Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Meet Ed Calabrese, Who Says a Little Pollution Can Be Good For You

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Kevin Drum blogs:

Susanne Rust of the LA Times brings us the latest fabulous news from the Trump adminstration:

In early 2018, a deputy assistant administrator in the EPA, Clint Woods, reached out to a Massachusetts toxicologist best known for pushing a public health standard suggesting that low levels of toxic chemicals and radiation are good for people….Less than two weeks later, [Ed] Calabrese’s suggestions on how the EPA should assess toxic chemicals and radiation were introduced, nearly word for word, in the U.S. government’s official journal, the Federal Register.

“This is a major big time victory,” Calabrese wrote in an email to Steve Milloy, a former coal and tobacco lobbyist who runs a website,, that seeks to discredit mainstream climate science. “Yes. It is YUGE!” wrote Milloy, in response.

We could stop right there if we wanted. Steve Milloy is one of the most prominent purveyors of crap science in the world. He’s a climate change denier with close ties to the tobacco industry and the author of (among others) Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them. If Calabrese and Milloy are buddies, that’s probably all you need to know.

And where has Calabrese’s funding come from? Do I even have to tell you?

By the 1990s, Calabrese had solidly established himself as a trusted scientist with the tobacco industry. He found they were interested in research that questioned the methods that regulatory agencies use to assess risk.

….It was when he began his work on hormesis that Calabrese got attention from a broader range of industries. With seed money from R.J. Reynolds, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble and others, as well as the EPA, Calabrese established a hormesis working group at the University of Massachusetts, which he called the Biological Effects of Low Level Exposures, or BELLE….Between 1990 and 2013, Calabrese received more than $8 million from companies and institutions, including R.J. Reynolds, Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, General Electric, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Air Force, to conduct research on hormesis.

There you have it. As usual, the tobacco industry is the root of all scientific evil, and their approach long ago caught on with every other polluting industry out there. “Manufacturing doubt” is their goal, and abuse of research into processes like hormesis is their holy grail. It’s not that hormesis is impossible. There may well be a few isolated examples where it has application—and as far as polluting industries are concerned, one example is plenty. They can then fund research claiming to find it all over the place.

If you want to read the whole grim story, check out Rebecca Leber’s piece from last October about how Calabrese’s ideas became embedded in the EPA’s rulemaking process after Trump took office. It’s the Trump era in a nutshell.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2019 at 2:00 pm

John Dingell: My last words for America

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From the Washington Post:

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.

And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.

Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.

But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).

In my life and career I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They holdpower — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

May God bless you all, and may God bless America.


Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2019 at 1:14 pm

The Decline of Empathy and the Appeal of Right-Wing Politics

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Child psychology can teach us about the current GOP. Michael Bader writes in Psychology Today:

In 1978, developmental psychologist Edward Tronick and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry that demonstrated the psychological importance of the earliest interactions between a mother and her baby. The interactions of interest involved the playful, animated, and reciprocal mirroring of each other’s facial expressions. Tronick’s experimental design was simple:  A mother was asked to play naturally in this way with her 6-month-old infant.  The mother was then instructed to suddenly make her facial expression flat and neutral—completely “still,” in other words–and to do so for three minutes, regardless of her baby’s activity.  Mothers were then told to resume normal play.  The design came to be called the “still face paradigm.”

When mothers stopped their facial responses to their babies, when their faces were “still,” babies first anxiously strove to reconnect with their mothers.  When the mothers’ faces remained neutral and still, the babies quickly showed ever-greater signs of confusion and distress, followed by a turning away from the mother, finally appearing sad and hopeless.  When the mothers in the experiment were then permitted to re-engage normally, their babies, after some initial protest, regained their positive affective tone and resumed their relational and imitative playfulness.

When a primary caretaker (the “still-face” experiments were primarily done with mothers, not fathers) fails to mirror a child’s attempts to connect and imitate, the child becomes confused and distressed, protests, and then gives up.  Neurobiological research (thoroughly summarized by child psychiatrist Bruce Perry, M.D. and science writer Maia Szalavitz in their book, Born to Love:  Why Empathy is Essential—and Endangered), has powerfully demonstrated that in humans and other mammals, a caretaker’s attunement and engagement is necessary to foster security, self-regulation, and empathy in the developing child.  Parental empathy stimulates the growth of empathy in children.  The infant brain is a social one and is ready to respond to an environment that is appropriately nurturing.

On the other hand, when the environment is inattentive and not empathetic, the child’s stress response system, embedded as it is in the architecture of the child’s developing nervous system (mediators in this system include oxytocin, opiate and dopamine receptors, cortisol levels and parasympathetic nerve pathways), is overwhelmed and many types of psychopathology result.  Higher cognitive functions, including language, can suffer as the brain instinctively relies on more primitive regions to deal with an unresponsive environment.

The worst scenarios are ones occurring in conditions over which children have no control, such as the dangers faced by the babies in the still-face experiments.  When we are powerless to prevent our nervous systems and psyches from being overwhelmed, our physical, emotional, and intellectual development is disrupted.  We call this trauma.

As a metaphor for adult life in contemporary society, the “still face” paradigm—the helplessness intrinsic to it and the breakdown of empathy that lies at its foundation—aptly describes the experience of many people as they interact with the most important institutions in their lives, including government. And, as with Tronick’s babies and their mothers, when our social milieu is indifferent to our needs and inattentive to our suffering, widespread damage is done to our psyches, causing distress, anger, and hopelessness.  Such inattention and neglect lead to anxiety about our status and value, and a breakdown of trust in others.

The pain of the “still face” in American society is present all around us.

People feel it while waiting for hours on the phone for technical support, or dealing with endless menus while on hold with the phone or cable company, or waiting to get through to their own personal physician. They feel it in schools with large class sizes and rote teaching aimed only at helping students pass tests.  They feel it when crumbling infrastructure makes commuting to work an endless claustrophobic nightmare.  And, too often, they feel it when interacting with government agencies that hold sway over important areas of their lives, such as social services, the IRS, building permit and city planning departments, or a Department of Motor Vehicles.  Like Tronick’s babies, citizens who look to corporations and government for help, for a feeling of being recognized and important, are too often on a fool’s errand, seeking recognition and a reciprocity that is largely absent.

This problem is greatly exaggerated by the profoundly corrosive effects of social and economic inequality. Under condition of inequality, the vulnerability of those seeking empathy is dramatically ramped up, leading to various forms of physical and psychological breakdowns. In a classic epidemiological study by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, researchers found a strong correlation between the degree of inequality in a country (or a state, for that matter) and such problems as rates of imprisonment, violence, teenage pregnancies, obesity rates, mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and addiction, lower literacy scores, and a wide range of poor health outcomes, including reduced life expectancy.  Wilkinson and Pickett’s key finding is that it is the inequality itself, and not the overall wealth of a society that is the key factor in creating these various pathologies.  Poorer places with more equality do better than wealthy ones marked by gross inequality.

Inequality makes people feel insecure, preoccupied with their relative status and standing, and vulnerable to the judgment of others, and it creates a greater degree of social distance between people that deprives them of opportunities for intimate and healing experiences of recognition and empathy.

But as the still-face experiments show, human beings are primed from birth to be social, to seek out empathic and attuned responses from others, and to develop the psychobiological equipment to respond in kind.  Still-face bureaucracies and the powerlessness that marks systems of income inequality contradict our very natures.  As Wilkinson and Pickett put it, “For a species which thrives on friendship and enjoys cooperation and trust, which has a strong sense of fairness, which is equipped with mirror neurons allowing us to learn our way of life through a process of identification, it is clear that social structures based on inequality, inferiority and social exclusion must inflict a great deal of social pain.”

This pain is increasingly prevalent among working and middle-class Americans who have seen their jobs lost to technology and globalization, their incomes stagnate, and the promise of a better life for their children appear increasingly unlikely. Their interactions with their doctors, pharmacists, bankers, landlords, state and federal tax collectors, social service agencies, auto dealers, and cable providers are too often marked by frustration and feelings of dehumanization. Like Tronick’s infants, they can’t get anyone to even see them much less smile at or with them. Finally, to make matters worse, they also live in a meritocratic culture that blames the victim, even while these victims have little power to escape their lot. The old adage that “it’s lonely at the top” and that Type A executives have more than their share of stress is false. Studies on stress show that what is most stressful isn’t being in charge but being held accountable for outcomes over which you have little or no control.

The painful interaction of inequality and indifference is especially poignant and strongly felt as well by groups in our society who bear the brunt of discrimination.  People of color, immigrants, the LGBT community—all are especially traumatized by the “still face” of social and political invisibility, of the demeaning effects of prejudice and institutional bias.  They are in the most dire need of empathy and, yet, are the least likely to get it.

As studies of infants and the development of children have shown, empathy is essential to build our capacity to deal with pain and adversity and to develop into social empathic beings. Without empathy, we get overwhelmed and either go about our lives in a “fight or flight” state of hyper-vigilance or else retreat and surrender to feelings of hopelessness and despair.  Thus, while empathy depends on being accurately and frequently understood in social interactions, our society is increasingly one in which people can’t find responsive faces or attuned reliable relationships anywhere.

This absence isn’t simply an individual matter. Household size . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2019 at 6:45 pm

Trump’s EPA Refuses to Limit the Nasty Teflon Chemicals Lurking in Our Drinking Water

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Tom Philpott writes in Mother Jones:

The Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency does not plan to set a legal limit for two nasty chemicals that lurk in some US drinking water, Politico reported this week.

They’re part of a group of chemicals known as PFAS, for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals were once prized by a variety of industries for their ability to make surfaces resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Until the United States started to phase them out in 2006, PFAS were used in everything from Teflon nonstick pans to microwave popcorn bags to fast-food wrappers to water-repellent clothing to furniture. They were also widely used at military bases in foams to extinguish aircraft fires.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that some studies show that even at low exposure levels, they have been shown to “affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children,” “lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant,” “increase cholesterol levels,” “affect the immune system,” and “increase the risk of cancer.”

Unfortunately, PFAS are stubbornly persistent in water and soil, and despite the phase-out, they remain a concern in drinking water supplies. Last year, a Pentagon report revealed that drinking water in 126 military installations across the countrycontains potentially harmful levels of PFAS. In 2017, the chemical giant DuPont DuPont and its spin-off company, Chemours, agreed to a $670 million settlement with residents of West Virginia’s mid-Ohio Valley claiming PFAS contamination of their drinking water from a nearby Teflon factory. (Here’s a 2016 New York Times Magazine deep-dive into the suit.)

For years, public-health advocates have been urging the EPA to establish a “maximum contaminant level” for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Such a move would force water utilities to test for and and if necessary remove the chemicals from drinking water supplies.

But the Trump administration does not plan to set a drinking water limit for two of the most common PFAS—PFOA and PFOS—Politico reported Monday, citing “two sources familiar with the forthcoming decision.” During his Senate conformation hearings on Jan. 16, acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler vowed to make “safe drinking water a top priority” and said the agency would release a plan for dealing with PFAS in the “very near future.” But when pressed to say if the EPA would set a maximum level for the chemicals within two years, he replied, “I cannot make that commitment.”

Meanwhile, the EPA maintains a voluntary “health advisory” that the two most common of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, should not exceed 70 parts per trillion in drinking water. And in a draft report on PFAS released by the Department of Health and Human Services last June, researchers from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that the safe threshold is actually much lower: 7 parts per trillion for PFOS and 11 parts per trillion for PFOA.

The EPA, then under since-departed administrator Scott Pruitt, tried to stop release of that report, “after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a ‘public relations nightmare,’” Politico reported last year. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2019 at 10:18 am

We Need to Talk about Intestinal Worms

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Ellen Agler with Mojie Crigler write in Scientific American:

n 1909, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., deeded 72,000 shares of the Standard Oil Company to establish a foundation dedicated to the promotion of health and the reduction of disease. Hookworm, then rampant throughout the U.S. South, was the Rockefeller Foundation’s first undertaking. The parasite latches onto the wall of its host’s small intestine, causing iron and protein deficiencies, stunted physical and cognitive growth and profound lethargy. Now, 110 years later, where does hookworm stand? How much progress has been made, and what work remains?

In many ways, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease (RSC) set the standard for public health programs to map, treat, educate, scale up, work with other sectors (in hookworm’s case, water, sanitation and hygiene) and collaborate with local leaders in government, media, churches and schools. And while technology has advanced, the intent is unchanged.

The RSC’s educational silent films and country fair exhibits have given way to TED talks and text-message alerts, but all are used to raise awareness and encourage preventive behavior. Today, smartphones and satellites are used to map hookworm’s location, replacing the surveys and voluntarily mailed-in stool samples that the RSC relied on. One can only imagine what devices will be available for mapping diseases 110 years from now.

Some aspects of the anti-hookworm effort have undergone paradigm shifts. Regarding treatment, the RSC aimed to make the host environment inhospitable for the parasite, through ingestion of potential poisons (extract of male fern or thymol with Epsom salts). By contrast, modern treatments target the worms instead of the human. The drugs albendazole and mebendazole can disrupt adult hookworms’ metabolism and reproduction, most often with little to no side effects in the host.

In the past, infected people repeated treatments until their stools were worm-free. Moreover, the RSC treated infected individuals one at a time; now entire districts, regions, even nations receive deworming medicine via regularly scheduled mass drug administrations. Then and now, treatment is combined with strong efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene.

By the 1930s (much later than the RSC had anticipated), hookworm had declined in the South in large part because fewer people were exposed to the parasite, thanks to more indoor plumbing, paved roads, farming machinery (which took people out of the fields) and an overall rise of the standard of living. In 2019, people infected with hookworm are likely to be among the 1.5 billion most impoverished people in the world. Countries in Africa and Southeast Asia have the greatest prevalence of hookworm, which is often co-endemic with whipworm and roundworm (the three are collectively called “intestinal worms”). A rising standard of living can’t be counted on to eliminate intestinal worms from endemic regions. Rather, the elimination of intestinal worms as a public health problem likely will contribute to a rise in the standard of living.

In the late 1990s, the American economists Michael Kremer and Edward Miguel conducted research in Kenya demonstrating that, compared to programs that added more textbooks or teachers, deworming school children cost the least and had the greatest effect on education. (“Deworming” refers to intestinal worms and schistosomiasis, a disease in which the parasitic worm lives in the host’s intestine, bladder, or reproductive organs; as these four diseases are often co-endemic, treatment is often integrated.)

Kremer and Miguel found that students who were dewormed attended school 25 percent more often than those who were not dewormed. Their ability to learn improved. Siblings and neighbors, exposed to a smaller pool of parasites, also benefited. Years later, Kremer and Miguel followed up with participants from their original study and found that those who had been dewormed were earning more money. In the bigger picture, according to a study from Erasmus University, African economies could gain $52 billion by 2030 in increased productivity if NTDs were ended by 2020.

The RSC offered robust economic arguments for its hookworm program–from the still-relevant point that employers incur lost-labor costs when workers are infected, to an insistence that its work was not charity but an investment. Whereas the RSC dispatched mobile dispensaries, a key goal of modern programs is sustainability: locally funded, locally run. Fortunately, albendazole and mebendazole (for hookworm) and praziquantel (for schistosomiasis) are donated by pharmaceutical companies.

Deworming costs 20–50 cents per person per year, on average; delivery is a program’s biggest expense. Many deworming programs are based at schools, because students are a captive audience and the schools, which frequently double as community centers, provide a ready-made infrastructure for record-keeping and disseminating information on diseases and good sanitation and hygiene practices.

In 2017, 598 million children around the world were treated for intestinal worms. Compare that to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2019 at 12:42 pm

It Could Take Joshua Tree 300 Years to Recover From the Government Shutdown

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Amanda Arnold writes in New York:

Though the government shutdown may have ended last Friday, Joshua Tree National Park will be feeling the ruinous effects of it for hundreds of years.

Throughout the duration of the shutdown, which lasted a record-long 35 days, national parks greatly suffered: human waste piled up, lands were littered with trash, and some campgrounds and other public areas even closed to visitors, as the parks weren’t adequately staffed to stay open. It wasn’t until after Joshua Tree closed on January 2, though, that humans became excessively reckless, during which they off-roaded, graffittied rocks, started campfires in illegal areas, and cut down protected trees.

“What’s happened to our park in the last 34 days is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years,” former Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent Curt Sauer said at Shutdown the Shutdown for Joshua Tree National Park, a rally this past Saturday near the California park, where more than 100 people amassed to decry the environmental and economic impacts that the shutdown had on Joshua Tree.

Per the Palm Springs Desert Sun, John Lauretig, the executive director of the Friends of Joshua Tree, also took the stage to condemn the government for refusing to close national parks when it doesn’t have adequate funds to pay employees and protect the natural habitat. During the shutdown, Lauretig was just one of the local volunteers who handled the park’s basic maintenance.

“The local community is fed up  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2019 at 4:48 pm

EPA fines for polluters drop 85 percent under Trump administration, which former officials say cripples efforts to deter wrongdoing

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The US is breaking down. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report in the Washington Post:

Civil penalties for polluters under the Trump administration plummeted during the past fiscal year to the lowest average level since 1994, according to a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data.

In the two decades before President Trump took office, EPA civil fines averaged more than $500 million a year, when adjusted for inflation. Last year’s total was 85 percent below that amount — $72 million, according to the agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online database.

Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA’s enforcement office in the Obama administration and conducted the analysis, said the inflation-adjusted figures were the lowest since the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance was established.

The decline in civil penalties could undermine the EPA’s ability to deter wrongdoing, some former agency officials said, because they help ensure it is more expensive to violate the law than to comply with it. But Trump administration officials have said they are focusing much of their effort on working with companies ahead of time so they don’t run afoul of the law, rather than punishing them after the fact. That approach, they say, will ensure business operations can thrive without harming the environment.

Giles, now a guest fellow at the Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Program, questioned whether the new approach can achieve what administration officials promise.

“The public expects EPA to protect them from the worst polluters,” she said. “The Trump EPA is not doing that. What worries me is how industry will respond to EPA’s abandonment of tough enforcement.”

During his confirmation hearing last week, EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler told lawmakers that there had been “a lot of misleading information” suggesting that the agency had gone easier on polluters under Trump. He cited recent reports from environmental and governance groups that said the EPA’s enforcement had sagged.

Wheeler pointed to the fact that the EPA had opened more criminal enforcement cases during 2018 than the year before, reversing a downward trajectory. He said enforcement actions last year resulted in removing “809 million pounds of pollution and waste” from the environment. And hesaid the agency had worked with companies it oversees to ensure they comply with federal rules, rather than levying charges against them or imposing fines.

“And I think the more compliance assurance that we have, the fewer enforcement actions we need to take,” he said.

But the analysis conducted by Giles and reviewed by the Environmental Integrity Project shows that in addition to the drop in civil penalties for polluting, the amount of money companies must pay to come into compliance with federal environmental laws also declined last fiscal year, to nearly $5.6 billion. That represents the lowest amount of injunctive relief since 2003, in inflation-adjusted dollars, and is below the roughly $7.8 billion average for the two decades before Trump took office. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and it’s important, including two video clips.

The US seems to be in a tailspin.


Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2019 at 5:03 pm

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