Archives for category: Upstream News

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.

Miller-McCune: America’s hidden diseases.

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

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

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

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

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

More . . .

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

More . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Science to the rescue

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

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

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

More . . .

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

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

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

Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure.

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

More . . .

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

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

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

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

More . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

More . . .

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

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

More . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Looking upstream

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

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

Location influences wellness

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

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

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

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

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

More.

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

You can link to the podcast here.

Center for Public Integrity: Big polluters freed from environmental oversight by stimulus.

In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.

Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.

Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.

The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.

Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPAexemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.

Some polluters reported their stimulus projects might cause “unknown environmental risks” or could “adversely affect” sensitive resources, the documents show. Others acknowledged they would produce hazardous air pollutants or toxic metals. Still others won stimulus money just weeks after settling major pollution cases. Yet nearly all got exemptions from full environmental analyses, the documents show.

More . . .

A Report by Healthy Schools Network, titled “Sick Schools 2009: America’s Continuing Environmental Health” [pdf here] provides a state-by-state analysis of environmental health risks in the nation’s schools.  The report begins as follows:

Crisis for Children

We know that healthy school buildings contribute to student learning, reduce health and operating costs, and ultimately, increase school quality and competitiveness. However, 55 million of our children attend public and private K-12 schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions make students (and their teachers) sick and handicap their ability to learn.

Differences in school resources for maintaining schools exacerbate social and economic inequities and academic disparities.3 However, “poor children, in poor schools with a poor environment may have poor academic achievement. To assume that the cause of their lack of achievement is solely due to curricular and teaching deficiencies ignores other strong confounding variables in the child’s environment.”

You can download the report by clicking here.

Newsweek ran a story, “Heavy Metal High School,” this week on the mounting evidence of health risks in America’s schools.  It begins this way:

The elementary, middle, and high schools in Cle Elum, Wash.—a town on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains with a poverty rate twice the national average—were built across from the trash transfer station. They are also near a washing station once used by coal-mining operations, which left hills of black waste containing arsenic, cadmium, and lead. The elementary school opened without heat, and the boilers that were ultimately installed did not burn cleanly and released exhaust into an intake for the ventilation system located feet away. Construction issues led to water seeping into the building, and mold grew throughout the school.

All of this is according to Thelma Simon, a parent who removed her son, Kyle, from the system in 1995 because of his constant asthma attacks, and former teachers who also claim to have been sickened by the buildings. Other kids and teachers reported symptoms including mouth blisters, rashes, and cysts, and teachers in the high school ultimately filed a lawsuit. But though the school district made some improvements in response to the suit, Simon and teachers who left the school system for health reasons say the underlying problems remain unaddressed, and they continue to hear reports of the schools’ causing illness. . . .

This should be a one-of-a-kind story. But tales of schools rife with mold and toxins from building materials, as well as schools built on former industrial sites or in the shadow of chemical factories, can be found all across the country.

Read the entire story here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More . . .

Dr. James Swain is using brain imaging techniques to study the effects of poverty on stress level and, in turn, brain development. Here are a few excerpts from an article  in the Toronto Globe and Mail by Anne McIlroy.

* * *

Over the past four decades, researchers have established how poverty shapes lives, that low socioeconomic status is associated with poor academic performance, poor mental and physical health and other negative outcomes. Swain is part of a new generation of neuroscientists investigating how poverty shapes the brain.

The University of Michigan researcher will use imaging technologies to compare the structure and function of brains of young adults from families with low socioeconomic status to those who are middle-class.

* * *

He and other neuroscientists are building on preliminary evidence that suggests the chronic stress of living in an impoverished household, among other factors, can have an impact on the developing brain.

Studies suggest low socioeconomic status may affect several areas of the brain, including the circuitry involved in language, memory and in executive functions, a set of skills that help us focus on a problem and solve it.

You can read the entire article here.

From the Myrtle Beach Sun News: Mutant fish: A puzzle in the water (by Claudia Lauer, September 29):

Longtime Bucksport residents know every curve in the dirt road leading to the Bull Creek boat landing.

* * *

Fishing and wading in the muddy waters is almost second nature for generations of residents who grew up as river folks, but something in the creek is starting to worry some residents.

A U.S. Geological Survey study released in September 2009 reported that 90 percent of the largemouth bass pulled from the creek during the study had male and were developing female reproductive cells. A year after the study was finished, residents still have questions about the effects of the fish on people and whether something in the water — the same water filtered for drinking water for many Horry County residents — is causing what biologists call endocrine disruption, which makes reproduction for the fish more difficult.

The problem is not confined to Bull Creek, but the Pee Dee Basin had the highest incidence of intersex fish in the study. The study looked at river basins all over the country and found that about half of them had some instances of intersex fish. The only river basin examined that didn’t show any problems was Alaska’s Yukon River Basin. In parts of the Mississippi River in Minnesota and the Yampa River in Colorado, 70 percent of the smallmouth bass had female signs. Scientists and residents say more research must be done to determine which of the many possible environmental contaminants to the water may be causing the issue in the fish and whether it’s something being done locally or upstream.

Steve Howell, like many of the lifelong residents, feels some ownership in the creek that he, his family and his friends have fished for generations.

“What about taking baths, drinking the water, cooking and etc. with the water from your tap that is coming straight out of the same river that is highly contaminated that it is screwing the fish up?” Howell said. “Since it is affecting the fish in such drastic ways as this, then what is it going to do to humans over a period of time, and why isn’t anyone or any group doing a study to try and find out?”

* * *

A number of contaminants have been suspected as the cause of the endocrine disruption. Researchers are studying the effects of livestock farming, of industrial chemicals, and of hormones and other chemicals that find their way into waste water. Hormones and birth control pills have become more commonplace and leave the human body in our waste.

* * *

Howell said he plans to continue fishing in the creek, but he’s wary of what the long-term effects could be.

“You want to know what is happening because if the water is doing that to the fish, then what happens to us?” he said. “What happens to women who are pregnant or babies that aren’t born yet? You want to know what they’re doing to make sure we’re safe and whether there’s more happening other than here’s this study and we don’t know why it’s happening or what it means.”

Read the entire article here.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The chairman of the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s most influential environmental groups, has stepped down amid discontent that the group founded by 19th century wilderness evangelist John Muir has strayed from its core principles.

The departure of Carl Pope, 66, a member of the club for more than 40 years, comes as the nonprofit group faces declining membership, internal dissent, well-organized opponents, a weak economy and forces in Congress trying to take the teeth out of environmental regulations.

Pope became chairman of the club in 2010, after serving for more than 17 years as executive director. He was replaced by Michael Brune, 40, a veteran of smaller activist groups, who has pledged to concentrate on grass-roots organizing, recruit new members and focus on such issues as coal-fired power plants. “We have different approaches,” Brune said of his relationship with his predecessor.

Pope said he will leave his position as chairman to devote most of his time to “revitalizing the manufacturing sector” by working with organized labor and corporations. That emphasis caused schisms in the club, most notably when he hammered out a million-dollar deal with household chemical manufacturer Clorox to use the club’s emblem on a line of “green” products and, more recently, with its support of utility-scale solar arrays in the Mojave Desert, the type of place the club made its reputation protecting.

“I’m a big-tent guy, ” Pope said in an interview in the group’s San Francisco headquarters. “We’re not going to save the world if we rely only on those who agree with the Sierra Club. There aren’t enough of them. My aim is getting it right for the long term. I can’t get anything accomplished if people think: ‘This guy is not an honest broker. He’s with the Sierra Club.’ “

Pope led the Sierra Club’s efforts to help protect 10 million acres of wilderness, including California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument, and brought litigation challenging the right of then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force to secretly hash out energy policy with major oil companies. Pope also co-wrote California’s Proposition 65, which allowed citizens to sue polluters if they failed to comply with the law. More recently, he helped block 150 proposed coal-fired power plants.

But his tenure was marked by controversial decisions that revealed the costs and political consequences behind the brand of environmental activism he practiced. Acrimony remains over the 2008 Clorox deal, which brought the club $1.3 million over the four-year term of the contract, according to Pope.

Many of the rank and file felt Pope diminished the role of chapter experts and volunteers who have sustained the organization since Muir first championed California’s Sierra Nevada and an expanding list of American wild places, favoring paid staffers and attorneys and chumming with political players such as United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The longest-serving executive director in club history, Pope pulled the group closer to large donors and redirected efforts toward fighting climate change over narrowly focused campaigns to protect wild places. The group’s support for utility-scale solar development, which threatens such species as the desert tortoise, captures the philosophical shift that occurred under Pope.

“If we don’t save the planet, there won’t be any tortoises left to save,” Pope said.

More.

From Today’s New York Times: “Study: Human Exposure to BPA ‘Grossly Underestimated’” (by Gayathr Vaidyanathan), here is the introduction to an article discussing an important new study (by Julia Taylor, a biologist at the University of Missouri, and her co-authors):

Americans are likely to be exposed at higher levels than previously thought to bisphenol A, a compound that mimics hormones important to human development and is found in more than 90 percent of people in the United States, according to new research.

U.S. EPA says it is OK for humans to take in up to 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight each day. The new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that we are exposed to at least eight times that amount every day.

“Our data raise grave concern that regulatory agencies have grossly underestimated current human exposure levels,” states the study.

The study also gives the first experimental support that some BPA is likely cleared at similar rates in mice, monkeys and humans, making it possible to extrapolate health studies in mice to humans.

Despite decades of research, questions about BPA have lingered and recently become politicized. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) hopes to add an amendment to the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act,” currently under consideration in the Senate, banning the chemical from children’s food and drink packaging. Republicans and industry representatives have been averse, saying that research has not shown conclusively that the chemical is harmful.

Hormones are essential during development and can determine, among other things, a child’s gender. BPA, since it mimics estrogen, is an “endocrine disrupter,” according to Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. And amazingly, BPA has the ability to bind to not one, but three receptors — the estrogen, the male hormone and the thyroid hormone receptors, Zoeller said.

You can read the entire Times article here.

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Here are excerpts from the University of Missouri press release:

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Researchers have discovered that women, female monkeys and female mice have major similarities when it comes to how bisphenol A (BPA) is metabolized, and they have renewed their call for governmental regulation when it comes to the estrogen-like chemical found in many everyday products.

A study . . .  ties rodent data on the health effects of BPA to predictions of human health effects from BPA with the use of everyday household products. . . .

“This study provides convincing evidence that BPA is dangerous to our health at current levels of human exposure,” said Frederick vom Saal, Curators’ professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri. “The new results clearly demonstrate that rodent data on the health effects of BPA are relevant to predictions regarding the health effects of human exposure to BPA. Further evidence of human harm should not be required for regulatory action to reduce human exposure to BPA.”

BPA is one of the world’s highest production-volume chemicals, with more than 8 billion pounds made per year. It can be found in a wide variety of consumer products, including hard plastic items such as baby bottles and food-storage containers, the plastic lining of food and beverage cans, thermal paper used for receipts, and dental sealants. The findings in the current study suggest that human exposure to BPA is much higher than some prior estimates and is likely to be from many still-unknown sources, indicating the need for governmental agencies to require the chemical industry to identify all products that contain BPA.

Several states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, New York and Oregon, have passed bills to reduce exposure to BPA, and similar legislation is pending in the U.S. Congress.

“For years, BPA manufacturers have argued that BPA is safe and have denied the validity of more than 200 studies that showed adverse health effects in animals due to exposure to very low doses of BPA,” said Julia Taylor, lead author and associate research professor at the University of Missouri. “We know that BPA leaches out of products that contain it, and that it acts like estrogen in the body.”

“We’ve assumed we’re getting BPA from the ingestion of contaminated food and beverages,” said co-author Pat Hunt, a professor in the Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences. “This indicates there must be a lot of other ways in which we’re exposed to this chemical and we’re probably exposed to much higher levels than we have assumed.”

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You can read the abstract and download the study here or download a pdf of the study directly here. (Citation: Taylor JA, vom Saal FS, Welshons WV, Drury B, Rottinghaus G, Hunt PA, et al. 2010. Similarity of Bisphenol A Pharmacokinetics in Rhesus Monkeys and Mice: Relevance for Human Exposure. Environ Health Perspect.)

Tomorrow, I will post the portion of my interview with Drs. Carlos Sonnenschein and Ana Soto when I asked them about their pathbreaking work on BPA.


From Solve Climate News:

New scientific research has found increased levels of some carcinogenic chemicals linked to oil sands mining in the Athabasca River, refuting long-held industry and government claims that natural sources are responsible for the pollutants.

The chemicals, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals as well as other health problems.

PAH concentrations in Athabasca River sediments located downstream of oil sands projects increased 41 percent between 1999-2009, according to the study, published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

More.

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