Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

A tale of two colleges: is it really controversial to advise mothers about potential health effects of chemical exposures?

From the 24 October 2013 post at Health & Environment

This month (October 2013), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)published a Committee Opinion about exposure to toxic environmental agents. It describes “reducing exposure to toxic environmental agents” as a “critical area of intervention” for reproductive health care professionals because of “robust” evidence linking exposure to environmental agents to a range of adverse reproductive and development health outcomes. The Opinion goes on to state that while reproductive health professionals should provide in-clinic counselling on reducing chemical exposure, they also have a role to play beyond the clinical setting, in advocate “timely action to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents”.

A similar paper was published on the same theme in the United Kingdom in June this year, when the UK equivalent of ACOG, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), issued a Scientific Impact Paper titled “Chemical Exposures During Pregnancy”. As did ACOG, the paper recommended a “safety-first approach” for dealing with the problem of being “exposed to a complex mixture of hundreds of chemicals at low levels” for which “methods for assessing the full risk of exposure are not yet developed”. A list of things which women can do to reduce their exposure was given, and it was suggested that this information be conveyed to women by reproductive health professionals.

Concluding remarks

The difference in reaction to two similar papers in the US and UK media should be surprising, given that in the US coverage of chemicals issues is now an everyday occurrence, while UK outlets (outside the confines of the famously sensationalist Daily Mail) are much less likely to cover chemicals stories. Yet here we have a minor publication intended for reproductive health professionals having almost unprecedented impact across all the major UK papers.

Some people undoubtedly wanted there to be a controversy. It sells papers, for one thing. But it does not follow that the originating point of the controversy is itself controversial: there is a very real difference between creating a controversy through eliciting and reporting criticism, and reporting on conflicting opinions which are a direct result of intellectual controversy. In the latter case the controversy is a natural event; in the former, it is a manufactured one.

Journalists, talking heads and commentators should all be cognizant of this, and be aware that if one is going to comment on a controversy, it will not advance issues by treating a manufactured debate as if it is a genuine controversy. The fact is, only Sense About Science, a small handful of university professors and a few trade associations originally had anything at all to say about the RCOG report – and these same faces popped up in almost all the UK media coverage.

Nobody else noticed that RCOG had published their “list” for mothers, and they would not have done had this small group of experts and reporters not made such a fuss about it – just as virtually nobody in the US noticed, barring an advocacy group with a conservative reputation and the US chemical industry trade association.

Read the entire article here

 

October 25, 2013 Posted by | environmental health | , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Foul Things That Are Also Good for You

Microbial hotspots on and in the body. (Credit: NIH)

Five Foul Things That Are Also Good for You

ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2012) — Usually, we think of mold, feces, nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide and rat poison as rank, toxic or both. But scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health are learning more about the helpful roles these substances can play.

 From the article

Mold

If you’re a homeowner, mold is definitely a four-letter word. But to scientists, it’s a very important organism. The widely used antibiotic penicillin comes from a mold calledPenicillium. This mold’s bacteria-killing ability was discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming in 1928 when it drifted in from another lab, landed on Fleming’s petri dish and killed the bacteria on it. Today,Neurospora crassa — the mold that can turn sandwich bread orange — is helping scientists answer questions about how species arise and adapt as well as how cells and tissues change their shapes in different environments. And because it produces spores on a 24-hour cycle, this bread mold is also useful for identifying the molecular timepieces that govern sleep, wakefulness and other rhythms of life.

Feces

Our guts are host to many bacteria, and researchers are analyzing the bacterial colonies in our poop to better understand what they do. Specifically, scientists involved in the NIH-led Human Microbiome Project are using genomic tools to identify these communities in the gut and other hotspots — the nose, mouth, skin and vagina — to learn how they help maintain health or set the stage for disease…

Nitric Oxide

…is a toxic pollutant that we most often smell in car exhaust fumes, but it is critical to our cardiovascular health, brain function and immune system….

Hydrogen Sulfide

We generally associate hydrogen sulfide with the smell of rotting sewage. But some of our body’s cells produce small quantities of this gas, and research indicates that this happens when their protein-making factories start churning out bad products….T

Rat Poison

… Two million Americans start taking warfarin each year to prevent dangerous blood clots that can lead to heart attacks, strokes or even death. They may also take it after major surgery to avoid other clotting problems. But prescribing the right dose is tricky because some people need stronger doses and others need weaker ones. For this reason, the drug is currently the focus of basic and clinical studies to better understand how a person’s genetic makeup can affect his or her response to medicine.


April 26, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Effects of environmental toxicants reach down through generations

Effects of environmental toxicants reach down through generations

From the 2 March 2012 article at Science News Daily

 Washington State University researcher has demonstrated that a variety of environmental toxicants can have negative effects on not just an exposed animal but the next three generations of its offspring.

English: Environmental contamination with pest...

Image via Wikipedia

The animal’s DNA sequence remains unchanged, but the compounds change the way genes turn on and off — the epigenetic effect studied at length by WSU molecular biologist Michael Skinner and expanded on in the current issue of the online journalPLoS ONE.

While Skinner’s earlier research has shown similar effects from a pesticide and fungicide, this is the first to show a greater variety of toxicants — including jet fuel, dioxin, plastics and the pesticides DEET and permethrin — promoting epigenetic disease across generations…

The field opens new ground in the study of how diseases develop. While toxicologists generally focus on animals exposed to a compound, Skinner’s work further demonstrates that diseases can also stem from older, ancestral exposures that are then mediated through epigenetic changes in sperm.

The study was funded by the U.S. Army to study pollutants that troops might be exposed to. Skinner and his colleagues exposed pregnant female rats to relatively high but non-lethal amounts of the compounds and tracked changes in three generations of offspring.

The researchers saw females reaching puberty earlier, increased rates in the decay and death of sperm cells and lower numbers of ovarian follicles that later become eggs. Future studies can use the molecular tools for risk assessment analysis

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traffic-related air toxics and preterm birth: a population-based case-control study in Los Angeles county, California

Air-pollution

Image via Wikipedia

From the Web page

Background

Numerous studies have associated air pollutant exposures with adverse birth outcomes, but there is still relatively little information to attribute effects to specific emission sources or air toxics. We used three exposure data sources to examine risks of preterm birth in Los Angeles women when exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollutants – including specific toxics – during pregnancy.

 …

Results

Odds of preterm birth increased 6-21% per inter-quartile range increase in entire pregnancy exposures to organic carbon (OC), elemental carbon (EC), benzene, and diesel, biomass burning and ammonium nitrate PM2.5, and 30% per inter-quartile increase in PAHs; these pollutants were positively correlated and clustered together in a factor analysis. Associations with LUR exposure metrics were weaker (3-4% per inter-quartile range increase).

Conclusions

These latest analyses provide additional evidence of traffic-related air pollution’s impact on preterm birth for women living in Southern California and indicate PAHs as a pollutant of concern that should be a focus of future studies. Other PAH sources besides traffic were also associated with higher odds of preterm birth, as was ammonium nitrate PM2.5, the latter suggesting potential importance of secondary pollutants. Future studies should focus on accurate modeling of both local and regional spatial and temporal distributions, and incorporation of source information.

November 20, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legally poisoned

Legally poisoned

UC Riverside professor outlines risks of daily exposure to toxicants and advocates regulatory changes to protect public health

From a January 24, 2011 Eureka news alert

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Americans are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of suspected toxic substances every day, substances that affect the development and function of the brain, immune system, reproductive organs or hormones. Children are the most vulnerable. But no public health law requires product testing of most chemical compounds before they enter the marketplace.

That must change, UC Riverside professor Carl Cranor argues in a new book, “Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants” (Harvard University Press, 2011).

The current harm-based or risk-of-harm-based legal structure for regulating exposure to toxic substances is problematic, says Cranor, a professor of philosophy and longtime advocate of reforming U.S. regulatory policies. “Because most substances are subject to post-market regulation, the existing legal structure results in involuntary experiments on citizens. The bodies of the citizenry are invaded and trespassed on by commercial substances, arguably a moral wrong.”

Scientists are finding that every industrial chemical and pesticide produced today is capable of entering our bodies, says Cranor, who has served on science advisory panels for the state of California and on Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences committees. For three decades he has studied U.S. regulatory policy and philosophic issues concerning risks, science and the law, as well as the regulation of carcinogens and developmental toxicants, and protection of susceptible populations from new and existing technologies and toxicants. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and University of California Toxic Substances Research and Teaching Program.

Cranor notes that the Centers for Disease Control has identified more than 200 toxicants in the bodies of average Americans, a number that he contends is low only because the CDC has not yet developed protocols to reliably identify other substances.  [See  National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals]

“The list is only going to grow over time,” Cranor says.

With the exception of pharmaceuticals and pesticides, the U.S. legal system permits most substances to come in without testing for toxicity, without knowing whether they cause cancer, birth defects, developmental effects, or reproductive effects. Only about 2 percent of 62,000 substances in commerce before 1979 have been reviewed at all for their toxicity by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he says. Of the approximately 50,000 substances introduced since 1979, about 85 percent were allowed to market with no data concerning health effects.

Industrial, often toxic, chemicals are everywhere – bisphenol A used in plastic bottles and that lines cans of food; non-stick cooking surfaces or Gore-Tex material that contains perfluorinated compounds; curtains, baby car seats and TV sets manufactured with brominated flame-retardants; and countless cosmetic ingredients, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and other compounds, all of which enter our bodies and remain briefly or for years.

Chemical contamination is so prevalent, Cranor says, “that it will make future human studies more difficult; there will be no clean controls against which to compare people who are contaminated. We are all contaminated. It’s a question of more or less contamination. So it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the science to detect some of these effects in humans, when they exist.”

The legal process for identifying adverse health effects and removing the responsible substances from the marketplace is extremely slow, he says.

“The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to require testing of products before they come in to commerce,” he says. “If they appear to pose adverse health effects, they should not be permitted, or they should be required to be reformulated so the problems disappear.”

Related Resources

US Centers for Disease Control (especially headings under Environmental Health – Toxic Substances and Your Environment)

US Environmental Protection Agency (especially Learn the Issues)

US National Library of Medicine / US National Institutes of Health Resources, esp

**Toxnet – databases on toxicology, hazardous substances, and environmental health

**ToxTown – Interactive guide to toxic chemicals and environmental health risks. Also in Spanish (ToxTown en español).

January 27, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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