Monthly Archives: March 2008

American Tap Water: A Toxic History

With the recent uproar over the amount of pharmaceuticals in America’s drinking water, the general public is paying more attention to the toxins lurking in their tap water. The report by the Associated Press National Investigation Team has raised many questions on the nation’s public health standards, but what about the toxins that are deliberately added to drinking water?

A well-known, toxic chemical called fluoride has been added to American tap water since 1945. Below are some excerpts explaining the history of fluoridated water and its dangers from Randall Fitzgerald’s The Hundred-Year Lie: How to Protect Yourself from the Chemicals That Are Destroying Your Health .

About 66 percent of public municipal water systems in the United States serving 170 million people had been fluoridated by the dawn of the 21st century, yet most of the countries in Western Europe – from France and Germany to Italy and Switzerland – continue to reject adding fluoride to their drinking water. Did they know something we refuse to accept?

It might be useful to recall how fluoridation came about in the first place. A scientist working under a grant from the Aluminum Company of America made the initial public proposal in 1939 to add fluoride to public water supplies in belief that it would help prevent tooth decay. In 1945 the first barrels of sodium fluoride were added to the drinking water in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When the United States Public Health Service endorsed fluoridation a few years later, many cities and entire states quickly followed that advice.

There was an ulterior motive for the aluminum industry and the fertilizer industry to promote the fluoridation idea. A by-product of factory smokestacks operated by both industries was a toxic waste called silicofluoride that contained lead, cadmium, arsenic and other toxins. Instead of these industries having to pay for the disposal of this waste (today at an estimated cost of $8,000 a truckload), fluoridation enabled both to make money by selling the waste for use in public water supplies.

Using public water as a vehicle to deliver a drug – and one that is among the most toxic substances on the planet, used as an active ingredient in many pesticides – was an idea that concerned some physicians and scientists at the time. It even initially drew opposition from the dental profession. A 1944 editorial in The Journal of the American Dental Association warned that water fluoridation’s prospects for harming human health “far outweigh those for the good.”

Once dentists came aboard the fluoridation bandwagon along with public health-minded politicians, and with backing from a public relations campaign funded by aluminum and fertilizer industry coffers, there was no stopping the fluoridation juggernaut. Industry-funded studies began to appear in dental and medical journals showing improvements in dental health apparently resulting from fluoridated water, and that was all the proof most people needed to accept fluoridation’s benefits as the gospel truth. Anyone who disagreed was branded a right-wing nut.

Periodically a courageous voice with impeccable scientific credentials spoke up to sound an alarm about fluoridation’s potential dangers, only to be dismissed as eccentric. In 1975, for instance, the chief chemist emeritus of the National Cancer Institute, Dean Burk, declared that fluoride in water “causes more human cancer, and causes it faster, than any other chemical.”

Two years later some members of Congress inquired about whether federal health authorities, after a quarter-century of experience with fluoridation, had ever tested fluoridated water as a cause of cancer. The answer was no. More than a decade passed before these tests were finally performed. The results caused a brief uproar. Young male rats exposed to fluoridated water developed both bone cancer and liver cancer.

These results were quickly attacked on a variety of grounds – flawed methodology, incomplete results, animal studies aren’t always reliable, etc. – and then ignored by the fluoridation establishment. But other researchers, emboldened by the precedent this study set, began conducting their own experiments into fluoride’s effects on health. In 1992, three U.S. scientists found evidence of Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in laboratory animals exposed to fluoridated water that had apparently carried traces of aluminum into the animals’ brains. That same year a study appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association connecting water fluoridation to an increased risk of hip fractures.

The negative studies about fluoride’s effects on health built into a tsunami during the 1990s. Here are just a few examples: the medical journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology found evidence that fluoride accumulates in the human body and creates motor-skills dysfunction and learning disabilities; two separate studies in the journal Fluoride showed that in areas where water supplies were fluoridated, children’s Is were lower than normal. Other science papers in Fluoride drew connections between the chemical and thyroid abnormalities, arthritis, even Down’s syndrome in children.

Even the argument that put fluoride into drinking water in the first place – that it prevents tooth decay – came under a sustained challenge. A study in 1995 by the California Department of Health Services revealed that money spent on dental work actually increased in areas where water was fluoridated in that state, while dental costs declined in communities without fluoridated water. In a July 2000 issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association, John D.B. Featherstone of the University of California in San Francisco, concluded that ingesting fluoride from tap water does little to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride only works when directly applied to teeth in the form of toothpaste.

J. William Hirzy, senior vice president of chapter 280 of the National Treasury Employees Union, summed up the loony logic of injecting fluoride toxic wastes into our drinking water: “If this stuff gets out into the air, it’s a pollutant. If it gets into the river, it’s a pollutant. If it gets into the lake, it’s a pollutant. But if it goes right straight into your drinking water system, it’s not a pollutant. That’s amazing!”

[Image courtesy of Indymedia.org.uk]

A sea change in attitudes about the safety of adding fluoride to water seems to be under way in the United States. A major article on the growing opposition to fluoridation appeared in Time magazine (Oct. 24, 2005) and described how tooth decay “has plummeted even in regions where there is little or no fluoride in the water,” and warned that “fluoride is indisputably toxic; it was once commonly used in rat poison.” The article revealed that a Harvard University study had been suppressed because it “showed a sevenfold increased risk of osteosarcoma in preadolescent boys from fluoridated water.” Furthermore, “in Western Europe, where the drop in tooth decay in recent decades is as sharp as that in the U.S., seventeen of twenty-one countries have either refused or discontinued fluoridation” because of health safety concerns.

2 Comments

Filed under Environment, Health

Winter Soldier

ivaw.jpg

[photo courtesy of questionitnow.org]

No one is covering this – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War speak out against the America’s imperial wars, and the hearings do not make a ripple in the corporate media.

Here are voices from the hearings, thanks to Democracy Now!

Part 1

Part 2 

Part 3

1 Comment

Filed under Censorship, Economics, Mental Environment, Politics, Social Justice

Fishing industry on the verge of collapse

Ever since humans picked up their first fishing poles (or spears) the state of the world’s marine life has been in decline. The damage started slowly, but our technology evolved as we learned to use radar and scrape the sea floors with huge nets, yielding fantastic catches from the plentiful ocean.

Now, armed with unimaginable accuracy and efficiency, commercial fishing fleets are coming back to the docks with smaller catches. The reason: fish stocks have been plummeting worldwide for more than a decade.

The widespread use of unsustainable fishing practices is catching up to us and scientists are calling on world’s governments to take action before international fish stocks are completely diminished.

Here are a few key statistics to ponder:

  1. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, More than 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation.
  2. Ninety percent of all the “big fish” – large-bodied sharks, tuna, marlin and swordfish – have disappeared as a result of industrialized fishing according to this study.
  3. A study by a team of leading fishery scientists, published in 2006 in the journal Science, concluded that the world’s fisheries are in collapse and if current trends continue they will be beyond repair by 2048.

Declining fish stocks even have pushed European nations to make controversial deals with African nations, enabling them to fish in the waters of Northwest Africa, taking away jobs and food from the locals. The New York Times also reported that Europe’s insatiable appetite for seafood is promoting illegal trade.

But Europeans are only the beginning of the problem when you consider that fish serves as the primary source of protein for nearly a billion people, according to Oceana, an environmental group that focuses on marine life.

The Solution

In May 2007, 125 scientist from 25 countries, warned World Trade Organization Director Pascal Lamy in a letter that unless the WTO acts to significantly reduce worldwide subsidies to the fishing sector, destructive fishing practices will result in permanent damage of the ocean ecosystem and the entire fishing economy.

Global fisheries subsidies amount to an estimated $30-$34 billion annually, and at least $20 billion go directly towards supporting fishing capacity, such as boats, fuel, equipment and other operating costs, according to a recent report by the University of British Columbia. These subsidies equal about 25 percent of worldwide fishing revenue and have helped produce a global fishing fleet that is up to 250 percent larger than what is need to fish at sustainable levels, said Courtney Sakai, campaign director for Oceana.

“We are not anti-fishing, but the kind of commercial fishing that is taking place today just make sense ecologically and it doesn’t make sense economically,” Sakai said. “We need a more sustainable approach to fishing, one that allows fish stocks to regenerate themselves.”

In their letter to Lamy the scientists wrote:

“Fisheries subsidies are not only a major driver of overfishing, but promote other destructive fishing practices. For example, high seas bottom trawling, a practice so environmentally-destructive that the United Nations has called on nations to severely restrict it, would not be profitable without its large subsidies on fuel. Subsidies have also been documented to support illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing – a serious impediment to achieving sustainable fisheries.”

As Sakai works on Oceana’s campaign against these subsides, she still believes the marine life can recover from its dismal state.

“We may have reduced international fish stocks to horrible conditions, but they can rebound pretty quickly if we just give them a chance,” Sakai said.

The fishing industry is heading full speed into its own demise. It is clear that a broad prohibition of fisheries subsidies is the best way to reduce global overfishing.

[images from Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts]

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Environment, Politics

Impunity on the border

border-shooting_camp.jpg

[photo courtesy of the Associated Press]

The same rules apply to law enforcement in Queens and along the U.S.-Mexico border, apparently.

Yesterday, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of Border Patrol Officer Nicholas Corbett, who in January 2007 shot and killed an unarmed Mexican immigrant who was crossing the border through an isolated stretch of Arizona desert.

Does this remind anyone of Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo? In both cases, law enforcement claims the suspect was armed. In both cases, there is evidence disputing those claims.

The jury (whoops, the judge) is still out in the Bell case – Corbett, however, got off scott-free for murder. Not even probation.

Mistrial Declared in Border Agent’s Case

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A federal judge declared a mistrial Friday in the case of a U.S. Border Patrol agent charged with fatally shooting an illegal immigrant from Mexico.Jurors who had been deliberating the fate of agent Nicholas Corbett since late Tuesday told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Corbett was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide in the January 2007 death of 22-year-old Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera of Puebla, Mexico. Jurors could convict on only one charge.

Corbett testified that Dominguez was going to smash his head with a rock and he fired in self-defense.

Dominguez’s two brothers testified that he was surrendering and was shot without provocation.

“I’m disappointed that the jury did not acquit him,” said Corbett’s attorney, Sean Chapman. “We are prepared to try it again, and I believe he’s innocent. I believe another jury will acquit him.”

Dominguez was crossing the southern Arizona desert along with his two brothers and a woman when Corbett spotted them, raced up in his Border Patrol SUV and the fatal confrontation took place.

The case is unusual because it involves state criminal charges but is being tried in federal court because Corbett is a federal law enforcement agent.

“We would have preferred they convict him, but we’ll leave that to the next jury,” said Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general who was appointed as special prosecutor for the case. “They reached an impasse, but they put in another 11 or 12 hours after that. That’s all you can ask.”

Woods said prosecutors hope to introduce new evidence at the second trial, including an incident in which the agent was ordered to undergo anger management counseling.

Corbett “has a pattern of this, of allegedly assaulting people and threatening to kill people,” Woods said.

Defense attorney Jim Calle said those allegations have been “denied by the people involved in them… none of these allegations are true.”

The Border Patrol’s chief deputy patrol agent in the Tucson sector, Robert Boatright, said Corbett had only a few seconds to make a decision concerning Dominguez.

“Law enforcement officers make critical decisions every day and this trial went on for several days and the jury deliberated for more than two days,” Boatright said. “And they could not get past that reasonable doubt.”

Jurors had sent a note to U.S. District Judge David C. Bury at midday Thursday saying they were deadlocked, but he urged them to redouble their efforts and ordered them to continue.

The jury worked on Friday but still could not reach a verdict.

Bury set a date for a second trial in April, but that likely will change because of scheduling problems with some of the lawyers.

This article was written by Arthur H. Rotstein of the Associated Press.

Leave a comment

Filed under Immigration, Politics, Social Justice

Big Coal Against the Ropes – From Kansas to Wall Street

So far, 2008 has been a rough year for the coal industry. Just 24 hours after Bush touted clean coal in his January State of the Union address, the Department of Energy pulled the plug on the ambitious FutureGen project, which aimed to build the first zero-emissions coal plant.

Days later, major banks such as Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, stated their concern over coal’s enormous carbon footprint with emissions caps on the horizon, a consideration that “make[s] it less likely the banks will finance other coal-fired plants.”

The next week, Bank of America agreed that coal plants were a bad investment. Soon after, the New York Times reported, “With opposition to coal plants rising across the country — including a statement by three investment banks … saying they are wary of financing new ones,” utilities “are turning to natural gas to meet expected growth in demand.”

Big Coal is now making a stand in Kansas, where it has been trying to get approval for two new coal plants near Holcomb, KS — a fight that has been marked by contention since Kansas’ Department of Health and Environment denied the necessary air quality permits in October. The coal industry is desperate for a win in a year that, so far, has brought bad news.

Sunflower Pressures Sebelius

Sunflower Electric, the company behind the Holcomb coal project, refused to take Kansas’s October decision lying down. Weeks after the state’s Department of Health and Environment’s denial — supported by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) — Sunflower, working through a front group called Kansans for Affordable Energy (KAE), published newspaper ads comparing Sebelius to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vladimir Putin, and Hugo Chavez.

The front group was financed almost completely by Peabody Energy, “the world’s largest private-sector coal company.” Of the $145,400 in contributions KAE received, $120,000 came from Peabody and $25,000 came from Sunflower. “In other words, all but $400 of the money provided to this group of Kansans ‘concerned’ about ‘affordable energy’ came from Big King Coal,” notes Kevin Grandia of the site DeSmogBlog.

Sunflower Bribes Legislature

Last week, the Kansas Senate passed a bill allowing the coal plant development, gutting the legislation of the very small carbon tax and modest energy efficiency standards. A different version passed the House, and now the bills move to a conference committee where state representatives are facing enormous pressure to bend to Big Coal’s will.

Kansas State Speaker Melvin Neufeld Tuesday urged his colleagues to approve Sunflower’s plans by reminding them that the state — namely, Kansas State University — had a lot to gain from the bargain. Sunflower has offered a quid pro quo agreement to donate $2.5 million for energy research to the university, but only if the state approves the coal plants first. Rep. Paul Davis (D) called the bribery scheme “in poor taste.”

Ratcheting up the pressure, Sunflower president and CEO Earl Watkins declared this week “that if the Legislature doesn’t approve the project by June 1, it may not go forward.” Legislators should keep in mind a January poll that found that Kansans agreed with the state’s permit denial by a 2-to-1 margin, and a majority of citizens who live in the Holcomb area support the state’s decision as well.

Greenwashing Coal’s Impact

[Cartoon by Spencer Hill

When Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Roderick Bremby rejected Sunflower’s air quality permits in October, he said, “[I]t would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.” In response, Sunflower has tried to link its dirty coal with clean energy, in a TV spot promoting the “Holcomb expansion.”

The ad — which never mentions the word “coal” — insists the plant “will be one of the cleanest, most efficient power plants of its kind.” In fact, even with the best available technology, the plant will emit massive amounts of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and ash wastes. Moreover, there are no standards to limit the amount of carbon dioxide pollution emitted, and the new plants are estimated to emit at least 11 millions tons of greenhouse gases ever year.

Some representatives are falling for the misleading, unscientific campaign. Sen. Tim Huelskamp (R) declared, “CO2 is not a harmful substance. It’s an average, ordinary part of our human life anywhere on this Earth. … I’m a farmer, and we love CO2. It’s a good thing.” Rep. Don Myers (R) agreed: “It is all around us and you breathe it.”

This article originally appear on Alternet.org and was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick and Benjamin Armbruster

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, Environment, Politics