Top 10: 3rd Quarter 2015

We present the ten most significant news or research stories in environmental health of the last quarter, in CHE’s view. The first three items are statements from major scientific or health organizations summarizing large bodies of research and drawing conclusions about the interaction of our environments and our health. These reports join a growing list of statements and documents (see compilations of consensus statements and of resolutions and scientific statements on CHE’s website).

Additional items in this list present notable new research, new policy developments, new focus or new thinking on their respective topics.

  1. FIGOInternational Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics opinion on reproductive health impacts of exposure to toxic environmental chemical: The global health and economic burden related to toxic environmental chemicals is in excess of millions of deaths and billions of dollars every year, including impacts on health and quality of life. On the basis of accumulating robust evidence of exposures and adverse health impacts related to toxic environmental chemicals, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) joins other leading reproductive health professional societies in calling for timely action to prevent harm.
    Read CHE’s Blog post on the statement, written by a statement author, and join CHE’s call on the statement on October 30th.
  2. Executive Summary to EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s second scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals: The full Scientific Statement represents a comprehensive review of the literature on seven topics for which there is strong mechanistic, experimental, animal, and epidemiological evidence for endocrine disruption, namely: obesity and diabetes, female reproduction, male reproduction, hormone-sensitive cancers in females, prostate cancer, thyroid, and neurodevelopment and neuroendocrine systems.
  3. PlanetaryHealthSafeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health: A growing body of evidence shows that the health of humanity is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment, but by its actions humanity now threatens to destabilize the Earth’s key life-support systems.
    See the infographic that accompanies this report.
  4. California bill leads nation with significant steps to limit antibiotic overuse in meat production: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified antibiotic resistance as one of the top health threats facing the nation. This action puts California at the forefront of efforts in the US to limit the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in meat production and protect the efficacy of precious antibiotics.
  5. Pesticide exposure linked to diabetes development: New studies, including a meta-analysis, appear to show that there is a link between exposure to pesticides and the later development of diabetes, researchers reported at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
    See more about the meta-analysis: Analysis of 21 studies shows exposure to pesticides is associated with increased risk of developing diabetes.
    Although this meta-analysis and other studies were presented at a conference and have not been published, we felt this topic merited inclusion in the Top 10 because it reinforces the growing number of peer-reviewed studies that suggest a link between diabetes and pesticides.
  6. Assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment: the challenge ahead: Our analysis suggests that the cumulative effects of individual (non-carcinogenic) chemicals acting on different pathways, and a variety of related systems, organs, tissues and cells could plausibly conspire to produce carcinogenic synergies.
    See news coverage on this report from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS): Exposure to low levels of chemical mixtures linked with cancer and Low-dose mixtures and cancer highlighted at NIEHS symposium, plus CHE’s teleconference call on the report: Theories of carcinogenesis: assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment.
  7. Association of child poverty, brain development, and academic achievement: Poverty is tied to structural differences in several areas of the brain associated with school readiness skills, with the largest influence observed among children from the poorest households.
    See a news report on the study, drawing from an interview with the study senior author: Effect of poverty on brains may explain poor kids’ lower test scores.
    As the author notes, this study “closes the loop and adds the missing piece” regarding the connection between poverty, brain development and academic achievement, finding that the effects are mediated by a smaller hippocampus and frontal and temporal lobes and that the decrease in volume of the latter two structures explained as much as 15% to 20% of the achievement deficits found. Of note is that children facing numerous other risk factors for poor brain development were screened out from this study. cumulativeImpactsThe impacts of poverty, nutrition, conflict, disease and other stressors in addition to exposures to toxic chemicals and radiation each may have individual and synergistic effects on brain development. This study brings focus to the role of poverty on brain development and achievement, but because children living in poverty often face other adverse conditions concomitant to poverty, the full effects of poverty are likely even greater than reported in this study.
  8. Two articles on health effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking): Endocrine-disrupting chemicals and oil and natural gas operations: potential environmental contamination and recommendations to assess complex environmental mixtures and Environmental and health impacts of ‘fracking’: why epidemiological studies are necessary. These articles make the case for concern over serious impacts on health and call for more research, including regarding the endocrine-disrupting potential of chemicals used in the process.
  9. The scandal regarding Volkswagen’s programming cars to avoid emissions control. A flurry of news reports on this situation were published. We present two focusing on human health impacts: Scientists say car emissions rigging raises health concerns and How many deaths did Volkswagen’s deception cause in the US? Because 11 million cars worldwide may be affected, and because diesel-fueled cars account for just 3 percent of passenger vehicles in America but closer to 50 percent in Europe, the health impacts of VW’s intentional undermining of clean air standards could be enormous.
  10. The Center for Public Integrity’s series on occupational exposures and health. CPI’s reports published a long list of articles describing the health impacts of occupational exposures on workers and their families, the failure of current safeguards, the push to weaken even those, and recommendations for reform.
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Brains Needed for the Future

Brains Needed for the Future

To commemorate World Environmental Health Day this year and its focus on children’s environment and health, CHE is publishing a series of short essays from partners who are leaders in children’s environmental health.

PhilippeGrandjeanwritten by Philippe Grandjean, MD, PhD
CHE Partner

Climate change and chemical pollution are serious challenges that require tough decisions, and the solutions will depend on human ingenuity. In other words, we need smart people to help clean up the problems that present and previous generations have created.

GrandjeanWEHDay2015But counter to this notion, we are promoting toxic chemicals that can damage human brain development. So we are essentially generating a vicious circle: industrial chemicals damage the development of the brains of the future that should have helped us design safer uses of chemicals that would not endanger the nervous system of the next generation.

We already know that more than 200 industrial chemicals can detrimentally affect brain functioning in adults. Although we have so far gathered enough evidence only on a dozen or so substances that can damage a child’s developing brain, we know that such toxicity occurs at much lower doses than those that affect the adult brain. Still, only a few of these chemicals have so far been regulated in order to protect the brains of the next generation.

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Top 10: October 2013

For the third quarter of 2013, CHE has selected stories and studies that come from a wide range of environmental health topics. Comments are welcome.

  1. Drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ deemed urgent threats: US report
    “For organism after organism, we’re seeing this steady increase in resistance rates,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a telephone interview. “We don’t have new drugs about to come out of the pipeline. If and when we get new drugs, unless we do a better job of protecting them, we’ll lose those, also.” This is not a new issue, but it’s gaining substantially greater press.
    [See the CDC report: Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013]
  2. Journal editors trade blows over toxicology
    Leading toxicologists and endocrinologists have been trading barbs in the pages of respected journals over ‘endocrine disrupters’—chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), that affect the endocrine system and have been linked to developmental problems in humans.
    [See the editorials: Scientifically unfounded precaution drives European Commission’s recommendations on EDC regulation, while defying common sense, well-established science and risk assessment principles; Policy decisions on endocrine disruptors should be based on science across disciplines: a response to Dietrich et al.; Transparency and translation of science in a modern world and Science and policy on endocrine disrupters must not be mixed: a reply to a “common sense” intervention by toxicology journal editors plus The 2013 Berlaymont Declaration on Endocrine Disrupters and analyses and commentary: Eight questions for toxicologists against proposals for new EU chemicals laws; EDCs: negotiating the precautionary principle and Special report: scientists critical of EU chemical policy have industry ties]
  3. Air pollution responsible for more than 2 million deaths worldwide each year, experts estimate
    Co-author of the study, Jason West, from the University of North Carolina, said: “Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health. Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe.”
    [See the study: Global premature mortality due to anthropogenic outdoor air pollution and the contribution of past climate change]
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics demands FCC protect children from cell phone & wireless radiation
    The American Academy of Pediatrics submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging “the FCC to adopt radiation standards” that 1) protect children’s health and well-being from radiation emitted by cell phones and other wireless devices; 2) reflect how people actually use their cell phones; and 3) provide sufficient information that enables consumers to make informed decisions when they purchase mobile phones. CHE considers this noteworthy because of AAP’s stature.
  5. New findings about arsenic: These items reveal several new concerning health effects from arsenic, an interaction between arsenic and estrogen, and a promising treatment for arsenic-contaminated soil.
    1. Contaminant found in most US rice causes genetic damage: A study has shown the first direct link between rice consumption and arsenic-induced genetic damage. [See the study: High arsenic in rice is associated with elevated genotoxic effects in humans and a related announcement: FDA explores impact of arsenic in rice]
    2. Drinking arsenic-laced water is like smoking for decades, study finds: The researchers found that people drinking water with dangerous levels of arsenic had decreased lung capacities. The effect appeared even when the researchers controlled for people’s ages, genders, smoking habits and other traits that affect lung capacity. The more arsenic the researchers found in the volunteers’ bodies, the smaller the volunteers’ lung capacity. [See the study: Arsenic exposure and impaired lung function: findings from a large population-based prospective cohort study]
    3. Arsenic immunotoxicity: a review: Overall, the data show that chronic exposure to arsenic has the potential to impair vital immune responses which could lead to increased risk of infections and chronic diseases, including various cancers.
    4. The arsenic in our drinking water: Long famed for its homicidal toxicity at high doses, a number of studies suggest that arsenic is an astonishingly versatile poison, able to do damage even at low doses. Chronic low-dose exposure has been implicated not only in respiratory problems in children and adults, but in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers of the skin, bladder and lung.
    5. Low arsenic levels linked with heart disease: Exposure to even low levels of arsenic in drinking water and food may increase the risk of developing, and dying from, heart disease, a new study suggests. [See the study: Association between exposure to low to moderate arsenic levels and incident cardiovascular disease: a prospective cohort study]
    6. Researchers find cancer risks double when two carcinogens present at ‘safe’ levels: New research conducted by Texas Tech University scientists has found that low doses of both chemicals together [arsenic and estrogen]—even at levels low enough to be considered “safe” for humans if they were on their own—can cause cancer in prostate cells. [See the study: Chronic exposure to arsenic, estrogen, and their combination causes increased growth and transformation in human prostate epithelial cells potentially by hypermethylation-mediated silencing of MLH1]
    7. Friendly bacteria to detox arsenic: A new study has identified bacterial strains capable of oxidising toxic arsenic into a less toxic form, offering a feasible and affordable solution to the problem of arsenic in soil and water. [See the study: Arsenic-tolerant, arsenite-oxidising bacterial strains in the contaminated soils of West Bengal, India]
  6. Milestone study probes cancer origin
    The international team of researchers was looking for the causes of certain mutations as part of the largest-ever analysis of cancer genomes. The well-known ones such as UV damage and smoking mutate the DNA, increasing the odds of cancer. But each also leaves behind a unique hallmark—a piece of “genetic graffiti”—that shows if smoking or UV radiation has mutated the DNA. Researchers, led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK, hunted for more examples of “graffiti” in 7,042 samples taken from the 30 most common cancers. The ability to identify the specific cause of a mutation could change cancer litigation and policy profoundly.
    [See also Towards incorporating epigenetic mechanisms into carcinogen identification and evaluation]
  7. New findings on brain development and mental health: This selection of studies provide new insights on environmental contributors to mental health: food, lead, tobacco use and antibiotic use.
    1. Early ‘junk food’ exposure risks kids’ mental health
      Along with the myriad negative effects on physical health, “junk food” during pregnancy and in early childhood is linked to a significantly increased risk for poor mental health, including anxiety and depression, in very young children, new research shows. [See the study: Maternal and early postnatal nutrition and mental health of offspring by age 5 years: a prospective cohort study]
    2. Study links high lead levels to anxiety, alcohol problems: Childhood lead exposure in the South Australian city of Port Pirie has been linked to psychological illness and substance abuse problems in adulthood. [See the study: Prospective associations between childhood low-level lead exposure and adult mental health problems: the Port Pirie cohort study and more about the Birth to Now Study]
    3. Anxiety in your head could come from your gut: Scientists think there may be a link between what’s in your gut and what’s in your head, suggesting that bacteria may play a role in disorders such as anxiety, schizophrenia and autism. The foods and drugs that we use influence our gut bacteria, and so this is in part an environmental health issue.
    4. Smoking in pregnancy linked to child depression: Children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy have altered brain growth, which may put them at greater risk of anxiety and depression. [See the study: Prenatal tobacco exposure and brain morphology: a prospective study in young children]
  8. Fukushima water leaks: new source of health concerns?
    The radioactive water leak from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant—which was upgraded this week from level 1 to level 3, indicating the leak is a “serious incident”—has some wondering whether the contaminated water could be a source of concern for human health. Fukushima is a nuclear power catastrophe that refuses to be resolved, which could have broad implications throughout the industry and the world.
    [See also Oceanic plume of radioactivity predicted to reach US by 2014 and the related study: Multi-decadal projections of surface and interior pathways of the Fukushima Cesium-137 radioactive plume and Pollution, Fukushima radiation tracked by environmental websites]
  9. Report: environmental chemicals are a pregnancy risk
    From mercury to pesticides, Americans are exposed daily to environmental chemicals that could harm reproductive health, the nation’s largest groups of obstetricians and fertility specialists said Monday. Having the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists publish an opinion of this nature raises the level of awareness and conversation around this issue.
    [See the ACOG Committee Opinion: Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents]
  10. Wal-Mart announces phase-out of hazardous chemicals
    Prodded by health and environmental advocates, Wal-Mart announced Thursday that it will require suppliers to disclose and eventually phase out 10 hazardous chemicals from the fragrances, cosmetics, household cleaners and personal care products at its stores. Because Wal-Mart, by virtue of its market share, can shift industry-wide behavior of suppliers, this announcement could be a game-changer.
    [See responses from advocacy groups on the Safe Markets site]

Get a Grip on Toxic Chemicals

Reps. Doyle and Murphy are well positioned to help protect us

Maureen Swanson
CHE Partner and Director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America

This letter was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s republished here with the author’s permission.

Imagine all the chemicals used in televisions, computers, upholstery, car seats, building materials, even children’s pajamas. Imagine that some of these chemicals migrate from products into dust and dirt, and build up in our bodies. They are found in the cord blood of newborns and in breast milk. Imagine that these chemicals are similar in structure to the notorious PCBs – carcinogens banned from use in the late 1970s.

Now wouldn’t you also imagine that these chemicals were tested and found to be safe to human health before they were allowed into our products and homes?

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Polybrominated diphyenyl ethers are flame retardant chemicals that persist in the environment and build up in the food chain and in people. Laboratory studies link exposure to PBDEs with lowered IQ and attention problems. This summer, a study of pregnant women found that those with higher levels of PBDEs had reduced levels of thyroid hormone, which is essential to a baby’s brain development.

But despite growing scientific evidence linking toxic chemical exposures to serious disease and disability, our government does not require that PBDEs – or any of the other 80,000 chemicals on the market – be tested for effects on human health.

That could be about to change, and two Pittsburgh members of Congress are in key positions to help make it happen.

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