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MIT Researcher: Glyphosate Herbicide will Cause Half of All Children to Have Autism by 2025 – See more at: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/mit-researcher-glyphosate-herbicide-will-cause-half-of-all-children-to-have-autism-by-2025/#sthash.K3RpD7cq.dpuf

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Half of All Children Will Be Autistic by 2025, Warns Senior Research Scientist at MIT

fBy Alliance For Natural Health
anh-usa.org

Why? Evidence points to glyphosate toxicity from the overuse of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide on our food.

For over three decades, Stephanie Seneff, PhD, has researched biology and technology, over the years publishing over 170 scholarly peer-reviewed articles. In recent years she has concentrated on the relationship between nutrition and health, tackling such topics as Alzheimer’s, autism, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as the impact of nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins on human health.

At a [recent] conference, in a special panel discussion about GMOs, she took the audience by surprise when she declared, “At today’s rate, by 2025, one in two children will be autistic.” She noted that the side effects of autism closely mimic those of glyphosate toxicity, and presented data showing a remarkably consistent correlation between the use of Roundup on crops (and the creation of Roundup-ready GMO crop seeds) with rising rates of autism. Children with autism have biomarkers indicative of excessive glyphosate, including zinc and iron deficiency, low serum sulfate, seizures, and mitochondrial disorder.

A fellow panelist reported that after Dr. Seneff’s presentation, “All of the 70 or so people in attendance were squirming, likely because they now had serious misgivings about serving their kids, or themselves, anything with corn or soy, which are nearly all genetically modified and thus tainted with Roundup and its glyphosate.”

Dr. Seneff noted the ubiquity of glyphosate’s use. Because it is used on corn and soy, all soft drinks and candies sweetened with corn syrup and all chips and cereals that contain soy fillers have small amounts of glyphosate in them, as do our beef and poultry since cattle and chicken are fed GMO corn or soy. Wheat is often sprayed with Roundup just prior to being harvested, which means that all non-organic bread and wheat products would also be sources of glyphosate toxicity. The amount of glyphosate in each product may not be large, but the cumulative effect (especially with as much processed food as Americans eat) could be devastating. A recent study shows that pregnant women living near farms where pesticides are applied have a 60% increased risk of children having an autism spectrum disorder.

Other toxic substances may also be autism-inducing. You may recall our story on the CDC whistleblower who revealed the government’s deliberate concealment of the link between the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps, and rubella) and a sharply increased risk of autism, particularly in African American boys. Other studies now show a link between children’s exposure to pesticides and autism. Children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalate chemicals, are more likely to have autism. Children whose mothers smoked were also twice as likely to have autism. Research now acknowledges that environmental contaminants such as PCBs, PBDEs, and mercury can alter brain neuron functioning even before a child is born.

This month, the USDA released a study finding that although there were detectable levels of pesticide residue in more than half of food tested by the agency, 99% of samples taken were found to be within levels the government deems safe, and 40% were found to have no detectable trace of pesticides at all. The USDA added, however, that due to “cost concerns,” it did not test for residues of glyphosate. Let’s repeat that: they never tested for the active ingredient in the most widely used herbicide in the world. “Cost concerns”? How absurd—unless they mean it will cost them too much in terms of the special relationship between the USDA and Monsanto. You may recall the revolving door between Monsanto and the federal government, with agency officials becoming high-paying executives—and vice versa! Money, power, prestige: it’s all there. Monsanto and the USDA love to scratch each others’ backs. Clearly this omission was purposeful.

In addition, as we have previously reported, the number of adverse reactions from vaccines can be correlated as well with autism, though Seneff says it doesn’t correlate quite as closely as with Roundup. The same correlations between applications of glyphosate and autism show up in deaths from senility.

Of course, autism is a complex problem with many potential causes. Dr. Seneff’s data, however, is particularly important considering how close the correlation is—and because it is coming from a scientist with impeccable credentials. Earlier this year, she spoke at the Autism One conference and presented many of the same facts; that presentation is available on YouTube.

Monsanto claims that Roundup is harmless to humans. Bacteria, fungi, algae, parasites, and plants use a seven-step metabolic route known as the shikimate pathway for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids; glyphosate inhibits this pathway, causing the plant to die, which is why it’s so effective as an herbicide. Monsanto says humans don’t have this shikimate pathway, so it’s perfectly safe.

Dr. Seneff points out, however, that our gut bacteria do have this pathway, and that’s crucial because these bacteria supply our body with crucial amino acids. Roundup thus kills beneficial gut bacteria, allowing pathogens to grow; interferes with the synthesis of amino acids including methionine, which leads to shortages in critical neurotransmitters and folate; chelates (removes) important minerals like iron, cobalt and manganese; and much more.

Even worse, she notes, additional chemicals in Roundup are untested because they’re classified as“inert,” yet according to a 2014 study in BioMed Research International, these chemicals are capable of amplifying the toxic effects of Roundup hundreds of times over.

Glyphosate is present in unusually high quantities in the breast milk of American mothers, at anywhere from 760 to 1,600 times the allowable limits in European drinking water. Urine testing shows Americans have ten times the glyphosate accumulation as Europeans.

“In my view, the situation is almost beyond repair,” Dr. Seneff said after her presentation. “We need to do something drastic.”

Read the Full Article Here.

- See more at: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/mit-researcher-glyphosate-herbicide-will-cause-half-of-all-children-to-have-autism-by-2025/#sthash.K3RpD7cq.dpuf

Katy Raddatz / Special To The Chronicle

Chemicals’ phaseout a ‘success story’ for S.F. Bay wildlife

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Ten years after government regulations forced an industry phaseout of once common but toxic flame retardants, a new study of San Francisco Bay has shown a steep decline in the presence of the chemicals in the bay’s wildlife.

Katy Raddatz / Special To The Chronicle



A decade ago, the chemicals known as PBDEs were recorded in the bay at higher pollution levels than anywhere else in the world, but state and federal curbs that began in California in 2003 have averted a hazard that could have damaged bay birds, shellfish and fish for years to come, the study researchers said.

“This is quite a success story,” said Rebecca Sutton, the study’s lead author and senior scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, which tracks chemicals in the bay. “We tie these results directly to the phaseout.”

Researchers found that the shorebirds nesting on bay islands, mussels living in sloughs and fish swimming in estuary waters have shed much of the contamination detected in the early 2000s.

Read more from Jane Kay at sfgate.com

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Chemicals Lurk in Holiday Meals

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As many of us are getting ready for our big holiday meals for Christmas and Hanukkah, dangerous chemicals may be lurking in our favorite dishes. 

Studies have shown toxic chemicals like phthalates, chemicals that have been linked to birth defects in baby boys and asthma in children, can migrate out of food packaging and get into the food we eat.

Kroger is the largest grocery chain in the United States and one of the largest worldwide, with over 3,500 stores and sales of over $98 billion, yet the company doesn’t have a comprehensive policy to screen out and eliminate toxic chemicals in their products.


TAKE ACTION: Tell Kroger: We don’t wanna be stuffed with toxic chemicals!

Toxic chemicals aren’t only in food packaging. Many consumer products contain chemicals that have been linked with chronic diseases and health conditions, including cancer, reduced fertility, learning and developmental disabilities, behavioral problems, obesity, and diabetes. Chemicals that are getting into our bodies.

Other big retailers like Walmart and Target have developed comprehensive policies to screen out over 1,000 chemicals in products on their store shelves.  If they can do it, so can Kroger! Kroger has taken some initial steps to eliminate certain chemicals like BPA in canned food, which is a promising first step we hope they can build on.

Tell Kroger it’s time to ensure packaged foods and other products they sell are safe, especially for children and pregnant women.


fracking tower

These two states had the same basic information about fracking. They made very different decisions

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By Chris Mooney December 22

Workers tap into Marcellus natural gas at an active Hydraulic Fracturing drilling operation outside of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania operated by Shell. (Photo by Brett Carlsen for The Washington Post)

Last week, New York Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo banned the practice in his state of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — blasting chemical laden water deep beneath the Earth at extreme pressures in order to crack rock and release natural gas. The move followed a report from the New York Department of Health, finding “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes” that may be associated with the technology. It found the science on this question was uncertain but worrisome, and that was enough to put on the brakes.

Yet just a month ago, outgoing Maryland Democratic governor Martin O’Malley decided to let fracking go forward in the western part of his state. This, in turn, was based on a report from Maryland’s departments of Environment and Natural Resources, which concluded that with adequate regulation,”the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.”

So what’s going on here? How can two states comprehensively assess the risks of hydraulic fracturing and then decide on very divergent policies?

Certainly, it’s not that they were looking at radically different science. The reports came out within a month of one another, and given that these are professional state scientific agencies, they probably didn’t miss much of significance to their assessments. And indeed, both reports acknowledge that there are risks from fracking, due to the potential for both water and air contamination — although there is a great deal that we still don’t know about the magnitude of these risks, or the long term effects.

So if the science didn’t divide Maryland and New York, what did? Here are four factors:

The politics. First and most obviously, it is hard not to note that Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is on the way out, to be replaced by a strongly pro-fracking Republican, Larry Hogan. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, on the other hand,was just reelected, which surely made his decision easier. So a ban on fracking in Maryland would, in all likelihood, have been a top priority for the state’s new governor to reverse. In New York, the political context is totally different.

Which agency did the report. In Maryland, the Environment and Natural Resources departments did the study, whereas in New York it was the Department of Health, observes Stanford’s Rob Jackson, who has published a number of influential studies on the link between fracking and groundwater contamination. “It’s not surprising that a health department would frame the issue differently — and reach a different conclusion,” said Jackson. Environment and natural resources departments are more likely to balance health and environmental risks against economic promise — but health departments primarily worry about protecting people.

Indeed, Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which just released a report of its own on the health risks associated with air emissions from fracking-enhanced drilling, points out that Maryland also did a health-focused report of its own. It was conducted by the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health at the University of Maryland, College Park, on behalf of the state. And that report found that in eight separate areas where fracking could have public health effects, the risks were “high” in four of them, “moderately high” in three, and “low” in only one area (earthquakes): “If you actually look at what the health professionals were saying in the two states, they’re pretty aligned,” says Sinding.

The broader and final Maryland report acknowledged these risks, but nonetheless concluded that “best practices and rigorous monitoring, inspection and enforcement can manage and reduce the risks.”

The amount of land at stake. Let’s face it: Maryland also has less at stake, overall, than New York does, simply because a much smaller area is on the table for drilling and fracking. “The thing is, Maryland has a tiny bit of land in play, where New York has a huge amount of the Marcellus and Utica. So, there is a very big difference in scale,” says Alan Krupnick of Resources for the Future.

A simple look at a map proves the point — we’re only talking about a slice of western Maryland, wedged between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, that’s promising for drilling. Here’s a map from the U.S. Geological Survey of the extent of the Utica Shale (maps of the Marcellus Shale lead to a similar conclusion):

This means the benefits, but also the risks, from fracking loom considerably larger in New York. If ten years from now, more science is in and the health risks look even more severe than they do now, there could be many more people at risk in New York.

The precautionary principle. The starkest difference, though, may be that unlike Maryland’s research, the New York health report pretty clearly hews to an approach known as the “precautionary principle,” which suggests that in the face of inadequate scientific information about risks, it is wise to pause and wait for more data, rather than allow potential harm to occur. The precautionary principle was on full display in a statement by acting New York health department commissioner Howard Zucker, who remarked,

I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered. I think it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done. I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.

It is important to recognize that the precautionary principle is not a purely scientific position — nor is it an anti-scientific one. Rather, it represents a risk-aversive orientation towards scientific uncertainty — a conscious decision that unknown risks are too serious to ignore.

That’s why criticisms of New York’s move on “scientific grounds” don’t make much sense. For instance, one blog post at the pro-fracking site Energy in Depth sought to individually critique some of the health-related studies that fed into the New York report. But that’s kind of missing the point: These studies don’t need to be the unassailable “truth” in order for New York to justify its precautionary position. Rather, the state simply needs to be able to point to a body of evidence that, on the whole, raises concern.

Granted, if you were to act in a highly precautionary fashion towards every imaginable risk, nothing would ever happen in the world. A reasonable articulation of the precautionary principle, in contrast, is one in which risks must at least be plausible before they prevent an action — like drilling and fracking — that also has clear economic and other benefits. In this case, though, the risks are plausible, although highly uncertain, notes Stanford’s Rob Jackson. “I do think there’s enough information on the air side and the water side at least to be concerned,” he says — though he emphasizes that there is a great need for longer term health studies, with much larger pools of research subjects.

What all this shows is that these two decisions on fracking, while draped in scientific language, were — in fact — probably not really scientific decisions at all.

Chris Mooney reports on science and the environment.

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EPA Prevents Harmful Chemicals from Entering the Marketplace

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action to protect the public from certain chemicals that have the potential to cause a range of health effects from cancer to reproductive and developmental harm to people and aquatic organisms.


“We are committed to protecting all Americans from exposure to harmful chemicals used in domestic and imported products,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. “There must be a level playing field for U.S. businesses – which is why we’re targeting harmful chemicals no longer used in the U.S. that find their way into commerce, sometimes through imported products. This final action will give EPA the opportunity to restrict or limit any new uses of these chemicals, including imported goods with these chemicals.”

Today’s action addresses the following chemicals:

Most uses of certain benzidine-based dyes which can be used in textiles, paints and inks and can be converted in the body into a chemical that is known to cause cancer;

Most uses of DnPP, a phthalate, which can be used in PVC plastics and shown to cause developmental and/or reproductive effects in laboratory animals; and

Alkanes C 12-13, chloro, a short-chain chlorinated paraffin (SCCP), which can be used as industrial lubricants and are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to aquatic organisms at low concentrations and can be transported globally in the environment.

Some of the chemicals in today’s rule have previously been used in consumer products but are not used in the market today. Today’s Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act allow EPA to review any efforts by manufacturers, including importers, to introduce these chemicals into the market and take appropriate action to ensure that human health and the environment are protected. EPA believes that new uses of these chemicals should not be allowed without an opportunity for review and, if necessary, to place restrictions on these chemicals, as warranted.

The action adds nine benzidine-based dyes to an existing SNUR. It closes a loophole to ensure that these chemicals and products containing them, such as clothing, cannot be imported without EPA review and possible restriction. EPA has investigated safer dyes and colorants as alternatives to benzidine as part of its Safer Chemical Ingredients List and Design for the Environment program.

In 2012, EPA required companies to stop manufacturing and importing SCCPs and to pay fines as a result of an enforcement action. The SCCPs have been proposed for addition to the Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants:http://chm.pops.int/TheConvention/ThePOPs/ChemicalsProposedforListing/tabid/2510/Default.aspx

EPA is further evaluating related medium-chain (MCCPs) and long-chain chlorinated paraffins (LCCPs) as part of the TSCA Work Plan for Chemical Assessments.

EPA has added several phthalates to the TSCA Work Plan for Chemical Assessments. If a TSCA Work Plan assessment indicates a potential risk, the agency would determine if risk reduction actions, as appropriate, should be taken.

These final SNURs will require anyone who wishes to manufacture (including import) or process these chemical substances for a significant new use to notify EPA 90 days before starting or resuming new uses of these chemicals. This notice will provide EPA with the opportunity to evaluate the intended use of the chemicals and, if necessary, take action to prohibit or limit the activity.

Additional information on this SNUR: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/managechemrisk.html#current.

Fact sheet on benzidine-based dyes: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/actionplans/benzidinefaq.html

Fact sheet on DnPP:

http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/actionplans/dnppfaq.html

Fact sheet on Alkanes: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/actionplans/sccpsfaq.html

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Texas weakens chemical exposure guidelines, opens door for polluters

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By Lisa Song, Center for Public Integrity


AUSTIN— In 2007, Texas regulators quietly relaxed the state’s long-term air pollution guideline for benzene, one of the world’s most toxic and thoroughly studied chemicals. The number they came up with, still in effect, was 40 percent weaker, or less health-protective, than the old one.

The decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was a boon for oil refineries, petrochemical plants and other benzene-emitting facilities, because it allowed them to release more benzene into the air without triggering regulatory scrutiny. But it defied the trend of scientific research, which shows that even small amounts of benzene can cause leukemia. The American Petroleum Institute, lobbyist for some of the nation’s largest benzene producers, privately acknowledged as early as 1948 that the only “absolutely safe” dose was zero.

It’s “the most irresponsible action I’ve heard of in my life,” said Jim Tarr, an air-quality consultant who worked for the TCEQ’s predecessor agency in the 1970s. “I certainly can’t find another regulatory agency in the U.S. that’s done that.”

The benzene decision was part of Texas’ sweeping overhaul of its air pollution guidelines. An analysis by InsideClimate News shows that the TCEQ has loosened two-thirds of the protections for the 45 chemicals it has re-assessed since 2007, even though the state’s guidelines at the time were already among the nation’s weakest.

The changes are being supervised by TCEQ toxicologist Michael Honeycutt, who began updating the way Texas develops its guidelines in 2003, when he was promoted to division chief. A genial, bespectacled man who takes great pride in his work, Honeycutt is a trusted advisor to top TCEQ officials and often acts as the agency’s scientific spokesman. He is also a frequent critic of federal efforts to reduce air pollution.

Honeycutt’s actions reflect Texas’s pro-industry approach to air quality, which InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity have been examining for the past year and a half.  Most of the air-quality guidelines the state’s oil and gas producers are supposed to meet are not legally enforceable regulations. That means violators are rarely punished, and residents who complain about foul air near drilling sites have few places to turn for help.

Texas has made its anti-regulatory stance known on the national front. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state’s governor-elect, has taken legal action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 19 times since 2010, arguing that overly restrictive regulations stifle business growth, cost jobs and threaten the state’s economy.  The EPA is “a runaway federal agency that must be reined in,” Abbott said last year when he challenged greenhouse gas regulations.

Honeycutt has publicly criticized the EPA for being overzealous in its regulation of ozone, which exacerbates asthma; particulate matter, a known respiratory hazard; and hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical that launched the Erin Brockovich case. In testimony before a congressional committee in 2011, he said the EPA had been overly cautious in evaluating the toxicity of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin known to lower IQ. Mercury is particularly harmful to developing fetuses.

“EPA ignores the fact that Japanese eat 10 times more fish than Americans do and have higher levels of mercury in their blood, but have lower rates of coronary heart disease and high scores on their IQ tests,” Honeycutt said in a letter responding to written questions from one of the committee members after the hearing.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat who has tried for years to strengthen Texas public health regulations, said Honeycutt’s role as chief toxicologist is more political than scientific.

“I consider him an apologist for the polluters,” Burnam said. “I think he doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about public health.”

Honeycutt said the toxicologists on his staff are good scientists who take their jobs seriously.

“Our friends and family live in this state, too,” Honeycutt said. “My son wants to go to school in Houston, and I want him to be just as protected as every other kid in Houston.”

Scientists interviewed for this story agree that Texas needed to update the process it uses to set air quality guidelines. When Honeycutt took over, he introduced formalized methods of risk assessment, an interdisciplinary field of science that includes toxicology, epidemiology and biostatistics. Risk assessment has become the most widely used method of determining the health risks chemicals pose to the public.

But scientists say the process has inherent uncertainties that open the door to bias.

“This is done across the spectrum, not only from those more inclined to have higher permissible standards, but also by those that would like to have lower ones,” said Maria Morandi, a private consultant who formerly worked as a health scientist at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.

The problem, Morandi said, is that finding the scientifically “correct” exposure level for each of the thousands of chemicals industries release into the air is impossible because it would require exorbitantly expensive experiments, or illegal and unethical testing on humans. The best scientists can do, she said, is extrapolate data from existing studies and hope the numbers they produce are low enough to protect a majority of the population.

The potential for bias comes in when the risk assessment team chooses which studies to include or exclude, and how to weigh the available evidence. Some scientists lean toward the side of public health and believe many existing standards aren’t strong enough. Others tend to be more lenient, taking the view that overly protective standards place needless and expensive burdens on industry.

It’s “about what questions you ask, what uncertainties you leave alone and which ones you decide to focus on,” said Ruthann Rudel, director of research at the Silent Spring Institute, a research center in Massachusetts. Bias in risk assessment is rarely a product of fraudulent science, she said, but rather a reflection of how scientists choose to frame their analysis.

The InsideClimate News analysis shows that in Texas, the bias tilts toward industry.

As of September, nearly 60 percent of the new guidelines Honeycutt’s team derived for outdoor air quality are less protective than analogous numbers used by the EPA and by California, whose guidelines are among the strictest in the nation.

A year after its benzene announcement, the TCEQ released a new cancer risk assessment guideline for another high-profile chemical: 1,3-butadiene, which is  produced by the synthetic rubber industry and can cause leukemia. Texas is responsible for the majority of the nation’s butadiene emissions.

Ron Melnick, a former scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, analyzed the TCEQ’s 139-page description of its butadiene decision-making process for InsideClimate News. When Melnick compared the Texas approach with the EPA’s, he said Texas “dismissed anything which might have made the risk seem higher than what they wanted.”

The TCEQ’s new butadiene number is 60 times less protective than the EPA’s and 340 times less protective than California’s.

Such glaring discrepancies are possible—and perfectly legal—because the federal government rarely sets legally enforceable air quality standards for the chemicals it has assessed. That leaves each state to come up with its own approach for each chemical, which means people in different states are protected to different levels. A chemical release that could trigger a public-health alert in California, for instance, might not even be noticed by Texas regulators.

“It’s confusing, because you cross the state boundary and the toxicity of the chemical changes,” said Loren Raun, a health scientist who works for the city of Houston and teaches at Rice University. “That, right there, is a problem.”

Few Texans are aware that Honeycutt’s department is changing the state’s air-quality guidelines. Because they are not legally enforceable standards, the toxicology department can update them without public hearings or approval from top officials, according to former TCEQ Commissioner Larry Soward.

When the TCEQ released its benzene proposal in 2007, the only person who submitted a public comment was a representative of a chemical trade group, who urged the TCEQ to further weaken the guideline. The agency refused.

Soward, who was one of the TCEQ’s top three officials when the benzene guideline was changed, said he didn’t learn of the revision until InsideClimate News asked him about it in July. Soward left the agency in 2009 and spent several years working for Air Alliance Houston, an environmental group.

When Soward was appointed a TCEQ commissioner in 2003, he said, he often met with Honeycutt to discuss public health issues and thought the toxicologist “was a very scientific-based, impartial person.” By 2005, however, Soward felt Honeycutt was advocating for “positions he felt like he was supposed to advocate” for, regardless of the science.

“I think he really believes…that air pollutants don’t really have a health effect unless there’s such a toxic exposure to them that it leads to direct problems,” Soward said. “I used to joke I didn’t think there was a toxic pollutant he didn’t like.”

Burnam, the state representative, blames the TCEQ’s governor-appointed commissioners for the agency’s pro-industry bent.

“For the past 20 years, you’ve either had oil industry [George W.] Bush or oil industry apologist [Rick] Perry making all the appointments,” said Burnam, who was defeated in the March Democratic primary and leaves office this month. “…The good [employees] at the lower levels are totally frustrated and hamstrung.”

Michael Honeycutt

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‘I love this job’

Honeycutt’s 15-member division is one of the largest state toxicology departments in the country. In addition to setting air-quality guidelines, it reviews air and water monitoring data, advises emergency crews after chemical accidents and provides scientific expertise to agency officials.

“We have probably one of the best toxicology departments in the world,” Commissioner Toby Baker said at a TCEQ hearing last year.

The division’s size remained relatively steady even when the TCEQ’s operating budget dropped 39 percent from 2008 to 2013. Its stature rose in 2012, when an agency-wide reorganization put Honeycutt’s department directly under the office of the TCEQ’s executive director. The toxicology division now occupies a suite of offices and cubicles in a gleaming blue building in Austin, on the same floor as the executive director and the TCEQ’s three commissioners.

“I love this job,” Honeycutt said in November, during an interview in his spacious office. “This is the job I went to school to learn how to do. I get to sit on the side of the table opposite everybody. One thing we’ve learned is, usually when everybody’s mad at you you’re probably doing your job right.”

Honeycutt, 48, studied toxicology at the University of Northeast Louisiana at Monroe, 30 miles from his hometown. His high school yearbook reveals he graduated with honors and was a leader, or “beau,” of the library club.

He stayed at Monroe to get his Ph.D. in toxicology. David Roane, who now chairs the pharmacology department at East Tennessee State University, advised Honeycutt on his dissertation about how earthworms dispose of the element cadmium.

“I trusted his work more than most people and found him to be conscientious in a small town kind of way,” Roane said. “He was a real wholesome guy.”

Carey Pope was teaching in the toxicology department when Honeycutt was a graduate student. The two men still occasionally run into each other. Pope describes Honeycutt as “the kind of guy who was always the first in line to help you.”

After graduation, Honeycutt worked three years as a researcher for the Army Corps of Engineers, where he focused on screening for contaminants in sediments and soils. He joined the TCEQ in 1996, when the agency was still known by its former name: the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, or TNRCC. Critics called it “train wreck.”

By the time Honeycutt was promoted to toxicology division chief, TNRCC had become TCEQ and the agency was under fire for the way it managed air quality guidelines. The problem was the haphazard way it set Effects Screening Levels, or ESLs, for thousands of chemicals.

ESLs are critical because the TCEQ uses them to draft the air permits it issues to oil and gas production sites, refineries, power plants and other industries.  Companies must show that chemical concentrations at the boundaries of their facilities will meet the ESLs. If they don’t, the TCEQ can require them to adjust their operations.

Most chemicals have a short-term ESL (for hour-long exposures) and long-term ESL (for annual average concentrations). For example, the short-term ESL for benzene in 2003 was 25 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene in air. The long-term benzene ESL was 1.0 ppb.

When the Houston Chronicle reported in 2005 that the TCEQ’s ESLs were among the least protective in the country, Honeycutt told the newspaper his department was addressing the problem by changing the way ESLs are established.

The TCEQ hired a nonprofit consulting firm—Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA)—to convene a panel of outside scientists to review the new procedure. TERA was founded by Michael Dourson, a former EPA toxicologist and one of Honeycutt’s close friends. TERA often works for industry and runs a database that has raised the profile of industry-funded risk-assessment values.

Morandi, the consultant, sat on the TERA review panel and said she was comfortable with the TCEQ document.

But she said what also matters is how the protocol is applied to individual chemicals.

The TCEQ documents its risk assessments in long, complex reports that are posted online for public comment. Honeycutt said he has tried to encourage more feedback by extending the comment period from 60 to 90 days. But few people outside industry have the time and expertise to understand or critique the highly technical documents.

The Texas environmental community tends to rely on a single expert—Elena Craft of the Environmental Defense Fund—to weigh in on risk assessment science. Air Alliance Houston Executive Director Adrian Shelley said he often turns to Craft for help on these issues.

Of the 56 comments that have been filed for the 45 chemicals the TCEQ has assessed, only one came from the environmental community. About 80 percent of the comments came from industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council and ExxonMobil.

Adam Finkel, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Program on Regulation and a former director of health standards programs for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said environmental groups could help level the playing field by hiring more scientists who understand risk assessment.

Some environmental organizations have multi-million dollar budgets, he said, but they’re focused on other issues.

‘This is crazy’

While the TCEQ was developing its risk-assessment strategy, air pollution was making waves in the Texas press. In January 2005, a TCEQ report linked 1,3-butadiene and benzene to elevated cancer risks in Harris County. The county is home to Houston and many refineries and petrochemical plants that emit both chemicals.

The butadiene levels corresponded to two additional cancer cases per 10,000 people—20 times what the TCEQ considered acceptable at the time. Benzene levels were seven times higher than the TCEQ’s benchmark cancer risk.

That same month, the Houston Chronicle published “In Harm’s Way,” a series by reporter Dina Cappiello. The newspaper had placed air monitors at 100 locations near large industrial sources and found 84 readings “high enough that they would trigger a full-scale federal investigation if these communities were hazardous waste sites.”

Only a few measurements exceeded the TCEQ’s cancer exposure guidelines, which the paper reported were “among the most lenient in the country.” The Chronicle noted that the results “would be considered a serious health risk in other states.”

The two reports hit a nerve with Bill White, a year into his first term as Houston’s mayor. A deputy secretary of energy during the Clinton administration, White made air quality a priority during his three terms as mayor.  But he found himself fighting the TCEQ as well as the industries that were polluting his city.

policy analysis article by Texas academics summed up the situation:

“The problem in Houston has been compounded by the reluctance of state and regional regulators to assume a strong role in pollution control and environmental enforcement, particularly concerning the chemical and refining industry, which is a key source of jobs and philanthropy in the region.”

The TCEQ increased air monitoring in Harris County, but Houston wanted more concrete action. Honeycutt met frequently with Elena Marks, White’s director of health and environmental policy from 2004 to 2009.

Marks is now a fellow at Rice University, researching health care policy. She said she often came away from those meetings frustrated, because Honeycutt “always seemed to err on the side against human health.”

When city and county officials hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the alarming reports, the TCEQ didn’t show up, despite its pledge to send at least two representatives. Honeycutt later criticized the TCEQ’s own report, saying it was “overpredictive” about the cancer risks.

When Houston threatened to sue Texas Petrochemicals, the main culprit behind the elevated butadiene levels, Marks said the TCEQ got “pissed off” and worked out a pollution-reduction plan with the company. But the agreement was voluntary, and Houston continued to threaten legal action. Texas Petrochemicals finally reached a legally binding agreement with the city to reduce its emissions, and butadiene levels began to drop.

To tackle the benzene problem, White tried to persuade local businesses and the TCEQ to work together on a regional benzene reduction plan, but he said the TCEQ wasn’t interested.

Benzene levels in Houston did begin to fall. But White, now senior advisor and chairman of the financial firm Lazard Houston, attributes the change to the city’s aggressive leadership, which “created a tremendous incentive for compliance and put pressure on the TCEQ.”

Marks put it more bluntly.  “Every time we found benzene emissions…we were just a pain in the ass—and the plants thought it was just easier to curb benzene.”

When asked to comment on the TCEQ’s role in Houston during those years, agency spokesman Terry Clawson said in an email: “The TCEQ works in partnership with local governmental [entities] to address environmental issues within their communities.”

In 2007, as Houston was still struggling to remove benzene from its air, Honeycutt’s department weakened the long-term benzene guideline 40 percent, from 1.0 ppb to 1.4 ppb.

The new number was 13 times weaker than California’s guideline. It was at the least-protective end of the range recommended by the EPA, which last updated its benzene numbers in 1998.

Marks remembers her shock when she learned of the change.

“My reaction was ‘This is crazy. Why would you do that?’” she said. “The more you learn, the more likely you’d be to tighten any standards or screening levels.”

An examination of the TCEQ’s decision on butadiene shows how its conclusions could differ so sharply from the EPA’s.

The EPA’s analysis, done in 2002, relied primarily on an industry-funded University of Alabama-Birmingham study from the 1990s that tracked leukemia rates in workers.

The TCEQ’s analysis used a 2004 study by the same researchers, also funded by the industry. They said their original study had vastly underestimated the amount of butadiene the workers were exposed to, which meant it had overestimated the risk.

Melnick, the former NIEHS scientist who analyzed the TCEQ’s butadiene document, said it’s hard to tell which of the two University of Alabama studies is more accurate—but the discrepancies show the “murky” history of the reports.

Because the TCEQ used the second study as its starting point, it began its analysis with numbers that showed butadiene was less toxic, Melnick said. It then made a series of subsequent decisions that made the number even less conservative, including using a different statistical model and not adopting some uncertainty factors used by the EPA.

Melnick said it’s impossible to say the Texas number is wrong. But it’s clear that “Texas tried to load it up to allow the highest exposure possible.”

Workers drill for oil at a site, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, near Williston, Texas.

Eric Gay/AP

‘The things they didn’t like’

Texas has invested time and money to oppose two federal efforts that could lead to tighter chemical regulations.

Its first effort was to address a 2009 National Academy of Sciences risk assessment report authored by Finkel, the Penn professor, and 14 other scientists from academia, government and consulting firms. Among other things, the report recommended that scientists reconsider the long-held assumption that any chemical not known to cause cancer has a safety threshold—a level below which it is completely safe. If adopted by risk assessors, the recommendation could lead to additional regulations.

The following year, the TCEQ helped lead a series of workshops to discuss the National Academies’ report. They were sponsored by the Alliance for Risk Assessment, a spinoff of TERA—the consulting firm founded by Honeycutt’s friend Michael Dourson. Both Dourson and Honeycutt sit on the alliance steering committee. Dourson said the TCEQ came up with the idea for the workshops.

The TCEQ has awarded TERA at least $700,000 in contracts since 2010, with $7,000 going to the alliance to help fund the workshops. Honeycutt said that to avoid conflicts of interest he recuses himself whenever the TCEQ proposes a project to the alliance.

Honeycutt chaired the first workshop, which was held at TCEQ headquarters. Commission Chairman Bryan Shaw gave the opening speech. The agency has hosted three of the eight workshops that have taken place so far. More than 50 groups from industry, government, consulting and research centers support the workshops, according to the alliance website.

Honeycutt and Dourson say the workshops are designed to expand upon the National Academies’ report and foster collaborations to develop practical risk assessment methods.  But Finkel and two other health scientists who work in risk assessment say the main focus was to criticize the report, especially the part about the non-carcinogen thresholds.

“They were essentially formed to respond to that report and the things they didn’t like,” said Tracey Woodruff, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies reproductive health and the environment.

Finkel said the workshops were so biased toward industry’s point of view that he stopped attending them.

‘He is our expert’

The TCEQ has also consistently opposed the EPA’s handling of ozone, one of six compounds with federal air standards. Ozone is created primarily by fossil fuel emissions and is known to exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Exhaustive reviews by EPA scientists and independent agency advisors have urged that the federal standard of 75 parts per billion be lowered.

In November, the EPA proposed a new standard of 65-70 ppb, which the agency predicted would prevent thousands of premature deaths and asthma-related emergency room visits each year.

Just minutes after the EPA’s announcement, the TCEQ issued a press release in which chairman Shaw described the decision as “shortsighted.”

A lowered standard would create serious problems for Texas’ three largest cities—Houston, San Antonio and Dallas—which are out of compliance with the current standard.

Honeycutt has criticized the EPA’s ozone science at public hearings, in comments submitted to EPA’s ozone panel, in presentations at scientific conferences and his own scientific analyses posted on the TCEQ’s website.

In the TCEQ’s October newsletter, he said his agency’s “in-depth review” of the EPA’s scientific analysis found that “further lowering of the ozone standard will fail to provide any measurable increase in human health protection.”

“The fervor with which they’ve been critical of the ozone standard…is unprecedented,” said Craft, the Environmental Defense Fund scientist. “I can’t think of another state where they’ve spent the amount of time and resources on this issue as Texas.”

Last year, the TCEQ paid a Massachusetts-based consulting firm, Gradient, $1.65 million to examine the science behind EPA’s air quality standards, which include ozone. Clawson, the TCEQ spokesman, recently told the Texas Tribune that the agency is developing a separate Gradient contract to “provide a comprehensive review” of the science “addressing potential impact of ozone on asthma.”

One of Honeycutt’s main objections to EPA science is that it’s based on an eight-hour ozone exposure. He thinks the standard should be weakened because people are rarely outside for that long.

The problem with that reasoning, Craft said, is that some people, including construction workers, do spend most of their day outside. “And what if someone wanted to stay outside all day? I think most people want the option of being able to go outside and feeling like you’re breathing air that is healthy.”

Another of Honeycutt’s arguments relies on a 2009 study that projects a few dozen more deaths in Houston if the ozone standard is tightened. Those results were based on the assumption that Houston would use a particular cleanup strategy that targets only one class of ozone-forming chemicals, Craft said. The TCEQ can avoid the problem by choosing a different plan, she said.

Robert Haley, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, grappled with the TCEQ’s position on ozone last year when he was lobbying for the shutdown of three coal-fired power plants that contribute to the ozone problem in Dallas. Haley is a member of the Dallas County Medical Society, which has petitioned for the closures.

Haley spoke with each of the TCEQ commissioners in back-to-back meetings and said Honeycutt sat in on all of them. The commissioners “all deferred to him, [saying] ‘He is our expert.’…

“They consult him on everything.”

Not long after those meetings, the TCEQ denied the petition.

“It does no one any good to go and require reducing ozone if we’re not having a beneficial impact,” Shaw said during the petition hearing. “And there’s data…that suggests that [reducing] ozone may not be giving us that benefit.”

‘Does not necessarily indicate a problem’

The TCEQ’s critics say the agency’s industry-friendly ESLs are just part of the air-quality problem in Texas. The bigger problem, they say, is that violations of the ESLs don’t necessarily trigger regulatory action.

The Texas guidelines are “just a number that they picked, and they said that when the air pollution monitors hit that number, then they would investigate further,” said Marks, the former Houston environmental director. “There was no actual consequence to finding the air quality was above that particular number.”

It’s hard to tell when or how the TCEQ enforces the ESLs.

The agency’s toxicology website says if airborne concentrations “exceed the screening levels [ESLs], it does not necessarily indicate a problem but rather triggers a review in more depth.”

The website also says ESLs are only used to screen companies that apply for air permits, and should not be used to gauge outdoor air quality. The TCEQ has a separate set of health-based guidelines to evaluate air-monitoring data, and those numbers can be up to three times less protective than the ESLs.

But even when these more lenient numbers are exceeded, the TCEQ doesn’t necessarily see a health risk.

When InsideClimate News asked the TCEQ what happens when air-monitoring data exceed guidelines, spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said the data are examined on a case-by-case basis. For example, she said,  if an air monitor showed 5,000 ppb of a chemical whose TCEQ’s guideline was 1,000 ppb, the toxicology department would say “there is a potential for adverse health effects.”

In other words, even a number that’s five times the TCEQ guideline doesn’t automatically trigger enforcement action.

InsideClimate News then asked if the agency had ever penalized or shut down a facility for violating ESLs or air monitoring guidelines. Clawson, the spokesman, said the TCEQ “does not collect and track information on enforcement actions” in a way that would enable him to answer that question. To get that information, he said, it would be necessary to examine individual investigation reports.

When Honeycutt was asked if he thought the ESLs should be turned into legally enforceable standards, he said that decision rests with the state legislature. A 2007 House bill that aimed to do that never made it out of committee.

Honeycutt defended the way his agency reacts when guidelines are exceeded. He said the TCEQ handles the problem by putting neighborhoods or regions with elevated chemical levels on an Air Pollutant Watch List. The agency then dedicates more resources to improving air quality in those areas, perhaps by investigating local industries or doing additional air monitoring.

“We don’t just note [the problem] and go on with our lives,” Honeycutt said. “We do do something about it.”

But being added to the list doesn’t guarantee a speedy solution.

In 1998, a neighborhood in Corpus Christi was placed on the list because annual benzene concentrations exceeded the TCEQ’s 1.0 ppb guideline. The neighborhood was removed from the list 12 years later, in 2010—not because the annual benzene average had dropped below that level, but because the agency had weakened the guideline to 1.4 ppb.

The agency’s website cited the new guideline as the reason for the delisting.

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Air Pollution Exposure in Pregnancy Linked to Autism in Study

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Women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to have an autistic child, a study found.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found the risk of autism rises in parallel with exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy, with the biggest effect occurring in the final months of gestation. The results appear in the Dec. 18 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The findings add to other research suggesting the environment plays a role in the development of autism, a developmental disorder marked by repetitive behaviors and trouble communicating and socializing. The study, which started in 1989 and involved more than 100,000 nurses from across the U.S., will help researchers home in on the causes of autism and potential ways to prevent it, said Marc Weisskopf, a senior study author.

“One of the unique aspects of the study we did is that it provides an even stronger piece of evidence for there being a causal effect,” said Weisskopf, an associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at Harvard in Boston. “It’s really the pollution doing it.”

Autism, thought to affect 1 in 68 children in the U.S., is typically diagnosed after behavioral changes start to develop before the age of 5. Recent studies suggest it may begin when certain brain cells fail to properly mature within the womb.

Study’s Scope

Researchers focused on 1,767 children born from 1990 to 2002, including 245 diagnosed with autism. The design of the study and the results rule out many confounding measures that can create a bias, Weisskopf said. The researchers took into account socioeconomic factors that can influence exposure to pollution or play a role in whether a child is diagnosed with autism.

The fact that pollution caused problems only during pregnancy strengthened the findings, since it’s unlikely other factors would have changed markedly before or after those nine months, he said in a telephone interview.

The ultimate cause of autism remains a mystery in most cases, said Charis Eng, chairwoman of the Lerner Research Institute’s Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. While the Harvard study isn’t definitive and the findings could be coincidental, it’s not likely given the large size and the precise results, she said in a telephone interview.

“The truth is there has to be gene and environmental interactions,” said Eng, who wasn’t involved in the study. “I suspect the fetus already had the weak autism spectrum disorder genes, and then the genes and the environment interacted.”

If the child didn’t have the genetic predisposition, the impact may have been minimal or nonexistent, she said.

Body’s Response

It’s likely there is an inflammatory or immune system response to the pollution that reaches the fetus, Weisskopf said. His team is now exploring those biological pathways and mapping autism cases to see if there are any clusters. He emphasized that many things contribute to the disorder and the absolute risk from pollution may be very small.

Fine particulate matter stems from many different sources, including traffic and power plants located hundreds of miles away. There is no way to avoid it entirely, though pregnant women may want to try to curtail their exposure when possible, Weisskopf said. He recommended against trips to cities with high levels of pollution and exercise in traffic-clogged areas during pregnancy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at mcortez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Crayton Harrison at tharrison5@bloomberg.net Andrew Pollack, Stephen West

Fracking In New York State Officially Banned

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Today is a momentous day in the ban against unsafe fracking as Governor of New York  Andrew Cuomo’s administration has banned Hydraulic Fracturing in the state of New York. The decision was, “based on the recommendations of two commissioners who have studied the energy extraction process”, according to Alternet.org. Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker at a public year-end cabinet meeting provided an overview of the reasoning behind the decision citing evidence of significant health risks as a major contributing factor for the ban.

From Salon, ‘Would I live in a community [with fracking] based on the facts I have now? Zucker asked. “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby, drink water from the tap or grow vegetables from the soil? My answer is no.”

He concluded, “I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York.”

Dr. Zucker said the numerous reports of environmental and health risks found in many peer-reviewed journals and studies pointed to many threats both to adjacent water supplies as well as air quality.

‘The bottom line is that we lack the comprehensive long-term studies,” Zucker said. “The science isn’t there.’

The decision comes in the wake of a 6 year moratorium on the practice put in place in 2008.

In June, New York’s highest court ruled that municipalities in New York should be allowed to ban fracking within their respective boundaries. It also allowed over 170 other measures against fracking to be passed.

“This has been the most emotionally charged issue that I’ve ever experienced. More than marriage equality, more than the gun issue, more than the death penalty,” Cuomo said, “ “But I will be bound by what the experts say,” said during the commission, “Let the science decide.”

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NEW YORK STATE BANS FRACKING

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The Cuomo administration announced Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State, ending years of uncertainty by concluding that the controversial method of extracting gas from deep underground could contaminate the state’s air and water and pose inestimable public-health risks.  Read more here.

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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.