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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #993 - Can Chemicals be Regulated?

Featured stories in this issue...

Can Chemicals Be Regulated?

In the past 20 years, four new discoveries have altered our understanding of chemical hazards, making chemical testing and regulation far more difficult than previously imagined.

Billions Could Go Hungry from Global Warming by 2100

"There is a 90% chance that 3 billion people will have to choose between going hungry and moving their families to milder climes because of climate change within 100 years, says new research."

Coral Decline Warns of Ocean Changes: Australian Scientists

A sharp slowdown in coral growth on Australia's Great Barrier Reef since 1990 is a warning sign that precipitous changes in the world's oceans may be imminent, says a new Australian study.

Lead and Violent Crime

New research reveals that, even at low levels, exposure to toxic lead early in life shrinks key areas of the brain, and is linked with violent crime.

A New Cigarette Hazard: 'Third-hand Smoke'

"Third-hand smoke" is the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing, not to mention cushions and carpeting, that lingers long after second-hand smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that young children can get on their hands and ingest.

Crops Absorb Livestock Antibiotics, Science Shows

People have long been exposed to antibiotics in meat and milk. Now, new research shows that they also may be ingesting them from vegetables, even ones grown on organic farms.

A Final Report Card on the Reagan Years?

Two days before Christmas, with hardly anyone at all paying much attention, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office delivered up a final report card on the Reagan era. The highest grades? They went, almost exclusively, to the super rich.


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #993 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
January 8, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: In the past 20 years, four new discoveries have altered our understanding of chemical hazards, making chemical testing and regulation far more difficult than previously imagined.]

By Peter Montague

In the past 20 years, four new discoveries have completely changed our understanding of chemical hazards.

1. Many chemicals can interfere with the hormone system

Beginning roughly 80 years ago, scientific studies started showing that some chemicals can interfere with growth, development, and behavior of animals, including humans. For 50 years these studies were generally ignored. Then during the 1980s, dozens of new studies -- often done in the Great Lakes region -- showed that male fish were being feminized, that female gulls were pairing up to sit on nests together... and so on. There were other effects as well, but the sex- related changes caught people's attention first.

In 1991 Theo Colborn pulled together a meeting at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin, which issued a consensus statement, "Chemically Induced Alterations in Sexual Development: The Wildlife/Human Connection." Subsequently Colborn and others published the popular book, Our Stolen Future. Since that time, a flood of new studies have confirmed and reconfirmed that many industrial chemicals can interfere with the chemical signaling systems that coordinate all the biological activities that a living thing requires -- beginning at conception and ceasing only with death. (See Rachel's #263, #264, and #365.) And the changes are not just sex-related -- the central nervous system is strongly affected, as is the immune system. "Endocrine disrupting" chemicals are all-purpose poisons.

With this new understanding of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, we have also learned that...

(a) the timing of exposure combines with the amount of exposure to produce a chemical's effect;

(b) in some cases low doses can be more effective (more damaging) than higher doses.

Thus this new understanding of toxicity has falsified Paracelsus's 450-year-old maxim, "The dose makes the poison." Today we know that often the timing makes the poison and that sometimes less is worse. (See Rachel's #754.) As you might imagine, this new understanding has greatly complicated the task of toxicity testing.

2. Chemical exposures in the womb can "program" a fetus for life

Scientists studying cell-signal-disrupting chemicals discovered "fetal programming" -- that the lifelong development of a human can sometimes be permanently determined by chemical exposures in the womb, including chronic diseases that may only become apparent in middle age (cancer, adult-onset asthma, diabetes, etc.) (See Rachel's #343, #447, and #909, among others. Of course this applies to non-human mammals as well.) This, too, has greatly complicated the task of toxicity testing.

3. "You are what your grandmother ate."

In recent years, an entirely new theory of genetic inheritance -- called epigenetics -- has become widely (if not yet universally) accepted. Epigenetics tells us that environmental influences on cells can be inherited even though the structure of the cell's DNA has not been fundamentally altered. A generation ago, such a concept was considered heresy, unthinkable really. This new knowledge means that environmental influences are far more important than anyone understood previously. (One popular expression of this understanding is, "You are what your grandmother ate.") (See Rachel's #876.) Many scientists believe that epigenetic changes contribute importantly to fetal programming and to the initiation of cancers and other chronic diseases that only become apparent years or decades later. Ask yourself, how can you rapidly test a chemical to see if it will cause a chronic disease years in the future?

4. The "cocktail" effect

Many studies now show that exposure to "insignificant" doses of several chemicals can combine to produce significant effects. In other words, simultaneous exposure to very "low" doses of several chemicals can cause biological effects that none of the chemicals alone could cause. British toxicologist Andreas Kortenkamp calls this the "something from nothing" effect. And U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientist Earl Gray calls this phenomenon "the new math -- zero plus zero equals something."

Initially scientists assumed that only chemicals acting by a particular biological mechanism could combine to produce an effect. But more recently, experiments have shown that chemicals acting by a variety of biological mechanisms can combine to produce a single effect. When we are exposed to a mixture of chemicals, "Every mixture component contributes to the effect, no matter how small," says Andreas Kortenkamp.

These four new understandings of chemicals make chemical regulation a daunting task, to put it mildly.

First you need to know the potency of each single chemical, which biological tissues it affects in what ways, and whether a population will be exposed to other chemicals that affect the same tissues. Then you must test groups of chemicals in combinations at low doses and high doses, and several doses in between. Then you need to determine whether the creature being studied (rat, bird, human, or whatever) is affected by this combination of chemicals at one particular stage of life and not at other stages. For example in the case of humans we know that, during gestation in the womb, exposure during one particular week may produces effects not seen when exposure occurs during a different week.

Now consider the actual environment in which exposures to humans are presently occurring. Here is the opening paragraph from an article in New Scientist magazine in late 2007:

"Today, and every day, you can expect to be exposed to some 75,000 artificial chemicals. All day long you will be breathing them in, absorbing them through your skin and swallowing them in your food. Throughout the night they will seep out of carpets, pillows and curtains, and drift into your lungs. Living in this chemical soup is an inescapable side effect of 21st-century living. The question is: is it doing us any harm?

"There are good reasons to think that it might be. Not because of the action of any one chemical but because of the way the effects of different components combine once they are inside the body."

Taken together, these new understandings of toxicity make thorough premarket chemical testing not merely difficult, but impossible. The steps required are far too cumbersome, complex, and -- most importantly -- expensive. Thorough testing is not going to happen. Scientists (or advocates) who says it is are kidding us (or themselves).

Not convinced? Suppose we wanted to test just 1000 chemicals in unique combinations of 5 chemicals. Then we'd have to test 8,250,291,250,200 (yes, 8 trillion) unique groups of chemicals.[1] If we assume we could test a million combinations each year (a wildly optimistic assumption), then it would take us 8,000 years to complete the task. And we are presently putting 700 new chemicals into commercial channels each year.

No, chemicals are not going to be thoroughly tested before being marketed, especially not in combination with other chemicals already on the market.

These new understandings of chemical toxicity will eventually drive almost everyone to the conclusion that broad screening principles must be applied before individual chemical tests -- thus requiring us to far go beyond even the European Union's new chemicals policies. The Swedish Natural Step principles would seem to be the place to start in designing a truly adequate and protective chemicals policy, but few in the U.S. are there yet. (See Rachel's #667-668.)

I don't want to be too gloomy, but I notice that most chemical policy activists are not mentioning the real problem with chemical regulation: the regulators are routinely captured by the corporations they regulate. This is at least as true under Democrats as it is under Republicans.

To their credit, chemicals policy activists have petitioned the Obama administration for a well-though-out list of regulatory reforms. However in their "Letter of Principles for Toxic Chemical Regulatory Reform" (which I signed) to the Obama transition team, there is no mention -- zero -- of how to make regulations actually work. The letter spells out a vast array of requirements that could protect the public a little better from industrial poisons. But ideas for creating human regulatory agencies or departments that are independent of big money? Complete silence.

Former 30-year EPA employee William Sanjour in 1992 told us why regulatory agencies fail. We could probably all gain by carefully re- reading his essay, "Why EPA is Like It Is, and What Can Be Done About It." (5 Mbytes PDF).

Chemical regulation is not a primarily a technical problem. It is primarily a human problem of money and political power. Many of us like to pretend that it's not, but pretending -- and hoping -- won't change what we're up against.



From: New Scientist ......................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 8, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: "There is a 90% chance that 3 billion people will have to choose between going hungry and moving their families to milder climes because of climate change within 100 years, says new research."]

By Catherine Brahic

There is a 90% chance that 3 billion people will have to choose between going hungry and moving their families to milder climes because of climate change within 100 years, says new research.

The study forecasts that temperatures at the close of this century are likely to be above those that crippled food supplies on at least three occasions since 1900.

David Battisti, a climatologist at the University of Washington, used 23 models vetted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to calculate how temperatures will vary with climate change.

Unlike previous studies, his team focused on temperatures during growing seasons around the world. This allowed them to determine the effect on food supplies.

Their results show there is a 90% chance that average temperatures in the tropics and subtropics will be higher than the hottest heat waves of the past century. With more than 3 billion people living in those areas, most of whom rely heavily on locally produced crops for both food and income, the effects could be catastrophic.

Expanding desert

In the Sahel, the belt of semi-arid land that lies just south of the Sahara, average temperatures between 2080 and 2100 are predicted to be a couple of degrees higher than the hottest temperatures experienced in that region between 1900 and 2006.

This is a region that resembles a desert during the dry season, and where crops can only grow if monsoon rains are sufficient. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, the Sahel suffered one of the worst droughts in living memory. Although the seasonal monsoon rains have since returned to some parts, temperatures can still be so high that rainwater evaporates before it hits the ground.

"The Sahel might not be a region that can support agriculture in future," says Battisti's colleague Rosamund Naylor, of Stanford University's programme on food security and the environment. Farming currently employs 60% of the population and supplies 40% of the GDP. "It is likely that there will be migration out of agricultural areas into rural areas or other countries," says Naylor. "We need to prepare for this."

Crops hit hard

Poor countries will not be the only ones to suffer. The models suggest that the heat wave which struck Europe in 2003, killing 52,000 people, will become the norm by 2080.

Not only did the 2003 heatwave take lives, it also had long-lasting effects on European food supplies. The highest temperatures hit at the height of the summer growing season. It Italy, maize yields dropped by 36% in one year; in France, fruit harvests were cut by one quarter.

In the summer of 1972, temperatures in southeast Ukraine and southwest Russia were between 2 and 4 deg. C higher than the long-term average at the time.

The region represented the former-USSR's main breadbasket. The heatwave caused grain production across the USSR to drop by 13%. Instead of dealing with the losses domestically, as it had done previously, the government unexpectedly decided to enter the global market. As a result, global grain prices were affected.

Scientific solution?

"What our study shows is that temperatures over land for seasons where the main crops are grown will be way out of norm," says Naylor. "That is what we have to prepare for." She adds that if shortages happen at the same time around the world, global food markets will not be able to come to the rescue.

For many agricultural scientists, the solution lies in crops that are either genetically modified or bred to be more heat-resistant.

"For new varieties to be developed, tested, [and] released, and for seed to become available to farms in significant quantities, it takes more than a decade, in spite of modern tools," says Marianne Banziger, director of the Global Maize Program at the agricultural research institute CIMMYT.

"We need to change our investment strategy now, or we are headed towards major food insecurities," she says.

Journal reference: Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1164363)


From: Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald ..................[This story printer-friendly]
January 2, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: A sharp slowdown in coral growth on Australia's Great Barrier Reef since 1990 is a warning sign that precipitous changes in the world's oceans may be imminent, says a new Australian study.]

By Agence France Presse

A sharp slowdown in coral growth on Australia's Great Barrier Reef since 1990 is a warning sign that precipitous changes in the world's oceans may be imminent, scientists said Friday.

Strong evidence points to the cause being a combination of warmer seas and higher acidity from increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, Australian Institute of Marine Science researchers reported.

"The data suggest that this severe and sudden decline in calcification is unprecedented in at least 400 years," said Glenn De'ath, principal author of a paper published Friday in the international journal Science.

The research shows that corals on the reef have slowed their growth by more than 14 percent since the "tipping point" year of 1990 and on current trends the corals would stop growing altogether by 2050.

"It is cause for extreme concern that such changes are already evident, with the relatively modest climate changes observed to date, in the world's best protected and managed coral reef ecosystem," said co-author Janice Lough.

Coral skeletons form the backbone of reef ecosystems and provide the habitat for tens of thousands of plant and animal species and more acidic oceans will affect many sea creatures, not just coral, a statement on the report said.

"All calcifying organisms that are central to the function of marine ecosystems and food webs will be affected, and precipitous changes in the biodiversity and productivity of the world's oceans may be imminent," it added.

The findings are based on analyses of annual growth bands -- like rings on trees -- extending back in time up to 400 years.

Rising sea temperatures are blamed on global warming caused by the build-up in the atmosphere of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide -- which is also blamed for higher acidity in sea water.

A UN report warned in 2007 that the Great Barrier Reef, described as the world's largest living organism, could be killed by climate change within decades.

The World Heritage site and major tourist attraction, stretching over more than 345,000 square kilometres (133,000 sq miles) off Australia's east coast, could become "functionally extinct", the report said.

The journal Science is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Copyright 2009 AFP


From: Living on Earth ....................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 2, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: New research reveals that, even at low levels, exposure to toxic lead early in life shrinks key areas of the brain, and is linked with violent crime.]

By Ashley Ahearn

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CURWOOD: Lead is a neurotoxin, linked to disorders such as lower IQ and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. And now there is more compelling evidence linking lead exposure in the womb and early childhood with violent crime later in life.

These latest findings come from researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children's Hospital. For almost three decades they have been following a group of Cincinnati residents - more than 90 percent of them African American. They grew up in neighborhoods with high lead contamination -- mostly from the dust of deteriorated lead paint in older apartments and houses.

Living on Earth's Ashley Ahearn reports.


AHEARN: It's Sunday morning and city council member Cecil Thomas is here at Christ Emmanuel Church -- where he comes for his weekly dose of hope and renewal. Serving as a police officer for 27 years in Cincinnati, Councilman Thomas watched the violence grow, seemingly without rhyme or reason. The new lead research gives him one potential explanation.

THOMAS: The environment as a totality really pretty much dictates a lot of our problems as relates to crime and things of that nature. Because when you look at areas of our city that are most affected by crime and then you look at buildings that are tainted with lead poisoning paint, then you have to start thinking well maybe there is a link between the effects of lead poising and the overall crime rates, especially in the inner city neighborhoods.

AHEARN: Cecil Thomas knew it was time to make the jump from police work to politics when he started arresting the kids and grandkids of folks he had arrested years before. He says the findings of the Cincinnati Lead Study offer a key avenue to understanding the violence he saw during his time on patrol.

THOMAS: If lead poisoning has a direct impact on the ability to make decisions in a much more rational way, then we are on to something, so to speak. I been a law enforcement officer, some of the times I would say "what's missing here?" I recall an individual was on his way to the symphony and a young man came up to rob him but it wasn't enough just to rob him, he then beat him to death with a brick. Now this young man was a product of that environment because he lived down in the Over the Rhine [neighborhood] so you have to ask yourself, 'well was lead poisoning a factor in this individual committing such a crime?'


AHEARN: Dr. Kim Dietrich and his team at the University of Cincinnati are working to answer just that question. They took the criminal records of the 250 study participants and compared the numbers of violent crimes with the levels of lead each participant had been exposed to throughout his or her life.

DIETRICH: What we found was interesting. The most robust and significant associations were between early exposure to lead and arrests involving violent acts, some sort of violent aggressive behavior.

AHEARN: But they needed the "why". What might lead be doing, on the physical level, to the brain to cause this violent aggressive behavior?


AHEARN: At Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Damon's lying inside the giant white cylinder of the MRI machine as it takes thousands of pictures of his brain.


AHEARN: Damon grew up in Over the Rhine, a neighborhood of downtown Cincinnati where rundown brick buildings line the streets, many of them contaminated with lead paint. He's been participating in the Cincinnati Lead Study since before he was born. Now he's 28.

DAMON: I remember the cab rides, the trips with my mama. It's just something I been doing since I was a little boy and it continues.

AHEARN: The lead Damon was exposed to may have affected the size of certain parts of his brain -- the frontal lobe in particular.

CECIL: The frontal lobe is probably the part that makes us the most human in that it's executive functioning, attention, inhibition, reasoning, judgment, kind of overall control.

AHEARN: Dr. Kim Cecil is a professor of radiology at the University of Cincinnati and works with Dr. Dietrich. She's found that children with higher lead levels have smaller frontal lobes as they reach adulthood. She says that may be because lead takes the place of calcium in the brain.

CECIL: It interferes with many enzymes that preserve the neurons in the brain so it stops the healthy maintenance of neurons and thus neurons can die. And it looks like a shriveled up brain. So in a way it looks like a person who's much, much older.

AHEARN: Older -- as in closer to senility -- not older -- as in more mature. Young men, like Damon, show more volume loss to the frontal lobe than young women exposed to similar levels of lead.

But women are by no means exempt from lead's effects. Like Damon, Laquisha's been participating in the lead study her whole life. It started with her mom taking her to regular appointments at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.


LAQUISHA: Ma, C'mere.


MOM: It wasn't easy as a matter of fact. I was living Over the Rhine, downtown, in the rehab. It was the paint chippings from the window. They let me know that she had lead poisoning. They did tell me that her lead level was so high they almost had to hospitalize her at one point.

She been hell on wheels, Ok.


LAQUISHA: This is Shawty Lo, one of my favorite rappers, cuz he be keepin it real (singing along)


LAQUISHA: I wasn't like the other kids. I won't catch on as quick as them. Like I can't concentrate on one thing too long.

I tend, like when stuff doesn't go my way or whatever, like, sometimes I tend to want to hurt myself or other people. When I couldn't get my way, I like tear down the whole bedroom, I break mirrors, and everything, I pull all my hair out. And then at the end I be wishin' I never did it. Like when I went to prison for hitting that police officer, I didn't really mean to hit him, it was just I don't know.

Me and my old boyfriend, we was downtown at a restaurant, at Arby's. And he was ordering his food and the same cashier always get his order wrong. So he told her, "Give my money back, I'm tired of you, every time I come here you get my order wrong."

So they was just going back and forth, and the police was in there and when he grabbed me he slapped one handcuff on me and I was goin' crazy. I was kickin' screamin'. I wouldn't let him get the other handcuff on me. So he slammed me and came down with his other knee in my stomach. So I grabbed his belt and the collar of his shirt and I flipped him on his head and I was hitting him with my handcuff that was free and then somehow he got me in a headlock. He was punchin' me in my head, we was just exchangin'.

At that point in time I just wasn't thinkin'. And that got me two years in prison. My first time ever bein' in trouble. Eighteen. It feel like you ain't never goin' nowhere, when your time gonna come.


MOM: She got a very short temper, very short attention span. Don't nothin' hold her interest for too long, nothin'. But I tell you what she can do for hours and hours. She can just sit up and write for hours and hours. She loves to write.


LAQUISHA: I got a lot of stuff that I used to write. And when I wrote this I was in Mary's View.

MOM: Women's prison.

LAQUISHA: It's a women's prison. I was 20 years, I was probably almost on my way home. I don't know, I just used to write so many and I didn't put no dates on them. But this one, it say:

Hey I'm only 20 years old. I'm in prison because I fail to realize how much I love my family and how memories can hurt. I miss bein' eight years old, when I come home from school the sound of my father's car pickin' me up. I miss watching cartoons with my big brother every morning before we go to school. I miss the smell of my cheeks that I used to wipe away when my mom would kiss me. I miss my brother brushin' my hair when I was little. I miss the knob opening my bedroom when my mom come home from work. There's no way I can tell you all the reasons not to come to prison and how to stay out of trouble on one page but I can tell you this: The next time your grandma or mom kisses you and leaves lipstick on your cheeks, don't wipe it off, you might regret it in years to come.

That's just the type of stuff that I used to write.

And uh, see these, these obituaries of my friends that passed. This my friend, Mama, her name is Bedra. We call her Miss Betty. Her and my friend 'Lil Rodney got killed together, somebody, she had opened her door and somebody had shot her and came in her house and shot everybody else that was in there.

AHEARN: Of the 250 people in the Cincinnati Lead Study Laquisha takes part in, nine have been killed in violent crime. To put that in perspective, this group is 650 times more likely to die in violent crime than the average American.


AHEARN: Sitting in a pew after the service at Christ Emmanuel Church, Councilmember Cecil Thomas says that from his perspective, homicide and lead exposure seem to go hand in hand. But there's something else in the mix. It's no surprise to him that less than half of the study participants finished high school.

THOMAS: Eighty percent of individuals that committed homicides did not finish high school and 75 percent of the victims had not finished high school so there was a direct link between the education and violence. Then you go back to the question of, "well why is that young man not finishing school. Has the lead poisoning affected his ability to learn?" So when we start looking at lead poisoning yes we are looking at maybe one of the causative factors to violence in our city.

AHEARN: Lead exposure levels have gone down in Americans of all races, but African American children are still twice as likely as white children to suffer from lead poisoning, thanks to housing patterns and poor nutrition. And with statistics showing black men as likely to go to jail as to go to college, this latest research linking violent crime and lead raises key questions for society.

There are many factors behind violence -- home life, education, easy access to drugs and weapons... But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests lead also belongs on that list. Dr. Kim Dietrich of the University of Cincinnati likes to say that lead may not be the "gun," so to speak, but it appears to be one factor that's helping to pull the trigger.

For Living on Earth, I'm Ashley Ahearn in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Kim Dietrich's study "Associations of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Level Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood."

Kim Cecil's study: "Decreased Brain Volume in Adults with Childhood Lead Exposure."

Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health Center

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Living on Earth 20 Holland Street Suite 408 Somerville, MA 02144-2749

Copyright 2009 Living on Earth and World Media Foundation


From: New York Times .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 2, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: "Third-hand smoke" is the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing, not to mention cushions and carpeting, that lingers long after second- hand smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that young children can get on their hands and ingest.]

By Roni Caryn Rabin

Parents who smoke often open a window or turn on a fan to clear the air for their children, but experts now have identified a related threat to children's health that isn't as easy to get rid of: third- hand smoke.

That's the term being used to describe the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing, not to mention cushions and carpeting, that lingers long after second-hand smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that young children can get on their hands and ingest, especially if they're crawling or playing on the floor.

Doctors from MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston coined the term "third-hand smoke" to describe these chemicals in a new study that focused on the risks they pose to infants and children. The study was published in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"Everyone knows that second-hand smoke is bad, but they don't know about this," said Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

"When their kids are out of the house, they might smoke. Or they smoke in the car. Or they strap the kid in the car seat in the back and crack the window and smoke, and they think it's okay because the second-hand smoke isn't getting to their kids," Dr. Winickoff continued. "We needed a term to describe these tobacco toxins that aren't visible."

Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette, he said, or in a hotel room where people were smoking. "Your nose isn't lying," he said. "The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: 'Get away.'"

The study reported on attitudes toward smoking in 1,500 households across the United States. It found that the vast majority of both smokers and nonsmokers were aware that second-hand smoke is harmful to children. Some 95 percent of nonsmokers and 84 percent of smokers agreed with the statement that "inhaling smoke from a parent's cigarette can harm the health of infants and children."

But far fewer of those surveyed were aware of the risks of third-hand smoke. Since the term is so new, the researchers asked people if they agreed with the statement that "breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children." Only 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers agreed with that statement, which researchers interpreted as acknowledgement of the risks of third-hand smoke.

The belief that second-hand smoke harms children's health was not independently associated with strict smoking bans in homes and cars, the researchers found. On the other hand, the belief that third-hand smoke was harmful greatly increased the likelihood the respondent also would enforce a strict smoking ban at home, Dr. Winickoff said.

"That tells us we're onto an important new health message here," he said. "What we heard in focus group after focus group was, 'I turn on the fan and the smoke disappears.' It made us realize how many people think about second-hand smoke -- they're telling us they know it's bad but they've figured out a way to do it."

The data was collected in a national random-digit-dial telephone survey done between September and November 2005. The sample was weighted by race and gender, based on census information.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who heads the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said the phrase third-hand smoke is a brand-new term that has implications for behavior.

"The central message here is that simply closing the kitchen door to take a smoke is not protecting the kids from the effects of that smoke," he said. "There are carcinogens in this third-hand smoke, and they are a cancer risk for anybody of any age who comes into contact with them."

Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


From: Environmental Health News ...........................[This story printer-friendly]
January 6, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: People have long been exposed to antibiotics in meat and milk. Now, new research shows that they also may be ingesting them from vegetables, even ones grown on organic farms.]

By Matthew Cimitile, Environmental Health News

For half a century, meat producers have fed antibiotics to farm animals to increase their growth and stave off infections. Now scientists have discovered that those drugs are sprouting up in unexpected places.

Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.

Today, close to 70 percent of the total antibiotics and related drugs produced in the United States are fed to cattle, pigs and poultry, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Although this practice sustains a growing demand for meat, it also generates public health fears associated with the expanding presence of antibiotics in the food chain.

The Minnesota researchers planted corn, green onion and cabbage in manure-treated soil in 2005 to evaluate the environmental impacts of feeding antibiotics to livestock. Six weeks later, the crops were analyzed and found to absorb chlortetracycline, a drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock. In another study in 2007, corn, lettuce and potato were planted in soil treated with liquid hog manure. They, too, accumulated concentrations of an antibiotic, named Sulfamethazine, also commonly used in livestock.

As the amount of antibiotics in the soil increased, so too did the levels taken up by the corn, potatoes and other plants.

"Around 90 percent of these drugs that are administered to animals end up being excreted either as urine or manure," said Holly Dolliver, a member of the Minnesota research team and now a professor of crop and soil sciences at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. "A vast majority of that manure is then used as an important input for 9.2 million hectares of (U.S.) agricultural land."

The scientists found that although their crops were only propagated in greenhouses for six weeks--far less than a normal growing season-- antibiotics were absorbed readily into their leaves. If grown for a full season, drugs most likely would find their way into parts of plants that humans eat, said Dolliver.

Less than 0.1 percent of antibiotics applied to soil were absorbed into the corn, lettuce and other plants. Though a tiny amount, health implications for people consuming such small, cumulative doses are largely unknown.

"The antibiotic accumulation in plants is just another negative consequence of our animal agriculture industry and not surprising given the quantity fed to livestock," said Steve Roach, public health program director for the non-profit Food Animal Concerns Trust.

For highly processed plants such as corn, the drugs would most likely be removed, added Dolliver. But many food crops such as spinach and lettuce are not processed, only washed, allowing antibiotics to remain.

"Nobody particularly eats corn or soybean directly," said Satish Gupta, a University of Minnesota professor of soil science and study leader. "But there are crops I am much more worried about, like cabbage and lettuce, because these are leaves we eat directly and consume raw."

One finding that particularly worries food scientists is the accumulation of antibiotics within potato tubers. Tubers are an enlarged, underground stem that uptake and store nutrients from the soil. In crops like potatoes, carrots and radishes, it is the part humans eat.

"Since these tubers and root crops are in direct contact with the soil they may show a greater propensity for (antibiotic) uptake," said Gupta.

Health officials fear that eating vegetables and meat laced with drugs meant to treat infections can promote resistant strains of bacteria in food and the environment.

Roach said "the clearest public health implication" from treating livestock with antibiotics is the development of resistant bacteria that reduces the effectiveness of human medicine. Past studies have shown overuse of antibiotics reduces their ability to cure infections. Over time, certain antibiotics are rendered ineffective.

Scientists believe antibiotics also may have contributed to the explosive rise in asthma and allergies in children over the last 20 years. Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, following 448 children from birth for seven years, reported that children who received antibiotics within their first six months had a higher risk of developing allergies and asthma.

Such health concerns led the European Union in 2006 to ban antibiotic use as feed additives for promoting livestock growth. But in the United States, nearly 25 million pounds of antibiotics per year, up from 16 million in the mid 1980s, are given to healthy animals for agriculture purposes, according to a 2000 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Livestock producers contend that the spread of resistant strains of bacteria stems from the overuse of all medicines to treat infectious diseases in both humans and animals. Removal of antibiotics, they say, would only lead to increased disease in animals and reduction in food safety.

Tainted manure can impact more than just the soil. Once applied to the land, antibiotics can infiltrate water supplies as it seeps through the soil into aquifers or spills into surface water due to runoff, explained Dolliver.

"The other thing to remember is that the field is not a sterile environment. Mice, rabbit and foxes traverse farmland while other animals graze, all with the potential to become vectors for the resistant bacteria organisms and spread it throughout different animal populations," said Pat Millner, a U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist based in Maryland.

The presence of antibiotics within the food chain is likely to increase as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has permitted greater use of controversial drugs on farm animals. For example, this past October, the FDA dropped plans to halt use of cefquinome, a potent antibiotic, after it said in July it would push against its use in animals.

While there are restrictions on use of raw manure in U.S. organic farming because of concern over bacteria, no such rules are in place regarding antibiotics or hormones. Not all organic growers use manure with antibiotics, but many do, said Gupta. Even if a product has the USDA organic label, it still might harbor traces of antibiotics. [Correction 1/6/09: FDA was changed to USDA]

High-temperature composting of manure, designed to kill pathogens, is required for crops certified under the USDA organic label. That could eliminate some antibiotics. But others are resistant, according to a study by Dolliver and Kupta published last year. Growers are not required to monitor crops for the drugs.

"Antibiotic uptake by plants may be of particular concern to organic crop producers....To our knowledge, there is no current plan or standardized methodology for monitoring antibiotics in animal manure, which is often obtained from nonorganic farms where antibiotics are commonly used," Dolliver said in the 2007 study.

Added Gupta, "We urgently need to find some way to put guidelines in place on organic food regarding these chemicals."

Gupta said all growers should be told that composting manure can help reduce antibiotics. Composting decays piles of food or manure as microbes decompose organic matter using oxygen to survive, grow and reproduce. Heating up the material creates conditions conducive for bacteria to break down antibiotics and pathogens.

A pilot study by USDA scientists in Maryland added straw to a beef cattle manure pile, heating up the dense material while allowing spaces for air to penetrate. The higher temperatures sped up the decaying process of harmful substances.

"The process happens very rapidly, in this study it took about 10 days," said Millner. "This is not too surprising since antibiotics are not a thermally stable chemical compound."

In another study, the same researchers who discovered the uptake of antibiotics by plants tested four of these drugs to determine how effective composting would be in reducing harmful chemicals in turkey manure. After 25 days using a combination of natural heat generated by microbial activity, three of the four antibiotics broke down under the high energy conditions created, said Dolliver.

Composting reduced concentrations of three antibiotics by 54 percent to 99 percent, although one drug, sulfamethazine, did not degrade at all, according to their study, published in May in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

"These findings suggest manure management can be an important strategy for reducing the overall impact for these compounds making their way into the environment," said Dolliver.

Many questions still remain. Currently, projects are underway to grow crops for a full season in antibiotic laced manure, to grow them in fields rather than greenhouses and to analyze the concentrations and locations of the antibiotics within the plants. Researchers also want to determine which antibiotics are more likely to be picked up, which plants are more prone to uptake, what composting methods are most effective in reducing harmful material in manure and what antibiotics may be resistant to composting.

There are serious societal implications regarding the discoveries already made and the questions yet to be answered, Gupta concluded.

"We are a chemical society and humans are the main user of pharmaceutical products," said Gupta. "We need a better understanding of what takes place when chemicals are applied to sources of food and must be more vigilant about regulating what we use to grow food and what we put in our bodies."


Matthew Cimitile, a second-year graduate student at Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, is an intern at Environmental Health News. He can be reached at

Copyright Environmental Health Sciences


From: .......................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 5, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: Two days before Christmas, with hardly anyone at all paying much attention, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office delivered up a final report card on the Reagan era. The highest grades? They went, almost exclusively, to the super rich.]

By Sam Pizzigati

Our current economic meltdown may finally have ended the era that began when Ronald Reagan became President. Now a new study -- from the Congressional Budget Office -- helps us understand the inequality that has us melting.

Two days before Christmas, with hardly anyone at all paying much attention, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office delivered up a final report card on the Reagan era. The highest grades? They went, almost exclusively, to the super rich.

You won't, to be sure, find any As, Bs, and Fs in this new Congressional Budget Office report card. And the CBO's researchers certainly didn't set out to grade America on the years since Ronald Reagan became President a generation ago. But they've done just that. On taxes and income distribution, their new report makes vividly clear, the United States desperately "needs improvement."

That may or may not be the message Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus from Montana had in mind, last year, when he asked the Congressional Budget Office to dig a little deeper into the data on taxes and income than the CBO had dug in a report released late in 2007.

The CBO's December 2007 study, Historical Effective Tax Rates, 1979 to 2005, had looked at the federal taxes Americans at different income levels have been paying since the year before Ronald Reagan's election. But the report had a hole. Nothing in it indicated how the really rich have fared in the near three decades that the basic principles of Reaganomics -- tax rate cuts, deregulation, and privatization -- have set the public policy pace.

Senate Finance Committee chair Baucus asked the CBO to fill that hole -- by focusing on the richest of the rich. The CBO's new report meets that request, with dramatic results.

Americans in the overall top 1 percent, the 2007 CBO data showed, did quite well in the Reagan era's first quarter-century. Their average incomes, after taking inflation into account, essentially tripled, rising 201 percent.

But these top 1 percent stats, the new CBO data help us understand, hardly tell the full story. The truly stunning income increases over recent decades have gone to the tippy-top of the U.S. income distribution, not the top 1 percent, but the top tenth -- and top hundredth -- of that top 1 percent.

The higher up you go on the income ladder, in other words, the sweeter the Reagan era.

Between 1979 and 2005, the bottom half of the top 1 percent saw their average incomes only double, after inflation. These incomes increased 105 percent. The next highest four-tenths of the top 1 percent somewhat raised the income bar. Their average incomes, after inflation, rose 161 percent.

That brings us to the top 0.1 percent of Americans. Their incomes, from 1979 to 2005, rose a staggering 294 percent after taking inflation into account. Not bad at all. But the top 0.01 percent did even better. The 11,000 households in this rarified air took home an average $35.5 million in 2005, a 384 percent increase over average top 0.01 percent incomes in 1979.

Need some perspective here? Let's compare Americans at the top to Americans in the middle. Between 1979 and 2005, the average income of America's statistical middle class -- the 20 percent of Americans in the exact middle of the U.S. income distribution -- rose, according to the CBO figures, a mere 15 percent. That's less than 1 percent a year.

But many average Americans never actually saw that less than 1 percent. That's because the CBO takes a kitchen-sink approach to defining income. CBO researchers include in their "comprehensive income" calculations all the standard household revenue streams -- wages, dividends, interest, and the like -- and lots more, too, from food stamps and Social Security to employer-paid health benefits.

All these add-ins tend to inflate average household "incomes." If your employer's health insurance company jacks up prices, for instance, the extra dollars in premiums that your employer has to pay count as income to you, at least in the CBO calculations.

The CBO actually has a good reason to take this "kitchen-sink" approach to defining income. Conservative cheerleaders for the Reagan era have been arguing for years that the United States isn't growing that much more unequal, not when you calculate in the various benefits that poor and average Americans get from government and their employers.

But the CBO figures, by adding in all those benefits, neatly expose the flim-flam behind this cheerleading. The United States definitely has become substantially more unequal. Overall, after taxes, the very rich -- the top 0.01 percent -- have nearly quadrupled their share of the nation's income since 1979.

These super-rich Americans in the top 0.01 percent, even more amazingly, now pay a lower share of their incomes in federal tax than the merely rich.

The overall top 1 percent paid federal income tax at an average 19.4 percent rate in 2005. The top 0.01 percent paid at just a 17 percent rate, mainly because the richest of the rich get nearly half their income from capital gains -- and capital gains enjoy preferential tax treatment.

Under George W. Bush, the tax rate on capital gains income -- income from the sale of stocks, bonds, and other assets -- dropped to 15 percent, less than half the current top 35 percent tax rate on "ordinary" income from paychecks.

And that brings us to about the only hopeful news we can take, of late, from the Congressional Budget Office. No one on Capitol Hill has spoken out more clearly on the noxious consequences of preferential treatment for capital gains income than Peter Orszag, the CBO director until last month.

Taxing capital gains at a lower rate than other forms of income, as Orszag has testified to Congress, "creates opportunities for tax avoidance and complicates the tax system."

As CBO director, Orszag couldn't do much about capital gains tax breaks for mega millionaires. Now he can. President-Elect Barack Obama last month named Orszag his choice to direct the Office of Management and Budget, the federal government's most powerful fiscal agency.


Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality.


Rachel's Democracy & Health News highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.

The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.

In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How DO the few control the many, and what might be done about it?"

Rachel's Democracy and Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

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