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#880 -- Essential Reforms, 09-Nov-2006


Rachel's Democracy & Health News #880

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, November 9, 2006..............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Featured stories in this issue...

Essential Reforms
  Essential reforms: eliminate global poverty, end tax cheating by
  the super rich, and get private money out of our elections.
Pre-school Puberty
  Something is causing early sexual development in pre-school
Pollution Poisons Children
  Millions of children worldwide may have suffered brain damage as a
  direct result of industrial pollution, scientists say.
Report Warns of 'Global Collapse' of Fishing
  Fish are disappearing, and time is running out for the oceans. "We
  still have rhinos and tigers and elephants because we saw a clear
  trend that was going down and we changed it. We have to do the same in
  the oceans."
Care Products May Put Black Women at Higher Risk for Breast Cancer
  Use of personal care products that contain hormone-like compounds
  might explain why young African-American women are at greater risk of
  breast cancer.
Canada Will Study Dangers of 4,000 Everyday Chemicals
  From household cleaners to pop bottles, ingredients previously
  ignored may affect health, scientists say


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #880, Nov. 9, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Readers ask, "On what basis do you choose topics for Rachel's
News?" Last week and this, I'm answering that question.

As we said last week, we start with twin goals:

(1) We want to hand the planet to the next generation undamaged and
undiminished. In other words, we favor the present generation meeting
its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs because stealing from our children is wrong.

(2) We favor the Golden Rule and therefore we want to prevent and
alleviate suffering.

So what are the sources of harm and suffering? And what are the

A major source of harm, suffering, global instability, and conflict is
the large number of people who are wretchedly poor -- perhaps as many
as 1/3rd of the world's population. The global population today is 6
billion. Within 50 years, it is projected to reach between 9 and 12
billion. This growth alone seems certain to damage the planet
irreversibly. Therefore, it seems desirable to find ways to reduce the
pace of growth in the human population. There is now broad agreement
that the best way to do this would be to eliminate poverty. After
people escape poverty, their birth rate declines rapidly for many

Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the world has the
wealth, the know-how and the means to eliminate poverty. Jeffrey
Sachs at Columbia University, and others, have shown how extreme
poverty could be eliminated by 2025. In the shorter term, meeting the
United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015 would be a major
step in the right direction, and it, too, can be readily
accomplished if we choose to do so.

Alleviating poverty is urgent for many reasons. Inequality of wealth
and status are major causes of conflict in the world, and conflict is
now a major source of suffering, harm, waste, and damage to the
natural environment. Inequality of wealth and status are also, as we
have recently become more aware, constant wellsprings of frustration,
rage and animosity toward Europe and the U.S. Increasingly,
individuals are willing to kill themselves in spectacular ways to get
even for the injustices and indignities they perceive to have been
inflicted upon them and their societies.

In truth, over the past 400 years, Europe created what we call the
"third world" for the benefit of Europeans, to the long-term detriment
of third world peoples. After 1898, the U.S. participated in these
exploits with military-religious fervor. This is a hidden history --
but hidden in plain sight. Typical is this 1898 quotation from Senator
Albert J. Beveridge, a progressive from Indiana, praising President
Ulysses Grant:

"He never forgot we are a conquering race and that we must obey our
blood and occupy new markets, and, if necessary, new lands. He had the
prophet's seer-like sight which beheld, as part of the Almighty's
infinite plan, the disappearance of debased civilizations and decaying
races before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile
types of man.... He had the instinct of empire." This is a typical
expression of the "white man's burden," from which we today have
inherited a powerful residue of racism and white privilege.

Senator Beveridge was a mainstream progressive of his time. He favored
the eight-hour work day, meat inspections, the regulation of
railroads, and anti-trust laws to curb the monopoly power of
corporations. He was concerned that material wealth was undermining
the Puritan elements of the American character. Yet for him, "history
was in a sense just a predestined rescue operation, rescuing the world
'from its natural wilderness and from savage men.' Beveridge wrote, "A
hundred wildernesses are to be subdued. Unpenetrated regions must be
explored. Unviolated valleys must be tilled. Unmastered forests must
be felled. Unriven mountains must be torn asunder and their riches of
gold and iron and ores of price must be delivered to the world." ([1,
pgs. 98-99) Exploitation was the obligation of the conqueror and
conquest was the obligation of the superior race of men.

Over 400 years, Europe systematically extracted cheap raw materials
from various colonies and protectorates using forced labor (slavery or
indentured servants) for the benefit of England, Spain, France,
Portugal, Belgium or Holland. Third world economies were "developed"
by military force into plantations growing crops for export -- sugar,
coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas, cotton, rubber, palm oil, hardwood
timber), with cheap labor provided by a landless peasantry. Third-
world mines provided copper, nickel, iron, bauxite, phosphates. The
dominant societies turned these into highly-profitable manufactured
goods. The Third World nations provided the raw materials but remained
poor by intent. Development in the dominant countries meant something
entirely different -- a varied and thriving industrial base with a
rising standard of living.

All this was no secret at the time. As Cecil Rhodes (for whom Rhodes
Scholarships are named) said about Africa, "We must find new lands
from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time
exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of
the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the
surplus goods produced in our factories." (See Clive Ponting's A
Green History of the World, especially chapter 10.)

From this history we conclude that it is only fair that Europe and the
U.S. should invest in alleviating some of the harm that they
purposefully inflicted on others for their own benefit. We believe it
is also in our national self-interest to do so, to eliminate some of
the most obvious sources of resentment, conflict, and global

Ending Third World poverty would probably require the U.S. to modify
some of its investment priorities. For example, we presently spend
$450 billion year on our military apparatus, to protect ourselves from
conflicts generated in no small part, we all readily acknowledge, by
global poverty, inequities, and inequalities. Yet we spend only $15
billion per year (or about $50 per U.S. resident per year) to
eliminate global poverty.

Could we afford to invest more than $15 billion annually to end world
poverty? It seems we could quite easily. A bipartisan report from the
U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations published in
August revealed that the super rich evade $70 billion in U.S. taxes
each year. As the New York Times reported August 1, 2006, "So many
super rich Americans evade taxes using offshore accounts that law
enforcement cannot control the growing misconduct, according to a
Senate report that provides the most detailed look ever at high-level
tax schemes." But the problem could be easily solved: To catch more
tax-cheaters and collect more taxes that are legally due, we could
simply beef up government tax audits.

How do traditional conservatives view tax collections? They favor
fairness. True conservatives do not defend tax cheats. Adam Smith, in
his monumental Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations (1776) had this to
say on taxation (Book 5, Chapter 2, Part 2):

"I. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the
support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to
their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue
which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

"II. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be
certain, and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of
payment, the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to
the contributor, and to every other person."

In sum, Adam Smith said, If you become wealthy thanks to all the
features of modern society provided by everyone working cooperatively
together -- the transportation system, a stable currency, the judicial
system, the educational system, the communications apparatus, the
military, the system of laws and regulations guiding contracts and
commerce, the reciprocal relationships of trust, the freedom to
travel, and so on -- then you should contribute to the common good in
proportion to the benefits you receive. Thus Adam Smith articulated
the basic idea behind progressive taxation: the tax burden should fall
most heavily on those most able to pay. To shift taxes onto those
least able to pay -- as has been public policy since 1980 --
endangers the stability of our representative democracy.

Unfortunately, during the presidencies of both Bill Clinton and G.W.
Bush, public policies have encouraged tax cheating. Tax audits of the
rich have declined while tax audits of the working poor have
increased. Tax-collection policies have been intentionally rigged by
both Democrats and Republicans to help the super rich cheat on their
taxes. This undermines confidence in government.

Worse, the entire government rule book has been systematically
rewritten in the past 25 years to favor people who make money
destroying -- rather than creating -- productive enterprises. In 1991,
reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a nine-part series that
blew the lid off this scandal and became a best-selling book,
"America -- What Went Wrong" in which they documented how the
government rule book had been rewritten to give every advantage to
Wall Street raiders and to effectively destroy the middle class.
Unfortunately, this shameful and destructive era of our national
history has not ended.

This leads us directly to the most fundamental problem facing our
representative democracy: the corrupting influence of private money
in our elections. The basis of our democracy is one person, one vote,
NOT one dollar one vote. With the advent of TV, elections have become
more expensive year by year. This has created overwhelm advantages for
office seekers with access to mountains of cash. Unless candidates are
wealthy themselves, they must beg the wealthy to put them in office;
after they win an election they are beholden to the people who
provided the millions of dollars required to compete.

Ordinary people with good ideas and ethical standards cannot even run
for office unless they gain access to big money. Thus the influence of
money in democratic governance has increased greatly during the last
50 years. "One dollar one vote" is now a far more accurate description
of the system than "one person one vote."

This fact alone explains a great deal of what has gone wrong in the
U.S. It explains how the system has been rigged to allow wealthy
people to evade their taxes, destroy productive enterprises, ship jobs
overseas, erode the stability of the middle-class, and increase the
numbers of the poor.

It also explains why the "environmental movement" -- despite heroic
efforts -- has been unable to curb environmentally-destructive
patterns of production: pollution is highly profitable for a small
number of powerful people even though it is demonstrably harmful to
the vast majority. Getting private money out of elections is the
single reform that could make all other reforms possible.

Return to Table of Contents


From: New York Times, Oct. 17, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Darshak M. Sanghavi**

Parents often think their children grow up too quickly, but few are
prepared for the problem that Dr. Michael Dedekian and his colleagues
at the University of Massachusetts Medical School reported recently.

At the annual Pediatric Academic Society meeting in May in San
Francisco, they presented a report that described how a preschool-age
girl, and then her kindergarten-age brother, mysteriously began
growing pubic hair. These cases were not isolated; in 2004, pediatric
endocrinologists from San Diego reported a similar cluster of five

It turns out that there have been clusters of cases in which children
have prematurely developed signs of puberty, outbreaks similar to
epidemics of influenza or environmental poisonings. In 1979, the
medical journal The Lancet described an outbreak of breast enlargement
among hundreds of Italian schoolchildren, probably caused by estrogen
contamination of beef and poultry. Similar epidemics in Puerto Rico
and Haiti were tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in the 1980's.

Increasingly -- though the science is still far from definitive and
precise number of such cases is highly speculative -- some physicians
worry that children are at higher risk of early puberty as a result of
the increasing prevalence of certain drugs, cosmetics and
environmental contaminants, called "endocrine disruptors," that can
cause breast growth, pubic hair development and other symptoms of

Most commonly, outbreaks of puberty in children are traced to
accidental drug exposures from products that are used incorrectly.

Dr. Dedekian's first patient was evaluated for possible genetic
endocrine problems and a rare brain tumor before the cause of her
puberty was discovered. It turned out that her testosterone level was
almost 100 times normal, in the range of an adult man. The same
problem affected her brother.

The doctors realized that the girl's father was using a concentrated
testosterone skin cream bought from an Internet compounding pharmacy
for cosmetic and sexual performance purposes. From normal skin contact
with their father, the children absorbed the testosterone, which
caused pubic hair growth and genital enlargement. The boy, in
particular, also developed some aggressive behavior problems.

Sex hormones are potent because they are easily absorbed through the
skin and resist degradation better than many other hormones. Unlike
protein-based hormones like insulin, sex hormones like testosterone
and estrogen are technically steroids, meaning they are derived from

Primarily made by the liver, cholesterol begins with tiny pieces of
sugar that are joined, twisted and oxidized in a dizzying series to
make an end product that resembles the interlinked rings of the
Olympic emblem. Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, Nobel Laureate and a
biochemist in Texas, once called it "the most highly decorated small
molecule in biology," because 13 Nobel Prizes have been awarded for
its study.

Through further processing, primarily in the gonads and adrenal
glands, cholesterol is converted into sex hormones like estrogen and
testosterone. Kenneth Lee Jones, the former chief of pediatrics at the
University of California, San Diego, noted pediatric cases similar to
those described by Dr. Dedekian in a 2004 report in the journal
Pediatrics. Dr. Dedekian is a pediatric cardiologist at the University
of Massachusetts Medical School.

At that time, unregulated "prohormones" like Andro, famously used by
Mark McGwire, the former St. Louis Cardinals power hitter, and banned
by federal law in 2005, were available as topical sprays used to
enhance libido. Dr. Jones said the sprays used by adults in some
households permeated the children's bedsheets, and the early puberty
stopped only when the adults stopped using the sprays and also
discarded old sheets.

Testosterone-containing products are not the only trigger of
disordered puberty in children.

In a 1998 paper in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, Dr. Chandra
Tiwary, the former chief of pediatric endocrinology at Brook Army
Medical Center in Texas, reported an outbreak of early breast
development in four young African-American girls who used shampoos
that contained estrogen and placental extract. The early puberty
reversed once the shampoo was stopped.

In the tradition of previous physicians who deliberately exposed
themselves to possible pathogens, Dr. Tiwary tried the shampoos on
himself. He carefully measured his own levels of various male and
female sex hormones to establish his baseline, used the shampoos for a
few days, then repeated the tests.

While Dr. Tiwary is quick to admit that his unpublished findings must
be interpreted with great caution, some of his sex hormone levels
changed by almost 40 percent after he used the shampoos. In some
cases, substances other than sex steroids may also disrupt normal
sexual development. In Boston at the annual Endocrine Society meeting
in June, Clifford Bloch of the University of Colorado School of
Medicine presented several cases of young men who had developed marked
breast enlargement from using shampoos containing lavender and tea
tree oils, which are widely used essential oil additives that present
no problem for adults. (Unlike Dr. Dedekian's cases, these cases were
not a result of passive transfer from parents. The boys themselves
used the shampoos.)

Dr. Bloch collaborated with scientists at the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina to test the oils on
human breast cells grown in test tubes. Lavender and tea tree oil had
the same effect on the cells as estrogen.

Dr. Bloch speculates that the findings, which he is submitting for
publication in a peer-reviewed journal, may explain the boys' breast
growth. He noted, however, that cells in a test tube are a far cry
from humans, so the relationship of the essential oil to breast growth
remains hypothetical.

While pediatric endocrinologists have implicated pharmaceutical or
personal care products for causing pubertal problems in children, some
environmental scientists also claim that some widespread industrial
and pharmaceutical pollutants harm the normal sexual development of
fish and animals. By extension, they may also contribute to earlier or
disrupted puberty in children, these scientists contend. Robert
Kavlock, a senior reproductive toxicologist at the Environmental
Protection Agency, said these concerns "caused a shift in worry from
cancer to noncancer" effects of environmental pollution over the past

In 1994, scientists found that estrogen-like chemicals from plastics
manufacturing plants that had contaminated sewers in England caused
genetically male fish to develop into females. In the early 1980's,
major spills of the DDT-like pesticide dicofol in Florida led to the
"feminization" of the reproductive tracts of male alligators.

Ralph L. Cooper, the chief of endocrinology at the reproductive
toxicology division of the Environmental Protection Agency, says
various sources of endocrine disruptors, like manufacturing chemicals,
may be leaching into the environment. While their relation to pubertal
problems in children remains highly speculative, he believes further
study is needed.

Past epidemiological evidence, however, does worry Dr. Cooper, because
some chemical exposures have been associated with early puberty. In
1973, thousands of Michigan residents ate food contaminated by a flame
retardant, PBB, which was later correlated with earlier menstruation
in girls. In Puerto Rico, which has some of the world's highest rates
of early puberty, the condition was linked to higher levels of a
plasticizer called phthalate in affected children.

Governmental efforts to create a systematic method to assess possible
endocrine disruptors from environmental sources have stalled.

In 1996, Congress directed the E.P.A. to develop a comprehensive
screening program for possible endocrine disruptors within three
years. Dr. Cooper says no such program has begun operation, a failure
he attributed largely to stonewalling by chemical industry
representatives who serve on an advisory committee for the program.
Now the proposed rollout is December 2007, but Dr. Cooper said, "They
may be dreaming." Critics cite the program's high potential costs and
lack of reliable laboratory tests.

Protecting children from endocrine disrupters in cosmetics and
prescription drugs may also be difficult in the near future.

In 1989, the Food and Drug Administration proposed allowing up to
10,000 units of estrogen per ounce of cosmetic, the approximate oral
daily dose of hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women.
Dr. Tiwary said that in the early 1990's he filed an adverse drug
report with the agency about hormone-containing shampoos but that to
his knowledge, it never came to anything.

Reached by e-mail, a spokeswoman for the F.D.A. said that the agency
was "aware of some reports describing premature sexual devolepment"
with shampoos but that it had concluded that "there is no reason for
consumers to be concerned."

At this time, "placental materials are neither prohibited by cosmetic
regulations nor restricted" by the F.D.A., she wrote.

Dr. Dedekian said that while prohormones like Andro are no longer
commercially available, lax regulation of so-called compounding
pharmacies allows the manufacture and sale of concentrated
testosterone creams, like the one affecting his patient, without
government oversight.

Topical lotions and creams containing testosterone may become more
common. In 2000, Solvay Pharmaceuticals secured F.D.A. approval for
Androgel, a lotion to treat a syndrome the company calls low T,
referring to low testosterone. According to the company's Web site,
the condition affects 13 million men over 45. From 2000 to 2004, the
number of testosterone prescriptions doubled to over 2.4 million a

Solvay Pharmaceuticals referred questions on Androgel's possible risks
to Natan Bar-Chama, an associate professor of urology at Mount Sinai
School of Medicine.

Dr. Bar-Chama acknowledged the theoretical risks of transfer of the
hormone through skin contact with children, but he said he had never
seen a case among the hundreds of men he has treated. He added,
however, that it was prudent to take precautions when using the
product, including hand-washing after handling the gel and wearing
clothing to avoid skin-to-skin contact with others.

In 2003, an Institute of Medicine report stated, "There has been
increasing concern about the increase in the number of men using
testosterone and the lack of scientific data on the benefits and risks
of this therapy."

Dr. Dan Blazer, a psychiatrist at Duke who was chairman of the
committee, said, "In no way did we find a condition that we defined as
low T."

The major clinical trial of Androgel's effectiveness for low T,
published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in
2000, included neither a placebo group (patients who received an
inactive dummy lotion) nor a control group (patients who did not have
low T) for comparison.

Dr. Ronald Swerdloff, the chief of endocrinology at Harbor-U.C.L.A.
Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., and a consultant for Solvay, who
ran the study, said the trial was limited in scope since it examined
"a new route of administration for an already established drug."

** Darshak M. Sanghavi is a pediatric cardiologist at the University
of Massachusetts Medical School.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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From: Daily Telegraph (UK), Nov. 9, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By John von Radowitz

Millions of children worldwide may have suffered brain damage as a
direct result of industrial pollution, scientists say.

An explosive report talks of a "silent pandemic" of
neurodevelopmental disorders caused by toxic chemicals spilling into
the environment.

They include conditions such as autism, attention deficit disorder,
mental retardation and cerebral palsy. All are common and can result
in lifelong disability, but their causes are largely unknown.

The scientists, from Holland and the US, identified 202 industrial
chemicals with the potential to damage the human brain, and said they
were likely to be the "tip of a very large iceberg". More than 1,000
chemicals are known to be neurotoxic in animals, and are also likely
to be harmful to humans.

The researchers made an urgent call for much tighter worldwide
controls on chemicals, and a "precautionary approach" to testing. Dr
Philippe Grandjean, from the Department of Environmental Medicine at
the University of Southern Denmark in Winslowparken, one of the
study's two authors, said: "The human brain is a precious and
vulnerable organ.

"And because optimal brain function depends on the integrity of the
organ, even limited damage may have serious consequences. Even if
substantial documentation on their toxicity is available, most
chemicals are not regulated to protect the developing brain. Only a
few substances, such as lead and mercury, are controlled with the
purpose of protecting children.

"The 200 other chemicals that are known to be toxic to the human brain
are not regulated to prevent adverse effects on the foetus or a small
child." Grandjean and co-author Professor Philip Landrigan, from the
Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, trawled a range of
scientific data sources to compile their evidence.

Five substances for which sufficient toxicity evidence exist were
examined in detail -- lead, methylmercury, arsenic, polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs) and toluene. In each case, the dangers came to light
the same way.

First, there was a recognition of high dosage toxicity in adults, and
records of isolated episodes of poisoning among children. This was
followed by a growing body of epidemiological evidence that lower
levels of exposure in children led to neurobehavioral defects.

Pinning down the effects of industrial chemical pollution is extremely
difficult because they may not produce symptoms for several years or
even decades, said the scientists. This was why the pandemic is
"silent". The damage caused by individual toxic chemicals is not
obviously apparent in available health statistics.

But the extent of the sub-clinical risk to large populations is
illustrated by the legacy of lead. Virtually all children born in
industrialised countries between 1960 and 1980 must have been exposed
to lead from petrol, said the researchers. Based on what is known
about the toxic effects of lead, this may have reduced exceptional IQ
scores of above 130 by more than half, and increased the number of
scores less than 70.

Other results of lead exposure included shortened attention span,
slowed motor coordination and heightened aggressiveness. In later
life, early damage from lead can increase the risk of Parkinson's and
other neurodegenerative diseases.

Today, it is estimated that lead poisoning in children costs the US
economy $A55 billion each year. One in six children is thought to have
some kind of developmental disability, usually involving the nervous

Developing brains are much more susceptible to toxic chemicals than
those of adults, pointed out the scientists. Interference with complex
changes taking place in the developing brain can have permanent
consequences. And research had shown that this vulnerable period lasts
from the foetal stage of life through infancy and childhood to

Writing in the online version of The Lancet medical journal, the
scientists conclude: "The combined evidence suggests that
neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals has
created a silent pandemic in modern society.

"Although these chemicals might have caused impaired brain development
to millions of children worldwide, the profound effects of such a
pandemic are not apparent from available health statistics.
Additionally... only a few chemical causes have been recognised, so
the full effects of our industrial activities could be substantially
greater than recognised at present."

In the EU, 100,000 chemicals were registered for commercial use in
1981, and in the US, 80,000 are registered. Yet fewer than half had
been subjected to even token laboratory testing, said the report, and
in 80 per cent of cases there was no information about potential
danger to children.

Although new chemicals went through more rigorous testing, access to
the data could be restricted for commercial reasons. In the EU, a new
testing program called Reach is planned under proposed legislation
that will enforce tighter controls.

But the scientists said that even this does not go far enough, since
it fails to emphasise the importance of testing chemicals for
developmental neurotoxicity. "Toxicity testing protocols for chemicals
need to be expanded to include examination of neurobehavioral
functions," they said.

There was a mixed reaction to the research from other experts.

Professor Mark Hanson, director of developmental origins of health and
disease at Southampton University, said: "The authors have put their
finger on something which is important and which will not go away. The
review, in a way, is timely because it will stir up debate and
hopefully generate more research in this area. There is no need to
panic, but we can't ignore this possible problem."

Professor Alan Boobis, from the section of experimental medicine and
toxicology at Imperial College London, said: "The authors of this
review have raised an issue of significant concern, but some of the
evidence in support of the conclusions lacks rigour. This is a risk
management issue. In implementing the precautionary principle, it is
important to take into account all relevant information and not just
the potential harm that might result from inaction."

Professor Nigel Brown, head of the faculty of medicine and biomedical
sciences at the University of London, criticised the report, saying
the authors "verge on scaremongering". He said: "From their
assertions, the authors conclude that the combined evidence suggests
that neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals has
created a silent pandemic in modern society. This is a gross

"It is possible that there is a problem. We should be aware of this
and we should study the problem, but there is currently not a shred of
evidence of a pandemic."

Copyright 2006 News Limited

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From: New York Times, Nov. 2, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Cornelia Dean

If fishing around the world continues at its present pace, more and
more species will vanish, marine ecosystems will unravel and there
will be "global collapse" of all species currently fished, possibly as
soon as midcentury, fisheries experts and ecologists are predicting.

The scientists, who report their findings today in the journal
Science, say it is not too late to turn the situation around. As long
as marine ecosystems are still biologically diverse, they can recover
quickly once overfishing and other threats are reduced, the
researchers say.

But improvements must come quickly, said Boris Worm of Dalhousie
University in Nova Scotia, who led the work. Otherwise, he said, "we
are seeing the bottom of the barrel."

"When humans get into trouble they are quick to change their ways," he
continued. "We still have rhinos and tigers and elephants because we
saw a clear trend that was going down and we changed it. We have to do
the same in the oceans."

The report is one of many in recent years to identify severe
environmental degradation in the world's oceans and to predict
catastrophic loss of fish species. But experts said it was unusual in
its vision of widespread fishery collapse so close at hand.

The researchers drew their conclusion after analyzing dozens of
studies, along with fishing data collected by the United Nations Food
and Agricultural Organization and other sources. They acknowledge that
much of what they are reporting amounts to correlation, rather than
proven cause and effect. And the F.A.O. data have come under criticism
from researchers who doubt the reliability of some nations' reporting
practices, Dr. Worm said.

Still, he said in an interview, "there is not a piece of evidence"
that contradicts the dire conclusions.

Jane Lubchenco, a fisheries expert at Oregon State University who had
no connection with the work, called the report "compelling."

"It's a meta analysis and there are challenges in interpreting those,"
she said in an interview, referring to the technique of collective
analysis of disparate studies. "But when you get the same patterns
over and over and over, that tells you something."

But Steve Murawski, chief scientist of the Fisheries Service of the
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, said the
researchers' prediction of a major global collapse "doesn't gibe with
trends that we see, especially in the United States."

He said the Fisheries Service considered about 20 percent of the
stocks it monitors to be overfished. "But 80 percent are not, and that
trend has not changed substantially," he said, adding that if
anything, the fish situation in American waters was improving. But he
conceded that the same cannot necessarily be said for stocks
elsewhere, particularly in the developing world.

Mr. Murawski said the Bush administration was seeking to encourage
international fishery groups to consider adopting measures that have
been effective in American waters.

Twelve scientists from the United States, Canada, Sweden and Panama
contributed to the work reported in Science today.

"We extracted all data on fish and invertebrate catches from 1950 to
2003 within all 64 large marine ecosystems worldwide," they wrote.
"Collectively, these areas produced 83 percent of global fisheries
yields over the past 50 years."

In an interview, Dr. Worm said, "We looked at absolutely everything -
all the fish, shellfish, invertebrates, everything that people consume
that comes from the ocean, all of it, globally."

The researchers found that 29 percent of species had been fished so
heavily or were so affected by pollution or habitat loss that they
were down to 10 percent of previous levels, their definition of

This loss of biodiversity seems to leave marine ecosystems as a whole
more vulnerable to overfishing and less able to recover from its
effects, Dr. Worm said. It results in an acceleration of environmental
decay, and further loss of fish.

Dr. Worm said he analyzed the data for the first time on his laptop
while he was overseeing a roomful of students taking an exam. What he
saw, he said, was "just a smooth line going down." And when he
extrapolated the data into the future "to see where it ends at 100
percent collapse, you arrive at 2048."

"The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I said, 'This cannot be
true,'" he recalled. He said he ran the data through his computer
again, then did the calculations by hand. The results were the same.

"I don't have a crystal ball and I don't know what the future will
bring, but this is a clear trend," he said. "There is an end in sight,
and it is within our lifetimes."

Dr. Worm said a number of steps could help turn things around.

Even something as simple as reducing the number of unwanted fish
caught in nets set for other species would help, he said. Marine
reserves would also help, he said, as would "doing away with
horrendous overfishing where everyone agrees it's a bad thing; or if
we banned destructive fishing in the most sensitive habitats."

Josh Reichert, who directs the environmental division of the Pew
Charitable Trusts, called the report "a kind of warning bell" for
people and economies that depend on fish.

But predicting a global fisheries collapse by 2048 "assumes we do
nothing to fix this," he said, "and shame on us if that were to be the

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From: Pittsburgh (Penna.) Post-Gazette, Nov. 8, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Anita Srikameswaran,

Use of personal care products that contain estrogen or hormone-like
compounds might help explain why young African-American women are at
greater risk of developing breast cancer, local scientists say.

In an upcoming issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses, researchers
from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's center for
environmental oncology point out that black women under 40 have a
higher breast cancer incidence than white women of similar age, and
they are more likely to die of the cancer regardless of age.

"We have to ask what else is going on," said senior investigator and
center director Devra Davis. "We think that these products could be
playing a role."

Personal care products like hair straighteners and deodorants may
contain estrogens and preservative compounds called parabens that
mimic hormones.

"Some of these compounds are widely used in the African-American
community throughout life, starting at very young ages," Dr. Davis

In a report from the mid-90s, black toddlers began to develop breasts
and pubic hair when their parents applied hair pomades to their

"When they stopped using these products, the breasts went away," Dr.
Davis said. "Now anything that can make breasts grow in an infant has
got to be problematic."

Manufacturers do not have to list product ingredients, so "I can't
tell [people] anything about what's in them now," she said. "I do not
know. Nobody does because they're not required to make it public."

Dr. Davis said she would like to get manufacturers to stop using the
questionable compounds. As she put it, "We don't want to just study
the problem. We want to make the problem go away."

More research needs to be done to verify or refute a link between the
products and breast cancer risk, said Maryann Donovan, scientific
director of the environmental oncology center and leader of the study.

"We don't really know yet, but we certainly can document that these
chemicals are definitely causing changes... that are biologically
important," she said.

In addition to conducting experiments to see how breast cells behave
when mingled with the compounds, researchers must try to reconstruct
exposures that might have put black breast cancer patients at greater
risk, Dr. Donovan said.

Suspicious chemicals also can be found in everything from suntan
lotion to milk, she noted. Puberty is occurring at lower ages, the
ratio of male to female births is changing and other such shifts are
raising concerns.

"We need to look at these as wake-up calls and do something
differently," Dr. Donovan said. "If we don't wrestle with this beast,
and do something about it, it's never going to go away."

Scientists from the environmental oncology center and Pitt's Graduate
School of Public Health reviewed breast cancer rates among black and
white women from 1975 to 2002.

Invasive breast cancer incidence declined overall, but African-
American women still remained at higher risk, they said. The findings
were presented this week in Boston during the annual meeting of the
American Public Health Association.


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From: Toronto Globe and Mail, Sept. 14, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Martin Mittelstaedt, Environment Reporter

After a massive investigation spanning seven years, federal scientists
[in Canada] have determined that a staggering total of about 4,000
chemicals used in Canada pose enough of a risk to human health or
wildlife that they need to be subjected to in-depth safety

Staff at Environment Canada and Health Canada are planning to give the
list of chemicals to their respective ministers later today, the
beginning of what is expected to be the biggest effort ever undertaken
in the country to deal with potentially harmful substances used in
everything from pop bottles and lip balm to household cleaners and
plastic baby bottles.

All 4,000 chemicals will be studied, but the ministers will decide
which ones pose the greatest threat and should be studied first. They
will also decide whether any regulations are needed to control those

Federal officials expect to make public the chemicals they're worried
about in the next few weeks, along with a plan for dealing with the

But they're already saying they have conducted the most comprehensive
review ever undertaken in the world of potentially harmful compounds
in widespread commercial use.

"We're actually quite proud of what we've done here. We are the first
country in the world that has done a systematic review of all of the
chemicals in use," said Paul Glover, Health Canada's director-general
of safe environment programs.

Mr. Glover said the government assessed the chemicals because of
worries they might be factors contributing to disease or illness.
"Quite frankly, we think that that might be the case and that's why
we've done this work," he said in an interview.

Recent scientific research has cited some widely used chemicals that
weren't originally assessed for possibly causing cancer, declining
sperm counts, attention-deficit disorders and other ailments.

Many of the chemicals to be subjected to assessments are contained in
products virtually all Canadians come into contact with, while others
are used extensively by industry in manufacturing, where workers face
possible exposures and factory emissions could contaminate the

Industry officials and environmentalists have worked closely with the
government in compiling the list of suspect chemicals. This list
includes about 4,000 compounds needing review, although federal
officials refused to confirm that number yesterday.

Some of the chemicals have been used extensively in consumer products,
including polyethylene terephthalate, a building block for pop
bottles; styrene, a component in many plastics; toluene, a solvent
used in household cleaning products; and bisphenol-A, used to make
dental sealants.

"These toxic chemicals are found in many aspects of our lives,
everything from personal-care products, cooking pots and pans,
electronics, furniture, clothing," said Rick Smith, executive director
of Environmental Defence, a conservation think tank based in Toronto.

Some of those who have seen the list are calling for quick government
action to limit use of the questionable substances. Federal law gives
Ottawa the power to ban or place restrictions on the use of compounds
deemed harmful.

"These chemicals are the worst of the worst," said Fe de Leon, a
researcher at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. "There has
to be comprehensive regulatory action, not just on a handful of the
chemicals [but] all 4,000."

The chemicals selected for review were in commercial use before Canada
adopted its first comprehensive pollution legislation, the Canadian
Environmental Protection Act, in 1988.

At that time, there were 23,000 substances in use exempted from safety
study because federal regulators decided to concentrate on screening
new chemicals, of which there are about 800 introduced a year, rather
than deal with the problems posed by substances already on the market.

But recently, there has been an international effort to come to grips
with the possible health consequences of the widespread use of these
inadequately assessed chemicals.

In Europe, a review of the safety of grandfathered chemicals is under

The exemption in Canada meant that tens of thousands of chemicals have
been legally used for years, despite never having been formally
assessed -- or having been poorly assessed -- for the risks they might
pose to either human health or to the environment.

The decision, made years ago, by the government to permit use of these
older chemicals angered some environmentalists because it may have
exposed Canadians to needless health risks. "They've completely
failed" because they've allowed nearly two decades of use of the
chemicals, said Mr. Smith, whose group conducted tests that found many
Canadians have residues of harmful chemicals in their bodies.

To try to close this regulatory gap, a group of scientists from both
Health Canada and Environment Canada spent the seven years jointly
poring over the long list of grandfathered chemicals.

In selecting those in need of further study, authorities looked at
each of the exempted chemicals and picked some because they are in
such widespread usage that almost everyone in the country is likely to
be exposed.

As well, they've also screened the list for those chemicals that are
"inherently toxic," the government's term for substances that pose
health threats to humans or wildlife, while also possessing the
dangerous attributes of accumulating in living things and being
resistant to natural breakdown into less harmful substances.

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