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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #949 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Thursday, March 06, 2008printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Coal Industry's Ace in the Hole
For the past seven years the coal industry and the U.S. government has been quietly building a global network of organizations to promote "clean coal." Their work is about to pay off, endangering the future of green chemistry and renewable energy.
Only Zero Emissions Can Prevent a Warmer Planet
Greenhouse gas emissions will have to be eliminated completely to stabilise the Earth's climate and prevent temperatures from rising. That's the conclusion of climatologists in the US who say that our current efforts to merely stabilise emissions will not be enough.
Outspoken Scientist Dismissed From Panel on Chemical Safety
What happens to a scientist who believes her knowledge warrants a precautionary approach to a toxic chemical? For her ethical stance, she is smeared by the chemical industry and U.S. EPA then removes from an advisory panel, signaling that it knows how to play ball with the industry. In the mainsream media, this is not being discussed as an attack on both science and precaution, but that's what it is.
Synthetic Turf: Health Debate Takes Root
"Before we take risks with our children's health and drinking water quality, we need to make sure that the uncertainties... are fully investigated." The debate is over synthetic turf, used to blanket lawns, park spaces, and athletic fields where children and adults relax and play. Is synthetic turf safe for human and environmental health?
Immune Systems Increasingly On Attack
Overall, there is very little doubt that we are seeing significant increases in immune system disorders like asthma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. "You can call it an epidemic," says Syed Hasan Arshad. "We're talking about millions of people and huge implications, both for health costs and quality of life."
"Plastic Soup" Debris in Pacific Ocean
"Degraded plastic pieces outweigh surface zooplankton in the central North Pacific Ocean by a factor of 6-1. That means six pounds of plastic for every single pound of zooplankton."
Sex-Changing Chemicals Make Male Starlings Sing Sweet Songs
Hormone-disrupting chemicals cause male starlings to sing songs that are especially attractive to females. But if the male starlings have been made less healthy by the chemicals, the net result could be the weakening of the entire population.


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #949, Mar. 06, 2008
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By Peter Montague

We saw last week that, as the price of oil rises, the coal industry is planning to replace oil by turning coal into liquid fuels and into feedstocks for the chemical industry. Of course they are also planning to burn ever-more coal to produce electricity. If these plans materialize, green chemistry and renewable solar energy both will be sidelined for the rest of this century.

You may have heard that "coal is dead." But this is not the case; in its struggle for survival, the coal industry has an ace in the hole. In July of this year, the industrialized nations of the world are going to announce their united support for "clean coal." Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. are about to sanction burying today's global warming problem in the ground, passing it along to our children to manage essentially forever.

There's one major problem with the coal industry's plans, and that's carbon dioxide, the most important global warming gas. Therefore, the coal industry's plans all hinge on the development of "clean coal" -- a clever name for an untested idea, burying billions or trillions of tons of liquid, pressurized carbon dioxide in the ground, hoping it will stay there forever. Burying CO2 is called "carbon capture and storage," or CCS for short. If the public can be convinced to support (and pay for) "clean coal" (CCS), then the coal industry can flourish. If not, the way will remain open for renewable energy and green chemistry.

The coal industry is politically very powerful, especially within the administration of George W. Bush. One measure of this power is the $5 billion in subsidies for the coal industry embedded in the Energy Bill Congress enacted in 2005. In his book, Big Coal (chapters 6-8), Jeff Goodell describes how coal companies and electric utilities came to dominate many aspects of the Bush administration, convincing the President to renege on his 2000 campaign promise to impose mandatory controls on CO2, gutting the "new source review" provisions of the Clean Air Act, and manipulating the mercury rules to suit the industry.

Early in the Bush years, bad news was piling up for the coal industry. In January 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that greenhouse gases might warm the planet by as much as 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit during this century -- which nearly everyone at that time recognized was a dangerous state of affairs. (It's a tribute to the power of the coal industry that today, 7 years later, essentially nothing has changed.) In June of 2001, the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences issued a report that the New York Times described as follows: "In a much-anticipated report from the National Academy of Sciences, 11 leading atmospheric scientists, including previous skeptics about global warming, reaffirmed the mainstream scientific view that the earth's atmosphere was getting warmer and that human activity was largely responsible."

The Times went on: "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise," the report said. "Temperatures are, in fact, rising."

Anyone paying attention in 2001 could see that CO2 emitters were about to be blamed for dislocating the climate. Luckily for the fossil fuel industries, later that year the World Trade Center and Pentagon atrocities unfolded, President Bush soon embarked on two difficult wars, and the world's focus drifted away from global warming for a time.

While the newspapers were focused on Mr. Bush's perpetual war on terrorism, the fossil fuel industries and their supporters in Washington quietly ramped up a new international organization to promote the only solution to global warming that would allow the coal and oil industries to continue business as usual -- carbon burial (CCS). The organization they created in 2003 is called the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF); it members include 21 countries and the European Union, but its secretariat (its administrative apparatus) resides within the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington. The U.S. Department of Energy had been promoting CCS half-heartedly since 1997, but the CSLF represented a 1000-fold increase in effort.

Two years after the CSLF was created, in 2005, the wealthy "group of 8" (or G8) nations announced their plan for solving global warming. It is called the "Gleneagles Plan of Action" or more often simply the "G8 Plan of Action." The centerpiece of the G8 Plan is "clean coal" with CCS. The coal industry was getting its ducks in a row.

Immediately after the Gleneagles Plan was adopted, the G8 expanded its circle of "clean coal" supporters to include the entire OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) -- the 30 wealthiest nations in the world. Since 1974, the OECD has had its own energy department, known as the International Energy Agency (IEA), with headquarters in Paris. Since 2005 the IEA has been carrying water for the "clean coal" industry. By spreading small amounts of money around, the coal industry, and its helpmates within the U.S. Department of Energy, quickly created an impressive global network of institutions and projects to promote CCS.

In 2006 and 2007, the IEA and the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum co-sponsored three technical workshops on "clean coal" and CCS. The first workshop (3.5 Mbyte PDF), held in San Francisco, identified the issues involved in CCS; the second (2.4 Mbyte PDF), held in Oslo, Norway, assessed the specific opportunities for CCS that had been identified in the first workshop. More ducks were falling into line.

After the first two workshops, the IEA issued a lengthy report titled, "CO2 Capture Ready Plants" (1.2 Mbytes PDF). This report describes the features of a power plant that could be built today, which would be ready to capture and store its CO2 emissions underground whenever CCS becomes feasible. Even if CCS never becomes feasible "capture ready" is a label being applied to power plants in hopes that they will be licensed for construction today, a good 20 years before commercial-scale CCS could be ready. Given the immature state of CCS technology, it is unclear whether "capture ready" is anything more than an optimistic label for old-style power plants, a PR ploy rather than a serious statement of intent to capture CO2. Dr. Mark Diesendorf at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia suggests that "the possibility of large-scale geosequestration [carbon burial], three or more decades in the future, is being used to deflect attention away from the current reality of business-as-usual. Thus, geosequestration is less about sustainable development and more about sustaining the coal industry by greening its image."

In any case, a host of difficult issues must be resolved before CCS could be commercialized, including such matters as (c) what constitutes a suitable site for CCS and how do you know when you've found one? (b) how to identify potential leakage pathways; (c) how to analyze the likelihood and consequences of large releases; and (d) how to monitor for leakage for thousand of years. These and many related questions of ownership and liability would have to be addressed before CCS could proceed at commercial scale.

By the time the third IEA/CSLF workshop was held, in Calgary, Alberta, in November 2007, the IEA and the CSLF had their final ducks lined up. That workshop issued a mere one-page report, which simply called for the "urgent deployment of CO2 underground storage." The one-page report said, "Twenty full-scale plants each storing more than a million tonnes per year of CO2 need to be operating by 2020 worldwide." And it said, "This conclusion demonstrates that a very powerful international consensus is building on the urgency of adopting carbon dioxide capture and storage as a key emissions abatement option."

A very powerful consensus, indeed: the OECD, the G8, and most importantly the U.S. Department of Energy all concluding that the best way to avert global warming is to process more coal, not less, and bury the resulting CO2 in the ground, hoping it will stay there forever, essentially passing the largest problem we've ever created on to our children to solve.

This coming July 7-9, the G8 nations will meet in Hokkaido, Japan and will announce their conclusion -- more than five years in the making -- that the "urgent deployment" of carbon burial CCS technology is essential. To save the world from catastrophic global warming, "clean coal" is the answer, they will say.

This announcement will give CCS considerable credibility and will give coal a tremendous boost -- and it will put anti-coal activists on the defensive.

No, coal is definitely not dead -- and the future of renewable energy and green chemistry both hang in the balance.

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From: New Scientist
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By Kate Ravilious

Greenhouse gas emissions will have to be eliminated completely to stabilise the Earth's climate and prevent temperatures from rising. That's the conclusion of climatologists in the US who say that our current efforts to merely stabilise emissions will not be enough.

Damon Matthews, from Concordia University in Canada, and Ken Caldeira, from the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, USA, used a global climate model to study how greenhouse emissions would need to change in order to stabilise global temperatures over the next few hundred years. Previous studies have only looked at what happens when emissions are stabilised.

Humans have been releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in increasing quantities since the industrial revolution. But to simplify the simulation, Matthews and Caldeira injected a single pulse of carbon dioxide into a pre-industrial atmosphere.

Pulse sizes of 50, 200, 500 and 2000 billion tonnes of carbon were used. The model was set to calculate global temperatures and atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide levels over a simulated 500 years.

CO2 legacy

At the end of that period, Matthews and Caldeira found that between 20% and 35% of the initial emission pulse remained in the atmosphere - even for the smallest emission pulse -- with the remainder having been absorbed by land and ocean carbon sinks.

The lingering carbon dioxide means that global warming persisted for the entire simulation. For the four different emission scenarios, global temperatures stabilised at 0.09, 0.34, 0.88 and 3.6 �C above pre-industrial levels respectively.

So far industrial emissions total around 450 billion tonnes. "Even if we eliminated carbon dioxide today we are still committed to a global temperature rise of around 0.8 �C lasting at least 500 years," says Caldeira.

One of the reasons for the persistence is the slow response of oceans. "It takes a lot of energy to heat them up and then a long time for them to cool back down," he explains.

Technical challenge

Roger Pielke, a climate policy expert at the University of Colorado in Boulder, agrees with the findings. "This research makes the case that simply stabilising concentrations is insufficient to stabilise temperatures. Their argument, if widely accepted, raises the bar on what it means to mitigate climate change," he says.

Matthews and Caldeira warn that current emissions targets for 2050 are insufficient to avoid substantial future warming. Instead they believe that we need to eliminate emissions, or find a way of actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"It is technologically challenging, but not impossible. The biggest challenge will be to get political consensus," says Caldeira. Potential tools to achieve zero emissions include renewable energy, electric cars and carbon capture and some countries such as Costa Rica are already aiming for zero emissions.

Dave Reay, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, thinks that it is a feasible long-term aim. "If used on a large enough scale then new technologies like carbon capture could get us to zero emissions."

Journal reference: Geophysical Research Letters (DOI: 10.1029/2007.GL032388)

Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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From: Los Angeles Times
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By Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Under pressure from the chemical industry, the Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed an outspoken scientist who chaired a federal panel responsible for helping the agency determine the dangers of a flame retardant widely used in electronic equipment.

Toxicologist Deborah Rice was appointed chair of an EPA scientific panel reviewing the chemical a year ago. Federal records show she was removed from the panel in August after the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying group for chemical manufacturers, complained to a top- ranking EPA official that she was biased.

The chemical, a brominated compound known as deca, is used in high volumes worldwide, largely in the plastic housings of television sets.

Rice, an award-winning former EPA scientist who now works at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, has studied low doses of deca and reported neurological effects in lab animals. Last February, around the time the EPA panel was convened, Rice testified before the Maine Legislature in support of a state ban on the compound because scientific evidence shows it is toxic and accumulating in the environment and people.

Chemical industry lobbyists say Rice's comments to the Legislature, as well as similar comments to the media, show that she is a biased advocate who has compromised the integrity of the EPA's review of the flame retardant.

The EPA is in the process of deciding how much daily exposure to deca is safe -- a controversial decision, expected next month, that could determine whether it can still be used in consumer products. The role of the expert panel was to review and comment on the scientific evidence.

EPA officials removed Rice because of what they called "the perception of a potential conflict of interest." Under the agency's handbook for advisory committees, scientific peer reviewers should not "have a conflict of interest" or "appear to lack impartiality."

EPA officials were not available for comment Thursday.

Environmentalists accuse the EPA of a "dangerous double standard," because under the Bush administration, many pro-industry experts have served on the agency's scientific panels.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, reviewed seven EPA panels created last year and found 17 panelists who were employed or funded by the chemical industry or had made public statements that the chemicals they were reviewing were safe. In one example, an Exxon Mobil Corp. employee served on an EPA expert panel responsible for deciding whether ethylene oxide, a chemical manufactured by Exxon Mobil, is a carcinogen.

Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, called it "deeply problematic from the public interest perspective" for the EPA to dismiss scientists who advocate protecting health while appointing those who promote industry views.

Lunder said it is unprecedented for the EPA to remove an expert for expressing concerns about the potential dangers of a chemical.

"It's a scary world if we create a precedent that says scientists involved in decision-making are perceived to be too biased," she said.

Rice was unavailable for comment Thursday.

In addition to her testimony for the Maine Legislature, Rice has been quoted in media reports saying there is enough scientific evidence to warrant bans on deca. "We don't need to wait another five years or even another two years and let it increase in the environment, while we nail down every possible question we have," she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last March.

In a May letter to an assistant administrator at the EPA, Sharon Kneiss, a vice president of the American Chemistry Council, called Rice "a fervent advocate of banning" deca and said she "has no place in an independent, objective peer review." She told the EPA that Rice's role on the panel "calls into question the overall integrity" of the EPA's evaluation of chemicals and that Rice may have influenced the other panelists in their review of deca.

Top EPA officials met with the industry group's representatives in June and promised to take action, according to a letter that EPA Asst. Administrator George Gray sent to the group last month. In that letter, Gray said the EPA found "no evidence" that Rice "significantly influenced the other panelists."

Environmentalists are concerned that Rice's removal could result in a less protective standard.

After EPA officials dismissed her from the five-member panel, they removed her comments from the panel's report on deca and removed all mention of her. Three months later, at the request of the chemical industry group, the EPA added a note to the panel report that Rice was removed "due to a perception of a potential conflict of interest" and that none of her comments were considered in their review of the chemical.

EPA documents show that Rice's comments while serving on the panel focused on technical, scientific issues. For example, she advised the EPA to consider the cumulative effects of not just deca, but chemicals with similar neurological effects.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he was disturbed by Rice's dismissal and the Environmental Working Group's findings about pro- industry panelists.

"If this information is accurate, it raises serious questions about EPA's approach to preventing conflicts of interest on its expert scientific panels," Waxman said.

The conflict of interest policies of another environmental institute, the National Toxicology Program, also has come under fire. Last March, a major consultant for a federal center that evaluates reproductive hazards of chemicals was fired after The Los Angeles Times reported that the firm had financial ties to 50 chemical companies or associations.

Rice specializes in neurotoxins -- chemicals that harm developing brains. Before she went to work for the state of Maine, she was a senior toxicologist at the EPA's National Center for Environmental Research, where she had a major role in setting the EPA's controversial guideline for exposure to mercury in fish.

In 2004, the EPA gave Rice and four colleagues an award for what it called "exceptionally high-quality research" for a study that linked lead exposure to premature puberty in girls.

Many toxicologists and other environmental scientists have said they are highly concerned about flame retardants known as PBDEs, polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

In laboratory tests, PBDEs have been found to skew brain development and alter thyroid hormones, slowing the learning and motor skills of newborn animals.

Two of the compounds, called penta and octa, were banned in 2004. Before the ban, amounts in human breast milk and wildlife were doubling in North America every four to six years, a pace unmatched for any contaminant in at least 50 years. Now they are decreasing.

Scientists had initially thought that the deca compound was not accumulating in people and animals as the other PBDEs were. But it appears that deca turns into other brominated substances when exposed to sunlight, and now many scientists say it, too, is building up in the environment worldwide. Deca has similar effects on animals' developing brains as the banned PBDEs.

The chemical industry contends that low doses pose no danger and that the compound is necessary to prevent fires in many consumer products. In addition to TVs and other electronics, deca is used in furniture textiles, building materials and automobiles. About 56,000 tons were used worldwide in 2001, mostly in the United States and Asia.

Only Maine and Washington state restrict use of deca; both passed laws last year that phase out some uses. Similar bills have been introduced in California but have not passed.


Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

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From: Environmental Health Perspectives
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By Luz Claudio

In Little League dugouts, community parks, professional athletic organizations, and international soccer leagues, on college campuses and neighborhood playgrounds, even in residential yards, the question being asked is "grass or plastic?" The debate is over synthetic turf, used to blanket lawns, park spaces, and athletic fields where children and adults relax and play; the questions are whether synthetic turf is safe for human and environmental health, and whether its advantages outweigh those of natural grass. Despite or perhaps because of the fact that it is too early to definitively answer those questions, the debate is fierce.

New York City, which buys the largest amount of synthetic turf of any U.S. municipality, held a hearing 13 December 2007 on the use of synthetic turf in city parks. There is a clear need for open space in the city. The 28,700 acres of land constituting some 4,000 parks are distributed unevenly throughout the city. "Many districts have no green parks, not even one," said Helen Sears, a city council member representing the Jackson Heights neighborhood, during the hearing.

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation commissioner Adrian Benepe wants to address the need for parks and athletic fields by installing not only natural grass fields and lawns but also synthetic turf. "With quality recreational facilities -- which means, in some cases, synthetic turf fields -- we will be able to better confront this issue," he says. In New York City, he points out, at least 35 synthetic turf fields are or will be a replacement for asphalt surfaces.

Others oppose the move toward synthetic turf. "Grassroots organizations have been working hard to have pesticide use reduced or banned in places where it is unnecessary," says Tanya Murphy, a board member of Healthy Child, Healthy World, an advocacy organization. "Now we're going from the frying pan and into the fire when replacing grass with synthetic turf."

The debate leaves many on the fence. Orlando Gil, an assistant research scientist at New York University and soccer coach, is weighing both alternatives: "We want children to play outside, exercise, and play sports, but with pesticides and fertilizers in grass and chemicals in artificial turf, I don't know which to choose."

Indeed, a dearth of research on the nonoccupational human health effects of exposure to the constituents of synthetic turf hampers the ability to make that choice with any degree of confidence. On the basis of limited toxicity data, some reports have concluded the health risks are minimal. Most agree, however, that far more research is needed before the question can be definitively answered. In the 13 December 2007 issue of Rachel's Democracy and Health News, William Crain of the City College of New York Psychology Department and Junfeng Zhang of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey School of Public Health called conclusions of minimal risk "premature.

A Turf History

During the 1950s, the Ford Foundation studied ways to incorporate physical fitness into the lives of young people, particularly in cities where outdoor play areas were scarce. Ford joined Monsanto Industries to create an artificial surface on which children could play sports. In 1964 the first artificial playing surface was marketed under the name Chemgrass.

Meanwhile, the first domed stadium was being built in Houston, Texas. The Astrodome, with its retractable translucent plastic ceiling, let in enough sunshine to maintain a natural grass field. But after the first baseball season, it was clear there was a problem. The plastic panes produced a glare that made it difficult for players to see the ball. This problem was solved by painting the panes black -- but then the grass began to die from lack of sunlight. By the beginning of the second season, the Astros were playing on dead grass and painted dirt. At this time, production of Chemgrass was limited, but what little was available was installed in the Astrodome. By the end of the 1966 season, the material had been renamed AstroTurf. The green nylon carpet was a success.

The popularity of AstroTurf grew steadily during the 1970s and 1980s, with most of its use in professional sports arenas. However, a backlash began to unfold when players started to complain about the surfacing. The English Football Association banned synthetic turf in 1988, mainly because of complaints from athletes that it was harder than grass and caused more injuries. Similar concerns were growing in the United States. A poll conducted by the National Football League Players Association in 1995 showed that more than 93% of players believed playing on artificial surfaces increased their chances of injury. This sentiment was famously expressed by baseball player Dick Allen: "If a horse won't eat it, I don't want to play on it."

The movement against AstroTurf gained traction, and many ballparks were converted to natural grass during the 1990s. One example was Giants Stadium in New Jersey, which had used AstroTurf since its construction in 1976. The stadium was refitted with a system of 6,000 removable trays of natural grass. Even the new stadium in Houston, built to replace the original Astrodome, was surfaced with grass.

In this story of grass, the balance is tilting once more against the natural kind. Natural grass, under some circumstances, cannot consistently withstand the demands of sports where a lot of running is involved. Parallel to this back-and-forth controversy over which is best have come new developments in the manufacture of synthetic turf. Several companies, including the makers of the original AstroTurf, have come on the market with new playing surfaces.

FieldTurf, for example, is made of a blended polyethylene- polypropylene material woven to simulate blades of grass. The "grass" is held upright and given some cushioning by adding a layer of infill made of recycled tires, rubber particles 3 mm in diameter or smaller. This crumb rubber infill is sometimes mixed with silica sand. Many stadiums that switched to grass from AstroTurf have since switched back to FieldTurf-style synthetic turf.

Figures from the Synthetic Turf Council, a trade organization based in Atlanta, show that 10 years ago there were 7 new-generation fields installed in the United States. Today there are 3,500. Says Geoffrey Croft, president of the nonprofit New York City Parks Advocates, which promotes public funding and increased park services, "There are millions of square feet of synthetic turf already installed on fields around the country, and not one environmental impact statement has been issued."

Human Health Questions

Given the relatively recent development of new-generation synthetic turf, there are unanswered questions regarding its potential effects on health and the environment, with the rubber infill one of the main sources of concern. The crumbs become airborne and can be breathed in and tracked into homes on clothes and athletic gear. There are also questions about dermal and ingestional exposures, and about ecosystem effects.

For athletes, the little black rubber pellets may seem little more than a nuisance. Others express more concern, especially when it comes to children's exposure to the infill. Patti Wood, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Environmental Education, argues, "This crumb rubber is a material that cannot be legally disposed of in landfills or ocean-dumped because of its toxicity. Why on earth should we let our children play on it?"

Recycled crumb rubber contains a number of chemicals that are known or suspected to cause health effects. The most common types of synthetic rubber used in tires are composed of ethylene-propylene and styrene- butadiene combined with vulcanizing agents, fillers, plasticizers, and antioxidants in different quantities, depending on the manufacturer. Tire rubber also contains polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, only 8 states have no restrictions on placing tires in landfills. Most of these restrictions have to do with preventing pest problems and tire fires, which release toxicants such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel, PAHs, and VOCs.

Some studies suggest that the same chemicals that can be released profusely during a tire fire may also be released slowly during deterioration of crumb rubber. For instance, researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health presented a report at the 2006 meeting of the International Association for Sports Surface Sciences on turf-related chemicals in indoor stadiums. The report, Artificial Turf Pitches: An Assessment of the Health Risks for Football Players, showed that VOCs from rubber infill can be aerosolized into respirable form during sports play. The authors calculated health risk assuming the use of recycled rubber granulate, which releases the lowest amounts of these chemicals of any type of rubber infill.

The report concluded that, given current knowledge, the use of synthetic turf indoors does not cause any elevated health risk, even in vulnerable populations such as children. However, the report continues, "It should also be noted that little or no toxicological information is available for many of the volatile organic compounds which have been demonstrated as being present in the air in the [indoor stadiums].... [Furthermore], not all organic compounds in the [stadium] air have been identified." In particular the report called for more information regarding the development of asthma and airway allergies in response to exposure to the latex in many tires.

Similarly, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), in the January 2007 report Evaluation of Health Effects of Recycled Waste Tires in Playground and Track Products, concluded that 49 chemicals could be released from tire crumbs. Based on an experiment simulating gastric digestion, the OEHHA calculated a cancer risk of 1.2 in 10 million assuming a one-time ingestion over a lifetime -- well below the 1 in 1 million di minimis risk threshold. In a hand-wipe experiment, the OEHHA calculated an increased cancer risk of 2.9 in 1 million for ingestion of chrysene (a suspected human carcinogen found in tire rubber) via hand-to-mouth contact with crumb rubber infill. This estimate assumed regular playground use for the first 12 years of life and was termed by the authors to be "slightly higher" than the di minimis level.

In the summer of 2007, Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), a nonprofit organization headquartered in North Haven, Connecticut, commissioned a study from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to determine whether toxic compounds from crumb rubber could be released into air or water. The report Artificial Turf describes identifying 25 chemical species with 72-99% certainty using mass spectrometry-gas chromatography. Among those definitively confirmed were the irritants benzothiazole and n-hexadecane; butylated hydroxyanisole, a carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor; and 4-(t-octyl) phenol, a corrosive that can be injurious to mucous membranes.

The Synthetic Turf Council said in a statement issued on 13 December 2007 that "Claims of toxicity [in the EHHI report] are based on extreme laboratory testing such as the use of solvents and high temperatures to generate pollutants." But the EHHI stands by its studies. Artifical Turf author David Brown, EHHI's director of public health toxicology, says, "It is clear the recycled rubber crumbs are not inert, nor is a high temperature or severe solvent extraction needed to release metals, volatile, or semivolatile organic compounds." Brown asserts that the laboratory tests approximate conditions that can be found on the field, and that no solvent besides water was used.

According to Brown, the basic barrier to accurately assessing the safety of recycled tire rubber is the high variability in tire construction and the lack of chemical characterization of the crumb rubber. "Very few samples have been tested," he says. "There is no study with sufficient sample sizes to determine the potential hazard." He adds, "Since new tires contain vastly different amounts of the toxic materials, based on the intended use, it is impossible to ensure players or gardeners and others that their personal exposure is within safe limits."

Another debated health issue is that of injuries. Several studies published in a supplement to the August 2007 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported no differences in the incidence, severity, nature, or cause of injuries in soccer teams who played on grass versus new-generation synthetic turf. However, injuries may depend on the type of sport being played. A five-year prospective study of football injuries among high school teams published 1 October 2004 in The American Journal of Sports Medicine showed that there were about 10% more injuries when games were played on synthetic turf than when played on grass surfaces. Conversely, the risk of serious head and knee injuries was greater on grass fields.

Injuries lead to another concern: infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is thought to spread especially easily among athletes because of repeated skin-to-skin contact, frequency of cuts and abrasions, and sharing of locker room space and equipment. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the 3 February 2005 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine showed that, although synthetic turf itself did not appear to harbor MRSA, the greater number of turf burns caused by the abrasive friction of this type of surface increased the probability of MRSA infection, especially among professional athletes playing on hard surfaces.

There is, however, some evidence to suggest that synthetic turf may harbor more bacteria. For example, an industry study sponsored by Sprinturf, a maker of synthetic turf, found that infill containing a sand/rubber mixture had 50,000 times higher levels of bacteria than infill made of rubber alone. To address this, the company markets synthetic turf that is "sand-free" as a safer alternative and offers sanitation for those fields already installed.

Proper maintenance of synthetic turf requires that the fields be sanitized to remove bodily fluids and animal droppings; manufacturers market sanitizing products for this purpose. According to Synthetic Turf Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual, published in 2006 by the American Sports Builders Association, some synthetic turf owners disinfect their fields as often as twice a month, with more frequent cleanings for sideline areas, where contaminants concentrate.

Different Shades of Green

Cultivated natural grass carries plenty of environmental baggage. According to "Water Management on Turfgrass," a paper on the Texas A&M University Cooperative Extension website, natural grass sports fields can require up to 1.5 million gallons of water per acre per year. The frequent mowing required for natural grass lawns and fields also results in emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide (up to 5% of such emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency).

Natural grass does offer tangible benefits, however. According to Turfgrass Producers International, these include increased pollution control, absorption of carbon dioxide, a cooling effect, water filtration, and prevention of soil erosion. There are also perhaps intangible benefits to a field of grass. Crain presents the idea that replacing grass with synthetic turf can hinder children's creative play and affect their development. "Today's children largely grow up in synthetic, indoor environments," he says. "Now, with the growing popularity of synthetic turf fields, their experience with nature will be less than ever."

Adds Croft, "Although there is an important need for open spaces, the issue here is not open space but active recreational facilities. I don't see the connection between open space and installing synthetic turf fields."

Synthetic turf does offer certain advantages over natural grass. A New Turf War: Synthetic Turf in New York City Parks, a report released in 2006 by the advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks, points out, "Proponents of synthetic turf fields tout the reduction of allergy and asthma triggers. The removal of natural pollens and grasses may be beneficial to children and adults with these afflictions."

One of the main arguments used in favor of synthetic turf is that it can be installed relatively quickly and, once functional, can be used almost continuously. In contrast, grass fields need time to take root and must be closed periodically for proper maintenance. For example, the Central Park Conservancy, a private philanthropy that maintains New York City's Central Park, closes grass fields all winter; during the summer and spring, fields are closed on a rotating basis for restoration. Also, tackle football and cleated shoes are prohibited on all of the fields, and the fields are closed whenever it rains or they are wet. According to estimates from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, synthetic fields can be open for use 28% more of the time in a year than natural grass fields because they can withstand heavy use, which the department estimates has doubled in the last eight years.

Lower cost for long-term maintenance is another argument that is made for synthetic turf, although the degree of the savings is disputed. It is generally agreed that installation costs of synthetic turf can be almost double those of natural grass. For instance, a synthetic turf soccer field can cost almost $1.4 million compared with a natural grass field at about $690,000. But when the costs are prorated over the expected lifespan of the field, including maintenance, the difference in cost narrows to less than $15,000 more for the natural grass, according to A New Turf War.

Although some, like Benepe, consider this cost savings to be substantial, others consider it insignificant. As Christian DiPalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, puts it, "The amount of money saved is negligible considering the many unknowns about artificial turf."

One drawback that both fans and critics of synthetic turf agree on is that these fields can get much hotter than natural grass. Stuart Gaffin, an associate research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University, initially became involved with the temperature issues of synthetic turf fields while conducting studies for another project on the cooling benefits of urban trees and parks. Using thermal satellite images and geographic information systems, Gaffin noticed that a number of the hottest spots in the city turned out to be synthetic turf fields.

Direct temperature measurements conducted during site visits showed that synthetic turf fields can get up to 60 deg. hotter than grass, with surface temperatures reaching 160 deg. F on summer days. For example, on 6 July 2007, a day in which the atmospheric temperature was 78 deg. F in the early afternoon, the temperature on a grass field that was receiving direct sunlight was 85 deg. F while an adjacent synthetic turf field had heated to 140 deg. F. "Exposures of ten minutes or longer to surface temperatures above 122 deg. F can cause skin injuries, so this is a real concern," said Joel Forman, medical director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, speaking at a 6 December 2007 symposium on the issue.

Many physical properties of synthetic turf -- including its dark pigments, low-density mass, and lack of ability to vaporize water and cool the surrounding air -- make it particularly efficient at increasing its temperature when exposed to the sun. This is not only a hazard for users, but also can contribute to the "heat island effect," in which cities become hotter than surrounding areas because of heat absorbed by dark man-made surfaces such as roofs and asphalt. From many site visits to both black roofs and synthetic turf fields, Gaffin has concluded that the fields rival black roofs in their elevated surface temperatures.

Although it is often argued that one of the advantages of synthetic turf is that it does not need irrigation, some installations must be watered to control the excessive heat. Benepe stated in public hearings that water misters may have to be installed in some fields to help remedy the heat problem. According to Gaffin, synthetic turf is so efficient at absorbing sunlight, that cooling with water is only temporarily effective. "After a short while of watering, I expect the temperature should rebound and the surface become intolerably hot again," he says.

In addition to heat control, the International Hockey Federation requires that college teams saturate synthetic turf fields before each practice and game to increase traction, according to an article in the 19 October 2007 Raleigh (North Carolina) News & Observer. The article, which examined why local universities were watering their synthetic turf fields in the midst of severe ongoing drought in the U.S. Southeast, noted that Duke University received a business exemption to water the fields provided overall campus water consumption decreased by 30%.

The EHHI study addressed the question of whether synthetic turf fields can contribute to increased water contamination from rain or from spraying or misting. The study found that 25 different chemical species and 4 metals (zinc, selenium, lead, and cadmium) could be released into water from rubber infill. Moreover, because synthetic turf is unable to absorb or filter rainwater, chemicals filter directly into storm drains and into the municipal sewer system without the beneficial filtration that live vegetation provides. Benepe and others agree this can be an issue that New York City would need to address, as water runoff from synthetic turf fields could overwhelm storm drains, thus contributing to the estimated 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater that discharge from 460 combined sewer overflows into New York Harbor each year.

Finally, what happens to synthetic turf fields when they are no longer usable? Industry estimates that synthetic turf fields have a lifespan of 10 to 12 years, whereupon the material must be disposed of appropriately. Rick Doyle, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, says the infill could be cleaned and reused; put to another purpose, such as for rubber asphalt; incinerated; used in place of soil to separate landfill layers; or otherwise recycled. Typically, however, it is landfilled.


One of the benefits of synthetic turf is that it can serve as a way to reuse old tires, a real problem given the 1 billion-plus tires that are sold every year. Doyle says the synthetic turf industry currently recycles one-twelfth of the 300 million auto tires that are withdrawn from use each year. The average soccer field can contain crumb rubber made from 27,000 tires at a density of about 4 to 15 pounds of infill per square foot.

Europe has launched an aggressive tire recovery campaign in which tires that meet quality criteria can be retreaded and reused. End-of- life tires that cannot be reused are recycled for other uses including some industrial energy-generating applications, the production of rubberized pavement, and recycling into materials for the car industry (in addition to some use in producing synthetic turf). In western Europe, recovery rates of used tires have increased from 65% in 2001 to almost 90% in 2005.

Whereas end-of-life tires add tons of waste a year for disposal in many areas, in Europe they are turning into a potentially lucrative secondary raw material. "There are increasingly numerous applications," says Serge Palard, head of the end-of-life tire recovery department at Michelin, one of the largest tire manufacturers in the world. "In some countries where we did not know what to do with end-of-life tires a few years ago, now we do not have enough to meet the demand of all the reprocessors."

In accordance with the European Union's recently implemented REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations, which will require more testing of industrial chemicals, companies such as Michelin are working to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in tires in order to facilitate recycling into other products.

European companies are also finding innovative ways to address concerns regarding recycled tire infill in synthetic turf. In Italy, for example, there is an effort to market synthetic turf fields that feature infill made of a new thermoplastic material that is thought to be nontoxic. Mondo, a manufacturer of floor surfaces, produces Ecofill, a patented polyolefin-based granule used in synthetic turf. According to the company, this material disperses heat more efficiently; is highly shock absorbent; does not contain polyvinyl chloride, chlorine, plasticizers, heavy metals, or other harmful chemicals; and is 100% recyclable.

Another alternative is infill made from plant-derived materials. Synthetic turf manufacturer Limonta Sport produces Geo Safe Play, an infill made from coconut husks and cork. Company spokesperson Domenic Carapella says, "There are certainly alternatives to crumb rubber. There is no longer a reason to sacrifice the playing quality and more importantly the health of children [playing on synthetic turf]."

Why can't the alternative to bad grass fields simply be well- maintained grass fields, asks Croft. Certain varieties of turf grasses have been bred for resistance to stress, ability to withstand trampling and low water conditions, and other characteristics that make them appropriate for athletic field use.

But according to Doyle, increased maintenance is not the answer. "More maintenance cannot overcome overusage of a natural grass sports field," he says. "And overusage of a natural grass sports field or usage during a rainstorm or in months of dormancy will produce an unsafe playing surface." Adds Benepe, "Even the wealthiest professional sports teams and Ivy League universities have concluded that grass fields are a losing proposition for intense-use sports such as football or soccer....There is also the reality that natural turf fields used for high-intensity sports must be replaced every few years, unless you severely restrict use."

For now, New York State Assemblymembers Steve Englebright, William Colton, and David Koon have proposed legislation to impose a six-month moratorium on the installation of synthetic turf until the state health and conservation departments have better studied the pros and cons of natural and synthetic grass. Said Englebright in a 5 November 2007 statement, "Before we take risks with our children's health and drinking water quality, we need to make sure that the uncertainties... are fully investigated."

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From: Washington Post (pg. A1)
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By Rob Stein, Washington Post Staff Writer

First, asthma cases shot up, along with hay fever and other common allergic reactions, such as eczema. Then, pediatricians started seeing more children with food allergies. Now, experts are increasingly convinced that a suspected jump in lupus, multiple sclerosis and other afflictions caused by misfiring immune systems is real.

Though the data are stronger for some diseases than others, and part of the increase may reflect better diagnoses, experts estimate that many allergies and immune-system diseases have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in the last few decades, depending on the ailment and country. Some studies now indicate that more than half of the U.S. population has at least one allergy.

The cause remains the focus of intense debate and study, but some researchers suspect the concurrent trends all may have a common explanation rooted in aspects of modern living -- including the "hygiene hypothesis" that blames growing up in increasingly sterile homes, changes in diet, air pollution, and possibly even obesity and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

"We have dramatically changed our lives in the last 50 years," said Fernando Martinez, who studies allergies at the University of Arizona. "We are exposed to more products. We have people with different backgrounds being exposed to different environments. We have made our lives more antiseptic, especially early in life. Our immune systems may grow differently as a result. And we may be paying a price for that."

Along with a flurry of research to confirm and explain the trends, scientists have also begun testing possible remedies. Some are feeding high-risk children gradually larger amounts of allergy-inducing foods, hoping to train the immune system not to overreact. Others are testing benign bacteria or parts of bacteria. Still others have patients with MS, colitis and related ailments swallow harmless parasitic worms to try to calm their bodies' misdirected defenses.

"If you look at the incidence of these diseases, a lot of them began to emerge and become much more common after parasitic worm diseases were eliminated from our environment," said Robert Summers of the University of Iowa, who is experimenting with whipworms. "We believe they have a profound symbiotic effect on developing and maintaining the immune system."

Although hay fever, eczema, asthma and food allergies seem quite different, they are all "allergic diseases" because they are caused by the immune system responding to substances that are ordinarily benign, such as pollen or peanuts. Autoimmune diseases also result from the body's defense mechanisms malfunctioning. But in these diseases, which include lupus, MS, Type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease, the immune system attacks parts of the body such as nerves, the pancreas or digestive tract.

"Overall, there is very little doubt that we have seen significant increases," said Syed Hasan Arshad of the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Centre in England, who focuses on food allergies. "You can call it an epidemic. We're talking about millions of people and huge implications, both for health costs and quality of life. People miss work. Severe asthma can kill. Peanut allergies can kill. It does have huge implications all around. If it keeps increasing, where will it end?"

One reason that many researchers suspect something about modern living is to blame is that the increases show up largely in highly developed countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere, and have only started to rise in other countries as they have become more developed.

"It's striking," said William Cookson of the Imperial College in London.

The leading theory to explain the phenomenon holds that as modern medicine beats back bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases that have long plagued humanity, immune systems may fail to learn how to differentiate between real threats and benign invaders, such as ragweed pollen or food. Or perhaps because they are not busy fighting real threats, they overreact or even turn on the body's own tissues.

"Our immune systems are much less busy," said Jean-Francois Bach of the French Academy of Sciences, "and so have much more strong responses to much weaker stimuli, triggering allergies and autoimmune diseases."

Several lines of evidence support the theory. Children raised with pets or older siblings are less likely to develop allergies, possibly because they are exposed to more microbes. But perhaps the strongest evidence comes from studies comparing thousands of people who grew up on farms in Europe to those who lived in less rural settings. Those reared on farms were one-tenth as likely to develop diseases such as asthma and hay fever.

"The data are very strong," said Erika von Mutius of the Ludwig- Maximilians University in Munich. "If kids have all sorts of exposures on the farm by being in the stables a lot, close to the animals and the grasses, and drinking cow's milk from their own farm, that seems to confer protection."

The theory has also gained support from a variety of animal studies. One, for example, found that rats bred in a sterile laboratory had far more sensitive immune systems than those reared in the wild, where they were exposed to infections, microorganisms and parasites.

"It's sort of a smoking gun of the hygiene hypothesis," said William Parker of Duke University.

Researchers believe the lack of exposure to potential threats early in life leaves the immune system with fewer command-and-control cells known as regulatory T cells, making the system more likely to overreact or run wild.

"If you live in a very clean society, you're not going to have a lot of regulatory T cells," Parker said.

While the evidence for the hygiene theory is accumulating, many say it remains far from proven.

"That theory is so full of holes that it's clearly not the whole story," said Robert Wood of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

It does not explain, for example, the rise in asthma, since that disease occurs much more commonly in poor, inner-city areas where children are exposed to more cockroaches and rodents that may trigger it, Wood and others said.

Several alternative theories have been presented. Some researchers blame exposure to fine particles in air pollution, which may give the immune system more of a hair trigger, especially in genetically predisposed individuals. Others say obesity and a sedentary lifestyle may play a role. Still others wonder whether eating more processed food or foods processed in different ways, or changes in the balance of certain vitamins that can affect the immune system, such as vitamins C and E and fish oil, are a factor.

"Cleaning up the food we eat has actually changed what we're eating," said Thomas Platts-Mills of the University of Virginia.

But many researchers believe the hygiene hypothesis is the strongest, and that the reason one person develops asthma instead of hay fever or eczema or lupus or MS is because of a genetic predisposition.

"We believe it's about half and half," Cookson said. "You need environmental factors and you need genetic susceptibility as well."

Some researchers have begun to try to identify specific genes that may be involved, as well as specific components of bacteria or other pathogens that might be used to train immune systems to respond appropriately.

"If we could mimic what is happening in these farm environments, we could protect children and prevent asthma, allergies and other diseases," von Mutius said.

Some researchers are trying to help people who are at risk for allergies or already ill with autoimmune diseases.

With new research suggesting that food allergies may be occurring earlier in life and lasting longer, several small studies have been done or are underway in which children at risk for milk, egg and peanut allergies are given increasing amounts of those foods, beginning with tiny doses, to try to train the immune system.

"I'm very encouraged," said Wesley Burks, a professor of pediatrics at Duke who has done some of the studies. "I'm hopeful that in five years, there may be some type of therapy from this."

Another promising line of research involves giving patients microscopic parasitic worms to try to tamp down the immune system.

"We've seen rather dramatic improvements in patients' conditions," said Summers of the University of Iowa, who has treated more than 100 people with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis by giving them parasitic worms that infect pigs but are harmless to humans. "We're not claiming that this is a cure, but we saw a very dramatic improvement. Some patients went into complete remission."

Doctors in Argentina reported last year that MS patients who had intestinal parasites fared better than those who did not, and researchers at the University of Wisconsin are planning to launch another study as early as next month testing pig worms in 20 patients with the disease.

"We hope to show whether this treatment has promise and is worth exploring further in a larger study," said John O. Fleming, a professor of neurology who is leading the effort.

Copyright 2008 The Washington Post Company

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From: Environmental News Network
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Here's another reason for retailers to charge for plastic bags. The swirling debris of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean has now grown to a size that is twice as large as the continental U.S.

How do we know this? The Alguita Marine Research team just landed from a month-long tour of the area, known as the North Pacific Gyre. They set out to investigate just how much plastic debris is floating in the ocean, how this plastic affects marine life, and how this might affect humans that eat fish found in the area. Specific answers to these questions will be forthcoming as they evaluate the evidence they brought back. But past studies have shown that less than 5% of plastic ever gets recycled and each American disposes of roughly 65 lbs. of plastic each year. In the ocean, "Degraded plastic pieces outweigh surface zooplankton in the central North Pacific by a factor of 6-1. That means six pounds of plastic for every single pound of zooplankton."

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation, the environmental non- profit organization, chartered the oceanic voyage into the floating trash. Their work is incredibly valuable for demonstrating an even greater need for retailers and producers to limit the amount of plastic used in packaging goods.

Copyright Environmental News Network

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From: Wired Magazine
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By Brandon Keim

Pollutants that turn male fish into females have an unexpected effect on starlings: they cause the guys to sing sweet songs that lady starlings find irresistible.

In a study published this week in Public Library of Science ONE, researchers from Cardiff University studied starlings feeding on earthworms at a sewage treatment plant.

The earthworms were chock full of endocrine disruptors -- chemicals that mimic estrogen, a potent female sex hormone, and have been show to affect the behavior and development of exposed organisms.

The phenomenon has been most extensively -- and graphically -- chronicled in fish, with rates of male hermaphroditism reaching 100 percent in especially polluted waters. However, little research has been conducted on the environmental effects of endocrine disruptors in terrestrial animals, and the latest study suggests that those effects could be profound.

Male starlings with the highest levels of endocrine disruptors in their bodies also possessed unusually developed high vocal centers, an area of the brain associated with songbirds' songs. Scientists have previously shown that estrogen drives HVC development; its mimics apparently have the same effect.

Accordingly, the polluted male starlings sang songs of exceptional length and complexity -- a birdsign of reproductive fitness. Female starlings preferred their songs to those of unexposed males, suggesting that the polluted birds could have a reproductive advantage, eventually spreading their genes through starling populations.

But what if that exposure also damages the birds' DNA? Endocrine disruptors have been shown to tweak sperm in other species -- and if this turns out to be damaging, starling populations will suffer.

More research is needed to show whether that is happening -- but even if the study doesn't draw firm conclusions, it raises troubling questions. After all, it's not just starlings that are exposed to endocrine disruptors: people are, too.

Pollutants Increase Song Complexity and the Volume of the Brain Area HVC in a Songbird [PLoS ONE]

See Also:

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Hermaphroditic Fish

Male Births Drop Mysteriously in US and Japan

Pollution From Hormone Mimics Causes Cancer in Fish

Reproductive Disorders Probably Caused by Common Plastic ...

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