From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
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The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (April 4, 2002) reports that arsenic, emitted by a copper smelter near Tacoma, Washington, had traveled on strong, sustained wind currents to contaminate over 200-square miles of southern King County (south of Seattle). Soil samples taken from some areas measure as much as 200+ parts per million, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. Arsenic can cause bladder, skin, and lung cancers and may also contribute to liver, kidney, and prostate cancers. According to the article, "230 parts per million translates to one cancer case for every 2,000 people exposed.” The copper smelter, owned by Asarco, closed in 1985.
Residents of Vashon and Maury Islands (just north of Tacoma) were warned about the contamination in April 2000, but King County officials had not realized that residents farther north and east also needed to take precautions. High levels of arsenic in the soil of Normandy Park, a prosperous neighborhood south of Seattle, were discovered by Arlene Wade, who was trying to understand why her gardener and pets had died of cancer and why she had been the first in her family to develop lymphatic cancer. Soil samples taken from her neighborhood revealed arsenic levels that were as much as 13 times higher than the 20 ppm permitted by the state without requiring clean-up.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer listed several measures, recommended by Seattle-King County Public Health Department, to reduce exposure to arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals in soil. The department suggests that exposed soil be covered with grass, wood chips, or gravel so that it is less likely to get stirred up as dust and tracked into buildings or vehicles. Removing shoes outside the house and frequent damp-mopping and dusting also lessen exposure. Keeping floors clean and frequent hand-washing are especially important when young children are present since they tend to stick objects, including fingers, into their mouths. Gardeners, like children and pets, are another vulnerable group. The health department recommends that gardeners dampen soil to reduce dust and that they wear gloves and shoes when working in the yard. In addition, the department suggests that gardeners create raised bed gardens, using clean dirt, to reduce exposure to toxic metals.
McClure, Robert. Extensive arsenic pollution revealed. Seattle Post-Intelligencer 2002 April 4; pp A1 & A8
GE Salmon Blocked
On July 29, 2002, United States District Judge Gene Carter formally approved a detailed Consent Degree that bans Heritage Salmon, Inc., from growing European and/or genetically-engineered (GE) salmon. Heritage (a subsidiary of the Canadian food conglomerate, George Weston, Ltd.), Atlantic Salmon of Maine, and Stolt Sea Farm were sued by the United States Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) in July 2000, "for illegally discharging pollutants into the ocean without Clean Water Act discharge permits.” (Trial date for the Atlantic Salmon and Stolt cases was set for October 7, 2002.) The Consent Degree addresses several problems caused by fish farms, such as Heritage Salmon. According to an ABCNews.com report by Dean Schabner, 300,000 fish have escaped from fish farm pens off Maine's coast. These escaped fish pass disease onto their wild cousins. Disease outbreaks, such as infectious salmon anemia, are common among salmon grown in crowded fish pens. In addition, these fish interbreed with wild salmon, producing less hardy offspring.
GE Salmon pose an even greater threat. The Center for Food Safety reports that GE salmon grow considerably faster than natural salmon because of an inserted growth hormone gene taken from another species of fish. Purdue University researchers have found that the larger size gives GE fish a mating advantage but that the offspring of GE fish have a third greater mortality rate. According to the Center for Food Safety, "the Purdue scientists predict that the introduction of GE fish would cause extinction of native species within only a few generations.” Dr. Sherry Rogers pointed out another problem with GE salmon in her monthly newsletter Total Wellness (May 2001): Rous sarcoma virus, a virus known to cause cancer in chickens, has been used as a vector to implant the growth hormone gene into GE salmon. The long-term effect on the fish and on those who eat the fish is simply unknown.
In addition to the European and GE salmon ban, Heritage Salmon has also agreed to limit stocking density in order to minimize disease outbreaks; take greater measures to protect wild salmon from interaction with farmed fish; and to fallow its farm sites to reduce disease outbreaks. Prophylactic antibiotic use is also forbidden, and experimental drugs cannot be used without approval by an environmental agency.
National Environmental Law Center. Federal Court Bans Frankenfish & Antibiotics. www.organicconsumers.org/gefood/frankenfishban.cfm
Schabner, Dean. A Better Breed of Fish? AbcNEWS.com 2001 May 9.
Dr. Sherry Rogers' monthly newsletter Total Wellness (May 2001) is available from 1-800-846-6687 or www.prestigepublishing.com
Mycoremediation - Fungi to the Rescue
Paul Stamets and his company Fungi Perfecti and Battelle's Marine Sciences Laboratory (MSL) in Sequim, Washington, are using ‘higher' fungi species (i.e. mushrooms) to remediate soil and sediment contaminated by oils, petroleum products, pesticides, alkaloids, PCBs, and even E. coli. "Fungi's energy comes from breaking down organic compounds – essentially ‘chewing' them up with enzymes,” according to an article by Carol Mouché at Pollution Engineering Online. Drawing on Fungi Perfecti's vast collection of fungi species, researchers at MSL are selecting and culturing proprietary strains that thrive by breaking down various pollutants.
In a four-month pilot-scale study, a strain of oyster mushroom flourished on three piles of contaminated soil: one pile came from the earthen floor of a 30-year old vehicle maintenance building, the second contained diesel fuel, and the third contained gasoline. According to Paul Stamets in an article for Whole Earth (Fall 1999), earlier studies had shown that this strain of mushroom broke down heavy oil, "removing over 97% of the …polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and more than 80% of the alkanes.” Four-to-five weeks after the study had begun, oyster mushrooms were found on each of the three piles of contaminated soil. The smell of oil had disappeared. The mushrooms themselves tested free of petroleum. No change had occurred in the untreated control, nor in soil treated with bioremediation with nitrogen fertilizer, nor in soil treated with enhanced bacterial treatment using liquid fertilizer and proprietary bacteria. Carol Mouché reported that "MSL's research could not ‘claim with certainty' that the cleanup criterion (Northwest TPH-diesel extended method prescribed by WSDOT) had been met in any of the treated soil during the test period…primarily because of the non-homegeneity of the soil…as well as the prohibitive cost for additional sampling for PAH component.” Nonetheless, native plants began to grow spontaneously in the piles of mycoremediated soil within a few weeks.
Mycoremediation is being considered for restoring life to other polluted environments. An article by Leslie R. Guttman in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that mycoremediation could clean up shorelines contaminated by the thousands of oil spills that occur each year. Washington state EPA attorney Ann Prezyna sees mycoremediation as a way to restore waterways contaminated by agricultural runoff, for salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Anna Moore, an environmental specialist at University of California-Berkeley, wants to try using fungi to remove mercury, the result of gold mining, from the sediment in San Francisco Bay.
"From what I know, the costs are going to be low compared to digging (waste) up and disposing of it at formal waste contamination sites,” says Moore. "And digging in the marsh and disturbing old sediment layers is not a good idea. Mycoremediation might actually take care of the problem in place.”
Mouché, Carol. New Fungal Strains Attack Hydrocarbons in Soil. Pollution Engineering Online 2000 April. www.pollutionengineering.com
Stamets, Paul. Earth's Natural Internet. Whole Earth, Fall 1999. www.wholeearthmag.com/ArticleBin/275.html
Guttman, Leslie R. Scientists finding fungi a valuable ally in habitat restoration. San Francisco Chronicle 2001 November 25.
Genetic Risk for Organophosphate Toxicity
A study funded by the United Kingdom government and published in Lancet (2002; 359:763-64), reports that genetic make-up may explain why some farmers react poorly to organophosphate dips used to kill parasites on sheep and others do not. According to a BBC news report, hundreds of farm workers have blamed exposure to sheep dip pesticide for causing fatigue, memory loss, weakness, joint and muscle pain, and depression. Nicola Cherry and colleagues compared the gene responsible for human serum paraoxonase in 175 farmers, who claimed poor health because of sheep dip exposure, to the same gene in 234 farmers with good health, who also used sheep dip. Paraoxonase is an enzyme that the body uses to break down toxic chemicals. The researchers found that the sickly farmers were almost twice as likely to have genetic variations that would make this enzyme less effective.
According to BBC News, Professor Cherry stated: "The results provide support to those who believe that repeated exposure to organophosphates may cause chronic ill health. Sheep dippers in the UK are one important group, but there are many people worldwide who are exposed to these chemicals, and whose health may be affected as a result.”
Research backs sheep dip claims.
Some farmers prone to pesticide-associated
illness. Reuters Health 2002 March 1. www.reutershealth.com/archive/2002/03/01/eline/links/20020301elin006.html
Infection Epidemic in Hospitals
Using data collected from 315 hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 90,000 deaths in 2000, were caused by infections acquired at a hospital. According to the CDC, about 6% of the 35 million annual hospital admissions will acquire an infection during their stay. The Chicago Tribune places the estimate for hospital-infection deaths at 103,000 and says that about 75,000 were preventable, "the result of unsanitary facilities, germ-laden instruments and unwashed hands.” They derived their figures by analyzing records from 75 federal and state agencies, patient databases, internal hospital files, and court cases that were tied to 5,810 hospitals.
According to Michael J. Berens of the Chicago Tribune, hospital cleaning and janitorial staffs have been cut across the nation by 25% in order to save money, since 1995. Understaffing and inadequate training mean that germ-contaminated bedrails, telephones, and other fixtures often do not get cleaned. When serious sanitary problems arise, administrators, who are trying to cut costs, can be slow to react. Berens cites an operating room at a Connecticut medical center, known to have a faulty air ventilation system; administrators refused to spend $20,000 to replace it in 1995. Instead, they continued to use the room with its dusty air and flies for surgery. Court records report that "up to one in five patients” operated on in that room during 1997 ended up with an infection. The costs in human suffering, further medical costs to treat infection, not to mention litigation, make such ‘cost-cutting measures' extremely short-sighted.
Health-care workers who forget or claim a lack of time to wash their hands between patients are another major contributor to the spread of hospital infections. According to Mr. Berens, "in a Detroit hospital, as doctors and nurses moved about the pediatric intensive care unit without washing hands, infections killed four babies in the same row of bassinets, according to court records and interviews.” When health-care workers become careless about washing their hands and some of their colleagues come to work sick, a full-blown epidemic can occur. Such was the case at a Chicago pediatric medical center where eight children died from a flu-like infection. The epidemic ended when three dozen, feverish health-care workers were told to stay home. The CDC and the US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that following strict clean hands policies could prevent up to 20,000 deaths from hospital infection each year.
Berens, Michael J. Infection epidemic carves deadly path in hospitals. The Sunday Herald-Sun 21 July 2002; A1 & A4
In-Flight Radiation Exposure
Radiation exposure from stars during plane flights has become a health concern, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Since 2000, European regulators have required airlines to track their crewmembers' exposure to radiation and to educate them about the risks. The Federal Aviation Administration in the US has also asked airlines to educate their crews about in-flight radiation and has set up a radiation website. The US government has set the equivalent of 50 chest X-rays per year as being the safe limit of radiation exposure from flights, power plants, and radiology offices for the general population. Workers in these areas can legally be exposed to higher levels.
To see how much radiation exposure can actually occur while flying, Wall Street Journal staff took two radiation monitors on flights that varied in length, altitude, longitude, and latitude. They found that flights near the equator encounter less radiation than those that fly near the poles, where radiation levels are highest. They also found that the greater the altitude, the higher the radiation levels because thinner atmosphere lets more radiation enter a plane. In addition, solar flares can raise radiation levels 20-100 times normal. The staff reported that a flight from Newark, New Jersey to Hong Kong provided the most radiation exposure, the equivalent of about three chest X-rays. They concluded that a person would have to fly about 100,000 miles per year to reach the 50 X-ray limit.
Drucker, Jesse. Radiation in the Skies. The Wall Street Journal 2002 March 29; W1& W4
Monsanto PCB Legacy
In 1935, Monsanto bought a plant in Anniston, Alabama, that manufactured polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a substance that provides inflammable insulation for electrical equipment. The company continued to make PCBs at that plant until 1971. The health risks of PCBs have been long recognized. Monsanto received evidence from a Harvard professor of physiology in 1938, that PCBs were toxic to animals. Six years later, the company instituted safety rules for employees who worked with the chemical, which included supervised showers after each shift and separate lockers for work clothes and street clothes to prevent contamination. Jack Matson, a Penn State professor of environmental engineering and former Monsanto employee, said that Monsanto could have installed an oil-water separator in 1935, for $3,000, which would have greatly protected the local environment from the toxins. Instead, the company dumped untreated production waste into waterways and landfills. Although PCBs were banned in 1979 because of their carcinogenic properties, the federal government and Alabama ignored Anniston's pollution problem until 1993, when a fisherman caught a deformed largemouth bass from a local creek.
In February 2002, about 3500 people won a civil lawsuit against Monsanto. Compensation for health problems and property damages caused by the Anniston plant has not yet been determined although Monsanto has set aside $180 million for clean up. The people of Anniston want clean up to include the removal of PCBs from local landfills. Monsanto claims it is unnecessary, yet PCB air levels in Anniston are unaccountably high. In addition, more than a third of Anniston's 3000 residents had over 10 ppb of PCBs in their blood, according to a 2000 survey. The "average normal” level is less than 2 ppb.
Hewitt, Bill; Trischitta, Linda; Morrissey, Siobhan. Living on Poisoned Ground. People 2002 March 25; pp. 60-65
Aging Sewers & Water Quality
The 1972 Clean Water Act ordered cities to reduce the discharge of raw sewage into waterways. These same waterways are often a source of food and drinking water. The Act also provided funding to expand wastewater treatment plants. About 40% of the US population using municipal wastewater systems did not have sewage treatment in 1970. Before the Clean Water Act, Manhattan's West Side dumped 300 million gallons of raw sewage into the Hudson River each day. Twenty-five years after the Clean Water Act became law, twice as many people were using municipal sewer systems, and pollution from sewage had dropped by 40%.
But federal funding has decreased. Population growth and aging sewer systems, however, have increased the demand for repairs and new treatment plants. Throughout the country, sanitary systems overflow an estimated 40,000 times and sewers back up into basements 400,000 times according to a US News & World Report article (June 12, 2000) by David Whitman. Poor sanitation means more illness. Sanitary-sewer overflows of raw sewage spread bacteria, viruses, intestinal worms, and parasites, causing illness in an estimated one million people each year, according to an EPA draft In 1993, 135 people in Milwaukee were infected by a parasite, Cryptosporidia, that had infected the water supply. Fifty-four died. Sewage also contaminates shellfish beds, forcing their closure. In addition to disease-causing organisms, sewage waste is loaded with toxic substances. An estimated 51 million pounds of toxic chemicals flowed from municipal sewage plants into US waterways during 1997. To upgrade these aging sewer systems, towns across the country are passing the cost on to consumers. Residents in Lynchburg, Virginia and Wheeling, West Virginia, may end up paying more than $15,000 per household.
Whitman, David. The sickening sewer crisis. US News & World Report 2000 June 12; pp.16-18.
Labeling Trans Fat Content
After much debate, the FDA announced in July 2002, that it would require "the mandatory declaration of trans fat content within the Nutrition Facts panel,” printed on the labels of processed foods (www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/labtrans.html). The decision reflected the findings of a National Academy of Sciences Report (www.iom.edu), which recommends that trans fatty acid intake be as close to zero as possible, "while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.” Numerous studies have found a direct correlation between trans fat intake and total and LDL cholesterol levels. The NAS Letter Report states: "This finding, combined with data from prospective cohort studies…has led to the concern that dietary trans fatty acids are more deleterious with respect to coronary heart disease than saturated fatty acids.”
While small amounts of trans fats are produced in a cow's gastrointestinal tract and can be found in low levels in beef and dairy products, the primary source of trans fatty acids are processed foods containing commercially hydrogenated vegetable oils (e.g., margarines and commercially baked goods) and fast foods cooked in vegetable oils, such as French fries. In a Background and Scientific Review article on "Trans Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease,” researchers led by Walter C. Willett of Harvard's School of Public Health note that food manufacturers have used partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to destroy fatty acids that go rancid (such as the essential fatty acids linolenic and linoleic acid) so that shelf life will be increased. The Harvard group considers trans fats to be more of a factor in coronary heart disease than saturated fats: "By our most conservative estimate, replacement of partially hydrogenated fat in the US diet with natural unhydrogenated vegetable oils would prevent approximately 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year, and epidemiologic evidence suggests this number is closer to 100,000 premature deaths annually. These reductions are higher than what could be achieved with realistic reductions in saturated fat intake.”
Because current labeling regulations have focused solely on saturated fat content, manufacturers have felt free to use more trans fats. The new FDA labeling rule, which the agency hopes to publish in its final form in 2003, will discourage food manufacturers from promoting ‘low saturated fat' products that contain high levels of trans fats as being "good for the heart.”
Ascherio, Alberto; Stampfer, Meir J.; Willett, Walter C. Trans Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease. www.hsph.harvard.edu
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