I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

September 8, 2010

Protecting ourselves from harmful chemical exposures: Your chance for input

National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/

Project goals – http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/accomplish.html

The National Conversation’s vision is to ensure that chemicals are used and managed in safe and healthy ways for all people.  The goal of the National Conversation is to develop an action agenda—clear, achievable recommendations—that will help government agencies and other organizations strengthen their efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures.  The action agenda will help our nation identify better ways to

  • Collect information about chemical use, people who are exposed, and the levels at which they are exposed.
  • Understand how chemicals affect people’s health.
  • Use policies and practices that tell us about risks, how to reduce harmful exposures, and how to create and use safe chemicals.
  • Prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical-related emergencies.
  • Protect all communities from harmful chemical exposures.
  • Create a well-informed public and health care provider network to help people understand chemical exposure risks.
  • Involve the public in government decision making.
  • Encourage teamwork among partner groups and agencies.

To help with this, work groups were formed last year to discuss six cross-cutting issues.  After receiving public input, they have released draft reports for public comment.  You can download the report for each work group from the pages linked to below and submit your comments via those pages, e-mail or other means listed there.

CDC and ATSDR are working with RESOLVE, a non-profit facilitation group that will compile the comments, as well as other organizations such as the American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and National Association of County and City Health Officials.

August 21, 2010

Nature: an antidote for what ails us?

Sites for children to learn more about nature

In a post from last spring, I discussed what some people have called “Nature Deficit Disorder” and how that could be another factor contributing to increased obesity rates, a decline in mental well-being, decreased happiness, and other problems.  Here are some resources that could help counter that.

Discover the Foresthttp://www.discovertheforest.org/

A USDA Forest Service website, sponsored in part by Dreamworks (if you’ve seen the public service announcement, you know that Shrek is part of this campaign) and The North Face.

Includes information on:

  • Where to Go – Find Forests and Parks (based on the National Wildlife Federation’s NatureFind app – see below)
  • What to Do – Forest Snapshot game, animal sounds, animal tracks, tree leaves, how to use a compass, how to become a Junior Forest Ranger.

Note about the Forest Snapshot Game: Kids have an opportunity to upload photos of their own.  This may not be widely known, but GPS-enabled cameras and smartphones can embed locational data in photos.  If they or you are posting such pictures on the Web, you are letting EVERYONE know where you live.  There are supposed to be ways to disable that feature, so if you’re concerned about that you might want to consider turning disabling that before you basically upload information about where you live to the Web.  (For more information on potential problems resulting from posting locational information, see the Please Rob Me website.)

That said, this is a neat idea.  (Note: The game took a minute or two to load on my PC.)

Provides links to resources, information on getting kids outdoors more (and maybe yourself, too!)

  • The Why page links to nature websites and tips on how to enjoy nature without ruining it.

Children and Nature Initiative

One of the Discover the Forest campaign’s recommended sites is the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Children and Nature Initiativehttp://neefusa.org/health/children_nature.htm

NEEF’s Children and Nature Initiative, launched in May 2010, addresses two important issues—preventing serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes and reconnecting children to nature. Research indicates that unstructured outdoor activities may improve children’s health by increasing physical activity, reducing stress, and serving as a support mechanism for attention disorders. The Children and Nature Initiative educates pediatric health care providers about prescribing outdoor activities to children. The program also connects health care providers with local nature sites, so that they can refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas.

A fact sheet on Children’s Health and Nature describes benefits of children’s exposure to the natural environment and includes recommendations from the CDC, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association and American College of Sports Medicine.

Problems that may be caused by (or at least exacerbated by) a lack of outdoor activity

  • Childhood obesity
  • Attention disorders
  • Vitamin D deficiency

The fact sheet includes summaries of research showing connections between nature and health.

Unstructured outdoor play time is important for children’s overall well-being. How does nature play a role in children’s health? The fact sheet describes highlights from the published literature on the health benefits of the natural environment.  Free play is important.

Resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC’s National Trail Days website – http://www.cdc.gov/Features/ParksAndTrails/
Physical activity guidelines for children and adolescentshttp://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/guidelines.htm

  • Includes a Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit available for downloading

Tread Lightly

Tread Lightly on Land and Water – http://www.treadlightly.org/ – is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote responsible outdoor recreation through ethics education and stewardship.  Learn simple ways to minimize your impact on the environment when engaging in outdoor activities.

Tread Lightly’s Tips for Responsible Recreationhttp://www.treadlightly.org/page.php/education-recreationtips/Recreation-Tips.html

Children and Nature Networkhttp://www.childrenandnature.org/

Described in an article in the Kiwi magazine blog, The Whole Child: Prescription for Playhttp://kiwimagonline.com/kiwilog/the-whole-child/the-whole-child-prescription-for-play
C&NN Bloghttp://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/
Nature Clubs for Families Toolkithttp://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/NCFF_toolkit.pdf

HEALTH BENEFITS TO CHILDREN FROM CONTACT WITH THE OUTDOORS & NATURE

http://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/C&NNHealthBenefits.pdf
Includes literature reviews  and overview documents as well as summaries of articles describing benefits of children’s contact with the outdoors on children’s mental and physical health.

This document notes:

There is a strong body of evidence attributing improved health with physical activity. In addition, there is evidence suggesting that nature specifically can improve attention and other psychological aspects of health. Playing in nature can positively impact children’s health and well-being.

National Wildlife Federation’s “Green Hour” Campaign

http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/What-is-a-Green-Hour.aspx

NWF NatureFindhttp://www.nwf.org/naturefind/ – Lets you search for activities from a wide variety of sites.  Most are outdoor, but they also include events at sites like museums, botanical gardens, and nature centers.

August 7, 2010

Ecological Intelligence

I recently began reading Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, who  is probably best known for his books on Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence.  He puts ecological intelligence in a different category that some of the other intelligences identified by Howard Gardner in that ecological intelligence has to be developed because the activities, and the impacts they have, are beyond our awareness and occur at such slow rates that there was no need for humans to develop that type of intelligence.  Climate change is one such example.

The subtitle is “How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything.”  He focuses on many of the same issues that William McDonough in Cradle to Cradle and Annie Leonard in The Story of Stuff do.  I found it delightfully surprising that a book by an author known for books on issues like emotional intelligence starts right off with a discussion of Life Cycle Assessment and industrial ecology.  (In fact, he refers to William McDonough’s “cradle to cradle” approach in several places.)

His discussion of why “green” isn’t always as green as it seems is useful for anyone wanting to make ecologically responsible purchases.

Goleman argues that one of the best ways to increase our ecological intelligence is through full disclosure of the impact of the products we buy, the notion of radical transparency.  He cites examples such as companies being required to disclose their financial workings as examples of how that disclosure helps investors make better decisions.

He weaves together stories about the effect of synthetic chemicals on our bodies, especially on our immune systems, and discusses how inflammation and oxidative stress could be at the root of all sorts of diseases (going well beyond cancer).  Body burden, toxicology, epigenetics, and green supply chains are all covered, even if only briefly.  He weaves together these topics in a very readable, understandable fashion.

Postscript: Just checked out his website for the first time.  His latest blog post is entitled “Leading sustainability” and discusses how consumers can use resources like GoodGuide.com to make more informed choices.  And I’m encouraged by the fact that he is working with folks like Peter Senge, a management guru.

August 6, 2010

A chemical pot pourri

This is a real hodge-podge of items.

Bisphenol A

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently announced the findings of a study that found BPA in a large percentage of paper receipts it had collected.  http://ewg.org/BPA_Found_In_Receipts

Chemicals in cosmetics

Another resource EWG maintains is the Skin Deep cosmetic safety database.

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/

Speaking of cosmetics, Annie Leonard (“The Story of Stuff”) has come out with “The Story of Cosmetics”, a look at chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products.  The Story of Stuff blog looks at the cosmetics industry’s reaction.

Learning and developmental disabilities and other diseases and conditions

The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) covers a wide range of topics, from learning and developmental disabilities to the CHE Toxicant and Disease Database, a searchable database that summarizes links between chemical contaminants and approximately 180 human diseases or conditions, to the Metabolic Syndrome Discussion Group.

BP (not just oil spills)

The CHE site also includes news items like:

6 Aug Thousands sign on for $10 billion BP suit. The revelation that BP’s Texas City refinery emitted toxic benzene for more than a month has ignited a furor in the port community that has suffered its share of deadly industrial accidents and toxic spills. Houston Chronicle.

Yes, before the BP oil spill there was the BP Texas City refinery explosion.  The U.S. Chemical Safety Board conducted an investigation.  I believe that they are looking into whether these incidents show that BP fostered a culture of cutting corners.

Chemicals and depression?

Was reading Peter Kramer’s Against Depression, where he argued that depression is a true illness.  (At least that’s what I’m getting out of it.)  He makes a couple of points that struck me.  One, on p. 156 he states that there is a connection between diabetes and depression.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t cite a source for that.  And if true, it’s not clear which caused which.  That is, does having diabetes make it more likely that you would be depressed?  Or does depression in some way connected to the development of diabetes.  Or could diabetes and depression be caused by the same agent?  (Or some combination of the above.)

He also talks about how long-term stress can result in increased levels of corticotropin and that such stress can lead to depression and illness.  Of course, corticotropin is but one element of the neuroendocrine system.  And with many of these things, there are feedback loops that get out of whack if enough recovery time is not available.  That’s actually why some scientists have proposed that a chronic lack of sleep can cause obesity over the long haul.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer and NIOSH are looking at whether “shift work” (along with a number of chemicals) can be considered carcinogenic.

Leptin: An example of what we didn’t know

Leptin, the appetite hormone, was not discovered until 1994 (though its effects had been observed much earlier).  (Zhang Y, Proenca R, Maffei M, Barone M, Leopold L, Friedman JM (December 1994). “Positional cloning of the mouse obese gene and its human homologue”. Nature 372 (6505): 425–32. doi:10.1038/372425a0. PMID 7984236.) I mention that because chemical industry apologists seem to ignore the fact that we’ve learned a lot about the human body in the last 15-20 years.  And the more we learn, the more we discover how chemicals can mess up our systems.

Regarding leptin, I found the following using the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus service.

A National Cancer Institute fact sheet on physical activity and cancer states that “increasing physical activity may influence insulin and leptin levels and influence breast cancer prognosis.”

An EPA report, “A Decade of Children’s Environmental Health Research:  Highlights from EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Program,” cites an EPA-funded study that found that “autistic children showed higher levels of leptin (a hormone that affects the regulation of body weight, metabolism, and reproductive function, and influences the immune system) in their blood when compared to typically developing children (Ashwood et al. 2007; R829388C002).”

Citation: Ashwood P., Kwong C., Hansen R., Hertz-Picciotto I., Croen L., Krakowiak P., Walker W., Pessah I.N., and Van de Water J. 2007. “Brief report: Plasma leptin levels are elevated in autism: association with early onset phenotype?” J. Autism Dev. Disord. Advanced online publication (DOI 10.1007/s10803-006-0353-1).  Abstract

So our bodies are these incredibly complex systems.  Some chemical companies would have you believe that the stuff they make, even the synthetic chemicals that human beings have never been exposed to before, have absolutely NO effect on our health.

Truth is, despite the Environmental Defense Fund saying that we’re not guinea pigs, we all are.  (See previous post: “Tired of being a guinea pig?“)

“Would you like BPA with those fries?”

June 27, 2010

Tired of being a guinea pig?

Toxic chemicals are everywhere

There are ten of thousands of chemicals in your life, some of which can be harmful.

We are all exposed

Many toxic chemicals are found in the bodies of virtually every person on the planet, even those living in remote communities. In fact, the blood of nearly every American contains hundreds of chemicals, including those used in flame retardants, food packaging and even rocket fuel.

I Am Not a Guinea Pig is a new online campaign created by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that provides tools and information Americans from all walks of life can use to press for fundamental reform of our nation’s toxic chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  (EDF press release)

The “I Am Not a Guinea Pig” campaign is aimed at helping to ensure that the voices of millions of Americans who are concerned about and affected by exposures to untested and unsafe chemicals are heard as Congress begins the first serious effort to overhaul the 34-year-old TSCA.

The campaign will use a variety of social media, including a website, a Facebook page with daily updates, and a #NAGP Twitter hashtag.  It supports the efforts of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition to enact an effective chemical safety law.

The campaign’s goal is to engage Americans across the country to push for substantive reform of our toxic chemicals law.

To encourage support for a strong bill, EDF has joined with other members of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition that EDF helped found that includes over 200 health and environmental groups representing 11 million people across the nation. Key coalition partners in EDF’s campaign include:

The “I Am Not a Guinea Pig” website describes how we’re all exposed to toxic chemicals.  It includes a short video on “Chemicals in Your Home” and other videos on exposure to toxic chemicals.

The site notes that some groups are especially at risk

Teens and Toxic Chemicals in Products

Many teens don’t realize products they use every day may contain chemicals that can disrupt their still-developing biochemistry.

Kids & Chemicals: Developing Brains At Risk

Exposure to toxic chemicals in the womb, during infancy and childhood can result in lifelong problems with learning, behavior and development.

Health Professionals and Toxic Chemicals

Health care institutions regularly use a surprising number of highly toxic materials that can affect the health of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff.

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