From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #931, Nov. 01, 2007
PROBLEMS CREATE OPPORTUNITIES
By Peter Montague
The United Nations published its long-awaited GEO-4 report last week.
Five years in production, the 570-page report offers a catalog of human impacts on the natural environment and warns that national governments must make the natural environment central to their policy focus. The report was written by 390 experts and peer-reviewed by 1000 more.
The report says humans are now requiring 22 hectares (54 acres) per person for all the activities that sustain human life. However, there are only 16 hectares (39 acres) per person available world-wide. As a result, farm land is being degraded, ocean fisheries are being depleted, and fresh water is becoming scarcer. Furthermore, the human population is expected to grow 50% in the next 50 years.
"About half of the footprint is accounted for by the areas that are required to absorb our greenhouse gas emissions," says Neville Ash of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. "The other half is the land which produces our food, the forests which produce our timber, the oceans and rivers which produce our fish."
Clearly, all is not lost if we recognize that the GEO-4 report is a wake-up call. Major investments by nations like the U.S., which affect the world all out of proportion to their population size, could create a new world of possibilities. (The U.S. is 4% of world population but produces 25% of all global warming gases.)
A major push to develop solar power, so we could leave all remaining fossil fuels in the ground -- stop mining them as soon as humanly possible -- would drastically reduce the human footprint on the planet. It would also create whole new industries and large numbers of new jobs, and would revive America's standing as a beneficent giant of positive ideas, applied research, and high-quality products.
We have a detailed road map that shows us the direction we need to go. Our military leaders have told us that our national security depends upon ending our addiction to fossil fuels. We know we need the jobs and the revival of national spirit that such a crash program would bring. What are we waiting for?
Now here are four published summaries of the new United Nations GEO-4 report -- facts you can use to persuade friends, family, and elected representatives that a new beginning for America is necessary and is possible:
Source: Scientific American Date: October 26, 2007
Headline: The World Is Not Enough for Humans
URL: http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/world_not_en ough_for_humans.071030.htm
Humanity's environmental impact has reached an unprecedented scope, and it's getting worse
Since 1987 annual emissions of carbon dioxide -- the leading greenhouse gas warming the globe -- have risen by a third, global fishing yields have declined by 10.6 million metric tons and the amount of land required to sustain humanity has swelled to more than 54 acres (22 hectares) per person. Yet, Earth can provide only roughly 39 acres (15 hectares) for every person living today, according to the United Nation's Environmental Program's (UNEP) Global Environment Outlook, released this week. "There are no major issues," the report's authors write of the period since their first report in 1987, "for which the foreseeable trends are favorable."
Despite some successes -- such as the Montreal Protocol's 95 percent reduction in chemicals that damage the atmosphere's ozone layer and a rise in protected reserves of habitat to cover 12 percent of the planet -- humanity's impact continues to grow. For example:
Biodiversity -- The planet is in the grips of the sixth great extinction in its 4.5-billion-year history, this one largely man- made. Species are becoming extinct 100 times faster than the average rate in the fossil record. More than 30 percent of amphibians, 12 percent of birds and 23 percent of our own class, mammals, are threatened.
Climate -- Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.76 degree Celsius) over the past century and could increase as much as 8.1 degrees F (4.5 degrees C) over the next unless "drastic" steps are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from, primarily, burning fossil fuels. Developed countries will need to reduce this globe- warming pollution by 60 to 80 percent by mid-century to stave off dire consequences, the report warns. "Fundamental changes in social and economic structures, including lifestyle changes, are crucial if rapid progress is to be achieved."
Food -- The amount of food grown per acre has reached one metric ton, but such increasing intensity is also driving rapid desertification of formerly arable land as well as reliance on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In fact, four billion out of the world's 6.5 billion people could not get enough food to eat without such fertilization. Continuing population growth paired with a shift toward eating more meat leads the UNEP to predict that food demand may more than triple.
Water -- One in 10 of the world's major rivers, including the Colorado and the Rio Grande in the U.S., fail to reach the sea for at least part of the year, due to demand for water. And that demand is rising; by 2025, the report predicts, demand for fresh water will rise by 50 percent in the developing world and 18 percent in industrialized countries. At the same time, human activity is polluting existing fresh waters with everything from fertilizer runoff to pharmaceuticals and climate change is shrinking the glaciers that provide drinking water for nearly one third of humanity. "The escalating burden of water demand," the report says, "will become intolerable in water- scarce countries."
The authors -- 388 scientists reviewed by roughly 1,000 of their peers -- view the report as "an urgent call for action" and decry the "woefully inadequate" global response to problems such as climate change. "The amount of resources needed to sustain [humanity] exceeds what is available," the report declares.
"The systematic destruction of the earth's natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of economies is being challenged," Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director, said in a statement. "The bill we hand our children may prove impossible to pay."
Source: New Scientist Date: October 25, 2007
Headline: Unsustainable Development 'Puts Humanity at Risk'
By Catherine Brahic
Humans are completely living beyond their ecological means, says a major report published by the UN Environment Programme on Thursday.
The 550-page document finds the human ecological footprint is on average 21.9 hectares per person. Given the global population, however, the Earth's biological capacity is just 15.7 hectares per person.
The report is UNEP's latest on the state of the planet's health, taking five years in the making. It was put together by about 390 experts and peer-reviewed by an additional 1000.
It reviews the state of Earth's natural resources, from the atmosphere and water, to land surfaces and biodiversity. It concludes that instead of being used and maintained as a tool for the sustainable development of human populations, the environment is being sucked dry by unsustainable development.
Examples of how humans are over-exploiting natural resources to their own detriment include:
** Water -- by 2025, 1.6 billion people will live in countries with absolute water scarcity; 440 million school days are already missed every year because of diarrhoeal diseases.
** Land use -- modern agriculture exploits land more intensively than it has in the past. In 1987, a hectare of cropland yielded on average 1.8 tonnes of crops, today the same hectare produces 2.5 tonnes. This increased productivity comes at a cost -- overexploited land is degraded and becomes less productive.
** Fish -- 2.6 billion people rely on fish for more than 20% of their animal protein intake, yet as the intensity of fishing increases, the biodiversity of the ocean and the ocean's capacity to produce more fish decreases.
** Air -- more than 2 million people die each year because of indoor and outdoor pollution.
The individual average footprint of 21.9 hectares per person estimated by UNEP, includes the areas required to produce the resources we use, as well as the areas needed to process our waste.
"About half of the footprint is accounted for by the areas that are required to absorb our greenhouse gas emissions," says Neville Ash of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, underlying the scale of the climate change problem. "The other half is the land which produces our food, the forests which produce our timber, the oceans and rivers which produce our fish."
The inflated size of the footprint, says Ash, is partially the result of the growth of the human population. The population is currently estimated at 6.7 billion people, and is expected to reach 8 to 10 billion by 2050.
But for Ash, the main driver of the size of our footprint is our unsustainable consumption. "There is no doubt that we could sustain the current and projected population if we lived sustainably," he told New Scientist.
According to the report authors, energy efficiency is key to sustainability. Johan Kuylenstierna of the Stockholm Environment Institute says that the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in developing nations could be halved by 2020 simply by using existing technologies for energy efficiency.
According to Jo Alcamo, at the University of Kassel in Germany, who led the group which looked at future development for the report, open borders and free trade could also be important. In models of the future where trade between countries is made simpler, technologies that improve the sustainable use of resources are adopted more quickly.
"Much of the 'natural' capital upon which so much of the human wellbeing and economic activity depends -- water, land, the air and atmosphere, biodiversity and marine resources -- continue their seemingly inexorable decline," warns Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director.
"The cost of inaction and the price humanity will eventually pay is likely to dwarf the cost of swift and decisive action now."
Source: New York Times Date: October 26, 2007
Headline: U.N. Warns of Rapid Decay of Environment
URL: http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/u.n._warns_on_enviro nment.071026.htm
By James Kanter
PARIS, Oct. 25 -- The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage to the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report issued Thursday by the United Nations.
Climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are putting humanity at risk, the United Nations Environment Program said in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.
"The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns," Achim Steiner, the executive director of the Environment Program, said in a telephone interview.
Many biologists and climate scientists have concluded that human activities have become a dominant influence on the Earth's climate and ecosystems. But there is still a range of views on whether the changes could have catastrophic impacts, as the human population heads toward nine billion by midcentury, or more manageable results.
Over the last two decades, the world population increased by almost 34 percent, to 6.7 billion, from 5 billion. But the land available to each person is shrinking, from 19.5 acres in 1900 to 5 acres by 2005, the report said.
Population growth combined with unsustainable consumption has resulted in an increasingly stressed planet where natural disasters and environmental degradation endanger people, plants and animal species.
Persistent problems include a rapid rise of "dead zones," where marine life no longer can be supported because pollutants like runoff fertilizers deplete oxygen.
But Mr. Steiner, of the Environment Program, did note that Western European governments had taken effective measures to reduce air pollutants and that Brazil had made efforts to roll back some deforestation. He said an international treaty to tackle the hole in the earth's ozone layer had led to the phasing out of 95 percent of ozone-damaging chemicals.
"Life would be easier if we didn't have the kind of population growth rates that we have at the moment," Mr. Steiner said. "But to force people to stop having children would be a simplistic answer. The more realistic, ethical and practical issue is to accelerate human well- being and make more rational use of the resources we have on this planet."
Mr. Steiner said parts of Africa could reach an environmental tipping point if changing rainfall patterns turned semi-arid zones into arid zones and made agriculture much harder. He said another tipping point could occur in India and China if Himalayan glaciers shrank so much that they no longer supplied adequate amounts of water.
He also warned of a global collapse of all species being fished by 2050, if fishing around the world continued at its current pace. The report said that two and a half times more fish were being caught than the oceans could produce in a sustainable manner, and that the level of fish stocks classed as collapsed had roughly doubled over the past 20 years, to 30 percent.
In the spirit of the United Nations report, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France outlined plans on Thursday to fight climate change.
He said he would make 1 billion euros, or $1.4 billion, available over four years to develop energy sources and maintain biodiversity. He said each euro spent on nuclear research would be matched by one spent on research into clean technologies and environmental protection.
Source: Agence France Presse (AFP) Date: October 26, 2007
Headline: Save the planet? It's now or never, warns landmark UN report
URL: http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/its_now_or_never_for_earth. 071026.htm
NAIROBI (AFP) -- Humanity is changing Earth's climate so fast and devouring resources so voraciously that it is poised to bequeath a ravaged planet to future generations, the UN warned Thursday in its most comprehensive survey of the environment.
The fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4), published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is compiled by 390 experts from observations, studies and data garnered over two decades.
The 570-page report -- which caps a year that saw climate change dominate the news -- says world leaders must propel the environment "to the core of decision-making" to tackle a daily worsening crisis
"The need couldn't be more urgent and the time couldn't be more opportune, with our enhanced understanding of the challenges we face, to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations," GEO-4 said.
The UNEP report offers the broadest and most detailed tableau of environmental change since the Brundtland Report, "Our Common Future," was issued in 1987 and put the environment on the world political map.
"There have been enough wake-up calls since Brundtland. I sincerely hope GEO-4 is the final one," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"The systematic destruction of the Earth's natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of economies is being challenged -- and where the bill we hand on to our children may prove impossible to pay," he added.
Earth has experienced five mass extinctions in 450 million years, the latest of which occurred 65 million years ago, says GEO-4.
"A sixth major extinction is under way, this time caused by human behaviour," it says.
Over the past two decades, growing prosperity has tremendously strengthened the capacity to understand and confront the environmental challenges ahead.
Despite this, the global response has been "woefully inadequate," the report said.
The report listed environmental issues by continent and by sector, offering dizzying and often ominous statistics about the future.
Climate is changing faster than at any time in the past 500,000 years.
Global average temperatures rose by 0.74 degrees Celsius (1.33 Fahrenheit) over the past century and are forecast to rise by 1.8 to four C (3.24-7.2 F) by 2100, it said, citing estimates issued this year by the 2007 Nobel Peace co-laureates, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
With more than six billion humans, Earth's population is now so big that "the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available," the report warned, adding that the global population is expected to peak at between eight and 9.7 billion by 2050.
"In Africa, land degradation and even desertification are threats; per capita food production has declined by 12 percent since 1981," it said.
The GEO-4 report went on to enumerate other strains on the planet's resources and biodiversity.
Fish consumption has more than tripled over the past 40 years but catches have stagnated or declined for 20 years, it said.
"Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 percent of amphibians, 23 percent of mammals and 12 percent of birds are threatened," it added.
Stressing it was not seeking to present a "dark and gloomy scenario", UNEP took heart in the successes from efforts to combat ozone loss and chemical air pollution.
But it also stressed that failure to address persistent problems could undo years of hard grind.
And it noted: "Some of the progress achieved in reducing pollution in developed countries has been at the expense of the developing world, where industrial production and its impacts are now being exported."
GEO-4 -- the fourth in a series dating back to 1997 -- also looks at how the current trends may unfold and outlines four scenarios to the year 2050: "Markets First", "Policy First", "Security First", "Sustainability First".
After a year that saw the UN General Assembly devote unprecedented attention to climate change and the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC and former US vice president Al Gore for raising awareness on the same issue, the report's authors called for radical change.
"For some of the persistent problems, the damage may already be irreversible," they warned.
"The only way to address these harder problems requires moving the environment from the periphery to the core of decision-making: environment for development, not development to the detriment of environment."
TESTS REVEAL HIGH CHEMICAL LEVELS IN KIDS' BODIES
By Jordana Miller, CNN
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Michelle Hammond and Jeremiah Holland were intrigued when a friend at the Oakland Tribune asked them and their two young children to take part in a cutting-edge study to measure the industrial chemicals in their bodies.
"In the beginning, I wasn't worried at all; I was fascinated," Hammond, 37, recalled.
But that fascination soon changed to fear, as tests revealed that their children -- Rowan, then 18 months, and Mikaela, then 5 -- had chemical exposure levels up to seven times those of their parents.
"[Rowan's] been on this planet for 18 months, and he's loaded with a chemical I've never heard of," Holland, 37, said. "He had two to three times the level of flame retardants in his body that's been known to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats."
The technology to test for these flame retardants -- known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) -- and other industrial chemicals is less than 10 years old. Environmentalists call it "body burden" testing, an allusion to the chemical "burden," or legacy of toxins, running through our bloodstream. Scientists refer to this testing as "biomonitoring."
Most Americans haven't heard of body burden testing, but it's a hot topic among environmentalists and public health experts who warn that the industrial chemicals we come into contact with every day are accumulating in our bodies and endangering our health in ways we have yet to understand.
"We are the humans in a dangerous and unnatural experiment in the United States, and I think it's unconscionable," said Dr. Leo Trasande, assistant director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Trasande says that industrial toxins could be leading to more childhood disease and disorders.
"We are in an epidemic of environmentally mediated disease among American children today," he said. "Rates of asthma, childhood cancers, birth defects and developmental disorders have exponentially increased, and it can't be explained by changes in the human genome. So what has changed? All the chemicals we're being exposed to."
Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, a public health advocacy group, disagrees.
"My concern about this trend about measuring chemicals in the blood is it's leading people to believe that the mere ability to detect chemicals is the same as proving a hazard, that if you have this chemical, you are at risk of a disease, and that is false," she said. Whelan contends that trace levels of industrial chemicals in our bodies do not necessarily pose health risks.
In 2004, the Hollands became the first intact nuclear family in the United States to undergo body burden testing. Rowan, at just 1.5 years old, became the youngest child in the U.S. to be tested for chemical exposure with this method.
Rowan's extraordinarily high levels of PBDEs frightened his parents and left them with a looming question: If PBDEs are causing neurological damage to lab rats, could they be doing the same thing to Rowan? The answer is that no one knows for sure. In the three years since he was tested, no developmental problems have been found in Rowan's neurological system.
Trasande said children up to six years old are most at risk because their vital organs and immune system are still developing and because they depend more heavily on their environments than adults do.
"Pound for pound, they eat more food, they drink more water, they breathe in more air," he said. "And so [children] carry a higher body burden."
Studies on the health effects of PBDEs are only just beginning, but many countries have heeded the warning signs they see in animal studies. Sweden banned PBDEs in 1998. The European Union banned most PBDEs in 2004. In the United States, the sole manufacturer of two kinds of PBDEs voluntarily stopped making them in 2004. A third kind, Deca, is still used in the U.S. in electrical equipment, construction material, mattresses and textiles.
Another class of chemicals that showed up in high levels in the Holland children is known as phthalates. These are plasticizers, the softening agents found in many plastic bottles, kitchenware, toys, medical devices, personal care products and cosmetics. In lab animals, phthalates have been associated with reproductive defects, obesity and early puberty. But like PBDEs, little is known about what they do to humans and specifically children.
Russ Hauser, an associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, has done some of the few human studies on low-level phthalate exposure. His preliminary research shows that phthalates may contribute to infertility in men. A study led by Shanna Swan of the University of Rochester in New York shows that prenatal exposure to phthalates in males may be associated with impaired testicular function and with a defect that shortens the space between the genitals and anus.
The Environmental Protection Agency does not require chemical manufacturers to conduct human toxicity studies before approving their chemicals for use in the market. A manufacturer simply has to submit paperwork on a chemical, all the data that exists on that chemical to date, and wait 90 days for approval.
Jennifer Wood, an EPA spokeswoman, insists the agency has the tools to ensure safe oversight.
"If during the new-chemical review process, EPA determines that it may have concerns regarding risk or exposure, the EPA has the authority to require additional testing," she said. EPA records show that of the 1,500 new chemicals submitted each year, the agency asks for additional testing roughly 10 percent of the time. The EPA has set up a voluntary testing program with the major chemical manufacturers to retroactively test some of the 3,000 most widely used chemicals.
Trasande believes that is too little, too late.
"The problem with these tests is that they are really baseline tests that don't measure for the kind of subtle health problems that we're seeing," Dr. Trasande said.
In the three years since her family went through body burden testing, Michelle Hammond has become an activist on the issue. She's testified twice in the California legislature to support a statewide body burden testing program, a bill that passed last year. Michelle also speaks to various public health groups about her experience, taking Mikaela, now 8, and Rowan, now 5, with her. So far, her children show no health problems associated with the industrial chemicals in their bodies.
"I'm angry at my government for failing to regulate chemicals that are in mass production and in consumer products." Hammond says. "I don't think it should have to be up to me to worry about what's in my couch."
From: San Francisco Chronicle (pg. M1)
EXPOSED: THE POISONS AROUND US
By Steve Heilig
Book Review of: Exposed -- The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power, by Mark Schapiro (Chelsea Green, 219 pages, $22.95).
Recently, many Californians have received dramatic mailings from a group named Californians for Fire Safety warning that if legislation banning some fire-retardant chemicals is passed, we would all be at much greater risk of burning to death in fires. Among the omissions in this literature are that the "Californians" are actually chemical- industry lobbyists, that firefighters themselves support the proposed legislation and that the chemicals in question have already been banned elsewhere because of concerns about health problems such as increased cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems.
This last point, that we in the United States allow use of substances deemed too toxic in other nations, especially European ones, is the primary focus of San Francisco journalist Mark Schapiro's "Exposed." And while environmental science underlies the book's argument, it is notable that Schapiro's perspective is more a business one than otherwise. His startling message is that by lagging behind on environmental innovation, American industries are jeopardizing their financial future. And since money talks, he may have produced a book with more eventual impact than a crate of dire environmental warnings.
Public health researchers at UC Berkeley "estimate that forty-two billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce daily, enough chemicals to fill up 623,000 tanker trucks, a string of trucks that could straddle the globe three times, every day," notes Schapiro. Further, "fewer than five hundred of those substances have undergone any substantive risk assessments." At the same time as this massive post-World War II production has taken place, research has demonstrated health hazards even or even especially, in some cases, at very low doses. And children, fetuses and pregnant women are especially vulnerable.
Schapiro's previous book, "Circle of Poison," demonstrated a quarter century ago that American chemical companies exported pesticides banned here, causing health hazards in poorer nations. Now the flow of risks is reversing. "In one industry after another, a new double standard is emerging: that between the protection offered Europe's citizens, and those afforded to Americans," Schapiro writes. And ironically, although we like to think of our nation as more advanced in such arenas, it is now fair to ask: "Is America itself becoming a new dumping ground for products forbidden because of their toxic effects in other countries?"
Consider cosmetics. A survey of common products "found hundreds of varieties of skin and tanning lotions, nail polish and mascara and other personal-care products that contain known or possible carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins." Contrary to common assumption, most cosmetics are not effectively tested or regulated for their health effects. European authorities, however, started to demand toxicity information before multinational companies could continue to market their products there, and this development did garner corporate attention and action. Chemicals put on the European Union "negative list" were removed from products without seeming to hurt the bottom line.
Back at home, however, such as when a Safe Cosmetic Act was proposed for California just last year, chemical lobbyists convened en masse in Sacramento to argue that there were no risks from the chemicals used. "They (the cosmetic companies) are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby against laws in the United States that they've already agreed to in Europe," says a representative of the Breast Cancer Fund in San Francisco. Of course, the industry agreed only under duress and when the regulatory writing was already on the wall. But no bankruptcies of European cosmetic companies have occurred because of such healthier standards, and as another advocate notes, "I don't notice European women looking any less stunning than they'd looked before."
The example of cosmetics can be seen as one of voluntary exposure, although consumers would seem to have a right to know exactly what they put onto or into their bodies. But Schapiro provides similar case studies of other chemicals or categories of substances, such as phthalates used in plastics, persistent organic pollutants including pesticides, and genetically modified foods, where much of our exposures occur even if we do not actively use a product. Meanwhile, federal agencies we might expect to protect us, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, have been "eviscerated from within" by the current administration.
The advent of the European Union has tilted balances of power in many ways, including how "chemical politics" now take place. When the EU developed far-reaching new regulations to reduce exposure to harmful substances, American chemical lobbyists swarmed across the Atlantic to fight them. But EU markets are now bigger than those in America, and as one diplomat there states, "We are not going to ask the United States for permission." This is true even when the White House weighs in on behalf of the chemical lobby, as was shown when a leaked memo indicated that such lobbyists were drafting letters from our ambassador to the EU, "an extraordinary glimpse into the routine merging of U.S. governmental and private interests," as Schapiro notes.
"U.S. environmental policies are not sparking innovation; they are fighting it," Schapiro holds. The EU economies are now growing faster than that of the United States; our balance of trade in chemicals has become negative for the first time. European experts calculate that their new safer chemical policies will "be repaid many times over by its benefits." "Europe is looking at the future," Schapiro concludes. "This is not utopian; it's more like a realpolitik for the twenty- first century."
How ironic then, that shortsighted, self-serving perspectives in what was once the New World have become outmoded, and put Americans at risk not only in terms of our health but also our economic future. So, yes, as the "fire safety" advocates advise, we probably should call our elected leaders. But read this book first.
Steve Heilig is on the staffs of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and the San Francisco Medical Society.
From: New York Times
PARENTS RAISING CONCERNS OVER SYNTHETIC TURF
By Jeff Holtz
Last school year, Patricia Taylor noticed something worrisome after her son Liam, 12, would play soccer at the Bedford Middle School in Westport, Conn., on a synthetic turf field made with rubber granules from recycled tires.
Mrs. Taylor said Liam would come home with the tiny particles in his cleats, in his clothes and in his hair.
"I just looked at him and said, 'What the heck is that?'" she said. "Kids are tracking it back home, into washers and dryers, on the rugs and in their tubs. It's not just staying on the field. It's migrating."
The turf is the latest in artificial playing surfaces, and its use has risen in the last decade at schools, colleges and sports stadiums worldwide. Supporters say it is cheaper to maintain than natural grass and softer, and therefore safer, than other artificial surfaces. But concern is growing among some parents and health officials that the rubber used in the turf can release chemicals that are potentially harmful to the athletes who play on it.
Such concerns on the part of Mrs. Taylor and other parents led to a study this summer by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. It found that when the rubber granules were heated in a laboratory at temperatures consistent to exposure to the sun, they emitted four organic chemicals that could irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory system. One of the chemicals is believed to be a carcinogen. The study also detected other chemicals that could not be identified without further testing.
Mrs. Taylor and other parents said athletes should not be using the fields until they have been proven safe.
Nancy O. Alderman, the president of Environment and Human Health Inc. in New Haven, a nonprofit group of doctors and public health officials that researches health issues and funded the study, has called for a moratorium on the installation of the fields until more studies are done. "We know the rubber pellets out-gas these chemicals," Ms. Alderman said. "The one piece we do not know is how much of these chemicals are going into people's bodies."
Gordon F. Joseloff, the first selectman in Westport, where there are four synthetic turf playing surfaces at schools, agreed that more testing needed to be done, but said that the state's Department of Public Health, based on available information, saw no reason to stop using the fields.
"We're open to testing in real-time conditions, not in laboratory conditions, because kids don't play in a laboratory," he said.
Brian Toal, an epidemiologist with the department's environmental and occupational health assessment program, acknowledged that "the information is somewhat sketchy, and some of the studies do indicate that there are exposures."
"But our estimation is the exposures are below levels that would cause a health effect," he said.
Similar health concerns have been raised in Massachusetts and on Long Island. In Albany on Wednesday, State Assemblyman Steven C. Englebright, a Democrat from Long Island, introduced legislation calling for a moratorium on new fields.
There are about a dozen companies that manufacture synthetic athletic turf. Sportexe, based in Dallas, made the Westport fields.
Phil M. Stricklen, a chemist who is the company's director of research and development, said the fields were safe.
"We see no reason for concern for the people playing on these fields," he said.
Patricia J. Wood, the executive director of Grassroots Environmental Education in Port Washington, N.Y., a nonprofit group that studies the links between the environment and public health, said she had been contacted by a number of parents worried about synthetic turf.
"They want answers," she said. "They want to know whether it's safe, whether they should continue to allow their kids to play on it."
In Westchester, the county's Legacy Program, an open-space preservation fund, has committed close to $25 million and built eight turf and three natural grass fields, with several more planned. County health officials said they had received only a couple of calls on the fields' safety.
Several parents in the county involved in the installations said the only concerns they were aware of were financial -- whether the fields, which cost $500,000 to $1 million each, were worth it.
In White Plains, which has one field and is installing two more, Arne M. Abramowitz, the city's parks commissioner, said he had not heard of any health concerns.
There are more than 50 synthetic turf fields in Connecticut, including in Westport, Stamford and Greenwich.
In Fairfield, where the Fairfield Country Day School, a private boys school, plans to install a synthetic turf field, two neighborhood groups -- Preserve Our District and Fairfielders Protecting Land and Neighborhoods -- have filed notices to try to stop the town from issuing a inland wetland permit, claiming that the chemicals from the rubber pellets could harm the environment and potentially contaminate groundwater, said Joel Z. Green, a lawyer for both groups.
A lawyer for the school, John F. Fallon, defended the school's actions, saying officials there had consulted with several experts on the field's safety.
Annette Jacobson, the conservation administrator for the Town of Fairfield, said a report she prepared found no indication that the turf would adversely affect wetlands or water sources. Another hearing on the wetland permit was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday at Osborne Hill Elementary School.
While saying there is no need for panic, the Connecticut attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, is asking the state to spend $200,000 so the state Agricultural Experiment Station can study the issue further. "There are some serious unknowns, as far as potential heath risk," he said. "Certainly there is a need for more study and research."
Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and the chairman of preventive medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, agreed that there should be a moratorium on new fields, and said that tests should be done on the skin, urine and blood of children before and after they play on them. He also said the turf poses other dangers, besides the exposure to chemicals.
"On hot summer days, temperatures as high as 130 and 140 degrees have been recorded a couple of feet above the surface of these fields," he said.
Several medical journals have reported that athletes who fall on synthetic turf are more likely to sustain skin burns that put them at risk of staph infections, Dr. Landrigan said.
Liam Taylor and his mother are proceeding with caution. This year, he is on the soccer team at the Hopkins School in New Haven, which does not have a synthetic turf field, and his mother refuses to let him play at any school that does have one.
"My job is to protect my son," she said. "Now that there is evidence of out-gassing, he will not be exposed until the fields are proven safe."
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
From: USA Today
GLOBAL WARMING MAY HIT KIDS HARDER, PEDIATRICS GROUP SAYS
By Marilyn Elias, USA TODAY
Global warming is likely to disproportionately harm the health of children, and politicians should launch "aggressive policies" to curb climate change, the American Academy of Pediatrics said today. In the first major report about the unique effects of global warming on kids, U.S. pediatricians also were advised to "educate" elected officials about the coming dangers.
There's evidence that children are likely to suffer more than adults from climate change, says the report's lead author, Katherine Shea, a pediatrician and adjunct public health professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
"We already have change, and certain bad things are going to happen no matter what we do," Shea says. "But we can prevent things from getting even worse. We don't have the luxury of waiting."
More greenhouse gases and a warming Earth will leave children particularly vulnerable in several ways, the report says:
** Air pollution does more damage to children's lungs, causing asthma and respiratory ailments, because their lungs are still developing, they breathe at a higher rate than adults and are outdoors more.
** Waterborne infections, such as diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, hit children especially hard. These infections rise sharply with more rain, which is expected as the climate warms.
** As mosquitoes are able to move to higher ground, the malaria zone is expanding. Kids are especially vulnerable; 75% of malaria deaths occur in children younger than 5.
The report briefly mentions that mass migrations are expected as regions become uninhabitable. "Children fare very poorly in these major population shifts," says Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and president of the Children's Health Fund. "They're more fragile medically and nutritionally," says Redlener, who wasn't involved with the report. "They're less resilient, less likely to survive."
No matter what the risks, the pediatrics academy shouldn't be sending its members out to lobby, argues Janice Crouse, director of a think tank affiliated with Concerned Women for America, a conservative public policy group. "Let them issue a scientific report, and people can judge whether it has validity. For a scientific group to use children as a means of advancing a political agenda is beyond the pale," she says.
Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, briefed a Senate committee on the health risks of global warming last week. She mentioned increasing asthma, malaria and waterborne diseases but not children's vulnerability.
The Associated Press reported that Gerberding's speech was "eviscerated" by the White House, but CDC spokesman Tom Skinner denied it, adding that Gerberding said everything she wanted to say without constraint.
"This is not a political issue, it's a public health issue," Shea says. "If we know the health of children and future children is threatened, we have an obligation to act."
TROUBLING MEATY 'ESTROGEN'
By Janet Raloff
Women take note. Researchers find that a chemical that forms in overcooked meat, especially charred portions, is a potent mimic of estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. That's anything but appetizing, since studies have linked a higher lifetime cumulative exposure to estrogen in women with an elevated risk of breast cancer.
Indeed, the new finding offers a "biologically plausible" explanation for why diets rich in red meats might elevate breast-cancer risk, notes Nigel J. Gooderham of Imperial College London.
At the very high temperatures reached during frying and charbroiling, natural constituents of meats can undergo chemical reactions that generate carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (see Carcinogens in the Diet). Because these compounds all have very long, unwieldy chemical monikers, most scientists refer to them by their abbreviations, such as IQ, MeIQ, MeIQx, and PhIP.
Of the nearly two dozen different heterocyclic amines that can form, PhIP dominates. It sometimes accumulates in amounts 10 to 50 times higher than that of any other member of this toxic chemical family, Gooderham says. Moreover, he adds, although heterocyclic amines normally cause liver tumors in exposed animals, PhIP is different: "It causes breast cancer in female rats, prostate cancer in male rats, and colon cancer in both." These are the same cancers that in people are associated with eating a lot of cooked meats.
However, the means by which such foods might induce cancer has remained somewhat elusive. So, building on his team's earlier work, Gooderham decided to probe what the heterocyclic amine did in rat pituitary cells. These cells make prolactin -- another female sex hormone -- but only when triggered by the presence of estrogen. Prolactin, like estrogen, fuels the growth of many breast cancers.
In their new test-tube study, Gooderham and coauthor Saundra N. Lauber show that upon exposure to PhIP, pituitary cells not only make progesterone, but also secrete it. If these cells do the same thing when they're part of the body, those secretions would circulate to other organs -- including the breast.
But "what was startling," Gooderham told Science News Online, is that it took just trace quantities of the heterocyclic amine to spur prolactin production. "PhIP was incredibly potent," he says, able to trigger progesterone production at concentrations comparable to what might be found circulating in the blood of people who had eaten a couple of well-done burgers.
The toxicologist cautions that there's a big gap between observing an effect in isolated cells growing in a test-tube and showing that the same holds true in people.
However, even if PhIP does operate similarly in people, he says that's no reason to give up grilled meat. Certain cooking techniques, such as flipping hamburgers frequently, can limit the formation of heterocyclic amines. Moreover, earlier work by the Imperial College team showed that dining on certain members of the mustard family appear to detoxify much of the PhIP that might have inadvertently been consumed as part of a meal.
The human link
Three recent epidemiological studies support concerns about the consumption of grilled meats.
In the first, Harvard Medical School researchers compared the diets of more than 90,000 premenopausal U.S. nurses. Over a 12-year period, 1,021 of the relatively young women developed invasive breast cancers. The more red meat a woman ate, the higher was her risk of developing invasive breast cancer, Eunyoung Cho and her colleagues reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine last November. The increased risk was restricted, however, only to those types of breast cancers that are fueled by estrogen or progesterone.
Overall, women who ate the most red meat -- typically 1.5 servings or more per day -- faced nearly double the invasive breast-cancer risk of those eating little red meat each week.
Related findings emerged in the April 10 British Journal of Cancer. There, researchers at the University of Leeds reported data from a long-running study of more than 35,000 women in the United Kingdom who ranged in age from roughly 35 to 70. Regardless of the volunteers' age, Janet E. Cade's team found, those who consumed the most meat had the highest risk of breast cancer.
Shortly thereafter, Susan E. Steck of the University of South Carolina's school of public health and her colleagues linked meat consumption yet again with increased cancer risk, but only in the older segment of the women they investigated. By comparing the diets of 1,500 women with breast cancer to those of 1,550 cancerfree women, the scientists showed that postmenopausal women consuming the most grilled, barbecued, and smoked meats faced the highest breast-cancer risk.
These data support accumulating evidence that a penchant for well-done meats can hike a woman's breast-cancer risk, Steck and her colleagues concluded in the May Epidemiology.
Such findings have been percolating out of the epidemiology community for years. Nearly a decade ago, for instance, National Cancer Institute scientists reported finding that women who consistently ate their meat very well done -- with a crispy, blackened crust -- faced a substantially elevated breast-cancer risk when compared to those who routinely ate rare- or medium-cooked meats.
However, even well-done meats without char can contain heterocyclic amines, chemical analyses by others later showed. The compounds' presence appears to correlate best with how meat is cooked, not merely with how brown its interior ended up (SN: 11/28/98, p. 341).
At high temperatures, the simple sugar glucose, together with creatinine -- a muscle-breakdown product, and additional free amino acids, can all interact within beef, chicken, and other meats to form heterocyclic amines. In contrast, low-temperature cooking or a quick searing may generate none of the carcinogens.
Because there's no way to tell visually, by taste, or by smell whether PhIP and its toxic kin lace cooked meat, food chemists have been lobbying commercial and home chefs to reduce the heat they use to cook meats -- or to turn meats frequently to keep the surfaces closest to the heat source from getting too hot.
The significance of this was driven home to Gooderham several years ago when just such tactics spoiled an experiment he was launching to test whether Brussels sprouts and broccoli could help detoxify PhIP. "I bought 30 kilograms of prime Aberdeen angus lean beef," he recalls. "Then we ground it up and I gave it to a professional cook to turn into burgers and cook." Professional cooks tend to move meats around quite a bit, he found. The result: His expensive, chef-prepared meat contained almost no PhIP.
In the end, he says, "I sacked the cook, bought another 30 kilos of meat and prepared the burgers myself. It was a costly lesson."
Once restarted, however, that study yielded encouraging data.
One way the body detoxifies and sheds toxic chemicals is to link them to what amounts to a sugar molecule. Consumption of certain members of the mustard (Brassica) family, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts (both members of the B. oleracea species) -- can encourage this process. So Gooderham's team fed 250 grams (roughly half a pound) each of broccoli and Brussels sprouts each day to 20 men for almost 2 weeks. On the 12th day, the men each got a cooked-meat meal containing 4.9 micrograms of PhIP.
Compared to similar trial periods when their diets had been Brassica- free, the volunteers excreted up to 40 percent more PhIP in urine, the researchers reported in Carcinogenesis.
Experimental data suggest that two brews may also help detoxify heterocyclic amines. In test-tube studies, white tea largely prevented DNA damage from the heterocyclic amine IQ (SN: 4/15/00, p. 251), and in mice, extracts of beer tackled MeIQx and Trp-P-2 (see Beer's Well Done Benefit).
The best strategy of all, most toxicologists say, is to prevent formation of heterocyclic amines in the first place. In addition to frequently turning meat on the grill or fry pan, partially cooking meats in a microwave prior to grilling will limit the toxic chemicals' formation. So will mixing in a little potato starch to ground beef before grilling (see How Carbs Can Make Burgers Safer) or marinating meats with a heavily sugared oil-and-vinegar sauce (SN: 4/24/99, p. 264).
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Janet E. Cade UK Women's Cohort Study Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics 30/32 Hyde Terrace The University of Leeds Leeds LS2 9LN United Kingdom
Eunyoung Cho Channing Laboratory Department of Medicine Harvard Medical School 181 Longwood Avenue Boston, MA 02115
Nigel J. Gooderham Biomolecular Medicine Imperial College London Sir Alexander Fleming Building London SW7 2AZ United Kingdom
Susan Elizabeth Steck Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Statewide Cancer Prevention and Control Program Arnold School of Public Health University of South Carolina 2221 Devine Street, Room 231 Columbia, SC 29208
Copyright 2007 Science Service
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all. The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few. In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what might be done about it?" As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots, please Email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject. Editors: Peter Montague - email@example.com Tim Montague - firstname.lastname@example.org
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