Archive for the ‘Chemical’ Category

Humanity’s ticking time bomb: How the chemical age spun evolution out of control

October 26, 2014

Human activity is influencing the genetic world in unexpected and dangerous ways, Emily Monosson tells Salon


Humanity's ticking time bomb: How the chemical age spun evolution out of control(Credit: kubais via Shutterstock)

Hey, creationists, wrap your minds around this: Not only is evolution definitely a thing, it’s happening all around us — and at an incredibly rapid pace. The growing threat of antibiotic resistance, the need for new genetically modified crops after our old herbicides stopped being so effective, the resurgence of bedbugs: these are all examples of what biochemical toxicologist Emily Monosson calls “evolution in the fast lane.”

And despite the opinions of those who don’t like to think that human activity can have a significant, detrimental effect on our planet, they’re proof of just the opposite. We may temporarily gain the upper hand over pests and diseases through our use of chemicals, but eventually they’re all but guaranteed to bounce back, stronger than before. Less intentional still, says Monosson, are the impacts we’re having on larger species: where industrial pollution meets wildlife, frogs, fish and salamanders evolve to survive in their newly toxic environments.

In “Unnatural Selection,” Monosson discusses the myriad ways in which the chemical age is changing life, and, most importantly, what we can do to slow things down. Part of the challenge, she told Salon, is just understanding that thisis evolution we’re seeing — something that not everyone seems to grasp. ”Maybe if we did,” she mused, “we’d realize how important it is to reduce our chemical influence on life.”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity, and to incorporate some follow-up points made later over email.

Just to start off, I was hoping we could talk about how evolution, as you write about it, is defined — how is it different from what we’re typically taught?


The Great American Experiment

March 23, 2014
Jill Richardson
Published: Saturday 22 March 2014
Lax regulation of toxic chemicals turns us all into human guinea pigs.

There are more than 1,000 chemicals known to be toxic to the brains of animals in lab experiments. Yet we only know of 214 for humans, and just 12 for developing fetuses and infants, a recent study revealed.

Why are these numbers so far apart? Is it because lab animals’ brains are more feeble and susceptible to chemicals than ours?

No. It’s because we can conduct experiments by feeding mercury, lead, and arsenic to rats to find out what happens to their brains. It’s unethical to do so in humans.

Without the capability to conduct a lab experiment on humans, we’ve got a few ways to find out exactly which chemicals are bad for our brains. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’re doing — just not in a lab.

Typically, most of us are exposed to low levels of a wide variety of the chemicals in our lives — from paint, carpet, food, food containers, air, water, and more. If, after 60 years, you get sick, it’s hard to say what caused it.


Sometimes the harm can be much more subtle, like the loss of a few IQ points in a child who was exposed to a chemical before birth. 

The exception is usually when a group of people is exposed day after day to high doses of a chemical on the job. When they all become acutely ill, it’s obvious there’s a problem. The cause is fairly easy to track down.

This method works for adults — resulting in the discovery of 214 neurotoxicants in humans — but not in developing fetuses and infants.


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To find the dozen chemicals that harm the youngest brains, scientists compare exposure levels among a group of babies while still in the womb and then track their growth in their early years. Only by comparing them to one another, scientists can detect which chemicals cause problems. 

For example, one study tested pregnant mothers for levels of a pesticide, chlorpyrifos, and then followed their children for many years. They linked chlorpyrifos exposure to reduced head circumference at birth and neurobehavioral problems that lasted at least seven years.

These studies recognize that we’re all being used as human guinea pigs.

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Back to my first point: We know darn well that over 1,000 chemicals harm the brains of animals — and animals’ bodies are not all that different from ours. About half of the chemicals on this list are chemicals that are in our industrial solvents, pesticides, flame retardants, and other common products.

What’s our current approach? Just keep using them. Move along, everyone, until scientists can prove beyond a doubt that a specific chemical made a specific person sick.

Trying to steer clear of dangerous chemicals can drive you crazy. Just try to discover which products in your life contain chemicals that are toxic to you or your kids, and how you can find non-toxic replacements for them. It’s hard not to grow exasperated and give up.

And as a society, we should theoretically have more control over the process of identifying and banning toxic chemicals. But the federal law that regulates them, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, has no teeth.

Corporations don’t even have to test their products for toxicity before putting them on the market. And the government has a very limited ability to prevent toxic chemicals from being sold. Why?

Why do we prioritize a corporation’s right to make money over the right of our citizens to be healthy?

People, particularly children and the unborn, shouldn’t be guinea pigs.

Corporations should be required to prove their products’ safety before they are allowed to sell them.


Jill Richardson, an OtherWords columnist, writes about all aspects of the food system, from farm to fork. She’s the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do To Fix It and her next book will be about how U.S. foreign policy impacts the world’s most vulnerable farmers.

Growing number of chemicals linked with brain disorders in children

February 19, 2014

February 17, 2014

By Daniel Geery

Toxic chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities among children — such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia. “The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes,” said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH.

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In my run for U.S. Senate against Utah’s Orrin Hatch, I posted many progressive ideas and principles that I internalized over the years. I’m leaving that site up indefinitely, since it describes what I believe most members of our species truly want: I thank those who sent such wonderful comments, even though it forced me to go buy a few larger hats, which were among my top campaign expenses (just kidding). My forever-to-write novel (now my favorite book for some unfathomable reason), A Summer with Freeman, finally got out the door, via Kindle and CreateSpace. Readers of this site, and anyone else with two or more brain cells who want some “serious humorous relief” may want to check it out: My family and I lived off the grid in an earth-sheltered, solar powered underground house for 15 years, starting in the early ’80s, proving, at least to myself, the feasibility of solar power. Such a feat would be much infinitely easier with off-the-shelf materials available now, though the bureaucracy holding us back is probably worse. I wrote a book on earth-sheltered solar greenhouses that has many good ideas, but should be condensed from 400 down to 50 pages, with new info from living off the grid. It’s on my “to do” list, but you can find used copies kicking around online. Just don’t get the one I see for $250, being hawked by some capitalist… well, some capitalist. I’m 66 with what is now a 25 year old heart–literally, as it was transplanted in 2005 (a virus, they think). This is why I strongly encourage you and everyone else to be an organ donor–and get a heart transplant if you’re over 50, unless your name is Dick Cheney. I may be the only tenured teacher you’ll meet who got fired with a perfect teaching record. I spent seven years in court fighting that, only to find out that little guys always lose (–by-Daniel-Geery-101027-833.html; recommended reading if you happen to be a parent, teacher, or concerned citizen). I managed to get another teaching job, working in a multi-cultural elementary school for ten years (we had well over 20 native tongues when I left, proving to me that we don’t need war to get along–no one even got killed there!). I spent a few thousand hours working on upward-gliding airships, after reading The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed by John McPhee. But I did my modelling in the water, so it took only two years and 5,000 models to get a shape that worked. You can Google “aquaglider” to learn more about these. As far as I know, this invention represents the first alteration of Archimedes’principle, spelled out 2,500 years ago. “Airside,” the water toys evolved into more of a cigar shape, as this was easier to engineer. Also, solar panels now come as thin as half a manila folder, making it possible for airships to be solar powered. You can see one of the four I made in action by Googling “hyperblimp”(along with many related, advanced versions). Along with others, I was honored to receive a Charles Lindbergh Foundation Award, to use my airships to study right whales off Argentina. Now we just have to make it happen and are long overdue, for reasons that would probably not fit on the internet. In 2010 I married a beautiful woman who is an excellent writer and editor, in addition to being a gourmet cook, gardener, kind, gentle, warm, funny, spiritual, and extremely loving. We met via “Plenty-of-Fish” and a number of seemingly cosmic connections. Christine wrote Heart Full of Hope, which many readers have raved about, as you may note on Amazon. I get blitzed reading the news damn near every day, and wonder why I do it, especially when it’s the same old shit recycled, just more of it. In spite of Barbara Ehrenreich and reality, I’m a sucker for positive thinking and have read many books on it. I find many many of them insane and the source of much negativity on my part. My favorite, however, is Divine Intuition, by Lynn Robinson. She’s a bit heavy on the God talk, but she puts even that in good perspective, and if you see things as Albert Einstein did (and as I do), then I recommend it. Albert: “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent, in fact, I am religious.” Lastly, kudos to Rob Kall and everyone who makes Oped the site that it is. Let’s keep making it better! It is, after all, one of the last bastions of sanity and hope for the planet.

Nitrogen pollution from farming lingers for decades

October 25, 2013


Spraying fertilizer.
There goes the groundwater.

When a farmworker sprays fertilizer over a field, there’s a good chance he or she will be outlived by nitrogen pollution from that fertilizer.

A 30-year study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that nitrogen could linger in soil for nearly a century after fertilizer is applied.

Nitrogen from fertilizer helps crops grow, but it can be poisonous for humans and animals. When nitrates leach from farmed soil into groundwater, they can make it undrinkable.

“There’s a lot of fertilizer nitrogen that has accumulated in agricultural soils over the last few decades which will continue to leak as nitrate towards groundwater,” said researcher Mathieu Sebilo, the paper’s lead author.

Three decades after scientists applied fertilizer to sugar beet and winter wheat on two small experimental plots in France, they found that just 61 to 65 percent of its nitrogen had been gobbled up by the crops. Another 12 to 15 percent was still in the soil, and 8 to 12 percent had leached into the groundwater. (The scientists used a fertilizer with an artificially high concentration of a specific nitrogen isotope to help them track its movement over the decades.)

Based on those results, the scientists project that some of the nitrogen will still be lingering in the plots in another 50 years time.


John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin whotweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent

Exposed: Factory Chicken Slaughterhouses Using Super-strength Chemicals to Cover Up Extreme Salmonella Contamination

August 10, 2013

Ethan A. Huff
Natural News/News Report
Published: Friday 9 August 2013
The Federal poultry testing protocols are so outdated and unreliable that some bacteria remains undetected due to powerful chemicals.
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There is a reason why the conventional poultry industry in the U.S. has been fairly successful in recent years at lowering detected levels of salmonella in chicken. But it has nothing to do with factory birds being raised in cleaner and more humane living environments. To the contrary, a new investigative report by The Washington Post (WP) reveals that many chicken slaughterhouses are merely treating their filthy chickens with an ever-expanding volume and variety of toxic chemicals to mask the presence of more virulent salmonella strains from federal regulators.

This shock finding was realized after researchers looking into the salmonella testing process for poultry identified a mismatch between levels of bacteria detected on birds and overall infection rates among the general population. Simply put, salmonella contamination rates in chicken appear to be decreasing while salmonella poisoning rates in humans have remained the same or are even increasing. The cause for this anomaly, say researchers, is an outdated testing process combined with a massive increase in chemical use at chicken slaughterhouses.

“[S]ome companies are using new chemical compounds so powerful that they continue to work even in the solution FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) uses to collect its samples, thus giving off false negative readings as to the levels of pathogens remaining on the birds,” writes Tony Corbo for Food and Water Watch (FWW) about the report’s findings. “While FSIS has been reporting in recent years that the levels of salmonella have been decreasing through its regulatory sampling in chicken plants, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) … has been reporting that numbers of consumers getting sick from salmonella remain stubbornly high.”


The way it typically works is that FWW inspectors, which work under the banner of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), pull random poultry samples from the chicken processing line and immerse them in a solution that is supposed to not only neutralize the chemicals sprayed on the birds, but also detect the presence of salmonella and other harmful pathogens. But as explained by WP investigative reporter Kimberly Kindy, the types of extreme chemicals used on factory chickens these days are no longer being neutralized by the FWW testing process, not to mention the fact that heavier doses of these chemicals have to be used to make conventional chickens appear safe. 

“The presentation to the USDA showed that the number of chemical treatments on chicken processing lines has grown from an average of two to four since the early 2000s,” writes Kindy. “It also showed that the chemicals are not as diluted as they were in the past.”

The USDA is said to currently be reviewing all this new data on its antiquated testing process to come up with possible solutions. As it stands, many of the harsh chemicals used on factory chicken are not only masking the presence of salmonella, but also making people sick, spurring things like respiratory ailments, skin rashes, or worse. In the meantime, health-conscious folks are urged to choose only certified organic chicken, or even yet, locally-raised, pastured chicken that does not have to be processed in chemical baths in order to be edible.

“Pastured birds … have more access to adequate space, fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, and thus maintain better physical health than confined birds,” explains the Rodale Institute about one of the many benefits of choosing pastured chicken. “[P]astured birds require no hormones or antibiotics unless faced with acute illness.”


Ethan A. Huff is a staff writer for