Fish Swimming in Hormones

  • Fish are putting up less of a fight on the line when caught - making them less fun for sport fishing. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

A recent report from the US Geological
Survey confirms past findings that fish
are in trouble. Tanya Ott
reports the hormone estrogen is getting
into rivers and lakes and could reduce
fish populations:

Transcript

A recent report from the US Geological
Survey confirms past findings that fish
are in trouble. Tanya Ott
reports the hormone estrogen is getting
into rivers and lakes and could reduce
fish populations:

The fish have been turning up with lesions and intersexed –
meaning they have both male and female characteristics.

Rob Angus is a fish biologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
He wasn’t involved in the USGS research, but has studied the problem for
more than a decade. The culprit?

“You’re a female? You excrete estrogens. Both natural estrogens,
the estrogenst that are in birth control pills, females that are
on estrogen replacement therapy. All of those end up in the
wastewater stream.”

Wastewater treatment plants clean up about 90 percent of the
estrogen, but the remaining ten percent is a problem.

Fish don’t reproduce as easily. And, for sport fishers, the fish
aren’t as much fun to catch. They don’t put up as much of a fight
on the line. That could affect the 75 billion dollars sport fishing industry.

For The Environment Report, I’m Tanya Ott.

Related Links

Kicking a Chemical Out of Cans

  • Tomatoes are posing a problem for a BPA-free lining - they are so acidic they can eat through it (Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of the USDA)

More than a hundred studies have linked a chemical in plastic to health problems. Things like breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, and early puberty. This chemical, bisphenol-A or BPA, is used to coat the inside of baby formula cans and almost all food and soda cans. Rebecca Williams visits one company that’s found a safer can:

Transcript

More than a hundred studies have linked a chemical in plastic to health problems. Things like breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, and early puberty. This chemical, bisphenol-A or BPA, is used to coat the inside of baby formula cans and almost all food and soda cans. Rebecca Williams visits one company that’s found a safer can:

(sound of forklift backing up, pumpkin seeds pouring out of roaster)

It’s pumpkin seed roasting day at Eden Foods. It’s a natural foods company based in Michigan. It sells things like rice, canned beans, and all kinds of packaged fruits and sauces.

Michael Potter is the company’s president. More than a decade ago, he came across some news reports out of Europe.

“And I learned all the can linings in the USA were lined with this lining that leaches BPA into foods from the can.”

That got him thinking, and researching. Then he started badgering his can manufacturers.

“We virtually begged them to provide us an alternative. We persisted in hounding them and eventually the Ball Corporation said they’d make a can with an old lining they used to make.”

The lining’s made from a plant resin instead of the epoxy resin with BPA. The thing was, it would cost Eden Foods 14 percent more – that’s about 2 cents a can.

But Michael Potter says he had to make the switch.

“We’re selling this not only to people that we don’t know, in the market, we’re feeding it to our children, our grandchildren and ourselves – we didn’t want to eat bisphenol A.”

But there was one problem. He couldn’t make the switch for canned tomatoes.

Tomatoes are acidic, and they can eat through the plant resin can lining. That could lead to bacteria or rust getting into the food.

“There is no alternative for high acid foods other than bisphenol-A lining at this point. We are urging, nudging, demanding a bisphenol-A free alternative. And we’re optimistic we’ll end up with one.”

But the metal can industry says those alternatives just don’t exist right now.

John Rost is with the North American Metal Packaging Alliance. He says the industry is trying to find new materials. But he says shoppers shouldn’t worry about eating canned food.

“The levels of BPA that are coming from epoxy can linings are exceedingly low. We’re talking low parts per billion. That level has been deemed safe by the European Food Safety Authority, Health Canada and the US FDA.”

That’s true, but Health Canada has declared BPA toxic. It’s making moves to limit its use.

A number of independent scientists debate that there’s any safe level of BPA.

Maricel Maffini studies BPA at Tufts University School of Medicine. She says they’ve seen harmful effects on lab animals at the same very low levels of BPA that are leaching into our food from cans.

She says that’s because BPA acts like the hormone estrogen.

“You just need a tiny little signal to trigger an effect. So I think it’s unfair to say there is a safe dose because as scientists we cannot say that yet. We have not found a dose that is low enough where we don’t see effects.”

She says babies and kids are the most at risk. She says BPA has caused lasting damage in lab animals when the animals were exposed to the chemical both before and after birth.

“I think we should be concerned, I think we should limit our consumption of canned foods especially if you are pregnant or if you have babies.”

It’s possible that US can makers will be forced to stop using BPA. Leaders in Congress have introduced bills that could soon ban BPA in all food and beverage containers.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Water Pollution Feminizing Fish

  • Chemicals in the water are mixing up fish's gender (Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Scientists already know estrogen from things like ‘The Pill’ is getting into the water and causing reproductive problems for fish. Male fish are picking up female attributes. Some males are even growing eggs. Now a study finds there are other chemicals getting into water that might be messing with fish gender even more. Rebecca Williams reports:

Transcript

Scientists already know estrogen from things like ‘The Pill’ is getting into the water and causing reproductive problems for fish. Male fish are picking up female attributes. Some males are even growing eggs. Now a study finds there are other chemicals getting into water that might be messing with fish gender even more. Rebecca Williams reports:

This study’s found a group of chemicals that block the male hormone testosterone is getting into rivers.

Charles Tyler is the lead author of the paper in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

He says they don’t know exactly where these chemicals are coming from, but some medicines and pesticides can block testosterone. So, add that to the estrogen…

“And so it’s very likely they’re going to have interactive and additive effects, if you like, to induce a double whammy on the poor fish.”

Tyler says they don’t know if what’s happening in fish is also happening in people.

Human male fertility has been declining. But there might be other chemicals contributing to the problem.

And besides, there’s a difference. Fish can’t get away from these testosterone blocking chemicals or the estrogen in the water – they live and swim in them. So Tyler says they’re getting a much higher dose.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Can Cow Hormones Help the Environment?

  • One environmentalist is arguing that hormones in cows may actually be better for the environment (Photo by Kinna Ohman)

The cow hormone known as rBST or rBGH
has taken a beating in the environmental community.
Injecting the hormone into cows makes them produce
more milk. But some people are afraid the hormone
can find its way from the cow, to the cow’s milk,
and into our bodies. The government insists that’s
not the case. Shawn Allee says one researcher
wants to change the debate about rBST – and convince
environmentalists to support the hormone:

Transcript

The cow hormone known as rBST or rBGH
has taken a beating in the environmental community.
Injecting the hormone into cows makes them produce
more milk. But some people are afraid the hormone
can find its way from the cow, to the cow’s milk,
and into our bodies. The government insists that’s
not the case. Shawn Allee says one researcher
wants to change the debate about rBST – and convince
environmentalists to support the hormone:

Before I introduce you to the researcher who supports rbst or rbgh, I want
you to understand what she’s up against.

It’s well-meaning people like Steve Parkes.

Parkes co-owns New Leaf natural food store in Chicago. He decides what’s
on the shelves.

“A lot goes into making that decision. First and foremost, is it something
I would eat myself?”

And as for milk produced with rbgh, Parkes won’t sell it.

“People have been drinking milk for thousands of years from animals
that didn’t have have rgbh in them, so, I think I’m a little more
comfortable drinking milk from a cow that didn’t have rgbh than I am
from something that is a very, very new technology.”

A lot of people distrust rbgh, and that’s changed the milk market.
For example, some retailers like Starbucks won’t buy milk from dairies that
use it. More and more dairies are asking farmers to pledge not to use the
hormone.

The trend has frustrated researcher Judith Capper.

“People aren’t questioning the science basis of it.”

Capper is with Cornell University. She argues environmentalists and
consumers should take another look at the hormone, and see it as part of the
solution to global warming.

Capper recently co-wrote a study that began with a simple observation – in a
few decades, there will be many more Americans.

“The US population will have gone up from about 300 million people to
377 million people and we wanted to look at the environment impact of
producing enough milk to feed all those people.”

That scares Capper – because producing milk can make the global warming
problem worse.

That’s because feeding cows, and the cows themselves, lead to more
greenhouse gas emissions.

“Okay, there are six major inputs and outputs in terms of carbon.”

I won’t go through six, but here are a few.

First, there’s the feed that cows eat. Tractors have to plant grain. That burns
fossil fuels. Greenhouse gasses. Then feed is trucked to the dairy farm.
More greenhouse gasses. More cows, more greenhouse gasses.

So, you want as much milk as possible from each cow.

“If you give rbst to a cow, it will produce an extra ten pounds per day,
that’s quite an increase.”

And then there’s the other greenhouse gasses. From, um, the ugly end of the
cow equation.

The manure puts off other potent greenhouse gasses. And Cows belch
methane. Cows that use rbst poop and belch, spare the atmosphere even
more carbon.

All this leads Capper to a startling conclusion.

She says if farmers gave a million cows the hormone –

“Using rbst would be like taking about 400,000 cars off the road, or
planting three hundred million trees. Those are really big numbers.”

Judith Capper says she expects scientists will challenge her research – and
she welcomes a good debate about rbgh and rbst.

She says that’s better than this vague idea that the hormone might somehow
be bad without understanding the whole story.

“Choose organic, choose rbst-free, whatever, but base it on facts and
science, not on consumer perceptions that may not be factually correct.”

But, Capper’s got her work cut out for her.

Government statistics show consumer fear about rbgh has made farmers cut
the percentage of cows injected with the hormone.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Starbucks Drops Organic Milk

  • Starbucks has switched to rBGH-free milk. (Photo by Mark Brush)

You won’t be able to get organic milk in your latte at Starbucks anymore. Mark Brush
reports the company says they’re trying to meet consumer demands:

Transcript

You won’t be able to get organic milk in your latte at Starbucks anymore. Mark Brush
reports the company says they’re trying to meet consumer demands:


(Sound of Starbucks store)


Starbucks says only about one percent of its customers bought organic milk. The coffee
retailer says the main reason they asked for organic was because of a concern about
recombinant bovine growth hormone. rBGH is an artificial hormone injected into dairy
cows to make them produce more milk.


The company said they decided to address that concern alone rather than carry organic
milk. Organic milk is also made without artificial hormones, as well as without
antibiotics. And the cows are given access to pasture lands. Starbucks says that’s more
than most customers asked for.


The company is now using rBGH free milk and is phasing out its organic milk.


For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Phthalates Linked to Lower Testosterone Levels

A new study indicates workers who handle some kinds of plastics might be exposed to chemicals that affect reproductive health. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A new study indicates workers who handle some kinds of plastics might be exposed to chemicals that affect reproductive health. Lester Graham reports:


Animal studies and effects on wildlife have made researchers suspect that certain chemicals called phthalates might affect reproductive health in people.


Some types of phthalates are used to make vinyl and plastic soft and pliable.


A new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found a connection between phthalates and lower testosterone levels in men.


The researchers found compared to an unexposed group, men working at a Chinese factory that produced vinyl flooring had significantly elevated levels of phthalates in their bodies. Their testosterone levels were down ranging from moderate to significant decreases in the hormone.


Environmentalists suspect that workers who regularly come into contact with vinyls and plastics would see similar results.


Phthalates have been suspected of causing problems and some cosmetic companies have stopped using the chemicals in their products.


For the Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Dilemmas for Wastewater Treatment Plants

  • Water contamination from sources that might include some wastewater treatment plants closes some beaches. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Municipal sewer plants are sometimes blamed for high E. coli bacteria counts that close beaches to swimmers. Some cities are working to find better ways to treat the water and put it back into nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:

Transcript

Municipal sewer plants are sometimes blamed for high E. coli bacteria counts
that close beaches to swimmers. Some cities are working to find better ways to treat the
water and put it back into nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus
reports:


(sound of cars moving along a small street and a few people talking)


A typical summer day by the lake: SUVs pull boats on trailers. People saunter from an
ice cream shop to the city beach. Jet skis and water skiiers slice through the waves.
Carpenters raise trusses on homes being built into the remaining lakefront lots.


Just a few years ago it seemed towns like this were just for loggers and locals. But now
people are flocking to the lakes around the Midwest and staying there. And that’s putting
a strain on local sewer plants.


(sound of machines inside the water treatment plant)


For 40 years, the treated waste water from the Boyne City, Michigan sewer plant has
been released into the big lake it was built on…Lake Charlevoix.


“It’s located right adjacent to a public swimming beach, park, marina and some valuable
waterfront property. We are only a block off the downtown district.”


Plant manager Dan Meads wants to stop mixing the end product with the water where
tourists and the locals swim and play. He tests daily for E. coli bacteria. He
doesn’t want anyone getting sick. But it’s still a concern, and there are other concerns.


In recent years, the United States Geological Survey has reported on new kinds of
contaminants that they’ve found in ground and surface water. The USGS says treated
wastewater from sewer plants can contain hormones from birth control pills, antibiotics,
detergents, fire retardants, and pesticides.


USGS microbiologist Sheridan Haack says the effects of all these compounds are still
unknown. Most are found in tiny quantities, but combined they could cause any number
of chemical reactions.


“There are many different chemical structures and it would be very difficult to state for
all of them what we would actually expect the environmental fate to be and how they
would actually be transported through the environment.”


Haack says the medicines people take don’t disappear. They eventually leave the body
and are flushed down the toilet. Those drugs have been tested for safe human
consumption, but the question is: what happens when those chemicals are mixed in with
industrial waste, accidental spills and nature’s own chemical processes? Haack says they
just might come back around to hurt humans, fish and wildlife.


The Boyne City solution is to build a new wastewater treatment plant two miles from the
beaches up the Boyne River. Officials say contaminants will be diluted by the time they
flow back down into Lake Charlevoix.


(sound of the Boyne River)


Larry Maltby volunteers for a group called “Friends of the Boyne River.” The group
doesn’t like the city’s plan to discharge treated wastewater directly into the river. It wants
them to consider some non-traditional methods. They say the new sewer plant could run
a pipe under a golf course or spray the treated water on farm fields… or let it drain into
wetlands to let nature filter it out.


“It will seep into the soils which are very sandy and gravelly underneath the golf course
and then the filtration through the ground will have a great deal of effect of continuing to
purify that water. Much more so than it would be with a direct deposit, straight into the
surface waters of Michigan.”


Lawyers for the Friends of the Boyne River have appealed to the state dept of
environmental quality and filed a lawsuit.


But wastewater treatment plant manager Dan Meads says the city doesn’t want to please
just one group and end up angering another…


“There isn’t any guarantee that you can satisfy everybody. We think we have the best
option available.”


As municipalities are short on funds and personnel, they don’t want to wait for decades
for the perfect solution. Still, nobody wants any amount of pollution to affect their home
or their recreational area.


Sheridan Haack with the USGS won’t take either side in this dispute. She says not only
are the dangers from contaminants unknown, the best way to deal with them is unknown.


“I am not aware of any consensus in the scientific community on the nature or types of
treatment for this broad range of chemicals.”


In the meantime… communities such as Boyne City have the unenviable task of trying to
dispose of their residents sewage without polluting the beaches, the fishing, and the
environment that brought folks there in the first place.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.

Related Links

Beefy Guy Buys Organic Bovine

  • David Hammond's inspiration to experiment with a low-carb diet. (Self portrait by David Hammond)

Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all becoming household words and companies are scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the mirror as he investigates the potential environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:

Transcript

Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of
dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate
diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all
becoming household words and companies are
scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series
called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the
mirror as he investigates the potential
environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:


(sound of shower door closing, shower being turned on)


Every day it’s the same. As I wait for the shower to
warm up, I fight off an assault on my self-esteem.
First, there’s my naked reflection in the bathroom
mirror. (Ugh.) To my right, a stack of clothes that
don’t fit anymore. And in front of me, the most
damning thing of all… the bathroom scale.


I know I should ignore it, but its pull is irresistible.


Hammond: “Okay, here comes the big
moment of truth. Ohh… you gotta be kidding
me. Well, according to my scale, I am four pounds
heavier than yesterday. I don’t know how
that can be possible.”


You see, I’m fat. Not “oversized.” Not “full-figured.” Fat. I weigh 268 lbs and desperately need
to lose some weight. None of my clothes fit. My
cholesterol is through the roof. And my wife? Well, she
seems to have cornered the market on migraine
headaches.


(shower fades out)


But what kind of diet? I needed a diet that would
work within my lifestyle, not totally change it.
Because giving up meat wasn’t an option for me, I
figured low-carb was the way to go.


A recent Roper Report estimated that up to 40
million Americans were reducing their
carbohydrates.


40 million carb counters can’t be wrong, can they?


My gut told me that low-carb dieters must be
demanding more meat and poultry. But
was there an environmental impact?


For advice, I turned to the Sierra Club. They have a
program focused on concentrated animal feeding
operations — better known as factory
farms. These are operations where thousands of animals,
sometimes tens of thousands, are housed
together in relatively small spaces.


Environmentalists say the problem is their manure.
So much of it is produced, in such a small area that
simply spreading it on nearby fields can lead to
severe water pollution.


Anne Woiwode is the Director of the Sierra Club’s
office in Lansing, MI. She said that manure is not
the only problem. A bigger threat may be the
antibiotics that the animals are given to promote
their growth.


“Up to 70% of the antibiotics used in
this country right now are being fed to animals so
that they are fattened quickly. And because
animals are consuming so many antibiotics, you
are actually creating super bugs or super
bacteria.”


As far as my diet is concerned, with all this talk
about manure, bacteria, and super bugs, I wasn’t
sure that I needed to diet after all. I’d pretty much
lost my appetite.


Well, almost… it is still barbeque season after
all.


What I need is a low-carb fix that I can feel good
about. A local butcher mentioned Roseland Farm.
It’s located in southwest Michigan, near the Indiana border.
They’re one of the region’s largest, certified organic
farms. It’s a family farm. Merrill Clark is one of
the owners.


“We’re a 1,800 acre certified organic beef farm, we also
raise some grains and other garden vegetables on
a smaller scale but we are mostly known for our
beef. We’ve been, I’ll say certified organic, for
nearly 20 years.”


Certified organic means that Clark and her family
feed their cattle with crops grown without pesticides
or synthetic fertilizers. They also don’t give their
cattle antibiotics or growth hormones.


Nearly a quarter of their farm is devoted to grazing,
so the Clarks avoid the manure problems of factory
farms. They just leave the manure where it drops
and it becomes natural fertilizer.


Natural grazing also reduces the need to feed the
cattle grains like corn and soybeans. When used for
cattle feed, those grains are usually inefficient and
expensive to produce.


Even though the Clark family runs a large organic
farm, they know that in the scheme of things, they are still very small.
Merrill Clark says that’s fine.


“If some major Kroger or Meijer’s wanted to buy all of our
meat, I don’t think we would want to. We sort of
feel connected to our label and our own name and
our identity. It’s just so interesting this way. You
meet great people. Because you’re face to face with
your own customers.”


In my case, Merrill and I didn’t actually meet face-
to-face, but we bonded. We talked long after the
interview was over. And I was impressed enough to buy
a 35-lb cooler full of ground sirloin, strips, and
fillets. Enough to get me through those first few
weeks of my diet.


So even though I’m still fat, and tomorrow, the
bathroom scale was going to be just as unforgiving,
I’m starting to feel a little bit better about myself. For
the first time, I feel connected to my food. I feel a
bond to the farmer. And I feel like I was supporting
something worthwhile. And you know what, it
feels good.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David
Hammond.

Related Links