Rachel's Democracy & Health News #880
Thursday, November 9, 2006
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #880 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
November 9, 2006
[Rachel's introduction: Essential reforms: eliminate global poverty, end tax cheating by the super rich, and get private money out of our elections.]
By Peter Montague
Readers ask, "On what basis do you choose topics for Rachel's News?" Last week and this, I'm answering that question.
As we said last week, we start with twin goals:
(1) We want to hand the planet to the next generation undamaged and undiminished. In other words, we favor the present generation meeting its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs because stealing from our children is wrong.
(2) We favor the Golden Rule and therefore we want to prevent and alleviate suffering.
So what are the sources of harm and suffering? And what are the remedies?
A major source of harm, suffering, global instability, and conflict is the large number of people who are wretchedly poor -- perhaps as many as 1/3rd of the world's population. The global population today is 6 billion. Within 50 years, it is projected to reach between 9 and 12 billion. This growth alone seems certain to damage the planet irreversibly. Therefore, it seems desirable to find ways to reduce the pace of growth in the human population. There is now broad agreement that the best way to do this would be to eliminate poverty. After people escape poverty, their birth rate declines rapidly for many reasons.
Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the world has the wealth, the know-how and the means to eliminate poverty. Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University, and others, have shown how extreme poverty could be eliminated by 2025. In the shorter term, meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015 would be a major step in the right direction, and it, too, can be readily accomplished if we choose to do so.
Alleviating poverty is urgent for many reasons. Inequality of wealth and status are major causes of conflict in the world, and conflict is now a major source of suffering, harm, waste, and damage to the natural environment. Inequality of wealth and status are also, as we have recently become more aware, constant wellsprings of frustration, rage and animosity toward Europe and the U.S. Increasingly, individuals are willing to kill themselves in spectacular ways to get even for the injustices and indignities they perceive to have been inflicted upon them and their societies.
In truth, over the past 400 years, Europe created what we call the "third world" for the benefit of Europeans, to the long-term detriment of third world peoples. After 1898, the U.S. participated in these exploits with military-religious fervor. This is a hidden history -- but hidden in plain sight. Typical is this 1898 quotation from Senator Albert J. Beveridge, a progressive from Indiana, praising President Ulysses Grant:
"He never forgot we are a conquering race and that we must obey our blood and occupy new markets, and, if necessary, new lands. He had the prophet's seer-like sight which beheld, as part of the Almighty's infinite plan, the disappearance of debased civilizations and decaying races before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile types of man.... He had the instinct of empire." This is a typical expression of the "white man's burden," from which we today have inherited a powerful residue of racism and white privilege.
Senator Beveridge was a mainstream progressive of his time. He favored the eight-hour work day, meat inspections, the regulation of railroads, and anti-trust laws to curb the monopoly power of corporations. He was concerned that material wealth was undermining the Puritan elements of the American character. Yet for him, "history was in a sense just a predestined rescue operation, rescuing the world 'from its natural wilderness and from savage men.' Beveridge wrote, "A hundred wildernesses are to be subdued. Unpenetrated regions must be explored. Unviolated valleys must be tilled. Unmastered forests must be felled. Unriven mountains must be torn asunder and their riches of gold and iron and ores of price must be delivered to the world." ([1, pgs. 98-99) Exploitation was the obligation of the conqueror and conquest was the obligation of the superior race of men.
Over 400 years, Europe systematically extracted cheap raw materials from various colonies and protectorates using forced labor (slavery or indentured servants) for the benefit of England, Spain, France, Portugal, Belgium or Holland. Third world economies were "developed" by military force into plantations growing crops for export -- sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas, cotton, rubber, palm oil, hardwood timber), with cheap labor provided by a landless peasantry. Third- world mines provided copper, nickel, iron, bauxite, phosphates. The dominant societies turned these into highly-profitable manufactured goods. The Third World nations provided the raw materials but remained poor by intent. Development in the dominant countries meant something entirely different -- a varied and thriving industrial base with a rising standard of living.
All this was no secret at the time. As Cecil Rhodes (for whom Rhodes Scholarships are named) said about Africa, "We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories." (See Clive Ponting's A Green History of the World, especially chapter 10.)
From this history we conclude that it is only fair that Europe and the U.S. should invest in alleviating some of the harm that they purposefully inflicted on others for their own benefit. We believe it is also in our national self-interest to do so, to eliminate some of the most obvious sources of resentment, conflict, and global instability.
Ending Third World poverty would probably require the U.S. to modify some of its investment priorities. For example, we presently spend $450 billion year on our military apparatus, to protect ourselves from conflicts generated in no small part, we all readily acknowledge, by global poverty, inequities, and inequalities. Yet we spend only $15 billion per year (or about $50 per U.S. resident per year) to eliminate global poverty.
Could we afford to invest more than $15 billion annually to end world poverty? It seems we could quite easily. A bipartisan report from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations published in August revealed that the super rich evade $70 billion in U.S. taxes each year. As the New York Times reported August 1, 2006, "So many super rich Americans evade taxes using offshore accounts that law enforcement cannot control the growing misconduct, according to a Senate report that provides the most detailed look ever at high-level tax schemes." But the problem could be easily solved: To catch more tax-cheaters and collect more taxes that are legally due, we could simply beef up government tax audits.
How do traditional conservatives view tax collections? They favor fairness. True conservatives do not defend tax cheats. Adam Smith, in his monumental Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations (1776) had this to say on taxation (Book 5, Chapter 2, Part 2):
"I. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.
"II. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of payment, the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor, and to every other person."
In sum, Adam Smith said, If you become wealthy thanks to all the features of modern society provided by everyone working cooperatively together -- the transportation system, a stable currency, the judicial system, the educational system, the communications apparatus, the military, the system of laws and regulations guiding contracts and commerce, the reciprocal relationships of trust, the freedom to travel, and so on -- then you should contribute to the common good in proportion to the benefits you receive. Thus Adam Smith articulated the basic idea behind progressive taxation: the tax burden should fall most heavily on those most able to pay. To shift taxes onto those least able to pay -- as has been public policy since 1980 -- endangers the stability of our representative democracy.
Unfortunately, during the presidencies of both Bill Clinton and G.W. Bush, public policies have encouraged tax cheating. Tax audits of the rich have declined while tax audits of the working poor have increased. Tax-collection policies have been intentionally rigged by both Democrats and Republicans to help the super rich cheat on their taxes. This undermines confidence in government.
Worse, the entire government rule book has been systematically rewritten in the past 25 years to favor people who make money destroying -- rather than creating -- productive enterprises. In 1991, reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a nine-part series that blew the lid off this scandal and became a best-selling book, "America -- What Went Wrong" in which they documented how the government rule book had been rewritten to give every advantage to Wall Street raiders and to effectively destroy the middle class. Unfortunately, this shameful and destructive era of our national history has not ended.
This leads us directly to the most fundamental problem facing our representative democracy: the corrupting influence of private money in our elections. The basis of our democracy is one person, one vote, NOT one dollar one vote. With the advent of TV, elections have become more expensive year by year. This has created overwhelm advantages for office seekers with access to mountains of cash. Unless candidates are wealthy themselves, they must beg the wealthy to put them in office; after they win an election they are beholden to the people who provided the millions of dollars required to compete.
Ordinary people with good ideas and ethical standards cannot even run for office unless they gain access to big money. Thus the influence of money in democratic governance has increased greatly during the last 50 years. "One dollar one vote" is now a far more accurate description of the system than "one person one vote."
This fact alone explains a great deal of what has gone wrong in the U.S. It explains how the system has been rigged to allow wealthy people to evade their taxes, destroy productive enterprises, ship jobs overseas, erode the stability of the middle-class, and increase the numbers of the poor.
It also explains why the "environmental movement" -- despite heroic efforts -- has been unable to curb environmentally-destructive patterns of production: pollution is highly profitable for a small number of powerful people even though it is demonstrably harmful to the vast majority. Getting private money out of elections is the single reform that could make all other reforms possible.
From: New York Times .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 17, 2006
PRESCHOOL PUBERTY, AND A SEARCH FOR THE CAUSES
[Rachel's introduction: Something is causing early sexual development in pre-school children.]
By Darshak M. Sanghavi**
Parents often think their children grow up too quickly, but few are prepared for the problem that Dr. Michael Dedekian and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School reported recently.
At the annual Pediatric Academic Society meeting in May in San Francisco, they presented a report that described how a preschool-age girl, and then her kindergarten-age brother, mysteriously began growing pubic hair. These cases were not isolated; in 2004, pediatric endocrinologists from San Diego reported a similar cluster of five children.
It turns out that there have been clusters of cases in which children have prematurely developed signs of puberty, outbreaks similar to epidemics of influenza or environmental poisonings. In 1979, the medical journal The Lancet described an outbreak of breast enlargement among hundreds of Italian schoolchildren, probably caused by estrogen contamination of beef and poultry. Similar epidemics in Puerto Rico and Haiti were tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the 1980's.
Increasingly -- though the science is still far from definitive and the precise number of such cases is highly speculative -- some physicians worry that children are at higher risk of early puberty as a result of the increasing prevalence of certain drugs, cosmetics and environmental contaminants, called "endocrine disruptors," that can cause breast growth, pubic hair development and other symptoms of puberty.
Most commonly, outbreaks of puberty in children are traced to accidental drug exposures from products that are used incorrectly.
Dr. Dedekian's first patient was evaluated for possible genetic endocrine problems and a rare brain tumor before the cause of her puberty was discovered. It turned out that her testosterone level was almost 100 times normal, in the range of an adult man. The same problem affected her brother.
The doctors realized that the girl's father was using a concentrated testosterone skin cream bought from an Internet compounding pharmacy for cosmetic and sexual performance purposes. From normal skin contact with their father, the children absorbed the testosterone, which caused pubic hair growth and genital enlargement. The boy, in particular, also developed some aggressive behavior problems.
Sex hormones are potent because they are easily absorbed through the skin and resist degradation better than many other hormones. Unlike protein-based hormones like insulin, sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen are technically steroids, meaning they are derived from cholesterol.
Primarily made by the liver, cholesterol begins with tiny pieces of sugar that are joined, twisted and oxidized in a dizzying series to make an end product that resembles the interlinked rings of the Olympic emblem. Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, Nobel Laureate and a biochemist in Texas, once called it "the most highly decorated small molecule in biology," because 13 Nobel Prizes have been awarded for its study.
Through further processing, primarily in the gonads and adrenal glands, cholesterol is converted into sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Kenneth Lee Jones, the former chief of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, noted pediatric cases similar to those described by Dr. Dedekian in a 2004 report in the journal Pediatrics. Dr. Dedekian is a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
At that time, unregulated "prohormones" like Andro, famously used by Mark McGwire, the former St. Louis Cardinals power hitter, and banned by federal law in 2005, were available as topical sprays used to enhance libido. Dr. Jones said the sprays used by adults in some households permeated the children's bedsheets, and the early puberty stopped only when the adults stopped using the sprays and also discarded old sheets.
Testosterone-containing products are not the only trigger of disordered puberty in children.
In a 1998 paper in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, Dr. Chandra Tiwary, the former chief of pediatric endocrinology at Brook Army Medical Center in Texas, reported an outbreak of early breast development in four young African-American girls who used shampoos that contained estrogen and placental extract. The early puberty reversed once the shampoo was stopped.
In the tradition of previous physicians who deliberately exposed themselves to possible pathogens, Dr. Tiwary tried the shampoos on himself. He carefully measured his own levels of various male and female sex hormones to establish his baseline, used the shampoos for a few days, then repeated the tests.
While Dr. Tiwary is quick to admit that his unpublished findings must be interpreted with great caution, some of his sex hormone levels changed by almost 40 percent after he used the shampoos. In some cases, substances other than sex steroids may also disrupt normal sexual development. In Boston at the annual Endocrine Society meeting in June, Clifford Bloch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine presented several cases of young men who had developed marked breast enlargement from using shampoos containing lavender and tea tree oils, which are widely used essential oil additives that present no problem for adults. (Unlike Dr. Dedekian's cases, these cases were not a result of passive transfer from parents. The boys themselves used the shampoos.)
Dr. Bloch collaborated with scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina to test the oils on human breast cells grown in test tubes. Lavender and tea tree oil had the same effect on the cells as estrogen.
Dr. Bloch speculates that the findings, which he is submitting for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, may explain the boys' breast growth. He noted, however, that cells in a test tube are a far cry from humans, so the relationship of the essential oil to breast growth remains hypothetical.
While pediatric endocrinologists have implicated pharmaceutical or personal care products for causing pubertal problems in children, some environmental scientists also claim that some widespread industrial and pharmaceutical pollutants harm the normal sexual development of fish and animals. By extension, they may also contribute to earlier or disrupted puberty in children, these scientists contend. Robert Kavlock, a senior reproductive toxicologist at the Environmental Protection Agency, said these concerns "caused a shift in worry from cancer to noncancer" effects of environmental pollution over the past decade.
In 1994, scientists found that estrogen-like chemicals from plastics manufacturing plants that had contaminated sewers in England caused genetically male fish to develop into females. In the early 1980's, major spills of the DDT-like pesticide dicofol in Florida led to the "feminization" of the reproductive tracts of male alligators.
Ralph L. Cooper, the chief of endocrinology at the reproductive toxicology division of the Environmental Protection Agency, says various sources of endocrine disruptors, like manufacturing chemicals, may be leaching into the environment. While their relation to pubertal problems in children remains highly speculative, he believes further study is needed.
Past epidemiological evidence, however, does worry Dr. Cooper, because some chemical exposures have been associated with early puberty. In 1973, thousands of Michigan residents ate food contaminated by a flame retardant, PBB, which was later correlated with earlier menstruation in girls. In Puerto Rico, which has some of the world's highest rates of early puberty, the condition was linked to higher levels of a plasticizer called phthalate in affected children.
Governmental efforts to create a systematic method to assess possible endocrine disruptors from environmental sources have stalled.
In 1996, Congress directed the E.P.A. to develop a comprehensive screening program for possible endocrine disruptors within three years. Dr. Cooper says no such program has begun operation, a failure he attributed largely to stonewalling by chemical industry representatives who serve on an advisory committee for the program. Now the proposed rollout is December 2007, but Dr. Cooper said, "They may be dreaming." Critics cite the program's high potential costs and lack of reliable laboratory tests.
Protecting children from endocrine disrupters in cosmetics and prescription drugs may also be difficult in the near future.
In 1989, the Food and Drug Administration proposed allowing up to 10,000 units of estrogen per ounce of cosmetic, the approximate oral daily dose of hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women. Dr. Tiwary said that in the early 1990's he filed an adverse drug report with the agency about hormone-containing shampoos but that to his knowledge, it never came to anything.
Reached by e-mail, a spokeswoman for the F.D.A. said that the agency was "aware of some reports describing premature sexual devolepment" with shampoos but that it had concluded that "there is no reason for consumers to be concerned."
At this time, "placental materials are neither prohibited by cosmetic regulations nor restricted" by the F.D.A., she wrote.
Dr. Dedekian said that while prohormones like Andro are no longer commercially available, lax regulation of so-called compounding pharmacies allows the manufacture and sale of concentrated testosterone creams, like the one affecting his patient, without government oversight.
Topical lotions and creams containing testosterone may become more common. In 2000, Solvay Pharmaceuticals secured F.D.A. approval for Androgel, a lotion to treat a syndrome the company calls low T, referring to low testosterone. According to the company's Web site, the condition affects 13 million men over 45. From 2000 to 2004, the number of testosterone prescriptions doubled to over 2.4 million a year.
Solvay Pharmaceuticals referred questions on Androgel's possible risks to Natan Bar-Chama, an associate professor of urology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Dr. Bar-Chama acknowledged the theoretical risks of transfer of the hormone through skin contact with children, but he said he had never seen a case among the hundreds of men he has treated. He added, however, that it was prudent to take precautions when using the product, including hand-washing after handling the gel and wearing clothing to avoid skin-to-skin contact with others.
In 2003, an Institute of Medicine report stated, "There has been increasing concern about the increase in the number of men using testosterone and the lack of scientific data on the benefits and risks of this therapy."
Dr. Dan Blazer, a psychiatrist at Duke who was chairman of the committee, said, "In no way did we find a condition that we defined as low T."
The major clinical trial of Androgel's effectiveness for low T, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2000, included neither a placebo group (patients who received an inactive dummy lotion) nor a control group (patients who did not have low T) for comparison.
Dr. Ronald Swerdloff, the chief of endocrinology at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., and a consultant for Solvay, who ran the study, said the trial was limited in scope since it examined "a new route of administration for an already established drug."
** Darshak M. Sanghavi is a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
From: Daily Telegraph (UK) ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
November 9, 2006
POLLUTION POISONS CHILDREN
[Rachel's introduction: Millions of children worldwide may have suffered brain damage as a direct result of industrial pollution, scientists say.]
By John von Radowitz
Millions of children worldwide may have suffered brain damage as a direct result of industrial pollution, scientists say.
An explosive report talks of a "silent pandemic" of neurodevelopmental disorders caused by toxic chemicals spilling into the environment.
They include conditions such as autism, attention deficit disorder, mental retardation and cerebral palsy. All are common and can result in lifelong disability, but their causes are largely unknown.
The scientists, from Holland and the US, identified 202 industrial chemicals with the potential to damage the human brain, and said they were likely to be the "tip of a very large iceberg". More than 1,000 chemicals are known to be neurotoxic in animals, and are also likely to be harmful to humans.
The researchers made an urgent call for much tighter worldwide controls on chemicals, and a "precautionary approach" to testing. Dr Philippe Grandjean, from the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark in Winslowparken, one of the study's two authors, said: "The human brain is a precious and vulnerable organ.
"And because optimal brain function depends on the integrity of the organ, even limited damage may have serious consequences. Even if substantial documentation on their toxicity is available, most chemicals are not regulated to protect the developing brain. Only a few substances, such as lead and mercury, are controlled with the purpose of protecting children.
"The 200 other chemicals that are known to be toxic to the human brain are not regulated to prevent adverse effects on the foetus or a small child." Grandjean and co-author Professor Philip Landrigan, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, trawled a range of scientific data sources to compile their evidence.
Five substances for which sufficient toxicity evidence exist were examined in detail -- lead, methylmercury, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and toluene. In each case, the dangers came to light the same way.
First, there was a recognition of high dosage toxicity in adults, and records of isolated episodes of poisoning among children. This was followed by a growing body of epidemiological evidence that lower levels of exposure in children led to neurobehavioral defects.
Pinning down the effects of industrial chemical pollution is extremely difficult because they may not produce symptoms for several years or even decades, said the scientists. This was why the pandemic is "silent". The damage caused by individual toxic chemicals is not obviously apparent in available health statistics.
But the extent of the sub-clinical risk to large populations is illustrated by the legacy of lead. Virtually all children born in industrialised countries between 1960 and 1980 must have been exposed to lead from petrol, said the researchers. Based on what is known about the toxic effects of lead, this may have reduced exceptional IQ scores of above 130 by more than half, and increased the number of scores less than 70.
Other results of lead exposure included shortened attention span, slowed motor coordination and heightened aggressiveness. In later life, early damage from lead can increase the risk of Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Today, it is estimated that lead poisoning in children costs the US economy $A55 billion each year. One in six children is thought to have some kind of developmental disability, usually involving the nervous system.
Developing brains are much more susceptible to toxic chemicals than those of adults, pointed out the scientists. Interference with complex changes taking place in the developing brain can have permanent consequences. And research had shown that this vulnerable period lasts from the foetal stage of life through infancy and childhood to adolescence.
Writing in the online version of The Lancet medical journal, the scientists conclude: "The combined evidence suggests that neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals has created a silent pandemic in modern society.
"Although these chemicals might have caused impaired brain development to millions of children worldwide, the profound effects of such a pandemic are not apparent from available health statistics. Additionally... only a few chemical causes have been recognised, so the full effects of our industrial activities could be substantially greater than recognised at present."
In the EU, 100,000 chemicals were registered for commercial use in 1981, and in the US, 80,000 are registered. Yet fewer than half had been subjected to even token laboratory testing, said the report, and in 80 per cent of cases there was no information about potential danger to children.
Although new chemicals went through more rigorous testing, access to the data could be restricted for commercial reasons. In the EU, a new testing program called Reach is planned under proposed legislation that will enforce tighter controls.
But the scientists said that even this does not go far enough, since it fails to emphasise the importance of testing chemicals for developmental neurotoxicity. "Toxicity testing protocols for chemicals need to be expanded to include examination of neurobehavioral functions," they said.
There was a mixed reaction to the research from other experts.
Professor Mark Hanson, director of developmental origins of health and disease at Southampton University, said: "The authors have put their finger on something which is important and which will not go away. The review, in a way, is timely because it will stir up debate and hopefully generate more research in this area. There is no need to panic, but we can't ignore this possible problem."
Professor Alan Boobis, from the section of experimental medicine and toxicology at Imperial College London, said: "The authors of this review have raised an issue of significant concern, but some of the evidence in support of the conclusions lacks rigour. This is a risk management issue. In implementing the precautionary principle, it is important to take into account all relevant information and not just the potential harm that might result from inaction."
Professor Nigel Brown, head of the faculty of medicine and biomedical sciences at the University of London, criticised the report, saying the authors "verge on scaremongering". He said: "From their assertions, the authors conclude that the combined evidence suggests that neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals has created a silent pandemic in modern society. This is a gross overstatement.
"It is possible that there is a problem. We should be aware of this and we should study the problem, but there is currently not a shred of evidence of a pandemic."
Copyright 2006 News Limited
From: New York Times .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
November 2, 2006
REPORT WARNS OF "GLOBAL COLLAPSE" OF FISHING
[Rachel's introduction: Fish are disappearing, and time is running out for the oceans. "We still have rhinos and tigers and elephants because we saw a clear trend that was going down and we changed it. We have to do the same in the oceans."]
By Cornelia Dean
If fishing around the world continues at its present pace, more and more species will vanish, marine ecosystems will unravel and there will be "global collapse" of all species currently fished, possibly as soon as midcentury, fisheries experts and ecologists are predicting.
The scientists, who report their findings today in the journal Science, say it is not too late to turn the situation around. As long as marine ecosystems are still biologically diverse, they can recover quickly once overfishing and other threats are reduced, the researchers say.
But improvements must come quickly, said Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, who led the work. Otherwise, he said, "we are seeing the bottom of the barrel."
"When humans get into trouble they are quick to change their ways," he continued. "We still have rhinos and tigers and elephants because we saw a clear trend that was going down and we changed it. We have to do the same in the oceans."
The report is one of many in recent years to identify severe environmental degradation in the world's oceans and to predict catastrophic loss of fish species. But experts said it was unusual in its vision of widespread fishery collapse so close at hand.
The researchers drew their conclusion after analyzing dozens of studies, along with fishing data collected by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and other sources. They acknowledge that much of what they are reporting amounts to correlation, rather than proven cause and effect. And the F.A.O. data have come under criticism from researchers who doubt the reliability of some nations' reporting practices, Dr. Worm said.
Still, he said in an interview, "there is not a piece of evidence" that contradicts the dire conclusions.
Jane Lubchenco, a fisheries expert at Oregon State University who had no connection with the work, called the report "compelling."
"It's a meta analysis and there are challenges in interpreting those," she said in an interview, referring to the technique of collective analysis of disparate studies. "But when you get the same patterns over and over and over, that tells you something."
But Steve Murawski, chief scientist of the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, said the researchers' prediction of a major global collapse "doesn't gibe with trends that we see, especially in the United States."
He said the Fisheries Service considered about 20 percent of the stocks it monitors to be overfished. "But 80 percent are not, and that trend has not changed substantially," he said, adding that if anything, the fish situation in American waters was improving. But he conceded that the same cannot necessarily be said for stocks elsewhere, particularly in the developing world.
Mr. Murawski said the Bush administration was seeking to encourage international fishery groups to consider adopting measures that have been effective in American waters.
Twelve scientists from the United States, Canada, Sweden and Panama contributed to the work reported in Science today.
"We extracted all data on fish and invertebrate catches from 1950 to 2003 within all 64 large marine ecosystems worldwide," they wrote. "Collectively, these areas produced 83 percent of global fisheries yields over the past 50 years."
In an interview, Dr. Worm said, "We looked at absolutely everything - all the fish, shellfish, invertebrates, everything that people consume that comes from the ocean, all of it, globally."
The researchers found that 29 percent of species had been fished so heavily or were so affected by pollution or habitat loss that they were down to 10 percent of previous levels, their definition of "collapse."
This loss of biodiversity seems to leave marine ecosystems as a whole more vulnerable to overfishing and less able to recover from its effects, Dr. Worm said. It results in an acceleration of environmental decay, and further loss of fish.
Dr. Worm said he analyzed the data for the first time on his laptop while he was overseeing a roomful of students taking an exam. What he saw, he said, was "just a smooth line going down." And when he extrapolated the data into the future "to see where it ends at 100 percent collapse, you arrive at 2048."
"The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I said, 'This cannot be true,'" he recalled. He said he ran the data through his computer again, then did the calculations by hand. The results were the same.
"I don't have a crystal ball and I don't know what the future will bring, but this is a clear trend," he said. "There is an end in sight, and it is within our lifetimes."
Dr. Worm said a number of steps could help turn things around.
Even something as simple as reducing the number of unwanted fish caught in nets set for other species would help, he said. Marine reserves would also help, he said, as would "doing away with horrendous overfishing where everyone agrees it's a bad thing; or if we banned destructive fishing in the most sensitive habitats."
Josh Reichert, who directs the environmental division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, called the report "a kind of warning bell" for people and economies that depend on fish.
But predicting a global fisheries collapse by 2048 "assumes we do nothing to fix this," he said, "and shame on us if that were to be the case."
From: Pittsburgh (Penna.) Post-Gazette ...................[This story printer-friendly]
November 8, 2006
CARE PRODUCTS MAY PUT BLACK WOMEN AT HIGHER RISK FOR BREAST CANCER
[Rachel's introduction: Use of personal care products that contain hormone-like compounds might explain why young African-American women are at greater risk of breast cancer.]
By Anita Srikameswaran,
Use of personal care products that contain estrogen or hormone-like compounds might help explain why young African-American women are at greater risk of developing breast cancer, local scientists say.
In an upcoming issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's center for environmental oncology point out that black women under 40 have a higher breast cancer incidence than white women of similar age, and they are more likely to die of the cancer regardless of age.
"We have to ask what else is going on," said senior investigator and center director Devra Davis. "We think that these products could be playing a role."
Personal care products like hair straighteners and deodorants may contain estrogens and preservative compounds called parabens that mimic hormones.
"Some of these compounds are widely used in the African-American community throughout life, starting at very young ages," Dr. Davis said.
In a report from the mid-90s, black toddlers began to develop breasts and pubic hair when their parents applied hair pomades to their scalps.
"When they stopped using these products, the breasts went away," Dr. Davis said. "Now anything that can make breasts grow in an infant has got to be problematic."
Manufacturers do not have to list product ingredients, so "I can't tell [people] anything about what's in them now," she said. "I do not know. Nobody does because they're not required to make it public."
Dr. Davis said she would like to get manufacturers to stop using the questionable compounds. As she put it, "We don't want to just study the problem. We want to make the problem go away."
More research needs to be done to verify or refute a link between the products and breast cancer risk, said Maryann Donovan, scientific director of the environmental oncology center and leader of the study.
"We don't really know yet, but we certainly can document that these chemicals are definitely causing changes... that are biologically important," she said.
In addition to conducting experiments to see how breast cells behave when mingled with the compounds, researchers must try to reconstruct exposures that might have put black breast cancer patients at greater risk, Dr. Donovan said.
Suspicious chemicals also can be found in everything from suntan lotion to milk, she noted. Puberty is occurring at lower ages, the ratio of male to female births is changing and other such shifts are raising concerns.
"We need to look at these as wake-up calls and do something differently," Dr. Donovan said. "If we don't wrestle with this beast, and do something about it, it's never going to go away."
Scientists from the environmental oncology center and Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health reviewed breast cancer rates among black and white women from 1975 to 2002.
Invasive breast cancer incidence declined overall, but African- American women still remained at higher risk, they said. The findings were presented this week in Boston during the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.
From: Toronto Globe and Mail ..............................[This story printer-friendly]
September 14, 2006
RISK OF 4,000 EVERYDAY CHEMICALS TO BE STUDIED
[Rachel's introduction: From household cleaners to pop bottles, ingredients previously ignored may affect health, scientists say]
By Martin Mittelstaedt, Environment Reporter
After a massive investigation spanning seven years, federal scientists [in Canada] have determined that a staggering total of about 4,000 chemicals used in Canada pose enough of a risk to human health or wildlife that they need to be subjected to in-depth safety assessments.
Staff at Environment Canada and Health Canada are planning to give the list of chemicals to their respective ministers later today, the beginning of what is expected to be the biggest effort ever undertaken in the country to deal with potentially harmful substances used in everything from pop bottles and lip balm to household cleaners and plastic baby bottles.
All 4,000 chemicals will be studied, but the ministers will decide which ones pose the greatest threat and should be studied first. They will also decide whether any regulations are needed to control those substances.
Federal officials expect to make public the chemicals they're worried about in the next few weeks, along with a plan for dealing with the substances.
But they're already saying they have conducted the most comprehensive review ever undertaken in the world of potentially harmful compounds in widespread commercial use.
"We're actually quite proud of what we've done here. We are the first country in the world that has done a systematic review of all of the chemicals in use," said Paul Glover, Health Canada's director-general of safe environment programs.
Mr. Glover said the government assessed the chemicals because of worries they might be factors contributing to disease or illness. "Quite frankly, we think that that might be the case and that's why we've done this work," he said in an interview.
Recent scientific research has cited some widely used chemicals that weren't originally assessed for possibly causing cancer, declining sperm counts, attention-deficit disorders and other ailments.
Many of the chemicals to be subjected to assessments are contained in products virtually all Canadians come into contact with, while others are used extensively by industry in manufacturing, where workers face possible exposures and factory emissions could contaminate the environment.
Industry officials and environmentalists have worked closely with the government in compiling the list of suspect chemicals. This list includes about 4,000 compounds needing review, although federal officials refused to confirm that number yesterday.
Some of the chemicals have been used extensively in consumer products, including polyethylene terephthalate, a building block for pop bottles; styrene, a component in many plastics; toluene, a solvent used in household cleaning products; and bisphenol-A, used to make dental sealants.
"These toxic chemicals are found in many aspects of our lives, everything from personal-care products, cooking pots and pans, electronics, furniture, clothing," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, a conservation think tank based in Toronto.
Some of those who have seen the list are calling for quick government action to limit use of the questionable substances. Federal law gives Ottawa the power to ban or place restrictions on the use of compounds deemed harmful.
"These chemicals are the worst of the worst," said Fe de Leon, a researcher at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. "There has to be comprehensive regulatory action, not just on a handful of the chemicals [but] all 4,000."
The chemicals selected for review were in commercial use before Canada adopted its first comprehensive pollution legislation, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, in 1988.
At that time, there were 23,000 substances in use exempted from safety study because federal regulators decided to concentrate on screening new chemicals, of which there are about 800 introduced a year, rather than deal with the problems posed by substances already on the market.
But recently, there has been an international effort to come to grips with the possible health consequences of the widespread use of these inadequately assessed chemicals.
In Europe, a review of the safety of grandfathered chemicals is under way.
The exemption in Canada meant that tens of thousands of chemicals have been legally used for years, despite never having been formally assessed -- or having been poorly assessed -- for the risks they might pose to either human health or to the environment.
The decision, made years ago, by the government to permit use of these older chemicals angered some environmentalists because it may have exposed Canadians to needless health risks. "They've completely failed" because they've allowed nearly two decades of use of the chemicals, said Mr. Smith, whose group conducted tests that found many Canadians have residues of harmful chemicals in their bodies.
To try to close this regulatory gap, a group of scientists from both Health Canada and Environment Canada spent the seven years jointly poring over the long list of grandfathered chemicals.
In selecting those in need of further study, authorities looked at each of the exempted chemicals and picked some because they are in such widespread usage that almost everyone in the country is likely to be exposed.
As well, they've also screened the list for those chemicals that are "inherently toxic," the government's term for substances that pose health threats to humans or wildlife, while also possessing the dangerous attributes of accumulating in living things and being resistant to natural breakdown into less harmful substances.
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How DO the few control the many, and what might be done about it?"
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