I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

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.

Sept. 15 meeting on Breast Cancer and the Environment, Washington, DC

The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Breast Cancer and the Environment will hold its third meeting in Washington, DC, on September 15-16, 2010.  The afternoon session on the 15th will be open to the public.

The agenda for the public session includes invited presentations and a brief opportunity for public comment.  One of the invited presenters is the executive director of the Silent Spring Institute, which conducts and sponsors research on the links between the environment and breast cancer, other environmental health issues, and green chemistry.  Silent Spring maintains science review databases and other tools on the environment and breast cancer.

Its publications include the Guide to Breast Cancer Cohort Studies and

Self-reported chemicals exposure, beliefs about disease causation, and risk of breast cancer

Zota, A.R., A. Aschengrau, R.A. Rudel, and J.G. Brody. 2010. Self-reported chemicals exposure, beliefs about disease causation, and risk of breast cancer in the Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study: a case-control study. Environmental Health, 9:40. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-9-40
Abstract, Article, Press Release

Attending the IOM meeting

If you’re interested in attending the IOM meeting or commenting you should probably contact the Institute beforehand. (You can register for the meeting online.)

They’ve listed the contact information on the meeting page, but below is the information as of today:

Activity Contact Information

For More Information Contact

Ashley McWilliams

Phone: 202-334-1910
Fax: 202-334-2862
E-mail: BreastCancerandtheEnvironment@nas.edu

Mailing Address

Keck Center
W726
500 Fifth St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
This Institute project is sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.  Links to the two previous meetings and background material can be found on the project page. (Susan G. Komen for the Cure® also sponsors the Silent Spring Institute’s science review databases.)

July 9, 2010

Anticipating health effects from the BP oil spill

Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: An Institute of Medicine Workshop

The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine held a workshop to examine a broad range of health issues resulting from the Gulf oil spill.

Home Activity page at http://www.iom.edu/Activities/PublicHealth/OilSpillHealth.aspx.

The workshop, “Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill,” was held June 22 and 23 in New Orleans. During the first day’s sessions, speakers and panelists discussed the potential adverse health effects for humans stemming from the oil spill for various populations. The second day’s sessions explored current monitoring activities, the types of research methods and data sources currently available, and questions to consider when developing short- and long-term surveillance and monitoring systems.

Presentations covered the groups at risk of exposure and possible acute, chronic, and delayed health effects.

Official U.S. Government Web Site on the Spill Response

http://www.restorethegulf.gov/

This site is apparently replacing the Deepwater Horizon website.  It contains news and links to resources from many Federal agencies.  For example, the Small Business Administration has a Disaster Assistance site for providing loans to affected small businesses.

Today’s news (from the old website) includes news that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will devote $10 million to research the potential human health effects of the oil spill. The NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) will recruit clean-up workers and Gulf residents to collect biological samples, health histories, and information about the clean-up work they performed and the nature of their oil exposure.

White House site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/deepwater-bp-oil-spill

The White House blog provides a timeline of the government’s response to the spill at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/issues/Deepwater-BP-Oil-Spill.

EPA testing of dispersant toxicity

On June 30 EPA posted information about the first round of toxicity testing at http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/dispersants-testing.html.  The testing was done using eight dispersants.  EPA also plans to test the toxicity of the dispersants mixed with crude oil.

Links to worker health and safety resources from OSHA and the CDC can be found on the EPA site.

Maps and data

The latest information about the oil spill’s trajectory, the position of NOAA’s research ships, spilled oil’s coastal location and the areas closed to shipping can be found at geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/.

To access the data materials generated for and by the Deepwater Response Incident, you can go to data.gov/restorethegulf/.

Oil containment effort

McClatchy is reporting that the effort is facing two key moments, connecting a third ship to the oil containment system and replacement of the “top hat” – http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20100707/sc_mcclatchy/3559853

Oil drilling moratorium

Obama loses moratorium bid on offshore oil drilling

Court refuses stay in deepwater drilling case
Court rejects bid to restore drilling moratorium

Apparently the courts don’t believe that there’s justification for a moratorium.  This despite the fact that an Associated Press investigation found that federal regulators do not typically inspect plugging of these offshore wells or monitor for leaks afterward.  (See “Enviro groups stunned that govt ignoring 27K wells”)

Of 50,000 wells drilled over the past six decades in the Gulf, 23,500 have been permanently abandoned. Another 3,500 are classified by federal regulators as “temporarily abandoned,” but some have been left that way since the 1950s, without the full safeguards of permanent abandonment.

Abandoned offshore oil wells

The story reports that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned in 1994 that leaks from abandoned offshore wells could cause “an environmental disaster.”  GAO recommended that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) set up an inspection system.  (Which MMS didn’t do. ) Although MMS did commission a 2001 study on such wells.  According to that study MMS officials were

“concerned that some abandoned oil wells in the Gulf may be leaking crude oil.” But nothing came of that warning.

The GAO report is “Offshore Oil and Gas Resources: Interior Can Improve Its Management of Lease Abandonment.”

RCED-94-82, May 11, 1994
Summary (HTML)   Full Report (PDF, 50 pages)     Recommendations (HTML)

From the summary at http://gao.gov/products/RCED-94-82

Among GAO’s findings:

  • MMS does not have an inspection strategy targeting its limited resources to ensure that wells are properly plugged and lease sites cleared
  • in March 1993, the active OCS leases in the Gulf of Mexico had estimated lease abandonment costs of about $4.4 billion, but were covered by bonds that totalled only $68 million

GAO’s recommendation (below) was closed, but not implemented.

Recommendation: In order to better protect the environment from the effects of OCS oil and gas lease abandonment and the federal government from incurring the costs of such abandonment, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, MMS, to require MMS to develop an inspection strategy for targeting its limited resources to ensure the proper plugging and abandonment of OCS wells and the clearance of lease sites.

Comments: After reviewing the results of the March 1996 study of techniques for removing offshore structures, MMS has decided that its inspection program is adequate. MMS does not intend to develop a different inspection strategy.

So not only is it an environmental disaster waiting to happen, MMS wasn’t even getting money from the oil companies that it was supposed to.

I’ve posted a list of other GAO reports on oil and gas management at https://amidthemaddingcrowd.wordpress.com/gao-reports-on-oil-and-gas-management/.

April 27, 2010

Institute of Medicine report on “Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention” – is their framework comprehensive enough?

The Institute of Medicine is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.  On April 23, 2010, it released a report, “Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention: A Framework to Inform Decision Making.”

New Framework Recommended for Decision Making and Research on Obesity Prevention

http://www.nationalacademies.org/morenews/20100423.html

April 23, 2010 — To battle the obesity epidemic in America, health care professionals and policymakers need relevant, useful data on the effectiveness of obesity prevention policies and programs. A new report from the Institute of Medicine identifies a new approach to decision making and research that uses a systems perspective to gain a broader understanding of the context of obesity and the many factors that influence it.

http://www.iom.edu/obesityframework

Is the IOM systems approach missing what could be a large component of the system?

The Institute of Medicine states that it is adopting a systems approach to obesity prevention.  That sounds pretty comprehensive, right?

Well, maybe not.  Cutting to the chase, this report appears to be limited to looking at obesity prevention interventions and not all obesity causes.  The focus is entirely on caloric and energy balance.  But what if, as Dr. Robert Lustig and others have argued, what you eat and how it is metabolized are factors in the obesity epidemic?  Energy intake and energy expenditure might not reveal the whole picture.

And what about the possibility that environmental exposure to chemicals might be a factor?  Quickly skimming the report, I found Figure 4-5, “The obesity ‘system’: a broad causal map” (p. 4-12 (p.80) of the online version of the report) shows a blurry version of the diagram, but I was able to find the original on Slide 9 of the presentation, “System Dynamics Simulation in Support of Obesity Prevention Decision-Making.”

Bobby Milstein and Jack Homer, For Institute of Medicine Committee on an Evidence Framework for Obesity Prevention Decision-Making, Irvine, California, March 16, 2009
http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/PublicHealth/ObesFramework/IOMIrvine16Mar09v52MilsteinHomer.ashx

The “map” shows Prevalence of Overweight & Related Diseases being affected by two causes, Healthiness of Diet & Activity Habits and Genetic Metabolic Rate Disorders.

But what if metabolic rate disorders are not strictly genetic, but can be epigenetic or can be directly caused by chemical exposure?

That idea does not appear to have crossed their minds.  The framework and approach that are recommended look like they have merit, but I would argue that the authors are not looking at as large a system as they should be.

The environmental factors they do mention are along the lines of the “activity environment” and the food environment.”

Without acknowledging the effects exposure to chemicals might have on people’s propensity towards overweight and obesity the report is more limited than it should have been.  The focus is totally on social and behavioral interventions.  While diet and activity are probably the most important factors in obesity for most people, it appears that no thought has been given to the possibility that by reducing exposure to chemicals we might be able to prevent or at least reduce the rates and extent of overweight and obesity.

Links to Report Information

There are links to several different items here.  The links above are to a news release and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report web page (i.e. the page for the project/activity).  Links below are to the full text of the report online, the report recommendations, a four page report brief, as well as links to a webcast and podcast of the briefing on the release of the report, links to related resources (which duplicate some of the other links), and links to pages on the meetings that led to the creation of the report.

Full Report online

Report at a Glance

  • Recommendations (HTML)
  • Report Brief (4 pp.) (PDF, HTML)

Report: Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention: A Framework to Inform Decision Making

Released: April 23, 2010

http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Bridging-the-Evidence-Gap-in-Obesity-Prevention-A-Framework-to-Inform-Decision-Making.aspx

A Framework for Decision-Making for Obesity Prevention: Integrating Action with Evidence

http://www.iom.edu/Activities/PublicHealth/ObesFramework.aspx

Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention: A Framework to Inform Decision Making

http://www.nap.edu/webcast/webcast_detail.php?webcast_id=420

April 23, 2010
Running Time: 00:58:04
Format: RealAudio (Requires free RealPlayer)  Podcast: (mp3)
To battle the obesity epidemic in America, health care professionals and policymakers need relevant, useful data on the effectiveness of obesity prevention policies and programs. A new report from the Institute of Medicine identifies a new approach to decision making and research that uses a systems perspective to gain a broader understanding of the context of obesity and the many factors that influence it.

Related Resources:

Report Briefs
Full Report
Project Website

Previous Meetings

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