You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Environmental Health’ category.

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. 


During National Asbestos Disease Awareness Week (April 1-7), we’ll be cross-posting a piece every day from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

By Arthur L. Frank, PhD, MD; cross-posted from Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Rare diseases are often difficult to diagnose. In addition, treatment information can be difficult to find and experts with experience treating such diseases are typically rare. Various treatment options exist for asbestos-related diseases, patients respond differently to treatments, and personal preferences should also be taken into account. The information available can be extensive, but some basic guidelines may assist patients in their search for health help. Friends can be a great resource to find online resources, connect you with others with the same diagnosis, or help vet doctors and treatment facilities. You may want to consider asking questions like, “What would you have done differently given the choice?” Armed with these resources, you and your family will be able to make better decisions based on your personal situation. Remember, don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Read the rest of this entry »

During National Asbestos Disease Awareness Week (April 1-7), we’ll be cross-posting a piece every day from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. Today’s post includes two parts.

By J. Brent Kynoch, Managing Director, Environmental Information Association; cross-posted from Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Generally speaking, homes that were built prior to 1980 are more likely to have asbestos containing products than newer homes.  Asbestos use in home building materials was common from the early 1900’s through the 1970’s.  Several uses of asbestos were banned in the late 1970’s, however, there are still many uses of asbestos that have not been banned.  For this reason, owners of homes built even after 1980 should exercise caution and care when handling or disturbing potential asbestos-containing products in their homes.

Where can asbestos be found in homes?
The most likely asbestos containing materials inside and outside homes are:

Read the rest of this entry »

During National Asbestos Disease Awareness Week (April 1-7), we’ll be cross-posting a piece every day from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

By Kenneth A. Cook, Co-founder and President, Environmental Working Group; cross-posted from Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Thousands of innocent people die while governments do nothing to prevent it. In Darfur it’s called genocide. In the case of asbestos-related deaths in the United States, it’s just a statistic.

Ten thousand Americans lose their lives every year as a result of exposure to asbestos. Our government could take action and ban the mineral, but it has not.

A number of other developed countries, including all of Europe, prohibit manufacture and use of asbestos. In the U.S., however, it continues to be imported and used in a number of products that many of us encounter every day. 

Industry has known all about the deadly affects of asbestos for decades but covered it up. Manufacturers and users did everything possible to conceal just how deadly it is, particularly for those exposed on the job.

A few years back, EWG compiled industry internal memos and court documents highlighting just how callous and duplicitous the cover-up of asbestos has been.

“…if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products, why not die from it.” 1966 memo from an executive of the Bendix Corporation (now part of Honeywell)

The results of our investigation, including all the documents, are on EWG’s website:

Ken Cook co-founded EWG with Richard Wiles in 1993. In the 15 years since its founding, EWG has earned renown for its innovative, headline-making computer investigations of environmental problems.

During National Asbestos Disease Awareness Week (April 1-7), we’ll be cross-posting a piece every day from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

By Richard Lemen, PhD, MSPH, Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS (Ret.) & Rear Admiral (Ret.); cross-posted from Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Asbestos is a commercial term referring to a group of naturally-occurring fibrous minerals. Asbestos has remarkable durability and resistance to heat, properties conferring value in a wide range of products including building and pipe insulation, friction products including brake shoes, and fire-resistant bricks. Asbestos has been woven into fireproof cloth and incorporated into cement pipes used for water transport and into erosion-resistant cement roofing tiles. Unfortunately, asbestos fibers are also inhalable, and once inhaled, cause grave health risk, apparently because of their physical characteristics and bio-persistence in the body. Asbestos exposure causes a wide range of serious and fatal health conditions including pleural changes (plaques, thickening, breathlessness, loss of lung function), asbestosis (scarring of the lungs), cor-pulmonale (right sided heart enlargement and then failure), lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the linings of the lung or abdomen), laryngeal cancer, gastro-intestinal cancers (including stomach, colon, rectal), ovarian cancer, and is suspected of causing kidney cancers.  All asbestos fiber types have been found to cause all major types of asbestos-related disease, including chrysotile, the most commonly used form of asbestos. In reality, most asbestos use involves either intentional mixing of different fiber types or inadvertent contamination of a fairly pure product with small quantities of another (natural contamination). Today world production of asbestos is highest from Brazil, Canada, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Zimbabwe. Vast amounts of asbestos are still used in many developing countries where exposure is not limited to just workers, by also non-occupational groups including children. For these reasons and because scientists have not been able to determine a safe level of exposure to asbestos most industrial countries have banned its use. However, this has not been true for Canada or the United States where products can still contain asbestos.

*Dr. Lemen is the Retired Assistant Surgeon General who has recently been appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health. He will present at ADAO’s 6th International Asbestos Awareness Conference on April 10th.

During National Asbestos Disease Awareness Week (April 1-7), we’ll be cross-posting a piece every day from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

By Linda Reinstein, President/CEO, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO); cross-posted from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Since 2004, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization has given asbestos victims and concerned citizens a united voice to raise public awareness about the threat that asbestos exposure poses to public health. Now 6,000 strong, ADAO is the largest international organization dedicated to preventing asbestos-related diseases through education and legislation. Every day during National Asbestos Awareness Week (April 1 – 7, 2010), ADAO will empower the public with information on asbestos and its commercial use; how to prevent exposure in homes, schools, and in workplaces; early warning symptoms and medical treatment options; and clarify that asbestos is not a banned product in the United States and is still be using in common household products.   

Top 10 Reasons to Prevent Asbestos Exposure

Read the rest of this entry »

In today’s Washington Post, Anne-Marie O’Connor reports on the remarkable progress Mexico City has made in clearing its air. In 1992, the UN declared it to be the most polluted in the world – but today the city of nearly 20 million people doesn’t even crack the Top Ten list of the most polluted. O’Connor explains the transformation:

Read the rest of this entry »

Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter Andrew Schneider broke the story of the asbestos poisoning of Libby, Montana, and now he’s digging into the use of another substance that has the potential to become equally widespread before its risks to human health are understood. In a three-part series for AOL News, Schneider reports on how widely used nanomaterials are, what researchers are learning about potential health risks associated with them – and how disappointingly slow the US regulatory system has been to respond.

In “Amid Nanotech’s Dazzling Promise, Health Risks Grow,” Schneider explains that the booming nanotech market holds promise for achieving advances in medicine and food safety, but we don’t yet know how our bodies are affected by nanoparticles we inhale, ingest, or spread on our skin. (You may not think you’re doing these things, but nanoparticles are in so many products these days that we’re all probably exposed to some degree.) He describes a range of research findings that raise concerns:

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Our DC-area readers should check out the many offerings of the annual Environmental Film Festival, which will run from March 16-28. This year, food is a major theme, and the festival’s press release highlights several films about the challenges of feeding the world’s population sustainably:

What’s On Your Plate? focuses on food sources and Fresh on the growth of a sustainable food culture in America, while Seed Hunter spotlights the search for seed genes able to withstand global warming. Dirt! The Movie and Soil in Good Heart highlight the key role of topsoil in creating nourishing food. Nora! profiles Washington restaurateur Nora Pouillon, founder of the nation’s first certified organic restaurant. Who Killed Crassostrea virginica? investigates the decline of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

Descriptions of all 155 films are available here.


We are proud to partner with Image and video hosting
by TinyPic