Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 
 
 
   
 

Stories in the news about endocrine disruption

Earlier press coverage
2002
2001

 
 

Women 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. More on study...

Press coverage of DDT story
LA Times
BBC

Florence 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.

BBC: 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

NJ 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 2003.

San 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

Orange 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 2003.

Wall 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.

Los 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.


New 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.

Shortly 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.

Some [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.

When 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. The industry-funded 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.

According to this NY Times article, EPA has concluded that the industry paper was too flawed to use in the atrazine assessment.

This 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.

It 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.

Given 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.


Strong 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 systems. More... 18 June 2003.

Press coverage on pesticides and reduced sperm:
Los Angeles Times
USA Today

Washington 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 greater.] 14 June 2003.

Reuters 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.

an introduction to phthalates

St. 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 2003.

Los 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 2003

Wall 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.

Seattle 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.

Bangor 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.

Guardian: 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.

LA 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 2003.
More on PBDEs

NY 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.

Reuters: 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.

An earlier 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.

Statesman 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

Los 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.

Associated 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."

Boston Globe: 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 May 2003.

Toronto 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. 23 May 2003.

Wall 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.

The 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.

Science: 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.
[European Commission Announcement]

USA 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."

New 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.

Living 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.

13 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.

12 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 brain development.

8 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.

8 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.

8 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 industry.

Link to EU announcement

7 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."

7 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.

7 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."

The 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.

6 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."


5 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.


5 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 the CDC's 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 and The 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.


30 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 results.


29 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.


28 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."

Perchlorate 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 perchlorate.

State 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.


25 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.


23 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, the health impacts of bisphenol A leaching from polycarbonate plastic, and the emerging data on health risks associated with brominated 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.


20 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 on PBDEs...


20 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.

While 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.


13 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.


12 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 and California). 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 PBDEs.

More about PBDEs


11 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]

6 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.

4 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."

3 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 caution."

2 April 2003. Los Angeles Times reporter Marla Cone writes in 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.

1 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.

1 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."

For a detailed description of the study...

Helen 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."

1 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."

29 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."

29 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.

25 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 studies.

25 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."
More on the study...

25 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.

24 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."

17 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 of 2000.

15 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 health problems.

11 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.

10 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.
More on the Convention...

5 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 CDC body burden study found so many chemicals in Americans.

None 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.
More on mixtures...

5 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.

4 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." More on phthalates...

24 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.

22 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 regulation? Growing 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 again."

20 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 mercury standards.

Not 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.

And 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.

16 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.

12 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.

11 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."

10 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 recent 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.

8 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."

Link to the CPSC fact sheet

4 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.

2 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.

31 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, Washington Post, Detroit Free Press and San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle also ran an op-ed by Ruth Rosen.

More on CDC's study...
More on EWG's study...

25 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."

24 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.

24 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.

24 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 of Beckwith-Wiedemann 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."

Prevention of infertility should be the first line of defense.

24 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.

According 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.

19 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.

A 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 identified.

Elements of the story suggest incompetence, negligence or coverup by city officials, as indications of the contamination have been available since 1995.

18 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."

Yes, 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.

17 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...

1 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 Health.

 

 
   
 
 

 

National news magazines

Recent:
   
 

1 August 2001. Bush vs. Big Business? You Never Know. Time Magazine. Whitman's decision supporting the Clinton plan to force GE to dredge its PCB wastes from the Hudson River appears to be part of a Bush administration effort to appear as if it is willing, occasionally, to stiff its corporate supporters. The devil is in the details. In this case, the one substantive change made by Whitman in the dredging plan is to proceed by stages, testing each step of the way to ensure its proceeding as planned without adverse effects. Time suggests that Republican pollsters will be in their testing, too, and that the Administration is likely to back off aggressive implementation of this clean-up as soon as polls indicate they can get away with it.

9 July 2001. Toxic Playgrounds. Time Magazine reports on the health risks of using chemically treated wood in playgrounds. Chromated copper arsenate is widely used to prevent wood from rotting outdoors, yet CCA treated wood leaches arsenic and has been used widely to make playground structures. Carpenters and kids are being exposed to arsenic as a result.
More on arsenic as an endocrine disruptor...
More on toxic playgrounds...(a report by the Environmental Working Group).

7 June 2001. POPs goes the theory. The Economist (subscription required). Data presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union reveal that transport of POPs to the Arctic is occurring more rapidly than had previously been thought, and also suggesting that the ongoing scale of active POPs (particularly DDT) use is greater than appreciated. POPs found in ice cores in Svarlbard are fresher than they should be given current theories of transport and use.

23 May 2001. The Dirty Dozen. The Economist (subscription required) A new agreement designed to ban a dozen of the world's most dangerous chemicals is badly needed, although it will be hard to implement. Despite President Bush's recent disdain for an international treaty on global warming, this is one environmental issue he is supporting.

29 March 2001. Chemical Reaction. The Economist (subscription required) Commenting on Bill Moyers' PBS show "Trade Secrets," The Economist observes that for the chemical industry to earn the public trust, might require "admitting that some of the chemicals deemed so essential to modern life might--just possibly--be slowly poisoning us. It certainly requires a better show than that put on by the industry's spokesman on Mr Moyers's programme, who insisted that all chemicals are safe and have been tested."

30 October 2000. Teens Before Their Time. With budding breasts and pubic hair, girls are developing earlier than ever. What's causing it? And what are the psychological effects? Time Magazine. Michael D. Lemonick. More on early puberty...

16 June 2000. Chemicals in the environment come under scrutiny as the number of childhood learning problems soars. US News and World Report. Sheila Kaplan and Jim Morris. More on neurological impacts...

 
 

 

 
   

 

 

Specialty magazines

Recent:
   
 

17 August 2002. New Scientist reports (subscription required for link) that at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction in Baltimore, Md, data were presented indicating that atrazine and nonylphenol dramatically enhance the conversion of testosterone to estrogen by aromatase at levels "typically found in US waterways." The effect was seen in the brains of fish larvae during the developmental process that leads to sexual differentiation. The observation, by scientists from the University of Maryland's Center of Marine Biotechnology, suggests that these common chemicals may be contributing to widespread fish feminization even though they do not interact with the estrogen receptor. A similar effect of atrazine on aromatase activity was proposed by Hayes et al. as the mechanism by which atrazine demasculinizes frogs.

9 August 2002. According to Science Magazine, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences first issued and then withdrew a gag order instructing senior cancer toxicologist Dr. James Huff to stop public criticism of the institute. According to Science:

 

"The NIEHS agreement would have required Huff "not to send any letters, emails or other communications that are critical of NIEHS as an Institute or its scientific work to the media, scientific organizations, scientists, administrative organizations, or other groups or individuals outside NIEHS." It also states that if Huff violates the agreement and can't provide a satisfactory explanation to the NIEHS director, he must retire or resign "voluntarily" within a week, and that he must retire by December 2003 in any case. Francine Little, an NIEHS administrator whose name appears on the memo, declined to comment on it, describing it as a "confidential personnel matter." But she noted that it was part of a negotiation and not "a done deal."

 

NIEHS administrators comment in Science that the disagreement with Huff arises over his unwillingness to review an area of cell biology in a timely manner. This would seem an odd stimulus for a gag order. More likely, it would seem, is Huff's outspoken criticism last year of a funding collaboration between the NIEHS and the American Chemistry Council. Questions were raised on this website about that arrangement when it was announced. The deal involved $1M in ACC money and $3M from NIEHS in a jointly managed research program on human developmental and reproductive effects.

25 May. Science News reports on research by scientists at the University of Illinois revealing that the phytoestrogen in soy, genistein, suppresses the immune system of mice and decreases thymus size. Their research raises questions about the widespread use of soy protein in infant formula, a practice Britain has already banned except for specific medical contingencies. More on the research...

2 May 2002. Summarized in Environmental Science and Technology, data from sampling sites downstream of cattle feedlots reveals significant levels of hormonally-active compounds and fish with altered sexual development. Almost all of the tens of millions of cattle in feedlots in the US receive some form of pharmaceutical treatment for growth enhancement. One common treatment is trembolone acetate, a powerful androgenic growth enhancer. Heretofore very little attention has been paid to the fate of synthetic hormones in the environment after use in cattle feed lots. The assumption has been that they were deactivated metabolically before excretion. According to Louis Guillette, one of the scientists studying the impacts on fish downstream of feedlots: "Once it comes out the tail end of a cow we haven’t been interested. Now we need to reconsider our assumptions.”

18 April 2002. Science and Nature both featured news stories about Tyrone Hayes' research on atrazine and frogs, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US) on 16 April 2002. Science describes atrazine as having been thought to be "one of the more benign pesticides around. Approximately 27 million kilograms of the chemical are applied annually to corn and other crops in the United States, and much of it makes its way into surface water, groundwater, and even rainwater. Past studies with amphibians had shown effects only at abnormally high levels. But researchers had not zeroed in on an apparent amphibian Achilles' heel: the hormone system, which can be disrupted by extremely low concentrations of compounds." According to Nature: "Although previous studies have suggested that atrazine is an endocrine disrupter, these have mostly used much higher doses. Hayes's study is causing alarm because he has observed effects at concentrations that reflect those found in the environment. "Hayes's work is some of the best to show how a contaminant affects amphibian reproduction," says Andrew Blaustein, who studies amphibians at Oregon State University in Corvallis."


12 December 2001. Environmental Science and Technology summarizes findings by Dr. Tyrone Hayes, U.C. Berkeley, indicating that atrazine, the most abundantly used herbicide in the world, causes reproductive damage to frogs at 0.1 parts per billion, levels far beneath standards for drinking water in the U.S. and even beneath concentrations found in rain water. Hayes presented these results at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, in Baltimore. Approximately 20% of males of the species Xenopus laevus (the African clawed toad) exposed to atrazine at 0.1 ppb develop multiple mixed gonads. Normal males have two testes. Exposed males, in contrast can have several testes and several ovaries. At 1 ppb, Hayes also sees reductions in the size of the vocal chord. At scientific meetings in Japan on 17 December, Hayes reported that field investigations of the leopard frog Rana pipiens, a species native to much of North America, reveal eggs in the frogs' testes in regions where atrazine is applied, but not where atrazine is not used. He is currently simulating field conditions in the laboratory to determine whether atrazine can produce the same phenomenon. These findings may play a crucial role in EPA's ongoing assessment of atrazine risk. They would suggest that atrazine has adverse ecological effects at levels currently allowed in US drinking water. Moreover, the hormonal mechanism that appears to cause the frog effects—an increase in aromatase conversion of testosterone to estradiol—is common to all vertebrates, including human. According to Hayes, some of the commercial sources for Xenopus (the "lab rat" of frogs) are unwittingly raising Xenopus in atrazine-contaminated water. This means that generations of experiments on the endocrinology of amphibians may have been using contaminated animals and could thereby have produced false negatives in toxicological experiments. More on all this when Hayes's research is published in the peer-reviewed literature.

 

26 November 2001. Betty Hileman reports in Chemical and Engineering News on what public health scientists are calling an epidemic of pre-term birth in the United States. Since the mid-1980s, the percentage of babies born prematurely has increased by 23%. Premature birth is linked to a greater risk of infant mortality, neurocognitive disorders, anemia, jaundice, cerebral palsy and other dysfunctions. The causes of the increased frequency of pre-term birth are unknown, but as reported by Hileman, exposure to environmental chemicals may be contributing. One of the problems in finding the causes is that animal research on chemical exposure rarely examines gestation length as a health endpoint. Research earlier in the year by the US CDC revealed that the risk of premature birth was associated with DDT exposure.

 

30 July 2001. Writing in Chemical and Engineering News [requires subscription], Betty Hileman describes the difficulties now being encountered by the EPA program on testing and screening endocrine disrupting compounds, EDSTAC, in work to validate proposed tests. While two traditional assays, the uterotrophic assay and the Hershberger assay, are close to being fully standardized, other key parts of the EDSTAC program have encountered serious obstacles. The high-throughput prescreening test (HTPS), designed to rapidly screen thousands of chemicals for potential endocrine disruption, to date has failed validation efforts. According to Anthony Maciorowski, a technical advisor to EPA quoted by Hileman, "some known endocrine disrupters that should have produced positive results tested negative in the HTPS system, and some chemicals that should have been negative tested positive." A frog assay designed to test for thyroid effects has also failed. Uncertaintly also plagues efforts to determine whether high dose testing adequately anticipates low dose effects. Even though a National Toxicology Program panel concluded that low dose effects in endocrine disruption were real and problematic for high dose testing, industry continues to dispute these conclusions. On the issue of low dose effects, Hileman interviews Univ Maryland epidemiologist/toxicologist Ellen Silbergeld, who observes: "With the exception of some of Frederick S. vom Saal's recent work in which he did very elegant pathology of the prostate of mice exposed in the womb to bisphenol A, most of the experiments have been poorly designed to detect low-dose effects."

Hileman interviews a series of scientists and advocates involved in the endocrine disruption issue. She makes the important point, well established on this website, that while endocrine disruption may have begun out of concerns for estrogen mimickry, virtually all hormone systems are vulnerable to endocrine disruption, if not any chemically-based messaging system is vulnerable to disruption... in other words, all of life.

13 July. Fred Pearce writes in New Scientist about research linking DDE to premature birth and low birthweight. The findings imply that DDT use in the US until its banning in 1976 could have led to a hitherto undetected epidemic of infant mortality. According to the lead scientist on the report, DDTcould have accounted for 15 per cent of infant deaths in the US in the 1960s. More on the study...

1 April 2001. In Environmental Science and Technology, Rebecca Renner describes emerging evidence that perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), the compound that makes Scotchgard work as a fabric protector, is a ubiquitous, persistent and bioaccumulative toxic compound. More...

17 March. Linda Wang describes in Science News the discovery that arsenic is an endocrine disruptor. But instead of acting in the style of many endocrine disrupting compounds--which interfere with the hormone's binding with its receptor--arsenic interferes with the interaction between the hormone-receptor complex and DNA. This interference takes place at arsenic levels far below those that cause cell toxicity, and may help explain apparent associations between long-term low arsenic exposure and cancer, diabetes and hypertension. More...

27 December. Janet Raloff writes in Science News about feminization of Chinook salmon in the Columbia River. She interviews the lead author of the paper in Environmental Health Perspectives that reported the phenomenon: "This is clearly abnormal, notes James J. Nagler, a fish reproductive biologist at the University of Idaho in Moscow." Raloff reports that the "trigger for the chinook's sex reversal remains a mystery. Though estrogen-mimicking pesticides running off upstream croplands could play a role, Nagler has found no reports of high concentrations in the Columbia River near Hanford Reach. Another suspect, he notes, is the daily drop of several degrees in water temperature in response to a nightly release of cold water from hydroelectric dams. For several fish species, including another salmon, temperature variation has induced gender changes in laboratory studies." More on the study...

9 September 2000. Girls may face risks from phthalates. Science News. Janet Raloff. Raloff reports on a new study from Puerto Rico showing that young girls with premature thelarche have, on average, significantly elevated phthalate levels compared to normal girls. "The most dramatic difference showed up in the blood concentrations of di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), the most widely used phthalate. In the five normal girls whose blood contained DEHP, its concentration averaged 70 parts per billion; among the girls with premature breast development and detectable DEHP, the concentration averaged 450 ppb"

2 September 2000. New Concerns about Phthalates. Ingredients of common plastics, may harm boys as they develop. Science News. Janet Raloff. After decades of common use rationalized by traditional toxicology showing few cancer or fertility risks for adult men, new health research is questioning the safety of phthalates, ubiquitous plastics in many consumer products. This new research focuses on the ability of phthalate exposure in the womb to cause reproductive tract abnormalities in males.

 
 

17 June 2000. Excreted drugs: something looks fishy. Science News. Janet Raloff. A significant fraction of drugs taken by people wind up being excreted, still in biologically active form. Many remain active through sewage treatment processes and then wind up affecting wildlife living downstream.

12 June 2000. Protecting A Child's Health. Hearing examines steps government should take to study risks from toxic chemicals. Chemical and Engineering News. Volume 78, Number 24. Bette Hileman

 
   
 
 
   
   

 

 

 

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