Occupational Health News Roundup

Pump Handle - October 21, 2014

In an amazing three-part investigation, Seattle Times reporters Christine Willmsen, Lewis Kamb and Justin Mayo bring to light an occupational hazard not often heard about: the risk of lead poisoning at the nation’s gun ranges. They write that thousands of people, many of them gun range employees, have been contaminated due to poor ventilation and contact with lead-coated surfaces. Legally, gun range owners are responsible for protecting employees, but the investigation found that officials do little to enforce regulations. The investigative series offers a “first-of-its-kind analysis of occupational lead-monitoring data,” finding “reckless shooting-range owners who’ve repeatedly violated workplace-safety laws with no regard for workers who became sick. Other owners and operators were ignorant of the dangers posed by lead.”

Throughout the series, the reporters interview the victims of lead poisoning, such as James Maddox, a former gun range manager in Kentucky. They write:

Like many shooting-range workers, Maddox knew little about lead and its damaging capabilities. Daily, he inhaled airborne lead while managing the range and gun shop. Nightly, he swept up casings from spent ammunition in the 12 firing lanes, pushing a broom and kicking up more lead dust. The toxin landed on his skin and sank into his pores. Every breath pushed the poison further into his lungs, blood and bones.

He complained to owner Winfield Underwood that catch bins at the end of shooting lanes were overflowing with spent lead bullets, the ventilation system didn’t work and workers needed protective gear. Inspectors later discovered the air vents didn’t even have filters.

“It was just circulating the lead air,” said Maddox, who earned $9 an hour.

After working at the Louisville range about six months, Maddox, a hefty 38-year-old man, dropped 180 pounds. He also lost sensation in his fingers and toes. His head throbbed, his thinking slowed and he couldn’t remember birthdays.

Unfortunately, OSHA’s track record on inspections and enforcement seems severely lacking. The article notes that OSHA can’t determine just how many gun ranges have been inspected because they can’t track all the ranges in the first place. Apparently, many ranges register under categories such as “amusement and recreational industries” — one gun range even claimed to be a locksmith. And even when OSHA does take action, it may not stick. The reporters write:

In 2012, OSHA touted a crackdown at Illinois Gun Works, a firing range in Elmwood Park, a Chicago suburb. After federal inspectors found air inside the range contaminated with lead at 12 times allowable levels, the agency cited the range with 27 serious violations and hit it with $111,000 in fines. OSHA then hyped its enforcement in a widely distributed news release.

But since then, Illinois Gun Works has neither paid a dime nor fixed a single violation. Range owner Don Mastrianni, 59, a retired Chicago garbage collector, said he opted against making costly corrections after he learned his landlord was planning to demolish the building that housed his range.

Instead, Mastrianni kept the range operating for months before it was torn down in 2013 to make way for a new McDonald’s restaurant. Salvagers took no special precautions when hauling off the lead-caked debris.

In addition to telling the stories of gun range workers, the series also chronicles the effect of lead exposure on the families of workers. In the second part of the series, which investigates the nation’s worst known case of lead exposure at a gun range at Wade’s Eastside Guns and Bellevue Indoor Range in Washington, the reporters tell the story of construction worker Manny Romo:

An invisible assailant had invaded the bodies of Romo and his two kids, attacking their bones, brains and nerves.

They were contaminated with lead. And it came from an unexpected place.

In fall 2012, Romo had inhaled lead while helping erect a second story on Wade’s Eastside Guns and Bellevue Indoor Range. He was never warned about lead hazards from spent ammunition at the worksite and unknowingly tracked the poison home to his children.

Shortly before Christmas 2012, the Romo family evacuated their Auburn home, fearing for their safety and leaving behind contaminated furniture and toys.

Romo was one of 46 people contaminated by lead during the Wade’s renovation — the worst known case of occupational lead exposure at an American shooting range, according to public-health officials.

The third article in the series investigates the impact of lead exposure on young people participating in youth shooting clubs. To read the entire series, “Loaded with Lead,” click here.

In other news:

Buzzfeed: Reporter Chris Hamby chronicles the story of Steve Day, who worked in the coal mines of West Virginia for nearly 35 years. Even though half a dozen doctors diagnosed him with black lung disease, Day initially lost his case to gain the federal benefits guaranteed to him by law, thanks to the opinion of a unit of doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Unfortunately, Day died in July. Doctors who saw his autopsy report said he had one of the worst cases of black lung they’d ever seen. Hamby writes about Day’s life and story, the doctors who wrongly diagnosed him and countless other miners, and how Day’s willingness to speak out is helping others.

Wall Street Journal: Less than a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new safety procedures for workers treating Ebola patients, thousands of New York City health care workers participated in an exercise in the proper use of protective gear. Reporter Melanie Grayce West writes that the union-organized event was convened in response to worker concerns about inadequate training. West reports: “Patricia Kane, a 55-year-old nurse from Staten Island and leader of the New York Nurses Association, said that Tuesday’s ‘very informative’ training was a step in the right direction and encouraging. But, she added, repetitive training and lots of practice is needed, as is adequate staffing for patients.”

Salon: Cantare Davunt, a Wal-Mart employee from Apple Valley, Minnesota, writes about life making little more than minimum wage and explains why she joined fellow Wal-Mart workers in shutting down Manhattan’s Park Avenue while protesting in front of the luxury penthouse where Alice Walton, one of Wal-Mart’s owners, lives.

Forbes: The Huffington Post recently exposed a non-compete agreement that all Jimmy John’s workers are asked to sign, even those at the bottom of the wage ladder making sandwiches and deliveries. According to Huffington Post reporter Dave Jamieson, the “worker agrees not to work at one of the sandwich chain’s competitors for a period of two years following employment at Jimmy John’s. But the company’s definition of a ‘competitor’ goes far beyond the Subways and Potbellys of the world. It encompasses any business that’s near a Jimmy John’s location and that derives a mere 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches.” Forbes writer Clare O’Connor asks if such an agreement has any legal legs to stand on. Fortunately, the legal expert she interviews doesn’t think any court would uphold it.

Buzzfeed: Imagine sending an email to your boss asking for a raise and copying 200,000 of your co-workers. That’s exactly what Wells Fargo employee Tyrel Oates did in an impressive email about income inequality.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

Categories: Health

Arid and Mediterranean Ecosystems Seem More Resistant to Drought than Expected

Yale Environment 360 - October 21, 2014
Desert and Mediterranean ecosystems may be more resistant to climate change, particularly long-term Plants in a Mediterranean ecosystem in Chile. drought, than previously thought, a new study published in Nature Communications shows. Over the course of a nine-year experiment, researchers subjected plants in four different climatic zones to rainfall conditions predicted under future climate change scenarios. The ecosystems typically received 3.5 to 30.7 inches of precipitation annually, and researchers cut that total by roughly 30-percent to simulate drought conditions. Surprisingly, the researchers found no measurable changes in plant biomass, density, or species composition and richness in any of the four ecosystems over the course of nine generations of plants. The ecosystems already receive highly variable amounts of rainfall and the 30-percent drop likely falls within the plants’ natural "comfort zone," the researchers say, which could explain the unexpected resilience to drought.
Categories: Environment, Health

Worth reading: Ebola, family planning and “the conversation that matters most”

Pump Handle - October 20, 2014

A few of the recent pieces I’ve liked:

Nancy Shute at NPR’s Shots blog: Nurses Want to Know How Safe is Safe Enough with Ebola

Maryn McKenna at Superbug: What Would Keep Ebola from Spreading in the US? Investing in Simple Research Years Ago. (Check out the last paragraph for links to other great recent pieces on the disease.)

Atul Gawande at Slate: No Risky Chances: The conversation that matters most

Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post: Is sex only for rich people?

Laurie Abraham in Elle: Abortion: Not easy, not sorry

Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic: To Raise, Love, and Lose a Black Child

Categories: Health

Electricity Access Has Small Effect on Emissions in India, Study Says

Yale Environment 360 - October 20, 2014
Expanding electricity to the homes of 650 million people in India over the past 30 years had minimal A third of all households in India lack electricity. direct impact on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change. Although many humanitarian and development organizations have stressed the importance of improving electricity access in low-income countries, it has been unclear how this would impact overall emissions levels. An analysis of trends in India between 1981 and 2011 shows that expanding household electricity access by roughly 45 percent contributed only 3 to 4 percent to the nation's overall growth in carbon dioxide emissions. When the indirect effects of greater electricity access, such as increased wealth and consumerism, are taken into account, household electricity use raised India’s emissions by 11 to 25 percent over that period, the study found.
Categories: Environment, Health

Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

Yale Environment 360 - October 20, 2014
Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood. BY MIKE IVES
Categories: Environment, Health

New research finds that drinking soda may lead to cell aging and disease, regardless of obesity

Pump Handle - October 17, 2014

At this point, it’s pretty clear that soda is bad for your health. But a new study has found that it may be even worse than we thought.

Published yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages may be associated with cell aging. More specifically, researchers studied the effect that soda has on telomeres, which are the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes inside human cells. Previously, the length of telomeres within white blood cells has been tied to shorter lifespans as well as the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. In this study, researchers found that telomeres within white blood cells were shorter among people who drank more soda.

“This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness,” said study lead author Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco, in a news release. “This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset. Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children as well.”

To conduct the study, researchers studied the association between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juice and diet soda with telomere length among about 5,300 adults with no history of diabetes or heart disease and who were participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that each daily eight-ounce serving of sugar-sweetened sodas was linearly associated with shorter telomeres, which would roughly equal about 1.9 additional years of biological aging. (The average daily sugar-sweetened soda consumption among the study participants was 16.8 ounces.) A daily 20-ounce soda, which is a typical serving size, would translate into about 4.6 additional years of biological aging. Study authors Epel, Cindy Leung, Barbara Laraia, Belinda Needham, David Rehkopf, Nancy Adler, Jue Lin and Elizabeth Blackburn write:

Our hypothesis that consumption of (sugar-sweetened beverages) were related to shorter telomeres was derived from the known effects of (sugar-sweetened beverages) consumption on impaired fasting glucose and insulin resistance. (Sugar-sweetened beverages) have been known to increase oxidative stress and systemic inflammation, which are both processes that can influence telomere attrition. Telomere shortening in response to, and perhaps contributing to, these disease processes was reported, reflecting the overall burden of cardiometabolic disease. Our results suggested that another link between sugar-sweetened soda consumption and metabolic disease might be through shortened telomere length, a biomarker and mechanism of cellular aging.

While sugary sodas did seem to have an effect on telomere length, the study found that drinking 100 percent fruit juice was slightly associated with longer telomeres and no association was observed between telomere length and the consumption of diet sodas or noncarbonated sugar-sweetened beverages. The study noted that soda’s effect on telomere length was comparable to the negative effect of smoking or the positive effect of physical activity on cellular aging.

“Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular aging of tissues,” Epel said.

However, the study authors cautioned that more research is needed, noting that the current study only examined participants at one point in time and that association does not equal causation. Currently, a new study is in the works in which Epel and colleagues will follow a group of study participants over a longer period of time and examine the effects of soda on cellular aging.

To read a full copy of the study, visit the American Journal of Public Health.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

Categories: Health

Pesticide Linked to Bee Deaths Does Not Improve Soybean Crops, EPA Finds

Yale Environment 360 - October 17, 2014
Coating soybean seeds with a class of insecticides that has been implicated in honeybee deaths and partially Soybeans (left) and corn coated with pesticides banned in the European Union does not increase soybean yields compared to using no pesticides at all, according to an extensive review by the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Seed treatment provides at most $6 in benefits per acre (an increase in revenue of less than 2 percent), and most likely no financial benefit at all, the EPA analysis concluded. The insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, are only effective for the first few weeks after planting, studies have found, when soybean pests are not typically active. Neonicotinoid seed treatments could theoretically help fend off sporadic and unpredictable pests, the report notes, but that benefit would be small and unlikely to be noticed outside of the southern U.S.
Categories: Environment, Health

Not an “accident”: John Dunnivant, 57, suffers fatal work-related injury at Kia Motors plant in West Point, Georgia

Pump Handle - October 16, 2014

John Dunnivant, 57, suffered fatal traumatic injuries on Tuesday, October 7, while working at a Kia Motors manufacturing plant. The facility is located in West Point, Georgia, off of I-85 near the Alabama-state line. WTVM provides some initial information on the worker’s death:

  • Police and fire were called to the plant at 11:10 am local time.
  • Dunnivant worked in maintenance and was crushed by a stamping machine.
  • Kia management cancelled the remaining workshifts the day of Dunnivant’s death, but production began again the next day.

Ben Wright of the Ledger-Enquirer reports:

  • Dunnivant was found in the steel press section of the facility.
  • The county coroner reports that Dunnivant “was moving something very heavy and it fell on him.”
  • The Korean automaker employs about 3,000 people at the West Point operation. The plant builds the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Kia Optima.
  • In January 2008 when this Kia Motors plant was being constructed, a worker employed by Superior Rigging & Erecting Co. was struck by a beam and suffered fatal injuries.

The Ledger-Enquirer’s Wright also provides information on Dunnivant’s memorial, including his family’s request:

“Instead of flowers, donations may go to Native American orphanages or schools in his memory.”

Each year, dozens of workers in Georgia are fatally injured on-the-job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 70 work-related fatal injuries in Georgia during 2013 (preliminary data, most recent available.) Nationwide, at least 4,405 workers suffered fatal traumatic injuries in 2013.

The AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job report notes:

  • Federal OSHA has 49 inspectors in Georgia to cover more than 214,000 workplaces.
  • The average penalty for a serious OSHA violation in Georgia is $2,061.

Federal OSHA has until early April 2015 to issue any citations and penalties related to the incident that stole John Dunnivant’s life. It’s likely they’ll determine that Dunnivant’s death was preventable. It was no “accident.”

Categories: Health

Global Boom in Natural Gas Unlikely to Help the Climate, Study Suggests

Yale Environment 360 - October 16, 2014
Increasing global supplies of unconventional natural gas will not help to reduce the overall upward trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and the planetary warming that comes with it, according to a new study published in the journal Nature. The findings further undercut the notion, long touted by proponents of natural gas, that the fuel — which emits less CO2 than coal when burned — represents an important "bridge" in the transition to low-carbon energy resources. The study, which synthesized models developed by numerous researchers working independently, suggested atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations over the next 35 years would remain virtually unchanged — and in some models, warming would be worsened — by increased natural gas production. This was in part attributed to the fact that the new gas supplies would provide a substitute not only for coal, but also for low-emissions technologies like nuclear power and renewables.
Categories: Environment, Health

Electric Power Rights of Way: A New Frontier for Conservation

Yale Environment 360 - October 16, 2014
Often mowed and doused with herbicides, power transmission lines have long been a bane for environmentalists. But that’s changing, as some utilities are starting to manage these areas as potentially valuable corridors for threatened wildlife. BY RICHARD CONNIFF
Categories: Environment, Health

Murray cares about the chickens, the workers? Not so much

Pump Handle - October 15, 2014

Earlier this month a federal judge upheld citations issued by OSHA to Murray’s Chicken. The company, located 100 miles north of New York City, was cited by OSHA in June 2012 for repeat and serious violations of worker safety regulations. Among others, Murray’s Chicken failed to provide information and train its workers on the hazardous chemicals used in the plant to disinfect the chicken carcasses. OSHA inspectors found that workers in the “kill, evisceration and other poultry processing areas” were routinely exposed to bleach and Perasafe, an antimicrobial agent containing peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid. Some of the exposed workers were suffering from respiratory system ailments and skin rashes.

For this and other OSHA violations, the agency proposed a $67,600 penalty. Murray’s Chicken, which operates under the name MB Consultants Ltd., contested the citations. The judge didn’t buy Murray’s challenge of OSHA’s findings.

OSHA’s inspection came following the November 2011 death of Jose Navarro, 37. Navarro was a USDA poultry inspector who was assigned to work at Murray Chicken. As reported in April 2013 by the Washington Post’s Kimberly Kindy, Navarro was concerned that chemicals used in the chicken processing were adversely affecting his health and those of the poultry-processing workers. His widow Nicole told Kindy:

“Some themes that were constant were poor ventilation and overuse and mishandling of chemicals which constantly irritated his lungs. Sometimes he would hold his hand over his chest and talk about the chlorine reaching intolerable levels that day.”

After a week in the hospital, Navarro died from a pulmonary hemorrhage.

At Murray’s Chicken, it’s better to be a bird than a worker. Their website shows it’s all about the chickens. The company says its poultry tastes best because its birds have

“the best living conditions,” are raised in a “lush countryside,” with a “leisurely lifestyle,” and plenty of fresh air and sunlight where they can stretch their wings. The company says its chickens are “happy and healthy,” and boasts its processes are “certified humane.”

More than 150 stores in New York City alone carry Murray’s Chicken products. Their poultry may actually taste better because of the way the chickens are raised. I just wish though that more consumers thought about the workers in the plants, than the animals that end up on our plates.


Categories: Health

U.S. Climate Envoy Says All Nations, Rich and Poor, Must Curb Emissions

Yale Environment 360 - October 15, 2014
The negotiating architecture that has governed the decades-long pursuit of an international climate Climate Envoy Todd Stern agreement is outdated, said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change at the State Department and the nation’s lead climate negotiator. In remarks delivered at Yale University’s Law School on Tuesday, Stern reiterated the U.S. position that all nations — both rich ones and developing ones — must be brought together under one agreement that includes pledges to cut emissions. "This split between developed and developing countries in the climate convention is the singular fault line in these negotiations," Stern said, "and has been from the beginning." Under the recently expired Kyoto protocol, developing countries like China and India were exempted from committing to emissions cuts. Climate talks are scheduled to resume in Lima, Peru later this year, with a goal of achieving a new and fully global treaty at a meeting in Paris in 2015. That pact, Stern argued, ought to require all nations to submit emissions reduction targets, tailored as needed to national interests and abilities.
Categories: Environment, Health

Study: Public views of drug addiction much more negative than views of mental illness

Pump Handle - October 14, 2014

When it comes to substance abuse disorders, public health and the public at-large are hardly on the same page — in fact, they’re not even reading the same book. And that’s a serious problem for sustaining and strengthening efforts to treat addiction and advancing effective public health policy.

“We already know quite a bit about public attitudes toward mental illness and we were interested in learning more — especially in the context of prescription (painkiller) drug abuse — about what the public thinks about issues related to drug addiction,” Colleen Barry, who recently co-authored a study on how the public views drug addiction versus mental illness, told me. “The attitudes of the public can be linked in important ways to broader support for policy action.”

In the study, which was recently published in the journal Psychiatric Services, Barry and colleagues surveyed a representative sample of more than 700 U.S. adults, asking a variety of questions about stigma, social distancing and the acceptability of discrimination. For example, researchers asked questions such as: Would you be willing to have a person with mental illness/drug addiction marry into your family? Would you be willing to have a person with mental illness/drug addiction start working closely with you on a job? Do you favor or oppose requiring insurance companies to offer benefits for the treatment of drug addiction/mental illness that are equivalent to benefits for other medical services? And do you agree that landlords should be able to deny housing to a person with drug addiction/mental illness? Overall, the study found that respondents held significantly more negative views of drug addiction than of mental illness.

Specifically, researchers found that 62 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to work with someone living with a mental illness, but only 22 percent would be willing to work with someone living with addiction. Twenty-five percent said employers should be able to deny employment to people with mental illness; 64 percent said the practice should be allowed regarding drug addiction. Twenty-one percent of respondents opposed offering insurance parity for mental illness, while 43 percent opposed such parity for patients with drug addiction. Fifty-four percent thought landlords should be allowed to refuse housing to people with drug addiction, while 15 percent had a similar view about people with mental illness. Overall, researchers found higher opposition to public policies aimed at helping people struggling with drug addiction when compared to policies in support of people with mental illness. However, respondents did seem to agree in one area: About one in three believe that recovery from either drug addiction or mental illness is impossible.

Study co-authors Barry, Emma McGinty, Bernice Pescosolido and Howard Goldman write:

Less sympathetic views may result at least in part from societal ambivalence about whether to regard substance abuse problems as medical conditions to be treated (similar to other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease) or personal failings to be overcome. More so than mental illness, addiction is often viewed as a moral shortcoming, and the illegality of drug use reinforces this perspective. It is likely that socially unacceptable behavior accompanying drug addiction (for example, impaired driving and crime) heightens society’s condemnation.

“It was surprising to me how negative the attitudes were,” said Barry, an associate professor in the Departments of Healthy Policy Management and Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “From a policy perspective, we tend to roll mental illness and addiction together…but the way the public thinks about them is very different — more different than I would have expected.”

In efforts to reduce societal stigmas around drug addiction, Barry called for better public information about the treatability of drug addiction and media coverage that more accurately portrays the face of addiction. For example, many people might automatically associate drug addiction with the image of a strung-out drug user living on the streets. But that image misconstrues the growing reality of drug addiction and the idea that drug addiction can happen to anyone and in all walks of life, Barry told me. In fact, such a stereotypical image of addiction could significantly impact public support for policy action at a time when public health practitioners are struggling to contain increases in prescription painkiller and heroin-related deaths and overdose. In addition, such societal attitudes often prevent those who need treatment for addiction from seeking help. Barry noted that currently, less than 10 percent of people with an addiction disorder seek any treatment at all.

“We have a whole new population that needs treatment that is not going to get into treatment in the context of broader social attitudes,” she said, referring to the prescription painkiller abuse epidemic. “So this is a huge issue. …Public support plays a major role in determining which public policies get advanced and which don’t. When we look at the state of the substance abuse treatment system, it’s terribly underfunded and part of that has to do with an underlying lack of support among the public.”

To address the problem, the study calls for “portraying addiction or mental illness as treatable.” In this realm, Barry noted that with advancements in mental health treatments, such as the availability of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat depression and anxiety, people became more comfortable talking publicly about their struggles with mental illness and thus, stigmas around mental health begin to break down. Unfortunately, on the addiction side, we’re behind in both treatment and public acceptance, she noted.

However, the arrow between public opinion and policy change is bidirectional, Barry tells me. In other words, policy can help shift public attitudes as well. She’s talking about the Affordable Care Act, which now requires insurance companies participating in the new health insurance marketplace to cover mental health and substance abuse services as essential benefits. Such a high-profile policy change could go a long way in mainstreaming mental health and addiction treatment, Barry said. Still, public attitudes on drug addiction seem far from the public health perspective that considers addiction a chronic disease.

“We need to transform the stories of addiction in our country,” she said. “We need to be more involved in communicating a more true face of what addiction looks like in the U.S. and how treatment can benefit individuals, and that includes influencing how the news media covers these issues as well as how politicians talk about this issue. We need to change the narrative to one of a chronic disease that can benefit from ongoing, effective treatment.”

To read more about the study, visit the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

Categories: Health

Researchers Explain Puzzling Stability of Some Himalayan Glaciers

Yale Environment 360 - October 14, 2014
Unlike nearly all other high-altitude glaciers across the globe, glaciers in the Karakoram mountain chain, part Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram range of the Himalayas, are not melting and are even expanding in some areas. This so-called “Karakoram anomaly” has puzzled scientists for years, but now a team of researchers has offered an explanation: While rain from warm summer monsoons tends to melt mountain glaciers in other parts of the Himalayas and the nearby Tibetan Plateau, the location and height of mountains in the Karakoram chain, which runs along the borders of China, India, and Pakistan, protect the area from this seasonal precipitation. Instead, the mountain chain receives most of its precipitation in the form of winter snowfall, according to findings published in Nature Geoscience. The study suggests that the Karakoram glaciers are likely to persist until 2100, but not long after, if global warming continues at its current pace.
Categories: Environment, Health

Climate Change To Make Many Tropical Marine Species Locally Extinct, Study Says

Yale Environment 360 - October 13, 2014
Climate change is likely to drive fish and marine invertebrates toward the poles and cause extinctions


Local extinction hotspots near the tropics, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia. Under the conservative climate change scenario of one degree Celsius of warming by 2100, the 802 species modeled in the study are predicted to move away from their current habitats by as much as 9 miles, or 15 kilometers, every decade — a rate similar to what scientists have observed over the past few decades. Under the worst-case scenario of three degrees of warming, the researchers predict marine species will move toward the poles at a rate of 26 kilometers per decade. Under that scenario, an average of 6.5 species per 0.5 degrees of latitude would become locally extinct closest to the equator. The shifts will be caused by the species' reactions to warming waters, changing ocean chemistry, and ecosystem structure near the tropics, as well as new habitats opening up nearer the poles, researchers say.
Categories: Environment, Health

The Case Against a Legal Ivory Trade: It Will Lead to More Killing of Elephants

Yale Environment 360 - October 13, 2014
Proponents of easing the global ban on ivory are ignoring the fact that it was a legal market for ivory that pushed elephants toward extinction only a few decades ago. What’s needed now is not a legal ivory market, but better regulation and enforcement of the existing ban. BY MARY RICE
Categories: Environment, Health

Ivory Trade Debate: Should the International Ban on Ivory Be Lifted?

Yale Environment 360 - October 13, 2014
Although most conservationists oppose it, a proposal to allow a partial lifting of the ban on ivory trading would benefit Africa’s elephants. With proper controls and enforcement, a legal trade would choke off demand for illicit ivory and discourage the poaching now decimating the continent's elephant populations. BY JOHN FREDERICK WALKER
Categories: Environment, Health

Expanding the right to know: California workers gain additional access to workplace toxics information as new hazards emerge

Pump Handle - October 13, 2014

“If the California Public Health Department had been able to find out that my company was using a chemical that was killing people, I might never have gotten so sick that I had to have a lung transplant,” Ricardo Corona told a California Judiciary Committee last April, testifying in favor of California Senate Bill (SB) 193 that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on September 29th. The law, which amends California’s Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS), will become the first in the country to require companies that manufacture and distribute toxic chemicals to provide a government agency – in this case the California Department of Public Health – with information about where those chemicals are being shipped. While this sounds more bureaucratic than groundbreaking, Corona’s testimony illustrates vividly how this law could change lives for the better.

As Corona explained to the California Senate committee, he began work in 2006 at a California company that makes food flavorings. His job was to make butter flavorings. As he described during the hearing, in the course of his work, Corona “was exposed to a lot of dust and powder” and breathed the compounds into his lungs as he worked. He did so without having been given respiratory protection or any training about the hazards of this dust. Not long after, Corona started having trouble breathing and a doctor diagnosed asthma. But Corona’s breathing worsened. Eventually, he lost a reported 80% of his breathing capacity and required a lung transplant. Similarly affected and waiting for a lung transplant at the time of the April 2013 California Senate hearing was Corona’s co-worker Irma Ortiz.

The chemical to which Corona and Ortiz had been exposed was diacetyl. It’s used to give microwave popcorn and other snack foods a buttery taste. Diacetyl is also used in baked goods, candy, pet food and other products. Exposure to it is linked with serious respiratory illness including bronchiolitis obliterans – the irreversible obliteration of the small airway passages in the lungs. “My employer did not warn me about the very toxic effects on my lungs of this butter flavoring chemical. The label didn’t have anything on it,” Corona told the California Senate committee. “If my employer and the workers in our company had been told right away that diacetyl was causing dangerous lung problems, I would not be sitting here today with a transplanted lung,” said Corona.

“Workers like me me need SB 193 so we can get the right information from our employers when the California Health Department learns about a serious problem,” explained Corona. The law, he said, “could have kept me from being exposed to toxic chemicals that caused permanent damage. And it could have helped my doctors to figure out that the chemicals at work were killing me. The doctors could have given me information on how to be protected.”

Limitations, caveats and new hazards

As Frances Schreiberg, attorney with the Oakland, California-based law firm Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood explains, SB 193 – which will take effect on January 1, 2016 – advances the availability of vital workplace chemical hazard information but it does so with limitations. It will require that, upon request and when there there new scientific or medical evidence indicating that a substance may pose serious new or previously unrecognized occupational hazards, companies provide HESIS with the names and addresses of businesses and places of employment in California that have purchased the substances in question. Companies will so be required to tell HESIS the quantity of the chemical purchased, even when it’s part of a mixture. This information will be used to carry out HESIS’ work and won’t be published publicly unless another law requires such disclosure. And the new law won’t apply to chemicals used in consumer products or to other sellers of these chemicals.

With this downstream data in hand, HESIS can ask an employer how it is using a toxic chemical and how the firm is protecting workers, explains Schreiberg. This information will also help HESIS work with employers to find safer substitutes for hazardous chemicals and help HESIS develop and issue hazard alerts –ideally before workers like Ricardo Corona and Irma Ortiz get sick.

“There’s nothing exactly comparable at the federal level,” says Schreiberg.

The law is limited to new scientific and medical information about a chemical’s health effects, which could include hazards not detailed on material safety data sheets (MSDS) in use when the law becomes effective. Take the case of 1-bromopropane – a solvent used as an industrial cleaner for electronics, metals, optics, with adhesives used in manufacturing foam cushions, in aircraft maintenance, asphalt and synthetic fiber production as well as in dry cleaning, among other applications. The material safety data sheets (MSDSs) currently available online from Science Lab and SigmaAldrich, for example, contain no information indicating that 1-bromopropane might be carcinogenic to humans. The National Toxicology Program’s just released 13th Report on Carcinogens, however,describes 1-bromopropane as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals.”

The 13th Report on Carcinogens (RoC) also lists o-toluidine – used primarily to make rubber chemicals, herbicides, dyes, pigments and some medical products – as a “known” human carcinogen. Current MSDSs list it as a “possible” carcinogen. Similarly, the 13th RoC newly lists cumene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” while existing MSDSs for cumune include no indication of such carcinogenicity. While cumene is a naturally-occurring component of petroleum, tobacco smoke and coal tar, it is also used in manufacturing acetone (a solvent) and phenol, both of which are widely used in plastics production.

Meanwhile there’s additional new chemical hazard information in the updated ChemSec Substitute It Now or SIN list (produced by the Göteburg, Sweden-based International Chemical Secretariat) released on October 8th that added 28 chemicals to the existing list of more than 800. Thirteen of these chemicals have been added because they’ve been identified as persistent, bioaccumulative toxins, five because they’ve been identified as carcinogens, mutagens and/or reproductive toxicants and 10 were added because of their endocrine disrupting properties. Among the SIN list additions are flame retardants, plasticizers, chemicals used as food packaging coatings, waterproofing agents, lubricants, solvents, and in inks, paper and textiles among other products. It’s worth noting that endocrine disruption – interference with hormones that regulate a host of vital body systems, including metabolism and reproduction and also play an important role in maintaining neurological, cardiovascular, developmental and immune system health – is typically absent from toxicological information included on MSDSs.

How effective California’s new law will prove in protecting workers like Richard Corona and Irma Ortiz from chemical hazards remains to be seen. But workers and employers alike will now have a legally enforceable tool that will enable them to ask where chemicals with newly identified health hazards are being used throughout California. While but a drop in the bucket of workers exposed to toxic chemicals worldwide – and still constrained by confidential information provisions – it at least offers a way to share this information and prompt worker protection that might be adopted and expanded elsewhere.


Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.


Categories: Health

Badru’s Story: Early Warnings From Inside an Impenetrable African Forest

Yale Environment 360 - October 13, 2014

“A Red Dirt Town,” which placed second in the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest, examines the legacy of pollution in Anniston, Alabama, the former home of a Monsanto chemical factory. The video, produced by Spenser Gabin, tells the story of how PCBs from the Monsanto plant contaminated the town’s waterways and taint the fish that are popular with local anglers.
Watch the video.
Categories: Environment, Health
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