Pollution Causes Portion of Animal Cancer Cases

  • Beluga Whales along the Canadian Atlantic coast developed tumors after they came in contact with chemicals from aluminum smelters. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

A new report in the journal Nature Reviews
Cancer looks at cancer in wildlife. Mark
Brush reports, the disease in animals is
sometimes caused by pollution:

Transcript

A new report in the journal Nature Reviews
Cancer looks at cancer in wildlife. Mark
Brush reports, the disease in animals is
sometimes caused by pollution:

The authors of this paper looked at a lot of research on cancer in wild animals. Some of these studies linked the cancer cases to pollution.

Beluga Whales along the Canadian Atlantic coast developed tumors after they came in contact with chemicals from aluminum smelters. And some fish and clam species have developed cancers after being exposed to pollution.

Denise McAloose is a veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society. She’s the lead author of the paper.

“People should care about cancer in wildlife because, especially in those cancers that are driven by environmental factors, those environmental factors affect not only the animals, but people as well.”

For example, the people who worked in those aluminum smelters also had higher rates of cancer.

She says more research into the link between pollution and cancer in animals needs to be done. Because looking at how the disease affects wildlife might help us treat or prevent cancer in people.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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Styrene Industry Sues Over Cancer Listing

  • Styrene is one component in styrofoam containers (Photo by Renee Comet, courtesy of the National Cancer Institute)

The styrene industry is suing to stop environmental officials from saying styrene could cause cancer and birth defects. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The styrene industry is suing to stop environmental officials from saying styrene could cause cancer and birth defects. Lester Graham reports:

Styrene is used in all kinds of products – containers like coffee cups, egg cartons, in construction, in cars.

The state of California wants to add it to a list of cancer-causing materials. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found styrene is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Joe Walker is a spokesman for the Styrene Information and Research Center.

“Styrene is not a carginogen. Any listing that would categorize it as such basically would be illegal and would be erroneous and would have the potential of alarming the public unnecessarily about products that are made from styrene.”

If the court does allow California to put styrene on its cancer list, the styrene industry has a year to prove it doesn’t belong on that list.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Drycleaners File Suit Against Epa

This past summer, the Environmental Protection Agency told some dry cleaners to phase out the use of a toxic chemical. Mark Brush reports several dry cleaning industry groups don’t like the ban, and now they’re suing the EPA:

Transcript

This past summer, the Environmental Protection Agency told some dry cleaners to phase out the use of a toxic chemical. Mark Brush reports several dry cleaning industry groups don’t like the ban, and now they’re suing the EPA:


The EPA’s rule only applies to dry cleaners located in residential buildings. They’re giving the cleaners 14 years to phase out the use of Perchloroethylene, or PERC. PERC is suspected of increasing the risk of cancer and other serious health problems.


Steve Risotto is with the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance. His group represents the makers of PERC and is suing the EPA. He says the alternatives to PERC might pose other risks.


“If you ask most cleaners what they would use instead of PERC, the hands down favorite is a synthetic hydrocarbon that is combustible. So now you’re bringing the issues of flammability and combustibility back into those residences.”


Industry groups are not the only ones who don’t like the rule. The Sierra Club, an environmental group, has also filed a lawsuit against the EPA. It wants PERC banned at all dry cleaners, not just in residential buildings.


For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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Nih Classifies New Carcinogens

  • The National Institutes of Health has put some new things on the list of potentially cancer-causing agents, one of which is grilled meat. (Photo by Kenn Kiser)

The federal government is adding 17 substances
to its list of cancer-causing agents. Some of them
are causing concern within the medical profession.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports:

Transcript

The federal government is adding 17 substances to its list of cancer-causing agents. Some of them are causing concern within the medical profession. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


For the first time, the National Insitute of Environmental Health Sciences has listed viruses in its Report on Carcinogens. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C as well as some viruses that cause sexually transmitted diseases have been added as cancer-causing. Other substances new to the list are some compounds found in grilled meats, a number of chemicals found in textile dyes, paints and inks, and x-rays. Dr. Christopher Portier is the agency’s Director of Environmental Toxicology Program.


“The medical profession is a little concerned about us listing x-rays. They’re afraid people will stop getting medically necessary x-rays because of the concern for cancer.”


But Portier says the best bet is to discuss those concerns with your doctor. For the record, the government now recoganizes 246 substances as “known” or “reasonably anticipated” to be cancer-causing agents.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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Ice-Breakers Finish Up Duty

  • The Coast Guard cutter Sundew was built in 1944 in Duluth as a "buoy tender." In 1979, the Coast Guard had the ship's hull reinforced and beefed up its engine so the ship could double as an icebreaker. Photo by Chris Julin.

Cargo ships are moving on the Great Lakes, but Coast Guard icebreakers are still on duty on the north side of the Lakes. The Coast Guard’s massive icebreaker, the “Mackinaw,” smashed ice from its home in Michigan all the way across Lake Superior to Duluth. And the Coast Guard cutter “Sundew” has been chipping away at the ice in Duluth for weeks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has this report:

Transcript

Cargo ships are moving on the Great Lakes, but Coast Guard icebreakers are still on duty on the
north side of the Lakes. The Coast Guard’s massive icebreaker, the “Mackinaw,” smashed ice
from its home in Michigan all the way across Lake Superior to Duluth. And the Coast Guard
cutter “Sundew” has been chipping away at the ice in Duluth for weeks. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris Julin has this report:


There’s a whiff of spring in the air in lots of places, but parts of Lake Superior are still covered
with ice. Cargo ships are leaving their berths where they spent the winter. But when the first
ships got ready to go, the ice on the Duluth Harbor was still two feet thick. That’s thick enough to
keep a ship locked in place.


The Coast Guard cutter Sundew carved a path through the ice so ships could leave.


(sound of chop, splash)


As the Sundew churns away, slabs of ice tip on edge under the bow. Each slab looks like the
floor of a single-car garage turned on edge. The Sundew will cut a swath several miles long, and
then come back along the same path. With each pass, the shipping lane gets a little bit wider.


Bev Havlik is the commanding officer on the Sundew.


“We’re taking out just little shaved bits of it at a time to make the ice chunks smaller. It’s like
sawing a log, just shaving off a bit of it at a time.”


“The Sundew wasn’t built as an icebreaker. It’s usual duty is tending buoys. The ship places, and
maintains about 200 navigational buoys on Lake Superior. But a couple decades ago, the Sundew
got some extra steel added to its hull, and a new, bigger engine. Since then, it’s done double duty
as an icebreaker.”


Commander Bev Havlik says the Sundew slices through thin ice like a butter knife. But in
thicker ice, like this stuff, the hull actually rides up on top of the ice and pushes down through it.
That’s why there are three mini-van-sized chunks of concrete on the ship’s deck. Each one weighs
12,000 pounds.
“It helps us bite into it with the bow, instead of riding up too high.” It keeps the weight down
forward more.”


A little bit like putting sandbags in the back of your pickup in the wintertime?


“It’s a similar sort of principle, right. It gives you the bite you need.”


Icebreaking is serious business. It gets ship traffic moving weeks before the ice melts. But
beyond that, Bev Havlik says it’s really fun.


“This is awesome. It’s the only job that I’d ever had where they pay us to come out and break
something.”


The Sundew is 180 feet long. That’s about the length of 10 canoes lined up end to end. It has
about 50 crew members. One of the junior crew members is usually at the wheel. The real
“driver” is an officer who’s standing 20 feet away, out on the deck through an open door. The
officer adjusts the ship’s speed, and calls out a steady stream of steering commands to the
“helmsman” — that’s the guy at the wheel.


(sound of Helsman)


“Right five-degrees rudder … steady as she goes, aye.”


Ensign Jason Frank is about to take his turn driving the Sundew. He wears a big rabbit fur hat
when he’s out on the deck driving the ship.


“We actually have face masks and goggles for when it really gets cold. It gets so cold out here
sometimes it feels like your eyes are going to freeze out, or something.”


(natural sound)


Jason Frank is halfway through his two-year stint on the Sundew. Then he’ll be stationed
somewhere else, and the Sundew will be removed from service. The ship was built in Duluth in
1944, and it’s retiring next year. Jason Frank wanted to work on the Sundew because aren’t many
ships like this still in service. On newer vessels, the officer driving the ship stands inside. And
here’s something right out of the movies – the Sundew has a big, brass steering wheel.


“Whereas with the new ships, most the new ships have just a little joystick. It’s very similar to
like a joystick you’d have maybe when you’re playing a computer game or something. All you
have to do is turn that joystick and the computer tells the rudder what to do. We’re actually
maneuvering the throttles, we’re actually driving. With the new ship, basically it has an
autopilot.”


The ice is melting in the Duluth Harbor, but it still clumps together on windy days and makes
trouble for ships. The Coast Guard cutter Sundew will stay on ice-breaking duty until the
weather warms up, and a good southwest wind pushes the rest of the ice out of the harbor into
Lake Superior.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chris Julin.


(sound fade)

Nation Failing in Radon Remediation?

A coalition of scientists is reporting that efforts to reduce radon levels in homes throughout the U.S. are largely failing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee has more:

Transcript

A coalition of scientists is reporting that efforts to reduce radon levels in homes throughout the
U.S. are largely failing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee has more:


Radon is a natural gas that emits low levels of radiation. Research has proven it can cause lung
cancer. Officials estimate 15 thousand lung cancer deaths can be traced back to radon each year
in the U.S. Congress passed the Indoor Radon Abatement Act in 1988, setting a national goal to
reduce radon in American homes to safe levels.


Peter Hendrick is the Executive Director of the American Association of Radon Scientists and
Technologists. He says the country’s radon program is ineffective, with dangerous levels of the
gas still present in ten million homes in the U.S.


“I believe that the reason behind that is because one particular agency, Housing and Urban
Development, has really not lived up to its responsibilities under the National Environmental
Protection Act to comply with EPA standards on radon.”


Hendrick is calling for the government to enforce existing laws and even create tax incentives for
compliance. Federal officials have not yet commented on Hendrick’s complaints.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Celeste Headlee.

State Pushes Fish Grocers to Warn Consumers

A state government is taking some grocery chains to court to try to force them to post warnings about mercury in fish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

Transcript

A state government is taking some grocery chains to court to try to force them to post warnings
about mercury in fish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:


Just about any fish has trace amounts of methyl-mercury in it due to pollution. But some predator
fish, such as swordfish, shark, and some tuna have higher levels of mercury. The State of
California is taking five grocery chains that sell fish to court. It wants Kroger’s, Safeway, Trader
Joe’s, Albertson’s and Whole Foods to warn consumers that higher levels of mercury can cause
cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. Tom Dressler is with the California Attorney
General’s office.


“I mean, one example would be to post a warning at the fish counters where the products are sold.
We’re not asking for warning labels on the packages. We just want a clear, reasonable warning
posted that informs consumers and does some good.”


The case is important because California often leads the nation in setting new standards for
environmental law.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Reining in Diesel Exhaust

  • The EPA is planning to regulate smoke from diesel engines in farm and construction equipment. Photo courtesy of NESCAUM.

You see them every time you pass a construction site: big machines belching thick diesel smoke. The smoke isn’t just annoying. It causes major health and environmental problems. Now, after years of dealing with other issues, the EPA is taking on this major source of uncontrolled pollution: emissions from farm and construction equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert looks at the challenges the EPA faces in this far-reaching regulatory effort:

Transcript

You see them every time you pass a construction site. Big machines belching thick diesel smoke. The smoke isn’t just annoying. It causes major health and environmental problems. Now, after years of dealing with other issues, the EPA is taking on this major source of uncontrolled pollution: emissions from farm and construction equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert looks at the challenges EPA faces in this far-reaching regulatory effort.


Emissions from diesel engines create problems for both the environment and people’s health. Diesels release nitrogen oxides, which are a factor in acid rain and smog. They also spew very fine particulates that can lodge deep in the lung when inhaled. And that causes respiratory problems.


Controlling these emissions is no easy task. That’s because most diesel engines still burn fuel containing high amounts of sulfur. The sulfur clogs up existing pollution control devices. And that makes it a lot tougher to come up with ways to reduce emissions. But Christopher Grundler, deputy director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says its an important challenge.


“In the year 2007 we estimate that off road or non-road emissions will make up over 40% of the air pollution from mobile sources or transportation sources, so it’s a big deal.”


In tackling air pollution, EPA’s first job was to clean up gasoline car emissions. Now its moving onto diesels. The agency’s first challenge came when they issued a rule for highway trucks last year. That plan drops sulfur content in diesel fuel from 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million. It also reduces overall diesel emissions by 90% by the year 2007. The EPA now wants to use this rule as a model for farm and construction equipment as well. But the agency is likely to face opposition from refiners, who are fighting the on road rule. Jim Williams is with the American Petroleum Institute.


“We feel that the ability of the refining industry to make sufficient volumes of 15 ppm in the timeframe that EPA wants us to is highly questionable, whether we can do that. We’ve done some studies that show there will be supply shortfalls with the 15-ppm limit.”


Williams is pushing to phase in the requirement over a longer period. He says that would give refiners more time to produce the necessary quantities of low sulfur fuel. Until then, refiners also want to continue providing high sulfur fuel.


But Engine Manufacturers don’t like that idea. They’ve agreed to support tough standards only if the switchover to low sulfur fuel happens quickly. Jed Mandel runs the Engine Manufacturers Association. He’s worried that if cheaper, low sulfur fuel remains abundant; users could continue relying on the dirtier fuel.


“If there are dual fuels available — if there’s cleaner fuel on the marketplace for some time, as well as higher sulfur dirtier fuel, and there’s a price differential in that fuel, there will be a disincentive for users to buy the cleanest engines.”


Mandel says that could cause a delay in purchasing these engines for several years.


Like Mandel, Jason Grumet, executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, also wants tight standards. Northeast states, plagued with acid rain and smog caused largely by these diesels, are pushing the EPA to develop the tightest standards possible to meet clean air goals and also to better protect equipment operators.


“The particles from diesel emissions can lodge very deep within the human lung and we know that these particles are carcinogens, so for folks who work with construction equipment every day or on construction sites, for people who farm or plow fields for several hours a day, we think that the emissions of diesel pollutants cause a very substantial and real threat to their health.”


(sound of tractor)


Herb Smith isn’t worried about his health. Smith hops off his tractor and stands on the land that his family has farmed in Ida Township, Michigan since 1865. Despite years of inhaling diesel fumes, Smith said he’s in perfect physical condition. Though he supports regulations to control diesel emissions, he’s worried that the EPA will place undue hardship on farmers.


“I am concerned about fuel costs because our margin in farming is very slim and anything we add to fuel costs, we have to absorb it.”


Smith fears that some of the smaller farmers may not be able to bear higher fuel and engine costs and could go out of business.


Despite the many different viewpoints on the issue, EPA’s Grundler is confident that his agency can develop a rule that will bring tremendous public health benefits at a reasonable cost.


“We’ve shown we can do it for cars and SUVs. We’ve shown it can be done for heavy duty on highway engines. I’m absolutely certain it can be done for these sorts of engines as well.”


The agency expects to issue a technical report outlining emission control options by the end of the year. A proposal is due by the middle of next year. For The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Halpert.

Treated Lumber a Health Hazard?

A just-released study by two environmental groups has found high levels of arsenic on the surface of pressure-treated wood products. The Environmental Working Group and the Healthy Building Network tested pressure-treated wood purchased from home improvement stores in 13 cities. In releasing their findings, the groups are calling for a ban on the use of the lumber in construction. Their findings add to the growing concern about the safety of the chemicals used to treat this wood. Those chemicals are now being re-evaluated by both the Canadian and American governments. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, the two governments are approaching the issue differently:

Transcript

A just released study by two environmental groups has found high levels of arsenic on the surface of pressure-treated wood products. The Environmental Working Group and the Healthy Building Network tested pressure-treated wood purchased from home improvement stores in 13 cities. In releasing their findings, the groups are calling for a ban on the use of the lumber in construction. Their findings add to the growing concern about the safety of the chemicals used to treat this wood. Those chemicals are now being re-evaluated by both the Canadian and American governments. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, the two governments are approaching the issue differently.


For years, Don Houston at the Canadian Institute of Child Health has been calling for warning labels on pressure-treated wood. The lumber is used in playground structures and picnic tables throughout North America. And it’s treated with a preservative called Chromated Copper Arsenate, which protects the wood from insects and fungi. The preservative is made from arsenic, chromium and copper. And Houston says children who are exposed to the wood may be exposed to those chemicals, as well.


“It’s not just children’s play structures. I’d rather suspect even more problematic is the deck that’s on the back of their house because often times children spend more time there. It’s all sorts of structures that are put in outdoors – decks, balconies, retaining walls; even the telephone pole that might be in a schoolyard might be problematic.”


Houston says the problem arises when arsenic and chromium, which are both carcinogens, remain on the surface of the wood. A study of ten playgrounds conducted by Health Canada in the late 1980’s detected both substances on the surface of play structures made with pressure treated wood. Arsenic and chromium were also found in the nearby soil. Health Canada warns people who work with pressure-treated wood to wear gloves and a mask and to thoroughly wash clothing and exposed skin once they’re finished. The agency also warns against burning pressure treated wood. But Houston says there are still no guidelines for children.


“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the guy who’s building it to use gloves and then the child ten minutes after it’s built to be walking over it and running on it barefoot and having greater potential health impact from the exposure.”


But scientists at Health Canada say the research findings have been mixed. They point to studies conducted by the U.S. EPA in the late 1980’s that found minimal health risks. Now, fifteen years since they last evaluated these chemicals, both Health Canada and the EPA are taking another look. The update is required by law in both countries. Richard Martin is a toxicologist at Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. He says the presence of arsenic is not always a cause for concern.


“Although there’s a number of reports out there of arsenic being found in soil, and although they’re useful, arsenic is found in all soil. So we need to go the extra step to determine to what extent there’s potential for exposure to children and that type of thing.”


Martin says his agency is reviewing research to determine the effect of exposure on both adults who work with cca-treated wood and children who play near it. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking the review a step further. Jim Jones, the deputy director of the EPA’s office of pesticide programs, says they’re concentrating on the exposure to children first.


“It was the children’s exposure through cca-treated wood we think are the most important to look at as they’re the group in the population that is likely to have the greatest exposures, just because of the way in which they interact with playground equipment and on decks.”


The EPA also plans to take soil samples near cca-treated wood structures in 75 playgrounds around the United States. And it’s considering a recommendation that people apply sealants to pressure-treated wood in the interim. The EPA’s scientific advisory panel suggested the agency take that measure. The EPA and Health Canada are collaborating on the re-evaluation – sharing their findings and their recommendations. Don Houston of the Canadian Institute of Child Health hopes that will lead to legislation in both countries that will restrict the use of this lumber in places where children play. The EPA and Health Canada are expected to announce their recommendations next spring.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.