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by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDFBlog

Note: We accidentally posted the contents of an earlier Richard Denison post (available here) under this title. We’ve updated the post, and apologize for the error. – TPH Editors

Please help me welcome to the true mainstream of scientific and medical thought the seemingly radical yet commonsense notion that chemical exposures are a significant contributor to cancer, many types of which are rising in incidence even as overall rates decline.

This morning, the President’s Cancer Panel released its 2010 report [available here].  The report is remarkable not so much for its core finding that chemical exposures are a major factor in human cancer, but rather because of its source – an authoritative and bipartisan body — and because of the strong linkages it makes to our failed chemicals policies.

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As I noted in “Perplexed by OSHA’s reg agenda,” I’ve made a habit of commenting on the content of the Dept of Labor’s semi-annual regulatory agenda  [see links below].  I’ll be the first to admit that our system for protecting workers from well-known hazards with new regulations is onerous and anything but nimble.  It needs an overhaul.   The obstacles, roadblacks and challenges plague OSHA, but these administrative and burden-of-proof hurdles DO NOT apply to MSHA.   Here are just two examples of what I mean:

  1. MSHA merely has to demonstrate that its decision is not arbitrary and capricious; a much lower burden of proof than the “substantial evidence” test required of OSHA.  [see a recent US Court of Appeals ruling on MSHA’s diesel particulate matter health standard explaining the “arbitrary and capricious” bar.]
  2. MSHA, unlike OSHA, is at every one of the worksites under its authority several times a year and can assemble all kinds of data to determine feasibility of controls.  MSHA has access to more data than it would ever need to demonstrate exposure, risk and feasibility.

These two factors alone set the stage for MSHA to propose and finalize standards to protect our nation’s mine workers over several months, not years.

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Last week Labor Secretary Solis released in the Federal Register on April 26, 2010, her Spring 2010 regulatory agenda for the Department, including her rulemaking priorities for MSHA and OSHA.  As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act it was published on time in April, in contrast to her Fall 2009 agenda which was six weeks late. 

This document is described by the Secretary as a:

“…listing of all the regulations it expects to have under active consideration for promulgation, proposal, or review during the coming 1-year period.  The focus of all departmental regulatory activity will be on the development of effective rules that advance the Department’s goals and that are understandable and usable to the employers and employees in all affected workplaces.”

As my mentor Dr. Eula Bingham used to say to her staff (during her tenure as OSHA chief the Carter Administration): the only rulemaking activies that truly count for worker health and safety are publishing proposed and final rules.   Efforts that distract, divert, or delay the regulation writers’ duties should be avoided.  Currently, OSHA has about 100 full-time (FTEs)  individuals assigned to its H&S standards office, and MSHA has about 17 FTEs.

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The painful and deadly toll that asbestos imposes on families across the globe is a public health problem of growing magnitude.  In the U.S., individuals who are diagnosed today with asbestos-related disease may trace their exposure to the lethal mineral fibers back several decades.  The number of new cases of asbestos-related disease in the U.S. has not yet plateaued, and may not for years.  Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that  125 million people are currently exposed to asbestos at work or in their communities.   What will come of these individuals in the years ahead when the diseases manifest themselves??    Last year the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) produced an amazing, but frightening documentary “Canada’s Ugly Secret” and when I show it to my students, I ask “what will these people look like in 20 years?”   Their answers are not pretty and not hopeful.

The time has long past for the U.S. to stand up for the public’s health and pass strong laws to protect future generations from asbestos-related disease.  As we mark the end of Asbestos-Disease Awareness Week (April 1-7) and begin National Public Health Week (Nov 5-11) I urged every reader of TPH to take 1 minute to read the policy resolution adopted by the American Public Health Association (APHA) in 2009 calling for the global elimination of asbestos and strong prevention measures.   The resolution urges:

  1. Congress to pass legislation banning the manufacture, sale, export, or import of asbestos-containing products (i.e., products to which asbestos is intentionally added or products in which asbestos is a contaminant).
  2. NIOSH and OSHA to issue an annual statement to alert workers in high-risk occupationsof the adverse health risks associated with exposure to asbestos and include information on potential early warning symptoms in at least English, Spanish, and French.
  3. US Administration to support efforts for a legally binding treaty to ban asbestos mining and manufacturing throughout the world.
  4. Congress to ban the exportation of asbestos or asbestos-containing materials for use or destruction in developing countries.
  5.  US Administration to use its diplomatic influence with Canada, Russia, and other countries to stop their dangerous practice of exporting asbestos.
  6. Global corporations and development banks to establish policies prohibiting asbestos-containing materials in new construction and disaster relief projects.
  7. Governments to provide income support and retraining, and funding for relocation if necessary, for workers who would lose their jobs as a result of protective legislation.

Astute public health practitioners knew as early as 1898 that exposure to the lethal miner fibers caused severe respiratory damage.  When Selikoff, Churg and Hammond published their study in 1964 of cancer deaths among U.S. and Canadian asbestos insulation workers, the evidence of its harm to people’s health was incontrovertible.   Yet, like the tobacco industry, individuals who profit from asbestos peddle their deadly product with no chance of being held responsible for the severe harm caused to others–especially when that harm may not appear for years and years.   

By adopting all the recommendations of APHA’s resolution, the U.S. and global community can create a world in which future generations will look at asbestos-related disease as an ugly thing of the past.

Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH is immediate past chair of the OHS Section of APHA.  She was pleased to join fellow APHA members Barry Castleman and Linda Reinstein in drafting the resolution on asbestos adopted by the organization at its 2009 annual meeting.  She is looking forward to attending the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s 6th annual international conference entitled “Knowledge is Stronger than Asbestos” on April 9-11 in Chicago, IL. 

By Paul Whaley and Dr John Newby, PhD; cross-posted from Health & Environment

To understand the importance of the new science of epigenetics for health, we have to visit cell development and the cellular processes which, if they go wrong, lead to cancer. Understanding these processes could help us better anticipate and prevent possible health hazards from environmental chemicals, develop better models for risk assessment, and even lead to novel treatments for cancer.

Epigenetics and development
One single fertilised cell, in order to become a human, has to differentiate itself into about 200 cell types. Every single cell, however, contains the same complete set of around 25,000 genes. This means different genes have to be turned on and off at certain times in order for a cell to develop into and function as, for example, a skin cell rather than a liver cell.

This regulation of when genes are turned on and off is governed by epigenetic processes. Rather than mutations, which are changes to the genetic code, epigenetic changes affect genes themselves, like software in relation to DNA hardware.

During development, epigenetic regulation is one factor responsible for determining the course of development of a cell, setting it on the path to becoming a skin cell rather than a liver cell, or a brain cell instead of a muscle cell.

Sometimes, however, external influences can result in genes being silenced or activated at the wrong times. In effect, this can confuse the developmental instructions being acted on by a cell, subtly taking it away from its natural developmental pathway and down an altered route, with a range of potential knock-on effects.

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by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDF Blog

The Washington Post ran a front-page article Saturday, written by Spencer Hsu, which reported the auction sale by FEMA of most of the 120,000 notorious formaldehyde-tainted trailers it had purchased five years ago to house the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  The article cites FEMA as saying that “wholesale buyers from the auction must sign contracts attesting that trailers will not be used, sold or advertised as housing, and that trailers will carry a sticker saying, ‘Not to be used for housing’.”

Think that’s likely to be enough? 

Think again. 

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Rita Arditti in 2005

By Richard Clapp and Genevieve Howe

The women’s movement and the environmental movement lost a champion on Christmas Day, 2009.  Rita Arditti of Cambridge, MA died, at age 75, after a phenomenally productive and inspiring life and a decades-long battle with metastatic breast cancer. She was born in Argentina and educated in Italy as a biologist, which led to doing research and teaching at Brandeis, Harvard, and Boston Universities. For the past three decades, she was a core Faculty member at the Union Institute and University and was professor emerita there at the time of her death. An unwavering feminist, she was a founding member of “Science for the People” and the New Words bookstore in Cambridge; she maintained her ties to the bookstore throughout its 28-year history.  Along the way, she wrote a book about women searching for their missing grandchildren who were among the “disappeared” under the military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This influential book was titled Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina and was published in 1999.  Throughout her life, Rita could always be found at events, rallies, and protests against injustice and suppression of human rights.  Occasionally she was a speaker, but she always was present on the side of the oppressed.

Rita also helped found the Cambridge-based Women’s Community Cancer Project, and this is where we got to know her, learn from her, and be inspired by her.  The WCCP was founded in 1989 with the goal of sounding the alarm to the public and to the cancer establishment (huge government and private research money and tremendously profitable cancer treatment businesses) about the role of environmental exposures in contributing to women’s cancers.  It was the first such group in the U.S. and provided a model for several other now well-known groups around the country.  A striking public mural by Be Sargent in Harvard Square, Cambridge, depicts heroines in the women’s cancer movement and calls for implementation of the “Precautionary Principle.” The mural is captioned, “Indication of harm, not proof of harm, is our call to action.”  As part of its work, WCCP put forward radical critiques of the male-dominated, reductionist, treatment-focused, approach to cancer research; the influence of pollution-generating corporations on non-governmental organizations such as the American Cancer Society and government agencies such as the National Cancer Institute; and the resulting distortion of mainstream approaches to controlling cancer.  Rita was a leader in this organization for the past two decades and in a national and international movement to look “upstream” to the moral imperative of preventing women from getting cancer in the first place.

In a 2006 French documentary film about the “War on Cancer,” Rita said:

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by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

If you have any of your clothes dry cleaned it’s more than likely you are being exposed to a chlorinated solvent called PCE (for perchloroethylene aka perc aka tetrachloroethylene/tetrachloroethene). You may be lucky enough to also get some in your drinking water, too (which means you are also breathing it and absorbing it through your skin) — because PCE is also one of the most prevalent groundwater contaminants in the US. It has some other nice properties: it causes cancer and birth defects and probably autoimmune disease. And it isn’t needed to dry clean clothes. Other than that, no problem. Under the heading of “elections matter”, though, consider this. After years of looking the other way, the Washington Post reports that EPA is moving — not rapidly, but moving — to make dry cleaners phase out PCE (perc):

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a decision this week on legal challenges to OSHA’s 2006 rule to protect workers from exposure to hexavalent chromium.  In the simpliest terms, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and the Steelworkers argued that OSHA’s rule was not protective enough, while the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) argued that they should be exempt from it.  The three-judge panel, which included retired U.S. Supreme Court judge Sandra Day O’Connor, rejected all but one of the petitioners’ claims, deferring largely to OSHA’s authority.  Circuit Judge Rendell wrote:

“we will not disturb the Cr(VI) permissible exposure limit or other policy determination…as long as we conclude that OSHA’s decision was reasonably drawn from the record.”

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Linda Reinstein is a mother and grandmother.   Linda Reinstein is an asbestos-disease widow.  Her husband Alan Reinstein, 67, died on May 22, 2006 from mesothelioma.  Like her husband, Linda Reinstein is a fighter, an organizer, an activist.   Following Alan Reinstein’s mesothelioma diagnosis in 2003, they founded the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) which is now entering its sixth year.  The organization strives to serve as the “voice of the victims.”

Next month, the ADAO will host its 5th annual Asbestos Awareness Day conference (March 27-29, Manhattan Beach, California).   Asbestos awareness in the year 2009?   What does it say about the state of global and national public health when we still have the need for an Asbestos Awareness conference??

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