The Colloborative on Health and the Environment -- Washington

Weekly Bulletin
March 7, 2007

Please check the CHE-WA website to stay abreast of the latest postings, news and events: http://washington.chenw.org.

To join the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) and CHE-Washington, please complete the form at http://www.healthandenvironment.org/roles/register?&phase=registerform. Be sure to mark that you want to join the Washington State Regional Group at the bottom of the application.

CHE-WASHINGTON EVENTS

1) The fourth annual environmental health lecture series entitled "Our Health, Our Environment: Making the Link -- Seeking Solutions" is underway. The series, sponsored by the Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation and organized by the Institute for Children's Environmental Health, includes one lecture each month January through April. Remaining lectures:

All lectures will be held at Seattle Town Hall from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., preceded by a reception from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. For more information and to purchase admission, please visit http://washington.chenw.org/lectures.html. Admission is also available at the door.

Town Hall is also hosting the following lecture upstairs on the same evening at 7:30 p.m. For those attendees interested in attending both events, Town Hall has made special arrangements for Environmental Health Lecture Series attendees only. Town Hall will be selling tickets for the Bill McKibben event from 5:30 to 6:30 pm. at the Downstairs door. Tickets are $5 and can only be purchased for cash or check.

Bill McKibben: 'Deep Economy'
Wednesday, March 21, 7:30 p.m.
Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and author of books including The End of Nature and The Age of Missing Information. His forthcoming book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, puts forward a new way of thinking about all the things we buy, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the money that pays for it all. McKibben's animating idea is that we need to move beyond "growth" and pursue prosperity in a more local direction, with cities, suburbs, and regions producing more of their own food, energy, culture, and entertainment. He shows how this concept is blossoming around the world-with striking results. Presented by the Town Hall Center for Civic Life with Elliott Bay Book Company. For more information on this lecture, please see the Town Hall website at http://www.townhallseattle.com/calendar.cfm.

2) Making Change: A Workshop for People Who Want to Build a Better World
April 21, 2007
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Seattle, Washington
at the Antioch campus, 2326 Sixth Avenue

This one-day workshop will provide you with the time and space to think more deeply about your work and how it contributes to positive social change. This workshop is intended for people who want to build a better world and who identify themselves as social change agents. This includes people working on environmental, health or social issues in nonprofit or community-based organizations, government agencies or the private sector, as well as others interested in how to achieve positive social change. Sponsored by the Center for Creative Change at Antioch University Seattle and the Collaborative on Health and Environment -- Washington (CHE-WA).

Website: http://www.antiochsea.edu/events/makingchangeworkshop.html

Contact: Kate Davies, 206-268-4811 or kdavies@antiochseattle.edu

IN THIS WEEK'S SUMMARY

Events

  1. Environmental Justice: Is It All Talk?
  2. LDDI National Conference

Announcements/Articles

  1. New Members
  2. EPA RFP: Building Capacity to Address Environmental Health Issues during Pregnancy
  3. New Questions on Medicines Given to Young (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/6/07)
  4. Stress May 'Damage Child Brains' (BBC News, 3/5/07)
  5. Threat from Lead Goes beyond Early Years (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/5/07)
  6. The Big Green Fuel Lie (London Independent, 3/5/07)
  7. Can Babies Be Protected from Alcoholic Moms? (Boston Globe, 3/5/07)
  8. Damp Homes 'Could Cause Asthma' (BBC News, 3/4/07)
  9. FDA Rules Override Warnings about Drug (Washington Post, 3/4/07)
  10. Public Health Agency Linked to Chemical Industry (Los Angeles Times, 3/4/07)
  11. FDA Urged to Act Fast on Kids' Cold Remedies (Baltimore Sun, 3/3/07)
  12. Smoking in Pregnancy Damages Developing Arteries (Reuters, 3/2/07)
  13. Drug Research Results Questioned (Baltimore Sun, 3/2/07)
  14. USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes (Washington Post, 3/2/07)
  15. As Adults, Excess Weight May Render Drugs Toxic (USA TODAY, 3/1/07)
  16. House Bill Seeks To Fill EPA Environmental Justice Health Data Gaps (Inside EPA, 3/1/07)
  17. One Great Big Plastic Hassle (Common Ground, 3/07)
  18. Secondhand Suspicions: Breast Cancer and Passive Smoking (Environmental Health Perspectives, 3/07)
  19. Fingerprinting Perchlorate Sources (Environmental Science & Technology, 2/28/07)
  20. Household Antibacterial Products Generate Chloroform (Environmental Science & Technology, 2/28/07)
  21. Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon (Marin County Pacific Sun, 2/16/07)

EVENTS

1) Environmental Justice: Is It All Talk?

March 17, 2007
8:30 a.m.
Portland, Oregon
at the Salvation Army Moore Street Community Center, 5325 N. Williams Avenue

Sessions include 10 Years of Environmental Justice, Tribal EJ Issues, EJ the Law, Local EJ Update, Green Jobs: Emerging Industries and The Living Newsletter. Free admission and lunch.

Contact: eja@lclark.edu

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2) LDDI National Conference

May 10 - 11, 2007
Atlanta, Georgia
at the Morehouse School of Medicine

The theme of this second national conference of the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative is "Priming for Prevention: An Ecological Approach to Research, Education and Policy." Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General is our invited keynote speaker, and many other leading researchers, health professionals and advocates will be presenting their cutting-edge work on environmental factors and neurological development. Visit the website below for an updated agenda, a full list of presenters and registration information.

Website: http://www.iceh.org/LDDImeetings.html

Contact: Elise Miller, emiller@iceh.org

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ANNOUNCEMENTS/ARTICLES

1) New Members

CHE-Washington welcomes these new members:

For a searchable database of organizations with which CHE-WA members are affiliated, please visit http://washington.chenw.org/members.html.

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2) EPA RFP: Building Capacity to Address Environmental Health Issues during Pregnancy

The US Environmental Protection Agency is accepting proposals to build capacity to address environmental health issues during the prenatal period. The objectives for this solicitation are to (1) increase the capacity of health professionals to address environmental health hazards during pregnancy and (2) ensure that pregnant women have access to information that will help them take actions to reduce environmental exposures.

EPA intends for these grants to develop effective mechanisms to educate pregnant women about environmental health risks, to demonstrate the effectiveness of information dissemination and behavioral change that results in reducing these risks, and to increase the number of health professionals who are fluent in prenatal environmental health issues. EPA expects that such demonstration projects will be adaptable to multiple audiences. EPA intends to award up to 3 grants for a total of approximately $200,000-$300,000. To be considered, all proposals must address both phases of this project: (1) provide outreach and education on environmental health issues to pregnant women and health care providers, and (2) evaluate the effectiveness of the outreach and education to both audiences.

For more information and deadlines, please see http://yosemite.epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb.nsf/content/finalprenatalsolicitation2%2026%2007_10.htm/$file/finalprenatalsolicitation2%2026%2007_6.pdf.

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3) New Questions on Medicines Given to Young

by Josh Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer
March 6, 2007
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/living/health/16841956.htm

Most children treated at major pediatric hospitals are given medicines not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in patients so young.

Article Summary: A study in today's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, found that the sickest children and those undergoing surgery were most likely to get a so-called off-label drug (in this study, drugs given to children younger than the age established by the FDA). But altogether, nearly 80 percent of the children cared for at academic children's hospitals got at least one medicine outside the age parameters approved by the FDA. Researchers examined 90 commonly used drugs ranging from ibuprofen and morphine to dopamine and albuterol. Although their work was confined to hospitalized children, it comes just days after the FDA announced that it was reviewing the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in infants and toddlers. One problem is that children and adults don't metabolize drugs in the same way, said Donald Mattison, who heads a program at the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development that has identified nearly 50 medicines whose use in children most merits further study. The problem is not limited to hospitals. In 2002, Congress mandated that federal agencies identify those medicines whose use in children most merited further research.

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4) Stress May 'Damage Child Brains'

High levels of stress may physically scar a child's brain, a study suggests.

from BBC News
March 5, 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6411351.stm

US scientists discovered a brain structure involved with memory and emotion had shrunk in children with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A withered hippocampus may make a child less able to deal with stress and raise anxiety, Pediatrics journal reports. The children in the study also had higher blood levels of a stress hormone called cortisol, which has been shown to kill hippocampal cells in animals. This could set up a vicious cycle, where high cortisol causes more hippocampal damage, which in turn raises the anxiety.

Article Summary: Lead researcher Victor Carrion at the Stanford University Medical Center said stress had to be extreme to cause the damage. The 15 children he and his team studied all had PTSD as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, witnessing violence or experiencing lasting separation and loss. Carrion warned that "The major question is whether the smaller hippocampus is a predictor of PTSD or a consequence." He said a study in war veterans with PTSD suggested a smaller hippocampus predisposes to PTSD, not the other way round.

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5) Threat from Lead Goes beyond Early Years

by Tom Avril, Philadelphia Inquirer
March 5, 2007
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/16835817.htm

For parents who live in older homes with lead-based paint, doctors urge special vigilance when the children are young, crawling on dusty floors, and sticking their fingers in their mouths. But in a new, five-year study of children from four cities, including Philadelphia, researchers reinforce the notion that the time for concern doesn't stop with toddlerhood. Seven-year-olds with higher levels of the toxic metal in their blood were more likely to suffer IQ deficits, and independently, they were also more likely to exhibit behavior problems such as aggression -- an area that has not received as much study. The study appears in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics. There was no apparent connection between the children's lead levels at age 2 and their bad behavior five years later. That suggests at least part of the problem at age 7 is continued exposure into the early years of elementary school, said study coauthor Jerilynn Radcliffe, a researcher and psychologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Article Summary: The study highlights a tragedy that continues to bedevil the public-health system decades after lead was banned in paint and gasoline. Millions of older homes contain underlying layers of lead-based paint, which becomes a problem if it flakes and releases dust. Experts have blamed lead for a range of ills, from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children to criminal behavior later in life. The new study was unusual in the steps taken to tease out behavioral impacts that were directly linked to lead exposure, as opposed to behavior problems that were simply the result of having a lower IQ.

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6) The Big Green Fuel Lie

George Bush says that ethanol will save the world. But there is evidence that biofuels may bring new problems for the planet

by Daniel Howden, London Independent
March 5, 2007
http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/climate_change/article2328821.ece

Article Summary: The twin threats of climate change and energy security are creating an unprecedented thirst for alternative energy with ethanol leading the way. But a growing number of economists, scientists and environmentalists are calling for a "time out" and warning that the headlong rush into massive ethanol production is creating more problems than it is solving. To its advocates, ethanol, which can be made from corn, barley, wheat, sugar cane or beet is a green panacea -- a clean-burning, renewable energy source that will see us switch from dwindling oil wells to boundless fields of crops to satisfy our energy needs. But there is a darker side to this green revolution, which argues for a cautious assessment of how big a role ethanol can play in filling the developed world's fuel tank. The prospect of a sudden surge in demand for ethanol is causing serious concerns even in Brazil. The ethanol industry has been linked with air and water pollution on an epic scale, along with deforestation in both the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests, as well as the wholesale destruction of Brazil's unique savannah land.

At its simplest, the argument for biofuels is this: By growing crops to produce organic compounds that can be burnt in an engine, you are not adding to the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The amount of CO2 that the fuel produces when burnt should balance the amount absorbed during the growth of the plants. However, many biofuel crops, such as corn, are grown with the help of fossil fuels in the form of fertilisers, pesticides and the petrol for farm equipment. One estimate is that corn needs 30 per cent more energy than the finished fuel it produces.

[Editor's note: A lecture on this topic will be presented at Seattle's Town Hall on March 21st. See http://washington.chenw.org/lectures.html for details.]

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7) Can Babies Be Protected from Alcoholic Moms?

by Carey Goldberg, Boston Globe
March 5, 2007
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2007/03/05/can_babies_be_protected_from_alcoholic_moms/

New research in animals suggests that the sins of the mother won't inevitably be visited on the child. Even if a pregnant woman drinks heavily -- despite 25 years of warnings not to -- it may be possible to offset some of the alcohol's toxic effects on her baby's brain after she gives birth. In newborn rats that were fed alcohol to simulate a binge-drinking mother, the alcohol did less damage to memory functions and behavior if the infant rats were given supplements of choline, a nutrient found naturally in such foods as eggs and liver, researchers reported last week in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

Article Summary: Though most of the 4 million American women who give birth each year drink little, if any, alcohol during pregnancy, an estimated 125,000 continue to drink heavily. Such drinking often results in an array of symptoms known as fetal alcohol syndrome. The baby's facial features may be subtly abnormal; size and weight may fall well below average; and brain effects can range from retardation to hyperactivity. Drinking during pregnancy is considered "the leading known preventable cause of mental retardation and birth defects," said Tom Donaldson , president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Last week's study is the first to show that choline -- even given after birth -- might be able to reduce some of the adverse behavioral effects of early alcohol exposure. Study author Jennifer Thomas of San Diego State University is often asked whether pregnant women who drink should take extra choline, or whether the parents of babies with fetal alcohol damage should add choline to the babies' diets. It is simply too early to answer those questions, she said, and she lacks data to determine what the correct doses of choline would be for humans.

[Editor's note: A similar article summarizing possible protective effects of turmeric on lead poisoning in rats can be read at http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2007/feb/science/rc_tasty.html.]

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8) Damp Homes 'Could Cause Asthma'

Damp and mould-infested houses could be the cause of permanent asthma in children, researchers have said.

from BBC News
March 4, 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6396455.stm

Article Summary: Asthma is now the most common chronic disease of school-age children, and rates have risen steadily in recent years in industrialized countries. Poor housing conditions are already linked to the illness but there is debate whether they cause asthma or simply trigger attacks. Finnish researchers writing in the European Respiratory Journal claim they have proved this after surveying the homes of more than 300 children. In the study, evidence of serious damp or visible mould was seen two to three times more often in homes inhabited by asthmatic children. Mould and damp in 'non-family' parts of the house, however, was not linked to the illness. However, UK asthma experts are still not convinced mold can cause asthma. Dr. Michael Burr, a researcher at Cardiff University whose work on mould and asthma is funded by the charity Asthma UK, said, "It is not possible to distinguish conclusively between the role of moisture damage and mold as a trigger factors and any causal link with childhood asthma based on the current evidence."

[Editor's note: Related articles regarding asthma and mothers' smoking (http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSCOL76160020070227) and a possible protective relationship of cow's milk regarding asthma (http://www.nzz.ch/2007/02/28/eng/article7566712.html) are also available.]

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9) FDA Rules Override Warnings about Drug

Cattle Antibiotic Moves Forward Despite Fears of Human Risk

by Rick Weiss, Washington Post
March 4, 2007
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/03/AR2007030301311.html

The government is on track to approve a new antibiotic to treat a pneumonia-like disease in cattle, despite warnings from health groups and a majority of the agency's own expert advisers that the decision will be dangerous for people. The drug, called cefquinome, belongs to a class of highly potent antibiotics that are among medicine's last defenses against several serious human infections. No drug from that class has been approved in the United States for use in animals. The American Medical Association and about a dozen other health groups warned the Food and Drug Administration that giving cefquinome to animals would probably speed the emergence of microbes resistant to that important class of antibiotics, as has happened with other drugs. Those super-microbes could then spread to people. Echoing those concerns, the FDA's advisory board last fall voted to reject the request by InterVet Inc. of Millsboro, Del., to market the drug for cattle.

Article Summary: Yet the FDA is all but required to approve cefquinome this spring by a recently implemented "guidance document" that codifies how to weigh the threats to human health posed by proposed new animal drugs. "Guidance for Industry #152" was crafted within the FDA after a long struggle, ending with wording that, for drugs like cefquinome, is more deferential to pharmaceutical companies than is recommended by the World Health Organization. Critics say serious flaws in Guidance #152 make it too difficult for the FDA to say no to some drugs. Given the realities of rapid microbe mutation to develop immunity to a given drug and their ability to exchange bits of DNA with each other, spreading that resistance, experts agree that all antibiotics should be used judiciously. Prudence is especially important for medicines of last resort, which is why the cefquinome application stirred such a storm. More than a dozen medicines are already on the market for the respiratory syndrome in cattle, and all are still effective. The disease would be a relatively minor issue but for the stressful conditions under which U.S. cattle are raised, including high-density living spaces and routine shipment on crowded trains for hundreds or thousands of miles. Those "production dynamics" suppress the animals' immune systems, explained feedlot consultant Kelly Lechtenberg of Oakland, Neb., and virtually guarantee that bovine respiratory disease will be a major problem.

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10) Public Health Agency Linked to Chemical Industry

The work of a federal risk-assessment center is guided by a company with manufacturing ties. Some scientists see bias.

by Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times
March 4, 2007
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-chemicals4mar04,0,3004664.story

For nearly a decade, a federal agency has been responsible for assessing the dangers that chemicals pose to reproductive health. But much of the agency's work has been conducted by a private consulting company that has close ties to the chemical industry, including manufacturers of a compound in plastics that has been linked to reproductive damage. In 1998, the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction was established within the National Institutes of Health to assess the dangers of chemicals and help determine which ones should be regulated. Sciences International, an Alexandria, Va., consulting firm that has been funded by more than 50 industrial companies, has played a key role in the center's activities, reviewing the risks of chemicals, preparing reports, and helping select members of its scientific review panel and setting their agendas, according to government and company documents. The company produces the first draft of the center's reports on the risks of chemicals, including a new one on bisphenol A, a widely used compound in polycarbonate plastic food containers, including baby bottles, as well as lining for food cans.

Article Summary: The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction is considered important to public health because people are exposed to hundreds of chemicals that have been shown to skew the reproductive systems of newborn lab animals and could be causing similar damage in humans. Sciences International is involved in management and plays a principal scientific investigative role at the federal center. Robin Mackar, a spokeswoman for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which oversees the reproductive center, said Sciences International "has worked for the center since 1998 without any problems" and has participated in reports on 17 chemicals. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) in a Wednesday letter called for an explanation of Sciences International's role and disclosure of its potential conflicts of interest before the panel convenes Monday.

The role of Sciences International in the federal center's work came to the attention of Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on environmental health, last month after some scientists who saw the report on BPA complained that it was biased toward the industry's position that low doses have no effect. Debate over BPA is one of the most contentious environmental health issues faced by government and industry. Traces are found in the bodies of nearly all Americans tested, and low levels -- similar to amounts that can leach from infant and water bottles -- mimic estrogen and have caused genetic changes in animals that lead to prostate cancer, as well as decreased testosterone, low sperm counts and signs of early female puberty, according to more than 100 government-funded studies. About a dozen industry-funded studies found no effects. Shelby, the center's director, in a late February memo to the Environmental Working Group, said Sciences International reviews the scientific literature on chemicals and writes the basic reports, but that conclusions are prepared by the center's panel of independent scientists, which "serves to minimize or eliminate any bias that might possibly be introduced by the contractor."

[Editor's note: See a related article at http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/health/chi-0703040542mar04,1,7253686.column?ctrack=1&cset=true.]

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11) FDA Urged to Act Fast on Kids' Cold Remedies

by Dennis O'Brien and Frank D. Roylance, Baltimore Sun
March 3, 2007
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/health/bal-te.fda03mar03,1,1588928.story?page=2&ctrack=1&cset=true

A federal review of safety concerns about cough and cold remedies ought to be quick and result in restrictions on the products' marketing and use, Baltimore's health commissioner said yesterday. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein and a group of prominent pediatricians petitioned the Food and Drug Administration Thursday to warn parents against giving cough and cold medications to young children. The group wants the FDA to require drugmakers to stop marketing products for infants and babies. It also wants warning labels stating that the medications "have not been found to be safe or effective" for children under 6.

Article Summary: Although FDA officials announced plans yesterday to review the matter over the next several months, an agency official told reporters that there is no need for the FDA to take immediate action. Dr. Charles Ganley, director of the Office of Nonprescription Products, promised that the review will include an assessment of the safety and efficacy of cold and cough medications for children, as well as how dosage levels for them are drawn up. In the meantime, he said, parents should be careful to follow directions on the products. Last year the American College of Chest Physicians released clinical practice guidelines advising caregivers not to recommend cough suppressants and other over-the-counter medications for young children because of their ineffectiveness and the increased risk of complications and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in January that 1,519 children younger than 2 were treated in emergency rooms in 2004 and 2005 for overdoses and other complications related to cough and cold medications. Three infants less than 6 months old died.

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12) Smoking in Pregnancy Damages Developing Arteries

by Megan Rauscher Reuters
March 2, 2007
http://www.reutershealth.com/archive/2007/03/02/eline/links/20070302elin012.html

NEW YORK -- Women who smoke during pregnancy may cause permanent damage to their child's blood vessels that can be detected in young adulthood and which may increase the child's risk of cardiovascular disease.

Article Summary: There is growing interest in the "early life origins of chronic disease in later life," fueled in part by the finding that low birth weight is associated with a higher rate of cardiovascular disease. Because exposure to tobacco smoke in pregnancy is one of the important factors leading to low birth weight, the Dutch researchers attempted to find out if smoking during pregnancy also leads to higher risk of cardiovascular disease. "Our findings suggest that both smoking by mothers themselves in pregnancy and exposure to passive smoking are important," study leader Dr. Cuno S. Uiterwaal of University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands said in a statement. "More exposure leads to more vascular damage in the offspring." The positive associations found in the study were "seemingly independent of other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including current smoking of the parents or the young adults themselves," Uiterwaal noted. It's possible, Uiterwaal said that chemicals in tobacco smoke travel through the placenta and directly damage the heart and vascular system of the developing fetus. "The damage appears to be permanent."

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13) Drug Research Results Questioned

Industry-funded clinical trials often report better outcomes, new study shows

by Jean P. Fisher, Baltimore Sun
March 2, 2007
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/health/bal-hs.studies02mar02,0,5881117.story

Industry-funded clinical trials of breast cancer medicines report more favorable results than research conducted independently, a new study reports. Some 84 percent of company-supported drug studies published in 10 major medical journals in 2003 reported positive results about the breast cancer drugs they investigated, according to an analysis by Dr. Jeffrey Peppercorn, a cancer physician and researcher at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill's School of Medicine, and colleagues at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Nonindustry-supported studies were far less likely to be upbeat, publishing favorable results just 54 percent of the time. The analysis, published online this week in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, is the latest to raise questions about the role pharmaceutical companies play in funding and shaping research used to decide whether drugs are safe and effective.

Article Summary: Earlier analyses of published studies of heart, psychiatric and other types of cancer drugs all have found that industry involvement tends to result in favorable research findings. The connection between positive drug studies and industry funding has raised concerns in recent years as the industry's role has grown. Pharmaceutical company support of drug research surpassed government funding in the early 1990s and since then has taken on an increasingly dominant role. While positive results do not necessarily mean biased results, the fact that drug companies finance up to 70 percent of all clinical trials -- investing $15.5 billion -- in the United States makes further attention to this issue important.

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14) USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes

by Rick Weiss, Washington Post
March 2, 2007
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/01/AR2007030101495.html

The Agriculture Department has given a preliminary green light for the first commercial production of a food crop engineered to contain human genes, reigniting fears that biomedically potent substances in high-tech plants could escape and turn up in other foods. The plan, confirmed yesterday by the California biotechnology company leading the effort, calls for large-scale cultivation in Kansas of rice that produces human immune system proteins in its seeds. The proteins are to be extracted for use as an anti-diarrhea medicine and might be added to health foods such as yogurt and granola bars. "We can really help children with diarrhea get better faster. That is the idea," said Scott E. Deeter, president and chief executive of Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience, emphasizing that a host of protections should keep the engineered plants and their seeds from escaping into surrounding fields.

Article Summary: Ventria has developed three varieties of rice, each endowed with a different human gene that makes the plants produce one of three human proteins. A recent company-sponsored study done in Peru concluded that children with severe diarrhea recovered a day and a half faster if the salty fluids they were prescribed were spiked with the proteins. Deeter said production in plants is far cheaper than other methods, which should help make the therapy affordable in the developing world, where severe diarrhea kills 2 million children each year. Critics are assailing the effort, saying gene-altered plants inevitably migrate out of their home plots. In this case, they said, that could result in pharmacologically active proteins showing up in the food of unsuspecting consumers. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science policy advocacy group, even though the proteins are not inherently dangerous, there would be little control over the doses people might get exposed to, and some might be allergic to the proteins. Deeter said that Ventria Bioscience has taken steps to ensure that the modified rice will not escape or be mixed with other food crops. Because no other rice is grown in Kansas and because rice can grow only in flooded areas, the risk of escape or cross-fertilization with other rice plants is nil there. The company will mill virtually all the seeds on site -- using dedicated equipment -- to minimize the risk of seeds getting mistakenly released or sold. On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department published its draft environmental assessment, which concluded that the project posed no undue risks. The public can comment until March 30. Recent revelations about unintended contamination of food crops with genetically engineered rice and corn undermine the USDA's credibility, critics said.

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15) As Adults, Excess Weight May Render Drugs Toxic

by Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
March 1, 2007
http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-02-28-adults-weight_x.htm

SAN FRANCISCO -- Being obese or having a high-fat diet may make people more sensitive to drugs that aren't toxic in thin people, put them at a higher risk for cancer and even increase their risk of death from using illegal drugs, a panel of researchers says. That's on top of the difficulty of finding the right medication dose for heavy patients. With many drugs, the dose is based on lean body mass (muscle, bone and other non-fat tissue), which can be so challenging to calculate in obese patients "that the adjustment usually is not appropriately made," says George Corcoran, chair of pharmaceutical sciences at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Article Summary: With both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, there are numerous studies showing that rats fed a high-fat diet are more prone to liver and kidney damage. The drugs discussed included acetaminophen, the diuretic furosemide and certain powerful antibiotics in the aminoglycoside family, Corcoran says. The acetaminophen link is especially troubling because half of all the liver transplants in the USA are the result of acetaminophen toxicity leading to liver failure, Corcoran says. In the case of liver damage, the problem appears to be that a high-fat diet or obesity produces changes in liver enzymes. These enzymes are proteins that metabolize substances coming into the body. In the body of an obese person, drugs can be more toxic than in a lean person because the enzymes that do the work are different, Corcoran says. Numerous studies in humans, mice and rats have shown this to be the case. These findings could explain why obese people have higher rates of liver and kidney disease, he says.

For users of illegal drugs, being obese may be deadly. In rats fed methamphetamine, the obese animals died at twice the rates of the thin ones, says James O'Callaghan of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Morgantown, West Virginia. Then there's cancer. Epidemiological data show that increased weight is associated with increased risk in many cancers. The big exceptions are brain cancer, almost always driven by genetics, and lung cancer, which is generally driven by tobacco, says Stephen Hursting at the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center. Obesity is a strong risk factor in endometrial, colon and post-menopausal breast cancer, Hursting says. And while girth doesn't seem to affect which men get prostate cancer, the disease seems more likely to progress in those who are heavier.

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16) House Bill Seeks To Fill EPA Environmental Justice Health Data Gaps

by Matt Shipman, Inside EPA
March 1, 2007
http://insideepa.com/secure/docnum.asp?f=epa_2001.ask&docnum=312007_data

A key House lawmaker is pushing legislation to ensure that EPA and other agencies gather health effects, exposure and other data necessary to address concerns that pollution is disproportionately harming low-income and minority communities. Risk experts say the data is critical for environmental justice groups pushing policymakers to do more to limit communitiesą exposure to harmful pollution, in part because a recent report from environmental justice groups showing minoritiesą proximity to hazardous waste sites does not provide sufficient data to estimate health risks.

Article Summary: Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) earlier this year introduced H.R. 398, a bill intended to fill current data gaps on environmental health effects in low-income communities that could be used by EPA to make environmental justice determinations, a Solis staffer says. The Solis staffer says H.R. 398 seeks to create programs to collect cumulative data on health effects and exposure pathways in environmental justice communities in order to "inform regulatory decision-making at EPA." A second Solis staffer adds that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has said he will introduce identical legislation in the Senate, but that Obama is currently looking for a Republican co-sponsor. The bill would establish an interagency working group (IWG) that would be charged with, among other things, crafting a federal research agenda to support data collection and evaluation related to environmental health concerns.

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17) One Great Big Plastic Hassle

by Jane Akre, Common Ground
March 2007
http://www.commongroundmag.com:80/2007/03/plastichassle.html

Article Summary: Cheap, durable and convenient, plastic has been the country's chosen miracle-material since World War II. When added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the petroleum-based industrial chemicals in plastic -- chief among them plasticizers such as phthalates -- make our upholstery comfier and our pipes more flexible. To keep up with the world's affection for all things plasticized, the U.S. produces a billion pounds of phthalates a year. Today, phthalates are one of the top offenders in a group of 70 suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that we spray in our homes and yards and use in our makeup, nail polish, detergents, flame retardants, plastic bottles, metal food cans and even children's toys. When we're done with these products, we flush them down our sinks or burn them in our incinerators, where their runoff filters into our national waterways. Even if you eschew plasticized products in your personal lives, it's impossible to avoid contamination; EDCs are in the bodies of every man, woman, child and fetus in the U.S. EDCs are thought to profoundly affect one of the body's main communication networks -- the endocrine system -- by either mimicking natural hormones or blocking their uptake to the body's receptor sites. Short-circuiting hormones can disturb everything from human development and behavior to reproduction and immunity. And scientists believe even the tiniest hormone variation at certain critical points in fetal development can have a profound effect on a child's future health. Beyond EDCs, public waterways are contaminated with growth hormones and antibiotics from cattle feed, residual hormones from birth control products and other medicines, waste chemicals and pharmaceuticals. These substances can pass intact into the water supply through conventional sewage treatment facilities, dumps and landfills, or wash off into surface water and even percolate into ground water from animal waste fertilizers contaminated with traces of such compounds.

The publication of zoologist Theo Colborn's Our Stolen Future concerned Congress enough that it ordered the EPA to create a screening system for endocrine disruptors. The resulting 1996 Food Quality Protection Act was the most ambitious toxicology program ever conceived. Yet so far, the EPA hasn't conducted a single test. The EPA, citing technical difficulties and facing a proposed budget cut, predicts it will be 2009 before it establishes a testing protocol. Meanwhile, the agency approves about 700 new chemicals a year, relying on the manufacturer's assurances for safety. As scientists continue to tackle testing our chemically saturated environment, EDC damage to human health is likely to rank up with cancer as the environmentally induced medical concern of our time. Meanwhile, you can take action by pressuring your local officials and reject the plastic world in favor of the real deal.

[Editor's note: A related article is published at http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-11/117315996466490.xml&coll=1.]

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18) Secondhand Suspicions: Breast Cancer and Passive Smoking

from Environmental Health Perspectives
March 2007
http://www.ehponline.org/members/2007/115-3/focus.html

Does a young woman living with a smoker or taking a job working in a smoky bar have a greater chance of developing breast cancer? Some scientists believe that such situations can indeed raise a woman's risk of developing breast cancer before the age of 50. Because epidemiological and toxicological studies show that women's breast tissue may be especially sensitive to exposure to carcinogens prior to first pregnancy, these researchers contend that public education should be directed at alerting adolescents and young women to the potential risk. However, not everyone in the international public health community agrees that the evidence to date supports a link between passive smoking and breast cancer, and some say that women are being alarmed unnecessarily.

Article Summary: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in industrialized countries, according to the WHO. It is the leading cancer killer of nonsmoking women, and second only to lung cancer deaths among women who smoke. Among the researchers who disagree that there is enough evidence to link secondhand smoke (SHS) with breast cancer, the majority call the evidence to date "suggestive but not sufficient." A smaller group contends that the question of whether or not SHS causes breast cancer is a political issue with the potential to compromise the scientific process. "A premature decision about causality could jeopardize the credibility of the entire review process and all of the other, established effects of secondhand smoke," says Michael Thun, national vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society. The suspicion that exposure to SHS could cause breast cancer dates back more than two decades. Among the more than 50 carcinogens in tobacco smoke are approximately 20 substances listed as mammary carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

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19) Fingerprinting Perchlorate Sources

A new technique identifies the origins of perchlorate even after microbes break it down.

by Erika Engelhaupt, Environmental Science & Technology
February 28, 2007
http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2007/feb/science/ee_perchlorate.html

Perchlorate, found nearly everywhere, has become a fiery topic over the past few years. The chemical, which occurs both naturally and as a residue from explosives and rocket fuel, interferes with thyroid function and is particularly dangerous to children.

Article Summary: In research published today, a team led by Neil Sturchio of the University of Illinois Chicago reports on advances in perchlorate fingerprinting that could help resolve some hot debates surrounding the chemical's origin. Communities with perchlorate contamination want to know where it came from and who is responsible for cleaning it up, and isotopes can help answer those questions. The technique developed by Sturchio's group is a step toward identifying sources of perchlorate. Eventually, Sturchio's team hopes to be able to pinpoint a particular manufacturer. "They're not there yet, but this is a critical step," says Jackson.

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20) Household Antibacterial Products Generate Chloroform

Antibacterial products containing triclosan produce chloroform under common conditions, a new study finds.

by Erika Engelhaupt, Environmental Science & Technology
February 28, 2007
http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2007/feb/science/ee_chloroform.html

No longer just for hand soap, the antibacterial agent triclosan is cropping up in an ever-expanding range of consumer products. These days, even socks and toothpaste aim to keep parts of you microbe-free.

Article Summary: Research published today by Peter Vikesland and colleagues at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University shows that under normal household conditions, products containing triclosan react with chlorinated water to produce chloroform, a probable carcinogen. His team has tested 16 products, including lotions, soaps, and body washes with and without triclosan. They found that all of the household goods with triclosan produced either chloroform or other chlorinated byproducts. From their tests, they estimate that under some conditions the use of triclosan can increase a person’s annual exposure to chloroform by as much as 40% above background levels in tap water. Shane Snyder, research and development project manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said chlorine reacts with various forms of organic matter in municipal water to produce chloroform, and he expects the levels of chloroform from triclosan to be negligible. Ciba Specialty Chemicals, who invented triclosan 35 years ago, questions whether the researchers used real-world conditions in the study. Vikesland believes Triclosan creates enough chloroform to warrant more study. Both water temperature and the level of chlorine in local tap water will have significant effects on chloroform production, as will the antimicrobial product used. Although he does not advocate that people stop using antibacterial products, he says it would be best for consumers to make purchasing decisions while considering the potential reactions that can occur.

With some soaps in Vikesland's study, all of the triclosan degraded within 1 minute of exposure to chlorinated water at 40°C (104°F), a temperature that might be used for household cleaning. That speed leads Vikesland to ask whether triclosan is broken down quickly enough in chlorinated tap water to render it less effective in killing germs.

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21) Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon

Environmental factors are herding girls into womanhood sooner than ever

by Ronnie Cohen, Marin County Pacific Sun
February 16, 2007
http://www.pacificsun.com/story.php?story_id=496

Article Summary: Nothing good can come from early puberty in girls, according to biologist and author Sandra Steingraber. A cancer survivor and expert on environmental links to cancer, Steingraber has been called the Rachel Carson of our time and the poet laureate of the environmental-health movement. "Early puberty is really bad for girls," Steingraber said. When a girl goes through puberty, her brain is remodeled to allow abstract thinking, Steingraber said. But the development of higher-order thought comes at a price. Once a girl passes puberty, her brain loses its childhood plasticity, and she has a harder time learning to speak a foreign language with an accent or to play a sport or a musical instrument. Steingraber added: "It raises the risk for drug abuse, alcohol abuse, depression, violent victimization for a long time to come. Girls who enter puberty early are disproportionately represented in the criminal record, found to earn less money." Early puberty is also a risk factor for breast cancer, although any changes may need to come from a political-social level, rather than an individual level. Steingraber, who had battled bladder cancer in her 20s, said that after examining all the studies on puberty she could find, "What I finally came away with is realizing that sexual maturation is not governed by a biological clock. It's really not an adequate metaphor for our reproductive lives. We have kind of hijacked that system and bombarded it with signals that speed the whole process up." Obesity and increased body size, calorie-dense diets and sedentary lifestyles increase risk for early puberty. Breast-fed babies tend to go through puberty later. Exercise also delays puberty, said Steingraber. A stressful home environment tends to speed puberty's onset, as does watching television and living without a father, at least in developed countries. Girls who live in homes with unrelated males may start puberty earlier. Studies have linked early puberty to polybrominated biphenyl, phthalates, skin creams men use to enhance sexual performance.

Epidemiologists are currently studying 6- to 8-year-old girls to see how prepubertal exposures influence the onset of puberty. This five-year study is part of the federally funded Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers, and researchers are investigating weight, diet, physical activity levels, stress, household structure, time spent watching television, use of personal-care products, diet and medical exposures, among other things. They also will look at how often the girls' homes are fumigated, whether they drink water from plastic bottles and if their showers have vinyl curtains.

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