Thursday, April 16, 2009

Health freaks do harm again

Eight years ago, engineers and officials in Washington, D.C. decided to give the go-ahead for a program that would eliminate the "potentially carcinogenic by-products" of chlorine in tap water. The program replaced chlorination with chloramination, and it worked. However, in the next three years, hundreds of families with homes fitted with lead pipes in the District of Columbia were exposed to dangerously high lead levels. Unknown to scientists at the time, the chlorine in tap water served as a 'binder' for the lead pipes, keeping a certain amount of lead from dissolving in the water. In 2004, the chlorination method was restored. Still, in the first half of that year, 74 out of 108 household taps sampled had lead concentrations above the "EPA action level," some astronomically so.

Numerous studies confirm that very low levels of lead in blood are linked to short attention spans and reading problems in children. In adults, low levels are linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of death from heart disease and stroke. If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from brain and nervous system damage, stunted growth, and hearing problems.

An investigation by Rebecca Renner of Salon has revealed that the Center for Disease Control(CDC) had withheld evidence of dangerously high levels. An influential CDC report released in 2004 (and since cited by officials in Seattle to calm nervous parents) downplayed the role that chloramination played in the D.C. lead crisis, saying that it "might have contributed a small increase in blood lead levels." However, according to Renner, "the results of thousands of blood tests that measured lead contamination in children were missing from the report, potentially skewing the findings and undermining public health. Further, the CDC discovered in 2007 that many young children living in D.C. homes with lead pipes were poisoned by drinking water and suffered ill effects. Parents wondered whether the water could have caused speech and balance problems, difficulty with learning, and hyperactivity. Yet the health agency did not publicize the new findings or alert public health authorities in D.C. or other federal agencies that regulate lead, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Housing and Urban Development."

The principle author of the 2004 CDC lead report, Mary Jean Brown, stands by her conclusion that exposure to lead was minor, on the grounds that only tests that revealed low lead levels were lost.

A government scientist spoke to Renner about Brown's justification for excusing the 'lost data.' "When CDC learned the data was missing, someone could have called the lab and asked for it. If it was the lab's mistake, they would have sent the data." Environmental engineer Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech is conducting his own investigation, and found that numerous high results were also omitted.

Edwards was disturbed by what he found in his re-examination of drinking-water and lead blood-level data. In 2007, Edwards filed a complaint of scientific misconduct with the CDC, alleging that Brown knew about serious flaws in the data but refused to acknowledge them when writing the 2004 CDC report.

CDC is not the only authority implicated in the cover-up of D.C.'s lead problem. Also under fire for their handling of the crisis is the city's Water and Sewer Authority and Health Department (WASA). WASA sent inspectors to the homes of children with elevated blood lead to look for the source. A congressional hearing forced officials to testify that in every case the assessments showed that water was not the source of the child's lead exposure. But a recent re-assessment, conducted by Edwards, revealed that water was the sole source of the blood poisoning in some homes.

Even though hundreds of test showed blood-lead levels that were much higher than so-called "EPA action levels" for three years, the EPA admitted to knowing about the "massive" lead problem "a few months" before the public knew, according to Salon News. "At first we didn't think it was a big problem and WASA for the most part complied with the rules," Rick Rogers, who supervised EPA's work on the lead crisis in Washington, told Salon.

The parents of young twins, who believe lead exposure caused developmental problems with their children, filed a $200m lawsuit in February.


Study shows flat chests hit fertility rate

The conclusions about fertility below are inferential rather than direct but are plausible

THE modern generation of women, with successful careers and high stress levels to match, could find their super-powered lifestyle is affecting their fertility. An international comparison of women in 37 different populations and cultures shows that career women are more likely to look like Keira Knightley than Marilyn Monroe, even though the hourglass figure has previously been linked with improved fertility.

The research, published in the recent issue of the journal Current Anthropology, examines the shape of women around the world by comparing their waist-to-hip ratio, which is calculated by dividing a woman's waist circumference by the circumference of her hips.

University of Utah anthropologist Professor Elizabeth Cashdan says there is evidence the hormonal profile linked to a slim-waisted, non-curvy shape favours women in "resource competition, particularly under stressful and difficult circumstances".

The study suggests women who experience heavy work stress and are driven to succeed suffer a hormonal shift with their oestrogen levels affected by increases of androgens, hormones linked to competitiveness and strength.

Professor Cashdan says a small waist and large hips have significant fitness benefits for women. Those women with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7, meaning their waist is 70 per cent the size of their hips, are less prone to chronic disease and are typically considered to be more attractive. For a comparison, the study looks at the measurements of 240 Playboy centrefolds and finds they have an average waist-to-hip ratio of 0.68. The average female waist-to-hip ratio is 0.82.

Fertility Society of Australia president Professor Peter Illingworth says it is accepted that extremes in body shape can affect fertility. "If women are severely underweight or severely overweight, it affects the way that they ovulate and it affects their capacity to carry a child," he says.

He describes the anthropological findings as "interesting" and relevant on a wide scale. "I think we're looking at subtle effects across a whole population rather than an effect that would make a big difference of an individual woman's chances of having a baby."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Professor Illingworth should find something better to do with his time. Better that is than "researching" nonsense with the barely disguised "back to the kitchen agenda" inherent in this piece of dross.