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A once-polluted Chicago industrial site now a community park

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Community park opens on ex-Chicago Superfund site

Posted by Richard Gehres

City, state and federal officials joined residents in the city’s Little Village neighborhood on Sunday to officially open the La Villata  Park on a 22-acre site.


The land once was home to a Celotex Corp. plant, which made asphalt roofing. The site was contaminated with chemicals and eventually placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list.

It was remediated in recent years to allow construction of a park in the mostly Hispanic neighborhood. The $19 million park includes artificial-turf soccer fields, basketball courts, a skate park and playground. It also has a promenade, multi-use trail and landscaping.The city still plans to open a natural-grass baseball and softball field with concession and restrooms.


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Chemical Phthalates in Food Packaging Linked With Lower IQ in Kids

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Kids whose moms had the highest levels of certain chemicals in their bodies during pregnancy had markedly lower IQs at age 7, researchers said Wednesday.

It’s the latest in a series of studies linking the chemicals, called phthalates, with health effects ranging from behavioral disorders to deformations of the sex organs.

While the study doesn’t show for sure that the phthalates damaged the kids’ brains during development, the researchers say they did everything they could to filter out other possible effects and they still found the link between some — but not all — of the phthalates and IQ.

Read more from Maggie Fox at NBC News.

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Student probes toxicity of fire-retardant materials in daycares

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BY FEDERICA GIANNELLI, FOR THE STARPHOENIX

University of Saskatchewan toxicology student David Saunders has analyzed dust from 20 daycares in the Saskatoon area to learn whether flame retardant chemicals in foam furniture and children’s toys pose a health hazard.

Added to fabrics and furniture to increase fire resistance, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in high concentrations are potentially toxic for human health and very persistent in the environment.

Read more here.

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Stop Poisoning The Children

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When will we stop poisoning our children?  What is a child’s life worth? I can’t help but ask those questions today as I click through my e-mail box and see the story on fracking related health effects, around birth defects and infertility and another on cancer, respiratory disease and more. As I scroll down there’s a new story by the Center for Public Integrity focused on a study finding childhood leukemia related to the petrochemical industry.

“Children, developing fetuses, they’re especially vulnerable to environmental factors,” says Ellen Webb, the study’s lead author and an energy program associate at the Center for Environmental Health. “We really need to be concerned about the impacts for these future generations.”

The Center for Public Integrity story is almost a mirror image of the story about Woburn,  Massachusetts. Parents in that community in the late 1970’s discovered a cluster of childhood leukemia while taking their children into the hospital for treatment. For those who are familiar with the Woburn story just read the paragraphs below for the article and see the similarities.

“It was December 29, 1998, six years after Jill McElheney and her family had moved next to a cluster of 12 petroleum storage tanks. Jill was escorting her son Jarrett, then 4, to the doctor again. He had spent the day slumped in a stroller, looking so pale and fatigued that a stranger stopped her to ask if he was all right.

It was an encounter Jill couldn’t shake. For the previous three months, she had noticed her once-energetic preschooler deteriorating. He complained of pain in his knee, which grew excruciating. It migrated to his shoulder and then his leg. His shins swelled, as did his temples. At night, Jarrett awoke drenched in sweat, screaming from spasms. Jill took him to a pediatrician and an infectious-disease specialist. A rheumatologist diagnosed him with anemia.

Doctors identified a common form of childhood leukemia. “I heard the words,” Jill recalled, “and I only knew the bald heads and the sadness.”

In the waiting room, family members heard more unsettling news: A neighbor’s child also had developed leukemia.

Days later, Jarrett’s doctor penned a letter to federal environmental regulators about the two cancer patients, highlighting their “close proximity” to Southeast Terminals, a group of 10,000-gallon tanks containing gasoline, diesel and fuel oil.

“Could you please investigate,” the doctor wrote, “whether high levels of chemicals could have contaminated the water, possibly contributing … to the development of leukemia?”

I can remember like it was yesterday, talking with mothers from Woburn literally telling the same story. Why are corporations allowed, now over thirty five years later, to continue to poison our children? These children have parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, names and personalities. They are not just numbers in a report or statistics in someone’s research they are little people and are helpless. It is well past time to stop this madness and protect the most vulnerable among us. Enough is enough our children matter.

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Study Links Fracking to Infertility, Miscarriages, Birth Defects

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A new study links shale oil and gas development to a host of developmental and reproductive health risks, and says the processes involved – including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – pose a particularly potent threat to what researchers called “our most vulnerable population.”

“Children, developing fetuses, they’re especially vulnerable to environmental factors,” says Ellen Webb, the study’s lead author and an energy program associate at the Center for Environmental Health. “We really need to be concerned about the impacts for these future generations.”

Read more from Alan Neuhauser at US News & World Report.

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EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calls for tougher ozone standards

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In an article today, McCarthy proposes to update national ozone pollution standards, lowering the current standard of 75 parts per billion to a standard in the range of 65-70 parts per billion.  She notes that in the US, one in ten children already suffers from asthma, and ozone pollution makes things worse.  If these proposed standards are finalized, this means avoiding 1 million missed school days, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and nearly a million asthma attacks for children.  Read the full article here.


Mapped Data Offers Insights about Water Quality and Birth Defects

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Aggregated data about metals in North Carolina’s well water indicate some disturbing connections between birth defects and well water in some parts of the state.

By Gabe Rivin

First, pull up a state map. Next, gather six years’ worth of childbirth records from across the state. Top it off with a surplus of data about the state’s drinking-water wells.

Confused what to do next?

If the connection isn’t immediately clear, you might want to ask Rebecca Fry, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and an expert in the harms wrought by heavy metals, such as arsenic and cadmium. Fry, along with researchers from UNC and the state’s government, recently combined these disparate data sets while studying the connections between well water and birth defects.

What they found, Fry said, was striking.

Water wells throughout the center of the state are saturated with manganese, they found. And babies in North Carolina were more likely to have heart defects if their mothers drank water from these manganese-rich wells.

In recent years, health researchers have increasingly turned their attention to heavy metals – such as cadmium, mercury, chromium and arsenic – particularly for their effects on unborn children. Fry and others have shown that cadmium can potentially harm newborns’ health and that the heavy metal has accumulated in mothers’ blood.

A map with average concentrations of four heavy metals in well water, listed in parts per billion. Graphic courtesy Rebecca Fry

A map with average concentrations of four heavy metals in well water, listed in parts per billion. Graphic courtesy Rebecca Fry

So it’s not entirely novel that a metal has been implicated in a health problem. But what is new, according to Fry, is that researchers have turned to data-rich maps to make these findings.

“Just being able to map those metals across the state is very new,” said Fry.

Mapping big data

Fry said she and her colleagues had a surfeit of data to work with.

For their study, published in September, the researchers gathered six years’ worth of childbirth data from across the state, captured by the state’s Birth Defects Monitoring Program. That program is part of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and keeps records on newborns’ birth defects in all 100 state counties.

The researchers gathered data from about 20,000 babies born with birth defects. As a control, they also considered about 668,000 born without defects.

The babies were born in counties in all regions of the state. And that meant that the babies’ mothers lived in counties across the state where water quality can vary dramatically from well to well.

The researchers wanted to know whether well water had anything to do with newborns’ birth defects. But they were limited, Fry said, since they couldn’t measure the mothers’ actual water consumption.

The Carolina slate belt runs from Virginia to Georgia and through central North Carolina, where it saturates drinking water wells with manganese. Graphic courtesy U.S. Geological survey

The Carolina slate belt runs from Virginia to Georgia and through central North Carolina, where it saturates drinking-water wells with manganese. Graphic courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

“We don’t have active environmental monitoring in everyone’s home,” she said.

So, to estimate the water that the mothers drank, the researchers instead relied on geocoding, a technique that allows different types of data to be plotted on maps.

It’s a technique that’s gaining momentum in public health research, according to Tzy-Mey May Kuo, a research associate at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“This is not new, but it’s a technique that’s become popular,” she said, noting that geocoding is used in popular websites like Google Maps, whose maps are enriched with street-level images and information about businesses.

For the study’s authors, geocoding helped explain what was in the water that the mothers drank.

Using state records about well water, the researchers mapped out the different quality of the water across the state. They then combined this water data and another key data set – the locations of mothers’ homes while they were pregnant – in order to predict, on average, what sorts of heavy metals were entering the women’s bodies and potentially the bodies of their unborn children.

This complex method allowed them to answer three simpler questions: Where in the state is well water a problem, where are children being born with defects and is there a connection between the two?

The need for biomonitoring

When the data crunching was done, the picture was clear.

Manganese is highly concentrated in many North Carolina wells, the researchers found, especially in the central counties of the state, which sit above the Carolina slate belt, a cross-state geologic formation with an abundance of manganese. In fact, about 20 percent of private water wells exceeded the EPA’s suggested limit for the metal.

well image image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

2.3 million North Carolinians rely on wells for their drinking water, but some 20 percent of the wells surveyed in the study had manganese levels that exceeded the EPA’s recommended limit. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

And the manganese appeared to be causing harm. Newborns had a higher chance of being born with heart defects if their mothers drank the manganese-rich water, the study found.

Manganese toxicity follows a basic principle: the dose makes the poison. The body needs a small amount of the metal to function properly. But excessive amounts can be harmful.

Health researchers have known since the 1800s that manganese, which is used to harden steel, can cause neurological disorders in humans who’ve had high enough doses. Its effects, in fact, can emulate those of Parkinson’s disease. Among children, it’s also suspected of causing problems with neurological development.

But while their finding is worrisome, the researchers admit that their study had several significant limitations.

Though their sample size was large, the researchers were hampered by a lack of data about the mothers’ actual water consumption.

The study’s authors say their lack of individual measurements points to the need for biomonitoring, or chemical measurements of study participants’ bodies. But North Carolina currently doesn’t have any biomonitoring programs for pregnant women, they add.

They also note that until 2008 state government did not require residents to test well water – and even then, the tests were only made mandatory for new wells. So while the study relied on data from 1998 to 2010, the pre-2008 data would have come from residents who chose to have their wells tested. And that could have biased the data, the researchers say.

What well users can do

The UNC and government researchers used a sophisticated method to calculate health risks for newborns. But for residents concerned about their water, the solution can be much simpler. County health departments offer tests of private water wells, including tests for a number of heavy metals, including manganese.

In Montgomery County, well tests run between $35 and $85, and can measure pesticides, inorganic chemicals and petroleum. Teresa Davis, an environmental health coordinator with the county, said that most people seek out the county’s services on their own.

“Being such a small community, people know to call the health department,” she said.

Fry said that this is a good idea since federal and state regulations don’t cover the quality of well water. Residents can also install technology to remove heavy metals if they’re having an issue, she added.

But those filters can be more expensive than conventional water filters, like those made by Brita, Fry said. One, manufactured by Apyron, removes about 92 percent of arsenic from water but costs about $500. A reverse-osmosis system made by Certex costs about $300 and removes about 86 percent of arsenic.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services also collects water samples from newly drilled wells.

“The wells are sampled and the resident is given a list of contaminants (if any), possible remedies for such contaminants, as well as any health risks associated with consuming the water,” said Alexandra Lefebvre, a press officer with DHHS, in an email interview. “We recommend to all new well owners to sample their well annually after the first samples are collected.”

From North Carolina Health News.

Most IQ losses due to lead exposure fall outside of the federally established threshold. (Bruce Lanphear)

‘Little Things Matter’ Exposes Big Threat To Children’s Brains

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Tiny amounts of lead, chemical flame retardants and organophosphate pesticides, among other toxins, course through the blood of nearly every American. But just how much worry is a little poison worth?

Find out more from “Little Things Matter” at The Huffington Post.


Most IQ losses due to lead exposure fall outside of the federally established threshold. (Bruce Lanphear)



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SCIENCE: Phthalates and reproductive hormone levels in fetal blood

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A new Japanese study examined the association between the exposure in utero to phthalates and reproductive hormone levels in cord blood.

514 pregnant females were enrolled in this study and their blood samples analysed for Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a major phthalate compounds used in production in Japan.

The study found that maternal DEHP exposure could negatively correlate with the levels of reproductive hormones. Another observation was that these associations were more pronounced in male than in female infants.

The researchers conclude that further investigations of other phthalates in comprehensive studies as well as long-term effects on reproductive development are needed.

The study has been published in the Journal PlosOne

More information:

Araki A, Mitsui T, Miyashita C, Nakajima T, Naito H, Ito S, Sasaki S, Cho K, Ikeno T, Nonomur. Association between Maternal Exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate and Reproductive Hormone Levels in Fetal Blood: The Hokkaido Study on Environment and Children’s Health.

A breast cancer awareness charm bracelet for children sold at a Party City store in Albany County was found to contain cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, according to tests of childrens' products done by public health advocates. More than two dozen toys sold at stores including Target and Ocean State Job Lot were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals or chemicals.

Danger on the toy shelf

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Study finds toxic metals and chemicals in children’s items sold at local stores
By Brian Nearing


A breast cancer awareness charm bracelet for children sold at a Party City store in Albany County was found to contain cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, according to tests of childrens' products done by public health advocates. More than two dozen toys sold at stores including Target and Ocean State Job Lot were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals or chemicals.


The little metal toy charm of a cute fairy being sold at Ocean State Job Lots looks innocent enough, but it could expose any child who touches it — or puts it in his or her mouth — to dangerous levels of cadmium, a heavy metal linked to cancer, kidney and lung damage, and early onset of puberty, according to a report to be released Monday by a local public health group and an environmental advocacy organization.

That fairy charm was among nearly two dozen children’s toys on store shelves in Albany County allegedly found to contain unsafe levels of dangerous chemicals or metals like cadmium, arsenic, cobalt, mercury or lead, the report by Clean and Healthy New York and the New York League of Conservation Voters states.

Other tainted items included beads, hair clips, key chains, a luggage tag and jewelry. The metal in the fairy charm, the report states, was found to be almost 25 percent cadmium, a carcinogen with no safe level of exposure for children, according to federal guidelines.

“Parents who looked at the labels on these products have no way of knowing they are not safe,” said Kathleen Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York. Her group tested children’s toys sold at stores including Target and Party City, as well as Ocean State, using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence analyzer.

Curtis said tests were done to draw support and attention to a proposed Albany County law that would fine stores selling tainted toys up to $500 per toy, and up to $1,000 per toy for repeat violators.

Two allegedly contaminated toys sold at Target — a Lego “Legends of Chima” LED light key chain and a Monster High doll based on Dracula — were found to have unsafe levels of cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, lung problems and development problems, or antimony, another heavy metal that can damage the heart, liver and respiratory tract.

A Target spokesman was unable to provide comment for this story Friday.

At Party City, a charm bracelet promoting breast cancer awareness was found to contain unsafe levels of cobalt, which is carcinogenic, the groups claim.

Bobbi Chase Wilding, a Clean and Healthy New York staffer who conducted the tests, said nearly all the dangerous toys were manufactured in China. She also said Target has a policy that urges — but does not require — its suppliers not to use hazardous chemicals or metals in their children’s products.

The New York League of Conservation Voters also supported the testing, the first time the group has gotten involved in measuring chemical exposure in children’s products, said Christopher Goeken, director of public policy and government relations for the league.

Test results point to a failure of federal and state regulators to inspect toys being imported for sale in the U.S., Wilding said. “In the absence of leadership by the federal government or state, Albany County is taking on this issue itself,” she said.

The proposal by county Legislator Bryan Clenehan, a Guilderland Democrat, would allow the county health commissioner to inspect children’s products in stores for the presence of banned or unsafe chemicals. Lead, for example, is banned in any product intended for children 13 or younger, but nine toys tested were found to contain lead.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends toys contain no more than 40 parts per million of lead. A hair clip sold at Ocean State tested out at more than 1,600 parts per million of lead, according to the report. That same clip was also found to be 11 percent cadmium.

Corporate offices for Ocean State and Party City did not return several telephone calls seeking comment for this story.

bnearing@timesunion.com518-454-5094@Bnearing10

Story originally published at http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Danger-on-the-toy-shelf-5897618.php