I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

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/.

March 21, 2010

Sound advice to companies on endocrine disruptors

Found a post on endocrine disruptors that advises companies on steps they should be taking to deal with endocrine disruptors now.  You’re probably thinking what I thought when I first saw the post, “Yeah, right.”

I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s heartening to see an investment manager taking an enlightened  position like this.

The Chemicals That Should Be on Your Radar … but Probably Aren’t

By Richard Liroff – Published February 25, 2010
[This post is a follow up to Liroff’s earlier article “What Does the FDA’s BPA Decision Mean for Companies?” on GreenBiz.com.]

Liroff notes:

As a class, [endocrine disruptors (EDs)] can have profound and unparalleled impacts on families, communities and businesses because of their possible links to learning disabilities, selected cancers, reproductive disorders, diabetes and other health disorders.

Systematically identifying EDs, substituting safer substances and product designs, and reducing exposures promise sizeable payoffs from reduced health care burdens and enhanced employee productivity. Such actions help align consumer-facing companies in particular with consumers’ concerns about involuntary exposures to toxic chemicals in daily living.

Liroff lists several recent developments in public awareness regarding endocrine disruptors, describes what endocrine disruptors are and how they can affect health, and offers the following advice to chemical companies regarding endocrine disruptors:

1. Get educated.

He provides links to European, U.S. EPA, and NIEHS endocrine disruption websites as well as the The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) list of resources.  (A very nice list!)

2. Make sure corporate science staff stay current.

Why the Adage ‘the Dose Makes the Poison’ Can Be Toxic to Corporate Chemicals Policy

Heed the advice of NIEHS’s Dr. Linda Birnbaum: “[T]he timing, as well as the dose, makes the poison.” The American Chemical Society, in a newly published statement on endocrine disruptors, echoes this view: “A large and growing body of environmental health literature shows that endocrine disrupting substances … do not fit the central tenet of regulatory toxicology, namely, that the ‘dose makes the poison.'”

3. Know the chemicals in your products and supply chain.

4. Take action. Join the leading edge companies who are actively screening their chemical inventories for endocrine disruptors and are taking steps to lower toxicity via safer chemical substitutes or designs….

[A] proactive approach of analysis and substitution, and responding to early warning signals, is more likely to buttress consumer confidence in your brand than defensive posturing that reflexively asserts “more research is needed” or “no cause-effect relationships have been shown.”

Richard A. Liroff, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN). IEHN is a collaboration of investment managers that advocates for safer corporate chemicals policies to grow long-term shareholder value and reduce financial and reputational risks to companies. The business case for corporate safer chemicals policies, a list of shareholder resolutions on safer chemicals policies, and a roster of participants can be found on the IEHN website, www.iehn.org. Disclosure: Liroff serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange and served on the priority-setting work group of EPA’s Endocrine Disruption Screening and Testing Advisory Committee.

March 14, 2010

The toxic effects of … sugar

UCSF Lecture on Sugar & Obesity Goes Viral as Experts Confront Health Crisis

March 10, 2010 UCSF news release (University of California San Francisco)

Background

Metabolic syndrome (from National Library of Medicine) – a group of conditions that put you at risk for heart disease and diabetes. These conditions are

See also Metabolic Syndrome from the Nemours Foundation.

Connection between sugar and the metabolic syndrome

The news release includes a presentation by Dr. Robert H. Lustig, UCSF, on “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” (approx. 1h, 30min.)

Dr. Lustig explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin. Series: UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public [7/2009].  (In case you don’t have an hour and a half to spare, I found a basic version of Lustig’s presentation on the NIEHS website.  Also includes a QuickTime version of the presentation Lustig gave at that workshop.)

I’m still convinced that environmental chemicals could be contributing to occurrence of metabolic syndrome, but Dr. Lustig’s presentation was eye-opening.  I don’t understand all the biochemistry, but he makes what I think is a convincing argument that fructose, whether from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or from refined sugar (sugar = fructose + glucose), is responsible for the development of metabolic syndrome.

The basic reason is not because we’re taking in too many calories, but that fructose is metabolized differently than glucose is.

Lustig goes through the history of sugar in drinks and food and the production of HFCS before diving into biochemistry.  He compares the metabolism of glucose, ethanol, and fructose, covering all the metabolic pathways for each.

All of the cells in the body can metabolize glucose, some ethanol is absorbed bv the gastrointestinal tract, then metabolized by the brain and liver.

Fructose is primarily metabolized by the liver.  I won’t go into the details here, but fructose increases the level of triglycerides, messes with the insulin and leptin processes, makes the pancreas work harder, and has other negative effects on your body.

Dr. Lustig makes a very convincing argument that overconsumption of fructose has causes metabolic syndrome and had led to the obesity epidemic.

Some people argue that it’s Americans’ eating habits and lack of exercise that have caused the obesity epidemic.  Lustig asks, if that’s true, how do you explain the epidemic of obese six-month-olds? (Lustig looks at the amount of sugar contained in many formulas.)

Lustig also notes that the role of exercise isn’t really to burn calories, but to keep our bodies’ metabolic processes running smoothly and discusses the important role of fiber in fructose metabolism.

From the NIEHS website (a basic version of Lustig’s presentation)

(presented at a workshop on “Children’s Environmental Health Research: Past, Present & Future,” Jan. 2007) – this workshop had sessions focusing on lead and neurotoxicity, asthma, metabolic disorders, and ADHD)

Summary

Fructose (sucrose or HFCS) consumption has increased in the past 30 years, coinciding with the obesity epidemic

  • Fructose is everywhere
  • Fructose is not glucose

• Hepatic fructose metabolism leads to all the manifestations of the Metabolic Syndrome:

      • hypertension
      • de novo lipogenesis, dyslipidemia, and hepatic steatosis
      • inflammation
      • hepatic insulin resistance
      • obesity
      • CNS leptin resistance, promoting continuous consumption

• Fructose ingestion interferes with obesity intervention
• Fructose is a chronic toxin (it’s metabolized like ethanol)

Links (from UCSF)

UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment, Study & Treatment (COAST)

WATCH Clinic
UCSF Children’s Hospital

Adult Weight Management Program
UCSF Medical Center

New Center to Focus on Effects of Stress, Socioeconomic Status on Obesity
UCSF Today, August 11, 2009

Sugar is a Poison, Says UCSF Obesity Expert
Science Café, June 25, 2009

The Biology of Fat (or Why Literally Running Away from Stress Is a Good Idea)
Science Café, July 6, 2007

Note: A much briefer (and less rigorous) discussion of the harmful effects of HFCS can be found at High-Fructose Corn Syrup Truth, Still Not Sexy, HFCS.

March 2, 2010

Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act of 2009

Important legislation authorizing the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to conduct a research program on endocrine disruption was introduced in the 111th Congress this past December.

Title: A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to conduct a research program on endocrine disruption, to prevent and reduce the production of, and exposure to, chemicals that can undermine the development of children before they are born and cause lifelong impairment to their health and function, and for other purposes.

Both versions of the bill were introduced on Dec. 3, 2009, and were referred to committees in their respective chambers.

The bill has been endorsed by The Endocrine Society and the American Medical Association.

Here’s a bill status widget from OpenCongress.org:

S.2828 Feed-icon-10x10

Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act of 2009

  • Introduced: December 02, 2009
  • Status: Introduced
  • Next step: Senate Passes
  • Latest action: Sponsor introductory remarks on measure. (CR S12324)
  • Sponsor: Sen. John Kerry [D, MA]
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