Blue Marble - April 2007

PCBs Cause the Equivalent of Autism in Baby Rats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 5:18 PM EDT

PCB exposure caused defects in rats similar to autism in humans, in a study at the University of California at San Francisco.

Marla Cone, who wrote Dozens of Words for Snow, None for Pollution for us in 2005, broke the PCB story today in the Los Angeles Times. She writes:

Rats exposed to low levels of PCBs in the womb and during nursing had disorganized, malfunctioning auditory centers. The auditory cortex controls the brain's processing of sounds, which is essential for language development.
PCBs were one of the world's most widely used chemicals, their use peaking in the 1970s, mostly as insulating fluids in large electrical equipment. Although banned in the United States in 1977, they are still among the most pervasive contaminants on the planet, and exposure is difficult to avoid because they have spread globally and built up in food chains.
Last year, two internationally known environmental scientists reported in a medical journal that industrial chemicals may be causing a "silent pandemic" of learning disorders. Dr. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine identified 202 chemicals — including PCBs and mercury — that could be contributing to autism, attention deficit disorders and other neurological disorders, and they urged more human studies.

In 2004, we investigated whether the CDC, the FDA, and other health agencies were covering up evidence that a mercury preservative in children's vaccines has contributed to a rise in autism. About 1 in every 150 children now has autism or a related disorder.

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Sheryl Crow Under Fire for Toilet Paper Proposal

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

I've come across less than effective environmentalism over the years. The least effective ever had to be bathwater recycling in an area with no drought at all. This was accomplished by plugging the bathtub drain, scooping out the water with a bucket, and using it to flush the toilets. Standing in previous bathers' scummy water made showering quite unpleasant. But none of those radicals ever scolded me to conserve toilet paper.

That's why I was surprised to read that Sheryl Crow had literally proposed rationing toilet paper to stave off global warming. She had also designed washable clothing to take the place of napkins at the dinner table, the BBC reported. In fact, she was just clowning around on her blog:

I propose a limitation be put on how many sqares [sic] of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required. When presenting this idea to my younger brother, who's judgement [sic] I trust implicitly, he proposed taking it one step further. I believe his quote was, "how bout just washing the one square out.
I also like the idea of not using paper napkins, which happen to be made from virgin wood and represent the heighth of wastefullness.[sic] I have designed a clothing line that has what's called a "dining sleeve". The sleeve is detachable and can be replaced with another "dining sleeve," after usage. The design will offer the "diner" the convenience of wiping his mouth on his sleeve rather than throwing out yet another barely used paper product.. I think this idea could also translate quite well to those suffering with an annoying head cold.

What's funniest was how many news reporters took the spoof seriously, after the BBC took the quotes out of context. Today, she had to spell out "just kidding" to the gullibles: "We're just so happy that people are talking about global warming, even if it's brought on by a joke." Sorry to disappoint, guys, but the "dining sleeve" clothing line will not hit stores anytime soon.

Canadian Sealer Admits Hunting is All About Fun Not Money

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 2:21 AM EDT

The Canadian sealing fleet is still stuck in the ice off Newfoundland. The Toronto Star reports conditions are moderating, the icebreakers are free, and many of the longliners, which hunt seals on the side, may be freed tomorrow. But the Star also reports a Newfoundland sealer, Desmond Adams, as saying, "we all go out for the love of it rather than the money, which isn't there anymore." He adds, "No one's going to stop hunting if they don't have to. We need someone to tell us, 'No, this is too dangerous. You can't do it.' Newfoundlanders are good at following orders. They've told us we can't fish and we can't do this or that. And we don't."

"No one's getting rich from the seal hunt," he said, "at least not among the hunters. The price of pelts is down to about $55, about half what it used to be." That means the Canadian taxpayer is footing a bill worth millions of dollars to provide four full time ice-breakers, plus the cost of the Canadian Coast Guard flying in groceries, to assist the lads on their seasonal slaughter gone bad.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reports that over 60,000 seal pups are available under the quota of 275,000. Over 200,000 have already been clubbed or slaughtered, not taking into account the estimated 250,000 pups killed by melting ice from global warming in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last month.

The Canadian government has acted very irresponsibly in allowing vessels that are not ice-strengthened to venture into these conditions, says Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson. "There is a double standard. My ship the Farley Mowat is an ice-class ship and I have more experience in navigating in ice conditions than most of these sealers, but the Coast Guard did everything they could to prevent us from going into the ice to save seals citing their concerns for our 'safety'."

Come on, Canada. Stop it. Stop lying about the economic necessity of the hunt. Stop awarding the permits. Stop wasting money on the seaboys with clubs and a twisted sense of fun. --Julia Whitty

Omega Fat Ratio Linked to Depression and Heart Disease

| Mon Apr. 23, 2007 10:16 PM EDT

A recent study buttresses one explanation for the rise of depression and heart disease in recent generations: an increase in processed vegetable oil in the diet. Doctors at Ohio State University measured blood ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and found....

The more omega-6 fatty acids people had in their blood compared with omega-3 fatty acid levels, the more likely they were to suffer from symptoms of depression and have higher blood levels of inflammation-promoting compounds.... The 6 individuals diagnosed with major depression had nearly 18 times as much omega-6 as omega-3 in their blood, compared with about 13 times as much for subjects who didn't meet the criteria for major depression.

That's a striking correlation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as fish, flax seed oil and walnuts, while omega-6 fatty acids are found in refined vegetable oils used to make everything from margarine to baked goods and snack foods. The amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the Western diet increased sharply once refined vegetable oils became part of the average diet in the early 20th century.

According to the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, a reliable source of omega-3 is ground flax seed. Tofu, apparently, is only so-so.

Get Toyota To Bring Its Hybrid Minivan To America

| Mon Apr. 23, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

Sadly, the trend in the U.S. car market is on producing and importing hybrid models that focus on increased muscle rather than mileage. Well, it doesn't have to be that way. The Union of Concerned Scientists says that Japanese families have a choice unavailable in America--a hybrid minivan with fuel economy as good as a compact car. They estimate that the Toyota Estima Hybrid could reach around 35 miles per gallon in the United State--a 50 percent improvement.

Even if you're a minivanophobe (like me), you want to help get this car into the U.S. market. Here's how. Toyota's aiming to sell about 8,400 Estimas in Japan this year. We can show Toyota that the demand for more fuel-economy-focused hybrids is even stronger in America. Please sign the petition here, and get others to join you by May 28, 2007. The Union of Concerned Scientists will deliver your signatures to Toyota executives on Memorial Day--the unofficial start of the summer driving and higher gas price season. Just in time for the Toyota annual shareholders' meeting.

Plus, there's a contest and prizes. --Julia Whitty

Sealing Vessels Stuck In Ice, Rescue Vessels Stuck Too

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 2:09 PM EDT

I've spent a lot of time at sea and wish no mariner harm. But… the Canadian sealing fleet is stuck in heavy ice off Newfoundland! CTV reports the Canadian coast guard estimates that between 400 and 500 people are stranded in as many as 100 vessels. "It's a dangerous situation,'' Eldred Burden, 48-year-old skipper who is trapped aboard his 18-meter vessel, told the Canadian Press via telephone. "There's not one thing you can do ... We're getting dragged out pretty good. You're up all night and the boat is heaving and twisting.''

Supplies and fuel are running low for many of the ships -- most of them longliner fishing vessels waylaid off the coast of northeast Newfoundland and southern Labrador, while on their way home from last week's seal hunt. Even a Coast Guard ice breaker, the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, sent to help, was stuck in the ice Wednesday as the massive sheets closed in around it. It's since been freed, but another icebreaker, the Ann Harvey, is now stuck.

Some of the ships have been stuck in the ice for as long as eight days, and it appears that conditions wouldn't improve until at least next week. In total three icebreakers are working the rescue, with three helicopters delivering supplies, and another three Cormorant search and rescue helicopters on standby. As many as a dozen of the ships are extensively damaged and some could even begin to take on water as the ice pressure subsides and they begin to slip back into the water.

If only Neptune had waylaid them before the seal hunt. Altogether a bad season for sealers (and seals), since the southern slaughter grounds were decimated by ice melt earlier this spring, drowning the baby seals and forcing even the hard-hearted Canadians to call off that stage of the hunt.--Julia Whitty

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Hot Air: Tracing the Roots of Global Warming Denial

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 8:11 PM EDT

If you're reading this, chances are you're well-versed in global warming, maybe even "eco-anxious." But to get inside the heads of those still in denial, there's a helpful piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books. Since it's an 8,000-word essay, here are some of the most provocative passages:

"It is strange and striking that climate change activists have not committed any acts of terrorism. After all, terrorism is for the individual by far the modern world's most effective form of political action, and climate change is an issue about which people feel just as strongly as about, say, animal rights."

"Unfortunately, the climate debate came along at a time when the Republican Party was wilfully embracing anti-scientific irrationalism. One way of telling this story – adopted by Kim Stanley Robinson in his novel Forty Signs of Rain – begins with the Scientists for Johnson Campaign, run by a group of eminent scientists who were worried about Barry Goldwater's apparent eagerness to wage nuclear war. Their campaign had a considerable impact, and when Richard Nixon got to the White House four years later he was convinced that scientists were a dangerously anti-Republican political lobby. Nixon shut down the Office of Science and Technology, and kicked the presidential science adviser out of the cabinet – an effective and still unreversed removal of science from the policy-making arena in the US."

"I suspect we're reluctant to think about it because we're worried that if we start we will have no choice but to think about nothing else."

He quotes James Lovelock: "I am old enough to notice a marked similarity between attitudes over sixty years ago towards the threat of war and those now towards the threat of global heating. Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen, but we are as confused as we were in 1938 over what form it will take and what to do about it. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, an attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show that they do respond but in reality playing for time."

He very briefly touches on the energy-industry's war on science: "The techniques in play were learned by the tobacco lobby in the course of the fights over smoking and health."

For Mother Jones coverage of global warming denial, read here, here, here, and here.

Worried About Global Warming? Go See an Eco-Therapist

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:38 PM EDT

Are you petrified by the thought of mass extinction, extreme weather, and global warming? If so, you're not alone in your fears, and there's even a word for them: eco-anxiety. It was only a matter of time before the now-trendy prefix was added to the ever-growing list of diagnoses.

According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, you can now see an eco-therapist to address your fears. Melissa Picket in Santa Fe sees between 40 and 80 patients each month suffering from eco-anxiety. For panic attacks and loss of appetite triggered by environmental concerns, she recommends that patients make lifestyle changes and even carry natural objects around.

This treatment might sound a bit less than serious, but there is a real weight to the issue. A growing number of people are concerned about, even petrified by climate change. The Philadelphia Enquirer blames media hype and scientists' poor PR skills for inducing eco-anxiety. Maybe scientists do have trouble communicating with laymen, and maybe there's shock-value in environmental horror stories. But I really doubt that putting a feather in your hat or a rock in your pocket will counteract the doom and gloom of melting polar ice-caps and disappearing bees that we read about every day.

--Rose Miller

Marijuana Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth In Half

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:30 PM EDT

The active ingredient in marijuana cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread. This according to Harvard University researchers at who tested the chemical in both lab and mouse studies, as reported by the American Association for Cancer Research. The compound Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lung cancers that are usually highly aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy. Although the researchers don't know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that arrest the cell cycle. THC may also interfere with processes that promote cancer growth. --Julia Whitty

Breast Cancer Declines along with "Hormone Therapy"

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:20 PM EDT

Breast cancer rates dropped immediately after a major study in 2002 cast doubt on the wisdom of hormone supplements for menopause, and prompted millions of women to stop taking them.

"An awful lot of breast cancer was caused by doctors' prescriptions," Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, tells Rob Stein of the Washington Post. "That's a very serious and sobering thought."

Stein writes, "The findings also help explain one of the biggest mysteries about breast cancer -- why the number of cases rose steadily for decades."

"This is colossal," said Rowan Chlebowski of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who helped conduct the analysis. "It translates into thousands of fewer breast cancers that have been diagnosed in women in the United States and could be in the future."