Top 10: July 2013

For the second quarter of 2013, we collectively selected ten topics from several dozen candidate news articles, journal articles, policy decisions and reports that have had a significant impact or are likely to have a significant impact on thinking and action in the field of environmental health. We consider these selections to be the biggest contributors toward new insights, toward changing the conversation or expanding the scope of the conversation on a topic to a new audience or awareness, or toward defining a new trend. Comments are welcome.

The selections, in no particular order:

  1. Chemical policy reform
    A significant development in federal chemicals policy reform occurred in late May when  Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a new, bipartisan bill called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). The introduction of the CSIA took many by surprise. Senator Lautenberg, who had been a champion for chemical policy reform for many years, passed away about a week later. CHE has compiled a selection of responses to this bill as well as links to other relevant sites for additional information: Chemical Policy Reform.
  2. Autism: New insights
    Several new studies have provided further understanding of environmental and genetic contributors to autism spectrum disorders. We list what we view as some of the most significant of these studies:

    1. Autism study finds link to environment, even in womb: A new study of twins suggests that environmental factors, including conditions in the womb, may be at least as important as genes in causing autism. See the study abstract: Genetic heritability and shared environmental factors among twin pairs with autism and related studies: Quantitative trait loci for interhemispheric commissure development and social behaviors in the BTBR T+ tf/J mouse model of autism and Methylomic analysis of monozygotic twins discordant for autism spectrum disorder and related behavioural traits.
    2. Study links autism with antidepressant use during pregnancy. See the study abstract: Parental depression, maternal antidepressant use during pregnancy, and risk of autism spectrum disorders: population based case-control study.
    3. Epilepsy drug in pregnancy tied to autism risk: Women who take the epilepsy drug valproate during pregnancy are three times more likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder, suggests new research based on close to 700,000 babies born in Denmark. See the study abstract: Prenatal valproate exposure and risk of autism spectrum disorders and childhood autism.
    4. US kids born in polluted areas more likely to have autism. See the study abstract: Perinatal air pollutant exposures and autism spectrum disorder in the Children of Nurses’ Health Study II participants.
  3. EHN special report: ‘chemicals of high concern’ found in thousands of children’s products
    An Environmental Health News analysis of thousands of reports from America’s largest companies shows that toys and other children’s products contain low levels of dozens of industrial chemicals. See the database: Children’s Safe Product Act Reports.
  4. Nanotechnology: Despite EPA and massive regulation, we have no real sense of nanomaterial toxicity, no policy for health risks
    “For the first time, researchers from institutions around the country have conducted an identical series of toxicology tests evaluating lung-related health impacts associated with widely used engineered nanomaterials.” The long-term health and safety impacts of nanomaterials have been unknown, without any apparent strategy to determine or address these issues. This consortium is a first step.
    See the journal report with links to the studies: Nano GO Consortium—a team science approach to assess engineered nanomaterials: reliable assays and methods.
  5. Diabetes: New insights and developments
    A long list of new studies have been published this quarter relating to environmental contributors to diabetes. Here’s a summary of what we view as some of the most significant new research:

    1. A case-cohort study examining lifetime exposure to inorganic arsenic in drinking water and diabetes mellitus: “Exposure to low-level inorganic arsenic in drinking water is associated with increased risk for type II DM in this population based on a comprehensive lifetime exposure assessment.” A second study supports this conclusion: Arsenic exposure and prevalence of diabetes mellitus in Korean adults. However, in another study, no statistical association was found between arsenic exposure and type 2 diabetes: Prolonged environmental exposure of arsenic through drinking water on the risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
    2. Mercury exposure in young adulthood and incidence of diabetes later in life: the CARDIA trace element study: “Our results are consistent with findings from laboratory studies and provide longitudinal human data, suggesting that people with high mercury exposure in young adulthood may have elevated risk of diabetes later in life.”
    3. Statins and diabetes: “A laboratory study has shown for the first time that coenzyme Q10 offsets cellular changes that may be linked to a side-effect of some statin drugs—an increased risk of adult-onset diabetes.” See the study abstract: Coenzyme Q10 ameliorates the reduction in GLUT4 transporter expression induced by simvastatin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes.
    4. Risk of incident diabetes in relation to long-term exposure to fine particulate matter in Ontario, Canada: “This study suggests that long-term exposure to PM2.5 may contribute to the development of diabetes.” See also related studies: Long-term fine particulate matter exposure and mortality from diabetes mellitus in Canada and Long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution and insulin resistance in children: results from the GINIplus and LISAplus birth cohorts.
    5. Relationship between urinary bisphenol A levels and prediabetes among subjects free of diabetes: “Higher urinary BPA levels are found to be associated with prediabetes independent of traditional diabetes risk factors.” See also Hepatic DNA methylation modifications in early development of rats resulting from perinatal BPA exposure contribute to insulin resistance in adulthood.
    6. The association of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance/secretion with persistent organic pollutants in two First Nations communities in northern Ontario: “These findings confirm that POP concentrations in plasma may be higher in diabetic than in non-diabetic individuals. No association was however seen between POP concentrations and markers of insulin resistance/secretion in non-diabetic individuals.” See also Evaluation of the association between persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and diabetes in epidemiological studies: a National Toxicology Program workshop review.
    7. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity in relation to serum dioxin concentrations: the Seveso Women’s Health Study: “We found an increase in metabolic syndrome associated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), but only among women who were youngest at exposure.”
    8. Why is type 1 diabetes increasing? “This review of 41 studies finds limited evidence for prenatal exposure to DDE, PCBs and dioxins and risk of respiratory infections. Evidence was limited also for postnatal exposure to PCBs, specifically ndl-PCBs, and reduced immune response after vaccination in childhood. The review indicates lack of association between postnatal exposure to PCBs/ndl-PCBs and risk of asthma-related symptoms. For the other exposure-outcome associations reviewed evidence was inadequate.”
    9. Long-term exposure to road traffic noise and incident diabetes: a cohort study. “Exposure to residential road traffic noise was associated with a higher risk of diabetes.”
    10. Blood 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels and incident type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of prospective studies: “Our meta-analysis showed an inverse and significant association between circulating 25(OH)D levels and risk of type 2 diabetes across a broad range of blood 25(OH)D levels in diverse populations.”
    11. Shared effects of genetic and intrauterine and perinatal environment on the development of metabolic syndrome
      “Genetic and environmental factors, including the in utero environment, contribute to Metabolic Syndrome. Fetal adaptations to high fat in utero that may predispose to Metabolic Syndrome in adulthood include changes in fetal hepatic gene expression and alterations in circulating cytokines. These results suggest that the interaction between in utero-perinatal environment and genotype plays a critical role in the developmental origin of health and disease.”
  6. New report: Environmental Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty
    “The informed identification and use of the uncertainties inherent in the process is an essential feature of environmental decision making.” This report from the Institute of Medicine was requested by the US Environmental Protection Agency to provide guidance to EPA’s decision makers and their partners in states and localities on approaches to managing risk in different contexts when uncertainty is present.
  7. Cell phones and health: New insights and developments
    1. Is human saliva an indicator of the adverse health effects of using mobile phones? “Salivary flow, total protein, albumin, and amylase activity were decreased in mobile phone users. These observations lead to the hypothesis that the use of mobile phones may cause oxidative stress and modify salivary function.”
    2. Impacts of radio-frequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) from cell phone towers and wireless devices on biosystem and ecosystem—a review: “Based on current available literature, it is justified to conclude that RF-EMF radiation exposure can change neurotransmitter functions, blood-brain barrier, morphology, electrophysiology, cellular metabolism, calcium efflux, and gene and protein expression in certain types of cells even at lower intensities.” See also another review: Reaction of the immune system to low-level RF/MW exposures and Cell phone radiation exposure on brain and associated biological systems.
    3. Non-Ionizing Radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields: The topic of this monograph from IARC is the evaluation of the carcinogenicity of radiation in the radiofrequency (RF) range (30 kHz to 300 GHz) of the electromagnetic spectrum.
    4. Mobile phone use and risk of brain neoplasms and other cancers: prospective study: In this large prospective study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, “mobile phone use was not associated with increased incidence of glioma, meningioma or non-CNS cancers. For acoustic neuroma, there was an increase in risk with long term use versus never use, the risk increasing with duration of use.” See also another study that found no effect of phone use on brain tumor incidence: The incidence rate and mortality of malignant brain tumors after 10 years of intensive cell phone use in Taiwan and one that found a fourfold increased risk of ipsilateral glioma: Swedish review strengthens grounds for concluding that radiation from cellular and cordless phones is a probable human carcinogen.
    5. Biophysical evaluation of radiofrequency electromagnetic field effects on male reproductive pattern: “Present review examines the possible concern on radio frequency radiation interaction and biological effects such as enzyme induction, and toxicological effects, including genotoxicity and carcinogenicity, testicular cancer, and reproductive outcomes.”
    6. Effects of intensive cell phone (Philips Genic 900) use on the rat kidney tissue: “Light microscopic examination of the kidney tissues obtained from the first group of rats revealed glomerular damage, dilatation of Bowman’s capsule, formation of large spaces between the tubules, tubular damage, perivascular edema, and inflammatory cell infiltration.”
  8. Special Report: Syngenta’s campaign to protect atrazine, discredit critics
    “To protect profits threatened by a lawsuit over its controversial herbicide atrazine, Syngenta Crop Protection launched an aggressive multi-million dollar campaign that included hiring a detective agency to investigate scientists on a federal advisory panel, looking into the personal life of a judge and commissioning a psychological profile of a leading scientist critical of atrazine.”
  9. International: Widespread and costly effects of toxic exposures
    Two international studies looked at the burden from preventable exposures to toxic materials and found huge economic and societal costs.

    1. Economic costs of childhood lead exposure in low- and middle-income countries
      “We estimate a total cost of $977 billions of international dollars in low- and middle-income countries. The burden associated with childhood lead exposure amounts to 1.20% of world GDP in 2011. For comparison, US and Europe lead-attributable economic costs have been estimated at $50.9 and $55 billion, respectively, suggesting that the largest burden of lead exposure is now borne by low- and middle-income countries.”
    2. Burden of disease from toxic waste sites in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines in 2010
      “Toxic waste sites are responsible for a significant burden of disease in low- and middle-income countries … Toxic waste sites are a major, and heretofore under-recognized, global health problem.” Not only was this study a major new work on toxic threats to health, but it received considerable press, including in Time Magazine, Scientific American, and ScienceNews, as well as in foreign publications including Manoramaonline.com and Mongabay.com.
  10. Prenatal nitrate intake from drinking water and selected birth defects in offspring of participants in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study
    “Higher water nitrate intake was associated with several birth defects in offspring, but did not strengthen associations between nitrosatable drugs and birth defects.”
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