I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

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.


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?”

May 31, 2010

“Toxic America” special to air on CNN

CNN special on “Toxic America”


Will air June 2 and 3 at 8 pm ET


Five toxics that are everywhere


Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, formaldehyde, PBDEs, PFOA

Releases of benzene, dioxin, lead, mercury, and trichloroethylene state by state


More info on access to government-held information on the environment, health, and safety can be found on the Right-to-Know Network website at http://rtknet.org.

March 10, 2010

The Breast Cancer Money-Go-Round

An older story, but it would be worth finding out how much, if anything, has changed over the last few years.

The Breast Cancer Money-Go-RoundBy Lynn Landes (AlterNet) (Oct. 23, 2002)
“Racing for the cure, but running from the cause.”
Most of the well-financed breast cancer organizations make little or no mention of the non-genetic causes of breast cancer. Go to their websites. Read their literature. These organizations don’t focus on the environmental and pharmacological causes of this epidemic because it’s a dank dark alley that leads right to their corporate sponsors.
Landes cites the Green Guide, a publication of the Green Guide Institute: “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was established by Zeneca, a bioscience company….”  Zeneca had “sales of $8.62 billion in 1997. Forty-nine percent of Zeneca’s 1997 profits came from pesticides and other industrial chemicals, and 49 percent were from pharmaceutical sales, one-third (about $1.4 billion’s worth) of which were cancer treatment drugs.”
Landes also notes that General Electric, Rhone-Poulec, Rohm & Hass, Eli Lilly Novartis, American Cyanamid, and Dupont have all profited from both sides of the breast cancer epidemic.  She further notes that NIH and CDC have tended to side with corporate conglomerates by focusing more on the detection and cure side of the equation than on the identification and elimination of environmental causes.

Another example of the blatant conflict of interest (from the Breast Cancer Fund’s “Atrazine, Frogs and Breast Cancer“)

Dr. Tyrone Hayes at the University of California at Berkeley has spent his career examining atrazine and its effect on the growth and development of frogs. He has shown that atrazine chemically castrates and feminizes male amphibians in the wild and in the lab. He suggests that atrazine-induced deformities result from the depletion of androgens and production of estrogens, perhaps after atrazine increases the activity of aromatase.

When Dr. Hayes presents his research, he often tells this story: The maker of atrazine is Syngenta, a multi-national agrichemical corporation. Syngenta was formed in 2000, when another multi-national called Novartis merged their Crop Protection and Seeds businesses with Astra Zeneca’s Agrochemicals. What is interesting and very disturbing, he argues, is that Novartis is also the producer of Femara, the breast cancer drug discussed above. And so, Dr. Hayes points out, the very company that produces atrazine (that “turns on” aromatase, thereby increasing estrogen which can lead to breast cancer cell growth) is also producing — and selling at great profit — a medication that has the opposite effect (to “turn off” aromatase).

March 7 interview with Dr. Hayes on NPR (transcript & podcast) about the neutering effects of atrazine on male frogs.

State of the Evidence 2008 (edited by Janet Gray and published by the Breast Cancer Fund) is a report on environmental exposures linked to increased breast cancer risk.  You can download a PDF version from the Breast Cancer Fund’s website.

Rethink Pink NOW! Saner Solutions to Breast Cancer (Huffington Post, Oct. 21, 2009)

Helen Cordes discusses how the major breast cancer awareness programs avoid discussing environmental causes (as well as the impact of mammograms and mammography advice on breast cancer).

Critics such as veteran women’s health advocate and writer Barbara Ehrenreich note that AstraZeneca, long a leader in the global multi-billion-dollar breast cancer pharmaceuticals market, founded National Breast Cancer Prevention Month–the generator of Pink October frenzy–in 1985, when then-Zeneca was also in the business of making pesticides deemed “probable human carcinogens” by the EPA. NBCAM is still controlled by AstraZeneca and its single-minded ‘get-your-mammogram’ mantra echoed by cosponsoring radiological and oncology associations and cancer establishment organizations. Other breast cancer heavy-hitters such as the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation are also too influenced by corporate backers, say critics such as Pink Ribbons Inc. author Samantha King and No Family History author Sabrina McCormick. The result (seen most clearly in NBCAM materials) is that breast cancer’s environmental causes are avoided or downplayed to focus instead on directives to get mammograms, stay fit, and when diagnosed, obey conventional treatment regimens. (emphasis added)

While personal actions are important, why not actually prevent cancer from developing in the first place by reducing exposure to carcinogens?  For example, benzene is defined by the National Toxicology Program as a known human carcinogen, and yet the NTP profile on benzene (see the profile for references) notes:

Benzene is used as an additive in gasoline, but it also is present naturally in gasoline, because it occurs naturally in crude oil and is a by-product of oil-refining processes. The percentage of benzene in unleaded gasoline is approximately 1% to 2% by volume.

In 2002, U.S. imports of benzene totaled over 4 billion liters (1.1
billion gallons), which greatly exceeded exports of 6 million liters (1.6 million gallons). This trend continued in 2003, during which 4.5 billion liters (1.2 billion gallons) were imported and 110 million liters (29 million gallons) were exported.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory listed 1,008 industrial facilities that released benzene into the environment in 2001. Reported benzene releases decreased from 34 million pounds (15,400 metric tons) in 1988 to 6 million pounds (2,700 metric tons) in 2001. In 2001, reported emissions to the air totaled 5 million pounds (2,300 metric tons), and reported discharges to surface water totaled 19,000 lb (8.6 metric tons).

And that’s just one chemical!

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