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

 

 

This file holds archives of new developments in 2003. Other archives hold material from 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 and 2004. New Developments contains the most recent materials. For a broad overview of the scientific trends since OSF was published, see Broad Trends. And for pointers to a host of important new research results, organized by topic, visit Recent Important Studies.

 


Infants exposed to herbicides and pesticides are much more likely to develop early persistent asthma. Children with early persistent asthma were 10 times more likely to have been exposed to herbicides during their first year of life than children without asthma. Exposures to pesticides, farm animals and farm dust are also associated with an increased risk of early persistent asthma. In contrast, exposure to several types of smoke as well as cockroaches were linked to early transient wheezing, but neither to early nor late persistent asthma. Several findings of the study contradict predictions made by the "hygiene hypothesis," which suggests that the asthma epidemic underway today is a result of fewer immune system challenges early in life. More...


Low doses of nonylphenol have profoundly adverse effects on oysters. A single exposure during larval development to an environmentally-relevant dose of nonylphenol causes disruption of sexual development, and also lowers survival of offspring in the next generation. Exposed larvae are much more likely to develop as hermaphrodites, and the sex ratio is altered, with more females than expected. According to the scientists who conducted the research, exposure "may result in severe consequences, not only for natural populations but also for commercial hatcheries situated in areas where nonylphenol is present in the water. More...


Risks of infertility higher in women using herbicides and fungicides. A study comparing infertile and fertile women in Wisconsin finds that women who were infertile were 27 times more likely to have mixed or applied herbicides in the two years prior to attempting conception than women who were fertile. The weight of animal and human evidence now clearly indicates that risks of infertility rise in association with current uses of agricultural chemicals. More...

Testicular cancer linked to environmental exposures early in life. Finnish men who immigrate to Sweden are much less likely to develop testicular cancer than Swedish men, no matter how old they were when they emigrated from Finland nor how long they lived in Sweden. These findings implicate exposures in the womb as important determinants of testicular cancer, and are consistent with an emerging theory about the causes of a pattern of testicular maladies, testicular dysgenesis syndrome. More...


Los Angeles Times: Researchers link flame retardants to hazards. Reporter Marla Cone examines new research on brominated flame retardants (BDEs) being presented at Dioxin 2003, an annual scientific meeting of toxicologists focused on persistent bioaccumulative contaminants. The new findings, presented in some 100 different scientific papers, broaden concern BDEs far beyond the current focus, on neurological development, to include impacts on male fertility and female ovary development. Data also indicate that a type of BDE used in electronic equipment, heretofore not thought problematic, can be toxic also. Largely unregulated, exposure to BDEs is set to rise substantially over the next decade.


Chemical and Engineering News: Fluoride concerns rise once again. Reporter Bette Hileman describes a new effort by the EPA, with help from the National Research Council, to assess the risks and benefits of water fluoridation. New data heard at a public hearing on 12 August indicates that not only may the beneficial effects of fluoridation on teeth hygeine have been overestimated, the practice may harm other organs, particularly the skeletal system. Bone brittleness may increase, raising the chances of broken bones, especially problematic for older Americans. Evidence also suggests that fluoride may have neurotoxic effects.


UN POPs protocol enters force 23 October. The United Nations has announced that a POPs protocol established under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution will come into force on 23 October, 2003. The objective of the convention is to eliminate discharges, emissions and losses of 16 persistent organic pollutants. Sixteen nations have ratified the protocol, most recently France. More...


Phthalate linked to preterm birth. A study from Italy finds that not only are DEHP and MEHP detectable in most Italian newborns, but that those with higher levels of MEHP are more likely to be born prematurely. This result suggests that at least some of the scientific effort to understand why the incidence of premature birth in the US has increased 23% since the early 1980's should focus on environmental contaminants in the womb, and specifically on phthalates. More...


St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Solutia faces bankruptcy over PCBs. "Solutia Inc. said that its pockets may not be deep enough to pay out the hundreds of millions of dollars being asked of it in one liability lawsuit and that it certainly can't accommodate the $3 billion attorneys said they expect in another." The effects may spill over to Monsanto, the company that manufactured the PCBs in the first place, and whose practices contaminated the community of Anniston, Alabama, where the law suits are being heard. 17 August 2003.


New South Wales Sunday Telegraph: The healthier you are, the more likely you are to conceive. Reporter Bronwen Gora writes from Australia "in a modern world where toxins, pollutants, nicotine, fast food and sneaky chemicals such as xenoestrogens are everywhere, both men and women should be careful about what we touch, eat and breathe, pre- and post conception." 17 August 2003.


Dioxin drove Lake Ontario lake trout to extinction, not overfishing or lampreys. Lake trout became extinct in Lake Ontario by the 1960s. Their decline has been attributed largely to excessive commercial fishing and predation by the sea lamprey. New analyses reviewing decades of data on fish numbers, contamination levels and larval sensitivity to dioxin-like contaminants indicate that lake trout's extinction was driven by massive larval mortality caused by dioxin. Now with dioxin levels dropping, lake trout are once again reproducing successfully in Lake Ontario. 13 August 2003. More...


PBDE levels high in breast milk of Texas women. The first study of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) contamination burdens in US breast milk finds levels 10 - 100 times higher than typical for Europe, and consistent with data on other tissues in Americans. Recent rapid increases in American PBDE levels are raising public health concerns because of the ability of this family of contaminants to interfere with thyroid control of brain development. More...


Calculations suggest high adverse impacts of DDT use on infant mortality. Writing in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication of the US Centers for Disease Control, two scientists from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences conclude that DDT may cause an increase in infant mortality comparable to the number of infant lives that are saved when DDT is used to control malaria in Africa. They base their calculations on research that has shown associations between DDE in mothers' blood and increased risks of preterm birth and decreased length of time spent breastfeeding, both of which cause increases in infant mortality. While far from definitive, their research opens a new chapter in the international debate about whether, when and where to use DDT. More...


SF Chronicle: Editorial criticizes industry groups that hide allegiences. "We have no problem with any corporation making its best case for its products, in whatever forum. But it pollutes the arena of discourse when charitable organizations they create or support obscure their sources of funding while posing as objective sources of information." The Chronicle cites several examples of organizations that obscure their links to industry but promote industry causes with their financial backing, including the American Council on Fitness and Nutrition, the Center for Consumer Freedom and the American Council on Science and Health. According to the Chronicle, these organizations "are actually funded wholly or in part by corporate interests to defeat threatening legislation or discredit potentially damaging research."


New York Times: California bans flame retardant chemicals. California became the first state in the country to ban two forms of brominated flame retardants, with Gov Davis signing AB 32 on 9 August. The ban was championed by Assembly Majority Leader Wilma Chan and supported by the California EPA, on the basis of scientific evidence showing both dramatic increases in PBDE levels in Americans and indications that PBDE exposure may have serious health implications, particularly for fetal development and infants.


Hindustan Times: Pesticides in Coke and Pepsi in India. An analysis of 12 different types of soft drinks for sale in India, conducted by the Center for Science and Environment, finds that Coke and Pepsi products contain pesticides at levels 30 or more times higher than public health standards in Europe. The contamination appears to be a result of pesticides in the water used to make the softdrinks. The report has provoked widespread outrage in India, including bans on Pepsi and Coke in the Indian parliament and in some school systems. It is disputed by Pepsi and Coke. The Indian government commenced independent tests to confirm or refute the CSE report.


New York Times: Op-ed calls for using DDT against West Nile Virus. Ignoring current research on human impacts of DDT, and rejecting data from wildlife as 'dubious,' a commentator from the conservative Hoover Institution calls for using DDT in the US against West Nile Virus. 7 August 2003


High dioxin levels reported in some food items from Vietnam. 30 years after Agent Orange spraying ended in Vietnam, a team of research scientists reports that some food being eaten by Vietnamese today remains heavily contaminated by dioxin and related chemicals. Their results help understand why high levels of dioxin continue to be found in Vietnamese, decades after the initial exposures. The results also warn that Vietnamese children today, even though never directly exposed to spraying, are at risk to the health effects of dioxin because of the food they eat. 7 August 2003. More...


Green tea extracts interfere with one way that dioxin increases cancer risk. Research into the molecular activity of plant compounds in green tea shows they suppress the ability of dioxin and related compounds to turn genes on that are involved in the development of cancer. This new result provides insight into earlier work with people and with animals suggesting that green tea has beneficial health impacts. 6 August 2003. More...

BBC: Nonylphenol causes hermaphroditism in oysters. The BBC reports on research in England demonstrating that low levels of exposure to nonylphenol causes oysters to become hermaphroditic and infertile. Scientists raise concerns that other marine life may be similarly affected. Nonylphenol, a breakdown product of chemicals used in spermicides, cosmetics and detergents, is discharged through the sewerage system and is widespread in the aquatic environment. 21 July 2003.


Brain growth patterns in autistic children differ from normal beginning in the womb. A study of growth rates of autistic children's heads reveals striking differences in how their heads and brains develop compared to normal children, beginning prior to birth. These results indicate that the causation of autism begins long before overt signs of autistic behavior are evident, suggesting that exposure to mercury in vaccines delivered at age 3-4 may not be the cause of autism. A role for such exposures, however, cannot be eliminated on the basis of these observations. More...


Cadmium provokes estrogenic responses at extremely low levels of exposure. Research published in Nature Medicine reveals that cadmium provokes estrogenic responses in rats at levels much less than 1% of those traditionally used in toxicological studies. The effects include alterations in the uterus and mammary gland, increases in estrogen-controlled gene expression, and, following exposure in the womb, increases in adult weight and the speed of reaching sexual maturity. The authors call for more research on links between breast cancer and cadmium exposure. 15 July 2003. More...


Research links herbicides used on wheat to birth defects in the Great Plains. A scientist from the US EPA finds that birth defects of several types are more common in babies born in wheat growing counties in the Great Plains, compared to rural counties in the same region where wheat is less common. Taken together with a wealth of data from others studies of people and experiments with rodents, this work strengthens the theory that chlorophenoxy herbicides like 2,4-D cause birth defects in people. 14 July 2003 More...

Washington Post: Cadmium acts as estrogen mimic. In experiments with rats, researchers discovered that cadmium at low levels can mimic the effect of estrogen, altering the pattern of reproductive development and speeding progress toward puberty. The scientists commented that what they discovered "suggests a direct link between low dose cadmium exposure and increased risk of breast cancer ." 14 July 2003.


San Jose Mercury News: PBDEs building up in SF bay area fish. A comparison of current levels of brominated flame retardants in fish from San Francisco Bay with levels measured in 1997 reveals that concentrations are increasing rapidly. Levels have doubled in halibut and tripled in striped bass, two favorites of San Francisco anglers. The study may bolster the ongoing effort in the California Assembly to ban PBDE use in California. 11 July 2003.


San Jose Mercury News: California considers ban on flame redardant chemicals. Writing for the Associated Press in the San Jose Mercury News, reporter Don Thompson examines a process underway in California that would ban certain polybrominated diphenyl ethers from use as flame retardants. The compounds have been shown to interfere with thyroid action, raising concerns about their ability to alter normal brain development. Cal EPA head Winston Hickox expressed frustration at the lack of federal leadership. Quoted in the article, Hickox said that in the face of federal inaction, the state should ban chemicals that raise serious public health questions. In the legislature, Assemblywoman Wilma Chan said she hopes her proposed California ban ""will spark the rest of the nation to take action."


Washington Post. Theory says disease tendencies begin in womb . Reporter Rob Stein describes an emerging scientific theory that points to events during fetal development as crucial to to causation of a range of adult diseases. The article quotes one of the leading world experts in the field of "fetal origins of adult diseases," Dr. David Barker of the University of Southampton in England: "When living things develop, and human beings are no exception, they are very sensitive to the environment. And that includes the environment inside the womb." 7 July 2003


Fetal exposures to persistent organic pollutants decline in eastern Canadian arctic. Analysis by Canadian health researchers documents sharp drops in umbilical cord blood levels of several persistent organic pollutants, including PCBs, DDT and HCB. Lead and mercury also declined. The researchers conclude the decreases are likely due both to long-term efforts around the world to reduce environmental releases (and thus contamination of the food chain) as well as to changes in the Inuit diet that shift away from contaminated native foods. 7 July 2003. More...


Chemical and Engineering News: Daubert ruling challenges US courts. Better or worse for science and justice? A ruling by the Supreme Court in 1993 established guidelines for evaluating what scientific evidence would be admissible in court. This decision has had profound effects in the intervening years, dramatically tightening the standards and leading to exclusion of many experts and their data and interpretations. Critics assert that the application of "Daubert" has gone too far, preventing juries from hearing pertinent science, and that the process adds strong bias against cases in which plaintiffs are using scientific evidence to establish harm. 7 July 2003


Phthalate levels much higher than expected in people living in a southern German city. Twelve percent of the people studied studied by a team of scientists in Erlangen had exposures to the phthalate DEHP above levels considered safe by the European Union. Almost one-third exceeded US EPA standards. None of the people had been exposed occupationally to the reproductive toxicant. According to the scientists, their results "unequivocally prove that the general German population is exposed to DEHP to a much higher extent than previously believed." The prevalence of exposures above safety thresholds strongly indicates that current regulatory approaches to limiting DEHP exposures are insufficient to prevent harm. 6 July 2003. More...


Study in Harlem: IPM a cost effective intervention for cockroach control, without dangerous pesticides. A study in east Harlem NY shows that over a six month period IPM can cut cockroach infestations dramatically, as or more cheaply than conventional chemical pesticide treatments. 6 July 2003 More...


Falling rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in Sweden and US may be due to decreased chemical exposures. Two Swedish scientific experts on the epidemiology of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) propose that recent declines in the incidence of this cancer may be a result of bans and restrictions on certain chemicals that began to take effect in the 1970s. Their theory rests on research consistently finding links between these chemicals and NHL, and reductions in exposures to the chemicals that now are clearly evident in body burden measurements. If true, this is one cancer on which we are starting to win the war for prevention. 4 July 2003. More...


New York Times: US Institute of Medicine recommends reducing dioxin exposures. According to a report issued by the IOM, the government should encourage women and girls to reduce the amount of meat, whole milk and other fatty foods they eat as a way of protecting themselves and their offspring from dioxins. 2 July 2003.


Chemical & Engineering News: German chancellor's words sweet music to chemical industry. In a speech in Hamburg, Chancellor Schröder strongly criticized the proposed new EU chemical policies that will require far more intensive testing of chemicals to obtain permission for their use in the EU market. According to Schröder "the current proposal poses too much of a burden on the industry."


Knight Ridder: Birth control chemical bends gender of exposed wild fish. Working in a remote set of Ontario lakes, Canadian scientists have proven experimentally that a synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills can have massive effects on sexual development in exposed males. All male fish in the lake were at least partially feminized. The population of one abundant species crashed to near zero. The levels of contamination created in the experiment were comparable to those measured in urban waterways downstream from sewage treatment plants. Posted 30 June 2003.


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...


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."


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..."


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."


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.

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.


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.


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.


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...

Press coverage:
Los Angeles Times
USA Today


American Academy of Pediatrics: more research needed to establish safety of phthalates. In a review of existing scientific literature about health risks of phthalates, a committee of the AAP concludes that too little information exists to ensure the safety of phthalates, especially for vulnerable stages of development. Animal research clearly shows they harm fetal development, particularly of the male reproductive tract. And human data document widespread exposure. While cautious in its conclusions, the report clearly undermines industry assertions that decades of use of phthalates demonstrates their safety. More...


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.]


Bisphenol A as powerful as estradiol at stimulating gene expression pathway. A team of Spanish scientists has found that bisphenol A stimulates a key gene expression pathway by binding with a cell membrane estrogen receptor. Receptor binding leads to conversion of a gene transcription factor, CREB, into the form required to activate genes. The contaminant is effective at provoking the response at under 1 part per billion, the same concentration at which estradiol was effective. These results should end skepticism of the potential for adverse effects by bisphenol A, a so-called "weak estrogen." Genes under the control of CREB are involved in a host of developmental and physiological systems, including long-term memory formation, brain development and weight control. More...


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.


Scientists petition for reduction in exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In a declaration organized by the World Wildlife Fund-UK, 60 scientists conclude: "For endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), where there is good evidence that they can cause changes to the normal physiology of organisms, we suggest that it would be prudent to try to eliminate, or at least minimise, exposure. Recognising the uncertainty regarding the extent of the adverse effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, and the fact that some of these chemicals can act in an additive manner, we suggest that exposure reduction is warranted. This exposure reduction should proceed even when there is a lack of evidence that predicted or actual exposure levels of the individual EDC causes population level effects in wildlife species, or harm to human health." To read and sign the declaration.


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."


New studies link environmental factors to impaired semen quality in men. Research in Denmark reveals a strong link between maternal smoking and a son's sperm concentration. Studies in Boston find higher phthalate and PCB levels in men with reduced sperm quality. A report from India also shows PCB and phthalate links. While none of these studies achieve scientific certainty about causation, they add to the weight of evidence that environmental factors are contributing to human infertility. Two invited commentaries published simultaneously in the scientific journal, Epidemiology,—one about phthalates, one about sperm count— place these new research results in a broader context. 25 May 2003.


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]


Study questions low level effects of methyl mercury. A study of children in the Seychelles Islands indicates a mother's consumption of ocean fish with low levels of methyl mercury does not harm fetal brain development. This work conflicts with earlier research on the psychomotor impacts of methyl mercury. 21 May 2003. More...


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."


Pesticide applicators at greater risk to prostate cancer. A large study of pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina reveals a small but significant increase in prostate cancer risk compared to the general population. The results are consistent with previous findings of elevated prostate cancer risk in farmers. Use of methyl bromide and of chlorinated pesticides showed the clearest association with higher prostate cancer risk. 20 May 2003. More...


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.


Los Angeles Times: Autism cases almost double in California in four years. A new report 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. 13 May 2003.


Reuters Health: Scientists warn pregnant women to avoid whale meat. A panel of Norwegian scientists is warning pregnant and nursing women not to eat whale meat. Their analysis concludes that the meat contains sufficient contaminants like mercury and PCBs to harm fetal development, especially brain development.12 May 2003.


Asahi Shimbun: Paper food containers can contain high levels of bisphenol A. 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.


Columbus Dispatch: Judge rules Teflon toxic. 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. 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.


New York Times:New European chemical policy threatens US chemical exporters. 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. 8 May 2003.

Link to EU announcement


Sacramento Bee: Pesticide drift heightens health risks for Californians. The Bee reports on 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." 7 May 2003.


Reuters: Contamination halts export of whale blubber. 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.


Reuters: Tough new chemical policies in 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.7 May 2003.


Charlotte Observer: Pesticide exposure linked to prostate cancer. Research on a large sample of farmers in North Carolina has linked exposure to pesticides to a heightened risk of prostate cancer. 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." 6 May 2003.


New York Times: Criminal charges considered on vinyl chloride contamination. Vinyl chloride in the well water of a trailer park community in Louisiana is forcing people to leave 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.


Sacramento Bee: California legislature considering biomonitoring bill. 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. 5 May 2003.


St. Louis Post Dispatch: University of Missouri professor calls for ban on bisphenol A. Dr. Fred vom Saal will call for a ban on bisphenol A 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.30 April 2003.


Los Angeles Times: Don't let the military off the hook yet. An editorial 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. 29 April 2003


Los Angeles Times: Perchlorate contamination in lettuce. 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. 28 April 2003


Wall Street Journal: Gulf War Syndrome linked to pesticides. "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. 25 April 2003.


USA Today: Are we paying a price for convenience? 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. 23 April 2003.


Los Angeles Times: Growing concerns about flame retardants. Reporter Marla Cone examines new scientific evidence driving growing concerns about brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) in the environment. 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. 20 April 2003.

More on PBDEs...


Science Magazine and the New York Times : EU set on course to strengthen chemical policies. Reporter Samuel Loewenberg writes in Science and the NYT about 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. 20 April 2003.


Wilmington News Journal: DuPont confronted on safety of Teflon chemical. 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. 13 April 2003.


Environmental Science and Technology: PBDE levels much higher in Americans. 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. 12 April 2003.

More about PBDEs


Reuters Health: 22-yr DuPont cover-up? A petition has been submitted to the US EPA requesting 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] 11 April 2003.

Reuters: Giant spill in Brazil. 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. 6 April 2003.

Cow killed by the toxic spill; photo by Domingos Peixoto, published in O Globo


Environmental Science and Technology: Nitrate an endocrine disruptor? New information summarized by report Janet Pelley indicates that nitrate is an endocrine disruptor. Because of the ubiquity of nitrate in manure and fertilizer runoff, this new finding could have huge implications for water quality standards.

Two lines of data point in this direction. Research on alligators by Univ. of Florida zoologist Dr. Louis Guillete (right) suggests that when nitrate levels in Florida lakes rise above 10 parts per million, alligator testosterone levels fall by 50% and the animals have smaller penises.


Guillette measuring alligator genitalia

According to Pelly, Guillette's data are consistent with lab findings by Nirmal Panesar, a steroid endocrinologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, showing that experimental administration of nitrate suppresses testosterone in rats. The suspected metabolic pathway involves conversion of nitrate by mitochondria to nitric acid, which can inhibit hormone synthesis in the testis or cause vasodilation.

Many surface waters in the US have nitrate at levels far in excess of those Guillette's data indicate cause harm. 4 April 2003.


Mobile Register: FDA changing its tune on mercury? A story by reporter Ben Raines gives the first public indication that the US Food and Drug Administration is changing its approach to evaluating mercury hazards in fish. If implemented, 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." 4 April 2003.


New York Times:NY to sue Dow over false advertising. 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. 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." 3 April 2003.


Smithsonian Magazine: Persistent contaminants harming polar bears. Los Angeles Times reporter Marla Cone writes in the April 2003 issue of 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. 2 April 2003.


Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Pristine" lakes polluted. Despite outward appearances, high altitude lakes in the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada are anything but pristine. 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.


Los Angeles Times: Plastic causes chromosome damage. 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."

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."

For a detailed description of the study, see the item below from 31 March 2003, and links there from. 1 April 2003.


BBC: Persistent compounds accumulating in people in Greenland. Researchers from Greenland report unacceptable levels of persistent bioaccumulative toxins in people living there and eating native foods, according to the . 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." 1 April 2003.


Experiments link plastic to cause of birth defects. Many spontaneous miscarriages and birth defects in people, including Down Syndrome, are caused by an error in cell division called aneuploidy. After an accident in two of the world's leading laboratories investigating aneuploidy caused a dramatic increase in this chromosomal error in the labs' mice, careful study revealed that it had been caused by inadvertent contamination by the plastic molecule bisphenol A (BPA).

Subsequent work, published today as the cover story in Current Biology, then demonstrated that even very low levels of bisphenol A interfered with cell division, causing aneuploidy.

BPA is the plastic monomer used to make polycarbonate plastic (the sort of rigid plastic from which baby bottles can be made, and a variety of water bottles, including one very popular among hikers and another being sold in health food stores and advertised as "Odorless, no leaching of plastic taste." BPA is widely used to make a resin that lines food cans. Experiments show that BPA readily leaches out of polycarbonate into water and out of the resin into the food within food cans.

These results open a new window into understanding the cause of human birth defects, and significantly heighten pressure to reduce human exposures to bisphenol A.
More...

31 March 2003.


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.
More on the recommendation...


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. Scientists from the University of Missouri have published an analysis indicating that regulatory testing for endocrine-active substances must be changed radically if there is any hope to detect developmental disruption at low contamination levels. They conclude that current methods are physically incapable of revealing low level impacts mediated by hormone receptors, because at the high levels used, the receptor systems will be saturated (swamped) and incapable of showing any response to changes in contaminant dose. Under these circumstances, it is literally impossible to extrapolate from commonly-used high level experiments to the risks created by low level exposures.

The researchers also suggest that background contamination of experiments by hormonally-active substances is likely to be widespread and to have further undermined regulatory testing, by making it highly likely that this background contamination prevented toxicologists from detecting low level impacts. Instead of finding a real effect, the experiment would have been interpreted erroneously as having demonstrated no effect.

The net result is that the standards currently used may need strengthening by a factor of 10,000 or greater. More...


11 March 2003. Two studies published simultaneously in Environmental Health Perspectives indicate sharp rises in the US body burden of brominated flame retardants. This is of concern because these compounds are highly persistent and bioaccumulative, and they are implicated in thyroid disruption and thus likely to interfere with brain development. The first, conducted in Indiana, finds PBDEs in maternal serum and fetal cord blood at levels far exceeding those that already motivated Sweden to institute a ban. The second, from California, examined one PBDE congener, BDE-47, in some serum and some breast fat tissues, and reports similar results.

Press coverage


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. Experiments by researchers at the University of Missouri raise the possibility of widespread contamination of laboratory experiments by bisphenol A. Their results demonstrate that at room temperature significant amounts of this estrogenic substance leach into water from old polycarbonate animal cages. This inadvertent contamination could interfere with experiments designed to test the safety of estrogenic chemicals, and lead to false negatives and conflicting results. More...


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.


12 February 2003. Commentary in the science journal Nature by Edward Calabrese and Linda Baldwin about hormesis contains a kernel of truth but a mountain of error. Their comments appropriately challenge the out-dated dogma, "the dose makes the poison," but conclude erroneously that low dose exposures are uniformly positive.

Some may be, within certain ranges, but the real message of low dose exposures is that traditional toxicology's approach to establishing what is risky, and what is not, ignores the biological activity of contaminants at extremely low levels.

Sometimes, as Calabrese and Baldwin emphasize, the effects can be positive, but many examples show they can also be devastating. Calabrese and Baldwin focus on hormesis, which is a subset of a much larger phenomenon, non-monotonic-dose response curves. Increasing evidence on these dose-response curves demonstrates that traditional toxicology misses many negative impacts by low doses because the testing regimes work down the dose-response curve until there appears to be no effect, and then never even bother to test at lower ranges.

A new analysis by the Environmental Working Group puts this in perspective: traditional testing misses big impacts at low levels:

Calabrese and Baldwin's analysis would have completely missed these and other low dose effects. They are right to challenge "the dose makes the poison," but astoundingly wrong in their conclusions.


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."

The CPSC report concluded that "hand-to-mouth behavior is the primary source of exposure to arsenic from CCA-treated wood playsets. Young children who routinely put their hands in their mouths (generally children under 6 years of age) can then ingest the arsenic directly from their hands or indirectly when they touch food or toys, which are then placed in their mouths." It recommends hand-washing with soap immediately after play on a playset made from CCA wood. If a decision is made to remove the structure, it should not be burned as this will liberate arsenic into the air. It also recommends that children should not eat while on CCA-made structures. It does not mention, however, that picnic tables around the country are made with CCA wood.

It is also important to note that this CPSC finding is based exclusively on the carcinogenic toxicity of arsenic, not other health endpoints. CPSC based this approach on the assumption that this is likely to be the most sensitive endpoint. This assumption is likely to be invalid, based upon recent findings that arsenic interferes with gene expression under the control of a hormone called glucocorticoid, at extremely low levels. Hence CPSC's assessment is likely to underestimate the risks of CCA-treated wood.

This story was also covered by the Washington Post.


4 February 2003. Martin Mittelstaed reports in the Toronto Globe and Mail on a new analysis by the United Nations Environment Programme which 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.


1 February 2003. From the Washington Post: Despite the emergence of dramatic new evidence about low-level risks of atrazine that have been published over the past 2 years, the US EPA has bowed to industry pressure not to ban the herbicide. Instead, the manufacturer, Syngenta, will be required to monitor atrazine levels at 200 sites in 11 states where atrazine contamination has reached or exceeded legal levels. Atrazine is the most abundantly used herbicide in the US, but is banned in Europe. Additional coverage by ENN...


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.

The results of the two studies combined contained messages of hope and of concern. The good news is that when protective measures are put in place, for example, with lead and DDT, over time contamination levels fall. It is also good news that compound-by-compound, most Americans have relatively low levels.

The bad news is that we all contain many contaminants, most of which are poorly understood even one-by-one, and none of which are known to be safe in the mixtures in which they always occur. The other half of the bad news is that many of these chemicals, even at low levels, are biologically active, and that an increasing body of scientific evidence indicates plausible links between the low level exposures and biochemical changes associated with health problems that appear to be increasing in people.

More on the CDC study...
More on the EWG 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...


17 January 2003. Writing in her weekly Science Journal column in the Wall Street Journal, Sharon Begley nails precisely the ethical failings and questionable utility of using people in pesticide safety tests. Pesticide manufacturers want to use volunteers to prove that pesticides are safe. The only subjects they can use in these tests are adults, because only adults can truly volunteer. No one argues that it would be ethical to purposefully enroll a fetus or child in one of these experiments. The problem is that the people most vulnerable to pesticides are still developing...in the womb or in childhood. Many developmental processes underway in a fetus are long since over in an adult and thus tests on adults can never reveal the true extent of fetal vulnerability. So these tests are scientifically useless for the key question for which pesticide manufacturers would like to use them: establishing developmental safety factors. The tests are also misleading because they don't have sample sizes large enough to reveal anything but the most powerful effects. As a result, they are strongly biased toward what epidemiologists call "false negatives:" finding "no effect" when a better study would reveal one. More...


17 January 2003. Jocelyn Kaiser writes in Science Magazine about a hearing before a National Academy of Sciences panel on using people in tests of pesticide safety (see story above, also). The panel was convened at the request of the US EPA to resolve ethical and scientific questions about the appropriateness and value of these tests, which industry has attempted to use to avoid safety margins built into pesticide standards as a result of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act. Kaiser misses entirely the main point highlighted by Sharon Begley, above: the tests cannot resolve the key issues targeted by the safety margins of the FQPA: that developmental processes vulnerable to disruption in fetal life and childhood cannot be studied in adults. Yet only adults can be recruited to these tests; neither a fetus nor a child can provide informed consent for participation. Therefore the tests are irrelevant for the purposes to which industry is attempting to apply them. The Wall Street Journal column (above) does a much better job.


13 January 2003. Results from work on the common organochlorine contaminant hexachlorobenzene raise questions about its possible involvement in diseases of the male reproductive tract, including prostate cancer. These studies, conducted in cell cultures and in mice, show that low levels of HCB enhance prostate responsiveness to androgens, while high levels suppress it. More...


1 January 2003. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the rate of autism in metropolitan Atlanta is ten-fold higher than would be expected on the basis of prevalence rates observed in prior decades, and consistent with recent findings. While this new research does not resolve whether the change is due to real increases in prevalence or to changes in diagnostic criteria or reporting incentives, it provides an important benchmark for future work. More...


 

 
     
     

 

 

 

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