization also urged industry leaders to stop producing baby bottles and infant feeding cups with BPA.

Nine states – Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin – have BPA bans in place. Legislation is currently in the works to ban the chemical in baby food containers in California and Delaware.

Dr. Retha Newbold, a retired developmental biologist from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, has studied BPA extensively and called the deer mice study “another marker of our sick environment.” But she stopped short of drawing any connections to humans.

“I think we have to be careful when we extrapolate any of these behavior studies in animals to humans,” she said. “But it gives us markers where we can start looking at some of these sexual behavior and cognitive learning processes in humans.”

We spoke with the lead author of the PNAS study, Dr. Cheryl Rosenfeld, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri.

What were you hoping to find in this latest BPA study?

Our guess was that if males are exposed to BPA in utero, when testosterone begins programming the brain, later behaviors would be affected. And we thought that the primary differences might be in sexually selective traits, or behaviors that are differently expressed between males and females. In many species, these are essential to produce offspring but they’re dependent on the development and physical condition of the animal as it’s in the womb and during the postnatal period. So we presumed these traits might be susceptible to BPA exposure.

Did your study mimic the way humans are exposed to BPA?

Yes, we only exposed the mice to BPA through the mother’s diet en utero and while they were nursing. That replicates what’s happening in the real world. Most health organizations agree that our primary exposure to BPA is through diet. A fetus has less ability to metabolize BPA, and it can get from the mother to fetus easily. When we measured the blood BPA concentrations in the females, we found the range of exposure is within the limits of what’s been detecting in humans.

And how does the maze relate to BPA exposure?

When these mice are sexually mature, their brains undergo significant remodeling that allows them to exhibit certain behaviors – like increased spatial-navigational skills in males. In humans, too, men tend to have a better ability than girls to locate in their environment – to know where they are in their environment, to remember where things are and where to find them. So when the males got to adulthood, we started them on behavioral testing in a maze that is well-recognized to test this ability. There are several holes and only one leads to the home cage. Non-BPA exposed males can almost immediately get to the correct hole. The BPA exposed male took quite a bit longer. They didn’t use the most efficient strategy and just wandered around randomly, aimlessly. When we tested the females, both the non-exposed and BPA-exposed females had similar responses. They were acting behaviorally like females.

More.

From Yale 360 (by Elizabeth Grossman):

New York City’s low-income neighborhoods and California’s Salinas Valley, where 80 percent of the United States’ lettuce is grown, could hardly be more different. But scientists have discovered that children growing up in these communities — one characterized by the rattle of subway trains, the other by acres of produce and vast sunny skies — share a pre-natal exposure to pesticides that appears to be affecting their ability to learn and succeed in school.

Three studies undertaken independently, but published simultaneously last month, show that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides — sprayed on crops in the Salinas Valley and used in Harlem and the South Bronx to control cockroaches and other insects — can lower children’s IQ by an average of as much as 7 points. While this may not sound like a lot, it is more than enough to affect a child’s reading and math skills and cause behavioral problems with potentially long-lasting impacts, according to the studies.

“This is not trivial,” said Virginia Rauh, one of the study authors, speaking from Columbia University, where she is deputy director of the university’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health and professor of population and family health. What is particularly significant, she said, is that these studies involved so many children from such different communities, yet produced consistent evidence of the pesticides’ effects on cognitive skills and short-term memory.

Rauh said that the new studies were prompted by the long-standing awareness of the neurotoxicity of these pesticides on animals and the chemicals’ widespread use. Given science’s growing knowledge about the measurable effects of neurotoxic chemicals and elements, such as lead, on children’s cognition and behavior, the three recent studies were a logical next step in such research, Rauh explained.

The studies in New York and California were a continuation of research that has been ongoing for 12 years. Two of the studies, led by researchers at Columbia University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, looked at more than 660 children, ages six to nine, living in the South Bronx, Harlem, and other inner city neighborhoods. The New York mothers were exposed primarily indoors, as they lived in buildings where these pesticides were used in public areas and inside apartments. Previous studies of pregnant women in the same New York City neighborhoods had found organophosphate pesticides in all indoor air samples and in the majority of umbilical cord blood taken from these women when they gave birth.

* * *

Learning more about the specific mechanisms by which individual chemicals act — and and the effects they trigger — can point the way to which insecticides should be banned. In their next studies, Rauh and her colleagues plan to follow the children in their study group as they progress through school, using brain-imaging studies, blood analysis, and continued intellectual testing. Engel’s group plans to examine additional genetic factors that may help explain susceptibility to organophosphates.

Two generations after the U.S. stopped widely using the pesticides that Rachel Carson wrote about in Silent Spring, scientists are just beginning to get a distinct picture of how replacement pesticides are affecting the health of children. “We now have additional safety regulations for pesticides,” says Lanphear, ”but that doesn’t mean they’re safe.”

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More.


Listen to TreeHugger Radio podcast interview of Elizabeth Grossman via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

From

Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – is a process used by energy companies to get natural gas out of the ground. Fracking involves forcing water, sand and chemicals underground to fracture rocks and release the natural gas trapped within them. But what happens to those chemicals once they’ve been injected into the ground?

That depends upon whom you ask. In a joint effort with ProPublica, the non-profit investigative journalist organization, Need to Know sent correspondent John Larson to Wyoming, where some residents believe fracking is contaminating their water and risking their health. Need to Know airs Fridays on PBS. Watch full-length episodes of Need to Know

From Living On Earth (portions of Bruce Gellerman interview of Professor Patricia Hunt, a reproductive biologist at The Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences, about her letter to the Journal on Science calling for more stringent regulations of chemicals):

GELLERMAN: Did I get that right – there are actually 12,000 new substances registered daily?

HUNT: Yeah, that’s correct. It doesn’t mean that all of those chemicals go into production and enter our lives. And what we’re really concerned about is those that act like hormones in our body. And, of course, the ones that are also of most concern are the ones that are high-volume chemicals, the ones that are produced and are in our lives on a daily basis.

GELLERMAN: But they’re currently being tested, right?

HUNT: If they are added to our food, or to the drugs that we take, the pharmaceutical drugs, we test the living daylights out of them.

GELLERMAN: That would be the EPA, the FDA.

HUNT: Right. But much less testing is done of those chemicals that are used for other purposes, and so a lot of those get into our lives and we learn later that they perhaps are not so safe.

GELLERMAN: Well don’t these agencies test for these possible hormonal properties?

HUNT: Therein lies a problem: because traditionally, the way toxicologists have test[ed] – to gauge the toxicity of a chemical – is a standard set of guidelines for testing. And those guidelines, it turns out, don’t work very well for chemicals that mimic the actions of hormones.

These chemicals sort of defy the standard toxicology thought process, which is: the dose makes the poison. In other words, if a little bit of a chemical is harmful to you, more should be even worse, and even more should elicit an even stronger effect. And these chemicals that act like hormones or interfere with hormones don’t quite behave like that.

So they pose a real problem, and the federal regulatory agencies have realized that it’s a problem and that we need new testing guidelines, but getting these new guidelines is a slow process.

GELLERMAN: So, how do these agencies review chemicals now?

HUNT: They put together review panels to look at specific chemicals. The one on most people’s minds right now is bisphenol A, or BPA, because it’s received so much attention in the press. And what they’ll do is review all of the research that’s been published and decide whether or not our current estimates of safe levels of human exposure are adequate, or whether they should be readdressed.

GELLERMAN: So what are you proposing?

HUNT: The field of toxicology testing has actually moved beyond toxicologists and we need a broader expertise. What we’re offering is the expertise of different scientific societies: reproductive biologists, developmental biologists, endocrinologists – people who actually work on hormones – and geneticists. And we’ve asked that these regulatory agencies seek the advice or the council of these societies when they constitute panels to review chemicals.

GELLERMAN: Do we have the ability to test differently? Not the expertise, but the science?

HUNT: Okay, now you’re getting at what, to me, is the heart of the problem. Right now, when these panels sit down to review a chemical like bisphenol A, they’re faced with a really daunting task. There are hundreds of studies looking at the effects of bisphenol A – most of them using experimental animals. And when the regulatory panels sit down and look at them, quite frankly, they don’t know what to do with a lot of the research.

The studies that have been done using the standard toxicology testing guidelines are easy – they know how to deal with those, so those studies are always included. A lot of the academic studies, like some of the work that we’ve done in our laboratory, are a bit more puzzling, and frequently those studies just get set aside.
And this is where a wider expertise on some of these panels would be helpful, because some of these studies use very sensitive end points, newer technology, and really give us a very good look at exactly what these chemicals can do in bodies. Even though they’re rat bodies or mouse bodies, they’re actually very good model systems for what they would do in the human body.

GELLERMAN: So are there human studies that have found these effects, or all they all laboratory studies?

HUNT: It’s really hard to study humans directly. There have been some human studies asking things like: are bisphenol A levels correlated with miscarriages? But that’s a really difficult study to do because these are looking at correlations and trying to make conclusions. You know, it’s hard to establish cause and effect in humans.
I mean, we know this from smoking. We had a lot of data from animals, but actually establishing cause and effect in humans took many, many years. And the problem with these chemicals is, there are so many of them and some of them are present in our daily lives at pretty significant levels. And so, if these are having effects, and if they’re having effects on our developing babies and infants, it may take us a couple of generations to actually get that proof – that definitive proof – in humans.

GELLERMAN: So, in effect, we are actually doing these human tests – we’re doing them on us!

HUNT: Yeah, that’s one way to look at it isn’t it? (Laughs). And you know, in the case of something like bisphenol A, we have essentially run this experiment in humans before, because the whole diethylstilbestrol, or DES exposure, was exactly that – an experiment in humans.

It was given to women in the hope that it would prevent miscarriage. And as a result, there are thousands of DES-exposed sons and daughters. And we can in fact see some of these changes. There are some fertility effects, some increased cancer rates, some behavioral changes in these humans that were exposed to DES. And so we have every reason to suspect that some of these same effects would be seen from chemicals like bispehnol A, the phthalates, other endocrine disrupting chemicals.

GELLERMAN: And we’ll only see those generations later.

HUNT: Exactly. So that makes us dependent on those rodent studies. And in fact, in the case of DES, those rodent studies were terrific. They came after the human studies, and it turned out that human was a really good model for the mouse.

* * *

More.

Read the letter.

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