Troubling Health Topics In the News

Toxics in the environment and their effects on health are continuing stories. Scientists continue to probe more deeply into the mechanisms whereby toxic chemicals in the body cause specific kinds of damage. Medical researchers continue to identify and refine estimates of damage to health by numerous toxic chemicals from the environment. Industrial scientists continue to develop new molecules, hopefully less toxic, for use in plastics, household products, foods, cosmetics, and agriculture. In short, it is an ongoing drama with bad guys, good guys, and victims (you). It therefore pays to stay awake and tuned in to the latest developments.

Four recent topics that I will discuss are: Diabetes and POPs; Parkinson’s and pesticides; Fetus and pesticides; Dispersal of pesticides. This is a continuation of my article Beyond Cancer: Subtle Effects.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than eight percent of people in the U.S. have type-2 diabetes. A recent study (reported by Beyond Pesticides, July 5, 2011) found that exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) increased the risk of type-2 diabetes in the elderly. Measurements of blood samples of seniors in Sweden showed that those who had high levels of PCBs (one type of POP chemical) were nine times as likely to develop type-2 diabetes, and those exposed to organochlorine pesticides were up to three times as likely to develop type-2 diabetes.

Parkinson’s is a complex disease of the neurons of the brain, and probably has multiple causes. Nevertheless, the fact that farmers and farm workers suffer higher rates of Parkinson’s than the general population, was a flag that sparked research into the role of pesticides. The report (Pesticide Action Network, July 7, 2011) states that researchers discovered how a variety of pesticides cause a brain protein (parkin) linked to the disease to malfunction.

A study reported in Environmental Science and Technology (and excerpted in Beyond Pesticides, July 11, 2011) found a correlation between inflammatory cytokines in fetal cord blood and concentrations of two pesticides, chlordane and permethrin. Cytokines are implicated in damage to the immune system of newborns. The report also stated that high levels of chlordane and permethrin were commonly found in homes – even though the use of chlordane was banned in 1978.

Atrazine and metolachlor are two big volume (100 million pounds a year) herbicides used for weed control in agriculture, golf courses and lawns; each have suspected links to birth defects, cancer and hormonal disruption. It was previously believed that people exposure to these herbicides (“week killers”) was via contaminated ground water, due to runoff from areas where they are used. But new reports have found that a larger mode of exposure is through the air via volatilization of the herbicides during hot and wet weather. Most of the volatilization occurred within the first three days after application. Do you apply either of these herbicides to your lawn, or if you live near or frequent a golf course, do they apply either to the greens?

These issues have much in common with climate change: we can deny or ignore their existence, or admit their existence and take appropriate actions to minimize their effects. The signs of climate change – receding glaciers, record heat waves, melting artice ice packs, droughts and floods –can be denied or ignored, at our peril. Individually we can do almost nothing about climate change, but we can do something about damaging health effects associated with pesticides and POP-type chemicals – we can minimize our exposure to them. It’s your body and you can help it stay healthy!


About donlouis

The author has long had a keen interest in staying healthy and fit, and in doing whatever I can to keep the natural environment unpolluted and a healthy space for people and all animals. As a former Board Member of a municipal water district, I regularly had to deal with the issue of water quality. I first became aware of radiation hazards from toxic materials while working on uranium for nuclear reactors. During the 1960s I was tuned into the global hazard from Strontium 90 raining down from atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. While working in the chemical industry in later years I became aware of the many forms of chemical contaminants entering the environment every day, and resolved to do something about it. I am able to make sense out of the voluminous descriptions of common toxic chemical because of my training in chemistry, with a Ph.D. degree and several decades of research and development work in the chemical industry. My training and experience enables me to present to readers reliable and current information on the topic of chemical hazards in the environment, and their threats to human health. All my life I have loved hiking and camping in nature. Skiing, river kayaking, and tennis have been my favorite physical activities. Nature photography is my artistic passion.
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