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.

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August 24, 2010

First report released on global economic burden of cancer

First Global Economic Cost of Cancer Report released by American Cancer Society and LIVESTRONG®

Press release

Also reported on the Global Fight Against Cancer Blog, “American Cancer Society and LIVESTRONG® Release First-of-its-kind Study ‘Global Economic Cost of Cancer’

Link to report summary

This was also reported on by the Associated Press, “Report: Cancer is the world’s costliest disease.”  Costs, not including direct medical costs, are estimated at $895 billion.

LIVESTRONG® also sponsored a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which presents the results of research and analysis on the health
and economic burden of cancer, global expenditures for cancer control and the funding gap relating to achieving a global expenditure standard for treatment and care.  (It’s not clear what the relationship between these two reports is.)

The Economist/LIVESTRONG® report on the global burden of cancer

LIVESTRONG® Summary

Full report: “Breakaway: The global burden of cancer—challenges and opportunities” (PDF, 73 pp.)

The primary collaborators on this project were Nancy Beaulieu and David E. Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health, Lakshmi Reddy Bloom of Data For Decisions LLC and Richard M. Stein of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The American Cancer Society reports that in 2009 the National Institutes of Health estimated the total cost of cancer as $228.1 billion.  That included direct medical costs and indirect costs due to loss of productivity due to illness and premature death.

The recent global report did not include direct medical costs.

Other resources

World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

August 23, 2010

National Academies’ meeting on what caused the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill

A committee of the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council is conducting a technical analysis of the causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It held its first public meeting Aug. 12 and 13 to gather information on government oversight and regulation of deep water oil exploration and drilling.

That was the third meeting of the committee.  The fourth is being held today and tomorrow.  See the National Academies’ Project System for more info.

Background documents from the Aug. 12-13 meeting can be found at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BlowoutPrevention/documents/index.htm.  They include PowerPoint presentations from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, American Petroleum Institute, Coast Guard, Marshall Islands, and American Bureau of Shipping.  Right now they’re available only in PowerPoint so you will need that or one that can open PPT docs.

Under Related links you will find a link to a 1990 National Research Council report on Alternatives for Inspecting Outer Continental Shelf Operations.

In addition, the summary of the Institute of Medicine’s June workshop on Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health is now available at http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Assessing-the-Effects-of-the-Gulf-of-Mexico-Oil-Spill-on-Human-Health.aspx.

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?”

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