The Global Fool

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As coal mining declines, community mental health problems linger
Aug02

As coal mining declines, community mental health problems linger

Roberta Attanasio, Georgia State University The U.S. coal industry is in rapid decline, a shift marked not only by the bankruptcy of many mine operators in coal-rich Appalachia but also by a legacy of potential environmental and social disasters. As mines close, states, the federal government and taxpayers are left wondering about the costs of cleaning up the abandoned land, especially at mountaintop removal sites, the most destructive type of mining. As coal companies go bankrupt, this has left states concerned taxpayers may have to pick up the environmental cleanup costs. But there are also societal costs related to mountaintop removal mining’s impact on health and mental health. As an immunologist, I reviewed the research literature for specific effects of mountaintop removal mining on the immune system. I did not identify any pertinent information. However, I did find plenty of clues suggesting that health and mental health issues will pose enormous challenges to the affected coal communities, and will linger for decades. Environmental contaminants The communities that reside in proximity to the devastated lands where mountaintop removal mining occurs – some of the poorest in the nation – are concentrated in a 65-county area in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee. They are also hit by the economic downturn caused by the decline of the local coal industry. Healthwise, Appalachian populations suffer disproportionately higher morbidity and mortality compared with the nation as a whole. A study that examined the elevated mortality rates in Appalachian coal mining areas for 1979-2005 linked coal mining to “socioeconomic disadvantages” and concluded that the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighed its economic benefits. Results from research published in 2011 show that mountaintop mining areas, in particular, are associated with the lowest health-related quality of life even in comparison to counties with other forms of coal mining. So, what makes mountaintop removal mining such a scourge for human health? To remove the top of the mountains, coal companies use destructive processes. In order to extract the underlying coal seams, a peak’s forest and brush are clear-cut and the topsoil is scraped away. The resulting debris is often set on fire. Then, explosives are poured into huge holes to literally blast off up to 800 to 1,000 feet of mountaintops. Draglines – huge machines able to scoop up to 100 tons in a single load – push rock and dirt into nearby streams and valleys, damaging waterways and life associated with them. The result is not only a devastated landscape and the crushing of entire ecosystems, but also the dispersion in the environment of toxic pollutants. To learn more...

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Quality Water, Quality Life: Aquatic Health and Contaminants in the Midcoast Oregon Salmon Watersheds
Jun08

Quality Water, Quality Life: Aquatic Health and Contaminants in the Midcoast Oregon Salmon Watersheds

A guest post by Ray Kinney From ridge tops to reefs, environmental degradation has caused many salmon populations to decline to one to ten percent of former numbers. Young salmon survival in freshwater is only 2 to 5% from egg to smolt phase just before entering the ocean phase of their life cycle. Many causative effects for this decline are known, but many remain to be clarified. Politics often prevents adequate investigation of contaminant effects for water quality. Chronic low dose accumulative effects of toxic contaminants take a toll that is generally unrecognized by fisheries managers. Our benevolent rainfall flows down out of the Coast Range to become, once again, part of the sea and the productivity of the salmon cycle of the near-shore ocean. Nutrients from the ocean, in the form of salmon and lamprey spawner carcasses, had fertilized our forests, streams, and rivers like an incoming tide for thousands of years. Our forest garden grew rich because of this tide of nutrients. Reduced numbers means reduced nutrients, which reduces development, growth, and survival abilities of the fish. The land also nourishes the sea. Freshwater flows down out of the mountains, past our farms and towns, through the jetties, and out over the continental shelf. These nutrient tides over land and sea have been shaping salmon for thousands of years, providing diversity, fitness, and resilience to the young fish and other stream organisms that support the salmon cycle complexity. For many hundreds of years humans have increasingly affected the quality of this complexity in ways that have stressed the fish. In the last two hundred years we have greatly increased pollution. Fish harvest levels increased unsustainably, while beaver and timber harvests altered the landscape stressing the salmon cycle. Increasing pollutants have contaminated the flow to the sea. Copious leaching rainfall and snowmelt dissolve and transport nutrients and contaminants down the river out of the Coast Range. Calcium and iron ride the waters downstream and out over the shelf during the winter, enriching the sea floor mud. As upwelling conditions increase in the summer, much of this iron distributes northward with the currents and combines with nitrates to fertilize plankton blooms that feed the food chain for the salmon. Iron and nitrate are in shorter supply over much of the ocean and limit productivity in many parts of the ocean. Here, off of the Oregon coast, the iron leached from our soils provides an important key to salmon ocean productivity. Large quantities of nitrate ride downstream through the freshwater, from red alder tree vegetation cover concentrations in our timberland. The red alder ‘fix’ nitrogen out of the air providing fertilizer...

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Arsenic in Chickens: Finding More of What Is Already Known
Jul07

Arsenic in Chickens: Finding More of What Is Already Known

By The Editors Despite the high toxicity of arsenic, there are arsenical drugs — in other words, there are drugs that contain arsenic.  One of these drugs, roxarsone, is used in chicken feeds to kill intestinal parasites, promote growth (make the chicken grow faster) and improve pigmentation (make meat look pinker). Roxarsone contains organic arsenic, which is much less toxic than inorganic arsenic. However, mounting evidence suggests organic arsenic can change into inorganic arsenic once administered to chickens. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies inorganic arsenic as a known human carcinogen — This classification is based on extensive population studies of lung cancers that developed following arsenic exposure through inhalation, and skin cancers that developed following ingestion of contaminated drinking water in adults.  According to the EPA, arsenic exposure also may be associated with a higher incidence of bladder, liver, kidney, and prostate cancer. The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies arsenic as a known (Group 1) human carcinogen. In 2011, the leading U.S. roxarsone marketer Pfizer suspended U.S. roxarsone sales after tests carried out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found traces of inorganic arsenic in chicken livers. The FDA study did not provide data on the presence of inorganic arsenic in chicken meat. Now, results from a study published in May in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) show that inorganic arsenic may accumulate in the meat of treated chickens. The EHP study (Nachman KE, et al. Roxarsone, inorganic arsenic, and other arsenic species in chicken: a U.S.-based market basket sample. Environ Health Perspect 121(7):818–824, 2013, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1206245/), which analyzed chicken breast samples from 10 geographically diverse metropolitan areas across the United States, is the first to show presence of inorganic arsenic in retail chicken meat. The study samples were collected from December 2010 through June 2011, and therefore prior to the suspension of roxarsone marketing. Marketing, however, has continued in other countries and Pfizer still domestically markets the arsenical drug nitarsone, which is chemically similar to roxarsone. Currently, in the U.S. there is no federal law prohibiting the sale or use of arsenic-based drugs in chicken feed. Lead author Keeve Nachman (Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future) said, “The suspension of roxarsone sales is a good thing in the short term, but it isn’t a real solution. Hopefully this study will persuade FDA to ban the drug and permanently keep it off the market.” There is something more to take into account — Results from the EHP study show that cooking chicken breasts decreased the levels of roxarsone. However, cooking chicken breasts increased the concentration of inorganic arsenic in the...

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Lipstick and Heavy Metals
Jun03

Lipstick and Heavy Metals

By The Editors Cosmetics are all around us.  They have been used for thousands of years.  Are they safe? Without discussing the general/global issue of cosmetics safety, we want to bring up something about one of the most used cosmetics worldwide:  lipsticks. Although in the last century lipstick use was most prevalent in the Western world, its use is now a global phenomenon.  And now, it seems lipsticks contain a potentially unhealthy dose of toxic heavy metals. What are heavy metals?  They are high atomic weight elements that exhibit, at room temperature, the properties of a metallic substance. Minute amounts of some heavy metals, including cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, strontium, and zinc, are required by living organisms.  However, excessive levels can be detrimental.  In contrast, other heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium, have no known vital or beneficial effect on organisms, and can cause serious negative health effects, including carcinogenic or toxic effects that involve, among others, the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, skin, bones and teeth. A recent study published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives (Liu S, et al. Concentrations and potential health risks of metals in lip products, 121:705–710, 2013), which examined 32 lip products used by young women, indicates that lipsticks contain lead, aluminum, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, manganese, nickel, and titanium.  The authors of the study assumed, on the basis of usage data reported by the Personal Care Products Council, that the women in their study ingested all the lip products they applied each day and concluded that they could be ingesting potentially hazardous amounts of aluminum, chromium, and manganese. Although in 2007 the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported the presence of lead in lipsticks and lip glosses (A poison kiss: the problem of lead in lipstick), and in 2009 and 2011 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its own findings on lead in lipsticks, the Environmental Health Perspective study is the first to call attention on the presence of a wide range of heavy metals in...

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Lead Poisoning Epidemics and Outbreaks: A Global Problem
May17

Lead Poisoning Epidemics and Outbreaks: A Global Problem

By The Editors When we think epidemics, we think infectious pathogens.  However, there are other epidemics – one of them is the lead epidemic.  Lead poisoning accounts for at least 0.6% of the global burden of disease (WHO, 2009).  The Blacksmith Institute considers lead pollution one of the world’s worst pollution problems.  In much of the Western world, the problem is almost contained.  However, in countries with little regulation, there are devastating lead epidemics and, at times, lead outbreaks. Lead is a toxic, naturally occurring  heavy metal found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. Because of its abundance, low cost, and physical properties, lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products such as paints, ceramics, pipes and gasoline, to name a few.  According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, no amount of lead is safe.  Eliminating all lead exposure in our environment is the best course of action to protect ourselves from lead toxicity. Lead affects all systems within the body. At high levels, it can cause convulsions, coma, and can even be fatal. At lower levels, it can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidneys, and blood cells.  Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development.  Children  may be exposed to higher levels of lead because they are more likely to get lead dust on their hands and then put their fingers or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths. Below are examples of epidemics and outbreaks of lead poisoning, all occurring within the last ten years. One of the most severe lead poising epidemics occurred in Kosovo, resulting in tens of fatalities.  Affected people lived within 200 yards of three huge mounds of industrial waste, the byproduct of a lead smelting factory that operated from the 1920’s until 2000. Haina, in the Dominican Republic, has  been considered by the United Nations one of the sites with the highest level of lead contamination in the world. The entire population is affected by lead poisoning because of its close proximity to an abandoned lead-acid battery recycling smelter. In the Dakar neighborhood of Thiaroye-Sur-Mer, Senegal, 18 children under the age of five died from acute lead poisoning.  Exposure to deadly lead dust caused by the informal recycling of used car batteries caused the deaths. The most recent (last few years) and at the same time the worst outbreak occurred in Zamfara, Nigeria  Over 400 children died because of exposure to lead caused by gold mining, and thousands more are now brain damaged and disabled.  Watch the short video below to find out why the lead poisoning...

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