On World Environmental Health Day: The Call to Protect Children’s Environment and Health

On World Environmental Health Day: The Call to Protect Children’s Environment and Health

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.

A very young Frederica Perera

Dr. Perera’s son

written by Frederica Perera, DrPH
CHE Partner

The protection of children, and especially poor children, from air pollution and climate change resulting from the massive burning of fossil fuel is an urgent moral imperative. The large and mounting health and economic costs of pollution and climate change necessitate bold policy change.

The entire global population is affected; however, the first thousand days of life represent the greatest window of susceptibility both to toxic exposures and stressors from climate change. The developing fetus and young child undergo very rapid development during which time they lack the innate defense mechanisms operating in older children and adults. Thus, they tend to be the most affected both by toxic air pollutants and climate change. The impacts of exposure to air pollution include adverse birth outcomes, cognitive and behavioral disorders, asthma and other respiratory problems in children, while climate change increases the likelihood of heat waves, floods, drought, malnutrition, infectious disease, and social and political instability. These early impacts can translate to lifelong consequences for the young.

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Top 10: 2nd Quarter 2015

The ten biggest news or research stories of the last quarter, in CHE’s view.

  1. Climate Change
    Climate change continues to receive attention, from top-level activities to broad new investigations of health impacts.

    1. Pope delivers strong message on climate change in encyclical ‘Laudato Si’‘: In his much-awaited encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis offered a broad and uncompromising indictment of the global market economy, accusing it of plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and of future generations. The encyclical: Laudato Si’.
    2. Obama Administration announces actions to protect communities from the health impacts of climate change at White House summit: The White House hosted a first-ever Summit on Climate Change and Health, featuring the Surgeon General, to stimulate a national dialogue on preventing the health impacts of climate change. See the speaker presentations and other videos on the White House blog.
    3. EPA carbon emissions plan could save thousands of lives, study finds: New carbon emissions standards that were proposed last year for coal-fired power plants in the United States would substantially improve human health and prevent more than 3,000 premature deaths per year, according to a new study. The study: US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits.
    4. Climate change set to take major toll on economy and children’s health, experts warn: Researchers have only scratched the surface of the complex effects climate change will have on children’s health and the economy, panelists said at a climate change forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
  2. Cancer risk from chemical cocktail
    Scientists looked at 85 chemicals not usually considered to have a role in causing cancer and found that 50 could play a part. The chemicals, at everyday exposure levels, were found to support mechanisms in the body that helped cancer to develop. They included chemicals found in items such as mobile phones, detergents and cooking pans, and pesticides used on fruits and vegetables. The study: Assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment: the challenge ahead.
  3. Weed killers, bee killers, sperm killers?
    Research on a variety of pesticides is finding new effects and driving decisions to reduce use.

    1. Controversial insecticide use rises as farmers douse seeds: Since the early 2000s, US farmers have dramatically increased their use of controversial insecticides suspected of playing a role in the decline of pollinating insects, such as honeybees. The report: Large-scale deployment of seed treatments has driven rapid increase in use of neonicotinoid insecticides and preemptive pest management in U.S. field crops.
    2. Announcing new steps to promote pollinator health: In June 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing an interagency task force to create a Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. In May, under the leadership of the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Agriculture, the task force released its strategy. A summary and analysis: US plan to help bees focuses on more land.
    3. Pesticides on vegetables and fruit linked to lower sperm counts: A study found that those who consume fruits and vegetables that are known to have the highest quantity of pesticides have sperm counts that are 50 percent lower than those who eat the smallest amount of these items. The study: Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic.
    4. Health Canada looks to re-label weed killer Roundup: Health Canada announced on Monday that it will begin public consultations to update the product label to reduce human and environmental exposure. The consultation webpage: Consultation on Glyphosate, Proposed Re evaluation Decision PRVD2015-01
    5. France bans sale of weedkiller Roundup over UN fears it may be carcinogenic: French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal announced Sunday a ban on the sale of popular weedkiller Roundup from garden centres, which the UN has warned may be carcinogenic.
    6. Europe starts taking glyphosate off the shelves: Switzerland’s two largest retailers, Migros and Coop, have been listening to their customers and are already taking retail products containing glyphosate off their shelves. The Swiss retail withdrawal of glyphosate follows the announcement by German retail giant REWE that it will complete its withdrawal of glyphosate products from its 350 gardening outlets by September this year, at the latest.
    7. Chemical reactions: glyphosate and the politics of chemical safety: The IARC’s evaluation presents a dilemma for regulatory institutions. If they explicitly accept the validity of the IARC’s findings (and therefore acknowledge the choice-laden nature of safety evaluation) this might invite scrutiny and criticism of their own assessments, and regulatory decisions.
  4. Fracking/drilling and health
    Breathing problems, cancer, lower birth weight, earthquakes and other effects inform policy decisions on fracking.

    1. Contamination and geologic effects
      1. Fracking chemicals detected in Pennsylvania drinking water: An analysis of drinking water sampled from three homes in Bradford County, Pa., revealed traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids, according to a study published on Monday. The study: Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development.
      2. New study reveals potential Texas fracking contamination: A new peer-reviewed study reveals potential groundwater contamination in the Barnett Shale, a geological formation that underlies 17 counties in North Texas, including Denton County. But the cause is still under debate. The study: A comprehensive analysis of groundwater quality in the Barnett Shale region.
      3. Okla. science agency links quakes to oil: The state agency in charge of determining the cause of Oklahoma’s earthquake swarms announced today that it is “very likely” that the shaking has been caused by oil and gas activity. The statement: Statement on Oklahoma Seismicity.
    2. Health impacts
      1. Fracking produces air pollution that increases the risk of breathing problems and cancer, study claims: Researchers found that people living within three miles of a fracking site could be exposed to pollution levels that are significantly higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems safe. The study: Impact of natural gas extraction on PAH levels in ambient air.
      2. Lower birth weight associated with proximity of mother’s home to gas wells: Pregnant women living close to a high density of natural gas wells drilled with hydraulic fracturing were more likely to have babies with lower birth weights than women living farther from such wells, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis of southwestern Pennsylvania birth records. The study: Perinatal outcomes and unconventional natural gas operations in southwest Pennsylvania.
    3. Policy
      1. Fracking poses ‘significant’ risk to humans, says new EU report: A major new scientific study has concluded that the controversial gas extraction technique known as fracking poses a “significant” risk to human health and British wildlife, and that an EU-wide moratorium should be implemented. The report: Chemical Pollution from Fracking.
      2. New York makes fracking ban official: The Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation announced the decision on Monday, saying a ban was the only reasonable alternative after years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts.
  5. DDT in pregnancy may raise breast cancer rates in daughters
    The researchers observed a sizable, statistically significant association between in utero DDT exposure and risk of breast cancer in young women and a possible association with more aggressive tumors. These findings are the first ever reported for a prospective observation of a large pregnancy cohort. The study: DDT exposure in utero and breast cancer.
  6. US government recommends lower level of fluoride in water
    For the first time in more than 50 years, the federal government has recommended lowering the level of fluoride in drinking water. The recommendation: U.S. Public Health Service Recommendation for Fluoride Concentration in Drinking Water for the Prevention of Dental Caries.
  7. Antibiotic use reduction
    After decades of warnings, the issue of antibiotic overuse and resistance is gaining traction.

    1. White House opens ‘superbug’ summit, orders federal cafeterias to use meat raised with ‘responsible antibiotic use’: President Obama kicked off the day-long, mostly-closed-door meeting by directing federal departments and agencies to begin a process to buy meat and poultry raised with “responsible antibiotic use.”
    2. What Tyson’s pledge to stop using human antibiotics in chicken means for the future of superbugs: The Natural Resources Defense Council called the Tyson news a “tipping point for getting the chicken industry off antibiotics.” Yet when it comes to protecting against antibiotic resistance, critics say the change may be too little and too late.
  8. US chemical regulation reform gets boost as House passes TSCA rewrite
    The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill that would update the nation’s industrial chemicals regulations for the first time in nearly 40-years. The bill—which would make it easier for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request new safety data on chemicals and regulate chemicals already on the market—takes a narrower approach than a competing bill in the Senate. See analyses of the bill: Who is looking out for the health of America’s children? House chemicals bill favors industry over families and The House passes TSCA reform!
  9. Parma consensus statement on metabolic disruptors
    A multidisciplinary group of experts gathered in Parma, Italy, for a workshop hosted by the University of Parma, May 16-18, 2014, to address concerns about the potential relationship between environmental metabolic disrupting chemicals, obesity and related metabolic disorders.
  10. Improving population-wide nutrition
    US agencies announced nutrition recommendations and a new ban.

    1. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee
      The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.
    2. FDA cuts trans fat in processed foods: The US Food and Drug Administration is taking a step to remove artificial trans fat from the food supply within three years. This step is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.

Top 10 Selections: 4th quarter 2014

We present CHE’s picks of the most important environmental health stories from the last quarter of 2014.

  1. Air pollution and autism
    A growing body of evidence implicates air toxics as potential contributors to autism spectrum disorders, with four studies published in rapid succession this quarter:

    1. Environmental chemical exposures and autism spectrum disorders: a review of the epidemiological evidence.
    2. University of Pittsburgh study correlates autism with air pollution: Preliminary results from the study show that children with autism spectrum disorders were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers’ pregnancies and their first two years of life compared with children without the condition. The study: The association of national air toxics assessment exposures and the risk of childhood autism spectrum disorder: a case control study.
    3. Air pollution exposure in pregnancy linked to autism in study: Women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to have an autistic child. The study: Autism spectrum disorder and particulate matter air pollution before, during, and after pregnancy: a nested case–control analysis within the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort.
    4. Fourth study finds traffic pollution may cause autism: The more traffic pollution a pregnant woman is exposed to — especially during her third trimester — the greater chance her child will develop autism. The study: In utero exposure to toxic air pollutants and risk of childhood autism.
  2. Phthalates’ effects on health
    A proposed rule by the Consumer Product Safety Commission was mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and is now open for public comment: Prohibition of children’s toys and child care articles containing specified phthalates. Research continues to bring fuller understanding of the potential for harm from several phthalates:

    1. Prenatal exposure to household chemical linked to reduced IQ, study says: Children who were exposed in utero to high levels of phthalates went on to have lower IQ levels than their peers who were exposed to lower levels, a new study from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University found. The study: Persistent associations between maternal prenatal exposure to phthalates on child IQ at age 7 years.
    2. A birth cohort study to investigate the association between prenatal phthalate and bisphenol A exposures and fetal markers of metabolic dysfunction: Associations between maternal exposure to chemicals and markers of metabolic function appear potentially to be sex specific.
    3. Plastics chemical linked to changes in boys’ genitals: Boys exposed in the womb to high levels of a chemical found in vinyl products are born with slightly altered genital development, according to research published today. The study of nearly 200 Swedish babies is the first to link the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) to changes in the development of the human male reproductive tract. The study: Prenatal phthalate exposures and anogenital distance in Swedish boys.
    4. How household plastics could ruin your sex life: Phthalates are being linked to, among other things, a decrease in libido in women. The study: Environmental exposure to di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate is associated with low interest in sexual activity in premenopausal women.
  3. Sugar and other sweeteners
    The impact of sugar and other sweeteners on health has been getting more attention lately. In addition to the launch of SugarScience, a new website touted as an authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health, the nation’s first soda tax passed in Berkeley, California. Proponents of the tax say it will curb the consumption of sodas, energy drinks and sweetened teas which are contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic and Type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, research is uncovering health effects of sugar and other sweeteners that go beyond obesity and diabetes:

    1. This is your teenager’s brain on soda: Researchers at the University of Southern California recently published a study showing a connection between sugar consumption and memory problems. The study: Effects of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup consumption on spatial memory function and hippocampal neuroinflammation in adolescent rats.
    2. Intake of energy-dense foods, fast foods, sugary drinks, and breast cancer risk in African American and European American women.
    3. Soda and cell aging: associations between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and leukocyte telomere length in healthy adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
  4. Climate change
    The biggest climate story this quarter was that the US and China announced important new actions to reduce carbon pollution. The Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also reiterated that the situation requires immediate and substantial action or the Earth will face “further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” While the connection to human health is not always mentioned in reports on climate change, the health impacts are substantial. For example, in Chemically mediated behavior of recruiting corals and fishes: a tipping point that may limit reef recovery, there’s an understated repercussion of the loss of reefs: devastating impacts on sources of food, and especially protein, for much of the world’s human population. Other stories highlighting other aspects of climate change include these:

    1. From bar fights to wars, climate change will make us more violent: The hotter it gets, the more likely we are to kill each other. Murder rates go up in heat waves; in some countries, civil war is also more likely. In training exercises in hot weather, police are more likely to pull out a gun and fire. The paper: Climate and conflict.
    2. Climate change affects national security: After close examination of the science, the Military Advisory Board, a group of 16 retired flag-level officers, conclude that, “The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced.”
  5. NY health and environmental chiefs: no to fracking
    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has moved to prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique. This is the first US state to take such a stand. The report from the New York State Department of Health: A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development and another recent report: Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Sites.
  6. BPA and its replacements
    While more research mounts on health concerns from exposure to BPA, the Food and Drug Administration maintains that “the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging”, as reported in Bisphenol A is safe for approved uses in food containers, packaging, FDA says. In a conflicting decision, a California court upheld the state scientists’ finding that BPA is known to cause reproductive health problems: Court upholds BPA health warning. Recent research on BPA and replacements include these studies:

    1. Kids exposed to BPA before birth at risk of wheeze: study: Young kids who were exposed to Bisphenol A before birth are more likely than others to have a wheeze before age five, according to a new study that found no connection to BPA exposure after birth.The study: Bisphenol A exposure and the development of wheeze and lung function in children through age 5 years.
    2. Prenatal bisphenol A exposure and maternally reported behavior in boys and girls: These results suggest that prenatal exposure to BPA may be related to increased behavior problems in school age boys, but not girls.
    3. The leaching of BPA into skin from cash receipts is enhanced by using sanitizers: Touching cash register receipts while using sanitizers can dramatically increase your body’s absorption of BPA, researchers report. The study: Holding thermal receipt paper and eating food after using hand sanitizer results in high serum bioactive and urine total levels of bisphenol A (BPA).
    4. BPA exposure by infants may increase later risk of food intolerance: This research involving rats suggests that early life exposure at a dose significantly below the current human safety limit set by the FDA affects developing immune systems, predisposing offspring to food intolerance in adulthood. The study: Food intolerance at adulthood after perinatal exposure to the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A.
    5. That takeout coffee cup may be messing with your hormones: A new study suggests that whole classes of BPA-free plastics — including the kind in styrofoam — release estrogenic chemicals. The study: Estrogenic chemicals often leach from BPA-free plastic products that are replacements for BPA-containing polycarbonate products.
  7. New study charts the fate of chemicals affecting health and the environment
    In a new study, Rolf Halden, PhD, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, examines the trajectory of chemicals appearing as emergent threats to human or environmental health. His research offers a highly instructive analysis of how long it takes chemicals of concern to become recognized and acted on — and why. The review: Epistemology of contaminants of emerging concern and literature meta-analysis.
  8. 16 major companies and agencies say no to chemical flame retardants
    The Center for Environmental Health, which helped encourage a rewrite of California’s regulations regarding safety standards in furniture manufacturing, announced in mid December that 16 major furniture manufacturers have now “sworn off” chemical flame retardants. This is a prime example of how environmental health science can be effectively translated into regulations that better protect health. The CEH press release including the list: Major producers eliminating flame retardant chemicals as major buyers are demanding flame retardant-free furniture.
  9. National Institutes of Health ends longitudinal children’s study
    The US National Institutes of Health has cancelled its plan for an ambitious, multi-decade study of environmental influences on children’s health known as the National Children’s Study, agency director Francis Collins announced on December 12th. The study was originally approved by a bipartisan Congress in 2000 but was fraught with scientific and political challenges over the last 14 years. See also an analysis: How the US government botched its multibillion-dollar plan to beat childhood disease.
  10. Theo Colborn: Honoring the work of an environmental health giant
    Theo Colborn, PhD, passed away on December 14th at age 87, leaving an extraordinary legacy of careful and determined environmental health research and advocacy. She was particularly recognized for her seminal work on endocrine disrupting chemicals and fracking.

    1. A brief biography by Elizabeth Grossman.
    2. Theo’s CV.
    3. Comments and stories from those who knew Theo.
    4. Remembering the genius who got BPA out of your water bottles, and so much more, one of many media reports on Theo’s death.

Top 10 Selections: 3rd quarter 2014

These are CHE’s picks for the most significant stories, studies and developments in environmental health during the last quarter:

  1. The role of air pollution regulation in reducing morbidity or mortality
    Several studies show substantial benefit from reducing pollution.

    1. Duke scientists report air pollution controls linked to lower NC death rates: Stronger emission controls in North Carolina may have saved lives by reducing deaths from respiratory illness, according to an academic study. The study: Long-term dynamics of death rates of emphysema, asthma, and pneumonia and improving air quality.
    2. Lowering coal-fired power plant emissions may have saved 1,700 lives in one year: Scientists assessed the effects of one state’s prescient restrictions on plant emissions. They estimated that the state’s legislation prevented about 1,700 premature deaths in 2012. The study: Health and air quality benefits of policies to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions: a case study in North Carolina.
    3. Trends of non-accidental, cardiovascular, stroke and lung cancer mortality in Arkansas are associated with ambient PM2.5 reductions: This study provides evidence that the implementation of air pollution regulations has measurable effects on mortality even in regions with high prevalence of major risk factors such as obesity and smoking.
    4. Clean air halves health costs in Chinese city: Air pollution regulations over the last decade in Taiyuan, China, have substantially improved the health of people living there, accounting for a greater than 50% reduction in costs associated with loss of life and disability between 2001 and 2010. The study: Health benefits of improving air quality in Taiyuan, China.
  2. Climate change and health
    With the UN Climate Summit in September, world attention focused on the climate. These items, a study and two reports, bring a health perspective to the issue.

    1. Health benefits of reducing emissions outweigh costs involved, study: Cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles can lower asthma rates and other health problems, a new study finds. The study: A systems approach to evaluating the air quality co-benefits of US carbon policies.
    2. Better Growth, Better Climate: Countries at all income levels have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth and at the same time reduce the immense risk of climate change.
    3. Acting Now For Better Health: A 30% Reduction Target for EU Climate Policy: This report quantifies the health benefits for Europeans of stronger EU action on climate change for both the EU and different member states.
  3. Few doctors warn expectant mothers about environmental toxics
    Doctors regularly counsel expectant mothers about the risks associated with smoking, drinking and poor nutrition during pregnancy. But many obstetricians are reluctant to speak with them about the potential dangers posed by toxic substances in the environment — things like heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides. The study: Counseling patients on preventing prenatal environmental exposures — a mixed-methods study of obstetricians.
    See also CHE’s recent call on this topic: Prenatal Exposures: What Do Providers Know?
  4. New strategies in battle against antibiotic resistance
    Two high-level reports outline a series of bold steps aimed at addressing this growing public health threat. The reports: National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and Report to the President on Combating Antibiotic Resistance.
  5. New test predicts which chemicals could cause cancer
    Researchers with Boston University in Massachusetts have developed what they hope will become a simple and inexpensive test to determine the cancer-causing potential of tens of thousands of chemicals. The study: Genomic models of short-term exposure accurately predict long-term chemical carcinogenicity and identify putative mechanisms of action.
  6. TSCA reform developments
    1. Senate efforts to reach deal on chemical regulations fail: Efforts to reach a compromise on legislation to overhaul decades- old chemical regulations have failed — meaning there won’t be any changes until the next Congress.
    2. Boxer releases draft TSCA bill after compromise fizzles, lists changes needed to win her support: A key Democratic senator — and the leading opponent of a bill to revamp the nation’s chemical management system that’s favored by the chemical industry — put out her own proposal late yesterday hours after an effort to broker a deal on a new draft collapsed.
    3. Chemical giants want stronger federal law. The powerful chemical industry is putting its lobbying muscle behind legislation that would establish standards for chemicals used in products from household goods to cellphones and plastic water bottles – but also make it tougher for states to enact their own regulations.
  7. New insights on environmental factors in diabetes and metabolic syndrome
    1. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
      1. Strong associations between the pesticide hexachlorocyclohexane and type 2 diabetes in Saudi adults
      2. Prospective associations between persistent organic pollutants and metabolic syndrome: a nested case-control study
      3. Polychlorinated biphenyl exposure and glucose metabolism in Danish children aged 9 years
    2. Air pollution
      1. Dose-response relationship between polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites and risk of diabetes in the general Chinese population
      2. Air pollution and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis
    3. Early-life exposures
      1. Early DDT exposure may set up females for obesity, diabetes
      2. Early life origins of metabolic syndrome: the role of environmental toxicants
    4. Diet
      1. Reducing the risk of PCB-associated type 2 diabetes with fruit and vegetable consumption
      2. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota
      3. A maternal gluten-free diet reduces inflammation and diabetes incidence in the offspring of non-obese diabetic mice
    5. Shift work
      1. Shift work linked to heightened risk of type 2 diabetes
  8. More evidence for PBDEs as neurotoxicants: cohort study corroborates earlier findings
    Children from the Midwest involved in a prospective study are the third U.S. birth cohort to show strikingly consistent associations between prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants and impaired performance on neurodevelopment tests later in childhood. The study: Prenatal polybrominated diphenyl ether exposures and neurodevelopment in U.S. children through 5 years of age: the HOME study.
  9. Health impacts on embryonic and/or neurological development of electromagnetic fields
    Much of the concern around magnetic and electromagnetic fields has focused on cancer and reproductive harm, but this collection of studies show effects on neurological development or performance.

    1. Correlation between exposure to magnetic fields and embryonic development in the first trimester: Embryonic bud length was inversely associated with maternal daily magnetic field exposure level; the association was statistically significant at the time-weighted-average and 75th percentile of MF exposure levels.
    2. Autism-relevant social abnormalities in mice exposed perinatally to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields: We concluded that these results are supportive of the hypothesis of a causal link between exposure to ELF-EMF and ASD; however, replications of the study with further tests are recommended.
    3. Subacute exposure to 50-Hz electromagnetic fields affect prenatal and neonatal mice’s motor coordination: Results from the rotarod experiments demonstrated a pronounced deficit in the learning abilities of the prenatal exposed groups, but no pronounced effect was observed for the neonatal exposed group.
    4. Spatial learning, monoamines and oxidative stress in rats exposed to 900 MHz electromagnetic field in combination with iron overload: These results show that there is an impact of EMF on the brain and cognitive processes but this impact is revealed only in a task exploiting spontaneous exploratory activity. In contrast, there are no synergistic effects between EMF and a high content of iron in the brain.
    5. Nonthermal effects of lifelong high-frequency electromagnetic field exposure on social memory performance in rats: At 6 months of age, Global System for Mobile Communications-, but not Universal Mobile Telecommunications System-, exposed male adults showed a memory performance deficit.
    6. Simultaneous exposure to MRI-related static and low-frequency movement-induced time-varying magnetic fields affects neurocognitive performance: A double-blind randomized crossover study: Neurocognitive effects were only observed when simultaneously exposed to static magnetic stray fields and time-varying magnetic fields (TVMF) from a 7 T MRI scanner. Therefore, exposure to TVMF seems essential in eliciting the neurocognitive effects in our present study and, presumably, previous experiments.
  10. Air pollution’s interaction with social and economic factors
    These studies show that not only is air pollution a problem, but its effects are unevenly distributed, with a greater burden on those facing other stressors.

    1. Fine particulate matter air pollution and blood pressure: the modifying role of psychosocial stress: These results suggest that psychosocial stress may increase vulnerability to the hypertensive effects of PM2.5.
    2. Burning wood indoors to cook raises health risks for billions: Indoor air pollution from burning fuels such as wood to heat or light homes or cook is putting nearly three billion people worldwide at risk of ill health and early death, new research suggests. The study: Respiratory risks from household air pollution in low and middle income countries.
    3. Chronic air pollution and social deprivation as modifiers of the association between high temperature and daily mortality: We found that chronic air pollution exposure is an effect modifier of the association between daily temperature and mortality, as well as between social deprivation, and mortality. We found a potential interactive effect between social deprivation and chronic exposure with regards to air pollution in the mortality-temperature relationship.

The NGO Health Perspective at the UN Climate Summit

Written by Genon K. Jensen
Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance

Genon JensenOn Tuesday, 23 September, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is bringing together 122 heads of state in New York for a climate summit. Health leaders, including the Global Health and Climate Alliance (GHCA), in which HEAL is a founding member, will tell the meeting that:

  • climate change poses significant threats to health BUT that
  • ending our dependency on fossil fuels, the cause of climate change, can help tackle both climate change and the rise in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and asthma.

In Europe, we are proud to be one of the first regions of the world in which policy to address the climate challenge is framed as positive for health. In 2010, HEAL’s climate and health report showed that strong action to mitigate climate change would reduce not only greenhouse gas emissions but air pollution as well thus resulting in massive health benefits. The economic assessment of these health benefits provided European policymakers with a persuasive additional argument in favour of climate action.

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Top 10 Selections: December 2013

For this Top 10 list from the last quarter of 2013, CHE selected several items in which we perceived clusters of news stories – patterns and connections that we share with our partners and other readers. We offer both the media version and the scientific report when available to make this information most accessible and meaningful to both scientists and the general public. Full journal articles may require purchase or subscription. Comments are invited.

  1. New California chemical flame retardant rules adopted
    The flame retardant story has been ongoing—and in our Top 10 before.  The spotlight directed on this issue by the Chicago Tribune in 2012 precipitated this sweeping change in policy in California. New flammability standards for furniture and other products will allow manufacturers to stop using chemical flame retardants—a big win for public health.
  2. Progress on reducing harm from mercury exposures
    Two news items indicate that awareness of mercury’s toxic effects is becoming more mainstream, with real benefits for people worldwide. This is another big win for health.

    1. New global treaty cuts mercury emissions and releases, sets up controls on products, mines and industrial plants: The Minamata Convention on Mercury—a global, legally binding treaty—was agreed to by governments in January and formally adopted as international law in early October.
    2. Women’s mercury levels dropping: Mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped by a third in the past decade, a survey by the US Environmental Protection Agency has found. See the report: Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption Among U.S. Women of Childbearing Age: NHANES, 1999-2010.
  3. Fracking sites tied to hormone disruptors
    Surface and ground water samples taken from hydraulic fracking sites in a drilling-dense area of Colorado showed higher levels of estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, androgenic and anti-androgenic activity than reference sites with limited drilling. This research is provocative, suggesting that natural gas drilling operations may result in elevated endocrine-disrupting chemical activity in surface and ground water. See also a response to this study: Oil industry group disputes fracking health study findings.
  4. Oceans in trouble
    Two stories describe deep problems in our oceans, with serious impacts on human and ecological health.

    1. How plastic in the ocean is contaminating your seafood: fish ingest and absorb into their tissue a “slew of synthetic and organic pollutants.” See the ocean study: Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress and a related story that describes a similar issue in fresh water: Scientists turn their gaze toward tiny threats to Great Lakes.
    2. Oceans face ‘deadly trio’ of threats, study says: The world’s oceans are under greater threat than previously believed from a “deadly trio” of global warming, declining oxygen levels and acidification, an international study said on Thursday. See the report: Big Threats: The Main Factors Destroying Ocean Health and a related article: Sea change: food for millions at risk.
  5. Glimmers of hope regarding climate change
    Related to the issue of ocean warming and acidification and much more, a couple of positive developments in response to climate change:

    1. China recognizes the importance of climate change: US academics and think tanks applaude the latest move by California and China to strengthen low carbon development to fight climate change.
    2. US lays out strict limits on coal funding abroad: The United States said in late October it plans to use its leverage within global development banks to limit financing for coal-fired power plants abroad, part of Washington’s international strategy to combat climate change.

    However, see more sobering articles: Greenhouse gas concentrations in atmosphere reach new record, The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability and Diseases on the move because of climate change.

  6. World’s largest cancer database launched
    The online resource, called CanSAR, was developed by a team at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and contains 1.7 billion experimental results relating to genes, clinical trials and pharmacological data. The environmental health story here is that environmental exposure data, and thus prevention, is not on the radar for this project. With recent reports highlighting the role of environmental exposures in cancer from the President’s Cancer Panel and the Breast Cancer Fund, we wonder how much more useful this database could have been—and could still be—if it cast prevention in a starring role.
  7. Early life exposures and mental health
    With children being diagnosed and medicated at young ages for various mental health issues, identifying potential causes and working toward prevention is all too rarely prioritized. The research here brings to light links between environmental exposures and several mental health outcomes.

    1. 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.
    2. Air pollution and psychological distress during pregnancy:  Maternal psychological distress combined with exposure to air pollution during pregnancy has an adverse impact on the child’s behavioral development, according to researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. See the study:Prenatal exposure to air pollution, maternal psychological distress, and child behavior.
    3. Transmitting stress response patterns across generations: Offspring born to stressed mothers show stress-induced changes at birth, with altered behavior and gender-related differences that continue into adulthood. See the study: Prereproductive stress to female rats alters corticotropin releasing factor type 1 expression in ova and behavior and brain corticotropin releasing factor type 1 expression in offspring.
    4. Pregnant mother’s stress affects baby’s gut and brain: Pregnant women may pass on the effects of stress to their fetus by way of bacterial changes in their vagina, suggests a study in mice. It may affect how well their baby’s brain is equipped to deal with stress in adulthood.
  8. CDC’s Camp Lejeune study links birth defects to marine base’s drinking water
    The study concludes that babies born to mothers who drank the tap water while pregnant were four times more likely as other women to have such serious birth defects as spina bifida. Babies whose mothers were exposed also had a slightly elevated risk of such childhood cancers as leukemia, according to the results. This study is just the most recent unfolding of a story that involves the US military and its provisions, or lack of them, for military service members and their families as well as its environmental stewardship and transparency in addressing problems. See the study: Evaluation of exposure to contaminated drinking water and specific birth defects and childhood cancers at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: a case-control study.
  9. Controversy around science review and publication
    Two stories from within the scientific community and one about media reporting on science show weaknesses or distortions within the process of designing, publishing and reporting research studies—studies that we all rely on to guide policy and inform decisions. If we can’t rely on the integrity of the science published, then we are further handicapped in effectively addressing the toughest public health concerns of our times.

    1. GMO study retracted—censorship or caution? A French study in 2012 led by Gilles-Eric Séralini found animals fed Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn had increased mortality and more tumors than a control group. Amid heavy industry criticism, the journal that published the research has retracted the study from its archives. This article looks at the controversy: “Basically what Dr. Séralini did was he did the same feeding study that Monsanto did and published in the same journal eight years prior, and in that study, they used the same number of rats, and the same strain of rats, and came to a conclusion there was no problem. So all of a sudden, eight years later, when somebody does that same experiment, only runs it for two years rather than just 90 days, and their data suggests there are problems, that all of a sudden the number of rats is too small?”
    2. Nobel winner declares boycott of top science journals:  Randy Schekman, a US biologist who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine this year, says pressure to publish in “luxury” journals encourages researchers to cut corners and pursue trendy fields of science instead of doing more important work. Further, some journals favor more sensational stories, further distorting the types of research being conducted.
    3. US science reporters becoming an endangered species: At a time when conversations should be revolving around climate change, energy, natural resources and sustainable development, space for environmental reporting and coverage in the United States seems to be shrinking.
  10. Progressive actions from the FDA
    The US Food and Drug Administration, often spotlighted in the media recently for allowing drugs on the market that have proven unsafe, took three notable actions this quarter to safeguard public health and safety.

    1. FDA issues proposed rule to determine safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps: The FDA issued a proposed rule to require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to demonstrate that their products are safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections.
    2. Phasing out certain antibiotic use in farm animals: The FDA is implementing a voluntary plan with industry to phase out the use of certain antibiotics for enhanced food production. Why is this important? See this article, for example: When antibiotics stop working, here’s what else we’ll lose. A caveat is that the FDA plan is not as strong as the situation calls for: The FDA’s not-really-such-good-news .
    3. FDA takes step to further reduce trans fats in processed foods : FDA announced its preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. See also an interview with Dennis Keefe, PhD, Director of the Office of Food Additive Safety at the FDA, about the evidence underlying this decision and the implications for clinicians: Removing trans fats from foods: the FDA’s view.

Coal’s Unpaid Health Bill

Génon Jensen
Executive Director of the Health and Environment Alliance and Coordinator of CHE’s Climate Change and Health Working Group

European coal-fired power plants are causing 18,200 premature deaths and serious illnesses that cost the population up to €43 billion each year, say health experts in a new report released today, titled The Unpaid Health Bill—How coal power plants make us sick. The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) also expresses concerns that dirty emissions from coal are contributing to climate change, which itself will create more costly public health problems—especially amongst the most vulnerable groups—the young and elderly. Despite this double threat, the use of coal as a power source is on the rise in Europe. Coal use is projected to rise throughout 2013 which is, ironically, the EU’s designated Year of Clean Air. Health experts at HEAL are now urging governments to put a stop to building new coal plants in Europe and abandon coal altogether by 2040.

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