exposed in the womb to DDT have more difficulty becoming
pregnant. Research published in the Lancet
reports a strong association between levels of DDT in
a mother's blood at the time she gave birth to a daughter,
and 'time to pregnancy' in the daughter, 30 years later.
The longer the 'time to pregnancy,' the more likely
a women is to experience impaired fertility. The study
took advantage of serum samples stored in freezers since
drawn, 1960-1963, linking them to information about
the daughters' reproductive health. This is the first
scientific report of a link between DDT and reproductive
outcome in women exposed to the contaminant in the womb.
Curiously, higher DDE levels were associated with a
modest reduction in the effect. Posted 27 June 2003.
coverage of DDT story
Daily Times: Scandal envelopes EPA over
Monsanto, Anniston PCBs. A former EPA lawyer,
Janet MacGillivray, has revealed she was discouraged
by high level EPA officials from testifying about her
concerns that the legal agreements to settle Monsanto's
liability over PCBs were too lenient. She felt "intimidated"
after calls from the lead Dept of Justice attorney working
the case. According to MacGillivray, "a high-ranking
EPA official told her Anniston didn't make a list of
national cleanup priorities because Monsanto, one of
the companies found liable, didn't want it listed."
27 June 2003.
Royal commission declares current chemical regulation
"unacceptable." England's Royal Commission
on Environmental Pollution has released a new report
condeming current regulatory approaches for synthetic
chemicals in products. Sir Tom Blundell, chair of the
commission and head of the department of biochemistry
at the University of Cambridge observed to the BBC that
"given our understanding of the way chemicals interact
with the environment, you could say we are running a
gigantic experiment with humans and all other living
things as the subject." The report itself concludes
that "continuing use of large numbers of
synthetic chemicals will lead to serious effects..."
26 June 2003
Star Ledger: EU chemical policies draw opposition
from US, companies. Under current law, chemical
manufacturers "get the benefit of the scientific
doubt." If science is uncertain, government doesn't
act to restrict exposures. Proposed changes in Europe
that will require far more extensive testing on chemical
safety are drawing the ire of the US government and
chemical companies, because of the anticipated costs
of the plan. Called "the most aggressive application
yet of the Precautionary Principle," the changes
will apply not only to manufacturing in Europe, but
to products imported to Europe. Hence companies wanting
to market in the EU will need to adhere. In response
to criticism from the Bush administration, an EU spokesperson
said: "If there is a scientific uncertainty as
to the nature of a risk, we say to those in public office
charged with protecting public health that they have
a duty to respond and not wait until their fears are
realized, until the worst is happening." 22 June
Jose Mercury News: Removed from market
for toxic concerns, Scotchgard returns. Is it safer?
The San Jose Mercury News reports on the toxics issues
that forced Scotchgard off the market, and 3M's efforts
to bring a reformulated version back. Studies had
revealed a key Scotchgard chemical, C8 or perfluorooctane
sulfonate, to be extraordinarily persistent, bioaccumulative,
and to cause adverse effects in animals. The new version
of Scotchgard uses a chemical relative of C8 which
3M claims is safe. As yet they have been unwilling
to share safety data with the public. 22 June 2003
County Weekly: Editor apologies for being
duped by petrochemical industry. He had believed,
and publicly repeated, industry claims that it should
be shielded from MTBE liability because EPA had forced
it to use the additive in gasoline. Detailed internal
documents made available through lawsuits, however,
make it clear industry knew that MTBE was a problem
but that nonetheless it lobbied for MTBE use over
EPA's preferred alternative, ethanol. Posted 22 June
Street Journal: Pentagon backs off from
testing water for perchlorate. According to
reporter Peter Waldman, the Department of Defense is
retreating from plans to test groundwater for perchlorate
contamination at all military bases in the country.
It now intends to restrict its inquiries to bases where
records indicate it has been used and where it is a
known problem. This represents a reversal of the trend
which appeared to have the EPA gaining the upper hand
on perchlorate policy, with a draft plan that would
have required far more ambitious testing. The military
objected because of costs. DOD also has argued for a
perchlorate standard far weaker than EPA's. In the meantime,
local water districts (for example, in
Fontana, CA) are struggling with millions of dollars
in new costs because of the need to improve filtering
techniques to remove perchlorate. 20 June 2003.
Angeles Times: Chemicals migrating to the
Arctic threaten polar bears. Writing "Column
One," Marla Cone explores the impact of persistent
bioaccumulative toxins, carried by atmospheric currents
to regions in the Arctic. In the Arctic food chain,
these contaminants reach their highest levels in top
predators, especially polar bears, undermining the health
of cubs born to contaminated mothers. "Even before
they leave the safety of their dens, the cubs carry
more pollutants than most other creatures on Earth,
having ingested industrial chemicals from their mother's
milk." The contaminants include not only well-known
compounds like PCBs and other organochlorines, but also
newer substances like polybrominated
diphenyl ethers. Cone describes new research indicating
that the pollutants are weakening mothers and also disrupting
cub development, perhaps enough to decrease the bear
population. 19 June 2003.
York Times: EPA scientists conclude atrazine
may cause frog hermaphrodites. Hearing from scientists
at a 4-day long hearing on atrazine's reproductive effects,
EPA scientists confirm they have concluded that research
by Dr. Tyrone Hayes is not invalidated by the inability
of industry scientists to replicate his work.
after it was published, Hayes's work had been challenged
by the "Eco-risk" consortium funded by atrazine's
producer, Syngenta, with press releases reporting that
Hayes's work could not be repeated. For example, one
of the authors, Ronald Kendall (Texas Tech) stated to
the press (21 June 2002, ENS): "As research on
this issue continues, one thing is certain. No conclusions
can be drawn at this time on atrazine and its purported
effect on frogs." Coincidentally, this happened
to be a time when EPA was amassing data on atrazine's
effects, headed toward a decision in August 2002 about
reauthorizing its use. Creating doubts about Hayes's
work would provide EPA's decision-making process with
a reason to ignore them. Not only did Hayes's study
identify a new endpoint for atrazine effects, it also
observed impacts at atrazine exposure levels thousands
of times beneath previous studies.
[most?] might also be troubled by the fact that Kendall
presented comments to the EPA Science Advisory Panel
this week on behalf of Syngenta, only a year after he
chaired the SAP. While chairing the SAP he was also
involved with the Syngenta-funded "Eco-risk"
panel, both when it commissioned Hayes's work, then
after it started to challenge Hayes's findings.
the Syngenta/Eco-risk paper that purportedly justified
Kendall's statement was finally made public, however,
it turned out that most of the tadpoles in the experiment
had died, and many of the remaining animals were starved.
scientists on the paper, however, continued to assert
that its findings were valid. They submitted them for
publication to the journal Environmental Toxicology
and Chemistry (of which Kendall is an editor),
where it appeared in print. Indeed one author, Glen
van der Kraak, testified to that effect at the hearings
described in the NY Times story. The Times report also
cites a letter from another of the authors, USGS
scientist Tim Gross,
appearing to pressure Hayes not to release his results.
to this NY Times article, EPA has concluded that the
industry paper was too flawed to use in the atrazine
whole story— pressure not to release results,
using press releases to promote flawed results and thereby
introduce uncertainty, against a backdrop of striking
conflicts of interest linking industry to agency to
publication— would appear to be a quintessential
example of vested interests corrupting scientific results.
It should raise questions about subsequent papers published
by its authors, as well as about the industry-funded
panel on which they served.
would also be helpful to learn whether this process
was coordinated behind the scenes with the "junk
science" flack, Steve
Milloy, who has been relentless and vituperative
in his criticism of Hayes's work, including a column
last week (13 June 2003) claiming that EPA had decided
that Hayes was wrong.
these findings, Environmental Toxicology
and Chemistry should evaluate whether or not the
paper should be withdrawn, and also assess its peer-review
process, as the the flaws of the paper were
widely known before the paper was finally published.
Because of the prominence of industry-funded scientists
in the society that publishes the journal, that self-assessment
may be unlikely to occur. 19 June 2003.
link established between pesticide exposure and reduced
sperm quality in mid-West men. Research in
the US mid-West has discovered that men with elevated
exposures to alachlor, diazinon and atrazine are dramatically
more likely to have reduced sperm quality. The study
is the first to show such a link for common, current-use
pesticides, and its findings are particularly troubling
because the most likely route of exposure is through
drinking water. The three pesticides implicated by the
research are widespread contaminants in mid-West water
18 June 2003.
coverage on pesticides and reduced sperm:
Post: Pressure on arsenic-treated wood.
Pressure-treated wood containing arsenic has come under
increasing attack over the past two years, because of
health risks. While the wood treatment industry has
agreed to a voluntary phase out of domestic manufacturing,
sales continue at stores like Lowes and Home Depot.
Questions are being raised about the wisdom of leaving
existing playground and deck structures in place. Two
DC-based advocacy organizations conclude that routine
exposure to pressure treated wood elevates lifetime
risks of cancer significantly. 14 June 2003.
[editor's note: These calculations which establish these
risks are based upon old scientific information about
arsenic; they do not yet incorporate new
data showing arsenic suppression of genes important
to tumor suppression at much lower levels of exposure.
Hence the health risks are likely to be significantly
14 June 2003.
Health: American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
calls for more research on phthalate risks.
After reviewing available evidence, the AAP's Committee
on Environmental Health recommends that new research
be launched to determine whether or not these common
addititves to plastics are safe. Studies with animals
show they can cause birth defects, and data
from the Centers for Disease Control document widespread
human exposure. The AAP's review, published in Pediatrics,
finds that "no studies have been performed to evaluate
human toxicity from exposure to these compounds."
posted 7 June 2003.
introduction to phthalates
Louis Business Journal: Solutia sues to
recover PCB cleanup costs. Burdened with lawsuits
and settlements resulting from the legacy of Monsanto's
decades of PCB contamination in Alabama, chemical producer
Solutia is suing 19 other companies to recover its cleanup
costs. More than 3,500 residents of Anniston, AL, have
sued Solutia and Monsanto, which spun the chemical specialty
company off when it began to focus on biotech. 6 June
Angeles Times: Court orders EPA to consider
data from human pesticide tests. "A federal
appeals court Tuesday directed the government to resume
considering the results of tests on human subjects as
it determines acceptable exposure levels to toxic pesticides."
EPA had halted use of human testing because of ethical
questions and also because data from adults would not
resolve questions about children's vulnerability. Hence
the tests would not be useful in adjusting safety standards
derived from animal studies so that they would better
reflect human sensitivities. Industry argued that EPA
had violated process in implementing the ban without
proper consultation with interested parties. 5 June
Street Journal: Study links early puberty
to higher breast cancer risk. Research published
in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that
women who reach puberty earlier are more likely to develop
breast cancer. The study, conducted by scientists from
UCLA, examined breast cancer rates in twins, comparing
the risk in the first twin to reach sexual maturity
against her sibling. "One thing stood out: For
identical twins with cancer, the first twin to reach
puberty was five times as likely to get the disease
first. The link was even stronger when menstruation
began early, before the age of 12." These data
are consistent with previous studies showing that lifetime
exposure to estrogen has an influence on breast cancer
risk. And given that studies
with laboratory animals show that environmental
estrogens can speed sexual development in animals, they
re-emphasize important questions about the role of contamination
in breast cancer. 5 June 2003.
Post-Intelligencer: Birth control drugs
in sewage may harm salmon reproduction. An
article in the Seattle PI describes research results
from the Batelle Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequiem,
WA, revealing that a synthetic hormone widely used in
birth control pills can impair fertility in adult male
salmon. The compound, ethynil estradiol, is excreted
in the urine of women taking birth control pills and
reaches rivers after treated waste water is released
from sewage treatment plants. The treatment process
does not remove many pharmaceutical drugs or hormonally-active
pesticides. Research by the lab was carried out with
captive trout, close relatives of salmon. Batelle's
scientists found that the lowest level they used, less
than 1/80th the level found commonly in rivers, were
sufficient to impair fertility.
Daily News. Legislature bans arsenic treated
wood in Maine. Despite fierce opposition from
industry, the Maine legislature passed the first bill
in the US to ban sale of CCA pressure treated wood for
residential use. The governor is expected to sign the
bill, which will take effect on 1 April 2004. The bill
closes a loophole in current US EPA regulation of arsenic
treated wood, which bans production of the product but
not its sale, and hence encourages stockpiling of supplies
that can be sold later. 4 June 2004.
Man-made chemicals causing serious problems
for wildlife. Describing a new report from
WWF-UK, Alok Jha writes in the Guardian: "It reads
like the line-up for some grotesque travelling circus
show: female, pseudo-hermaphrodite polar bears with
penis-like stumps; panthers with atrophied testicles;
male trout and roach with eggs growing in their testes.
But all these abnormalities are cropping up in wild
animal populations, and opinion as to why is converging:
our awesome appetite for artificial chemicals is slowly
poisoning the planet." 29 May 2003.
Times: California Assembly passes bill to
ban brominated flame retardants. Acting on
scientific data demonstrating exponential increases
in Californian's exposure to polybrominated diphenyl
ethers (PBDEs) along with clear evidence from laboratory
experiments showing that in laboratory animals PBDEs
interfere with brain development, the California Assembly
passed a bill that will ban certain PBDEs in 2 years.
The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Wilma Chan "chided
conservative members of the Assembly for supporting
protection of fetuses in the form of anti-abortion legislation
but not backing protection from industrial contaminants."
PBDE use is currently unregulated in the US, although
two PBDE compounds have been banned in Europe. 28 May
Times: EPA system for tracking water pollution
deeply flawed, facilitating abuses. New report
by EPA Inspector General concludes the computer system
is "obsolete, full of faulty data and does not
take into account thousands of significant pollution
sources." Water scientist Dr Peter Gleick, quoted
by the Times, argues "The problem is more than
just a failure to collect and manage information on
polluters, or to enforce compliance with pollution permits
that have been issued. It is a failure of the administration
to stop the thousands of polluters without permits."
27 May 2003.
Norwegian whale meat exports to Japan face public
health hurdle. After Norwegian scientists questioned
the safety of whale blubber, Japanese public health
officials are raising issues about meat from the same
whales. A Ministry of Fisheries official: ""The
fact that they can't sell the blubber raises questions
about the rest of the meat." The Japanese Consumers
Union is opposing the meat imports because of PCB and
mercury contamination fears.
report in the Japan Times, published in April, had
revealed that Japanese whales also have high mercury
levels. Each of the 83 slices of whale meat tested from
Japanese waters between Hokkaido and Okinawa exceeded
safety limits. One whale caught near Okinawa exceeded
limits by over 50x. Methyl mercury limits were exceeded
by a factor of 35 in one individual. Posted 26 May 2003.
Journal: Alaskan Senators meddle in organic
labeling criteria, pushing to include wild fish
even though it may be contaminated. They hope to help
the Alaskan wild fisheries compete more effectively against
farmed salmon. "A major retailer of organic foods,
Whole Foods Market, considers the idea of organic wild
fish 'totally ludicrous.'" There's no way to tell
what waters wild salmon have swum through, and hence whether
or not they would carry contaminants that would violate
the spirit of organic labeling laws. 26 May 2003
Angeles Times: Fish to eat, fish to avoid,
to minimize mercury risks. Because nutrition
experts recommend fish be a regular part of the diet,
many adults and children may be unwittingly overdosing
on mercury. These risks can be avoided by selecting
species unlikely to carry excessive amounts of the neurotoxicant.
26 May 2003.
Press: Autism cases increase sharply in
Virginia. "According to the Autism Program
of Virginia, the number of autism cases in the United
States jumped 173 percent over the past decade. In Virginia,
the number of cases has climbed by about 78 percent
over the past three years, and now 2,702 children have
autism in the state."
Chemical in rocket fuel spurs public health
debate. At least 25 states have perchlorate
in surface water and groundwater. Millions may also
be exposed via irrigated produce. The debate is over
how much is safe. The Department of Defense, citing
its own studies, wants a threshold set at 200 parts
per billion. EPA is targeting 1 parts per billion. 25
Star: Toronto bans cosmetic use of pesticides.
Ban will phase in through 2005. Lawn care applicators
expressed outrage. During the heated debate at city
council, security guards removed several lawn operators
amid cries of "fascist" and "it's a screw
job." The bill passed by a wide margin, almost
26-16, despite aggressive lobbying by pesticide applicators.
Street Journal: Chemical manufacturers elude
efforts to reduce terrorism risks. After 9/11,
analysis revealed that if attacked by terrorists any
one of 111 different chemical plants around the US could
release chemicals that would kill over 1 million people.
Efforts commenced to force manufacturers to shift toward
different chemical processes that would be inherently
safer. In 2002 the Senate passed strong legislation.
But manufacturers mounted fierce resistance. Joined
by conservative Republicans who resist government regulations
of industry, the chemical industry has stymied further
movement toward safer processes and reduced terrorism
risks. posted 22 May 2003.
Guardian. Otters stage comeback in British
rivers. In the opening chapter of Our Stolen
Future, we described widespread declines in British
otters, which were attributed in part (Chapter 9) to
reproductive failures caused by PCB contamination. Now
several decades later, wildlife biologists in Britain
are heralding the comeback of the species, citing habitat
improvements and declines in organochlorine contaminants
as two drivers of the recovery. posted 21 May 2003.
European Union ups investment in endocrine disruptor
research. The European Commission has launched
a "massive" new research effort on the health
effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, involving
64 labs from countries around Europe. Called the "Cluster
of Research on Endocrine Disruption in Europe (CREDO),
it commits $23M US for 4 years to complement work already
underway. Key points of focus will be androgens (and
anti-androgens), brominated flame retardants, and interactions
of multiple chemicals. Andreas Kortenkamp (Univ. London
School of Pharmacy) will coordinate the new program.
posted 21 May 2003.
Today: Overheated Teflon causes bird deaths.
A petition to the Consumer Product Safety Council by
the Environmental Working Group is seeking more effective
warnings on Teflon products because of dangers to birds
and people that result from modest overheating of the
pans. Exposed birds die ("It's almost like a bomb
blast."). People get "polymer fume fever,
a short illness that mimics the flu with fever, chills,
shivering, chest discomfort, cough and sore throat."
York Times: Precaution is for Europeans.
Reporter Sam Loewenberg interviews OMB head John Graham,
arch foe of the Precautionary Principle, about Bush
administration concerns over Europe's willingness to
employ the Precautionary Principle in regulations. Loewenberg's
essay, in Week in Review, ends by highlighting the fact
that the logic Bush used to justify invasion of Iraq
was quintessential precaution. 18 May 2003.
on Earth: The Secret Life of Lead.
In an hour-long special, NPR's Living On Earth host
Steve Curwood interviews Cincinnati-based scientists
Dr. Kim Deitrich and Dr. Bruce Lanphear, exploring their
research on the impacts of low level lead exposures
on neurological development. Curwood also visits some
of the participants in the study whose lives have been
profoundly altered by lead poisoning. One, now 22 and
in the study since infancy, has had frequent problems
with the law, a recurring pattern among youth exposed
during development to low level lead. 14 May 2003.
May 2003. A new report, covered
by the Los Angeles Times, finds that the
number of autism cases in California has almost doubled
in the last 4 years. The report focused only
on cases of severe autism, making it unlikely that the
change is due to changes in detection procedures. No
cause has been identified. According to the report,
the rate of increase is accelerating.
May 2003. A panel of Norwegian scientists is warning
pregnant and nursing women not to eat whale meat,
according to a story
published by Reuters Health. Their analysis concludes
that the meat contains sufficient contaminants like
mercury and PCBs to harm fetal development, especially
May 2003. Japanese researches have detected significant
contamination by bisphenol A of some paper containers
made for food, according to a story
in the Asahi Shimbun. The estrogenic contaminant
was found in products made from recycled as well as
virgin pulp, which included cups, napkins, tea bags
and coffee filters, sandwich holders and fried chicken
packaging. Levels found in the products ranged up to
26,000 parts per billion. The researchers did not address
what level of contamination that might produce within
food contained by the products. According to
the article, these paper food containers had been considered
safe and therefore were unregulated.
May 2003. A judge has ruled that DuPont's Teflon chemical
C-8 is toxic to humans and that DuPont
destroyed toxicological data relevant to a
class action suit against the company, according to
a report in
the Columbus Dispatch. The ruling also requires
DuPont to pay for testing blood levels of C-8, also
known as ammonium perfluorooctanoate, in people living
in Ohio and West Virginia along the Ohio River near
the plant. DuPont acknowledged that its chief
toxicologist destroyed data, but indicates
it will appeal the decision.
May 2003. Reporting
in the NY Times, Elizabeth Becker and Jennifer 8
Lee explore the implications of the European Union's
proposed new plan for chemical regulation, particularly
how it wilil affect US companies wanting to export to
Europe. The new plan, called REACH,
will shift the burden of proof of chemical use
from government to companies, and dramatically strengthen
the standards that must be met to permit chemicals (and
products containing them) into the European market.
"European officials said today that their proposed
testing was aimed at improving public health and the
environment at a time when health problems like allergies
and male infertility are rising. The costs of cleaning
up damage from chemicals like asbestos is already in
the billions of dollars." The Times quotes US Assistant
Secretary of Commerce William Lash: "This
is a big game; it will dwarf the G.M.O. dispute."
The US is considering challenging the new policies before
the World Trade Organization as an illegal constraint
on trade. The EU's new approach contrasts starkly with
the main legislative tool used in the US to regulate
chemicals, the 1976
Toxic Substances Control Act, which critics cited by
the Times characterize as weak and too deferential to
to EU announcement
May 2003. An article
in the Sacramento Bee covers charges from Californians
for Pesticide Reform, a coalition of organizations working
to reduce pesticide exposures, that pesticide drift
in California is threatening the health of hundreds
of thousands of the state's residents. The charges are
summarized in a report from the coalition called "Secondhand
Pesticides." The Bee comments that the "California
Department of Pesticide Regulation issued a 3 1/2 page
response Tuesday, occasionally agreeing with the report."
May 2003. According
to Reuters, a planned shipment of whale blubber
from Norway to Japan has been halted by public health
authorities because of PCB contamination. Norwegian
scientists prevented the export of roughly 500 tons
of blubber because it was "too toxic for human
consumption." Norway had resumed hunting
for Minke whales in 1993, viewing the Japanese market
for blubber as an important commercial target. Norwegians
eat only the meat, which contains much lower contaminant
levels because PCBs accumulate in fatty tissues. Blubber
in Japan can sell for $20 per kilo.
May 2003. A report
from Reuters covers tough new chemical screening
procedures under consideration in the European Union.
According to the EU: "The principal aims of the
new system will be to provide sufficient information
on the chemicals we use and to phase out those that
pose unmanageable and unacceptable risks to our health
or the environment."
new law will require chemical firms to register and
test for safety 30,000 chemicals at an estimated cost
of almost $8 billion over the first 10 years. "The
onus would be on any firm that makes, imports or uses
chemicals to prove its products are safe or stop using
them." Because the law will cover chemical
products imported from abroad as well as those made
in Europe, the EU laws will almost certainly affect
chemical practices in the US.
May 2003. Research on a large sample of farmers in North
Carolina has linked exposure to pesticides to
a heightened risk of prostate cancer, according
to an article
in the Charlotte Observer. The study, conducted
by the the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute
of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental
Protection Agency, looked at the health records of more
than 55,000 men in North Carolina and Iowa, and found
14% elevation in risk of prostate cancer associated
with pesticide application. Out of 45 pesticides evaluated,
the biggest risk was seen with methyl bromide. Methyl
bromide has been scheduled to be phased out of use because
it depletes stratospheric ozone. According to the Observer,
"the United States -- prodded in part by N.C. strawberry,
tobacco and pepper growers -- has asked the United Nations
for exemptions that would allow continued use of the
chemical on a smaller scale."
May 2003. The New
York Times covers a story from Louisiana about vinyl
chloride in the well water of a trailer park community
that is forcing people from their homes. Criminal
charges may be sought. State health officials knew about
the contamination in 1997 but failed to tell residents.
"Women who live here say that as many as 13 pregnancies
ended in miscarriage in just the last few years, and
say that their children burned and itched from bath
water and wading pools." People living in Myrtle
Grove Trailer Park, near Placquemine, believe the contamination
comes from a nearby Dow Chemical facility nearby where
vinyl chloride is manufactured.
Dow disclaims responsibility.
May 2003. Writing
in the Sacramento Bee, reporter Ed Fletcher describes
a proposal by State Senator Deborah Ortiz to develop
a biomonitoring program patterned after
national body burden survey. The program would give
health and environmental officials in California information
about contamination levels within residents of the state.
Sponsors of the bill include Commonweal
Breast Cancer Fund. The bill was approved by the
Senate Health and Human Services Committee last week,
and moves on now for consideration by other committees.
April 2003. University of Missouri researcher Dr. Fred
vom Saal is calling for a ban on bisphenol A, according
to a report
in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The recommendation
will be made at a Toxicology and Risk Assessment meeting
in Dayton, Ohio, this week. The scientist's recommendation
stems from a series of results that have been published
over the last several years, culminating with a demonstration
that bisphenol A induces aneuploidy in mice, even
at low levels. According to vom Saal's colleague from
Univ Missouri, Dr. Wade Welshons, "the danger is
apparent to almost anyone." Not to the plastics
industry, however: they continue to issue press
releases stonewalling the implications of these new
April 2003. An editorial
in the LA Times picks up on the perchlorate report
described in the next item, below. It describes paltry
efforts by the military to investigate the health risks
of rocket fuels, and interference by the Office of Management
and Budget. It then recommends at a minimum that the
march to absolve the military from clean-up responsibilities
and costs be slowed.
April 2003. A story
in the LA Times reports on a survey of contamination
in lettuce that finds almost one in five samples studied
contain the rocket fuel perchlorate. The survey,
by the Environmental
Working Group (a health/environment advocacy organization),
measured perchlorate levels in 22 different types of
lettuce purchased in grocery stores in northern California.
The rocket fuel was found in four, and in each of the
contaminated batches perchlorate levels were far above
levels considered safe by the state of California. "One,
a packaged variety of organic mixed baby greens, had
a level of perchlorate contamination at least 20 times
as high as the amount California considers safe for
drinking water." The group acknowledges
that their sample of lettuce is very small, and argues
that their results should increase pressure for more
extensive surveys. EWG "estimates that by eating
lettuce, 1.6 million American women of childbearing
age are exposed daily during the winter months to more
perchlorate than the EPA’s recommended safe dose."
is likely to be reaching lettuce through irrigation
water, as the source of irrigation water for
agriculture in many lettuce growing areas in California,
the Colorado River, is known to be contaminated with
and federal environmental agencies have set relatively
low safety thresholds for perchlorate because of animal
data showing perchlorate interferes with the action
of thyroid hormone. The US Air Force, whose long-term
rocket fuel manufacturing and testing operations have
contributed substantially to widespread perchlorate
contamination, disputes concerns about low-level contamination.
Costs of clean-up if more stringent standards prevail
will run in the tens to hundreds of milliions of dollars,
possible over a billion. The Republican-controlled
US Congress is currently considering a bill that would
exempt the military from clean-up costs of contamination
on and from military bases, including perchlorate.
April 2003. An article
in the Wall Street Journal reports the Pentagon
has concluded that Gulf War Syndrome may have been caused
by pesticide exposures. "Tens of thousands of soldiers
in the first Gulf War may have been overexposed to pesticides
and that may have contributed to some veterans' unexplained
illnesses." Sources of exposure included a mixture
of pest strips, sprayed pesticides and fly baits.
April 2003. Writing
in USA Today, reporter Elizabeth Weise describes
new scientific findings that suggest we may be paying
a health cost for the convenience of certain
chemicals that are widely used in consumer products.
In the article she covers the broiling controversies
over the perfluorinated
chemicals used in Teflon, Gore-Tex and related products,
impacts of bisphenol A leaching from polycarbonate
plastic, and the emerging data on health risks associated
flame retardants. Collectively these data indicate
that we allowed these chemicals to move into
global production far too rapidly, and that
people now are paying the price in a variety of disabilities
and diseases. So what's the solution? Weise explores
the controversy over using the Precautionary Principle
to guide decisions about what products should be allowed
into the marketplace, and when.
April 2003. Marla
Cone examines scientific findings that are driving
growing concerns about brominated flame retardants (PBDEs)
in the environment, in a front page story in the Los
Angeles Times. Experiments with animals show that PBDEs
disrupt brain development, most likely because
of their ability to interfere with thyroid hormone.
Data from a diversity of sources show that PBDE levels
are building very rapidly in North America, including
in people. American body burdens of PBDEs are much higher
than European, because Europe has banned two bioaccumulative
types of PBDEs whereas the US has not. More
April 2003. Articles in Science
magazine and the New
York Times (both by Madrid-based reporter Samuel
Loewenberg) describe efforts underway in the European
Union to strengthen policies on chemical health risks.
The Science article focuses on changes in EU approaches
to chemical regulation, based on the Precautionary
Principle. New standards will require much more
stringent testing of some 30,000 chemicals on the market
today, and in addition will restrict use of 1,500 chemicals
for which data now raise sufficient concerns about health
effects. The New York Times article looks more broadly
at EU business regulation, including chemical policies.
In the Times, Loewenberg quotes U.C. Berkeley business
professor David Vogel: "In this new generation
of environmental issues the E.U. is moving quite aggressively,
while U.S. policy is stalemated." The
EU measures are designed to avoid harm before it occurs,
whereas in the US, lobbying by corporations has created
circumstances where policies only advance during crises.
many (if not most) industry representatives are predicting
economic catastrophes as a result of these new policies,
some expect the new policies to encourage innovation
by forcing companies to find new chemicals that are
less hazardous than those currently in use.
April 2003. In a front
page story in the Wilmington News Journal, reporter
Fred Biddle explores challenges to DuPont over the safety
of a key chemical component of Teflon. The EPA
has announced that it will be undertaking aggressive
steps to resolve safety issues that have been raised
by scientific studies of the compound, known
as ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or C-8. In 2000, 3M
began phasing out the chemical because of environmental
concerns. And as early as 1981, DuPont removed
women from manufacturing positions at a plant in West
Virginia because of concerns about exposure to C-8.
Two of seven children born to mothers in a small study
had birth defects. Concerns about environmental pollution
of C-8 in the Ohio River, where DuPont manufactures
the chemical, have led DuPont to ship waste water from
West Virginia to New Jersey by rail, where the waste
water is dumped into the Delaware River.
April 2003. In a news
story published in Environmental Science and Technology,
reporter Kellyn Betts summarizes several recent published
and unpublished analyses of brominated flame retardant
levels in people from Europe and North America. The
data indicate that US PBDE body burdens are
far higher than those in continental Europe,
and that English appears intermediate. Two of these
studies are accessible via pages in this website (Indiana
A third, looking at PBDE levels in Texas, was summarized
at the March 2003 meeting of the Society for Toxicology.
Led by Dr. Arnold Schecter, the Texas study concluded
that US levels are "strikingly high" compared
to Europe, ranging from 6 to over 400 parts per billion.
According to Betts, one route of exposure to PBDEs that
is known to differ between the US, UK and continental
Europe is much greater use of brominated flame retardants
in the polyurethane foam used in furniture. Another
source, not considered by Betts, is use of PBDEs in
carpet backing, a common practice in the US but not
Europe. Both would lead to household dust laden with
April 2003. According
to Reuters Health, a petition has been submitted
to the US EPA request the agency investigate an alleged
cover-up by DuPont of the potential health effects of
a chemical used to make Teflon, perfluorooctanoic acid,
or C8. The petition, submitted by the DC-based health
advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group,
asserts that DuPont has withheld health information
about C8 from the EPA for 22 years. The withheld data
link C8 to birth defects in DuPont employees. [Link
to EWG site]
April 2003. Reuters
reports that a gigantic pulp and paper factory spill
has dumped 1.2 billion liters of toxic waste
into two rivers in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais,
depriving 600,000 people of drinking water and
killing countless wildlife and livestock. A
second spill appears poised to strike as rain threatens
to overwhelm an inadequate containment system.
April 2003. A story
in the Mobile Register by Ben Raines gives the first
public indication that the US Food and Drug
Administration is changing its approach to evaluating
mercury hazards in fish. This change
will dramatically lower the level of mercury contamination
that warrants fish advisories, and make the
FDA's warnings consistent with those of the EPA. Now,
for example, the FDA recommends that women and children
can eat as much as two cans of tuna each week without
running a health risk. The new standard will
acknowledge that as little as half a can per week will
push a child over the acceptable limit. The
limit for a 130-pound woman will be one can per week.
Scientists familiar with past FDA policies describe
the new approach as "a sea change."
April 2003. NY State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer
has announced he will sue Dow Agro- Sciences for falsely
advertising that one of its products, Dursban, is safe,
according to an article
in the New York Times. Spitzer contends that Dow
has violated a 1994 agreement that prohibited Dow from
such a claim. The Times quotes Spitzer: "Consumers
must not be lulled into a false sense of security by
misleading safety claims," he said. "They
should be urged to use pesticides only with the utmost
April 2003. Los Angeles Times reporter Marla Cone writes
the April 2003 issue of Smithsonian Magazine about
the impacts of persistent bioaccumulative toxins on
polar bears in the Norwegian and Canadian arctic. The
article describes Canadian scientist Andy Derocher's
work to understand how contamination is affecting the
bears. He had come to the remote Arctic seeking a pristine
place to study polar bears. Then discovery of "strange,
pseudo-hermaphroditic polar bears" made it abundantly
apparent he wasn't working with an unperturbed population.
Cone expects a version of this article will become a
chapter in a book she is writing about her investigations
into contamination in the arctic.
April 2003. Despite outward appearances, high
altitude lakes in the Pacific Northwest of the US and
Canada are anything but pristine, according
to a newsstory
in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In the article,
Reporter Robert McClure describes scientific data presented
by Environment Canada scientist Pat Shaw at a scientific
meeting on the environmental health of Puget Sound (US)
and Georgia Strait (Canada). "When Shaw went looking
for pollutants in the fish of British Columbia, one
of the sites he chose was so far up in remote mountainous
country that he had to fly in the measuring equipment.
Yet glacier-fed Garibaldi Lake showed some of
the highest contamination levels." The
contaminants detected including polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and toxaphene.
Dr. Staci Simonich (Oregon State University) predicted
that global warming will exacerbate
pollution in these regions because it will re-liberate
molecules currently bound in ice, snow and cold soils.
April 2003. Writing
in the Los Angeles Times, reporter Marla Cone describes
research carried out by scientists at Case Western Reserve
that confirms, for the first time, an environmental
contaminant causes a genetic error that in humans leads
to spontaneous miscarriages and birth defects, including
Down Syndrome. As Cone describes, the contaminant
bisphenol A has its effect in mice at levels that occur
today in people. "Toxicologists say the chemical
leaches from plastic food and drink containers, including
baby bottles and cookware, as they age, especially when
they are microwaved or cleaned with harsh detergents.
BPA also has been found at low levels in water supplies."
The article quotes reproductive toxicologist Dr. Frederick
vom Saal: "It looks like someone shot the chromosomes
with a shotgun. They are totally disorganized. If you
disorganize the chromosomes, it is a death sentence
for an embryo. This is a stunning form of damage. It
disrupts development of the cell that becomes your baby."
description of the study...
Pearson also writes about the study in Nature.
According to Pearson: "Hunt, vom Saal and others
would like to see BPA regulations tightened. Some regulatory
bodies are already reviewing the allowable levels: a
European Commission's food-safety committee, for example,
last year slashed its upper limit for daily intake fivefold."
George Pauli, a representative of the US Food and Drug
Administration, however, said "We don't have any
reason to believe there's any effect."
April 2003. Researchers from Greenland report unacceptable
levels of persistent bioaccumulative toxins in people
living there and eating native foods, according
to the BBC. The BBC report cites data indicating
that in some areas, 100% of Greenlanders have body burdens
in excess of levels judged safe. Describing what he
called "the Arctic dilemma," Doctor Jens C
Hansen from the Centre for Arctic Environmental Medicine
told BBC "While we need to give dietary advice
to avoid the over-consumption of environmental toxins,
we must also avoid people abandoning their traditional
diet for a Western one."
March 2003. The Guardian (UK) reports on persistent
effects of Agent Orange use in Vietnam by US armed
forces during the war. The article reports there are
some 650,000 victims suffering from an array of baffling
chronic conditions. Another 500,000 have already died.
The thread that weaves through all their case histories
is defoliants deployed by the US military during the
war. According to the Guardian, this episode
represents the largest use of chemical weapons in the
history of warfare. It quotes a letter from
a military scientist: "When we initiated the herbicide
programme in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential
for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide.
We were even aware that the military formulation had
a higher dioxin concentration than the civilian version,
due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However,
because the material was to be used on the enemy, none
of us were overly concerned."
March 2003. A report
in the NY Times by Jennifer 8 Lee draws attention
to an EPA review of a chemical of a chemical, called
ammonium perfluorooctanoate, which is used to make Teflon
and which is released by Teflon during normal use. The
chemical is highly persistent and according to the EPA
review, poses surprisingly high risks for younger
women and girls.
A similar chemical, previously used to manufacturer
Scotchgard, was pulled off the market by 3M under EPA
pressure in 2000. Consistent with NY Times coverage
of environmental health stories, Lee's coverage of the
story actually soft-pedals the strength of EPA's draft
conclusions about the compound, also known
as PFOA or C8 (in Dupont's files, its manufacturer).
Studies reviewed by the EPA link PFOA to deaths (in
newborn rats), prostate cancer, birth defects and adverse
effects on internal organ weights. The fact that PFOA
literally does not break down in the environment
adds significantly to health concerns. The Environmental
Working Group has played a key role in drawing attention
to health problems of PFOA and related compounds. Much
more information is available
on their website. Recent
reporting in the Columbus Dispatch revealed that
DuPont has covered up its own health concerns about
this compound for decades.
March 2003. In the NY Times, Jane
Brody explores the arguments about vaccines and
autism. She argues that if the mercury-based additive
to vaccines, thimerosal, has been causing autism, then
its removal from common childhood vaccines should lead
very quickly to a decrease in autism rates. Her own
conclusion is that thimerosal represents an insubstantial
threat to the developing brain, based on several recent
March 2003. Carol
Kaseuk Yoon reports in the New York Times about
a study by scientists at the University of Washington
showing that children lower their exposures
to pesticides by eating organic instead of conventional
produce. "The study's data showed that
an organic diet could, under some circumstances, decrease
a child's pesticide exposure — as measured from
byproducts in the urine — from above the amounts
considered to be of negligible risk by the Environmental
Protection Agency to levels below." Yoon goes on
to quote Yale Professor John Wargo: "This justifies
the importance of an organic diet, that organic foods
lower a child's exposure. Industry people are saying
show me the dead bodies. I don't want people gambling
with my kids that way."
on the study...
March 2003. Did PCBs save the striped bass run in the
Hudson River? Writing
in the New York Times, James Gorman explores this
fish(y) story. He concludes that current fish advisories
limiting fish consumption probably lessen fishing pressure
on the bass by both commercial and sports fishing, but
that PCBs are likely to have had their own negative
impact on striped bass populations. While no research
has been done specifically on PCB impacts on striped
bass, they clearly affect reproduction and health in
other fish species. Given that PCBs have now been around
for many striped bass generations, it is likely that
the bass have developed evolutionary adaptations to
the contaminant's presence in their environment.
March 2003. Writing
in the San Francisco Chronicle, reporter Gail Bensinger
examines the third generation of Agent Orange's victims
Agent Orange. "At the residential treatment center
where Phuong [one victim] shares a sunny, aqua- painted
room with three other youngsters, Agent Orange is a
daily reality. All of the 30 boarders and nearly half
of the 100 day students are suffering from its effects:
twisted or stunted limbs, bodies covered with tumors,
some blind or deaf children, others with faces in perpetual
pain." According to Chuck Searcy, the Hanoi representative
of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, "the U.S.
government is really in denial about Agent Orange. The
official policy is not even to discuss it."
March 2003. According to Reuters
Health, a coalition of consumer and health organizations
has called for an immediate ban on playsets made of
arsenic-treated wood. The request, made to the Consumer
Product Safety Commission, also asks that thousands
of playsets already in backyards and school grounds
across America be recalled. The recommendation is based
on evidence showing that children playing on the structures
run an increased risk of cancer, because arsenic continues
to leach out of the wood long after it is installed.
Evidence cited in testimony before the CPSC by Jane
Houlihan, Vice President for Research from the Environmental
Working Group, indicates that typical exposures for
children may exceed EPA safety standards by a factor
March 2003. According to a story
in the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio state health authorities
are encouraging passage of a bill in the state legislature
that would dramatically curtail public access to information
about emerging health problems. The bill is being described
as a measure that would strengthen efforts against terrorism,
but the restrictions on public health strike a far broader
swath, including information about cancer clusters
and other disease investigations totally unrelated to
terrorism. The article presents several examples
of cases where the new law would have made it far more
difficult for the public to learn about environmental
March 2003. According
to the New York Times, the EPA has once again delayed
the start of the cleanup of PCBs in the upper Hudson
River. This means that removal of contaminated sediments
won't begin before 2006 and the earliest completion
date is in 2012. PCB contamination in the Hudson was
the result of decades of waste disposal by GE, resulting
in over 1 million pounds of PCBs being dumped in the
Hudson River watershed. GE evaded responsibility for
cleanup until the summer of 2001, when the EPA
issued a decision requiring that GE pay to remove
2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment along
40 miles of the Hudson at a cost to GE of over $500
million. According to the EPA, GE was not responsible
for this new delay.
March 2003. According to a story
in the Raleigh News and Observer, experts are gathering
at Research Triangle Park to develop practical ways
that industry can reduce and eliminate releases of dioxin
and other persistent organic pollutants into the environment.
The meeting, hosted by EPA, has been convened by the
United Nations Environment Programme to develop industry
and governmental standards for implementing the Stockholm
Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
on the Convention...
March 2003. A study of water supplies in New Jersey
discovers many chemicals present in trace amounts, according
to a story
in the North Jersey News. The findings "startled
researchers with the variety of drugs, consumer products,
and industrial compounds detected." No wonder the
body burden study found so many chemicals in Americans.
of the contaminants appeared present at levels sufficient
to raise questions about traditional toxicological concerns.
But no studies have ever--not once--examined the health
impacts of mixtures as complicated as these, nor even
the consequences of low level exposures of many of the
detected compounds on fetal development in people.
March 2003. According
to the Toronto Star, a study by researchers from
Laval University have documented subtle neurodevelopmental
effects of exposure in the womb to mercury and PCBs
in Inuit children living in far northern Canada. The
results parallel earlier findings in studies of children
living in the Great Lakes region of the US and they
create a dilemma for people and health officials in
the region. Exposure comes from eating traditional
foods, like fish and seal, which become contaminated
by bioaccumulation of chemicals to the top of the food
chain. For the most part, however, "the health
status of aboriginals who follow a traditional diet
is spectacularly better than of those who have taken
up the southern lifestyle." While PCB levels appear
to be declining, mercury levels are rising. At what
point do the health benefits of traditional foods no
longer outweigh the neurodevelopmental risks? The
dilemma is worsened by the fact that almost all the
pollution comes from sources far to the south,
carried by atmospheric currents. Hence no local steps
can be taken to prevent contaminating the food chain.
March 2003. David Kohn writes
in Newsday about health safety questions raised
by laboratory data on phthalates, ubiquitous additives
to many different consumer products, from plastic baby
toys to cosmetics to vinyl flooring. They are even "the
new car smell in new cars." A growing body of experiments
with laboratory animals demonstrate that phthalates
can cause developmental errors, but industrial users
of phthalates assert there is no evidence phthalates
cause harm in people. The problem with then concluding
that phthalates are safe, according to Mike Shelby,
director of the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to
Human Reproduction at the National Institute of Environmental
Health Services, is no one has done the needed
studies: "Industry says there is no human
evidence, and that's true," says Shelby. "But
the absence of evidence doesn't mean there's no effect.
In this case, it means that no one's studied it."
February 2003. The
Guardian (London) reports that scientific advisors
to the British Department of Health are urging research
into factors affecting human fertility.
The scientists, members of the Committee on Toxicity
of chemicals in food, consumer products and the environment
(Cot), are recommending an expert review of the evidence
showing how chemicals, working
environments, and lifestyles may be affecting the sexual
development of boys and their fertility as men.
February 2003. In an op-ed
in the New York Times, science writer/editor Rebecca
Skloot asks the "big elephant in the room"
question that has been ignored for literally decades
of work on fertility treatments. Should these
experiments be allowed without federal scrutiny and
scientific evidence indicates that increased risks
of birth defects and disease accompany the use of common
infertility treatments like in vitro fertilization.
Writes Skloot: "If the far-off prospect of cloning
can arouse such heated debate, surely the safety of
current infertility treatments can do the same. It took
scientists decades to figure out that diethylstilbestrol,
or DES, a widely used fertility drug of the 50's and
60's, caused cancer and infertility in children exposed
to it in their mothers' wombs. Let's not make that mistake
February 2003. Stories in the Wall
Street Journal and New
York Times report on a suppressed EPA report on
children's health and the environment. According to
the Journal: "A partial draft, titled "America's
Children and the Environment," notes that states
increasingly are issuing warnings about dangerous mercury
levels in fish. It says there is mounting evidence that
mercury is collecting in the blood of women of child-bearing
age. The evidence is also increasing, warns the EPA
report, that high doses of mercury can cause mental
retardation and other neurological disorders in infants."
The Journal story examines utility and coal industry
pressure on the Administration to not implement stronger
covered by either story: While the WSJ story describes
a battle within the Bush Administration about mercury,
it fails to report that a key source of political pressure
to stall on the report's release as been the Office
of Management and Budget's John Graham. In principle,
OMB has no role to play in this report because it is
a scientific finding without regulatory impact. In fact,
according to EPA sources, Graham's office insisted on
reviewing the document.
finally, a note abour press wars. When the Administration
learned that the Journal had obtained a full copy of
the report and was preparing to run a story, it leaked
selective portions of it to the New York Times. Hence
the Times coverage provides a far rosier interpretation.
February 2003. A front
page story in the Columbus Dispatch reveals that
DuPont has for decades had data suggesting perfluorooctanoate
may cause health problems, including developmental
difficulties, and has also known that drinking water
around its manufacturing facility on the Ohio River
near Little Hocking, Ohio, is contaminated by the compound.
The article also indicates that the West Virginia
health authorities misrepresented the way they
calculated a safe exposure threshold to alleviate community
concerns about the contamination.
February 2003. Francesca
Lyman on MSNBC writes that "lovers may want
to think twice about giving a bottle of cologne or perfume
for Valentines Day." Her column on health and the
environment this week focuses on the growing controversy
about the safety of phthalates and other poorly-tested
ingredients of cosmetics.
February 2003. The LA
Times reports that the EPA is proposing to relax
industrial toxic emission measures, responding to business
complaints that standards are too costly. Affected industries
include petrochemical plants, pulp mills, automobile
manufacturers and steel mills. "The emissions at
issue are not hazardous because of smog-forming potential,
but because they can lead to cancer or damage
the brain or a developing fetus."
February 2003. The New
York Times reports that delegates attending a U.N.
conference in Nairobi " endorsed a global
crackdown on pollution caused by mercury, although
the United States blocked efforts for binding restrictions
on its use." The story cites CDC data from its
body burden report, to the effect that one in twelve
pregnant women in the US have unsafe mercury levels,
threatening neurological development in more than 300,000
babies in the US. Exposures are likely to be much worse
elsewhere, as national and state programs in the US
to alert consumers to mercury exposures are far more
aggressive than in other countries.
February 2003. Writing in the New York Times, Jennifer
Lee reports that scientists at the U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have concluded that
exposure to arsenic in playground structures made out
of chromated copper arsenate-treated wood increases
the risk of bladder and lung cancer in children. "This
pesticide contains arsenic, a known carcinogen, which
bleeds from the wood. Young children can ingest the
arsenic when they put their hands to their mouths or
when they touch food or toys which are then placed in
their mouths. The study projects that between 2 to 100
children out of one million will get bladder and lung
cancer from their exposure to the arsenic."
to the CPSC fact sheet
February 2003. Martin
Mittelstaedt reports in the Toronto Globe and Mail
that a new analysis by the United Nations Environment
Programme concludes that the world's environment is
increasingly contaminated by mercury, a developmental
neurotoxin. "According to the report, millions
of children may already be suffering ailments -- ranging
from learning difficulties to impaired nervous systems--
due to dietary mercury. The report concludes that "The
available data indicate that mercury is present
all over the globe, especially in fish, in concentrations
that adversely affect human beings and wildlife."
Mercury contamination enters the environment via multiple
pathways, with burning of coal for electricity production
and waste incineration accounting for 70% of global
emissions. Emissions are growing most rapidly in Asia.
Atmospheric transport carries mercury pollution literally
around the globe.
February 2003. A story
in the Los Angeles Times written by Miguel Bustillo
reports that the US Environmental Protection Agency
and the California EPA are concerned about health implications
of perchlorate contamination in the Colorado River,
a source of drinking water for more than 15 million
people in the US southwest. Even at low levels,
perchlorate interferes with thyroid action and may thus
disrupt developmental processes under thyroid control,
including brain development. The principal
source of contamination is an old rocket fuel production
site in Nevada. Health authorities are also questioning
whether the use of this water for irrigation of lettuce
crops may extend the risks to a much wider array of
Americans who purchase produce grown in southern California.
The Department of Defense disputes the possibility that
the low level exposures could be a health risk.
January 2003. Two studies released this week provide
new insights into the levels of contaminants experienced
by the American public. One, conducted by the US Centers
for Disease Control, measured the levels of 116 compounds,
including an array of heavy metals like arsenic and
mercury, traces of second-hand smoke, organochlorines,
and organophosphate pesticides. Almost 8,000 people
age 1 and older were included in the survey, with specific
sample sizes varying from compound to compound. The
second study, by CHE partners the Environmental Working
Group, Commonweal and the Mt Sinai School of Medicine,
looked more intensely at a much smaller group, measuring
210 chemicals in 9 people. Of the 210 sampled, 167 were
found, an average of 91 compounds per person. Many of
the compounds found are linked to cancer, nervous system
disorders, birth defects, immune system deficiencies
and reproductive problems. The two studies were widely
reported in the press, including Newsday,
the New York Times,
Detroit Free Press
and San Francisco
Chronicle. The Chronicle also ran an op-ed
by Ruth Rosen.
on CDC's study...
on EWG's study...
January 2003. Supporting recommendations in a report
issued by a consortium of environmental, health, labor
and human rights organizations, an
editorial in the New York Times calls for domestic
legislation that would require US companies
to make public information about activities overseas
that would be prohibited or require disclosure by US
domestic law. Citing the success of the US
EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) in reducing industrial
emissions by 50% during the first decade following the
TRI's implementation, the Times argues that "The
idea of an international right to know
is a creative and, for the companies, a not particularly
burdensome new approach. American companies could still
behave badly if they chose to do so. The law does not
prevent irresponsible mining companies in Peru from
spilling mercury on local roads, or toy makers in China
from employing children. But they would have to tell
the public about these practices, and let the market,
and public opinion, go to work."
January 2003. In
an editorial, the Los Angeles Times reminds readers
that the source of funding for scientific research can
taint the process, especially when there are economic
interests at stake. The editorial focuses on medical
research and biases introduced by companies seeking
to gain competitive advantage for their products. It
fails to note, however, that the situation it describes
in medical research on disease treatment is actually
far more prevalent in research examining the health
impacts of chemical exposures. Federal and
independent funding of medical research may not be sufficient
to counterbalance the biases of research underwritten
by private interests, but it is vastly greater in amount
than independent funding available to examine health
risks associated with chemical exposures. Here, research
by chemical interests with an economic stake in the
outcome dramatically outweighs independent investigations.
As a result, scientific literature on chemical
exposures is littered with false assurances about safety.
January 2003. A story
in the Wall Street Journal describes a new report
by US PIRG on industrial releases of toxic contaminants
in the United States. The report, based on a zip-code
by zip-code analysis of the US EPA's Toxic Release Inventory,
documents a long-term trend that has led to a big increase
in emissions in the South relative to the Northeast
US. "Thirteen Southern states, stretching
from North Carolina to New Mexico, were responsible
for producing nearly half of all toxic releases known
to cause cancer." The
report allows on-line readers to look state-by-state
for sources of toxic emissions, and provides separate
analyses for cancer-causing contaminants vs. those that
induce neurological, developmental, reproductive and
other types of health damage. The story in the
Journal cites medical concerns that evidence increasingly
links exposure to a range of health conditions, including
multiple sclerosis, lupus, breast cancer and asthma.
January 2003. Writing
in the Los Angeles Times, Rosie Mestel describes
indications emerging from a series of studies of birth
outcomes that the risk of several rare birth
defects/diseases are increased in children conceived
through in vitro fertilization. Release
of a new Dutch study in The Lancet is the latest indication.
Their research reveals a a four- to seven-fold increase
in the rate of retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the
eye. Earlier studies published within the past two years
had linked in vitro fertilization to heightened risk
syndrome and Angelman
syndrome. Because the normal rates of these diseases
are extremely rare, the increase in risk indicated by
these studies does not translate to a high risk for
in vitro births, but according to the LA Times "a
growing number of scientists and doctors think the reports
are a cause for unease."
of infertility should be the first line of defense.
January 2003. As described in a story
in the New York Times, The Institute of Medicine
of the US National Academies has issued a
report concluding that the links between
chronic lymphocytic leukemia and Agent Orange are strong
enough to justify paying health benefits to veterans
exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
This reverses the IOM's prior position which had been
based upon examining all types of leukemia together.
Because of CLL's similarity to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,
which the IOM had already concluded was linked to these
exposures, in this new analysis the IOM considered CLL
separately. This new approach solidified the link.
to IOM: "In addition to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,
Hodgkin's disease, and now CLL, there is sufficient
evidence of a link between exposure to chemical defoliants
or their contaminants and the development of soft-tissue
sarcoma and chloracne in veterans. Also, scientific
studies continue to offer limited or suggestive evidence
of an association with other diseases in veterans --
including Type 2 diabetes, respiratory cancers, prostate
cancer, and multiple myeloma -- as well as the congenital
birth defect spina bifida in veterans' children."
The contaminant considered most likely to be involved
in these health effects is dioxin.
January 2003. In a major
investigative story in the Austin American-Statesman,
Kevin Carmody and Mike Ward report that the central
jewel of Austin's urban parks and recreation system,
Barton Springs and its tributaries, is highly
contaminated by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and
arsenic. About 1,000 paid visitors swim in
the springs each day. An accompanying editorial calls
for EPA assistance to clean up the mess.
government scientist with the US Geological Survey reviewing
the data observed that the levels "were higher
than his agency had ever detected anywhere in the country
in routine surveys of waterways." Contamination
levels exceeds "those found in a dozen of the worst
hazardous waste sites in the country." The source
of the PAHs is thought to be coal gasification wastes
produced while making gas for Austin's city lights from
the 1870's to 1928. The arsenic source has not been
of the story suggest incompetence, negligence
or coverup by city officials, as indications
of the contamination have been available since 1995.
January 2003. Writing
in the Boston Globe, reporter Anne Barnard describes
the wide gap between what men with prostate cancer are
told about the impact of surgery on sexual performance,
and what actually happens most of the time. Surgeons
will promise that sex without devices is possible in
up to 80% of cases, but the reality is just the opposite.
"One large-scale study of prostate cancer survivors
found that, 18 months after treatment, 60 percent could
not get an erection firm enough for intercourse."
medical advances in treating malignancies like prostate
cancer have achieved dramatic improvement in survivorship.
But the cancer itself still extracts an important toll
on life. In this case, it's impotence. Children suffering
from brain tumors have life-long legacies of the disease
and the treatment, even though they are cured of the
cancer itself. Women after surgical treatment for breast
cancer struggle with the psychological and physical
impact of mastectomy. These examples, and many more,
emphasize the need to focus on prevention, on
reducing the incidence of cancer, not just decreasing
the mortality rate once cancer develops. A
exclusive focus on "cure" misses entirely
how best to advance public health protections, and any
individual or organization that uses cancer mortality
data to buttress an argument that we are winning the
war against cancer should be suspected of abetting interests
that place a secondary value on public health.
January 2003. The New
York Times reports on research in two neighborhoods
in New York City, Dominican Heights and Harlem, that
finds an association between exposure to environmental
contaminants and low birth weight and small head circumference.
Dr. Frederica Perera, the lead author of the study,
told the Times that the results were particularly troubling
because these birth outcomes are predictors of "poor
health and mental problems later in life." More
on the study...
January 2003. Writing
in the New York Times, Sandra Blakeslee describes
a just-published study documenting a ten-fold
higher levels of autism in metropolitan Atlanta than
would be expected on the basis of historical records.
These new findings are consistent with more recent studies
of autism, which have reported much higher rates during
the 1990s than previously. The study, published in the
Journal of the American Medical Association, does not
resolve the cause of the increase, some portion of which
is likely a result of changes in the way that autism
is diagnosed. The study was also covered by The
Atlanta Constitution Journal and Reuters