CELL PHONES TOXIC TO HUMANS AND EARTH

Discovery News
by Tim Wall

The pollution produced by cell phones can be hard to locate, and it’s not just the fault of the iPhone 5’s much maligned map app. From production to disposal, cell phones contaminate the environment. A recent study by the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan and ifixit.com dissected 36 different models of cell phone and found that every one of them contained at least one of the toxic elements: lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury or cadmium.

The least toxic telephone was the Motorola Citrus, whereas the dirtiest dialer was the iPhone 2G. Apple had made big improvements over the years. The iPhone 4S and 5 both ranked in the top 5 of cleanest phones.

“Even the best phones from our study are still loaded with chemical hazards,” said the research director of the Ecology Center and founder of HealthyStuff.org, where the results were published, Jeff Gearhart, in a press release.

“These chemicals, which are linked to birth defects, impaired learning and other serious health problems, have been found in soils at levels 10 to 100 times higher than background levels at e-waste recycling sites in China. We need better federal regulation of these chemicals, and we need to create incentives for the design of greener consumer electronics.”

Altogether, 1,106 individual phones were disassembled and tested by the team at ifixit.com using X-ray fluorescence, a technique that bombards an object with radiation then measures the radiation that is re-released by the object. Specific materials can be identified by the characteristic signature of radiation they re-release.

The biggest pollution and health risk from the phones comes in the mining of the minerals used in the phones, the production of the devices, and their subsequent disposal or recycling.

“We’re not making any claim that there’s any in-use exposure hazard from these mobile phones,” Gearhart told the Detroit Free Press.

The mining of some of the tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold used in cell phone production has been associated with exploitation and brutality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said Gearhart in a press release. Once the life of the phone is over, many of them are shipped to China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines where the hands-on recycling process there exposes workers to dangerous chemicals, according to the release.

“In 2009, 2.37 million tons of electronics were ready for what the Environmental Protection Agency calls ‘end-of-life management’—code for broken, dead, outdated, and unwanted devices,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of ifixit.com, in a press release. “Of the digital castoffs, only 25 percent made it into recycling centers. We can’t allow the other 75 percent of our old electronics to become waste. All those toxins add up. E-waste is an enormous problem that can result in toxic chemicals seeping into drinking water and poisoning the environment.”

Healthystuff.org recommends the e-Stewards website for consumers looking to responsibly dispose of their cell phones and other electronics.

Big Chem, Big Harm?

NYTimes
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

NEW research is demonstrating that some common chemicals all around us may be even more harmful than previously thought. It seems that they may damage us in ways that are transmitted generation after generation, imperiling not only us but also our descendants.

Yet following the script of Big Tobacco a generation ago, Big Chem has, so far, blocked any serious regulation of these endocrine disruptors, so called because they play havoc with hormones in the body’s endocrine system.

One of the most common and alarming is bisphenol-A, better known as BPA. The failure to regulate it means that it is unavoidable. BPA is found in everything from plastics to canned food to A.T.M. receipts. More than 90 percent of Americans have it in their urine.

Even before the latest research showing multigeneration effects, studies had linked BPA to breast cancer and diabetes, as well as to hyperactivity, aggression and depression in children.

Maybe it seems surprising to read a newspaper column about chemical safety because this isn’t an issue in the presidential campaign or even firmly on the national agenda. It’s not the kind of thing that we in the news media cover much.

Yet the evidence is growing that these are significant threats of a kind that Washington continually fails to protect Americans from. The challenge is that they involve complex science and considerable uncertainty, and the chemical companies — like the tobacco companies before them — create financial incentives to encourage politicians to sit on the fence. So nothing happens.

Yet although industry has, so far, been able to block broad national curbs on BPA, new findings on transgenerational effects may finally put a dent in Big Chem’s lobbying efforts.

One good sign: In late July, a Senate committee, for the first, time passed the Safe Chemicals Act, landmark legislation sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, that would begin to regulate the safety of chemicals.

Evidence of transgenerational effects of endocrine disruptors has been growing for a half-dozen years, but it mostly involved higher doses than humans would typically encounter.

Now Endocrinology, a peer-reviewed journal, has published a study measuring the impact of low doses of BPA. The study is devastating for the chemical industry.

Pregnant mice were exposed to BPA at dosages analogous to those humans typically receive. The offspring were less sociable than control mice (using metrics often used to assess an aspect of autism in humans), and various effects were also evident for the next three generations of mice.

The BPA seemed to interfere with the way the animals processed hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin, which affect trust and warm feelings. And while mice are not humans, research on mouse behavior is a standard way to evaluate new drugs or to measure the impact of chemicals.

“It’s scary,” said Jennifer T. Wolstenholme, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia and the lead author of the report. She said that the researchers found behaviors in BPA-exposed mice and their descendants that may parallel autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder in humans.

Emilie Rissman, a co-author who is professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at University of Virginia Medical School, noted that BPA doesn’t cause mutations in DNA. Rather, the impact is “epigenetic” — one of the hot concepts in biology these days — meaning that changes are transmitted not in DNA but by affecting the way genes are turned on and off.

In effect, this is a bit like evolution through transmission of acquired characteristics — the theory of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the 19th-century scientist whom high school science classes make fun of as a foil to Charles Darwin. In epigenetics, Lamarck lives.

“These results at low doses add profoundly to concerns about endocrine disruptors,” said John Peterson Myers, chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences. “It’s going to be harder than just eliminating exposure to one generation.”

The National Institutes of Health is concerned enough that it expects to make transgenerational impacts of endocrine disruptors a priority for research funding, according to a spokeswoman, Robin Mackar.

Like a lot of Americans, I used to be skeptical of risks from chemicals like endocrine disruptors that are all around us. What could be safer than canned food? I figured that opposition came from tree-hugging Luddites prone to conspiracy theories.

Yet, a few years ago, I began to read the peer-reviewed journal articles, and it became obvious that the opposition to endocrine disruptors is led by toxicologists, endocrinologists, urologists and pediatricians. These are serious scientists, yet they don’t often have the ear of politicians or journalists.

Related: EVEN BPA-FREE PLASTIC NOT ALWAYS SAFE

Eight Reasons Why Spraying Pesticides is Not the Solution to West Nile Virus

Before Its News
by Rebecca Watson

How much of a risk is West Nile Virus (WNV)? To some extent, only time will tell. But public health experts stress that there is no cause for fear and panic, or for panic driven “solutions.” In fact, the so-called “solution” of spraying pesticides to kill mosquitoes will actually lead to bigger problems. Here are eight compelling reasons why spraying pesticides is not the answer to WNV.

1. Least Effective Measure
The US Center for Disease Control and other experts say that spraying or fogging is the least effective means for slowing the spread of WNV carrying mosquitoes. For fogging to have maximum effect, a mosquito has to be flying. Estimates are that fogging kills only about 10% of adult mosquitoes. The federal-provincial task force on WNV admits there is little evidence for the efficacy of insecticide spraying. Adult mosquitoes live only about two weeks, with new larvae hatching constantly. This means that spraying cannot be a one shot operation, but needs to be repeated frequently if chosen as a means of control .

2. Predators Harmed, Mosquitoes Thrive
Aerial spraying or fogging is more harmful to mosquito predators than to mosquitoes. Since predators are farther up the food chain, they will take in higher amounts of pesticide. By decreasing mosquito predator populations, aerial spraying actually leads to increases in mosquito populations. Data from a study in New York State published in the Journal for Mosquito Control found that after 11 years of insecticide spraying, the mosquito population had increased 15 times. Pesticide exposure also results in immune suppression in birds, which serve as the hosts for WNV. Birds exposed to organophosphate pesticides tend to suffer immune suppression (as do mammals, amphibians and other animals.) This makes them less able to fight off viral and bacterial infections, the very opposite of what is needed. Once infected with WNV, birds are more likely to develop symptoms and to remain ill longer than if they had not been exposed. Thus, pesticide spraying leads to more frequent and longer infections and higher viral loads in birds, making it more likely they will spread the disease to mosquitoes. This increases the possibility of mosquitoes transmitting the virus to humans and other mammals.

3. Super Mosquitoes, Sicker Mosquitoes
For some reason, as yet unknown, mosquitoes exposed to pesticides are more likely to have WNV in their salivary glands and develop a damaged gut lining which becomes more porous, allowing WNV to pass through. Over a decade of insecticide spraying to control encephalitis in Florida has not been effective, and mosquitoes are now 15 times more likely to pass on the disease. Mosquitoes, which have short life spans, go through many generations in a single year. The mosquitoes which are exposed to pesticides and survive are more likely to develop resistance to them. So aerial spraying contributes to the development of “super mosquitoes” which can only be killed by using higher amounts or different types of pesticides.

4. Immediate Human Health Effects
Immediate health effects on humans from exposure to sprayed pesticides are considerable. A letter from 26 prominent physicians and scientists in Quebec released last summer states, “Indiscriminate spraying of pesticides, especially in heavily populated urban areas, is far more dangerous to human health and the natural environment than a relatively small risk of West Nile Virus…. Ironically, such spraying is especially dangerous to those with impaired immunity for whose ‘protection’ such spraying is mainly being done. ..Those individuals who are most vulnerable in this chemical action against mosquitoes include children, pregnant women, the elderly, chemically sensitive and immuno-suppressed individuals, such as patients with AIDS and cancer, and people suffering with asthma and other allergies.” Organophosphates are the most common class of pesticides used in mosquito control sprays. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they are “efficiently absorbed by inhalation, ingestion and skin penetration” and were “the class of pesticides most often implicated in symptomatic illnesses among people in 1996.”

5. Long Term Health Effects
Pesticides used in mosquito control can contribute to immune suppression in humans. A report from the World Resources Institute notes, “Impairment of the immune system by chemical pesticides can lead to allergies, auto immune disorders such as lupus, and cancer. It may also lead to infections to which one may be normally resistant.” People with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable to WNV. Thus, in the long term, aerial spraying may actually increase the number of people who become seriously ill from WNV. And immune system suppression has serious implications for other diseases as well, including SARS.

Malathion, Naled and Resmethrin are pesticides commonly used in mosquito control. Malathion, an organophosphate, is neurotoxic. It is the most common pesticide used in aerial spraying. In studies on rats, pesticides were shown to impair the blood-brain barrier. In humans, the more serious effects of WNV occur when the virus crosses the blood-brain barrier. Malathion, like all members of the organophosphate family, disrupts nervous system function. Besides causing headaches, nausea and diarrhea, it has been linked to gene damage causing attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Other heath hazards identified in laboratory studies include damaged sperm, altered immune function, increased incidence of breast tumors, and increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Naled is another organophosphate which disrupts nervous system function, also causing headaches, nausea and diarrhea. Naled is most toxic when exposure occurs by inhalation. Lab tests connected exposure to Naled’s breakdown product, dichlorvos, to aggressiveness and deterioration of memory and learning. Dichlorvos is also classified as a carcinogen, and interferes with prenatal brain development.

Resmethrin is considered by the World Health Organization as a “neuropoison.” Its effects on the human nervous system are similar to its effects in insects. Lab studies on rats showed that Resmethrin interfered with reproduction, increasing numbers of stillborns even at the lowest exposure tested.

6. Long Term Environmental Effects
Most of the pesticides presently used for mosquito control do not selectively target mosquitoes. Malathion, Naled and Resmethrin kill all insects. This includes hundreds of beneficial insect species that pollinate crops and keep pests under control. Malathion is known to contaminate water, and is classified as highly toxic to most species of fish. In 1999, 90% of adult lobsters in Long Island Sound were killed by malathion used on land. Fish kills in the thousands have been reported following mosquito spraying. Since some species of fish feed on mosquito larvae, this is doubly counterproductive. Other organisms that feed on mosquito larva are also killed. Bird populations are also threatened. According to New York State wildlife pathologist Ward Stone, more of the birds sent to his unit for examination in 2000 died from pesticides than from WNV. Among the more frequent causes of bird death were broad band insecticides from the organophosphate category such as Dursban, diazinon and ethylparathion. Organophosphates used in mosquito control add harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to the atmosphere, and are precursors of ozone (smog) forming chemicals. This means they are contributors to global warming.

7. Keep Risk in Perspective
While the image of a new killer virus from the tropics is scary and makes for good media material, public health experts at all levels are attempting to help people put WNV in perspective. West Nile Virus is less dangerous than the flu. Only 1% of mosquitoes carry the WNV, even in places where WNV has been common for years. Because of our climate, the virus is not expected to overwinter, but would likely be reintroduced each year through bird migration. Less than 1% of people bitten by infected mosquitoes will have any symptoms, and most of those will be equivalent to a one day flu or headache. Studies in New York when WNV was most widespread found thousands of people who tested positive for WNV but had never experienced any symptoms of illness. People bitten by infected mosquitoes, even those who experience no symptoms, will develop a lifetime immunity to the disease. In Africa and Europe, the virus occurs in cycles, with typically three years of human infections in late summer, with the majority of infections in the first year of a cycle. Then the virus fades into the background, and may not reappear for many years. In Africa, WNV is a childhood disease; adults have developed immunity.

8. Taking a Long-term Approach
WNV may be one of a number of tropical diseases which will spread to our geo- graphic area with global warning. Instead of panic and sensationalism, we need a rational, long term problem-solving approach which is healthy for humans and the environment. Reducing mosquito breeding sites (standing water), known as source control, is the most effective mosquito control method. Since adult mosquitoes seldom travel more than 1 kilometer, source control in a neighborhood can be extremely effective and quite non-toxic. Experts stress the value of source controls such as mechanical flushing of sewer catch basins, and introduction of dragonfly larvae in nearby ponds and lakes. These methods have been practiced with great success in Wells, Maine for 26 years. Maintaining healthy mosquito predator populations is an important part of a mosquito control strategy. Eliminating mosquito larvae, through predators and biological means and if absolutely necessary via pesticides, is far more effective than trying to kill adult mosquitoes. And ultiimately, the most effective defense against WNV is a healthy ecosystem and a healthy immune system in humans, birds and other species.

Corporations Add Equally Toxic ‘BPS’ to BPA-Free Products

Natural Society

We’ve all seen the “BPA-free” labels affixed prominently to new plastic products. And many of us have fallen for the ruse, purchasing these new water bottles and food storage containers thinking we can still enjoy the convenience of plastics without the hormone-altering BPA. But what manufacturers are using in place of BPA might not be any safer. It’s known as ‘BPS‘ and as a matter of fact, it could be even worse.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) has made headlines over the past several years for the growing awareness of its dangers. Namely, it mimics estrogen in the body, throwing hormones out of whack. Although the United States and Europe have banned BPA in baby bottles, Canada remains the only country that has officially declared BPA as a “toxic substance.” Because of this, many people have smartly begun shunning plastics, opting for glass or metal, or choosing the new slick and expensive drinking bottles labeled “BPA-free”.

In place of BPA, manufacturers have begun using something called bisphenol-S (BPS). Unfortunately, there is no indication that BPS is any safer. On the contrary, it could be even worse than the villainized BPA. So, why are manufacturers using it? Well, because they can!

There is little information available on BPS at this point. Scientific research is lacking, and because there is little to say that it’s bad for you, manufacturers don’t have to worry (yet) about the repercussions of putting it in their products and selling it to unknowing consumers.

According to the Environmental Science and Technology, BPS is actually of a “comparable potency” to BPA. Also, it is “less biodegradable, and more heat-stable and photo-resistant” than its predecessor BPA. What does this mean? Well, it has the same estrogen-mimicking qualities and it doesn’t degrade as quickly as BPA, so it can stick around in your body for longer periods of time.

This isn’t a new practice—skirting public fears by playing on their ignorance. Plastic manufacturers know that the information about BPS is still in an infancy stage. They know they can get a few good years off of this “BPA-free” label craze before science catches up with them. So, in the meantime, they will keep selling you their new supposedly-safer products and probably even sell them at a higher price!

The bottom line is that we don’t know everything that is now being included in plastics. They are likely an “alphabet soup of toxic chemicals,” according to Mercola. Even canned goods are lined with BPA. Your best bet is to stick with glass whenever possible for food storage, drinking water, and microwaving (if you still do that).

CEO Who Oversaw Mass Vioxx Deaths Now Teaching at Harvard and on Microsoft Board of Directors

AllGov

Raymond Gilmartin’s landing was a soft one after leaving behind an embattled Merck. The one-time top executive of the leading pharmaceutical company, which was engulfed in the Vioxx controversy last decade, splits his time these days between teaching part-time at Harvard and serving on the boards of major corporations.

Gilmartin served as Merck’s president and CEO for 12 years (1994-2006) during troubles that stemmed from the company’s anti-arthritis medicine Vioxx. Despite knowing that Vioxx was potentially lethal, Merck put it on the market in 1999. Although a Food and Drug Administration study showed that perhaps 55,000 Americans died from heart attacks and strokes after using Vioxx, other sources indicated that upwards of 500,000 people—almost all of them older adults—may have died from the drug, which produced lawsuit after lawsuit against Merck. The company wound up settling for $4.85 billion.

Before it was pulled from the market in 2004, the drug was very profitable for Merck, earning about $2 billion per year in revenue at its peak. It also paid handsomely for Gilmartin, who reportedly made $50 million in just five of his years at the corporate helm.

After retiring from his post, Gilmartin joined the faculty of Harvard Business School, where, according to the school’s Web site, he still serves as an adjunct professor, teaching second-year MBA candidates to run businesses just like he did in a course called Building and Sustaining Successful Enterprises.

Gilmartin also serves on the boards of General Mills, Inc., and the Microsoft Corporation.

BP’s Corexit Oil Tar Sponged Up by Human Skin

Mother Jones

The Surfrider Foundation has released its preliminary “State of the Beach” study for the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s ongoing Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Sadly, things aren’t getting cleaner faster, according to their results. The Corexit that BP used to “disperse” the oil now appears to be making it tougher for microbes to digest the oil. I wrote about this problem in depth in “The BP Cover-Up.”

The persistence of Corexit mixed with crude oil has now weathered to tar, yet is traceable to BP’s Deepwater Horizon brew through its chemical fingerprint. The mix creates a fluorescent signature visible under UV light. From the report:

The program uses newly developed UV light equipment to detect tar product and reveal where it is buried in many beach areas and also where it still remains on the surface in the shoreline plunge step area. The tar product samples are then analyzed…to determine which toxins may be present and at what concentrations. By returning to locations several times over the past year and analyzing samples, we’ve been able to determine that PAH concentrations in most locations are not degrading as hoped for and expected.

Worse, the toxins in this unholy mix of Corexit and crude actually penetrate wet skin faster than dry skin (photos above)—the author describes it as the equivalent of a built-in accelerant—though you’d never know it unless you happened to look under fluorescent light in the 370nm spectrum. The stuff can’t be wiped off. It’s absorbed into the skin.

And it isn’t going away. Other findings from monitoring sites between Waveland, Mississippi, and Cape San Blas, Florida over the past two years:

The use of Corexit is inhibiting the microbial degradation of hydrocarbons in the crude oil and has enabled concentrations of the organic pollutants known as PAH to stay above levels considered carcinogenic by the NIH and OSHA.

26 of 32 sampling sites in Florida and Alabama had PAH concentrations exceeding safe limits.
Only three locations were found free of PAH contamination.
Carcinogenic PAH compounds from the toxic tar are concentrating in surface layers of the beach and from there leaching into lower layers of beach sediment. This could potentially lead to contamination of groundwater sources.
The full Surfrider Foundation report by James H. “Rip” Kirby III, of the University of South Florida is open-access online here.