Tag Archives: Health

Corn Subsidies: How Congress is shortchanging our health

At dinner Sunday night, I asked my friend Prasad if he knew about the new farm bill and what it means for average Americans. He didn’t.

I wasn’t surprised. With the election, the war, and rising prices to fret about, not many people are pondering legislation about farms. But they should, because it has huge implications for the country’s nutrition, environment, and health. Here are three reasons why we all should pay closer attention to the 2007 farm bill: food, fuel, and fat.

First, some background.

The farm bill, which is renewed every five or six years, is a vast set of laws and policies that governs how our food is produced and priced. Recently, it has included conservation programs aimed at setting aside land to aid ecosystem recovery and improve water quality, but historically it has provided huge payments to just a handful of crops including wheat, soybeans, cotton, and corn.

The first farm bill, passed during the Depression, established price supports to protect farmers and rural communities. The Agricultural Act of 1938 mandated price supports for corn, cotton, and wheat; the Agricultural Act of 1949 established supports for other commodities including wool, mohair, honey, and milk. These two laws form the backbone of today’s farm bill, and this is part of the problem. A system established in an agricultural landscape vastly different from today’s is still in place, and the effects are profound.

Let’s look at how one particular crop has helped change American life and how retooling government supports for it could be a boon for all Americans.

The problem with corn: How the fat of the land is helping make us fatter

Corn is so prevalent in American food that you’re likely to be eating it even if you don’t know it. Chug a Coke, chomp on a chicken nugget, bite into a burger, and most likely you’re ingesting processed corn.

Why is corn everywhere? Part of the reason is a subsidy system that has helped glut the marketplace with corn and left the government to find ways to use it. Nowadays, ranchers feed corn to their cows and chickens, and food companies sweeten their foodstuffs with it. This not only affects the price of strawberries and broccoli at your local farmers market; thanks to recent government mandates for ethanol, corn affects what you pay at the pump.

Some nutritionists and researchers are even starting to trace a link between the high prevalence of corn in our diet and our weight problems — and, by extension, a host of health issues stemming from being overweight.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 64.5 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. That’s up from just 25-45 percent of Americans in 1992, according to the International Journal of Obesity. A number of conditions of our modern lifestyle contribute to our weight problem: sedentary jobs make us less physically active, we eat out more than in, and portion size has ballooned. But corn may also play a role.

Government subsidies make sweet food very cheap, says Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, pointing to one of the most prevalent sweeteners: high fructose corn syrup, which sweetens most soda pop while upping the calories. (Read a PBS interview with Nestle.)

In a recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives, Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Carolina Population Center of the University of North Carolina, argued that an artificial price gap created by subsidies makes nutritionally valuable foods more expensive than nutritionally poor food and thus more attractive to penny-pinched consumers.

Writer Michael Pollan is blunt about the problem: “We’re subsidizing obesity,” he told the Christian Science Monitor.

How corn is skewing the marketplace and abetting environmental problems

One might conclude that corn growers and other beneficiaries of government subsidies have been playing on an uneven playing field for more than five decades. What happened to free markets?

Because government subsidies have kept corn prices low, farmers need to plant more of it to make money. In his compelling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan tells the history of how America made the move from rich, diverse farmlands to a monoculture of corn, and how this has perverted the marketplace. Pollan writes:

Government farm programs, once designed to limit production and support prices (and therefore farmers), were quietly rejiggered to increase production and drive down prices. Put another way, instead of supporting farmers, during the Nixon administration the government began supporting corn at the expense of farmers. Corn, already the recipient of a biological subsidy in the form of synthetic nitrogen, would now receive an economic subsidy too, ensuring its final triumph over the land and the food system.

The farm bill, like other New Deal public-support systems, grew out of needs tied to difficult conditions, but as farming and economic circumstances have changed, the law has not kept pace with evolving needs of lands and the people who work them.

Meanwhile, lobbying around the crops getting the subsidies has strengthened. Those on the receiving ends of the monies don’t want to give them up. The system stays largely stuck in the past.

Some major changes did occur in the 1980s, though. As scientists and politicians saw increasing environmental degradation of agricultural lands, conservation programs were designed to protect natural resources and to reward farmers. The 2002 farm bill ramped up conservation payments.

But corn threatens to throw a wrench into this progress. With farmers growing more and more corn, land formerly cultivated in soybeans or set aside as conservation reserves is now being cultivated for corn.

Why? In part because after years of slumping prices, the price of corn is now growing by leaps and bounds. You see, our representatives in Washington, D.C. have mandated a huge increase in the amount of ethanol in our gasoline. They have also made it all but impossible to import sugarcane-based ethanol from countries like Brazil. So our only viable source is corn. Demand for corn as food and corn as energy has helped its price skyrocket. (Some believe this is contributing to a world food shortage that threatens political stability throughout the developing world — but that is another story.)

Less corn means more conservation and better health

The rush to corn is exacting a serious environmental toll. One of the country’s most resource-intensive crops, corn requires huge amounts of fertilizers and water. As Pollan put it, “Hybrid corn is the greediest of plants, consuming more fertilizer than any other crop.” Nitrogen from fertilizers applied to cornfields eventually finds its way to our waterways, degrading water quality and choking out fish.

Eventually that nitrogen finds its way to the ocean where it can cause huge dead zones — large patches of the ocean depleted of oxygen and virtually all life.

[The “Dead Zone” at the mouth of the MIssissippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. The area’s aquatic life has been unable to survive due to rising fertilizer run off from farms in the Midwest. Source: NASA]

The need for irrigation is also of concern. While most crops need irrigation, corn is particularly thirsty. Consider the Ogallala Aquifer, the huge underground reservoir underlying eight states from Texas to South Dakota. According to the USGS, the Ogallala supplies about 30 percent of all our water used for irrigation. Corn-based biofuels draw even more — anywhere from three to six gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, according to Environmental Defense Fund.

The aquifer was formed millions of years ago, and the water there today has been around for thousands of years. However, we are pumping water out of so fast that we are in danger of pumping it dry. By some estimates, the Ogallala could be used up in as little as 25 years. From a water point of view alone, our rush to corn does not seem sustainable.

Now, eating and growing corn are not bad in and of themselves, but producing too much corn has wide-ranging negative effects. So we should take note of how our tax dollars are helping flood and pervert the marketplace with easy corn, because we’re paying a really high price in terms of nutrition and environmental problems. This is where the farm bill comes in.

As farmers naturally look to boost profits, Congress should take the long view of our country’s health. Rather than supporting subsidies that create a kind of gold rush for corn, perhaps the government should consider diversifying its support for a whole range of crops that not only need help but would also provide across-the-board benefits for Americans.

Boosting conservation programs and evening the playing field among growers of different crops — like broccoli, carrots, apples, almonds, and spinach — could lead to trimmer, healthier bodies and an environment that provides good water quality and promotes affordable food. Next time you sit down to dinner with friends, ask them what they think they’re eating. Whatever it is, the chances are, it contains corn. Maybe we should think about changing that.

– Originally posted by Bill Chameides, a guest contributor on Grist.org

 
Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Economics, Environment, Health, Politics, Social Justice

To Ill, Is Not Human

anxiety

(Courtesy of www.Howard-Gallery.com)

A year ago I was prescribed what I perceived as the holy grail of birth control pills: Yasmin. Looked upon as a luxury contraceptive that saved its followers from bloat and weight gain, I thought I had the good life. The first few months went by like a breeze and I could finally refrain from taking literally thousands of milligrams of ibuprofen at a time when my cramps kicked in. It didn’t make everything go away, it just made all of my symptoms more moderate. I thought I had found THE pill. What I had actually found was my gateway to hell.

January proved to be the toughest month for me as apprehension kept my thought on staying home. My digestive system was haywire and my thoughts hovered over the slightest gurgle from my intestines. But the climax hit me on January 18th. I was home alone at the apartment and back from watching a movie about the destruction of NYC (Cloverfield) that featured the exact subway stop off of the 4-5-6 that I took to meet my friend that nite. I started pacing around the apartment. I called my boyfriend, and he didn’t pick up his phone. That freaked me out even more. So I decided to pop in a movie . . . but I couldn’t even concentrate. Before I knew it, I couldn’t breathe and told myself “Shit, I’m having a panic attack.” although it felt more like I was going crazy, straight up schizophrenic.

cloverfield

(Courtesy of www.freemac.net)

I found it ironic as I dashed into a hot shower to practice yoga breathing exercises that I was going through this. I usually made fun of people who panicked and wondered how they could freak out in the first place. By the time my boyfriend finally came home hours later, I was still wide-eyed rocking back and forth on the couch with radiohead on repeat. But that wasn’t the end of my escapades. Following this episode, I started to experience:

Nausea, vomiting, shaking, lightheadedness, dizziness, breathing difficulties, constant nervousness, heart palpitations, chest pains. . .

There were times where my heart was beating so fast and so vigorous that it just plain hurt. I administered myself into the E.R. one day with a standing heart rate of 142. They asked if I was on any medication, I told them I was on Yasmin. They never heard of Yasmin. They sent me back home that night referring me to their outpatient psychiatric clinic.

I told myself I would not deal with this, that this is unacceptable, so I did some research, stayed hydrated, took my Omega-3’s and a daily 5-htp supplement. Things were getting better slowly but surely, until I started to wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding, my lungs gasping for air and my thoughts racing.

“Ahh, what time is it—What kind of car is that?–tomorrow I have to–no, wait, did I wash my t-shirt–there was a dog in that movie . . .”

This had all crept up on me throughout the year so quietly that I didn’t recognize that I wasn’t myself. I didn’t laugh as much, I didn’t smile as much, I didn’t enjoy life as much as I used to. I was always described as laid back. I never freaked out. I never worried. My favorite past time was going to Diana’s Pool, the local swimming hole and lying on the sun-soaked rocks. When I had gone through a pretty ugly car crash, I didn’t even cry. I spoke to the police officer calm as ever. I loved chatting with police. When I hit a deer one night, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. Nothing bothered me, not even the thought of graduation.

(Diana’s Pool, Chaplin CT)

The morning after the second late-nite cuckoo affair, I decided to find out what was up. I finally decided to google “Yasmin, side effects” and I came across some answers that no test or doctor could have told me. There were literally hundreds upon hundreds of posts of women experiencing the same symptoms as I had, many of these women had it much worse than I had it. Some had daily panic attacks, some had shooting pains, others described their breathing problems:

“I thought I was having an asthma attack. So did the ER – at first. After I did not respond to the breathing treatments, and I became completely out of breath and exhausted after walking across the hall to the restroom, the ER doc checked my D-Dimer level to see if I was at risk for blood clots. He said if it came back over 500, he would have to do further testing for clots. It came back 4500!! . . .”

“Here were my symptoms during this period: Panic Attacks, nausea, shaking, de-realization and so much more. There was a point where I was scared to live and scared to die. I didn’t even want to leave my house. . . ”’

“I started a new box and pack 3 weeks ago and 72 hours later had what I thought was a “panic attack”. I had never suffered panic or anxiety before and I am 32. Then, the chest pain and anxious feeling wouldn’t go away (not normal with panic I hear). I went to the Dr and my bloodwork was all “great”. I went to a cardiologist and they tested my heart. It was indeed beating “extra” so I had to be one a monitor. Still, the entire time I was miserable and wondering what the heck had happened to me. How could I go from being a normal, well adjusted women to a crazy lady in one day. . . “‘

That night, I stopped taking the pill, and that night I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night.

Armed with this new information, I headed to a doctor for an annual check up ready to tell my story. I gave her the history of what I was dealing with. She just looked at me without even considering the notion of taking me seriously. “Well, birth control can have some of those side effects . . .” was her only reply. She then prescribed me 1) an asthma inhaler, 2) a nasal spray for allergies (and I was breathing fine) 3) Prescription-strength Ibuprofen 4) Nexium to counteract the adverse effects from the prescription strength ibuprofen. She also ordered another EKG, more bloodwork and a pulmonary test. I didn’t fill out any of the prescriptions and never scheduled the tests. I knew they would all come back clear.

So when the Dr. from the outpatient psych clinic (Oh, sorry, Mental Hygiene Clinic) finally called me in late March for an appointment, I was thrilled to see him and tell him my findings. I printed out 14 pages of women’s side effects and highlighted the symptoms that matched up with mine. At that point, I had been off of Yasmin for 2 1/2 weeks and feeling 80 percent better. I was back on my razor scooter and smiling and laughing at the little things I saw. My boyfriend told me “you got that spark back in your eye.” I felt like a queen again, as every woman should.

“It was the Yasmin!” I told him (the Dr.) “I’ve been off of it for almost three weeks and every week is just better and better.”

“Did your symptoms start right when you began taking Yasmin?”

“No, and I can’t quite pinpoint them because it all crept up on me . . . but I feel great. I just want to get drunk again with all my friends.”

“So, the symptoms didn’t begin when you began taking Yasmin?”

“No, they didn’t, but you see, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not related. My sister’s an RN who explained to me how drugs interact with your body and they can take a while to have an adverse effect.”

He just took a few notes and told me he would like to see me again. I stared at the print-out I gave to him and wondered if he would read it or if he would disregard this. Meanwhile, he listed off the different medications that were a possibility and told me to make another appointment. He was useless. And now I was curious as to how Yasmin caused these side effects, so I surfed through one of the websites I found an explanation from a fellow ex-Yasmin user who happened to be an RN.

“With low testosterone comes all the symptoms you and all the people on this website have been complaining about, and I think the longer your on it the more symptoms develop, because your body is not getting this incredibly important hormone, the hormone responsible pretty much for anti-aging, muscle repair, sleep, sex drive, overall sense of well being. so I think symptoms start to appear one by one as the testosterone is decreased by the yasmin, and the thing I have noticed is that when testosterone starts to go down, anxiety goes way way up!!! I felt this myself, and friends who have been diagnosed with low testosterone have felt it as well, and everyone has said they felt like they were going crazy! Depression sets in. And then when yasmin is stopped its up to your body to replace all the hormones it was getting synthetically with hormones it now has to make. Again I feel this is harder with yasmin because it so severely depresses the androgens (testosterone)” ~ Bitter RN

I don’t know what would have happened if I had not come across that site. I would probably be misdiagnosed and numbed up on whatever medications the Dr’s try to pour into my body. But from now on, I’m staying medication free. It’s been exactly three weeks to this day that I’ve been Yasmin free and it’s like the dark cloud over my head just dissipated. I now know the many weaknesses of our health care system and its tendency to over-prescribe and medicate. Sometimes, you just have to be your own doctor, my RN sister told me. As for my next psych appointment . . . yeah, I’m going to go ahead and cancel that. After all, what does HE know??

Written by Elena Gaudino

3 Comments

Filed under Health, Mental Environment, Social Justice

The World According to Monsanto

On March 11, this documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German cultural tv channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin. The in-depth film depicts how Monsanto, a gigantic biotech/agriculture corporation based in St. Louis, is destroying plant biodiversity around the world with genetically engineered seeds and, basically, endangering our future as a human race … I know that statement may seem a bit dramatic and paranoid, but the amount of control this corporation has gained over global food production should be illegal – oh, I forgot, why would the government make laws against itself? Monsanto is the government:

Former Monsanto employees currently hold positions in US government agencies such as the Food and Drug Adminstration and Environmental Protection Agency and even the Supreme Court. These include Clarence Thomas, Michael Taylor, Ann Veneman and Linda Fisher. Fisher has been back and forth between positions at Monsanto and the EPA.

Also note that Donald Rumsfeld earned $12 million from increased stock value when G.D. Searle & Company was sold to Monsanto in 1985.

If you feel as disgusted as I did after watching this movie do not hesitate to take action:

http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.cfm

Leave a comment

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

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

Zeitgeist: Tactical Myths That Control the World

A compilation of the most prominent myths that have misled our culture for centuries. An in-depth look at the world, exposing the abuse of power from the time of the Egyptians to the war in Iraq.

For more information visit www.zeitgeistmovie.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil Liberties, Economics, Education, Environment, Health, Mental Environment, Politics, Social Justice, Surveillance

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Health

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Health