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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Could salt be making you fat? Could it be setting you up for diabetes? Are you addicted and don't know it? OK, you've heard that African Americans are especially susceptible to having high blood pressure, and that cutting down on salt is a way to help keep blood pressure in check.  But have you heard about this new research that indicates that salt making could be making us fat and increasing our risk of diabetes?   And how about the suggestion that salt is addictive, so it truly is hard to stop eating just one potato chip or other  salty foods like nuts, fried chicken and ham? Check this out.  Here's another link as well:

A small community in coastal Mississippi that was founded by freed slaves in 1866 was about to be paved over- that is until it was saved on a wing and a prayer… and another wing.  Since the birth of Turkey Creek, the founders and their descendants, have suffered through natural and manmade disasters, the most recent being the burden of toxic waste and Hurricane Katrina. Now Turkey Creek faces the threat of being buried under expansion from developments and the nearby Biloxi airport. The town has already lost heritage sites to developers; the cemetery where the town’s founders lie is now a row of condos. But help is flocking to this town from an unlikely source: The Audubon society. By turning the town into a bird sanctuary, the residents are getting a new lease on their land.
The effectiveness of the Audobon society to halt the erasure of Turkey Creek on behalf of birds over the efforts of local black activists on behalf of humans left The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac puzzled.  Watch below as he lampoons the environmental movement’s value of wildlife over humanlife.
His segment highlights the classic tension between social justice and environmentalism and hints at the debates within the respective movements. When the Audubon society gathered volunteers to build thousands of bird houses for birds affected by Katrina, that effort can be criticized as insensitive to human victims.  But Rev. Al Sharpton is misdirecting blame when he accuses the Audubon society of putting animals before people when they actually championed and advanced the preservation of Turkey Creek.
It’s a million dollar question; do the two movements need to be at odds? How do we reconcile the efforts of naturalists with the efforts of social justice workers? How can environmental justice inform both camps?


If you want the non-ironic story on Turkey Creek, check out Turkey Creek Community Initiatives.

The Associated Press is reporting from Shreveport, Louisiana that Mississippi Winn, known to friends and family as "Sweetie" has died at the age of 113. She had been America's oldest liv ing person of African descent.
Here's a link to the AP story:;_ylt=Au3cBv4iAzZYpp8cCMIv_sdH2ocA;_ylu=X3oDMTNmdnRidm5lBGFzc2V0Ay9zL2FwLzIwMTEwMTE1L2FwX29uX3JlX3VzL3VzX29iaXRfd2lubgRjY29kZQNtcF9lY184XzEwBGNwb3MDNwRwb3MDNwRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3JpZXMEc2xrA2dyb3Vwb2xkZXN0bA–

A New Jersey judge has created a $1.5 million fund to cover more than 100 babies that attended Kiddie Kollege Day Care in Gloucester County, New Jersey.   The day care was operated in a closed down thermometer factory back in February of 2004 and now the state New Jersey, the county, the building owners and Franklin Township, the local government who granted the permit and certificate of occupancy, will have to contribute to the fund. 
The judge found that the children were exposed to mercury vapors at 30 to 50 times the safety limit.  Mercury vapors are known to cause brain and kidney ailments and the fund will allow for periodic neuro-physiological, memory, attention, visual memory and motor-skills testing through the children’s mid-20s.
Click Here to learn more 

From the carpets in our living rooms to the liners of our canned goods we’re exposed to manmade chemicals every day. We use synthetic chemicals for everything from plastics to pesticides. They eventually make their way from our farms, households or industry into the environment – and into our bodies. And they may be affecting our reproductive health – indeed, even our sexual preferences. University of California Professor Tyrone Hayes, one of America's leading African American biologists, is at the cutting edge of this research.Our sister show, Living on Earth has this story from Ashley Ahearn.


HAYES: So these are the South African Claw frog. Yup, [WATER SLOSHING IN TANK]

AHEARN: Tyrone Hayes peers into a large gray fiberglass tank like a little boy looking for critters in a tide pool. Below the surface, fat greenish-yellow frogs swim around– their bulging eyes looking up at us through the water.

HAYES: So in this tank there are 40 brothers that are not exposed to atrazine and in this tank there are 40 brothers who were exposed to atrazine and so we can compare these two tubs and look at the number of homosexual pairs. This for example is one that has lots of gay males, homosexual pairs in it because it’s a treated tank.

AHEARN: One morning when one of Hayes’ PhD students came in to feed the specimens at 7 AM she noticed some male-on-male copulation going on in a tank that had been treated with atrazine – the second most commonly used herbicide in the U.S. Once Hayes heard about this he started collecting data. He exposed some of his frogs to the same level of atrazine that the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe for drinking water, and he kept the rest of the frogs atrazine-free.

HAYES: So what you can see is that there’s a seven-fold difference in the atrazine treated animals.

AHEARN: Homosexual behavior has been recorded in over 450 different species of animals – from bison to beetles. But Hayes’ research showed that atrazine exposure made these frogs 7 times more prone to homosexual behavior and10 percent of the exposed frogs actually became feminized. [FOOTSTEPS TO LAB]

AHERN: To explain what he meant by “feminized” Hayes brought me back to his office and pulled up a picture on his laptop of a frog that had been exposed to the herbicide.

HAYES: This is an animal that looked like a female on the outside. But on the inside it had large testis, so these are testis, and this is an oviduct. So, this is the equivalent of a man with a uterus.

AHEARN: These frogs aren’t just behaving like females – they’re actually producing eggs and when those eggs are fertilized by normal male frogs, the babies grow up to be seemingly normal frogs. Let me say that again: the male frogs are having babies. And there are consequences.

HAYES: …because they don’t have a female chromosome the females that are genetically males can only produce other males so 100 percent of their offspring would be males.

AHEARN: And more male frogs means fewer babies down the road. Hayes says this might be one reason that populations of frogs and other amphibians all over the world are going down.

HAYES: In our work with frogs for example we can go into the field. We’ve done this, others have done this. There’s another study that just came out in Canada showing that if you go to an environment that’s contaminated with atrazine you find more hermaphroditic or abnormally developed males.

AHEARN: The reproductive problems Hayes is seeing in his specimens aren’t limited to frogs. Studies on rats, reptiles and even human cells exposed to atrazine showed similar results. Recently, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey found intersex fish in one third of the waterways they tested across the United States. And atrazine is not the only chemical to blame for causing widespread reproductive health problems. It’s a member of a family of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors.

COLBORN: Well basically they’re chemicals that have been around for quite a while, we just didn’t know what they were doing.

AHEARN: Dr. Theo Colborn was one of the first to sound the alarm on endocrine disruptors and how they affect reproductive health and development when she co-authored the book “Our Stolen Future” in the late 90’s. At first, people saw her as a bit of a radical, but over a decade later the government is channeling more and more funding towards researching these chemicals and there’s a new act in Congress that will require better testing of suspected endocrine disruptors. Colborn says it’s about time. We’re constantly exposed to them.

COLBORN: They’re in plastics. They’re in our toys, the children’s toys. If you go to your kitchen sink and under your bathroom sink and look at the cleaning compounds that are there. The cosmetics. The toiletries. They’re just about in everything because they’ve made every one of these products much nicer. They last longer. They’re preservatives. They’re fire retardants.

AHEARN: The endocrine system is made up of a series of glands throughout the body that control the hormonal messages that direct development. By imitating natural hormones– such as estrogen and androgen – endocrine disrupting chemicals prevent the body from sending and receiving those messages. Dr. Stephen Rosenthal, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco, broke down some basic human developmental biology for me. He says in the womb, we all start out developing as girls.

ROSENTHAL: If you consider the gonads, which basically is the other name for the testis or the ovaries, in any baby – either boy or a girl – that, basically, these gonads are pre-programmed to become ovaries unless there’s an overriding signal that tells them to become testis.

AHEARN: If you’re a boy that over-riding signal comes from a gene on your Y-chromosome. It tells your gonads to become testis, instead of ovaries, and to start producing testosterone and androgen. Those hormones then travel through the body and hook up with receptors in cells.

ROSENTHAL: That sets off a chain of events inside a cell. It’s like if you need a key and an ignition to start a car right, so the key goes into the ignition and then the whole thing can turn and the car goes on.

AHEARN: The car “going on” would equate to normal development of a fetus. Now picture some chewing gum in the ignition. The key won’t fit. The car won’t start – or, as Rosenthal explains – normal masculine development won’t proceed.

ROSENTHAL: If there is some agent, some environmental disruptor that interferes with the normal functioning of the Androgen Receptor then it’s very likely that in a male there will be incomplete masculinization of the external genitalia. [SOUND OF FROG TANK ROOM]

AHEARN: The atrazine-exposed male frogs in Tyrone Hayes’ lab look just like females, which are much larger than the typical male African Claw Frog and have smaller breeding glands and differently formed feet and gonads. Tyrone Hayes says just because frogs aren’t people that doesn’t mean we should ignore the warnings.

HAYES: People go, well, it’s frogs. I go, yeah but look, the estrogen that works in this frog is exactly, chemically exactly, the same as the estrogen that regulates female reproduction. Exactly the same testosterone that’s in these frogs regulating their larynx or their voice box or their breeding glands or their sperm count is exactly the same hormone in rats and in us.

AHEARN: So, what about us? Could endocrine disruptors be having feminizing effects in humans? No one knows for sure, but some believe that rising rates of one birth defect could be an indicator. [CAFETERIA SOUNDS AT OAKLAND CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL]

AHEARN: Dr. Laurence Baskin is a pediatric urologist with the University of California, San Francisco but he practices here at the Oakland Children’s Hospital part time. Today he’s performing back-to-back surgeries – and a very specific type of surgery. Baskin specializes in correcting hypospadias – the second most common birth defect in the country behind heart disease.

BASKIN: About one in 125 to one in 250 newborn males has an abnormality in their genitalia that could be described as hypospadias – and what I mean by that is penile curvature, abnormal urethra and an abnormal foreskin and putting that together that’s what hypospadias is defined as.

AHEARN: More babies are born with hypospadias than Down’s syndrome or cleft palate, and some research suggests that rates of hypospadias have increased in the past few decades. Baskin and others in his field suspect environmental exposures may contribute to hypospadias. Think back to the gummed up lock and key that Stephen Rosenthal described. All fetuses are programmed to develop ovaries unless they’re told otherwise by certain hormones like testosterone and androgen. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, like atrazine for example, could gum up the receptors for those hormonal messengers that tell a fetus to develop into a baby boy– or as Baskin explains – prevent the fetus from fully masculinizing.

BASKIN: The penis wouldn’t develop. It would be arrested – meaning that your urethral opening would be lower down in the penile shaft, the penis normally as it develops is curved and it straightens out so in Hypospadias it wouldn’t have straightened out and the foreskin would only have formed on the top of the penis, wouldn’t be able to come down to the bottom because that lock or that hormone receptor would be blocked or disrupted by the environmental toxin.

AHEARN: Ok, so if Tyrone Hayes is finding feminizing effects in frogs who are exposed to atrazine – one of these environmental toxins that Baskin is talking about – are there some parallels to be drawn in human beings? Baskin pauses for just a split second before responding.

BASKIN: Humans clearly are not frogs, but the theory is correct. And in this case we would agree with Dr. Hayes that an environmental disruptor, something in the environment, chemical toxin or medication could certainly be a risk factor for Hypospadias.

AHEARN: Baskin says the majority of hypospadias can be fixed with a relatively quick surgery that can make life a lot easier for the child later on.

BASKIN: I think growing up as a teenager and not having normal genitalia would be tough enough, even if you have normal genitalia, just for regular emotional and sexual development so that’s really the major reason to fix it, so kids can be normal. [ELEVATOR DOOR, HALLWAY, PHONE RINGS]

AHEARN: But “normal” is a loaded term for some. Dr. Tiger Howard Devore is a sex therapist and clinical psychologist in New York City.

DEVORE: Isn’t it great that some doctor can tell you what’s normal? I love that.

AHEARN: For Devore, this is a personal story.

DEVORE: One of my earliest memories is of being in a hospital and dealing with some physician taking bandages off of my genitals and watching my parents respond in obvious fear about whatever it was that this guy was doing. I was probably maybe three. But I had my first surgery when I was three months old and I had at least one surgery every year after that until I was at least 12.

AHEARN: Devore was born with severe hypospadias. All told, he’s had 20 operations on his penis. It wasn’t until college that Devore came to terms with his condition and decided to devote himself to helping others born with Hypospadias. As a psychologist, he says that if you follow Rosenthal and Baskin’s logic and look at hypospadias as incomplete masculinization of the genitals…

DEVORE: … the same thing probably happened in the brain in the areas where there’s sexual differentiation of the brain. Now it doesn’t make a person gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual but it certainly makes it easier for that person to be any of those things.

AHEARN: There is no peer-reviewed scientific research to back up Devore’s claim about sexual orientation and hypospadias. However, the Hypospadias and Epispadias Association – a group which works to raise awareness about these two similar genital conditions – conducted an online survey of roughly 700 men – both with hypospadias and without. The survey found that men with hypospadias were 15 percent more likely to describe themselves as gay. I told Devore about Tyrone Hayes – the biologist at Berkeley with the homosexual and feminized frogs – and I asked him what he thought about those findings in relation to people. He said the connection makes sense…

DEVORE: …but we can’t prove it because we can’t experiment on human beings. We can certainly look at populational [sic] models and say this looks like it’s pretty closely related, we probably should take some actions here to see if it is, but we can’t say that we know the whole story yet.

AHEARN: Devore says there's a whole lot more to someone's sexual orientation than the chemicals they may have been exposed to during development.

DEVORE: This isn’t just about where you stick your things. This isn’t just about how you get good sensation in your body. This is about who you fall in love with. This is about a whole complex set of social factors. [BOOTS ON WOODEN PORCH]

AHEARN: It’s a cool rainy day in Massachusetts when I pull into Alice's dirt driveway and walk up the steps to her log cabin style home. [KNOCKING ON DOOR]

ALICE: Hey! You found us out here in the woods. SON: When you come here, where are the chocolate chips?


AHEARN: At seven years old, Alice's son’s red head is just above counter level. [FINISHES BEEPS, DOOR OPENS AND SHUTS AGAIN] SON: Aaaah. Done!

AHEARN: He gets a spoon to mush the melted chocolate chips around, and comes back out to sit with his mom and me at the kitchen table.

ALICE: I mean, I talk to him about it personally. He knows he has hypospadias and he knows he’s met other people that have it.

AHEARN: Since her son was born, Alice has worked to raise awareness about hypospadias. She also counsels mothers of kids with hypospadias. But she says more attention needs to be paid to figuring out what causes this condition, and communicating that information with the public.

ALICE: What concerns me the most is that the information is there, that these environmental estrogens are having effects… it’s common sense, I mean, if this is what’s happening, why isn’t the information getting out there? I guess my big question that I have is why can’t people talk about it? Why can’t we talk about it as a society?

AHEARN: Talking about problems with reproductive health is something society has never handled well. And perhaps because most hypospadias can be corrected with surgery, very few doctors have raised questions about the underlying causes of this birth defect. But endocrine disrupting chemicals show up in almost 100 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and many of these chemicals are known to disrupt normal reproductive system development in animals – think back to Tyrone Hayes' frogs here. So I asked Dr. Theo Colborn, who's been studying endocrine disruptors for over 30 years, if she thought our environmental exposures could be affecting our reproductive health. Or more specifically, given what we’re seeing with hypospadias, I asked her, do you think we are feminizing our baby boys?

COLBORN: I definitely do. I think there’s a certain percentage that are definitely being affected and there’s no denying it.

AHEARN: It's one thing to say that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals may contribute to hypospadias. It's quite another to say that a person's sexual orientation could be shaped, in part, by their environmental exposures. That, Colborn says, is an explosive issue. No one wants to touch that research.

COLBORN: If you were to ask for dollars for that you wouldn’t get the money. I mean, you would be laughed out of your chair, believe me. It’s that sensitive.

AHEARN: Sensitive, and therefore still very early in terms of scientific findings and evidence. But important questions are now being raised. What effects might chemicals in our environment – particularly those to which we are exposed before birth – have on our reproductive health and the expression of sexual identity? For Living on Earth, I’m Ashley Ahearn.

CURWOOD: Thanks for support from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. If you have thoughts – we’d love to hear them — at comments at L-O-E dot org. – that’s comments @ – or on our listener line – 1-800-218–9988 – or via our facebook page – it’s P-R-I’s Living on Earth.

The Research mentioned in this story can be found below:

A study that looks at hypospadias and endocrine disruptors:

Tyrone Hayes' research: Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses:

Tyrone Hayes' research: Herbicides: Feminization of male frogs in the wild:

endocrines and sex pH.mp3 5.1 MB

What was once considered a valueless weed is now being touted as a key component to improving the efficiency of solar panel technology.  The purple pokeberry, a wild plant that produces a red dye, is being researched by scientists at Wake Forest University's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials for its absorbing abilities.  The red dye is used to coat a new type of solar cell made from millions of plastic fibers.  These fiber cells capture more sunlight for longer periods than traditional, silicone panels.
FiberCell Inc., the manufacturer of the new fiber cell, stamps millions of tiny plastic fibers onto plastic sheets.  This process is similar to that of a top being attached to a soda can.  The purple pokeberry dye is then sprayed on top and manufacturers are left with a light weight and flexible solar cell.  The lightweight and flexibility of the fiber cell makes transporting the product very easy between continents.
The red dye of the purple pokeberry increases these fiber cells ability to absorb twice as much light that can then be used for energy .  Unlike the traditional flat cells, the new cells have an angular shape that allows the cell to be mounted on any surface and capture light at any angle making the fiber cells extremely efficient.

The purple pokeberry is highly drought resistant, does not require chemical fertilizers to produce and can grow on every continent except Antarctica.  The cost of setting up a plant to produce the fiber cell is significantly lower – $15 million less – than that to set up a plant for flat cells.  For rural Africa, the pokeberry plant may mean that farmers will be able to fight power problems.  Wake Forest University scientists are confident that the pokeberry plant will become the new tobacco of cash crops for farmers across the world.

2010 marked a year of natural disaster extremes for the entire world.  From massive earthquakes in Haiti to epic flooding in Pakistan and China, 295,000 lives were eventually lost as a result of these natural disasters.  Last year, 2010 came in second place since 1980 for the worst year with 950 natural disasters. The last time so many people have died from natural disasters was in 1983 when 300,000 people died mainly due to a famine that struck Ethiopia.  The earthquake in Haiti was the worst disaster with 222,570 people killed following Russia’s heat wave and forest fires that killed 56,000.   In China, two earthquakes killed a total of about 4,000 people.  In Pakistan, floods that lasted from July to September claimed 1,760 lives.
But lives were not the only thing lost in 2010 as a result of these catastrophes.  The insurance industry lost $37 billion as a result of these natural disasters making 2010 is one of the top six most loss-intensive years since 1980.   The economic ramifications for this year came up to $37 billion in losses.  Haiti’s earthquake, while being the worst case for human losses, cost the insurance industry very little since the majority of Haiti’s population is impoverished and can not afford insurance.  However, in Chile, an earthquake that struck nearly a month after Haiti, cost the insurance industry $8 billion US.
The Mid-Atlantic region was pummeled with record breaking snow dubbed “Snowmaggedon” and a heated debate ensued over whether it was proof that global warming was real or not.  However, while a record breaking snow storm may make global warming seem counter intuitive, it is exactly what climate scientists have been predicting.  In a Living on Earth interview, climate expert Kevin Trenberth explains that increased precipitation, whether it be rain or snow is “a symptom of warmer sea temperatures off the coast that are providing the extra moisture to produce that huge amount of snow.  It’s not a sign that global warming is not here – quite the contrary.”  Climate change is not only a deadly reality but also enormously expensive.  These two reasons alone should be enough for governments to take action.

Media Matters received a leaked memo about Fox News’ agenda to confuse viewers on global warming.  The memo, was written by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon during the climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.  Less than fifteen minutes after Fox News broadcaster Wendell Goler accurately reported that UN scientists from the World Meteorological Organization recorded the decade of 2000 to 2009 as the warmest decade on record, Sammon sent an email stating:
“…we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.  It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.”
This is not the first time the Fair and Balanced news channel has been caught with memos ordering its journalists to confuse it’s viewers.  After a poll showed that American’s turned against the public option and health care reform if it was called “the government option”  Bill Sammon sent yet another memo.  This memo told journalists to never call the public option a “public option” but rather “the government option” or other variations.

Researchers at Wayne State University and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor have found that one third of 9 month olds are already either obese, overweight or at risk of obesity.  This percentage increases to 34 percent by the time children reach the age of two.  The study showed a higher incidence than a similar study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention which estimated 12 percent of children between the ages of two and five were obese.
The University of Michigan study measured the weight of 8,900 infants who were born in 2001 and measured the weight of 7,500 of them four times until they were two years old.   Infant obesity is based on a weight-to-length measurement.  Of the babies monitored, 15 percent of 9 month olds were overweight, and 17 percent were obese.  Of the 2 year olds, 14 percent were overweight and 21 percent were obese.
 The diet and weight of the mother while she is pregnant plays a role in infant obesity.  In a 2007 Harvard study, the more weight the mother-to-be puts on during her pregnancy, the more likely her child will be obese by three years old.  Foods eaten by the mother during her pregnancy may have an impact on her child’s metabolism and appetite later in life.
 The study also found that the baby’s diet played a large role in obesity rates.  Babies were at risk even before they transitioned to a solid food diet.  Parents can reduce this risk of obesity by exclusively breast feeding their baby and not in conjunction with bottle feeding.  Fiber, such as eating apples – not drinking apple juice also keeps obesity at bay.  Additionally, parents should not introduce sugary snacks such as cereal into their baby’s diets early on.
 There are also disparity between ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses.  Boys, Hispanics and children with a low socioeconomic status were at a greater risk of obesity while girls and Asian/Pacific Islanders were less likely to be obese at these ages.  Children who started off heavy, were more likely to stay that way and these statistics will have a huge impact on this young generation.  As a result of more children at younger ages acquiring diseases that are usually associated with old age such as diabetes and heart disease, this generation has a lower life expectancy than their parents for the first time in two centuries. 

After 6 years of battling with Ford Motor Co. in court, Ringwood, New Jersey residents are dealing with cold realities after receiving their settlement checks. Ringwood, an area that serves as the main watershed for 2.5 million North Jersey residents, was used by Ford and other polluters as a toxic waste dumping site from 1967 to 1971.
Residents believe that the years of paint sludge and industrial waste dumped from the car manufacturer has caused the diseases that plague their community, such as asthma and cancer.  Residents have reported spotting thick, gooey sludge in their hunting grounds and yards that caused nosebleeds and skin conditions.  Most Ringwood residents received between $34,594 and $4,368 for their ailments.

Sylvia Van Dunk is just one example of residents who blame Ford for the multiple deaths in her family.  Last year, her husband Gene died of cancer and her daughter died in 2001.  Three weeks before her daughter's funeral, her nephew, who was blind and paralyzed died at his home next door. 

Despite high levels of carcinogenic compounds, lead, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals found in the toxic sludge, Ford has insisted that the sludge is not to blame for resident's ailments.  Proving that the diseases could in fact be linked to the toxic sludge is the most difficult part in these sorts of trials, especially when lifestyle choices such as smoking are taken into consideration.  Additionally, only anecdotal evidence of exposure such as accounts of ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact were the only way to determine rates of exposure.  

Ringwood residents have received their checks but the feeling of injustice will remain strong until the land they call home is cleaned and resurrected.