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Slowly poisoned: health consequences of pollution and environmental toxins. Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP Portland State University Campaign for Safe Foods, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. Overview. Public health approach Air pollution Garbage Toxins Education/Corporate Influence

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Slowly poisoned health consequences of pollution and environmental toxins l.jpg

Slowly poisoned: health consequences of pollution and environmental toxins

Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP

Portland State University

Campaign for Safe Foods, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

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  • Public health approach

  • Air pollution

  • Garbage

  • Toxins

  • Education/Corporate Influence

  • Progress and Solutions

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Some Major Sources of Air Pollution

  • Industry - #1

  • Agriculture

  • Automobiles

  • Indoor combustion of coal and biomass for cooking, heating and food preservation

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Air Pollution

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Air Pollution

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Air Pollution

  • Top ten most polluted cities in the world are in China and India

  • Most polluted areas in US:

    • LA, Houston, San Joaquin Valley in Central California, Pittsburgh

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Health Effects of Air Pollution

  • Causes approximately 60,000 - 75,000 premature deaths/yr. in U.S. (656,000 in China)

    • More than are killed by auto accidents

  • 1.8 million worldwide

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Health Effects of Air Pollution

  • Air pollution causes asthma and impairs lung development and function

  • Deaths from cardiopulmonary diseases correlate with air pollution levels in US cities

    • Both day to day and over time

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Health Effects of Air Pollution

  • Increased admissions for CHF, asthma, COPD, PVD, and cerebrovascular disease (stroke and TIA)

  • Increased lung cancer mortality

  • Decreased exercise tolerance, increased pulmonary symptoms

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Health Effects of Air Pollution

  • Increased risk of DVT

  • Impaired sperm production

  • Increase in SGA and LBW infants

  • Increased risk of appendicitis

    • ?Via link with inflammation?

  • Increased numbers of migraines

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Effects of Ozone Destruction

  • Ozone hole over Antarctic (2½X size of Europe)

  • Increased cataracts (UV damage)

  • Increased lifetime melanoma risk

    • 1/1500 - 1930

    • 1/68 - today

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  • Number of autos-US: 1 car/2 people-Mexico: 1/8-China: 1/100 (increasing; leaded gasoline)

  • Global auto population to double in 25-50 years

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  • Average miles traveled/car/year in U.S.

    • 1965 - 4,570 mi.

    • 1975 - 6,150 mi.

    • 1985 - 7,460 mi.

    • 1995 - 9,220 mi.

    • 2008 – 12,000 mi.

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  • 25 lbs. of CO2 produced for every gallon of gasoline manufactured, distributed, and then burned in a vehicle

  • U.S. energy costs exceed $500 billion/yr. (plus military costs to keep foreign oil flowing)

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  • Average fuel efficiency of U.S. autos stagnant

    • Ford Model T – 25 mpg (1908); Avg. Ford vehicle – 22.6 mpg (2003)

    • Cars: 27.5 mpg required by 2011, 37.5 mpg required by 2015

    • Light trucks / SUVs: 23.5 mpg by 2011, 28.6 mpg by 2015

    • European and Japanese standards higher

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Automobiles: Alternatives

  • Relatively low oil prices (until recently)

  • Growing market (until recently) for low-efficiency pickups, minivans, and SUVs

  • Rapid transit

  • Electric cars

    • killed by oil companies, automakers, tire manufacturers in early 20th century

    • Convicted under Sherman Antitrust Act

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Automobiles: Alternatives

  • Car sharing

  • Pay-as-you-drive auto insurance

  • “Peak Pricing” and “Congestion Fees”

    • E.g., London → 21% decrease in traffic, 43% increase in bus ridership, cleaner air

  • Bicycles/walking

    • 30% of all trips by bike in Amsterdam; 2% in Portland, OR

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Automobiles: Alternatives

  • Busses

  • Trains

    • 15 x more efficient per passenger than autos

  • Natural gas and/or gasohol-generate less CO2

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Automobiles: Alternatives

  • Telecommuting

  • Biodiesel

    • Vegetable oil-based fuel

    • Problem: Cheapest biodiesel is oil from palm trees; Indonesia, Malaysia deforesting areas to plant palm trees, leading to increase in global CO2

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Automobiles: Alternatives

  • Solar cars

  • Hydrogen-powered cars

    • Byproduct = water

    • Problem: Hydrogen production requires fossil fuels

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Energy Spending/Research

  • Since 1947, the U.S. has spent $145 billion on nuclear R and D vs. $5 billion on renewables R and D

  • < 5% of the DOE’s budget pays for energy efficiency and renewables

  • BP invests $100 million annually in clean energy = amt. it spends annually to market its new name and environmentally-friendly image of moving “Beyond Petroleum”

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  • 98% of the country’s total refuse is industrial waste; 2% municipal waste

  • American produce 4.4 lbs/d garbage

  • In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 6500 times his/her adult weight in garbage

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  • In one year, Americans generate 236 million tons of garbage

    • 30% recycled

    • 164 million tons thrown away

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U.S. Garbage Composition

  • Paper and Paperboard - 39%

  • Yard Waste - 13%

  • Food Waste - 10%

  • Plastics - 12%

  • Metals - 8%

  • Glass - 6%

  • Wood - 5%

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U.S. Recycling Rates

  • Tires - 22%

  • Plastic containers - 25%

  • Overall plastics – 5%

  • Glass containers - 28%

  • Yard waste - 41%

  • Paper and Paperboard - 42%

  • Aluminum packaging - 54%

  • Steel cans - 60%

  • Auto batteries - 93%

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  • Landfills (2300 in US)

  • Incinerators

  • Garbage exports

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Annual World Production of Synthetic Organic Chemicals

  • 1930 - 1 million tons

  • 1950 - 7 million tons

  • 1970 - 63 million tons

  • 1990 - 500 million tons

  • 2000 - 1 billion tons

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  • 6 trillion tons of over 85,000 chemicals produced annually

    • more than 90% have never been screened for toxicity

  • Chemical manufacturers are not required to prove safety

    • the legal burden is on the government to prove that a product is dangerous

    • Consequence of 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act

    • Consumer Product Safety Commission has failed in its regulatory responsibilities

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Toxic Pollutants

  • 85,000 known or suspected hazardous waste sites in the U.S.

    • Plus up to 600,000 lightly contaminated former industrial sites (“brownfields”)

  • EPA estimates that there will be 217,000 new hazardous waste sites by 2033

    • Will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to mitigate environmental impacts

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Toxic Pollutants

  • 1 in 4 U.S. citizens lives within 4 mile of a Superfund site (approximately 1,305 sites listed; another 2,500 sites eligible)

  • Taxpayers paying increasing share of cleanup costs

    • 54% in 2003

    • Vast majority presently

    • Overall funding decreasing

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  • Body burden of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides high

    • Environmental Working Group (2004)found 287 pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage in umbilical cord blood

      • Many other compounds not even tested; numbers undoubtedly higher

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Fetuses and Children are Most Vulnerable to Toxins

  • Greater pound-for-pound exposure

  • Immature, porous blood brain barrier

  • Lower levels of chemical binding proteins, allowing more chemicals to reach “target” organs

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Fetuses and Children are Most Vulnerable to Toxins

  • Organs/organ systems rapidly developing, thus more vulnerable to damage

  • Systems that detoxify and excrete industrial chemicals are not fully developed

  • Longer future life span allows more time for adverse effects to arise

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Toxins in breast milk

  • Human babies at the top of the food chain

  • Fat soluble toxins concentrated in breast milk

    • Benefits of breast feeding still exceed risks

  • Birth defects, learning disabilities increasing

    • Toxins play important role

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Toxins and gender

  • Sex ratio changing:

    • Normal = 105 boys/girls born (skewed by early male mortality)

    • Fewer boys being born in industrialized countries

      • Other causes include obesity, older parental age, stress, fertility aides

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  • 2.2 billion lbs/yr pesticides

    • Including agricultural pesticides, wood preservatives, and disinfectants

    • 8.8 lbs/person/yr in US

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  • EPA estimates U.S. farm workers suffer up to 300,000 pesticide-related acute illnesses and injuries per year

    • Possibly linked to higher rates of sarcoidosis in agricultural workers

    • Pesticide-exposed men have impaired semen quality, which is associated with reduced fertility and testicular cancer

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  • NAS estimates that pesticides in food could cause up to 1 million cancers in the current generation of Americans

  • Linked to autism, Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes, obesity (with prenatal exposure), depression

  • Children living on or near farms score 5 points lower on IQ tests and other mental and verbal tests

    • May be due to pesticide exposure

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Anthropological Study of Children Exposed to Pesticides

Children from villages practicing organic agriculture

Children from villages practicing non-organic agriculture

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  • 1,000,000 people killed by pesticides over the last 6 years (WHO)

  • US health and environmental costs $12 billion/yr (2005)

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  • CA and NY are the only states currently tracking pesticide sales and use

  • 2008: USDA axes national survey charting pesticide use

  • EPA, NAS currently allows pesticide testing in humans, despite strong opposition

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  • $2.4 billion worth of insecticides and fungicides sold to American farmers each year

  • Pesticide runoff contributes to coastal dead zones

    • Baltic Sea, Mouth of Mississippi in Gulf of Mexico

    • Red tides

  • Pesticides inhibit nitrogen fixation, decrease crop yields

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  • Evidence suggests that pesticides promote pests (vs. natural pesticides)

    • 30% of medieval crop harvests were destroyed by pests vs. 35-42% of current crop harvests

  • Implies organic farming more cost-effective

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Pesticides and Produce

  • The Dirty Dozen: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrots, pears

  • The Clean 15: onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangos, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwis, cabbages, eggplant, papayas, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes

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  • 2 million US children with elevated levels

  • 120 million people with level > 10mcg/dL worldwide

    • Due to increased environmental exposure and, possibly, early umbilical cord clamping

  • #s affected dropping

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  • Affects brain development, associated with lower IQ

    • No safe level for neurological development

  • Levels between 4 and 10 significantly increase risk of cardio- and cerebrovascular disease

  • Elevated levels associated with crime and violent behavior

  • Poor, African-Americans more commonly exposed

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Lead Poisoning: S/S, DX, and RX

  • S/S: AP, CP, arthralgias, myalgias, HA, anorexia, ↓libido, ↓memory, anemia, nephropathy, HTN, cataracts, CV dz, cancer, ↓sperm count, lead line on teeth, basophilic stipling

  • Dx: lead level, FEP (free erythrocyte protoporphyrin)

  • Rx: ↓exposure, CsEDTA, DMSA

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Toxic Pollutants – Economic Costs

  • Birth defects, learning disabilities increasing

    • Toxins play important role

  • Americans pay more than $55 billion annually for direct medical expenses plus special schooling and long-term care for pediatric diseases caused by lead

  • This excludes the greatest toxic pollutant - tobacco

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  • Released into air by coal combustion, industrial processes, mining, and waste disposal

    • 4500 tons/yr

  • Travels throughout atmosphere and settles in oceans and waterways

  • Bacteria convert it to toxic methyl-mercury

  • Travels up food chain via fish

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  • ↓ coal burning

  • New EPA ruling ineffective:

    • allows cap-and-trade of power plant emissions

    • Removes power plants from list of pollution sources subject to federal Clean Air Act

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  • 16% of women of childbearing age exceed the EPA’s “safe” mercury level

  • Freshwater fish mercury levels too high for pregnant women to eat in 43 states

  • Mercury dental amalgams pose health risks to pregnant women, unborn babies, and children (FDA)

  • Contaminant in high fructose corn syrup

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Mercury: S/S, Dx, and Rx

  • S/S: neuropsychiatric symptoms, inflammation of gums with excessive salivation, rash, nephropathy

    • Linked to autism

  • Dx: mercury levels in air, blood, urine (>100 mcg/l in blood and/or urine = toxic)

  • Rx: chelation with BAL, penicillamine, DMPS, DMSA

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  • Contaminates groundwater in Bangladesh, also, India, China, Mexico, Argentina, Thailand, and parts of the U.S.

    • 13 million Americans have drinking water exceeding EPA’s “safe level”

    • Exposure also via seafood

  • Used to pressure treat wood in US and elsewhere

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Health Consequences of Arsenic Exposure

  • Pigmentary skin changes

  • Diabetes

  • Increased risk of lung, bladder, and skin cancers

  • Lead, mercury, or arsenic found in 1/5 of both U.S.- and India-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines purchased via the internet

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  • Manganese:

    • Welders exposed via fumes

    • Causes “manganism” (like Parkinson’s Disease)

    • Welding companies covered up link for decades (like lead paint, etc.)

  • Cadmium

    • Osteoporosis, periodontal disease

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Cell phones

  • ?Link to parotid gland tumors?

  • ?Link to brain tumors?

    • Gliomas?

    • Acoustic neuromas?

  • Precautionary principle – hands-free headset

    • ?Other safety benefits?

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Toxic Pollutants

  • Dioxin - from manufacturing, medical incinerators, defoliants (“Agent Orange”)-Love Canal


  • Nitrates/nitrites, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, ozone

  • PFOA (Teflon): multiple health effects; being phased out by Dupont

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Hazardous Waste and Fertilizer

  • Legal to dispose of hazardous waste by turning it into fertilizer

  • e.g. Uranium-laced fertilizer in Oklahoma, lead-laced fertilizer in SW Wash., other mixtures containing arsenic, cadmium and dioxins

  • Unclear if a health hazard

  • No requirement that toxins be listed on ingredient labels

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Persistent Organic Pollutants

  • Toxic, remain in environment long-term, resist degradation, can travel long distances

  • Bioaccumulate - higher concentrations as you move up the food chain

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Persistent Organic Pollutants

  • 10 of the these are endocrine disrupters

    • egs. - DDT, chlordane, heptachlor, dioxins, PCBs

    • possible cause of decreasing male sperm counts (100 million/ejaculate in 1950, 50 million in 1990) and increasing cases of hypospadias. early puberty, and breast cancer

    • Cases of hypospadias doubled in U.S. between late 1960s and early 1990s

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Endocrine Disruptors

  • Linked to:

    • Obesity

    • Insulin resistance

    • Diabetes

    • PCOS, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, premature ovarian failure

    • Male and female reproductive tract abnormalities

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Endocrine Disruptors

  • Linked to:

    • Impaired fertility

    • Low birth weight, impaired fetal development and fetal anomalies

    • Multiple cancers (including breast, colon, prostate, testicular)

    • Thyroid disease

    • Neuroendocrine abnormalities

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Toxic Pollutants and DNA

  • Toxins can damage DNA

  • New evidence from rats of epigenetic transgenerational effects of endocrine disruptors on male fertility in rats

  • In 1938, 0.5% of men were functionally sterile

    • 8-12% in 2006

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Pesticides and Other Toxins Linked to Neurological Disease

  • Parkinson’s Disease

  • Autism

  • Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Others

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Phthalates/Bisphenol A

  • Found in construction materials, clothing, toys, cosmetics, pills, added to PVCs in IV tubing/other plastics

  • 5 million metric tons consumed by industry per year (13% in the U.S.)

  • Exxon Mobil and BASF dominate the market

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Phthalates/Bisphenol A

  • Wal-Mart, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us phasing out, San Francisco, California, Europe, and Canada have banned phthalates

  • MN and Suffolk County, NY have banned BPA

  • Consumer Product Safety Commission reforms of 2008 will eliminate lead and phthalates from toys and children’s products

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  • 90% of government-funded studies found adverse health effects

    • vs. 0% of industry-funded studies

  • Associated with:

    • demasculinization and alterations in genitalia in male infants

    • lower testosterone levels

    • lower sperm counts in adults

    • Low birth weight

    • obesity

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Phthalates/PVCs and Medical Devices

  • EPA regulations weak, based on 50-year old study

  • FDA has advised healthcare providers to use alternatives to DEHP-containing PVC medical devices, esp. in neonatal units

  • Banned by EU, CA, and WA

    • Federal legislation pending

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Teflon (PFOA – perfluorooctanate)

  • Non-stick material made by Dupont

  • Chemicals released under high heat and when cookware damaged

  • Exposure linked with cancer, birth defects, and liver damage

  • Dupont hit with largest-ever civil penalty ($10.25 million) in 2006 for concealing health consequences and transmission from mother to fetus

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Environmental Racismand Toxic Imperialism

  • Environmental Racism

    • waste dumps/incinerators more common in lower SES neighborhoods

    • “Cancer Belt” (Baton Rogue to New Orleans)

    • “White residential neighborhoods” - 1.7 acres parkland/1000 residents

    • “African-American neighborhoods” - 0.3

  • Toxic Imperialism

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Mining and Pollution: Gold

  • Cyanide “heap leach” gold mining

    • cyanide dripped over crushed rock to extract gold

    • taxpayers often stuck with cleanup costs

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Mining and Pollution: Gold

  • International gold mining linked to human rights abuses

  • 84% of gold becomes jewelry

    • To save the environment, consider not buying gold jewelry

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Should I Send Flowers?

  • Most commercial flowers grown in sealed greenhouses in developing countries (e.g., Colombia, India China, Mexico)

  • Carry 50 times the amount of pesticides allowed on food

    • One fifth of chemicals used banned in U.S.

  • Workers underpaid, 50-60% suffer from pesticide poisoning

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Electronic Waste

  • Only 5-10% of computers recycled

  • Most sent overseas, children disassemble

    • Some returns to U.S. in children’s jewelry

  • EU now requires electronics firms to recycle and to eliminate lead, cadmium and mercury from their products

  • Dell,

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Electronic Waste

  • European laws re extended producer responsibility and product liability

    • Similar San Francisco resolution

  • Maine passed first law requiring elctronic manufacturers to pay for recycling their discarded products

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Medical Waste

  • The 6,000 US hospitals generate 2 million tons of waste per year; clinics and doctors’ offices an additional 700,000 tons

  • 850,000 tons incinerated

    • 15% infectious waste

    • incinerated pollutants include dioxin, mercury, cadmium and lead

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Medical Waste

  • One hospital bed generates between 16 and 23 lbs/day of waste

  • Outbreak of hepatitis B in India due to black market in medical waste and supplies (2009)

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Medical Waste

  • Solutions:

    • Strengthen EPA regulations

    • Segregation and alternatives to incineration would cost < $1/patient/day 80% of thermometers no longer contain mercury

    • Remove PVCs from medical supplies (e.g., IV tubing)

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Medical Waste

  • Organizations:

    • Health Care Without Harm

    • Green Health Center Movement

  • NAS: Hospitals built and operated on more environmentally sound principles save money and produce better patient outcomes

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Water Pollution

  • 40% of U.S. waters are unfit for fishing or swimming

    • beach closings

  • The Jordan River (believed to be the gateway to the Garden of Eden and the place where Jesus was baptized) is now more than 50% raw sewage and agricultural runoff

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Willamette River

  • One of the most polluted rivers in the American West

    • Arsenic, lead, mercury, DDT

  • 5.5 mile stretch Superfund site

  • Current law allows polluters to calculate discharges using “toxic mixing zones” to get around limits on discharges

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  • In developing countries, 90-95% of sewage and 70% of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into the local water supply

  • 13,000-15,000 deaths per day worldwide from water-related diseases

  • 4/10 people worldwide have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket or box

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Water Pollution:Bathtub=Toilet=Source of Drinking Water

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Infamous Industrial Disasters

  • Minimata, Japan, 1920s-1970s (Chisso Corporation) - methylmercury poisoning-400 dead; 10,000 injured

  • Bhopal, India, 1984 (Union Carbide, purchased by Dow in 2001) - methyl isocyanate gas

    • 7000-10,000 dead within 3 days, 15,000-20,000 more over next 10 years; tens of thousands injured

    • persistent water and soil contamination

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Minimata DiseaseW Eugene Smith

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Infamous Industrial Disasters

  • Chernobyl, USSR, 1986 - nuclear power plant explosion

    -25-100 dead, up to 1,000 injured acutely, NCI estimates 10-75K thyroid cancers

  • Alaska, Exxon Valdez, 1989 - oil spill-wildlife devastated, $5 billion damage

  • 2006 BP Alaskan pipeline ruptures

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Since Exxon Valdez

  • At least 1.1 million tons of oil have spilled from tankers worldwide

    • Equivalent to 30 Valdez incidents

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Oil Pollution is Expensive to Clean Up

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Oil Slicks Kill Marine Life

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Infamous Industrial Disasters

  • Love Canal:

    • Hooker Electrochemical Company (parent company Occidental Petroleum) dumps over 21,000 tons of chemical waste in 1940s and 1950s

    • Miscarriages, birth defects, cancers

    • Occidental found liable

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Infamous Industrial Disasters

  • Leads to Superfund Law

  • Today only seven states prohibit construction of schools on or near hazardous waste sites

    • Half-million children attend schools within ½ mile of toxic waste dumps in NY, NJ, MA< and MI alone

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The Military and Pollution

  • World’s single largest polluter

  • 6-10% of global air pollution

  • 2-11% of world raw material use

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The Military and Pollution

  • 97% of all high level and 78% of all low level nuclear waste

    • 1054 U.S. nuclear tests since 1940s, 331 in atmosphere

    • 104 U.S. nuclear reactors

    • More than 210 million liters of radioactive and chemical waste stored at Hanford, WA

      • Site plagued by leaks

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The Military and Pollution

  • Pentagon generates 750,000 tons hazardous waste/year

  • Numerous toxic waste sites

  • Exempt from most environmental regulations

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The Military and Pollution

  • “The more birds that the [Department of Defense] kill[s], the more enjoyment [people] will get from seeing the ones that remain: ‘Bird watchers get more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a common one.’”

    • 2002 court summary of the U.S. Defense Department’s argument for exemption from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

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The Military

  • Small arms and rocket propelled grenades

  • Land mines

  • Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons

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Military Waste

  • More than 27,000 toxic hot spots at the pentagon’s 8,500 properties

    • less than 400 toxic waste dumps have been cleaned up

    • costs to clean - immense: likely never to be completed

  • Military exempt from most environmental regulations

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Worrisome Trends

  • GATT



  • Other trade agreements

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  • Strategic Lawsuits Against Private Parties/ Countersuits

  • SLAPPs- designed to harass environmental groups, deplete their financial resources through threatened or actual litigation

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Politics: Bush Administration

  • Key administrators/committee members/regulators former industry representatives and/or lobbyists

  • Corporate profit before public good

  • Unsound/distorted/suppressed science

  • Eco-harassment

    • Criminalizing activists

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Bush Administration

  • Rollbacks of key environmental laws

  • Lax enforcement of existing laws

  • Huge tax cuts primarily benefit wealthy

  • Federal and state government deficits astronomical

    • Program and funding cuts

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Would You Sign a Petition to Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide?

1. It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting2. It is a major component in acid rain3. It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state4. It can kill you if accidentally inhaled5. It contributes to erosion6. It decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes7. It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients

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Environmental Ignorance

  • A majority of Americans believe that electricity in the U.S. is produced in nonpolluting ways

    • 25% knew that majority (70%) comes from oil, coal and wood

  • 1/3 assumed that spent nuclear fuel (from our 104 plants) is stored “in a deep underground facility in the West”

    • Only 17% were aware that it is mostly stored on-site at powerplants pending a long-term solution (30,000/tons)

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Pseudoscientific Beliefs

Percentage of Americans who believe “at least to some degree” in these “phenomena”


  • Astrology37% 17%

  • UFOs30% 24%

  • Reincarnation25% 9%

  • Fortune-Telling14%4%

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  • Public relations / ad campaigns-Chevron’s “People Do” Campaign, butterflies/refinery-Dupont Freon Campaign in 1970’s-Grants to a few scientists who challenge environmental warnings-tobacco ads in 1950’s

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Astroturf and Corporate Front Groups

  • Artificially-created grassroots coalitions

  • Corporate front groups

    • The American Council on Science and Health

    • The Oregon Lands Coalition

    • National Wilderness Institute

    • The Foundation for Clean Air Progress

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Corporate PR tactics

  • Invoke poor people as beneficiaries

  • Characterize opposition as “technophobic,” anti-science,” and “against progress”

  • Portray their products as environmentally beneficial in the absence of (or despite the) evidence

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Sponsored Environmental Educational Materials

  • Corporate-sponsored and supported by a loose coalition of antiregulatory zealots, corporate polluters, lapdog scientists and misguided parents

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Sponsored Environmental Education Materials (Examples)

  • Exxon’s “Energy Cube”

    -“Gasoline is simply solar power hidden in decayed matter”

    -“Offshore drilling creates reefs for fish”

  • Pacific Lumber Company

    -“The Great American Forest is. . . renewable forever”

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Sponsored Environmental Education Materials (Examples)

  • International Paper

    -“Clearcutting promotes growth of trees that require full sunlight and allows efficient site preparation for the next crop”

  • American Nuclear Society’s “Activities with the Atoms Family”

  • Dow’s “Chemipalooza”

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“Doubt is our product”

Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company Memo, 1960s

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Progress and Solutions

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The “Benefits” of Sterility-Causing Chemicals in the Workplace?

12 September 1977

Dr. Eula Bingham, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health[Regarding] worker exposure to DBCP.While involuntary sterility caused by a manufactured chemical may be bad, it is not necessarily so. After all, there are many people who are now paying to have themselves sterilized to assure they will no longer be able to become parents... If possible sterility is the main problem, couldn’t workers who were old enough that they no longer wanted to have children accept such positions voluntarily? Or…some [workers] might volunteer for such workposts as an alternative to planned surgery for a vasectomy or tubal ligation, or as a means of getting around religious bans on birth control when they want no more children?


Robert K. Phillips, National Peach Council

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Environmental Success StoryThe Montreal Protocol (1987)

  • Phaseout of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by 1996

  • Developed in 1920s; the chief working fluid in refrigerators, aerosol spray cans, insulating foams, and industrial solvents and cleaning agents

    -1 million tons/year manufactured in 1970s

    -major cause of Antarctic and Arctic ozone holes

    -should disappear by 2060

    -current substitute, HCFCs, much less damaging to ozone layer, also to be phased out

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The Montreal Protocol

  • 1980 - 880,000 tons CFC’s produced worldwide

  • 1996 - 141,000 tons

  • 1996 - all industrialized nations stopped producing CFC’s

  • Today: Illegal CFC trade, once quite large, starting to taper off

  • 2010 - rest of world expected to stop

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The Montreal Protocol

  • However, the Bush administration has withdrawn from the Treaty, under pressure from agribusiness and chemical lobbyists, who favor increased spraying of the pesticide methyl bromide (the most dangerous ozone-destroying chemical still in use)…..

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Toxic Pollutants:The Basel Convention

  • The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes (designed to control dumping of hazardous wastes from the industrialized world in developing countries)

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Toxic Pollutants:The Basel Convention

  • Ratified by 170 countries

  • Despite being the largest producer of toxic pollutants in the world, the U.S. has signed but not ratified this agreement

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Persistent Organic Pollutants

  • UN Environmental Program organizing worldwide phaseout of top 12 through the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

    • Including DDT, PCBs, and dioxins

    • US has signed, but not ratified

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  • American Assn. of Pediatrics now recommends toxic lead be removed from all housing and that all children be tested once during their first two years

  • 25% of U.S. homes still contain significant amounts of lead-based paint

    • Cost of removing lead from 4 million seriously affected homes: $28 billion

  • Cost savings each year thereafter: $43 billion (higher IQs, increased earning power, increased tax revenue, lower health care costs, less crime)

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Leaded Gasoline

  • Banned in Canada in 1990, US in 1996 (after 25-year phaseout period), EU in 2002, Africa in 2006

    • Ban fought by industry for decades

    • Scientists harassed

  • Many countries still sell leaded gasoline:

    • Indonesia, Venezuela, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Syria, Yemen

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  • Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals

  • European Treaty requiring companies to test chemicals already on the market by a set timetable and test new products before putting them on the market

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  • Cost of evaluations < 1% of chemical industry’s total sales

  • Economic analyses show REACH could bring environmental benefits worth €95 billion over the next 25 years and result in health cost savings of €50 billion over the next 30 years

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Medical Waste

  • Organizations:

    • Health Care Without Harm

    • Green Health Center Movement

  • Hospitals built and operated on more environmentally sosund principles save money (NAS):

    • Costs recovered more quickly, patients get better sooner, patients’ families happier, medical errors reduced, steaf turnover/absenteeism/workers’ comp claims drop

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SolutionsBased on the Precautionary Principle

“When evidence points toward the potential of an activity to cause significant, widespread or irreparable harm to public health or the environment, options for avoiding that harm should be examined and pursued, even though the harm is not yet fully understood or proven”

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The Precautionary Principle:Practical Essentials

  • Give human and environmental health the benefit of doubt

  • Include appropriate public participation in the discussion

  • Gather unbiased, scientific, technological and socioeconomic information

  • Consider less risky alternatives

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The Precautionary Principle

  • Endorsed by APHA, ANA, CMA, others

  • Puerto Rico, San Francisco have adopted, among others

  • Big business, US Chamber of Commerce oppose

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The Precautionary Principle

  • "All scientific work is incomplete - whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or to postpone the action it appears to demand at a given time." (Bradford Hill, 1965)

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Contact Information

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