Digital Clippings: Undead Toxins, Off-key Songs, and Other News
This morning I woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, and confronted yet another in-basket full of environews and ecoviews that doesn't quite make the blogging grade but would be a shame to toss without at least an honorable mention. Let's catch up...
It's Halloween, so we start with zombie chemicals and the discovery that some hormone-disrupting toxins can rise from the dead after dark. Safety assessments of most chemicals assume that once sunlight, water, and other natural forces dismantle them, the breakdown products that result won't come back to haunt us. But researchers found that the breakdown products of certain synthetic steroids reanimate themselves back into the original pollutant when the sun goes down. Scientists say the finding is more trick than treat and calls into question the accuracy of risk estimates we rely on to keep the environment safe. Spooky.
Here's another story from the strange but true files: Researchers in New York's Hudson Valley have found that songbirds eating PCB-contaminated insects sing differently than those who don't. The differences were traced to both the types and quantities of the PCBs they had in their blood. You'll note, of course, that PCBs have been banned for decades. So the birds' tunes actually carry two different messages: pollutants like these stay on the charts a very long time and we still don't know all they're doing as they hum away in our soil, air, water, and food.
Speaking of PCBs, a technical advisor on the project to clean the Hudson River of PCBs compiled a collection of studies on the chemicals and found that their potential health effects are both more severe and more common than thought. Turns out there's data linking them to more than cancer and off-key chickadees. Try Parkinson's disease, lower IQ, ADHD, reproductive problems, and developmental disorders, too. Call this one a true (pre)cautionary tale.
Here's some good news: For the first time, flame retardants banned in 2004 appear to be finally declining in people. A study of California women finds levels 65% lower than those in women tested three years earlier. The moral of this story? Chemical regulations work and done right can make a huge difference.
Elsewhere in the Golden State, new rules taking effect this month will require manufacturers to explore and develop safer options for chemical hazards on the Candidate Chemicals List in Priority Products. Since California's huge economy tends to dictate terms for the rest of country, this is a sea change in regulatory approaches that will likely benefit us all.
Bringing up the rear, those gastrointestinal issues you suffered may not be from something you ate but from something you inhaled. Emerging evidence suggests that air pollution may play a role in conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Theories range from altered gut permeability to an air pollution-induced increase in inflammatory particles called cytokines. And to think we've been blaming it on the dog...
About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.