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  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#843 -- Expanding the Movement, 23-Feb-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #843

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

Thursday, February 23, 2006.............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Health and Environmental Health: Expanding the Movement
  We "environmental health" activists could appeal to a larger
  segment of the public if we based our work on all three environments
  that determine human health: the natural, the built, and the social.
Diane Wilson Released from Jail
  Diane Wilson, indomitable activist from Seadrift, Texas, and
  author of An Unreasonable Woman was released from jail Feb. 17.
  Now she can continue her quest to bring Dow Chemical to justice.
The Weinberg Proposal
  Following up on last week's Rachel's #842, about corporate hired
  guns faking scientific studies -- here's a long expose by the American
  Chemical Society describing a hired-gun consulting firm called The
  Weinberg Group.
New Thinking on Neurodevelopment
  About 17% of school-age children in the United States suffer from a
  disability that affects their behavior, memory, or ability to learn.
  And the incidence of these disorders is rising. What's that about? Why
  can't we do better by our kids?

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #843, Feb. 23, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]                                         [This story]

HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: EXPANDING THE MOVEMENT

By Peter Montague

Since 1970, we "environmental health" activists have tiptoed onto
territory occupied by public health professionals. But so far we have
not fully embraced the public health approach -- defining and
conducting our "environmental health" work as a branch of public
health -- and as a result, our work does not yet appeal to large
segments of the public.. We are seen as elitists worried about
irrelevant problems. We could easily change this.

Health and "environmental health"

The U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) defines the mission of public
health this way: "to fulfill society's interest in assuring conditions
in which people can be healthy."

The preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization
(WHO, July 22, 1946), defines health as "a state of complete well-
being, physical, social, and mental, and not merely the absence of
disease or infirmity."

The WHO constitution also defines health as a basic human right: "The
enjoyment of the highest standard of health is one of the fundamental
rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion,
political belief, economic or social condition." This is consistent
with Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of
1948, which says,

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the
health and well-being of himself and his/her family, including food,
clothing, housing, and medical care."

The World Health Organization defines "environmental health" as
"those aspects of human health, including quality of life, that are
determined by physical, chemical, biological, social, and psychosocial
factors in the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice
of assessing, correcting, controlling, and preventing those factors in
the environment that can potentially affect adversely the health of
present and future generations."

The Pew Commission on Environmental Health defined environmental
health this way: "Environmental health comprises those aspects of
human health, including quality of life, that are determined by
interactions with physical, chemical, biological and social factors in
the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice of
assessing, correcting, controlling and preventing those factors in the
environment that may adversely affect the health of present and future
generations."

In the U.S., 3000 county and municipal health officials are
represented by the National Association of County and City Health
Officials (NACCHO). In Resolution 99-13, NACCHO specifically
recognizes that "environment and health are intimately related, and
environmental health is a public health activity..." So public health
workers seem to be inviting "environmental health" activists onto
their turf. What is holding us back?

The crux of the matter is that there are three "environments" that
affect human health: the natural environment, the built environment,
and the social environment. Each is crucial to public health. We
"environmental health" activists have embraced the first two, but not
all of us have yet embraced the third. Getting to that third
"environment" is crucial for expanding our appeal to a broader
audience.

The natural environment

For eons people have recognized that human health depends on the
natural world. To thrive, we need clean water, clean air, and good
food. However, there are two other "environments" upon which our
health also depends -- the built environment and the social
environment.

The built environment

We've known about the importance of the built environment for more
than 2000 years. As humans began to crowd into small cities and
disease rates soared, Hippocrates in Greece and later Vitruvius in
Rome realized that positive steps must be taken to maintain conditions
in which people can be healthy.

In Greece and Rome, buildings were oriented to take advantage of fresh
air and sunlight. The Roman aqueducts brought in fresh water, which
was then distributed city-wide. The Roman baths made cleanliness
possible for everyone. Certain occupations, such as silver mining,
were known to cause illness and death. These early understandings
formed the basis for what in the late 19th century became known as
"public health."

In England during the early, awful days of industrialization, which
Charles Dickens described so convincingly in the 1840s, the
government recognized that disease arose from both the built and the
social environments. Disease was caused by fetid air and improper
waste disposal, but it was also caused by poverty and human
degradation. In 1845 Friedrich Engels published The Condition of
the Working Class in England in 1844, cataloging what Charles Dickens
had portrayed in novels -- unspeakable conditions of filth, poverty,
and degradation giving rise to disease and death.

The social environment and the social determinants of health

The German physician Rudolf Virchow is known as the "father of
modern pathology" but he also pioneered our understanding of how
social conditions foster health or disease. In 1848 the German
government sent Virchow to Upper Silesia to investigate an epidemic of
typhus. In his report, he said the epidemic was attributable to
miserable living conditions, inadequate diet, and poor hygiene -- and,
he said, these conditions were, in turn, attributable to feudalism,
lack of democracy, and unfair tax policies. Thus Virchow identified
the social environment as an important factor in human disease.

From these roots grew the modern public health perspective on human
well-being: society must create the conditions in which people can be
healthy, and disease must be prevented whenever possible, rather than
relying only on the curative powers of the physician. To this day,
prevention is the keystone idea of public health practice. The medical
model (one doctor, one patient) can only go so far. The public health
model (preventive intervention by proper authorities at the level of
the entire population) is essential for community health.

Providing clean water, offering vaccinations, establishing fire codes
and structural requirements for buildings, requiring landlords to
provide a modicum of sunlight and fresh air in rental properties --
these are population-wide public health interventions needed to
prevent disease and injury.

Public health professionals fully understand that the natural and
built environments are important for maintaining human health. The
National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has
passed resolutions urging governments and the public to pay attention
to both the natural and built environments, in order to maintain the
health of populations. (See for example, NACCHO resolution 03-02 to
support land use planning and design, and NACCHO resolution 98-06 on
brownfields. And see NACCHO's statement, "Integrating Public Health
into Land Use Decision-Making."

Activists in the "environmental health" movement also understand the
importance of the natural and built environments to human health.
Highways, sprawl, "brownfields," poisoned land, unsafe food additives,
pesticides, contaminated drinking water -- these are all things that
"environmental health" activists routinely tackle.

But in one respect, public health professionals are somewhat ahead of
environmental health activists -- in recognizing how the social
environment affects health. For example, NACCHO Resolution 02-04
acknowledges that "a significant body of research in the last fifteen
years documents clearly that socioeconomic inequality, poor quality of
life, and low socioeconomic status are principal causes of morbidity
[sickness] and mortality [death]." We have put together a
bibliography highlighting some of that research.

NACCHO Resolution 02-04 goes on to say, "We embrace social justice as
the cornerstone of our work, recognizing that equity, shared decision
making and attention to the social determinants of disease are central
to promoting healthy communities."

In testimony before the National Institute of Medicine March 20, 2002,
Dr. Adewale Troutman, representing NACCHO, described the "root causes
of the current picture of ill health of large segments of our
population: social injustice, economic inequality, and racism."

The World Health Organization (WHO) accepts that the "social
determinants of health" must be addressed if we are to protect and
maintain public health. In 1998, WHO said, "Policy and action for
health need to be geared towards addressing the social determinants of
health in order to attack the causes of ill health before they can
lead to problems." Notice the preventive approach. Attack the causes
BEFORE they can lead to problems.

In a 2003 booklet, called The Social Determinants of Health: The
Solid Facts, WHO discussed 10 aspects of "the social determinants of
health." Here are a few excerpts from that booklet:

1. THE SOCIAL GRADIENT

Poor social and economic circumstances affect health throughout life.
People further down the social ladder usually run at least twice the
risk of serious illness and premature death as those near the top. Nor
are the effects confined to the poor: the social gradient in health
runs right across society, so that even among middle-class office
workers, lower ranking staff suffer much more disease and earlier
death than higher ranking staff. Both material and psychosocial causes
contribute to these differences and their effects extend to most
diseases and causes of death.

2. STRESS

Stressful circumstances, making people feel worried, anxious and
unable to cope, are damaging to health and may lead to premature
death.

Social and psychological circumstances can cause long-term stress.
Continuing anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem, social isolation and
lack of control over work and home life, have powerful effects on
health. Such psychosocial risks accumulate during life and increase
the chances of poor mental health and premature death.

In schools, workplaces and other institutions, the quality of the
social environment and material security are often as important to
health as the physical environment.

3. EARLY LIFE

A good start in life means supporting mothers and young children: the
health impact of early development and education lasts a lifetime.

...[T]he foundations of adult health are laid in early childhood and
before birth. Slow growth and poor emotional support raise the
lifetime risk of poor physical health and reduce physical, cognitive
and emotional functioning in adulthood.

Slow or retarded physical growth in infancy is associated with reduced
cardiovascular, respiratory, pancreatic and kidney development and
function, which increase the risk of illness in adulthood.

4. SOCIAL EXCLUSION

Life is short where its quality is poor. By causing hardship and
resentment, poverty, social exclusion and discrimination cost lives.

Relative poverty means being much poorer than most people in society
and is often defined as living on less than 60% of the national median
income. It denies people access to decent housing, education,
transport and other factors vital to full participation in life. Being
excluded from the life of society and treated as less than equal leads
to worse health and greater risks of premature death. The stresses of
living in poverty are particularly harmful during pregnancy, to
babies, children and old people. In some countries, as much as one
quarter of the total population - and a higher proportion of children
- live in relative poverty.

Social exclusion also results from racism, discrimination,
stigmatization, hostility and unemployment. These processes prevent
people from participating in education or training, and gaining access
to services and citizenship activities. They are socially and
psychologically damaging, materially costly, and harmful to health.

5. WORK

Stress in the workplace increases the risk of disease. People who have
more control over their work have better health.

In general, having a job is better for health than having no job. But
the social organization of work, management styles and social
relationships in the workplace all matter for health. Evidence shows
that stress at work plays an important role in contributing to the
large social status differences in health, sickness absence and
premature death.

Having little control over one's work is particularly strongly related
to an increased risk of low back pain, sickness absence and
cardiovascular disease.

6. UNEMPLOYMENT

Job security increases health, well-being and job satisfaction. Higher
rates of unemployment cause more illness and premature death.

The health effects of unemployment are linked to both its
psychological consequences and the financial problems it brings -
especially debt.

Unemployment puts health at risk, and the risk is higher in regions
where unemployment is widespread. Evidence from a number of countries
shows that, even after allowing for other factors, unemployed people
and their families suffer a substantially increased risk of premature
death.

Policy should have three goals: to prevent unemployment and job
insecurity; to reduce the hardship suffered by the unemployed; and to
restore people to secure jobs.

7. SOCIAL SUPPORT

Friendship, good social relations and strong supportive networks
improve health at home, at work and in the community.

Social support and good social relations make an important
contribution to health. Social support helps give people the emotional
and practical resources they need. Belonging to a social network of
communication and mutual obligation makes people feel cared for,
loved, esteemed and valued. This has a powerful protective effect on
health.

8. ADDICTION

Individuals turn to alcohol, drugs and tobacco and suffer from their
use, but use is influenced by the wider social setting.

Drug use is both a response to social breakdown and an important
factor in worsening the resulting inequalities in health. It offers
users a mirage of escape from adversity and stress, but only makes
their problems worse.

The use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs is fostered by
aggressive marketing and promotion by major transnational companies
and by organized crime. Their activities are a major barrier to policy
initiatives to reduce use among young people....

9. FOOD

Because global market forces control the food supply, healthy food is
a political issue.

A shortage of food and lack of variety cause malnutrition and
deficiency diseases. Excess intake (also a form of malnutrition)
contributes to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, degenerative
eye diseases, obesity and dental caries. Food poverty exists side by
side with food plenty. The important public health issue is the
availability and cost of healthy, nutritious food Access to good,
affordable food makes more difference to what people eat than health
education.

10. TRANSPORT

Healthy transport means less driving and more walking and cycling,
backed up by better public transport.

Cycling, walking and the use of public transport promote health in
four ways. They provide exercise, reduce fatal accidents, increase
social contact and reduce air pollution.

Because mechanization has reduced the exercise involved in jobs and
house work and added to the growing epidemic of obesity, people need
to find new ways of building exercise into their lives. Transport
policy can play a key role in combating sedentary lifestyles by
reducing reliance on cars, increasing walking and cycling, and
expanding public transport.

[End of excerpts.]

Summary

So there you have it. By embracing all three environments -- natural,
built, and social -- environmental health activists could broaden
their appeal to segments of the public who now think of "environment"
as irrelevant, divorced from the problems of real life. Embracing that
third environment -- the social determinants of health -- would help
us develop an effective, lasting movement for change. Another world IS
possible.

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS), Feb. 21, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]                                         [This story]

DIANE WILSON RELEASED FROM JAIL

"Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them...or shall we
transgress them at once?" wrote Henry David Thoreau in his famed
essay, "Civil Disobedience." On Friday, February 17 another
inspiring American activist, Diane Wilson, was released after 74
days in a cold and crowded Texas jail cell. She had been arrested in
Houston on December 5th for speaking out during a fundraiser for
recently-indicted U.S. Representative Tom Delay, then jailed under
an existing warrant for protesting at the Dow Chemical plant in her
hometown of Seadrift, Texas. Diane Wilson went to prison for making
the point that the world's worst chemical disaster could well be
repeated in her backyard.

Take action now to insist that Texas governor Rick Perry enforce
laws against toxic Texas polluters.

In 2002, Wilson climbed a chemical tower at the Dow plant in her
hometown of Seadrift, Texas, and dropped a banner declaring, "Dow-
Responsible for Bhopal." Dow is the sole owner of the chemical company
Union Carbide, which operated a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. In
1984 the poorly maintained factory exploded, filling the streets of
the city with toxic clouds of methyl isocyanate gas. The Indian
government charged Union Carbide and its former CEO Warren Anderson
with manslaughter for killing 15,000 people--although the real figure
may well be over 20,000--and claimed damages for injuries to 100,000
more.

Wilson's imprisonment raises the question of just who our justice
system is protecting us from. Twenty one years after the explosion,
Anderson has yet to appear for his criminal trial in India. Meanwhile,
the citizens of Bhopal who survived that ghoulish night continue to
suffer and die not only from the long-term effects of continuing
contamination, but also from the poverty that comes from being too
sick to support a family. Survivors of the Bhopal gas leak are
demanding that Anderson and Dow face trial, clean up the toxic site,
pay for medical treatment and compensation for illnesses, and provide
economic rehabilitation for those whose ability to work has been
affected.

On February 20th, 150 survivors of the Union Carbide plant explosion
and victims of the resulting groundwater contamination have set off on
foot to New Delhi demanding a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Depending on the response of the central government, the marchers may
decide to go on an indefinite fast at the end of their 900 kilometer
long march. Read a daily blog on the march at 
http://www.bhopal.net/march/.

Those who suffer from Dow's pollution in the United States are
recognizing that they have a tangible common bond with the Bhopal
survivors. Wilson, a mother of five, captained a shrimp boat off the
coast of Seadrift, Texas for years until she noticed that her friends
were getting cancer and the shrimp she depended on were dying. When
she found out that Dow and other chemical plants were dumping lethal
ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride into her beloved bays, Wilson
launched herself on a mission to stop the pollution. She hatched a
plan to sink her shrimp boat on top of a dioxin flume, and left her
livelihood behind to fight full time against corporate power.
Recognizing her community's bond with others harmed by the chemical
industry, Wilson forged an alliance with the survivors in Bhopal,
resulting in her action at Dow's Seadrift plant.

A Texas court charged Wilson with a minor misdemeanor for trespassing,
but instead of showing up for her sentence immediately, she took off
in search of fellow fugitive Warren Anderson. "This company has
warrants after their arrest, and they can be defiant and not show up,
but let a little woman with a banner drop it... and I'm a dangerous
woman, and I have to be thrown in jail," Wilson decried.

Wilson's stay in jail was not a comfortable experience. She spent her
first several days sleeping huddled on the floor without even a
blanket or a toothbrush, in a cell where the one tiny window was
papered over. "It feels incredible, just incredible to be out," she
stated Friday a few hours after being released. "I've had a lot of
people, especially the girls inside who know what it's like to sit on
the floor of a crowded cell every day, tell me, 'I guess you won't do
this again.""

Yet her spirit has only been strengthened. "I told them I don't regret
it, and I would do it again. We have to take our issues as seriously
as the corporations and administration do. We need to be as committed
to our issues as we can be; we need to draw a line and hold it."

Shocked by the conditions she found in the Victoria County Jail,
Wilson drafted a letter to the local sheriff deploring the worst
abuses. "The women in this jail are predominantly African American or
Hispanic and very poor. Most of their offenses are minor, for things
like traffic tickets or soliciting or violating probation--all non-
violent, yet they are forced to remain in the cell without counsel for
long periods of time," she wrote. Wilson's letter also described how
lack of health care in the jail resulted in cases of a ruptured
gallbladder, kidney failure, and even the tragic death of a newborn
baby whose inmate mother was placed in solitary confinement when her
water broke, leaving her to face a breech birth on her own.

"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a
just man is also a prison," Thoreau declared after spending one night
in jail in 1849 for refusing to pay taxes to a government that
supported slavery. Thoreau's teachings that individuals should follow
their own moral compass when the laws of their country are unjust
provided the philosophical base for the actions of Gandhi and Martin
Luther King, Jr. Today, Diane Wilson uses her moral compass to draw
the lines of right and wrong, to speak out that polluting her
community and taking the lives of 15,000 people and injuring 100,000
more in India is a much greater crime than unfurling a banner from a
tower, or the minor transgressions of her cell mates.

A government that allows corporations to commit crimes with impunity
becomes implicit in these crimes itself. A freedom of information act
request in 2004 revealed that the U.S. State Department denied India's
extradition order for Warren Anderson after the U.S. Department of
Commerce joined Union Carbide in pleading on Anderson's behalf.

Thoreau described the act of civil disobedience as asserting personal
freedom--freeing oneself from the fear of state retribution for non-
cooperation with injustice. "I saw that, if there was a wall of stone
between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to
climb or break through, before they could get to be as free as I was,"
he observed from his jail cell. We curtail our own freedom with fear
of speaking out. Yet there is a Diane Wilson in each of us, a core of
courage to honor our own moral compass, to stride past fear toward the
freedom to act on our convictions, to be as committed to our issues as
we can be.

Take action!

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is currently
revising its penalty policy, providing an opportunity to push for
greater accountability against polluters that break the law and put
public health at risk. Call Governor Perry to support stricter
enforcement and penalties against corporate polluters.

Sources:

For more information on the struggle of the Bhopal survivors, visit
the Students for Bhopal web site: http://www.studentsforbhopal.org/M
archToDelhi.htm#March

Wilson, Diane. 2006. Letter from Jail. http://www.chelseagreen.com/2
005/items/unreasonablewoman/fromjail

Pesticide Action Network. 2005. The 21st Anniversary of the Bhopal
Pesticide Plant Explosion. http://www.panna.org/resources/panups/pa
nup_20051202.dv.html

Thoreau, Henry David. 1849. "Civil Disobedience." See http://eserve
r.org/thoreau/civil.html

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and
reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the
mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North
America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to
advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

You can join our efforts! We gladly accept donations for our work and
all contributions are tax deductible in the United States. Visit
http://www.panna.org/donate.

Email us at: panna@panna.org. Phone us at: (415) 981-1771. Also see
Contact and visit information.

Copyright 2006 by Pesticide Action Network North America
(PANNA).

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Environmental Science & Technology Online News, Feb. 21, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]                                             [Source]

THE WEINBERG PROPOSAL

A scientific consulting firm says that it aids companies in trouble,
but critics say that it manufactures uncertainty and undermines
science.

By Paul D. Thacker

Tucked away inside the U.S. EPA's docket on PFOA, a chemical
manufactured by DuPont, is a 5-page letter written in April 2003 by
the Weinberg Group, an international scientific consulting firm
based in Washington, D.C. The letter is addressed to DuPont's vice
president of special initiatives, Jane Brooks, and lays out a
proposal for how the Weinberg Group can help the company deal with a
growing regulatory and legal crisis over PFOA (perfluorooctanoic
acid). PFOA is a common building block of the perfluorocarbon family
of chemicals, which are renowned for their water and stain resistance.
PFOA is the compound used to make Teflon and was once used in other
products such as Scotchgard, Stainmaster, and Gore-Tex.

Critics say that the tactics detailed in the Weinberg proposal are
commonly used by chemical and pharmaceutical companies trying to
combat lawsuits and regulations against their products. View the
proposal [354KB PDF]"The constant theme which permeates our
recommendations on the issues faced by DuPont is that DUPONT MUST
SHAPE THE DEBATE AT ALL LEVELS," states the letter (emphasis in
original). For 23 years, the letter continues, the Weinberg Group "has
helped numerous companies manage issues allegedly related to
environmental exposures. Beginning with Agent Orange in 1983, we have
successfully guided clients through myriad regulatory, litigation and
public relations challenges posed by those whose agenda is to grossly
over regulate, extract settlements from, or otherwise damage the
chemical manufacturing industry."

Although a DuPont spokesperson confirmed that they had hired the
Weinberg Group, no evidence exist that they followed through with all
the items outlined in the plan. Nevertheless, experts contend that the
document provides one of the clearest examples they have seen to
illustrate how consulting firms help industries deal with scientific
questions about the safety or health consequences of their products.
These firms develop legal defense campaigns, ostensibly based on
science, to sway juries during trials, to counteract potential
regulatory oversight, and to influence the public's view about the
health effects of products. Critics such as David Michaels, chair of
the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George
Washington University, charge that these groups "manufacture
uncertainty" -- a term Michaels coined -- in order to prevent or delay
regulations and civil lawsuits.

========================================================

SIDEBAR

Critics say that the tactics detailed in the Weinberg proposal are
commonly used by chemical and pharmaceutical companies trying to
combat lawsuits and regulations against their products.

View the Weinberg Group's propsal [345 L PDF]

========================================================

The 2003 letter from the Weinberg Group arrived at DuPont as EPA was
finishing up a draft risk assessment on the possible health effects of
PFOA. The company was also facing a civil-action lawsuit in West
Virginia with plaintiffs alleging that they suffered deleterious
health effects from PFOA in their drinking water. In 2004 and 2005, JP
Morgan Worldwide Securities Services released reports [1MB PDF] for
DuPont investors predicting that the company faced potential EPA fines
of more than $300 million and a total liability of $150-$800 million.
DuPont also faced risks to its fluoropolymers and telomers business,
which the report pegged at about $1.23 billion (4% of total sales),
with $100 million in after-tax profits, in 2004. In fact, DuPont
settled the class-action lawsuit with residents around a manufacturing
plant in March 2005 for $107 million. And in December 2005, DuPont
agreed to spend $16.5 million to settle allegations that it withheld
from EPA the results of a 1981 study that showed PFOA can cross the
placental barrier in humans.

========================================================

SIDEBAR: Transcript

The following is a transcript of an interview with Mr. Matthew
Weinberg, who is the CEO of the Weinberg Group. ES&T has gone to the
offices of the Weinberg Group and has offered Matthew Weinberg a
chance to review and comment on a letter from the Weinberg Group that
was found in the US EPA docket on PFOA. The letter is addressed to
DuPont and is signed by Mr. Terrence Gaffney, Vice President of
product defense for the Weinberg Group.

ES&T later contacted DuPont and the company confirmed that the
Weinberg Group had "assisted us in identifying scientific third party
experts on an issue involving the company." The DuPont spokesperson
later stated that this issue was "probably PFOA."

A: A paper ostensibly from the Weinberg group. Okay, I can see what it
says.

Q: Terrence Gaffney is no longer working with you, is he?

A: That's correct.

Q: Okay. Um, did you guys, uh, ever end up taking this account?

A: I'm not at liberty to discuss our clients.

Q: Um, okay. If I called DuPont, would they tell me that you had
worked for them or that you had not worked for them?

A: I have no idea what DuPont would tell you.

Q: Okay.

A: You'd have to ask DuPont.

Q: Is this a typical sort of contract that, um, that you send out?

A: No. That is not a contract.

Q: Well, I mean a typical sort of a sales pitch. Is this typical of
the type of work that Weinberg does, or...?

A: I don't know. The Weinberg group is a scientific consulting firm.

Q: Okay.

A: We assist companies in putting forth the right data about their
products, as one part of our business.

Q: So you're not certain if this document is, is...you don't know if
this is an actual document or not? Are you uncertain?

A: No. It would appear it's a document that left our office.

Q: Okay.

Q: I could find no evidence you guys had ended up working for DuPont.
Um, none that I could find, and none that, uh, when I was banging
around looking for other people...EPA could find no evidence either,
although there might be more documents, um, in the discovery process
which would come out, um, and maybe at that time I might have to come
back and talk to you again. I don't know specifically whether I will
or not.

A: I'll be happy to take your call any time you call me.

Q: Um, who are you guys representing on phthalates?

A: I'm not at liberty to discuss any of our clients.

Q: Okay.

Q: But Mr. Lamb is working for you? Is that correct?

A: Dr. Lamb is working...Dr. Lamb is an employee of the Weinberg
group.

Q: Okay. Um, in the, uh, tobacco legacy documents, when it refers to a
Mr. Weinberg, that was your father? Is that your father, Myron?

A: Well, I believe it refers to Dr. Weinberg, then that would be my
father, Myron.

Q: Your father Myron?

A: That's correct.

Q: Your father, is he still an employee?

A: Well...

Q: Is he retired?

A: Which question do you want me to answer?

Q: Well, is he...?

A: He is no longer an employee of the Weinberg group.

Q: Okay. Do you know where Mr. Gaffney is?

A: I have no idea where Mr. Gaffney is.

Q: Okay.

A: I'm not being coy. Dr. Weinberg is still working.

Q: Oh, he is? Okay.

A: And still does work for the Weinberg group.

Q: Okay.

A: I answered your questions accurately.

Q: No. That's fine. It doesn't really matter.

A: But I realize you walked away with an...with the wrong impression.

Q: Okay.

A: He's simply no longer an employee.

Q: Okay. Um, so anything else you'd like to say, after reading this?
Do you have any comment on...

A: Do you have any questions?

Q: Well, one of the things I was interested in was, um...I don't know.
I just wanted to give you a chance to read it and see if you....

A: I've perused it.

Q: Okay. Um, I was wondering what specifically...there was one
particular passage in here that I thought was kind of interesting. Um,
"reshape the debate by identifying the likely known health benefits of
PFOA exposure by analyzing existing data and/or constructing a study
to establish not only that PFOA is safe over a range of serum
concentrations levels but it offers real health benefits." In
parentheses it says "oxygen carrying capacity and prevention of CAD."
Which is cardiovascular...oh I'm sorry. Wait. cardiovascular disease.
Um, but cardiovascular disease....

Did you find any, has there been any, um, anything published in the
peer-reviewed literature that would lead one to believe that?

A: I have no...I am not an expert on PFOA and I couldn't tell you
what's been published or what hasn't been.

Q: Okay. Alright. I just wanted to give you a chance....Do you have
anything else to say?

A: I guess I have a question for you. I don't understand what you see
in that document that's worthy of a conversation between us.

Q: Well, it was very interesting, is when I showed this passage, that
passage, particularly to David Ozonoff. I don't know if you know who
he is.

A: I've heard the name, but I can't place him.

Q: Um, he's at BU. He was on the SAB panel for PFOA and he, uh, called
that particular passage sort of, uh, "fantasy thinking."

A: Okay. Uh, uh, I would...would suggest strongly that the letter you
are looking at appears to have been a marketing document.

Q: Okay.

A: I do not think that it is a document that in any way, shape, or
form, makes claims, nor is it intended to represent a specific point
of view. It is a marketing document telling them things we maybe
think...are possible. But I believe it clearly states...you just read
me a part that says "study and analysis are needed." I don't believe
the document purports to say that that's been done.

Q: Okay.

A: It may have been done. It may have been done by others. I don't
believe this document makes this claim that we had done that work at
this point or that we were ever going to do that work.

Q: Okay.

A: My only suggestion would be that you stick to what the document
says and not attempt to expand beyond what it doesn't say.

Q: Oh, I'm not expanding anything. I'm just passing it to other people
and having them look at it and giving you what their opinion is.

A: Well, then their opinion of what we wrote, would be their opinion.

Q: Right.

A: It wouldn't necessarily be fact. Because they didn't write it.

Q: Right. Exactly. That's why it's their opinion. That's understood.

A: But in science, there's fact.

Q: Right.

A: Not opinion.

Q: Right.

A: I grant you that people can interpret scientific data differently
based on various rationale. But truth in science is what I believe all
reputable scientists seek.

Q: Okay. I think that's it. Do you have anything else to say?

A: I'll give you my card.

Q: Okay.

========================================================

ES&T confirmed the letter's authenticity with Matthew Weinberg, CEO of
the Weinberg Group, and a spokesperson for DuPont told ES&T that the
Weinberg Group did work for the company several years ago: "They
assisted us in identifying scientific third-party experts on an issue
involving the company." However, when asked to describe the work, the
spokesperson would only say, "Probably PFOA. I think the letter was
written three years ago."

In an interview, Weinberg described the proposal as a "marketing
document". Later, he added, "My only suggestion would be that you
stick to what the document says and not attempt to expand beyond [to]
what it doesn't say."

The sales pitch Passages from the letter describe how the firm will
develop a defense strategy based on science. "[W]e will harness, focus
and involve the scientific and intellectual capital of our company
with one goal in mind -- creating the outcome our client desires."
Another sentence reads, "This would include facilitating the
publication of papers and articles dispelling the alleged nexus
between PFOA and teratogenicity as well as other claimed harm."

Michaels agrees with Weinberg that the letter is a sales pitch, but he
adds that it originates from a "product defense firm" and is not about
science. "What is doesn't say here is, 'We'll get the science right,""
he points out. "What it says is, 'We'll make sure the science comes
out in a way you want it."" Michaels calls the letter one of the best
examples he has seen of what he calls a common business strategy: to
create scientific doubt in order to stave off lawsuits and regulatory
action.

"They have experts and put papers in the scientific literature because
they know regulatory agencies like to see peer review," he says. But
these studies, he adds, are published in "vanity journals -- journals
that publish studies with minimal peer review."

Most scientists are completely in the dark when it comes to
understanding how corporations manipulate science, says David Ozonoff,
chair of the department of environmental health at Boston University.
Ozonoff, who spent years studying the asbestos industry, recalls, "I
went into [studying the asbestos issue] really thinking that industry
can have its own interpretation of the scientific findings. It was the
sociology of science and the social construction of knowledge, and
they would naturally tend to emphasize certain things while workers
would look at the same things differently." But as he sifted through
letters and documents that came to light during court cases, Ozonoff
found evidence that corporate executives had not only known for
decades that asbestos was dangerous but they had outlined and put into
practice a defense strategy to protect their product and company
profits. "It was planned out in the documents in black and white," he
says. "They thought nobody would ever see it."

"I have somewhat the same reaction to this letter," he said about the
Weinberg memo to DuPont. "These are things that we know are going on."

For example, the Weinberg letter lists a series of proposed tasks
designed to limit liability, including the recruitment of scientific
experts on PFOA "so as to develop a premium expert panel and
concurrently conflict out experts from consulting with plaintiffs."
Experts who worked for DuPont through the Weinberg Group would have
been unable to testify for plaintiffs.

"They're offering to get rid of inconvenient witnesses for the other
side," says Ozonoff. He adds that he has received similar requests in
the past from lawyers asking him to consult on cases. "I wouldn't have
to testify," he says, "but I knew right away what they were doing was
trying to conflict me out of a case."

Ozonoff, who sat on EPA's Science Advisory Board review panel for
PFOA, points to a passage in the memo that details how to identify
the likely health benefits of the chemical "by analyzing existing
data, and/or constructing a study to establish" that PFOA is safe and
"offers real health benefits." The next sentence mentions the oxygen-
carrying capacity of blood and the prevention of coronary artery
disease.

"That blew me away," says Ozonoff, adding that data on PFOA seem to
show an effect on lipid metabolism; this raises concerns that the
chemical may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
"This [proposal] is a 'manufacturing doubt' strategy. If you say,
'Gee, this might cause heart disease," then they'll come back with
another story that says it's good for your heart." Constructing this
sort of narrative, he says, sets a research agenda that any
independent scientist wandering into the field must address.

However, Weinberg maintains that science is open to interpretation. "I
grant you that people can interpret scientific data differently based
on various rationales. But truth in science is what I believe all
reputable scientists seek."

Actions from the Weinberg Group

Weinberg says that he is not at liberty to discuss his clients, but
ES&T discovered that his company did product defense work for NVE
Pharmaceuticals in 2004, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) was seeking to ban the diet drug ephedra. "In our perspective,
the government's decision relied on unreliable data relating to misuse
of the product, and that when used as directed, not only is ephedra
safe, but it has an exemplary safety profile, over an extended period
of time," said Terrence Gaffney, a vice president with the Weinberg
Group. "We believe we win on the science hands down," he added.

The following month, FDA banned ephedra, citing numerous studies
that found that the herbal supplement raised blood pressure and
stressed the circulatory system. A review sponsored by the National
Institutes of Health concluded that ephedra use is associated with,
among other things, increased risk of heart palpitations and
psychiatric and upper gastrointestinal effects.

The Weinberg Group also wrote the American Chemistry Council's (ACC)
2005 position paper on endocrine disrupters [448KB PDF]. ACC is the
lobbying group for chemical manufacturers. One of the two coauthors of
the report is James Lamb, who is an employee of the Weinberg Group
and has also worked for industry on other chemicals such as
perchlorate. In January, when the state of California held hearings to
debate the health risks and possible use restrictions for six
phthalates and bisphenol-A -- suspected endocrine disrupters -- in
baby toys, Lamb testified that the chemicals were safe.

"This is something that's been looked at for years... with the
conclusion that the phthalates are safe," he told a Sacramento,
Calif., news station at the time. In 2005, Europeans permanently
banned six phthalates from baby toys, and the California legislation
was an attempt to replicate this ban.

"Wherever I am, [Lamb] is always there," says Frederick vom Saal, a
professor of biology at the University of Missouri and an expert on
endocrine disrupters. "He's probably heard so many of my lectures that
it must make him sick."

Vom Saal has been under attack for his work that finds that bisphenol-
A poses endocrine-disrupting health risks to humans. In January 2005,
the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a letter
criticizing vom Saal's recent research on bisphenol-A (Environ.
Health Perspect. 2006, 114 [1], A16-A17). The letter was signed by
Joseph Politch, a research associate in the department of obstetrics
and gynecology at Boston University. Because of the journal's
conflict-of- interest policy, Politch's letter noted that he was a
consultant for the Weinberg Group.

Politch told ES&T that he neither conducts research on bisphenol-A nor
plans any future studies on the chemical, but he did admit that he has
done consulting for the Weinberg Group. Politch refused to answer more
questions about the exact nature of his consulting work, other than
confirming that he had written the letter. "You should contact the
Weinberg Group," he told ES&T and then ended the conversation.

Vom Saal says that hiring scientists to send letters to scientific
journals is just one tactic that industry uses to create the illusion
of a scientific controversy. Many of these strategies were pioneered
by the tobacco companies. "There's not one strategy that is new or
creative," he says.

Smoking gun?

Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of
California, San Francisco, and a documenter of the scientific battles
over tobacco smoking, backs up vom Saal's assertion that this is an
old approach. Glantz is a coauthor of the book The Cigarette Papers
and has written numerous peer-reviewed studies on the tobacco
industry, which are based on documents contained in the Legacy
Tobacco Documents Library. This library is an online database of
internal company papers obtained as part of the final U.S. court
settlement with Big Tobacco in the 1990s.

"Basically, the tobacco companies set up this huge sub rosa network of
scientists and experts around the world who were paid through the
tobacco lawyers to give lectures contesting the evidence on secondhand
smoke -- to show up at hearings; to, in some cases, lobby; to publish
articles," he says. Although the effort was meant to undermine the
science labeling passive smoke a health risk, he says the tactics were
very similar to what is contained in the Weinberg proposal.

"It was very effective for [tobacco companies] for years, and [the]
Weinberg [Group] did a lot of the recruiting for them. They were the
recruiting agency that helped to get the whole thing up and running,"
he says. Glantz's latest paper on this recruitment cites a Philip
Morris action plan detailing what the company expected during
1989-1992 from scientists hired as consultants. "They should be
appropriately encouraged to prepare papers, participate in scientific
societies with relevant areas of interest, and take active roles in
scientific conferences," reads the document. "Where possible, without
compromising a scientist's effectiveness, they should be encouraged to
provide statements or testimony for use before government commissions
and information to the media" (Eur. J. Public Health 2006, 16, 69-77).

"People in the scientific community don't want to hear about this,"
says vom Saal. "When you point out corruption, it makes scientists
uncomfortable."

But Glantz has studied Big Tobacco's impact on his profession for more
than a decade, and he sees a much bigger problem looming for science.
As the federal government cuts back on funding for research,
scientists are now forced to rely more and more on financial
assistance from corporations; this raises troubling questions about
whether the results from these studies will be impartial and objective
or favorable to the companies that paid for them.

"The whole scientific enterprise is being distorted by these corporate
interests," Glantz says. "That's why it is so important that we have a
healthy academic community, to be a voice that isn't being controlled.

Copyright 2006 American Chemical Society

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Environmental Health Perspectives, Feb. 1, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]                                             [Source]

NEW THINKING ON NEURODEVELOPMENT

By Michael Szpir

The notion that some substances in the environment can damage the
nervous system has an ancient history. The neurotoxicity of lead was
recognized more than 2,000 years ago by the Greek physician
Dioscerides, who wrote, "Lead makes the mind give way." In the
intervening millennia many other substances have been added to the
list of known or suspected neurotoxicants. Despite this accumulation
of knowledge, there is still much that isn't understood about how
neurotoxicants affect the developing brain, especially the effects of
low-dose exposures. Today researchers are taking a hard look at low-
dose exposures in utero and during childhood to unravel some of the
mysteries of impaired neurodevelopment.

About 17% of school-age children in the United States suffer from a
disability that affects their behavior, memory, or ability to learn,
according to a study published in the March 1994 issue of Pediatrics
by a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The list of maladies includes attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD), autistic spectrum disorders, epilepsy, Tourette syndrome, and
less specific conditions such as mental retardation and cerebral
palsy. All are believed to be the outcome of some abnormal process
that unfolded as the brain was developing in utero or in the young
child.

These disorders have an enormous impact on families and society.
According to the 1996 book Learning Disabilities: Lifelong Issues,
children with these disorders have higher rates of mental illness and
suicide, and are more likely to engage in substance abuse and to
commit crimes as adults. The overall economic cost of
neurodevelopmental disorders in the United States is estimated to be
$81.5-167 billion per year, according to a report published in the
December 2001 issue of EHP Supplements.

Potentially even more disturbing is that a number of epidemiologic
studies suggest that the incidence of certain disorders is on the
rise. In the United States, the diagnosis of autistic spectrum
disorders increased from 4-5 per 10,000 children in the 1980s to 30-60
per 10,000 children in the 1990s, according to a report in the August
2003 Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Similarly, notes a
report in the February 2002 issue of CNS Drugs, the diagnosis of ADHD
grew 250% between 1990 and 1998. The number of children in special
education programs classified with learning disabilities increased
191% between 1977 and 1994, according to an article in Advances in
Learning and Behavioral Disabilities, Volume 12, published in 1998.

So what is going on? The short answer is that no one really knows.
There's not even consensus on what the soaring rates actually mean.
Heightened public awareness could account for the surge in the
numbers, or it may be that physicians are getting better at diagnosing
the conditions. Some autism researchers believe the rise in that
condition's prevalence simply reflects changes in diagnostic criteria
over the last 25 years. On the other hand, some scientists believe
that the rates of neurodevelopmental disease are truly increasing, and
that the growing burden of chemicals in the environment may play a
role.

With that in mind, investigators are considering the effects of gene-
environment interactions. A child with a mild genetic tendency toward
a neurodevelopmental disorder might develop without clinically
measurable abnormalities in the absence of environmental "hits."
However, children in industrialized nations develop and grow up in a
veritable sea of xenobiotic chemicals, says Isaac Pessah, director of
the University of California, Davis, Center for Children's
Environmental Health and Disease Prevention. "Fortunately," he says,
"most of us have a host of defense mechanisms that protect us from
adverse outcomes. However, genetic polymorphisms, complex epistasis,
and cytogenetic abnormalities could weaken these defenses and amplify
chemical damage, initiating a freefall into a clinical syndrome."

Pessah cites the example of autism. He says susceptibility for autism
is likely conferred by several defective genes, no one of which can
account for all the core symptoms of social disinterest, repetitive
and overly focused behaviors, and problems in communication. Could
multiple genetic liabilities and exposure to a chemically complex
environment act in concert to increase the incidence and severity of
the condition?

Despite the uncertainties, many scientists believe it would be wise to
err on the side of caution when it comes to a research agenda. As
Martha Herbert, a pediatric neurologist at Harvard Medical School,
puts it, "Even though we may have neither consensus nor certainty
about an autism epidemic, there are enough studies coming in with
higher numbers that we should take it seriously. Environmental
hypotheses ought to be central to research now. The physiological
systems that have been harmed by environmental factors may also point
to treatment targets, and this might be a great way to help the
children."

The Parade of Neurotoxicants

Among the most intensely studied neurotoxicants are metals (lead,
mercury, and manganese), pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs),
and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). A number of these
compounds were identified as neurotoxicants when individuals were
exposed to high doses during occupational accidents or childhood
poisonings. Scientists are now exploring the potential consequences of
low-dose exposures, especially to children and fetuses. Epidemiologic
studies play a central role, and these are often complemented by
experimental work on animals and cell cultures. These days,
researchers are looking not only at associations between toxicants and
disease, but also at the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms.

Lead. Studies dating to the 1970s show that children exposed to lead
have deficits in IQ, attention, and language. In response, the CDC
revised its limits for acceptable blood levels of the metal in several
steps, from 60 micrograms per deciliter (micrograms/deciliter) in the
1960s to the current level of 10 micrograms/deciliter, set in 1991.
But many scientists think that limit is still too high. A study
reported in the September 2005 issue of EHP found that there were
significant effects on a child's IQ even when blood lead
concentrations were below 10 micrograms/deciliter. Upon the July 2005
release of the Third National Report on Human Exposure to
Environmental Chemicals by the CDC, Jim Pirkle, deputy director for
science at the CDC's Environmental Health Laboratory, stated, "There
is no safe blood [lead] level in children."

Several groups have also found evidence that lead exposure may shape a
child's social behavior. An article in the May 2000 issue of
Environmental Research reports a strong correlation, dating back to
1900, between violent crime and the use of lead-based paint and leaded
gasoline. The research complements studies by Herbert Needleman, a
professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh
School of Medicine, who found that bone lead levels in young males
were correlated with aggression and criminality. "Lead is
significantly associated with a risk for delinquency," says Needleman.
His research appeared in the November-December 2002 issue of
Neurotoxicology and Teratology and the 7 February 1996 issue of JAMA.

Another new area of research links early lead exposure to changes in
the aging brain. Nasser Zawia, an associate professor of pharmacology
and toxicology at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, and his
colleagues found increased expression of amyloid precursor protein
(APP) and its product, ?-amyloid (which is a hallmark of Alzheimer
disease), in aging rats that were exposed to lead shortly after birth.
In contrast, old rats that were exposed to lead did not show an
increased expression of APP and ?-amyloid. The work, published in the
26 January 2005 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that
early exposure to lead can "reprogram" gene expression and regulation
later in life. According to Zawia, preliminary research also shows
that "monkeys exposed to lead as infants exhibit similar molecular
changes as well as exaggerated Alzheimer's pathology."

Mercury. The current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reference
dose for methylmercury (an organic, toxic form of mercury) is 0.1
micrograms per kilogram per day (micrograms/kg/day). Humans are
exposed to methylmercury primarily through consumption of contaminated
fish; a good 70% of this contamination comes from anthropogenic
sources such as emissions from coal-fired power plants. High-level
exposure to methylmercury in the womb is linked to a number of
impairments, including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, seizures,
deafness, blindness, and speech difficulties. An article in the May
2005 issue of EHP puts the economic cost to the United States of
methylmercury- induced toxicity (in terms of lost productivity) at
$8.7 billion annually.

The effects of low-dose exposures are not so apparent. Two large
epidemiologic studies of fishing populations in the Faroe Islands and
the Seychelles have produced conflicting results regarding low-dose
effects. Both studies sought to examine the association between
methylmercury exposure and neurodevelopment in children whose mothers
ate contaminated seafood during pregnancy.

The leader of the Faroe Islands study, Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct
professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public
Health, and his colleagues reported in the November 1997 issue of
Neurotoxicology and Teratology that 7-year-old Faroese children had
significant cognitive deficits and neurological changes after prenatal
exposure to methylmercury. Grandjean's team followed up on the
children at age 14. According to a report in the February 2004 issue
of The Journal of Pediatrics, the children continued to have problems,
including neurological changes and decreased nervous control of the
heart.

In contrast, the authors of the Seychelles study found little evidence
of lasting harm on a cohort of 66-month-old children, according to
their report in the 26 August 1998 issue of JAMA. A follow-up study,
published in the 17 May 2003 issue of The Lancet, similarly found no
lasting effects on language, memory, motor skills, or behavioral
function when the children were 9 years old.

The different outcomes of the two studies are puzzling because the
children of both populations appeared to be exposed to similar amounts
of methylmercury. Several explanations have been proposed, including
the possibility that genetic differences between the populations may
alter their relative predispositions to harm from mercury exposure.
The source of methylmercury is also different in the two populations.
The Faroese are exposed primarily through the consumption of pilot
whale meat, whereas the Seychelles population relies heavily on ocean
fish. According to Gary Myers, a professor of neurology and pediatrics
at the University of Rochester Medical Center and one of the principal
investigators of the Seychelles study, whale meat contains many other
contaminants (including PCBs) besides methylmercury. "There is also
evidence," he says, "that the effects of concomitant PCB and mercury
exposure are synergistic."

Researchers continue to look at whether there is a danger from
methylmercury at the levels of exposure achieved by fish consumption.
Another layer of uncertainty was added with findings published in the
October 2005 issue of EHP showing that fish consumption during
pregnancy appeared to boost infant cognition--but only as long as
mercury intake, as measured in maternal hair, wasn't too high.

The question of whether low levels of mercury are harmful has also
manifested itself in a controversy over the use of vaccines containing
thimerosal, a preservative. Although thimerosal was removed from many
of these vaccines in 2001, children that were immunized before that
date could have received a cumulative dose of more than 200
micrograms/kg of mercury with the routine complement of childhood
vaccinations, according to a study in the May 2001 issue of
Pediatrics. Thimerosal is nearly half ethylmercury by weight. Because
ethylmercury is an organic form of mercury, there is some suspicion
that it acts like methylmercury in the brain, although research
published in the August 2005 issue of EHP suggests that the two
forms differ greatly in how they are distributed through and
eliminated from the brain. Developing countries continue to use
pediatric vaccines that contain thimerosal. In the United States,
thimerosal is still present in influenza vaccines, which the CDC
recommends be given to pregnant women and children aged 6-23 months.

Advocacy groups, such as SafeMinds, have suggested that the decades-
long rise in the diagnosis of autism is related to the presence of
thimerosal in vaccines. In May 2004, however, the Institute of
Medicine (IOM) issued a report, Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines
and Autism, stating that several epidemiological studies published
since 2001 "consistently provided evidence of no association" between
thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. However, the IOM's report
has been severely criticized by a number of advocacy groups, including
the National Autism Association, for relying too heavily on a specific
set of epidemiologic data while dismissing clinical evidence and other
epidemiologic studies that showed evidence of a link.

Despite the assurances of the IOM, some scientists continue to explore
the mechanisms underlying the potential neurotoxic effects of
thimerosal. In the January 2005 issue of NeuroToxicology, S. Jill
James, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for
Medical Sciences, and her colleagues report that the neuronal and
glial cell toxicity of methylmercury and ethylmercury (as dosed via
thimerosal) are both mediated by the depletion of the antioxidant
peptide glutathione. Of the two cell types, neurons were found to be
particularly susceptible to ethylmercury-induced glutathione depletion
and cell death, according to James, and pretreatment of the cells with
glutathione reduced these effects. Other studies by James and her
colleagues, reported in the December 2004 issue of the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that autistic children had lower
levels of glutathione compared to normal controls, and may therefore
have had a significant reduction in the ability to detoxify reactive
oxygen species.

James says the abnormal profile "suggests that these children may have
an increased vulnerability to pro-oxidant environmental exposures and
a lower threshold for oxidative neurotoxicity and immunotoxicity."
Speaking at the XXII International Neurotoxicology Conference in
September 2005, she presented evidence that multiple genetic
polymorphisms affecting glutathione pathways may interact to produce a
chronic metabolic imbalance that could contribute to the development
and clinical symptoms of autism. Her paper in the American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition reported that low glutathione levels in many
autistic children were reversible with targeted nutritional
intervention, but the ramifications of this finding are still unclear.

Manganese. As an essential nutrient, manganese is required for normal
development; the reference dose for manganese is 0.14 mg/kg/day.
Chronic occupational exposure to high levels of this metal is
associated with manganism, a condition reminiscent of Parkinson
disease that is characterized by tremors, rigidity, and psychosis. The
illness is seem primarily among miners.

Animal studies published in the August 2005 issue of Neurotoxicology
by David Dorman, director of the division of biological sciences at
the CIIT Centers for Health Research in Research Triangle Park, North
Carolina, suggest that the fetus is protected to a certain extent from
maternally inhaled manganese. According to Dorman, children are
exposed to manganese primarily by ingesting it, but he knows of no
link between childhood exposure to manganese and later Parkinson
disease.

Nevertheless, because manganese affects the adult brain, people
suspect that the developing brain may be even more susceptible to harm
from this metal, and recent research has unveiled a new cause for
concern: In the January 2006 issue of EHP, child psychiatry
professor Gail Wasserman and colleagues from Columbia University
reported that Bangladeshi children who drank well water with high
concentrations of naturally occurring manganese had diminished
intellectual function. The researchers noted that the bioavailability
of manganese in water is higher than that of manganese in food. They
also pointed out that about 6% of U.S. wells have a high enough
manganese content to potentially put some children at risk for
diminished intellectual function.

The cellular and molecular mechanisms of manganese neurotoxicity are
not well understood. The dopaminergic system in the basal ganglia,
which is affected in Parkinson disease, may be involved, but this
hypothesis is controversial. Tomas Guilarte, a professor of molecular
neurotoxicology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health, described research on these systems in nonhuman primates at
the XXII International Neurotoxicology Conference. According to
Guilarte, unpublished positron-emission tomography studies of the
basal ganglia show that "manganese does appear to have an effect on
dopaminergic neurons." Guilarte found that the more manganese the
animals received, the less dopamine was released through the actions
of amphetamine (which is used to induce the release of the
neurotransmitter). "This does not mean that manganese causes
Parkinson's disease, merely that it has an effect on those neurons,"
he says. This is the first report of an in vivo effect on dopamine
release by manganese.

PCBs, PBDEs, and pesticides. Many chemicals raise concerns because of
their persistence in the environment and their tendency to
bioaccumulate in animal tissues. They are typically synthetic
molecules that were designed for use in everyday products, such as
electrical equipment, computers, furniture, and pesticides.

PCBs appear to be present in all parts of the food chain, and humans
are exposed to these molecules primarily through the ingestion of
animal fat. The toxicity of these chemicals was first recognized after
mass poisonings in Japan in 1968 and Taiwan in 1979. Children born to
women who had ingested contaminated cooking oil in Taiwan had a number
of developmental abnormalities, including psychomotor delay and lower
scores on cognitive tests, according to a report in the 15 July 1988
issue of Science.

Since those earlier observations, several studies have described a
connection between prenatal exposure to PCBs and delayed cognitive
development and lower IQ. For example, a study in the 10 November 2001
Lancet reports those infants and young children exposed to PCBs
through breast milk scored lower on tests of psychomotor and mental
development. The mothers were exposed to normal background levels of
PCBs in Europe. In response to such studies, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration set tolerance levels for PCBs in a number of consumer
products, such as milk and manufactured dairy products (1.5 parts per
million), poultry (3.0 parts per million), and baby food (0.2 part per
million).

PBDEs are widely used as flame retardants in consumer products. The
effects of PBDEs on humans is not clear, but animal toxicity studies
described in volume 183 (2004) of Reviews of Environmental
Contaminants and Toxicology show that PBDEs can cause permanent
learning and memory impairments, hearing deficits, and behavioral
changes. There is a growing concern about PBDEs because they appear to
be accumulating in human tissues. Andreas Sjodin, a toxicologist at
the CDC, and colleagues found a trend toward increasing concentrations
of PBDEs in human serum taken from sample populations in the
southeastern United States from 1985 through 2002, and in Seattle,
Washington, from 1999 through 2002. This report appears in the May
2004 EHP. Several studies have also discovered PBDEs in human breast
milk. The current EPA reference dose for PBDEs is 2 mg/kg/day.

As for pesticides, it's been suggested by zoologist Theo Colborn of
the University of Florida that every child conceived today in the
Northern Hemisphere is exposed to these chemicals from conception
through gestation and beyond. Some pesticides appear to be more
harmful than others, and so the reference dose varies somewhat from
one compound to another.

The effects of pesticides on the developing brain have been
investigated in human epidemiologic studies and in laboratory
experiments with animals. Vincent Garry, a professor of environmental
medicine at the University of Minnesota, and his colleagues found that
children born to applicators of the fumigant phosphine were more
likely to display adverse neurological and neurobehavioral
developmental effects. The herbicide glyphosate was also linked to
neurobehavioral effects, according to the same report, which appeared
in the June 2002 issue of EHP Supplements. Another epidemiologic
study, reported in the March 2005 issue of NeuroToxicology, showed
that women who were exposed to organophosphate pesticides in an
agricultural community in California had children who displayed
adverse neurodevelopmental effects, and that higher levels of
pesticide metabolites in maternal urine were associated with abnormal
reflexes in the women's newborn children.

Many PCBs, PBDEs, and pesticides are the subject of the 2001 Stockholm
Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which became
international law in May 2004. The goal of the treaty is to "rid the
world of PCBs, dioxins and furans, and nine highly dangerous
pesticides," according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Implementation of the treaty has significant practical challenges,
however, including the difficulty of eliminating one persistent
pollutant without creating another (for example, when burning PCBs
yields by-products such as dioxins and furans). Not Immune to Harm

Exposure to a neurotoxicant may not be the only way to disrupt the
natural growth of the brain. Scientists are now looking at the subtle
physiological effects of immunotoxicants and infectious agents on
biological events during development.

It turns out that mothers who experience an infection during pregnancy
are at a greater risk of having a child with a neurodevelopmental
disorder such as autism or schizophrenia. For example, prenatal
exposure to the rubella virus is associated with neuromotor and
behavioral abnormalities in childhood and an increased risk of
schizophrenia spectrum disorders in adulthood, according to an article
in the March 2001 issue of Biological Psychiatry. Rubella has also
been linked to autism: some 8-13% of children born during the 1964
rubella pandemic developed the disorder, according to a report in the
March 1967 Journal of Pediatrics. The same study also noted a
connection between the rubella virus and mental retardation.

Some epidemiologic studies have found an increased risk of
schizophrenia among the children of women who were exposed to the
influenza virus during the second trimester of pregnancy, according to
a report in the February 2002 Current Opinion in Neurobiology. In the
August 2004 Archives of General Psychiatry, Ezra Susser, head of
epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health,
and his colleagues reported that the risk of the mental disorder was
increased sevenfold if the schizophrenic patient's mother had
influenza during her first trimester of pregnancy. A prospective birth
cohort study in the April 2001 Schizophrenia Bulletin found that
second trimester exposure to the diphtheria bacterium also
significantly increased the risk of schizophrenia.

How might infectious agents cause these disorders? According to John
Gilmore, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, maternal infections during pregnancy can alter the
development of fetal neurons in the cerebral cortex of rats. The
mechanism is far from clear, but signaling molecules in the mother's
immune system, called cytokines, have been implicated. Speaking at the
XXII International Neurotoxicology Conference, Gilmore described in
vitro experiments showing that elevated levels of certain cytokines--
interleukin-1?, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-
alpha)--reduce the survival of cortical neurons and decrease the
complexity of neuronal dendrites in the cerebral cortex. "I believe
that the weight of the data to date indicates [that the maternal
immune response] can have harmful effects," says Gilmore.

Inflammatory responses in the mother may not be the only route to
modifying the fetal brain. The University of California, Davis, Center
for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention is
conducting a large study of autistic children in California called
CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment),
which suggests that the child's immune system may also be involved.
According to Pessah, the study principal investigator, children with
autism appear to have a unique immune system. "Autistic children have
a significant reduction in plasma immunoglobulins and a skewed profile
of plasma cytokines compared to other children," he says. "We think
that an immune system dysfunction may be one of the etiological cores
of autism."

He continues, "We know that many of the things that kids are exposed
to these days are immunotoxicants.... We have evidence that
ethylmercury and thimerosal alter the signaling properties of antigen-
presenting cells, known as dendritic cells, at nanomolar levels."
Since each dendritic cell can activate 250 T cells, any dysregulation
will be magnified, he says. "Add to that a genetic abnormality in
processing immune information, and there could be a problem."

Such problems might extend to the central nervous system. The brains
of individuals who have a neurodevelopmental disorder also show
evidence of inflammation. In the January 2005 issue of the Annals of
Neurology, Carlos Pardo, an assistant professor of neurology and
pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his
colleagues report finding high levels of inflammatory cytokines
(interleukin-6, interleukin-8, and interferon-gamma) in the
cerebrospinal fluid of autistic patients. Glial cells, which serve as
the brain's innate immune system, are the primary sources of cytokines
in the central nervous system. So it may not be surprising that
Pardo's team also discovered that glia are activated--showing both
morphological and physiological changes--in postmortem brains of
autistic patients.

The recognition that the immune system is involved in
neurodevelopmental disorders is changing people's perceptions of these
conditions. "Historically, scientists have focused on the role of
neurons in all kinds of neurological diseases," Pardo says, "but they
have generally been ignoring the [glia]." He adds, "In autism, it
could be that the [glia] are responding to some external insult, such
as an infection, an intrauterine injury, or a neurotoxicant."

According to Pardo, it's still not clear whether the neuroimmune
responses associated with autism contribute to the dysfunction of the
brain or whether they are secondary reactions to some neural
abnormality. "John Gilmore's work [showing that cytokines can be
harmful to brain cells] is quite interesting and important," he says.
"However, in vitro studies may produce results that don't reflect what
occurs under in vivo conditions. Cytokines like TNF-alpha may be
beneficial for some neurobiological functions at low concentrations,
but may be extremely neurotoxic at high concentrations." Lending Brain
Power to Exposure Assessment

The medical and scientific communities recognize the colossal
challenges involved in identifying the ultimate causes of
neurodevelopmental disorders. This is complicated by the sheer numbers
of potential exposures involved. More than 67% of the nearly 3,000
chemical compounds produced or imported in amounts exceeding 1 million
pounds per year have not been examined with even basic tests for
neurotoxicity, according to Toxic Ignorance, a 1997 analysis by
Environmental Defense.

In the past few years, several large projects have been proposed, and
funding by the NIH has been increased. For example, the NIH boosted
its support for autism research from $22 million in 1997 to $100
million in 2004. In 2001, the NIEHS and the EPA jointly announced the
creation of four new children's environmental health research centers
(including the one at the University of California, Davis), which
focus primarily on neurodevelopmental disorders. More recently, the
proposed multibillion-dollar National Children's Study, which is
cosponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services and the
EPA, has been designed to follow nearly 100,000 children over the
course of 21 years. The investigators plan to study the effects of
environmental factors on children's growth and development, including
impacts on learning, behavior, and mental health. Study investigators
hope to enroll the first participants in early 2007.

Scientists also see the need for designing better studies. In
neurodevelopmental studies, as in any other field, the quality of a
study is only as good as all of its parts. Jean Harry, head of the
NIEHS Neurotoxicology Group, says, "You can have a valid assessment of
behavior, but in the absence of good exposure data, a causative
association with environmental factors will be compromised."

In a bid to address the difficulties faced by epidemiologic studies
that look for neurodevelopmental effects from in utero chemical
exposure, a working group of 20 experts gathered in September 2005
under the auspices of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center,
coincident with the XXII International Neurotoxicology Conference. The
goal of their day-long session was to develop a scheme of best
practices for the design, conduct, and interpretation of future
investigations, as well as the practical inclusion of new
technologies, such as imaging.

At one point in the dialogue, the group recognized that perhaps the
greatest challenge in these studies was determining how to evaluate in
utero exposures to environmental chemicals. "Quite often the very
nature of epidemiological studies limits the ability to perform
accurate exposure assessments," says Harry, who was part of the expert
group. "Such exposures may have occurred in the distant past, they may
have been unknown, or they may have been in conjunction with many
other compounds."

The group therefore recommended that actual measurements, even if
indirect, are better than methods based on subject recall. It also
recommended that a well-defined hypothesis should form the foundation
of in utero studies for assessing neurodevelopmental outcomes. "[These
and other] conclusions will move the science forward by describing
methods that should improve interstudy comparisons, and they offer
ways in which research results should be reported to the scientific
and medical communities," says Judy LaKind, an adjunct associate
professor of pediatrics at the Hershey Medical Center and a member of
the workshop steering committee. The complete workshop report will be
published in an upcoming issue of NeuroToxicology. Imagining the Big
Picture

The challenges of addressing neurodevelopmental disorders are more
than scientific. The difficulties come together at a crossroads where
the communication of knowledge, the treatment of patients, and the
regulation of potentially toxic chemicals meet. Says Herbert,
"Evidence-based medicine has not yet developed standards for
assessing, or practices for treating, the impacts of chronic, multiple
low-dose exposures." Rather than waiting, she says, patients and
parents of patients are turning to alternative medicine to address
their concerns.

That's not always a good thing, especially when patients and parents
may be misinformed. Kathy Lawson, director of the Healthy Children
Project at the Learning Disabilities Association of America, says
there is a disconnect between scientific knowledge and the public's
awareness of ways to reduce the incidence of some disorders. "In my
visits to various organizations, I've discovered that people are
completely unaware that there is a connection between environmental
toxicants and their health," she says. "Even pediatricians often don't
know about these things," she adds.

Educating the public is only part of the solution. Elise Miller,
executive director of the nonprofit Institute for Children's
Environmental Health, thinks that federal regulatory agencies do not
adequately protect children's health. "The Toxic Substances Control
Act, which was passed thirty years ago, needs a major overhaul to
ensure neurotoxicants and other chemicals are prioritized, screened,
and tested properly," she says. "Currently, there are too many
chemicals on the market and in the products we use every day for which
there is no toxicity data."

Some politicians agree with these sentiments. In July 2005, Senator
Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Child, Worker, and Consumer
Safe Chemicals Act, which initially calls for chemical manufacturers
to provide health and safety information on the chemicals used in
certain consumer products, among them baby bottles, water bottles, and
food packaging. If passed into law, the bill, coauthored by Senator
James Jeffords (I-VT), would require all commercially distributed
chemicals to meet the new safety measures by 2020.

The human brain is often touted as the most complex structure in the
known universe. The developmental process that produces this
remarkable entity may also be among the most delicate in nature. As
one scientist put it, "The brain doesn't like to be jerked around."
That kind of fragility makes it difficult for scientists to untangle
genetic influences from what often may be subtle environmental
assaults. Even so, the catalogue of harmful environmental agents will
undoubtedly continue to grow as scientists learn more about the
interactions between the developing brain and its environment. The
hope is that enough good minds will use that catalogue to create a
future with healthier brains and more peace of mind for parents and
society alike.

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