Lupus Linked to Petroleum Exposure

Scientists in Boston and New Mexico have shown that exposure to petroleum is linked to the deadly auto-immune disease lupus. The illness is already known to have genetic origins — African- American women are nine times more likely to get it. But reports show the environment plays a role, especially in two black neighborhoods in Boston. Residents of Roxbury and Mattapan live near gasoline stations or sites near petroleum-product dumping groups, and have the highest rate of lupus in the region. Another study of people living in a housing development in Hobbs, New Mexico, built on the site of a former oil-field dump, detected an incidence of Lupus at 30 to 99 times higher than estimates for the general population.

The Disappearing Honeybee

A widespread honeybee die-off, known as “colony collapse disorder,” has seen bees disappear from hundreds of thousands of hives around the world this winter. Experts are scrambling to explain why bees are fleeing their hives en masse and dying elsewhere. Honeybees affect one-third of all food eaten in America and the United Kingdom, pollinating orchards, gardens and crops. Twenty-four U.S. states have been affected, as have Scotland, Spain, Italy, Poland, Greece and other parts of Europe. A Pennsylvania beekeeper blames a new insecticide used to treat agricultural crops, while scientists on the West Coast say the culprit is cold weather and mites.

Plastics & Your Health

By Martin Leatherman & staff
New studies of chemicals used in plastics reveal potential health problems, including miscarriages and abnormal fetus development. But regulation remains a tricky prospect. Legislators in California are developing bills targeting chemicals used in consumer products, including plastics, which may cause human health problems.
Cosmetics and chemical manufacturers say that such new legislation is unnecessary because a variety of state and federal laws already regulate the industry, according to the Christian Science Monitor. One chemical of concern, bisphenol-A, or BPA, is used in baby bottles, teething rings, packaging materials and wall and floor coverings. In a study published in the May 2005 edition of Endocrinology, mouse fetuses exposed to one percent of the amount of BPA deemed safe for humans developed significantly more tissue in their mammary glands.

The Glaciers Melt

Martin Leatherman,
The melting of the world’s glaciers is bringing new attention to the threat of global climate change. One recent study published in the journal Science found that 87 percent of the 244 marine glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula have retreated over the last 50 years. As atmospheric temperatures rose along the peninsula, glaciers moved south toward mainland Antarctica. Now, scientists may have the valuable ocean temperature data — or “smoking gun” — they say will help them predict climate change. According to the Associated Press, the study showed that the Earth is absorbing more energy than it is releasing.

Genetically Engineered Food: Safety Research

Read the main article. Although the FDA does not conduct safety testing on genetically engineered foods, research is ongoing throughout the world, and not always free of controversy. The following is a brief overview:
–Food-safety researcher Dr. Arpad Pusztai reported in 1998 that rats fed genetically engineered potatoes at a British lab developed immune system deficiencies and stunted growth. After announcing his findings, Pusztai was suspended by the lab at which he worked. Other independent researchers supported his conclusions.

FOCUS: Overfishing — Local to Global

Jodi Wynn & staff
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, overfishing is leading to a humanitarian and ecological crisis. The report finds that over 70 percent of fish species are being caught at a rate faster than they reproduce, leading to the near-depletion of many commercial fish stocks. In the U.S., the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that 92 percent of domestic fish stocks are overexploited, but can recover if well managed. With more than 200 million people worldwide depending on fishing for a living, and 2.5 billion relying on fish for food, the U.N. said that declining fish stocks will affect “food security and economic development” as well as social welfare and underwater ecosystems.
The FAO also predicts that within ten years fish stocks will be further depleted by growing human populations. The New Zealand fisheries minister expressed fears that post-tsunami relief efforts could “create the conditions for overfishing and resource depletion, particularly where these problems were already occurring.”

Focus: Agent Orange Aftermath

Jodi Wynn,
Thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, many seriously ill Vietnamese blame their conditions on exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange. The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed suit in February 2004 against 37 U.S. companies that produced the substance during the conflict in Vietnam, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto Company. Judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the case on March 10, ruling that there was no expressed rule against the use of herbicides or poisonous gases at the time. Plaintiffs in the suit told the Associated Press they planned to appeal. The drive to appeal was bolstered by a March 11 conference hosted in Paris by the France-Vietnam Friendship Association.

FOCUS: Tsunami Ecology

Research by Allison Bloch, Intern, and Michael Stoll, Guest Editor 
In response to the question of why stories about nature don’t usually become front-page news in the mainstream media, Frank Allen, a veteran journalist who had written for The Wall Street Journal once said, “Environmental stories don’t break, they ooze.” So it follows that when news does break, it has nothing to do with the environment. Or does it? The day after Christmas, several environmental stories were spun out of a major event — a tsunami that swept the shores of 12 Asian countries and killed as many as 150,000 people. Most readers, naturally, assumed it was a human tragedy unrelated to the ecology.

Mad cow scare stirs markets, food safety doubts

Appetite undiminished
The latest mad cow scare sent markets into a schizophrenic spin, first crashing, and then rebounding on the news that the animal in question was “clean.” Overall, confidence in the market and the product outweighed fears. Ranchers and meat packers across the U.S. were not worried for their fortunes. Overseas, Jamaica chose to not renew a partial ban on U.S. beef. “Cattle prices rise as U.S. finds no evidence of mad cow disease”
Bloomberg, November 24, 2004

Latest mad cow case not causing alarm in Kansas
Associated Press, November 23, 2004
“Nebraska cattle farmers aren’t worried about mad cow”
November 18, Associated Press/
“No plan to reinstate partial ban on U.S. beef”
Jamaica Observer, November 23, 2004
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Canada: Mixed signals
In Canada, farmers literally parked their cattle in downtown Montreal to protest for more financial aid, after an incident of mad cow disease (technically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy) provoked a U.S. ban on Canadian beef.