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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]

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How Plastic We’ve Become: Our Bodies Carry Residues of Kitchen Plastics

In the 1967 film classic The Graduate, a businessman corners Benjamin Braddock at a cocktail party and gives him a bit of career advice. “Just one word…plastics.”

Although Benjamin didn’t heed that recommendation, plenty of other young graduates did. Today, the planet is awash in products spawned by the plastics industry. Residues of plastics have become ubiquitous in the environment—and in our bodies.

A federal government study now reports that bisphenol A (BPA)—the building block of one of the most widely used plastics—laces the bodies of the vast majority of U.S. residents young and old.

Manufacturers link BPA molecules into long chains, called polymers, to make polycarbonate plastics. All of those clear, brittle plastics used in baby bottles, food ware, and small kitchen appliances (like food-processor bowls) are made from polycarbonates. BPA-based resins also line the interiors of most food, beer, and soft-drink cans. With use and heating, polycarbonates can break down, leaching BPA into the materials they contact. Such as foods.

And that could be bad if what happens in laboratory animals also happens in people, because studies in rodents show that BPA can trigger a host of harmful changes, from reproductive havoc to impaired blood-sugar control and obesity (SN: 9/29/07, p. 202).

For the new study, scientists analyzed urine from some 2,500 people who had been recruited between 2003 and 2004 for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Roughly 92 percent of the individuals hosted measurable amounts of BPA, according to a report in the January Environmental Health Perspectives. It’s the first study to measure the pollutant in a representative cross-section of the U.S. population.

Typically, only small traces of BPA turned up, concentrations of a few parts per billion in urine, note chemist Antonia M. Calafat and her colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, with hormone-mimicking agents like BPA, even tiny exposures can have notable impacts.

Overall, concentrations measured by Calafat’s team were substantially higher than those that have triggered disease, birth defects, and more in exposed animals, notes Frederick S. vom Saal, a University of Missouri-Columbia biologist who has been probing the toxicology of BPA for more than 15 years.

The BPA industry describes things differently. Although Calafat’s team reported urine concentrations of BPA, in fact they assayed a breakdown product—the compound by which BPA is excreted, notes Steven G. Hentges of the American Chemistry Council’s Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group. As such, he argues, “this does not mean that BPA itself is present in the body or in urine.”

On the other hand, few people have direct exposure to the breakdown product.

Hentges’ group estimates that the daily BPA intake needed to create urine concentrations reported by the CDC scientists should be in the neighborhood of 50 nanograms per kilogram of bodyweight—or one millionth of an amount at which “no adverse effects” were measured in multi-generation animal studies. In other words, Hentges says, this suggests “a very large margin of safety.”

No way, counters vom Saal. If one applies the ratio of BPA intake to excreted values in hosts of published animal studies, concentrations just reported by CDC suggest that the daily intake of most Americans is actually closer to 100 micrograms (µg) per kilogram bodyweight, he says—or some 1,000-fold higher than the industry figure.

Clearly, there are big differences of opinion and interpretation. And a lot may rest on who’s right.

Globally, chemical manufacturers produce an estimated 2.8 million tons of BPA each year. The material goes into a broad range of products, many used in and around the home. BPA also serves as the basis of dental sealants, which are resins applied to the teeth of children to protect their pearly whites from cavities (SN: 4/6/96, p. 214). The industry, therefore, has a strong economic interest in seeing that the market for BPA-based products doesn’t become eroded by public concerns over the chemical.

And that could happen. About 2 years after a Japanese research team showed that BPA leached out of baby bottles and plastic food ware (see What’s Coming Out of Baby’s Bottle?), manufacturers of those consumer products voluntarily found BPA substitutes for use in food cans. Some 2 years after that, a different group of Japanese scientists measured concentrations of BPA residues in the urine of college students. About half of the samples came from before the switch, the rest from after the period when BPA was removed from food cans.

By comparing urine values from the two time periods, the researchers showed that BPA residues were much lower—down by at least 50 percent—after Japanese manufacturers had eliminated BPA from the lining of food cans.

Concludes vom Saal, in light of the new CDC data and a growing body of animal data implicating even low-dose BPA exposures with the potential to cause harm, “the most logical thing” for the United States to do would be to follow in Japan’s footsteps and “get this stuff [BPA] out of our food.”

Kids appear most exposed

Overall, men tend to have statistically lower concentrations of BPA than women, the NHANES data indicate. But the big difference, Calafat says, traces to age. “Children had higher concentrations than adolescents, and they in turn had higher levels than adults,” she told Science News Online.

This decreasing body burden with older age “is something we have seen with some other nonpersistent chemicals,” Calafat notes—such as phthalates, another class of plasticizers.

The spread between the average BPA concentration that her team measured in children 6 to 11 years old (4.5 µg/liter) and adults (2.5 µg/L) doesn’t look like much, but proved reliably different.

The open question is why adults tended to excrete only 55 percent as much BPA. It could mean children have higher exposures, she posits, or perhaps that they break it down less efficiently. “We really need to do more research to be able to answer that question.”

Among other differences that emerged in the NHANES analysis: urine residues of BPA decreased with increasing household income and varied somewhat with ethnicity (with Mexican-Americans having the lowest average values, blacks the highest, and white’s values in between).

There was also a time-of-day difference, with urine values for any given group tending to be highest in the evening, lowest in the afternoon, and midway between those in the morning. Since BPA’s half-life in the body is only about 6 hours, that temporal variation in the chemical’s excretion would be consistent with food as a major source of exposure, the CDC scientists note.

In the current NHANES paper, BPA samples were collected only once from each recruit. However, in a paper due to come out in the February Environmental Health Perspectives, Calafat and colleagues from several other institutions looked at how BPA excretion varied over a 2-year span among 82 individuals—men and women—seen at a fertility clinic in Boston.

In contrast to the NHANES data, the upcoming report shows that men tended to have somewhat higher BPA concentrations than women. Then again both groups had only about one-quarter the concentration typical of Americans.

The big difference in the Boston group emerged among the 10 women who ultimately became pregnant. Their BPA excretion increased 33 percent during pregnancy. Owing to the small number of participants in this subset of the study population, the pregnancy-associated change was not statistically significant. However, the researchers report, these are the first data to look for changes during pregnancy and ultimately determining whether some feature of pregnancy—such as a change in diet or metabolism of BPA—really alters body concentrations of the pollutant could be important. It could point to whether the fetus faces an unexpectedly high exposure to the pollutant.

If it does, the fetus could face a double whammy: Not only would exposures be higher during this period of organ and neural development, but rates of detoxification also would be diminished, vom Saal says.

Indeed, in a separate study, one due to be published soon in Reproductive Toxicology, his team administered BPA by ingestion or by injection to 3-day-old mice. Either way, the BPA exposure resulted in comparable BPA concentrations in blood.

What’s more, that study found, per unit of BPA delivered, blood values in the newborns were “markedly higher” than other studies have reported for adult rodents exposed to the chemical. And that makes sense, vom Saal says, because the enzyme needed to break BPA down and lead to its excretion is only a tenth as active in babies as in adults. That’s true in the mouse, he says, in the rat—and, according to some preliminary data, in humans.

Vom Saal contends that since studies have shown BPA exhibits potent hormonelike activity in human cells at the parts-per-trillion level, and since the new CDC study finds that most people are continually exposed to concentrations well above the parts-per-trillion ballpark, it’s time to reevaluate whether it makes sense to use BPA-based products in and around foods.

Source: Janet Raloff – Science News Online

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Bush Plan Could Axe Scientists’ Access to Sensitive Data

Another day, another sound science policy getting Buswhacked: The Bush administration is quietly pushing for the elimination of a committee that provides crucial intelligence data for scientists studying everything from climate change to hurricanes and pollution. The Civil Applications Committee, which is under the jurisdiction of the USGS, reviews civilian requests for classified information and makes recommendations to intelligence officials – who exercise the final say in deciding what gets declassified.

In its place, the Bush administration would establish a new office in DHS to review these requests and others from various law enforcement agencies. “They are worried. The scientists say this information is very valuable to them, and they are concerned this new office will be looking more at homeland security and law enforcement,” said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the USGS and a member of the Homeland Security Committee.

Over the years, this sensitive agency has provided information to U.S. Forest Service officials during the forest fire season; to scientists using classified measurements from nuclear submarines to study how the polar ice cap has thinned; and to USGS officials seeking information about volcanic eruptions in the Aleutian Islands. This information has often proven “critical,” as James Devine, a senior adviser to USGS’s director, explained. “Sometimes this information is critical, and we need to know right now,” he said.As far as he knows, he has never been denied a request from the intelligence community that the Civil Applications Committee had already approved. The government’s spy satellites often provide much better resolution than private ones, in addition to precise IR and electromagnetic activity readings.

The government’s plan to replace the Civil Applications Committee with the National Applications Office in DHS was hatched shortly after the attacks of 9/11. The Bush administration had hoped the new office would already be up and running by now; plans have since been put on hold to tackle new questions about scientific and civil liberties.

 Source: Jeremy Elton Jacqout’s article on Treehugger.com via: McClatchy Newspapers – Scientists fear losing access to intelligence data

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The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation

Did you go over you minutes last month? Sure, those cell phone bills may be draining your wallet, but they are nothing when compared to the chemotherapy bills you’ll be paying down the road.

Every year, more and more conflicting research comes out on the health hazards of cell phones, linking and unlinking cell phone radiation to brain tumors. The result: widespread consumer confusion.

The truth is cell phone radiation levels are comparable to those emitted by microwaves, which some scientist deem safe, but, to put it in perspective, one of these products sits on our countertops and the other we put on our faces – for extended periods of time.

A recent article in Newsweek not only described the health hazards of cell phones, but also revealed the varying levels of radiation they produce when used in urban and rural areas.

“Experts say the concern over cell-phone use stems from a form of radiation that’s produced when the devices communicate with their base station. Wireless phones transmit via radio frequency (RF), a low-frequency form of radiation that is also used in microwave ovens and AM/FM radios. While high-frequency radiation (the kind used in X-rays) is known to cause cancer at high doses, the risks of this milder form remain unclear. A cell phone’s main source of RF is its antenna, from which it sends a signal to the nearest base-station antenna. The further a cell phone is from the base station, the more RF it needs to establish and maintain a connection. So, the theory is that any risks posed by RF would be greater for people who live and work in areas with fewer base stations. In fact, Israeli researchers reported earlier this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology that long-term cell-phone users living in rural areas faced a “consistently elevated risk” of developing tumors in the parotid gland (a salivary gland located just below the ear) compared with users who live in suburban or urban areas.”

In response to such research, the French Health Ministry issued a warning against excessive cell phone use, especially by children, on Jan.2, 2008. A recent marketing surge of cell phones specifically designed for children has raised concern since youngsters are particularly vulnerable to their possible health effects, the Ministry of Health, Youth and Sports said in a statement. Some researchers believe younger cell phone users may face a higher risk of developing tumors because their nervous systems are not fully developed and their skulls are not as thick as those of adults.

[image courtesy of www.royriggs.co.uk]

In a Reuters article on the Ministry’s warning, Brian Rohan explains the flaws of short-term research on the link between cell phone radiation and cancer:

“A November 2006 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) said available evidence suggests long-term exposure to radio-frequency and microwave radiation from mobile phones had no adverse health effects. However, the WHO said other studies pointed to an increased risk of tumors in people who have used an analogue mobile phone for more than 10 years.

A British study released in September 2007 said mobile phones did not pose short-term health risks, but scientists noted that studies to date included few participants who had used mobile phones for longer than ten years — the time many cancers take to appear.”

The main problem with all these studies is that cell phones have been widely available for about a decade, where as tumors can take up to twice as long to develop. Due to the rapid absorption of mobile phone technology, the majority of our nation is now carelessly handling these products without any conclusive evidence telling us they are safe.

[photo courtesy of memopisaellodo.blogspot.com]

If pregnant women are advised to stay away from microwaves, shouldn’t that tell you something about their effects on our health? If cell phones are not safe for children, why would they be safe for adults? Until the government puts some tougher standards on cell phone radiation, the best thing to do is be smart: use hands-free devices (not the wireless kind), keep cell phones away from your body as often as possible and always keep them away from children (what do they need them for, anyway?).

Also, the Federal Communications Commission requires manufacturers to report the relative amount of radio frequency absorbed into the head by any given cell phone. This number is known as the SAR, or specific absorption rate, you can find out how to check your phone’s SAR on this site.

If you still think cell phones are 100 percent safe, just think back to the downfall of cigarettes – only a few decades separate us from a time when Phillip Morris used to put out “scientific research” stating that tobacco and nicotine did not pose any serious health problems. Fast-Forward to 2008 and the profiteering liars are now Motorola, Samsung and LG – pridefully sponsoring your local newscasts, not only during commercial breaks, but also in their content.

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