Featured stories in this issue…
Coalitions Are Gearing Up To Block U.S. Coal Development
Citizen activists are aggressively opposing new coal plants, with some success, but unless they can stop carbon capture and storage (CCS), the coal industry will prevail. CCS is Big Coal’s “ace in the hole” and the effort behind it is huge. Read more about CCS here.
Donegal Township, Pa., Passes Law Banning Coal Mining
A new approach to corporate harms is emerging as municipalities pass laws restricting corporate “rights” and banning certain activities by corporations, such as farming and mining. Perhaps the biggest impediment to this approach is lawyers who are sympathetic but say it won’t work. It will surely work if enough citizens say it must work. What’s needed is a grass-roots political movement.
Big Business Is Even More Unpopular Than You Think
“An amazing 84 percent told Harris in a poll earlier in 2007 that big companies have too much power in Washington. By contrast, only 47 percent said that labor unions have too much power in Washington (as against 42 percent who said labor has too little power), and 18 percent who said nonprofit organizations have too much power in Washington.”
Clorox Will Brand New Line of Products with Sierra Club Logo
Clorox has launched a new line of cleaning products called Green Works, which will carry the logo of the Sierra Club. In return, Clorox will pay the club an undisclosed fee based partly on sales.
Does Early Exposure To Toxic Lead Contribute To Alzheimer’s? “…every monkey exposed to lead in the study had an accumulation of plaque on their brains similar to what occurs in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s.”
Young Girls May Hold Key To Breast Cancer
Scientists now are focusing on childhood development and environmental influences as factors in certain cancers. One of the hottest topics is the declining age of sexual maturity in girls and its links to breast cancer.
France Offers To Help Saudi Arabia Develop Nuclear Power
Libya, Algeria, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are now all planning to build nuclear power plants, which, historically, has been the first step toward development of a nuclear weapon (as we know from the recent history of Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea).
By Eileen O’Grady
Houston (Tex.) — Environmentally-minded coalitions are working overtime to block construction of all new coal-fired power plants in the United States after a “watershed” year in 2007 when plans for dozens of coal units were delayed or scrapped, said one environmentalist.
After years of limited success against power-plant construction, concerned groups were buoyed last year by action in California and Florida to restrict imports of power produced from coal. Coal generators release about 40 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas blamed for global warming.
Even more supportive was a Kansas ruling that denied permits to build new coal units by Sunflower Electric.
“Kansas was a major, major victory,” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s national effort to block coal plants. “In 2008, we will really begin to act on stopping the majority of these coal plants.”
State regulators in Montana Friday rejected a request from environmentalists to require a cooperative to install the same controls on CO2 — which is not regulated in the U.S. — as it plans to use on regulated pollutants at a new coal plant, but the fight is far from over, said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice.
Dillen said the group will appeal a decision by the Montana Board of Environmental Review in favor of the 250-megawatt Highwood plant proposed by Southern Montana Electric. Highwood is also being challenged in federal court over its long-term funding source, the U.S. Rural Utilities Service, Dillen said.
In Georgia, an environmental group said it would appeal last week’s ruling to uphold issuance of an air permit for Dynegy’s 1,200-MW Longleaf coal plant.
While opponents said developers did not thoroughly evaluate the plant’s impact on air quality, Dynegy spokesman David Byford said its joint venture with LS Power builds generation based on the needs of utilities that will buy the power.
“We’re going with the technology that we believe our customers are asking us for,” said Byford.
In Arkansas, local landowners plan to appeal last month’s regulatory ruling to grant a certificate of need to a unit of American Electric Power Co to build a 600-MW coal plant in Hempstead County. An appeal will be filed this month at the Arkansas Court of Appeals, said Little Rock attorney Chuck Nestrud.
In Kentucky, a coalition, including the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association and others, has notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it may file a lawsuit after that agency failed to act on a petition opposing Peabody Energy’s 1,500-MW Thoroughbred coal plant in Muhlenberg County.
While the strategy differs from state to state, the groundswell of opposition to coal projects grew steadily in 2007, said the Sierra Club’s Nilles.
“We’re seeing a lot of action on the state level on a scale we’ve never seen before that is really taking the market away from the coal industry by requiring a certain amount of generation to be from renewables,” such as wind and solar power, Nilles said.
New coalitions combine traditional environmentalists, local landowners, religious groups and elected officials.
“It is now a broad cross-section of people who say we need urgent action on global warming,” Nilles said. “The first thing we need to do is not dig the hole any deeper” with new coal plants.
Building new coal plants locks the country into a supply of carbon- intensive power and may hurt investment in renewable technology and efforts to increase efficient use of power which can slow the growth in demand for new generation, he said.
Utilities and the coal industry argue that new coal plants can operate with lower emissions than are needed to guarantee a reliable source of future power generation. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Reno (Nevada) Gazette-Journal January 14, 2008
Coal plants boom, opponents take action
By Matthew Brown, Associated Press Writer
Billings, Mont. (AP) — In federal and state courtrooms across the country, environmental groups are putting coal-fueled power plants on trial in a bid to slow the industry’s biggest construction boom in decades.
At least four dozen coal plants are being contested in 29 states, including Nevada, according to a recent Associated Press tally. The targeted utilities include giants like Peabody Energy and American Electric Power down to small rural cooperatives.
From lawsuits and administrative appeals against the companies, to lobbying pressure on federal and state regulators, the coordinated offensive against coal is emerging as a pivotal front in the debate over global warming.
“Our goal is to oppose these projects at each and every stage, from zoning and air and water permits, to their mining permits and new coal railroads,” said Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club attorney who directs the group’s national coal campaign. “They know they don’t have an answer to global warming, so they’re fighting for their life.”
Industry representatives say the environmentalists’ actions threaten to undermine the country’s fragile power grid, setting the stage for a future of high-priced electricity and uncontrollable blackouts.
“These projects won’t be denied, but they can be delayed by those who oppose any new energy projects,” said Vic Svec, vice president of the mining and power company Peabody Energy.
While observers say forecasts of power grid doom are exaggerated, the importance of coal — one of the country’s cheapest and most abundant fuels — is undeniable.
Coal plants provide just over 50 percent of the nation’s electricity.
They also are the largest domestic source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, emitting 2 billion tons annually, about a third of the country’s total.
Environmental groups cite 59 canceled, delayed or blocked plants as evidence they are turning back the “coal rush.” That stacks up against 22 new plants now under construction in 14 states — the most in more than two decades.
Mining companies, utilities and coal-state politicians promote coal in the name of national security, as an alternative to foreign fuels.
With hundreds of years of reserves still in the ground, they’re also pushing coal-to-diesel plants as a way to sharply increase domestic production.
The outcome of the fight over coal could determine the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions for years to come, said Gregory Nemet, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin.
“It’s pretty much irreversible,” Nemet said. “Once a coal plant is built, it will last 50 years or so.”
But in opposing coal projects across the board, environmentalists risk hobbling more advanced coal plants that could rein in at least some of those emissions, Nemet said. He added that rising demand for electricity means more power “has to come from somewhere.”
“There’s too much pressure — in terms of energy independence and the inexpensiveness of that resource — to not use that coal,” Nemet said.
One of the latest challenges to a utility came in the heart of coal country — Montana, which boasts the largest coal reserves in the nation.
On Friday, a state panel refused to rescind an air-quality permit it had granted for a plant proposed for the Great Falls area by Southern Montana Electric, despite concerns about the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. The 250-megawatt plant is projected to emit the equivalent of 2.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, as much as a half- million vehicles.
The Montana Environmental Information Center, which had asked the panel to review the permit, vowed to appeal the ruling.
Nilles said the Sierra Club spent about $1 million on such efforts in 2007 and hopes to ratchet that figure up to $10 million this year.
Meanwhile, coal interests are pouring even more into a promotional campaign launched by the industry group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. It spent $15 million last year and expects to more than double that to $35 million in 2008, said the group’s director, Joe Lucas.
Funding for the group comes from coal mining and utility companies such as Peabody and railroads that depend on coal shipments for a large share of their revenues.
Peabody’s Svec acknowledged a rush to build new plants, but denied the goal was to beat any of at least seven bills pending before Congress to restrict carbon dioxide emissions — a charge leveled by some environmentalists.
Rather, he said, the construction boom is driven by projections that the country will fall into a power deficit within the next decade if new plants are not built.
Industry attorney Jeffrey Holmstead said that could lead to a future of rolling blackouts as the economy expands and electricity consumption increases. Holmstead was in charge of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency’s air program during the first five years of the current Bush administration.
The power deficit cited by industry officials is based on projections from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. NERC vice president David Nevius said his group is “neutral” on what kind of plants should be built to meet rising demand.
“We’re not saying the lights will go out. We’re just saying additional resources are needed,” Nevius said. “We don’t say coal over gas over wind over solar.”
Utilities currently burn more than 1 billion tons of coal annually in more than 600 plants. Over the next two decades, the Bush administration projects coal’s share of electricity generation will increase to almost 60 percent.
That projection held steady in recent months even as courts and regulators turned back, delayed or asked for changes to plants in at least nine states.
Other projects in Utah, Texas, Wyoming, Florida and several other states have been abandoned or shelved.
Some were canceled over global warming concerns. Utilities backed off others after their price tags climbed over $1 billion due to rising costs for materials and skilled labor.
Environmental opposition to coal plants was galvanized by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in April that said carbon dioxide is a pollutant open to regulation.
The case, Massachusetts vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, involved vehicle emissions. But environmentalists aim to use the decision as a fulcrum to leverage regulators to take a harder line on greenhouse gases in several emerging power plant disputes.
The result could serve as an early barometer of the reach of the Supreme Court ruling.
More tests of the two sides’ arguments are certain. Industry groups say at least 15 coal-fired power projects are nearing the end of the approval process and could soon start construction.
DONEGAL TOWNSHIP, PA., PASSES LAW BANNING COAL MINING
Pennsylvania Township Concurrently Adopts Ordinance to Strip Corporations of “Rights”
Joins Growing List of Communities to Recognize the Rights Of Nature
On December 18, 2007, the Board of Supervisors in Donegal Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania voted 2-1 to adopt an Ordinance banning corporations from mining within the Township. Passed to confront concerns about corporate longwall coal mining, the new Ordinance prohibits corporations from engaging in mining activities. In doing so, the Supervisors took a stand with neighboring Blaine Township, which passed a similar Ordinance on October 16, 2006.
In addition to prohibiting corporations from mining, the Donegal Supervisors adopted a second Ordinance that strips corporations of constitutional protections within the Township. The Township thus becomes the ninth municipality in the nation to refuse to recognize corporate constitutional “rights,” and to prohibit corporate “rights” from being used to override the rights of human and natural communities.
The Ordinances adopted by the Donegal Township Board of Supervisors also
(1) recognize the rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish within the Township, and provides for the enforcement and defense of those rights,
(2) prohibit corporate contributions to candidates for elected office within the Township,
(3) prohibit mining corporations from purchasing mineral rights or land for mining, and
(4) prohibit mining corporations from interfering with the civil rights of residents, including residents’ right to self-government.
The Ordinances were drafted by Donegal Township residents in conjunction with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit law firm.
Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of the Legal Defense Fund, applauded the vote of the Board of Supervisors, declaring that “for too long, a handful of powerful men have controlled the fate of communities in Western Pennsylvania, using large corporations to impose surface and longwall mining on people wanting to stop the harms caused by mining in the region. Those few, who benefit from the privileges bestowed on corporations, routinely use State law to preempt municipalities from protecting their residents. With adoption of this Ordinance yet another Pennsylvania community is exercising the governing authority of community majorities, and eliminating the governing authority of a corporate few.”
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, has worked with communities resisting corporate assaults upon democratic self-governance since 1995. Among other programs, it has brought its unique Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools to communities in Pennsylvania and twenty-five other states where people seek to end destructive and rights-denying corporate acts routinely permitted by state and federal agencies. Over one hundred Pennsylvania municipalities have adopted ordinances authored by the Legal Defense Fund.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund Thomas Linzey, Esq. 675 Mower Road Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 17202 (717) 709-0457 email@example.com
BIG BUSINESS IS EVEN MORE UNPOPULAR THAN YOU THINK
By Robert Weissman
The U.S. public holds Big Business in shockingly low regard.
A November 2007 Harris poll found that less than 15 percent of the population believes each of the following industries to be “generally honest and trustworthy:” tobacco companies (3 percent); oil companies (3 percent); managed care companies such as HMOs (5 percent); health insurance companies (7 percent); telephone companies (10 percent); life insurance companies (10 percent); online retailers (10 percent); pharmaceutical and drug companies (11 percent); car manufacturers (11 percent); airlines (11 percent); packaged food companies (12 percent); electric and gas utilities (15 percent). Only 32 percent of adults said they trusted the best-rated industry about which Harris surveyed, supermarkets.
These are remarkable numbers. It is very hard to get this degree of agreement about anything. By way of comparison, 79 percent of adults believe the earth revolves around the sun; 18 percent say it is the other way around.
The Harris results are not an aberration. The results have not varied considerably over the past five years — although overall trust levels have actually declined from the already very low threshold in 2003.
The Harris results are also in line with an array of polling data showing deep concern about concentrated corporate power.
An amazing 84 percent told Harris in a poll earlier in 2007 that big companies have too much power in Washington. By contrast, only 47 percent said that labor unions have too much power in Washington (as against 42 percent who said labor has too little power), and 18 percent who said nonprofit organizations have too much power in Washington.
These results have proven durable. At least 80 percent of the public has ranked big companies as having too much power in Washington since 1994. In 2000, Business Week and Harris asked a broader question: Has business gained too much power over too many aspects of American life? Seventy-four percent agreed.
The November 2007 poll also asked about support for measures to control corporations. These results are eye-opening as well, though perhaps not in the expected way.
Harris asked which industries “should be more regulated by government — for example for health, safety or environmental reasons — than they are now?” Only oil companies (53 percent), pharmaceutical companies (53 percent) and health insurance companies (52 percent) crossed the 50 percent threshold. Even the tobacco industry managed to escape in the survey with only 41 percent favoring greater regulation. These data trend significantly negative — against greater regulation — over the last five years.
Does this show that while people distrust Big Business, they equally distrust the government to constrain corporate power?
The U.S. skepticism to regulation is only skin deep. When polls present specific regulatory proposals for consideration, U.S. public support is typically strong and often overwhelming — even when arguments against government action are presented.
* After hearing arguments for and against, 76 percent favor granting the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco, with 22 percent opposed.
* After hearing arguments for and against, 75 percent favor legislation that would significantly increase energy efficiency, including auto fuel efficiency standards, and the use of renewable energy.
* Eighty-five percent favor country-of-origin labeling for meat, seafood, produce and grocery products, and three quarters favor a legislative mandate.
* Seventy-one percent say it is important that drugs remain under close review by the FDA and drug companies after they have been placed on the market.
* And, from a Harris finding a week after the poll showing skepticism about industry regulation in general, the polling agency found that those who think there is too little government regulation in the area of environmental protection outpaced those who think there is too much by a more than 2-to-1 margin (53 to 21 percent).
What the Harris findings on attitudes to regulation do show is that the business campaign against regulation as an abstract concept has been very successful.
It highlights the need for consumer, environmental, labor and other corporate accountability advocates to defend the concept of regulation, and to connect the rampant corporate abuses in society with the deregulation and non-regulatory failures of the last three decades. There’s little doubt that the general public attitude toward regulation significantly affects the willingness of politicians — none to eager to offend business patrons in the first place — to take on corporate power.
(c) Robert Weissman
From: San Francisco Chronicle (Calif.), Jan. 14, 2008 [Printer-friendly version]
CLOROX EXPECTS GREENBACKS FROM GREEN CLEANERS
By Ilana DeBare, Chronicle Staff Writer
Clorox bleach and Liquid-Plumr will gain some unlikely siblings today – a line of green cleaning products.
The Clorox Co., the Oakland [California] firm that introduced bleach to American households a century ago, is adding a series of natural, biodegradable household cleaners called Green Works to its $4.8 billion family of cleaning and household products.
As the first major consumer products firm to launch such a line, Clorox has the potential to move green cleaning products beyond the niche of Whole Foods-type stores and into the wider world of Wal-Marts and suburban supermarkets.
And its new Green Works products will carry the logo of the Sierra Club — a partnership that may raise eyebrows among some of the club’s members.
“We’ll definitely have some folks who are surprised by this decision, but also people who are pretty excited about it,” said Sierra Club spokeswoman Orli Cotel. “We are supporting Green Works in hopes that more people will have access to these kinds of products, some of which aren’t even available in the middle of the country.”
Analysts said Clorox ‘s commitment to Green Works — the company’s first new brand in 20 years — is the latest evidence that environmentally friendly products are going more mainstream.
“This is a kind of watershed moment,” said Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, who did some consulting work for Clorox on Green Works. “We finally have major consumer companies taking the green marketplace seriously, and not as an afterthought.”
Small companies like Seventh Generation and San Francisco’s Method Products have made natural cleaning products for years. But they amount to only a tiny sliver of the market.
Americans spent over $432 million on all-purpose cleaners in 2007 – but only 1 percent of that went to Method and 0.3 percent went to Seventh Generation, according to Information Resources Inc.
By comparison, Clorox makes three brands of conventional all-purpose cleaners — Pine-Sol, Clorox Clean-Up and Formula 409 — that together raked in 41 percent of consumer sales.
“There are four reasons this (green) category has been held back,” said Matt Kohler, Clorox ‘s brand manager for Green Works. “There’s a perception that natural products don’t work. They’ve been very expensive. People often have to go to special stores to get them. And there’s not a brand that consumers know and trust.”
But the green market started looking increasingly attractive to Clorox, , which manufactures STP auto care products, Hidden Valley salad dressings, Glad plastic bags and Brita water filters along with cleaning brands such as Liquid-Plumr and Pine-Sol.
That’s because the overall $2.7 billion market for household cleaning products isn’t growing — but the green niche is.
Sales of natural cleaning products rose by 23 percent between 2006 and 2007, according to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry.
And Clorox ‘s own research concluded that almost half of all consumers would be interested in natural cleaning products if they were as effective as traditional ones.
So company scientists set about creating cleaners that were at least 99 percent natural, biodegradable, nontoxic, made from plant- and mineral-based ingredients rather than petroleum, and not tested on animals.
Clorox chose to keep its own logo on the Green Works label — unlike companies like Colgate-Palmolive, which bought Tom’s of Maine, the natural toothpaste maker, in 2006 but leaves all mention of its ownership off of Tom’s product labels.
The idea was to reassure customers who are leery of natural products that they would clean as well as Clorox ‘s more familiar brands. “We’re putting the Clorox logo prominently on the label to communicate that this is a trusted source,” Kohler said.
But Clorox also sought some way to reassure customers that its environmental claims were genuine, and not just hype or “greenwashing.”
It received certification as a safer product by the Design for the Environment program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And it approached the Sierra Club for permission to include the club’s logo on Green Works labels, beginning this spring.
The Sierra Club asked several of its volunteer committees to review Green Works and ended up approving the use of its logo — the first time it has given its blessing to a household cleaning product. In return, Clorox will pay the club an undisclosed fee based partly on sales.
“We hope we are transforming the marketplace by doing this,” said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. “These products are clean, they’re green, they’re not going to hurt you, and they’re not going to hurt the environment.”
However, some other activist groups raised questions about Clorox ‘s overall environmental commitment — given that its Green Works products remain outnumbered by its conventional cleaners.
“We’d like to see them incorporate these practices into all their products,” said Erin Thompson, campaign organizer for Women’s Voices for the Earth, a Montana-based group that advocates for fewer chemicals in cleaning products. “Why sell one set of products that have hazardous ingredients and others that don’t?”
Some environmental experts questioned the Sierra Club ‘s decision to back Green Works without a standardized review process that applies to other products, too.
“It sounds risky both to Clorox and the Sierra Club ,” said Scot Case of TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, which runs a Canadian program called EcoLogo that sets environmental standards for products. “I would want to know exactly how the Sierra Club made its determination. Unless they are going to publish the standard that products have to meet, it sounds like a form of greenwashing.”
As part of today’s product launch, Clorox will undertake a nationwide advertising campaign for Green Works. The products — which include a general purpose cleaner, window cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, dilutable cleaner and bathroom cleaner — will be available in 24,000 stores nationally, including Safeway and Wal-Mart.
Colleen Ryan, an analyst for the consumer products research firm Mintel, predicted that Green Works will draw buyers away from conventional cleaning products rather than from other natural products.
“I suspect that most of the people who will be attracted to this are not people who are buying Seventh Generation, but more mainstream Wal- Mart shoppers with an interest in buying green,” Ryan said. “If handled right, this has huge sales potential.”
Seventh Generation president Jeffrey Hollender predicted that other major consumer product firms will also announce green cleaning lines in 2008. But he denied feeling threatened by his new Goliath-size rivals.
“New competitors will only help this category grow faster than it’s been growing,” said Hollender, whose Vermont firm has been selling natural household products for more than 15 years. “The question is, do you want a big piece of a small pie or a small piece of a big pie? We absolutely want the pie to be as big as possible, even if we have a smaller slice…. To address problems environmentally, we need to get other businesses involved.”
How to know if cleaners are really green It can be challenging for consumers to figure out which cleaning products are truly safer and better for the environment.
Unlike foods that are designated as organic, there is no government standard for products that call themselves “natural.” Nor does the government require companies to list the ingredients of cleaning products on their labels.
Clorox lists the ingredients of its Green Works cleaners, for instance, but not its conventional products.
What should consumers do? One approach is to make your own cleaning products out of benign ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda.
Another is to look for products that do list their ingredients on the package. The Green Guide, an online publication of National Geographic, suggests choosing products that contain plant-based alcohol instead of other solvents, and plant-oil disinfectants such as eucalyptus, rosemary or sage.
The Green Guide also lists some cleaning ingredients to avoid, such as volatile organic compounds and glycol ethers. Women’s Voices for the Earth, an activist group based in Montana, published a July 2007 report listing cleaning products with potentially hazardous ingredients.
What’s in a cleaner? More than 99% of the ingredients in Clorox ‘s new Green Works products come from natural, nonpetrochemical sources. Here are the ingredients in Green Works’ all-purpose cleaning spray, and how they compare with conventional cleaning products:
— Water. This is a primary ingredient in any cleaner.
— Alkyl polyglucoside. This is a surfactant, or a chemical that reduces the surface tension of the cleaning solution so it can get under dirt and lift it up. Many conventional cleaning products use surfactants made from petrochemicals, but alkyl polyglucoside comes from coconut oil.
— Ethanol SDA-3C. This is a solvent to help dissolve dirt and keep the solution stable. Conventional cleaning products often use petroleum-based solvents such as glycol ethers. The ethanol in Green Works comes from corn oil.
— Glycerine. This is another solvent, also made from corn oil.
— Lemon oil. This provides fragrance and comes from lemon peel.
— Preservative (Kathon). This is derived from petrochemicals and is part of the 1 percent of Green Works’ spray that is not made from natural, renewable ingredients. However, unlike some other preservatives, it will biodegrade within 28 days.
— Milliken Liquitint Blue HP dye and Bright Yellow dye X. These are also made from petrochemicals and are part of the 1 percent of the product that is not natural. These dyes give the spray its light green color.
Source: Clorox Co.
Memo: E-mail Ilana DeBare at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) San Francisco Chronicle 2008
From: Providence (R.I.) Journal, Jan. 11, 2008 [Printer-friendly version]
NEW LEAD DANGER FOUND
By Peter B. Lord, Journal Environment Writer
A scientific team headed by a researcher at the University of Rhode Island has found a link between early exposure to lead in the environment and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in old age.
The link was discovered by feeding lead to baby monkeys and then studying their brains 23 years later. Monkeys don’t get Alzheimer’s disease, but every monkey exposed to lead in the study had an accumulation of plaque on their brains similar to what occurs in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
Nasser Zawia, a pharmacy professor at URI, said he thinks his work is significant because it is the first time scientists have shown links between lead and Alzheimer’s in primates. He has done similar research showing links involving mice and rats.
Zawia and a spokesman for the national Alzheimer’s Association cautioned that the study should not prompt lead-poisoning victims or their families to fear that their lead exposure will automatically lead to Alzheimer’s.
Until the last few years, Rhode Island has been a hot bed of lead poisoning. More than 30,000 children have been diagnosed with elevated lead levels since 1991.
“I would say it’s just another factor, another risk factor,” Zawia said in a telephone interview. “It’s like how smoking is a risk factor for cancer. It puts you at greater risk. But there are 100 other things that can intervene between early life and old age. And this does not just apply to lead. Certain other things may lay dormant for many years.”
William H. Thies, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, called the study “good, solid basic science,” but he also emphasized “making a leap from this paper to saying Alzheimer’s disease is caused by early childhood lead exposures doesn’t fit.”
Thies recalled that in the past some people pinpointed aluminum as a cause of Alzheimer’s and many people threw away their aluminum pots and pans before that theory was rejected.
“I predict we’ll find no single, monolithic cause,” said Thies. “We know there are already lots of good reasons for removing lead from the environment. And it’s certainly possible lead is a contributor to Alzheimer’s. But I don’t think it’s the answer to solving Alzheimer’s.”
Thies also observed that while lead has been sharply reduced in the U.S. environment in recent decades by taking it out of paints and gasoline, the incidence of Alzheimer’s continues to grow in epidemic proportions.
Some 5 million people are afflicted now, according to the association, and some experts predict there may be 16 million victims by 2050. Some fear Alzheimer’s could bankrupt the Medicare budget.
Zawia has studied the neurological effects of lead and other metals for eight years, using some $700,000 in grants from the National Institutes of Health.
But he said it was a rare, serendipitous find several years ago when he learned that other researchers were working with a small group of monkeys to determine the effect of lead poisoning on their intelligence — research that had nothing to do with Zawia’s work with Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
The researchers worked with two small groups of monkeys, exposing one to lead for 400 days and keeping the other group lead-free. The amount of lead exposure was designed to mimic the levels children are often exposed to. The monkeys were turned over to a National Institutes of Health facility in North Carolina where they lived for 23 years.
In 2003, the monkeys were put to death and their tissues examined.
The initial research was done by Deborah C. Rice, now a toxicologist at the Maine Environmental Protection Agency. Zawia said he learned about it from Dr. Jean Harry, one of his mentors at the National Institutes of Health.
Zawia and his researchers were able to obtain samples and do complex analyses of protein and plaque development.
They found that the lead exposures at a young age reprogram the way genes express themselves during the individuals’ lives. Specific genes became more active and created the proteins that make the peptides that create the plaque, said Zawia.
Zawia says he hopes the next step will be to obtain financing to do more research with human populations.
He says his is part of a growing body of work that looks at how various toxins such as lead and pesticides, when applied to very young people, lead to diseases much later in life.
“It’s a new way of looking at public health,” Zawia said. “What happens in early life does not mean it’s a done deal. There may be consequences later. It’s a new way of looking at disease.”
Thies said Zawia and his group should be recognized for the good biochemistry work they did and he believes their work will become a part of the science that leads to treatments for Alzheimer’s.
The study was published Jan. 2 by the Journal of Neuroscience, a premier publication in its field.
The research was completed by scientists from URI’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Science at the University of Montana, the National Institutes of Health, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and the Laboratory for Molecular Neurogenetics at Indiana University School of Medicine.
YOUNG GIRLS MAY HOLD KEY TO BREAST CANCER
N.J. study focuses on role of early puberty
By Lindy Washburn, staff writer
What if you could do something to save your daughter from ever developing breast cancer?
Would you insist on breastfeeding her as an infant? Never use plastic while microwaving her food? Guide her to an active lifestyle, with exercise each day? Prepare low-fat meals from scratch? Make sure the school did, too? Buy organic?
We’ve all heard of changes in diet and lifestyle to prevent cancer in adults. But it looks more and more as if a cancer-free adulthood is determined years earlier — maybe even before birth.
If my own experience raising kids is a guide, these things are easier said than done. But having recently come through cancer treatment myself, I’d want to do anything I could to prevent my children from ever having a doctor tell them they have cancer. First, however, I’d like to know which recommendations are supported by scientific evidence.
Answers may be coming.
Scientists now are focusing on childhood development and environmental influences as factors in certain cancers. One of the hottest topics: the declining age of sexual maturity in girls and its links to breast cancer.
Girls who have their first period before age 11 are at triple the risk for breast cancer, compared to those who have it after. Those who have it before age 12 are at double the risk.
The link between early puberty and breast cancer is estrogen. The greater the lifelong exposure to estrogen, the greater the risk of breast cancer. The years between a girl’s first period and her first pregnancy — when her breast cells have not differentiated and are multiplying rapidly — appear to be a time of particular vulnerability to mutation or environmental damage.
The audience always gasps when Elisa Bandera, an epidemiologist at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, presents those facts.
Bandera’s “Jersey Girls Study” is one of a few around the country – and the only one in New Jersey — trying to tease out the environmental, hormonal and nutritional factors involved in causing early puberty.
“I want to go beyond breast-cancer prevention and help these girls,” Bandera says. “I want to understand what causes early puberty — not just menarche [the arrival of the first period], but breast development and pubic hair growth. We’re looking at diet and physical activity, collecting body measurements, asking about environmental exposures, even prenatally and in early childhood.”
She’s especially interested in diet and whether eating organic food can delay the onset of puberty.
A girl’s genes set the tempo of puberty’s arrival — her timing will be similar to her mother’s, for the most part. But the variation from one generation to the next is more than half determined by environmental influences, experts say.
The arrival of a girl’s first period is the last step in a series of changes that generally unfolds over a 4½-year period, beginning with the production of new hormones and usually proceeding to breast development, growth of pubic and underarm hair and menstruation.
Today’s mothers know that their daughters and daughters’ friends develop sexually at younger ages than the mothers did. Ilise Zimmerman, a women’s health agency executive from Haworth who also coaches girls’ basketball, says she’s amazed each year at the voluptuousness of her 12-year-old players. “We see it when we order T- shirts,” she says. “There are no size ‘smalls.’ “
While the age at first menstrual period has declined slightly over the last two decades, the onset of the other signs of puberty is dropping faster, and appears to be influenced in part by different factors.
“They moved up that little talk they do for the girls now to fourth grade,” says Monica Dottino, a Mercer County mother of four whose 10- year-old daughter is part of the study. “A lot of parents don’t want to talk about it.”
Puberty at age 6
As early as the third grade, nearly half of African-American girls and 15 percent of white girls begin breast development or pubic-hair growth. The average age to begin breast development, according to a landmark 1997 study, is 8 years and 9 months for African-American girls and around the 10th birthday for white girls. The cause of the racial difference is not known.
So many girls now begin puberty at younger ages that the Pediatric Endocrine Society officially lowered the definition of precocious puberty, from 8 years old to 6 for African-American girls and 7 for white girls.
The Jersey Girls Study — which is to include approximately 150 9- and 10-year-olds — asks whether the girl was fed breast milk, milk formula or soy as an infant; whether she sucked on a pacifier; and what her birth weight and growth rate were, among other questions. The girl’s physician and mother report periodically on her physical maturation. The girls are asked to spit in a cup so their DNA can be extracted from the saliva. Their urine is tested for chemical compounds and hormones. Their food consumption for three days in a two-week period is analyzed.
“It makes you realize how many things go on in a day that affect a child’s health,” says Dottino, the Mercer County mom. “We had to track hair products, shampoos, perfumes, everything she ate.”
Dottino’s own mother had breast cancer 15 years ago, so she values the study’s potential contribution to breast-cancer prevention. “It was pretty interesting to track everything,” she said. “You look at all the crap these kids eat.”
Michele King of Lawrenceville, the mother of five girls ages 2 to 13, has two daughters in the study. She says that “using organic dairy products has always been part of what we did, but five years ago, we expanded to more natural products throughout our diet.” The girls complained a bit, especially about the whole-grain cookies.
The study showed the girls that “it’s not just Mom and Dad who think about this,” King says. “Other people do, too. There must be something to it.”
She adds: “I’ll be curious to see where this all goes.”
Early puberty has other downsides besides the future risk of breast cancer. It’s associated with more risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking and unprotected sex, and depression and anxiety. That is not to say, of course, that all girls with early periods turn out that way, but the risk is greater.
“We have to have the conversation earlier” about the consequences of early sexual activity, says Zimmerman, chief executive of the Northern New Jersey Maternal-Child Health Consortium and the mother of two daughters.
Obesity a factor
Scientists are concentrating on two broad factors associated with puberty’s early onset: obesity and hormonally active chemicals in the environment.
“Girls who are heavier go into puberty earlier,” says Dr. Frank Biro, a pediatrician and the principal investigator in a study of 400 girls at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. American girls eat more than they did 30 years ago and exercise less. Childhood obesity is three times as common. Fat is related to hormone levels.
Not only does “over-nutrition” contribute to earlier onset of puberty, but exercise — by upping the production of certain hormones and taking weight off — delays it.
At the same time, girls today live in a world with microwave ovens, computers, and fertilized and bio-engineered lawns and crops.
“We’ve become a plastic nation — a plastic nation that super-sizes everything,” Biro says. “It’s the chemicals we’re all exposed to by putting plastics in microwaves, using cleaning agents around the house and spreading lawn-care products on the grass” that, in combination, can mess with hormone levels.
Research in 2002 found that the combination of 11 different chemicals people are exposed to in everyday life, each present below the level known to cause any observable effect, produced a cumulative effect. When all were present together, “Poof! There was an estrogenic effect,” Biro says. “I find that incredibly sobering.”
Phthalates, the substances that make plastic soft and pliable, are used in food packaging, IV tubing and personal-care products. They’ve been found in breast milk and in the urine of average Americans, and are the subject of intensive study about their possible role in cancer, early puberty in girls, low sperm counts and male reproductive disorders.
California became the first state to ban phthalates in toys and baby products in October. The European Parliament also banned some forms of plasticizers and restricted others in children’s items in 2005. Canada has had voluntary restrictions in place since 1998. Not New Jersey.
“We shouldn’t be nuking anything that isn’t in glass or porcelain in our microwaves,” says Biro, ruefully describing his own past history of reheating Saran-wrapped leftovers. “I was dosing myself with phthalates.” Microwaving can cause phthalates to leach into food, according to a fact sheet prepared by the federally funded Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center at the University of Cincinnati.
What else should a parent do? For the most part, the recommendations about preventing early puberty, at least so far, are common-sense approaches to good health.
Help your kids maintain a healthy weight. Encourage physical activity. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
When I asked Bandera, the mother of a 10-year-old daughter and a 14- year-old son, how she combined her role as a scientist and a mother in raising her kids, she said there’s no need to overdo it.
She buys healthy food, including whole grains, organic milk, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, and tries to cook from scratch. She tries to keep her kids active. And she models the healthy choices she’d like them to make: She doesn’t smoke or drink; she controls her weight and stays active.
“They’re going to be exposed to other things sooner or later,” she says, “but they will know what the good choice is. That’s all you can do. Then you hope for the best.”
I have two sons and no daughters. But I think this is sound advice for all of us, if we want to spare our children the suffering of cancer.
Participants still being sought
The Jersey Girls Study is still recruiting participants.
Healthy 9- and 10-year-old girls who live with their biological mothers are eligible. Girls who are twins, triplets or other multiples, or who have certain chronic health conditions, are not eligible.
The girls will receive a free analysis of their dietary intake, body measurements (including percent body fat), a $25 gift card and some cute knickknacks.
The study is a collaboration of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, UMDNJ’s School of Public Health, and the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.
If the number of potential participants from northern New Jersey warrants, says Dr. Elisa Bandera, the principal investigator, the research team will arrange with a local hospital or pediatrician’s office to assess the girls on a single evening, or a series of evenings.
For further information, call 732-235-9860 or e-mail email@example.com.
Breast Cancer Fund Strong Voices Newsletter Summer 2006
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From: Greenwire, Jan. 14, 2008
FRANCE OFFERS TO HELP SAUDI ARABIA WITH DEVELOPMENT
French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered yesterday to help Saudi Arabia explore development of a civilian nuclear energy program.
During his visit to the oil-rich kingdom, Sarkozy offered King Abdullah the services of France’s Atomic Energy Commission to help explore the possibility of a civilian nuclear energy program in Saudi Arabia.
“I have often said that the Muslim world is no less reasonable than the rest of the world in seeking civilian nuclear [power] for its energy needs, in full conformity with international security obligations,” Sarkozy told the London-based Al-Hayat.
France has already signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Libya and Algeria and recently expressed a willingness to help Egypt explore nuclear power as well.
Sarkozy and Abdullah also signed agreements on oil and natural gas at the start of the French president’s visit. He will also press the kingdom for lower prices of crude, according to one French diplomat (Laurent Pirot, AP/San Francisco Chronicle online, Jan. 13).
Total, Suez, Areva to build 2 plants in Abu Dhabi Three international energy giants agreed today to build two nuclear power plants in Abu Dhabi.
French nuclear giant Areva, oil company Total and utility group Suez will build the two plants, which will be based on the third-generation system developed by Areva, a Total spokeswoman said.
Details on the plan are due later today (Agence France-Presse, Jan. 14). — EB
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