Study: Common pesticide affects developing brain
April 30th, 2012
06:38 PM ET

Study: Common pesticide affects developing brain

Chlorpyrifos, a common pesticide, may be subtly influencing brain development in children, according to a new study.  The brain abnormalities, found among a very small population of school-aged children, may have occurred while they developed in utero.

What is troubling, according to scientists, is that relatively low levels of chlorpyrifos appear to have caused the cascade of brain changes.

"It's out there and we do not know what the longer term impact is of lower levels," said Virginia Rauh, professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and the study's lead author.  "But it does seem to be associated with cognitive damage and structural changes in brain."


Arsenic in chicken, or just feathers?
April 6th, 2012
07:46 PM ET

Arsenic in chicken, or just feathers?

Is there "Arsenic in Our Chicken?" That's the title of a recent article by New York times columnist Nicholas Kristof that has caused an online feeding frenzy, so to speak.

The answer is yes - sort of. The claim of arsenic appears largely based on a study co-authored by Keeve E. Nachman in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The study found levels of arsenic in feather meal, which is made from chicken feathers and used as feed for poultry, hogs and fish, among other things.


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Filed under: Food Safety • Toxic America

Group sues EPA over popular weed killer
February 23rd, 2012
02:26 PM ET

Group sues EPA over popular weed killer

The Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit Thursday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over 2,4-D, a widely used ingredient in broad leaf weed killers.

The NRDC went to court with the agency over its alleged failure to respond to a petition calling for the EPA to stop licensing the use of 2,4-D, which was one of two ingredients in the toxic Vietnam war herbicide Agent Orange.

"It's really time to connect the dots with this chemical and be much more cautious about its use," said Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at NRDC. "Right now it's used in widespread fashion on people's lawns, back yards, playgrounds, ball fields and soccer fields, where kids are getting it on their skin. That's a particular problem."

The EPA does not comment on pending litigation, spokesman Dale Kemery said.

Proposed water safety standards criticized
February 10th, 2012
11:33 AM ET

Proposed water safety standards criticized

If you went to a beach where one in 28 swimmers later experienced diarrhea, stomachache or nausea, would you jump right in?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new water quality standards that would allow just such a beach to remain open, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“EPA has a duty to protect the public from all of these illnesses, but EPA seems to refuse to acknowledge this duty,” says Steve Fleischli, a senior attorney in the water program at NRDC who has written about the proposed criteria.

EPA offers free apps to check air quality, UV index
January 30th, 2012
04:29 PM ET

EPA offers free apps to check air quality, UV index

If you wanted to know the air quality Monday morning in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (good), Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (moderate), or Modesto, California. (unhealthy for sensitive groups), a new smart phone app from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could have helped.

The EPA’s free AIRNow app for Apple or Android phones allows users to enter a Zip Code and receive the pollutant and ozone levels for more than 400 cities across the country. You can also choose to check your current location.

The app gives levels for ozone and particle pollution such as automotive exhaust and an overall assessment of “good,” “moderate,” “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy” and “hazardous.”

War of words over looming EPA dioxin study
January 27th, 2012
11:04 AM ET

War of words over looming EPA dioxin study

With the EPA's deadline only days away, a war of words has erupted over whether the agency should go ahead with a dioxin study decades in the making.

Vietnam veterans, environmental advocates and women’s groups were among the more than 2,000 individuals and organizations signing a letter Thursday urging EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to publish the dioxin risk assessment.

“We are writing to strongly urge you to finalize the EPA’s study on dioxin, which has been delayed for over 25 years,” the one-page letter says.


Canned soup raises BPA levels
November 22nd, 2011
04:36 PM ET

Canned soup raises BPA levels

Eating even moderate amounts of canned soup significantly increases exposure to Bisphenol-A according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The chemical BPA, suspected of causing damage to human health, is used in the interior lining of the vast majority of canned soups and vegetables.

For the study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health fed fresh soup made without any canned ingredients to a group of students and staff for five days in a row, and fed 12 ounces of canned soup to a second group for the same five days.

Common chemical linked to Parkinson's
November 14th, 2011
06:45 PM ET

Common chemical linked to Parkinson's

Exposure to a man-made chemical known as trichloroethylene, or TCE, is associated with a sixfold increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a new study published Monday in the Annals of Neurology. TCE is a common organic contaminant that pollutes groundwater, soil, and air.

The study also found that exposure to another man-made chemical similar to TCE, known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene, or PERC, is associated with a tenfold increased risk of Parkinson's. Both chemicals are found in metal degreasers, metal cleaners, paint, spot removers, and carpet-cleaning fluids.


Anti-PVC push in health care grows
November 4th, 2011
05:39 PM ET

Anti-PVC push in health care grows

Hospitals and public health professionals are pushing to find alternatives to soft-plastic PVC found in IV bags, tubing, neo-natal masks – even flooring and carpeting.

These products are softened with additives called plasticizers. Most often, these plasticizers contain phthalates, which have been restricted in toys in the United States because of fears they disrupt the delicate body’s delicate chemical signaling system.

The American Public Health Association this week passed a resolution urging facilities such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes reduce the amount of PVC they use, especially with phthalates.

“These additives have toxic characteristics and are gradually released posing risks to infants, children and other vulnerable populations,” the APHA said in its resolution.

The APHA counts among its 25,000 members federal, state and local public health officials, epidemiologists, academics and others.

“This is an issue whose time has come,” said Brenda Afzal of the APHA’s governing council. “There is a preponderance of evidence that this is a problem.”

Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, a trade organization, said the resolution was misguided.

"I think it’s based on old, outdated information - misinformation. I don't think it reflects at all what science is saying about PVC. I think I would call it more of a political document than a public health document," Blakey said.

The resolution comes on the heels of a move by five large purchasing companies representing 1,100 hospitals and $135 billion in buying power to push manufacturers of medical products to make them with safer chemicals.

The group, called Practice Greenhealth, agreed in October to ask all suppliers a series of questions including whether their products contain PVC.

“I think it’s going to be one of the products that over the next five to ten years the health care sector is going to want to phase out, as it did mercury (in thermometers), and it will stimulate significant innovation toward safer and more sustainable plastics,” said Gary Cohen, president and co-founder of Health Care Without Harm, which organized the coalition of hospital purchasing companies.

Cohen noted that companies had already developed PVC-free IV bags and tubing and pointed to several large hospital chains as signs PVCs days are numbered.

Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, has committed to eliminated PVC from its hospitals. Kaiser Permanente spends $1 billion a year on medical products and equipment alone.

Catholic Healthcare West in 2005 converted its 30 hospitals to PVC and phthalate free IV bags and tubing.

Blakey, of the Vinyl Institute, said PVC remained the most widely used material in blood bags and tubings.

"It's just got great properties. It's flexible. It's kink resistant. It can be steam sterilized. It can be frozen," Blakey said.

Every year, almost 15 billion pounds of PVC are produced in the United States for pipes, building materials and a myriad of other uses. In consumer goods, it's marked with the recycling code #3.

Production of PVC results in emissions of vinyl chloride, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services as a known human carcinogen. Incineration of PVC waste releases chemicals called dioxins, also carcinogens.

A growing body of research has found phthalates, used to soften PVC, are linked to health problems.

Among them:

A Columbia University study published in September finding prenatal exposure to phthalates linked to decreased mental and motor development at age three.

In its resolution, the American Public Health Association cited studies linking phthalate exposure to asthma and reproductive problems.

The resolution urged local, state and federal governments to educate administrators and purchasing staff “about PVC hazards and safer alternatives in schools, day care centers, medical care facilities, nursing homes, public housing, facilities for special needs and the disabled, and other facilities with vulnerable populations.”

BPA in pregnant women may cause behavior problems in girls
October 24th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

BPA in pregnant women may cause behavior problems in girls

When pregnant women eat foods that are stored in cans or packing containing BPA, their unborn child's exposure to the chemical could lead to behavioral problems by age 3.

Scientists tested 244 pregnant women and their 3-year-old children for BPA exposure. They found when the mothers' BPA levels were high, the children were more likely to show signs of hyperactivity, anxiety and depression. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, found these behavior problems  in girls – not in boys.

Researchers cannot explain why, but they have seen similar results in other studies. "Our study is consistent with some of the animal studies that say that BPA impacts brain development in monkeys and rodents," explains study author Joe Braun with the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Bisphenol A or BPA is an industrial chemical used to make hard plastic bottles and re-usable cups. It's also used in the lining of canned foods and beverages including some types of liquid baby formula. BPA also known to be an endocrine disrupter, which means it interferes with how hormones – chemical signals – work in the body. When these signals are blocked or changed, organs may not develop normally.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.