Top children's health news for the week of Oct. 26 - Nov. 2.
- A "critical period" for our health, hormones. Regulatory rollbacks and decreased public health protections threaten progress on chemicals that mess with our reproduction, brains and behavior. (EHN)
- Analysis: Getting the lead out of our skies. Given the known hazards of lead exposure and the existence of alternative aviation fuels, we have an ethical responsibility to eliminate the use of avgas and protect our population from such a significant source of lead pollution. (EHN)
- Pesticide residues linked to unsuccessful IVF. Women who ate more produce known to harbor pesticides were less likely to succeed with fertility treatment than women who ate fewer of these fruits and vegetables. (The Scientist)
- Preterm birth rate increases, but many women can't get treatment to prevent it. Low-income, urban and black women are most affected by high costs and other hurdles. (Washington Post)
- Coalition touts 'scientific evidence,' scores surprise win. The Consumer Product Safety Commission's move to ban many household uses of flame retardants last month came after a campaign by a novel coalition of scientists, doctors and advocates for children's health. (Greenwire)
- Around the Salton Sea, worsening dust a major health concern. Imperial County ranks first in California for asthma-related emergency room visits for children. Dust around the shrinking Salton Sea is making the problem worse. (Desert Sun)
- Residents in East Liverpool concerned about manganese contamination. A new study found children along the Pennsylvania-Ohio border in East Liverpool with higher levels of manganese in their bodies also had lower IQ scores. (Post-Gazette)
- At the doors of starvation:' Siege strangles Damascus suburbs. "The child that we consider normal in Ghouta is the child whose weight is on the lowest end of the normal weight scale. We don't have fully healthy children." (Reuters)
- Lead in imported candy tops contaminated food list in state. A new study has found that the California Department of Public Health has issued more health alerts for lead in candy than for the other top three sources of food contamination - E. coli, Botulism, and Salmonella - combined. (San Francisco Chronicle)
- These Colorado preschoolers learn hands-on farming to prevent childhood obesity. As childhood obesity soars among low-income communities with limited access to fresh produce, some educators in Colorado are combating the problem by joining the farm-to-preschool movement. (PBS NewsHour)
Breast cancer rates on Cape Cod are 21 percent above the state average, Silent Sprint Institute researchers reminded a 150-member audience at Barnstable Town Hall Wednesday.
Multiple pollutants found in the air and water near fracked oil and gas sites are linked to brain problems in children, according to a science review published today.
Researchers focused on five types of pollution commonly found near the sites—heavy metals, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrobcarbons, BTEX and endocrine disrupting compounds—and scrutinized existing health studies of the compounds' impacts to kids' brains.
"Early life exposure to these air and water pollutants has been shown to be associated with learning and neuropsychological deficits, neurodevelopmental disorders, and neurological birth defects, with potentially permanent consequences to brain health," the authors wrote.
What they didn't find is as important as what they did find: while more than 1,000 studies have looked at health hazards from unconventional oil and gas drilling, none have focused specifically on the brain health of children near the sites.
"Many of us looking are looking at what's happening now and then we're going to revisit this to see what these exposures are doing to people," said Madelon Finkel, a professor of clinical healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medical College who was not involved in the study.
"Unfortunately, we are just waiting to see what happens, it's really sad," she added.
Lead author of the new study, Ellen Webb of the Center for Environmental Health, said the research on children's health near oil and gas sites is "slowly emerging" but that "it's only reasonable to conclude that young children with frequent exposure to these pollutants would be at high risk for neurological diseases."
Since the mid-2000s, as extraction techniques such as fracking became more widespread and refined, oil and gas drilling has taken off. The FracTracker Alliance—a renewable energy advocate organization that studies and maps oil and gas development —
estimates there are about 1.7 million active oil and gas wells in the U.S.
Webb and colleagues said regulators should increase setback distances between oil and gas development and places where children live or play. They recommend at least a mile "between drilling facility lines and the property line of occupied dwellings such as schools, hospitals and other spaces where infants and children might spend a substantial amount of time."
They also recommend more research on low level, chronic exposure, mandatory testing of industrial chemicals used on site, and increased transparency of the chemicals used in drilling. "We don't even know all of the chemicals used in the [fracking] mixtures," Finkel said.
To really protect the health of families "state and federal authorities need to adopt precautionary principles," Webb said.
Seth Whitehead, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a research, education and public outreach campaign launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said Webb's study is just the latest "deliberate media strategy to draw ties between fracking and health issues even when no hard evidence exists."
"The report merely identifies chemicals associated with oil and gas development, notes that some of these chemicals can be harmful to human health, and states that 'more research is needed to understand the extent of these concerns,'" Whitehead said in an emailed response.
"This is not unlike saying bleach — which can be found in most folks' laundry rooms — can make you sick if you drink it and that more research is needed to understand the extent to which people get sick from drinking bleach from their laundry rooms," he added.
Finkel disagreed: "Of course the study premise is logical. Exposure to some of these toxic chemicals is bound to have an effect."
Finkel sees little hope in the Trump Administration's willingness to take health concerns into account when it comes to energy development. Their energy regulation rollbacks have been "shortsighted and go against all the health evidence that we know," she said.
See the full study published today in the Reviews on Environmental Health journal.
A scientist who worked for the chemical industry now shapes policy on hazardous chemicals. Within the E.P.A., there is fear that public health is at risk.
SONOMA, Calif. — Some of the worst wildfires ever to tear through California have killed 31 people and torched a vast area of the state’s north this week, but the reach of the blazes is spreading dramatically further by the day, as thick plumes of smoke blow through population centers across the Bay Area.
Everything now smells burnt. Hills and buildings are covered in a haze. Residents nowhere near the front lines of the fires now venture out wearing air masks. On a hillside above the Russian River, a broad and menacing band of fire is turning a blue sky into a gray miasma of soot.
Air-quality, based on levels of tiny particles that can flow deep into the lungs, is rated “unhealthy” across much of Northern California, and smoke has traveled as far as Fresno, more than 200 miles to the south. The effects are many: schoolchildren are being kept inside during recess, the Oakland Raiders canceled their outdoor practice on Thursday to prevent players from breathing in the bad air, and doctors are reporting an increase in visits and calls from people with lung and heart trouble.
It is the 31 deaths, however, a toll that surpasses the official number of people killed by the single deadliest wildfire in state history, that has horrified Californians. The Griffith Park fire of 1933, in Los Angeles, killed 29 people despite burning a mere 47 acres, according to officials.
Late Thursday, the authorities said they had identified 10 of 17 people who were killed in Sonoma County. Most were in their 70s and 80s, and most were found in houses. One was found next to a vehicle.
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California’s Wildfires: Why Have They Been So Destructive? OCT. 11, 2017
California Wildfires Death Toll Rises to 29 as Vast Region Is Scorched OCT. 11, 2017
‘Everything Was Incinerated’: Scenes From One Community Wrecked by the Santa Rosa Fire OCT. 10, 2017
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“We have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” said Robert Giordano, the Sonoma County sheriff. In some cases, he said, the only way to identify the victims was by the serial numbers stamped on artificial joints and other medical devices that were in their bodies.
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William Roman, 13, wore a face mask as he watered plants in Santa Rosa. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Because the fires have sent so many residents scrambling for safety, separating them from relatives, the authorities have received reports of 900 missing people and have deployed 30 detectives to track them down. Officials said they had confirmed the locations and safety of 437 people and were still looking for the other 463.
If they cannot find them by phone or online, they send search and rescue teams with cadaver dogs to the homes — if the homes are accessible, which in many cases, they still are not.
“It’s going to be a slow process,” Sheriff Giordano said.
Statewide, there were 21 major fires still burning on Thursday, which had consumed more than 191,000 acres since the outbreak began on Sunday night, said Ken Pimlott, the chief of Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency. The number of separate fires rises and falls often, as new blazes flare up and old ones merge, but the size of the devastated area has grown steadily.
Underscoring the vast scale of the crisis, a line of fire that appeared to span at least two miles descended into Alexander Valley, a wine grape growing region in Geyserville along the Russian River. Thick white columns of smoke poured from the forested hillside above the vineyards as the fire crept down into the valley.
Health officials were particularly focused on young children, who are at a higher risk than adults from dirty air. They breathe faster and take in more air than adults because they run around more. They also have smaller airways, so irritation in those narrower pipes is more prone to cause breathing trouble.
“People with pre-existing heart and lung disease, the elderly and young children should stay in the house with the windows closed,” said Dr. John Balmes, an expert on the respiratory effects of air pollutants at the University of California, in both Berkeley and San Francisco.
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Firefighters in Sonoma looked at a wall of smoke rising from the Norrbom Fire burning across the valley. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Certain masks can filter out fine particles, but surgical masks are useless, and so are the ones used to protect against big particles. The masks that work are a type called N95, available in many hardware stores.
Nancy Barkley, 40, a nurse from Indiana who is on a 13-week assignment unrelated to the fire emergency, drove dozens of miles from Santa Rosa to find face masks.
“I kept on driving because they were out everywhere,” she said, pulling down her surgical mask to talk.
Northern California is accustomed to wildfires and occasional wafts of smoke that drift with the winds. But nothing like this.
“I’ve lived here 50 years — I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Paul Ackerley, a 90-year-old World War II veteran.
Mr. Ackerley was walking through his neighborhood Wednesday when a woman stopped her car and offered him a mask.
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Smoke hung in the air in Sonoma’s town square on Thursday. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
People closest to the fires have the greatest risk of health problems. There, heavy smoke can include toxic substances emitted when man-made materials burn. Plastics can release hydrochloric acid and cyanide.
“Smoke inhalation can kill you,” Dr. Balmes said. “There’s no doubt about that, but it’s all dose-related. If you breathe in a lot of smoke from any fire, especially a fire in a building with man-made materials that can emit these toxins, you basically have chemical burns of the airway.
“Just like your skin can slough off when it’s burned, the airway lining can slough off. It can be life-threatening. People have to be intubated and put on a ventilator,” he said.
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Hospitals near the worst fires are struggling as they continue to take in patients.
At Santa Rosa Memorial, the city’s largest hospital, technicians installed a large air filtration system to clear smoky air from the hospital lobby. The hospital has handled 130 fire-related cases since Sunday night, when the fires began. Bus drivers in the city have been issued face masks.
“We’ve seen patients who have chronic lung disease, like emphysema, generally older patients, which is really exacerbated by the smoke,” said Dr. Chad Krilich, chief medical officer for St. Joseph Health, which includes Santa Rosa Memorial, another hospital and other facilities in Sonoma County.
“For some of them, it’s really life-threatening,” he said, adding that patients even without asthma or other lung problems are coming in with breathing trouble. Most are being treated in the emergency rooms, which would normally see 105 to 135 patients a day, but are now seeing 150 to 180 a day.
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Capt. John Clays lit a backfire on Wednesday in Sonoma County. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Their inpatient count rose at first, but they have been transferring patients elsewhere, “because we are at risk of evacuation, too,” Dr. Krilich said, adding, “We know at least 108 of our employees are homeless, and 46 others have had to evacuate.”
Steve Huddleston, vice president for public affairs of NorthBay Healthcare, said the network has two small hospitals and three outpatient clinics in Solano County, east of the fires. One of its outpatient clinics is less than a mile from the fire line, but still operating.
In the emergency rooms and the clinics, he said, “we’re seeing 100 patients a day with respiratory distress and asthmatic attacks from the smoke.”
Many have chronic lung disease or asthma, but not all.
“All of our beds are full, and they have been for two days,” Mr. Huddleston said.
He added: “We’re on the edge of feeling overwhelmed. The staffing is becoming challenging. We’ve had half a dozen of our physicians or staff members lose their homes in the fires. We have staff members who live in the evacuation zones, and they’re trying to get their belongings and their loved ones out of there.”
In areas directly affected by the fires, many schools have canceled classes for the week, leaving parents scrambling.
On Thursday, William Roman, 13, a middle-school student, was helping his grandfather in a landscaping job at a strip mall in Santa Rosa, watering plants — with a face mask on.
“If we’re going to play outside we need to wear a face mask — that’s what my mother says,” William said.
Depending on the winds, the smoke can range from heavy to none. In parts of Santa Rosa on Thursday, there was something resembling a blue sky. Yet even when the smoke was not visible, the outdoors smelled like a fireplace.
Thomas Fuller reported from Sonoma, Calif., and Denise Grady and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Matt Stevens contributed reporting from New York.
By Ken Ward Jr. Staff writer 10 hrs ago (0)
Thousands of Kanawha Valley residents, businesses and workers now can file claims to receive their share of the $151 million settlement of the class-action lawsuit over the January 2014 water crisis.
This week, tens of thousands of notices about the settlement went out in the mail, along with separate notices that were emailed to a list of West Virginia American Water Co. customers.
Notices sent by mail include the simple claim form that most residents can use to file their claims. Claims can also be filed online and paper copies of claim forms downloaded from the settlement website, https://www.wvwaterclaims.com/. More information is available by calling 1-855-829-8121 or reading the “Frequently Asked Questions” list on the website.
Deadline for filing claims is Feb. 21, 2018, under an order issued by U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr., who is overseeing the case.
“This is the only way to make sure you get any money from the settlement,” the notice mailed out this week says in encouraging claims to be filed.
Under the settlement, residential households — including homeowners and renters — can file a simple claim form and obtain $550 for the first resident and $180 for each additional resident. Residents also may file more detailed information about their losses — for things such as bottled water or replacement appliances — if they provide proof of those expenditures on a separate type of claim form.
Businesses and nonprofit organizations can likewise obtain flat payments, based on their size, or can submit documentation of specific losses to have those recouped.
The settlement also provides additional payments to women who were pregnant at the time of the chemical spill that sparked the water crisis, residents who had medical expenses and hourly-wage earners who lost money when businesses they worked in closed during the crisis. Government agencies also are eligible to submit claims.
Residents, businesses and others don’t have to have previously hired a lawyer or signed up for a lawsuit to be eligible, but they do have to file claims.
Anyone who falls within the definition of the “class” covered by the settlement can file a claim for compensation. The class covered by the case includes 224,000 residents and 7,300 businesses. It includes basically any business or resident who received tap water from the Elk River intake plant and any hourly-wage earner whose employer closed because of the spill and resulting water system contamination.
In the case, lawyers for residents and businesses had alleged that West Virginia American did not adequately prepare for or respond to the spill and that MCHM-maker Eastman did not properly warn Freedom of the dangers of its chemical or take any action when Eastman officials learned that the Freedom facility was in disrepair. West Virginia American and Eastman continue to deny any liability. They say the blame for the crisis rests with Freedom Industries, which admitted to criminal pollution violations related to the spill.
Distribution of the settlement funds will not start until the settlement receives final approval from Copenhaver, following a hearing scheduled for Jan. 9, and until after the Feb. 21 deadline for filing claims.
Members of the class have the right to “opt-out” of the settlement or to object to certain terms of the deal. The deadline for opting out or filing objections is Dec. 8. Class members also may ask for permission to speak during the Jan. 9 hearing on the settlement.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at
or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.
More evidence for a link between Caesarean sections and obesity
Bugs picked up at birth are good for you
Science and technology
Oct 11th 2017
ROUGHLY one human pregnancy in ten presents complications (for example, breech presentation) that might justify the baby being delivered by Caesarean section. In some places that is not possible, and mother and infant have to take their chances with a normal delivery. But the opposite is also true. Elective Caesarean is becoming more and more common. In Brazil, Italy and Iran more than 40% of children are born this way.
That a stressful and expensive procedure is being conducted more often than is strictly necessary has long been a concern. But, more recently, a second worry has emerged. This is that Caesarean section stops infants picking up, from their mother’s vaginas and perineums, bacteria that would normally establish themselves in a newborn’s gut, and by doing so improve its future health. Accumulating evidence suggests three things, in particular. These are that Caesarean babies are more prone than others to allergies (in which the immune system responds to inappropriate stimuli, such as nut proteins), to autoimmune diseases (in which the immune system attacks body cells, as happens in type-1 diabetes), and that they are also more likely to become fat. A study published in Science Advances this week, by Maria Dominguez-Bello at New York University School of Medicine, speaks to the latter hypothesis.
A connection between obesity and the types of bacteria living in someone’s gut is well established, and thus seems the likely explanation for the link between Caesareans and obesity. But this could come about in one of two ways. Either the procedure itself keeps baby and bacteria apart or the large amounts of antibiotics which usually accompany the surgery are responsible. Since testing the distinction on people, though easy, would be unethical, Dr Dominguez-Bello turned instead to mice. She permitted some pregnant rodents to give birth naturally, while performing antibiotic-free Caesareans on others. She then raised the pups in identical conditions.
Her sample was not large—a mere 13 pregnant females produced 69 offspring, of which 35 were born naturally and 34 were delivered by Caesarean. But her results were conclusive. At 15 weeks of age, pups that had been delivered naturally weighed an average of 39 grams. Their Caesarean-delivered kin averaged 45 grams. The probability of this difference resulting from chance is less than one in 1,000. Moreover, when Dr Dominguez-Bello examined the gut bacteria of her mice she found that those born naturally had a normal mixture while those born via Caesarean lacked Bacteroides, Ruminococcaceae and Clostridiales. These are all groups associated with lean bodies.
It seems, then, that in mice—and by extension presumably in women—it is the operation itself rather than the associated antibiotics that are promoting bacteria-mediated obesity. Fortunately, as Dr Dominguez-Bello points out, this should be an easy problem to fix. She is now experimenting with taking a swab of the mother’s vagina and wiping it on an infant’s face shortly after a birth by Caesarean, to try to pass on the relevant bugs. It might sound distasteful. But if it works it will give Caesarean babies a better start in life.
When State Rep. Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township) failed in his attempt to kill Toledo’s pioneering lead-safe ordinance during the state budget process earlier this year, he vowed he would revive the plan in a stand-alone bill. Now he has done that, and the General Assembly should kill it just as it did his previous attempt to get rid of an important local public-health regulation.
Mr. Merrin owns investment rental properties in and around Toledo, and he complained — not when Toledo elected leaders and health officials were hammering out the measure, but months later, from his seat in Columbus — that the lead-safe measure is unfair.
Mr. Merrin’s failed budget amendment and the stand-alone bill he has since proposed would nullify Toledo’s ordinance and make such lead-related health regulation the responsibility of the Ohio Department of Health, which doesn’t have lead-safe measures like Toledo’s.
Toledo’s ordinance — which doesn’t require lead abatement and has been revised to make it even more palatable to landlords — requires rental buildings built before 1978 with up to four units, or a day care center, to be certified “lead-safe” in order to rent to tenants.
Even though this represents only a modest step toward eliminating the threat of irreversible health effects of lead exposure, this ordinance is the first of its kind in Ohio.
Give Mr. Merrin this much credit — he is right when he says the state department of health should do more to address lead contamination, particularly in older, rental housing stock around Ohio.
The ODH ought to use Toledo’s ordinance as a model for statewide regulations to identify lead hazards. Then state and local authorities ought to expand the scope of lead-safe efforts to include more residential properties. What the General Assembly should do is this: dedicate funding to help property owners remediate the lead hazards that are too common in older homes and buildings around the state.
The first item on the General Assembly’s agenda, however, should be to kill Mr. Merrin’s attempt to undermine the only real lead-safety regulations protecting children in Toledo now.
Diarrheal disease from contaminated water is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five, claiming more than 360,000 lives annually. Now, a new study of children in 35 countries finds that those living in a watershed with more trees had a lower risk of contracting the illness.
The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that a 30 percent increase in upstream tree cover in some rural areas is just as effective at reducing disease risk as having improved sanitation, such as indoor plumbing or toilets. The research analyzed health, demographic, and geospatial data for 300,000 children.
“We are not saying trees are more important than toilets and indoor plumbing,” co-author of the study Diego Herrera, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund who conducted the research while a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vermont, said in a statement. “But these findings clearly show that forests and other natural systems can complement traditional water sanitation systems, and help compensate for a lack of infrastructure.”
The researchers argue that dense tree coverage upstream helped filter or dilute pollutants before they reached communities, as well as deterred human activity that could pollute the waterways, such as agriculture or infrastructure development.
Here are the responses we've gotten so far from politicians about our study that found Pennsylvania families living near fracking wells are being exposed to high levels of harmful industrial chemicals.
By connecting the dots between medical symptoms and patterns of injustice, we move from simply managing suffering to delivering a lasting cure.
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities' mental, physical, and social health.
Middle-aged men in Pennsylvania's fracking counties die from heart attacks at a rate 5% greater than their counterparts in New York where fracking is banned.