Thursday, August 12, 2010

So Wrong

These are some of the most disturbing photos I have seen in a long time and, without question, illustrate how destructive our actions have been. Check out the article and videos on the PBS website and then let me know if you think you can ever look at plastic in the same way ever again.

MIDWAY JOURNEY- Plastic Beach from Midway on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Burn Baby Burn

Nothing except having your country burn down under the hottest summer sun on record could make leaders of a major industrial power do an about-face. The planet's newest global warming convert--Russia. Former global warming denyer turned believer.

Check out this article in Time magazine. At least they've come to see sense. Maybe it isn't too late for the US to follow their lead. Oh, who am I kidding?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Don't Touch the Paper!!!!!

This just in. Paper receipts (the kind used for ATMs, supermarket cash registers and gas stations) have high levels of bisphenol-A (BPA). An article published in The Washington Post reports that a recent study by The Environmental Working Group found BPA on 40 percent of the receipts it collected from these everyday destinations. What a mess.

BPA is cause for concern because it is considered to be an endocrine disruptor--meaning that it mimics critical hormones in the body, in this case, estrogen. Exposure to endocrine disruptors has been linked to an increased risk in contracting a number of different negative health outcomes. Specifically, BPA has been linked to an increased risk of reproductive problems and cancer.

We only just figured out that we needed to worry about BPA in beverage containers. Lawmakers in a number of countries are only now beginning to debate whether or not this chemical should be banned from such consumer products. Now we have to worry about exposure from paper? Why in the world is BPA being used in paper products such as receipts? This seems to me like another example of chemical companies doing everything they can to increase demand for an unnecessary product. We should be concerned because is this yet another illustration of our limited knowledge of
yet-to-be discovered negative human health effects from exposure to widely used chemicals. Few people realize that only a few hundred out of the tens of thousands of chemicals currently in production have ever been tested for effects in humans. This is scary stuff.

Now we will have to conduct studies to see how workers who handle these receipts all day long, such as cashiers in supermarkets, may be affected over time. And that knowledge will only give us a glimpse of how the rest of us may be affected.

I hope someday soon people will begin to realize that we need to better understand how people may be affected by these chemicals BEFORE they are widely produced and dispersed in common everyday products.

Believe me, this latest example with BPA is just the tip of the iceberg.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oh the Dumbth!!!

Check out this video posted on the Southern Poverty Law Center's website which originally appeared on CNN a couple of days ago. The reporter, Jim Acosta, takes a closer look at one militia whose numbers are increasing after the election of President Obama.

My question is, where were these fools when Bush 43 was shredding the Constitution?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

We're Doing Something Right

Finally some good news. It looks like a few cities in this country are moving in the right direction. A recent article in Forbes ranks the top 10 cities for the cleanest commutes. Not surprisingly, New York City ranks high at #5.
"... Nearly one-third of the 8.8 million workers in the New York metro area use the system, by far the best rate in the nation. In New York's densest pockets, some 80% of commuters use mass transit. The Big Apple and outlying suburbs are home to nearly half of the nation's 7.5 million mass-transit commuters."
Here's the breakdown:
10. Los Angeles, CA
9. Chicago, IL
7. Portland, OR (tie)
7. Boston, MA
6. Trenton, NJ
5. New York, NY
4. Seattle, WA
3. Washington, DC
2. Honolulu, HI
1. San Francisco, CA

Los Angeles at #10 is a bit unexpected given their sprawl and love of cars. But, as the article explains, their carpool rate is far above the national average and 6.3% of its residents commute via mass transit--again, above the national rate of 5.3%.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Meet Your New Friend....

Aedes albopictus,
The Asian tiger Mosquito

The media has a tendency to look for the 'next big thing'. In terms of infectious diseases, this could be it for Europe and the Americas. It's a virus more exciting than West Nile--it's called the Chikungunya virus. It means "that which bends up". I can imagine news reporters stumbling over the name even as I type.

The virus has been around since at least 1952 when it was discovered in Tanzania. Since 2005, the disease has spread to India, Italy, France and the French Island of Reunion. The Asian tiger mosquito, the vector used by this virus (meaning the way the virus is spread), is already found in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. Within the United States, the mosquito can be found in most southern states, New Jersey, Texas and Minnesota. Like most infectious diseases, our ability to move quickly from country to country via air travel increases the risk that the virus will spread globally.

Researchers are concerned about this virus because unlike West Nile, where 9 out of 10 infected people will show few, if any, symptoms, Chikungunya will make the vast majority of people extremely ill.

This is a very serious disease. Infection may cause fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, rash and joint pain and can even be fatal. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. And of course, there is no vaccine.

Keep your eyes and ears open and your bug spray at hand, as I'm sure we all will be hearing much more about this virus in the weeks and months to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Stupidity

Remember the good old days when the only worries linked to high fructose corn syrup were obesity and diabetes? Now we get reports like this in Mother Jones. Looks like we might be able to add impaired neurological development and reduced cognitive thinking to the list. A recent study suggests that our beloved national treasure, high fructose corn syrup, may indeed be contaminated with mercury. Sweet.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is widely found in processed foods--sweetened beverages, breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments to name but a few. Scientists estimate that 1 out of every 10 calories Americans eat comes from HFCS. Given such widespread exposure, one would think that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might be interested in digging a little deeper to see whether or not there really is cause for concern.

Contamination happens something like this: The process of separating corn starch from the kernel requires the use of lye and some chemical companies manufacture lye using mercury. Health effects vary depending on the type of mercury we are exposed to. And as one might guess, those most at risk for development of negative health outcomes when exposed are children and fetuses. Health effects include impaired cognitive thinking, memory, attention and language difficulties. Exposure also affects the growing brain and nervous system of the developing fetus. A major limitation is that we still do not know which type of mercury contaminated the HFCS. What could really hurt some feelings is the fact the FDA has known about this possible contamination since at least 2005 and has refused to pursue any additional research.

It is important to remember that the FDA:

" the federal agency responsible for ensuring that foods are safe, wholesome and sanitary..."
and that
"FDA also ensures that these products are honestly, accurately and informatively represented to the public."
(quoted from the FDA's website)

Many argue that the FDA fails on both counts and some suggest that the agency is more invested in guarding the profits of major corporate interests than protecting the health of Americans. On the other hand, perhaps the FDA, like other regulatory agencies in the US, is severely underfunded. Or better yet, maybe they are just plain lazy.

There is a bit of good news. Approximately 90% of US manufacturers employ mercury-free production techniques. Unfortunately, 4 US plants and 60% of European production still rely on mercury cell technology and a fair number of our processed foods happen to be imported.

Obvious next steps should be to 1) determine which form(s) of mercury can be detected in HFCS and 2) compare the mercury levels in found in HFCS to background mercury levels reported in other foods. Given that previous estimates of mercury consumption have never before included HFCS as a possible source of exposure, one would hope that the pursuit of a well-informed risk assessment would be on top of somebody's list. You can be sure, though, that certain industries want no part of it.