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.

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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Fueling the fire? How flame retardants might be doing more harm than good

Sarah Dunagan
Staff Scientist, Silent Spring Institute

The history of flame retardants stretches back at least as far as 450 B.C. when, as noted by Herodotus, the Egyptians soaked wood in alum. But it wasn’t until World War II, and the subsequent flush of highly flammable petroleum-based products into the market, that the flame retardants so popular today came into widespread use. The addition of these chemicals to our couches, TVs, and computers has soared in recent decades in response to flammability standards developed in the 1970s. Of course, we all want to protect ourselves and our families from fires. But the very regulations intended to protect us have unintentionally exposed us to chemicals that may be doing more harm than good. 

Mounting research suggests that flame retardants may cause neurological and reproductive harm, thyroid disruption, and cancer. What is the latest evidence from animal and human studies? Are some people disproportionately exposed? Do less toxic alternatives exist? How can the emerging research inform chemicals policy reform? We explored these questions on a teleconference hosted by the CHE-Fertility Working Group and the Women’s Health and Environment Initiative (WHEI) on April 15.

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