Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Research links Pesticides to Autoimmune Disease

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Amy Freitag.

Yet another reason to question use of pesticides in the home: it has recently been linked to autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In a study presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting earlier this year, researchers concluded that women who sprayed pesticides at least six times a year doubled their risk of autoimmune disease. This risk was the same whether the pesticide was applied professionally or not. Read the rest of the story here, but that’s not the beginning of the journey nor is it likely to be the end. A review published in 1988 summarized the effects of various chemicals, including pesticides on autoimmune response based on understanding at the time. The field has come a long way since then, but the basic link between the two was pretty well elucidated, even 20 years ago. The authors linked seven different types of autoimmune reactions to chemical exposures and suggested that genetic predisposition may lead some people to be more susceptible to environmental exposures than others.

Autoimmune responses in a nutshell describe the process of the body attacking and destroying healthy and important cells. It’s like sending the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes. The signaling pathway within the body that leads to the miscommunication is still not understood, and likely to be different depending on the person and the tissue attacked. Environmental exposures, however, are implicated as triggers.
In the intervening twenty years since that first review, a flurry of articles have been published presenting mixed results on the link between chemical exposure and autoimmune response. Depending on the exposure and the target tissue, immune response could increased to unsafe levels, but could also be decreased or left the same. According to a review in 2002, the pesticides malathion, lindane, and aminocarb, cause an autoimmune reaction in both sheep and mice. The authors do caution the use of animal models, as their immune systems may react differently to exposures than humans, but they are the best model we have as scientists.

The only human study done to date involved a spill of the pesticide hexachlorobenzine (HCB) in Turkey, where residents near the spill showed a drastic increase in autoimmune disease. Compared to previous studies on HCB, humans showed a much more sensitive autoimmune response, suggesting that animal models may provide only a conservative estimate of which exposures will show an effect in humans.

Most people are left with this review of the medical literature with their head in a kind of cloud as to what the data are really showing. Since almost all studies show some effect of pesticides on autoimmune responses, the precautionary principle should be invoked.
It’s another case of the need to limit exposure to chemicals that may cause devastating disease in the future, because you may be one of the lucky few with genetic resistance to autoimmune disease, but your loved ones might not be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Our Favorite Green Gifts

Whether you’re trying to keep your holiday gift shopping green, or trying to please a hardcore greenie on your list, these “best green gift” testimonials from the people of Toxic Free NC are sure to help! Readers, please leave your favorite green gifts in the comments - thank you!

Billie (staff): CSA-friendly cookbook. “My mom got me Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone a few years ago. It’s been super helpful to me as a CSA farm member and farmers’ market shopper because it’s got recipes organized by vegetable. So, when I get something weird from my CSA, like a rutabaga, I can just flip to the section in this cookbook about rutabagas and learn all about them - different varieties, flavor pairings that work well with rutabagas, basic cooking instructions, as well as full-fledged recipes. The cookbook does the same thing with different beans and grains, like quinoa and stuff. Doesn’t actually matter that much if you’re a vegetarian!”

Fawn (staff): Angel tree gifts. “My favorite green gift is the Angel Tree. My mom chose a child’s name from one of those Angel Trees at the mall, bought the child a new coat and then gave me a little box with a note telling me that my gift was the child’s new coat. I couldn’t have asked for anything nicer!”

Ana (staff): Used books. “Some would say that the greenest product is one that has already been used by someone else before. That said, I think the stack of thoughtfully chosen used books I get from my husband every Christmas is a pretty great (and green and thrifty) present!”

RenĂ©e (staff): A bicycle for green vacationing. “A few years ago my husband bought me a bicycle for the holidays. Since then, we always take our bikes on vacations up and down the East coast. It’s such a wonderful way for us to spend quality time together, and to see the beautiful scenery along the Coast, on the Appalachian Trail, or wherever we may wander!”

Kathy (Board member): Donations to charity. “I like and give donations. I’m well past needing “stuff” of any description. It’s catching on in our family, so now our tree has bunches of envelopes under it instead of boxes. Cool! At Christmas we use Church World Service as our vehicle, others use Heifer in the family.” PS from Billie: I’d be remiss if I did not also mention that you can make a contribution to Toxic Free NC in honor of a loved one for the holidays, or anytime. If you get your gift contribution in on or before 12/14/09, we’ll get your honoree a handmade card in the mail before Christmas.

Annie (Board member): Recycled wrapping. “We have a friend whose family not only wraps presents in recycled newspaper and comics, but they put the presents in cereal boxes! You can have real fun with that one.” PS from Billie: Here’s the instructions for a recycled gift bow, as pictured above! I wonder what a “metal brad” is, and where to acquire one?

Allen (Board member): Clyde Jones recycled wood sculpture critter. “My family surprised me (completely) with a Clyde Jones “critter” years ago. They made me sit with my eyes closed while they dragged it out from under a blanket in Dan’s closet. There was quite a racket and much scuffling while I waited. Opening my eyes I was completely surprised and pleased. It is made from firewood nailed together. He still guards our garden years later and I smile every time I see the deer-like ‘Clyde’.”

Christopher (volunteer): Planet Earth DVDs. “A gift from my mom a couple years ago. For one, the footage is beautiful. As for why such a green gift? Easy. Imagine having a super up-close view of the most pristine, magical places on earth; viewing animals in their natural habitats; exploring the bottom of the ocean…without leaving your house. Having the experience of all the sites and sounds without flying thousands of miles and expending all that energy is way green. Also, it opens up that soft and tender spot in your soul. The part that says, ‘wow, this is amazing. I want to protect it.’ “

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December 3, 1984

By guest blogger Allen Spalt

Today is the 25th anniversary of the disaster at Bhopal, India.

When the badly designed and improperly maintained chemical tank failed at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal and sent a cloud of deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas over the city killing thousands in the middle of the night, it was the world's works industrial "accident." It also poisoned thousands of others with health effects that linger today (for those who have survived that long).

For me, it is a strong reminder and impetus for our work. It was also totally unnecessary in at least two ways.

First, the pesticides being manufactured there, carbaryl (Sevin) and Aldicarb, can be made with a 'flow through' process that does not require the use of intermediate holding tanks for the MIC which is used in the manufacture of the final products. In fact, at the time, Bhopal's sister plant in Institute, West Virginia, did not contain such tanks. Better oversight and maintenance might have prevented the leaks, of course, but in fact the tanks were not even necessary. Just cheaper. So to save a few bucks on the process and on maintenance, Union Carbide risked the lives of tens of thousands.

Second, we work to promote alternatives which would make the manufacture of such deadly pesticides unnecessary. You don't need Sevin or Aldicarb or other similar deadly poisons in sustainable or organic agriculture. Every acre that is converted means fewer pounds of poison manufactured, sold, used, or disposed of. Fewer people at risk. Less residues in the water, soil, and food. Safer environments for our children and wildlife.

Someday it will be recognized that what has been called "conventional agriculture" for the last few decades was anything but. It is horribly out of sync with the tradition of agriculture over the centuries. With chemical intensive monocultures, it is depleting the soil and poisoning the water. It is not sustainable. The latest gasp of bioengineered crops, which promised more productivity and fewer chemicals, are proving to provide neither. They are less productive and require more herbicides and other pesticides. You know, if there is one thing the geniuses from Monsanto could select for besides Roundup-resistance, it would be greater productivity. But they haven't found it in any genetically engineered crop. More than a few critics from our side of the barn predicted this.

It is not a question of whether will we replace "conventional" agriculture with sustainable production, it is when. Otherwise we will not be sustained as a civilization.

Most indicators, fortunately, are not as dramatic as Bhopal, but they are pointing in our direction. I am proud to work with all of you on this important work to promote health and safety and to point the way to a sustainable future. Getting rid of pesticides is one important part of the struggle.

Union Carbide did not survive the aftermath of the incident, though it never paid fully for its responsibility. Its assets were sold. Work continues under other owners in RTP. The Bhopal plant was bought by Dow, which contends it has no responsibility to the victims.

On the tenth anniversary I was giving a workshop at a meeting in Atlanta and asked for a moment of silence for Bhopal. I was moved when one participant introduced himself as having grown up in Bhopal. He is one of three or four people I've met from there, the others are survivors of the disaster. Today I will take time out to remember them and others and rededicate to the task.

Join us in commemorating the Bhopal anniversary by taking action for justice in Bhopal.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dow Shall Not Trespass

By guest blogger Gary Cohen, President and Co-founder of Health Care Without Harm -

Twenty-five years ago, a Union Carbide pesticide factory exploded in Bhopal, India, releasing a toxic cloud that killed thousands in its wake. More than 8,000 people died within the first three days of the disaster, while more than 500,000 were exposed to toxic gases that invaded their lungs and spread throughout their bodies. For this reason, Bhopal has been called the Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry.

Twenty-five years later the abandoned factory has still not been cleaned up, but continues to leak poisons into neighborhood groundwater. A recent report by the Bhopal Medical Appeal found dangerous levels of heavy metals and persistent chemicals in the groundwater. Union Carbide executives have never been brought to trial in India, despite attempts by the Indian government to extradite them. And although Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical in 2001, the parent company claims no responsibility for cleaning up the mess left behind and has not submitted itself to the Indian criminal case. Rather than addressing its ongoing liabilities in Bhopal, Dow has spent tens of millions on its Human Element ad campaign, which portrays the chemical company as people-focused and caring.

The world has learned a lot about the chemical industry since the Bhopal disaster. We now know that many of the industry’s products are linked to a broad array of diseases in the general population, including asthma, cancer, birth defects, infertility, Parkinson’s disease, endometriosis, obesity and diabetes. Rather than internalizing the consequences of pollution, the industry has externalized health and social costs onto individuals and the American healthcare system, which is being crushed under the weight of ballooning costs, chronic disease and misaligned priorities.

We have also learned that we all carry the by-products of the chemical industry in our bodies. These toxins pass into us from the food we eat, through plastics in everyday consumer products, through building materials in our houses and offices, and through our water and air. The Centers for Disease Control has documented that the average American carries more than 100 toxic chemicals in his or her body. Plastic additives bisphenol A and phthalates, the pesticide 2,4 D, and shampoo additive 1,4 dioxane are among those Dow Chemical products found widely in many people’s bodies. Even children are being born pre-polluted, already filled up with a plethora of toxic chemicals that can act like ticking time bombs, triggering health impacts later in life. Without our knowledge and our consent, we and our children have become guinea pigs in an uncontrolled chemical experiment in which Dow and the other chemical companies are running.

Over the last twenty-five years, the Bhopal survivors’ plight and our own have become much more intertwined. We have all become united in a global web of chemical poisons. We have all been “branded” by the chemical industry, their signature chemicals coursing through our veins and building up in our fat tissue and other organs, whether we live in Bhopal or Baton Rouge.

Given the new political momentum in the country to address environmental issues, healthcare delivery and even corporate negligence, its time to stand up to the chemical contamination of the American people and reassert our basic human rights and religious values. As a society, we should guarantee every American child the right to be born free of industrial chemicals. And as a society committed to freedom, we should defend the freedom of women to breastfeed their infants without passing their life supply of toxic chemicals onto them. We all have a right to a toxics-free future. The laws in our country and at a global level should guarantee these rights and the environmental conditions for our health and wellbeing.