Categories
Toxic Tuesdays

Glyphosate Risks

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Glyphosate Risks

Glyphosate is a chemical found in weed killer products like RoundUpTM used on farms and home lawns. Because of its effectiveness, glyphosate has become the most widely used herbicide in the world. People who work with these products and people who live near farms where they are used can get exposed to glyphosate through the air. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that glyphosate exposure probably causes blood cancers. 81% of American adults and children have detectable concentrations of glyphosate in their urine. While much is still unknown about the potential health risks of glyphosate exposure, two recently published studies illuminate how big a concern it may be for both workers and the public.

One study aimed at assessing the potential cancer risk posed to farmers who work with glyphosate-containing herbicides. The study used data from the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which collected biological samples from private and commercial pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina from 1993-1997. The study analyzed AHS participants who were male, above the age of 50, had no blood disorders, and had not been diagnosed with cancer, which created a sample of 1,681 people. The researchers analyzed the DNA of these participants to look for the loss of large portions of DNA in the Y chromosome. Significant loss of DNA portions can have a massive effect on how the body’s cells function and have been linked to increased risk for cancer. Losses of large portions of DNA in the Y chromosome have been specifically linked to blood cancers like those that may be caused by glyphosate exposure.

In the study, 21% of participants had lost large portions of the DNA in their Y chromosome in some of their cells. Statistical analysis found that using glyphosate-containing pesticides for either a longer period or with more intensity were both associated with more DNA loss in the Y chromosome. While these findings do not prove that occupational exposure to glyphosate causes cancer, they provide important biological evidence that glyphosate exposure can cause the kinds of largescale changes in DNA that are associated with cancer. It is the first study of agricultural workers to show this association between glyphosate and DNA loss.

A second study sought the extent of glyphosate exposure among people who live near farms where glyphosate is used. Some studies have shown that glyphosate exposure during pregnancy is associated with reduced fetal growth and pre-term birth. Thus, this study focused on measuring glyphosate levels of pregnant people in Idaho who live near farms that use glyphosate. The study included 40 participants in Idaho who were in their first trimester of pregnancy in 2021. Researchers collected weekly urine samples from participants until delivery. Half of participants lived near farms (less than 0.5 kilometers from a farm) and half lived far from farms (more than 0.5 kilometers from a farm). About two-thirds of both groups had detectable concentrations of glyphosate in their urine.

For participants living near farms, the frequency and concentration of glyphosate detection in urine increased significantly during the pesticide spray season (from May to August) compared to the non-spray season. This change did not occur in participants living far from farms, indicating that increased exposure to glyphosate was likely a result of pesticide spraying. While these findings do not directly track the health effects on pregnant participants or their infants, it is important biological evidence that agricultural use of glyphosate exposes nearby residents. It is the first study to demonstrate that residential proximity to farms using glyphosate is associated with increased glyphosate in the body.

These two studies demonstrate that glyphosate may pose risks to both workers and the public. CHEJ has previously written about the uses and health risks of glyphosate here.

Learn about more toxics

Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical usually found in compounds with other chemicals. Cyanide compounds can be

Read More »
Categories
Toxic Tuesdays

Metals & Preterm Births

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Metals & Preterm Births

Over 10% of births worldwide are preterm, meaning delivery occurs earlier than 37 weeks of pregnancy. It is a leading cause of neonatal mortality, and evidence suggests that exposure to heavy metals from the environment could be a risk factor. In the US, a major source of exposure to metals is private well water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards and regulates levels of contaminants in public drinking water, but private well water isn’t regulated. This means private well water – which 13% of the US population receives drinking water from – is vulnerable to contamination. Indeed, studies have found metal contamination in private wells and that people who receive drinking water from private wells have more of these metals in their systems.

A recently published study set out to evaluate if exposure to toxic metals from private well water increased the risk of preterm birth. Because North Carolina (NC) has the largest state population using private well water, the researchers studied live births in NC that occurred from 2003-2015. From birth certificates, they could collect each pregnant person’s address at the time they delivered their babies. The researchers also used the NC-WELL database, which is a database of over 100,000 geocoded well water tests conducted from 1998-2019 from almost all census tracts in North Carolina. These tests include measurements of the concentrations of metals. The NC-WELL database allowed the researchers to assign each pregnant person’s address an estimate of their exposure to private well water and the concentrations of metals measured in that well water. Ultimately, the study included over 1.3 million births. This large sample size allowed the researchers to determine if increased metals in well water was associated with preterm birth.

The study found that people living in census tracts where over 25% of NC-WELL water tests exceeded EPA’s safe standard for cadmium had 11% higher odds of preterm birth than people who did not. People living in census tracts where over 25% of NC-WELL water tests exceeded EPA’s safe standard for lead had 10% higher odds of preterm birth than people who did not. These results indicate that cadmium and lead in private well water were each associated with preterm birth.

The study then modeled how the exposure to mixtures of metals was associated with preterm birth. This is particularly important because few studies assess the risks of multiple chemical exposures, even though it is highly likely people are exposed to more than one chemical at a time. When considering exposure to a mixture of seven metals present in private well water, the researchers found that exposure to the combination of cadmium and lead was associated with preterm birth.

In the US and NC, Black and Native American people have much higher rates of preterm birth than white people. Racial disparities in exposure to toxic chemicals could influence racial disparities in birth outcomes. As the study states plainly, “This is especially pertinent to consider when evaluating private well water-based exposure in NC, as structural environmental racism has led to poor and minority communities being more likely to rely on private well water.” This study found that when considering exposure to a mixture of seven metals present in private well water, the effect on preterm birth was most extreme for Native American people. It was associated with 20% higher odds of preterm birth for Native American people. The researchers say this disproportionate effect of metal exposure on preterm birth reflects the multiple environmental hazards and contaminants disproportionately forced on Native American people over several centuries. They also note that other studies have found that Native American pregnant people have higher levels of toxic metals in their systems than the national average.

This study used publicly available birth information and private well water testing to create a large cohort to study the effects of metals in private well water on preterm birth. The results make clear that private well water needs more regulation in order to ensure the levels of dangerous metals like cadmium and lead do not put people at risk. The results also make clear that not all people bear the same risks of exposure or health effects of exposure. People of color bear a disproportionate burden because they are more likely to receive private well water, which may contribute to disproportionate rates of preterm births.

For more information, CHEJ has previously written about the health effects of leadcadmium, and the importance of considering the health effects of exposure to mixtures of chemicals.

Learn about more toxics

Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical usually found in compounds with other chemicals. Cyanide compounds can be

Read More »
Categories
Homepage

Small Victory for North Carolina Property Owners Fighting Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Wilson County residents and other North Carolina property owners fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline won a small legal victory Wednesday when a federal judge extended a stay in a dozen cases.

“It’s just completely unnecessary expense and aggravation and the judge made a common-sense decision,” Therese Vick (BREDL) said. “This would be just irreparable harm to these folks, these families and farmers and property owners.”

<Read more>

Categories
Homepage Water News

Duke to study health impact of PFAS in Pittsboro, North Carolina residents

Some Pittsboro, North Carolina residents have been suspicious of their water since testing in 2017 showed that there were elevated levels of PFAs in Cape Fear River, their main water source. The toxins come from the Chemours Fayetteville Works chemical plant, located upriver of Pittsboro.
According to Pittsboro’s mayor, very few residents are aware that their water may be contaminated with PFAS. While the levels found weren’t technically above the legal limits, research suggests that there isn’t a safe level of PFAS contamination in water because the chemical remains in people’s systems for extended periods of time.
Duke University will be conducting a study on the impacts of PFAS in the bloodstream on human health, and will take blood samples of atleast 30 Pittsboro residents in the coming year. <Read more>

Categories
Backyard Talk

CAFOs and Environmental Injustice in North Carolina

While the situation in Flint, Michigan has deservedly garnered much of the American public’s attention, it is important to recognize that it is just one example of many minority and low-income communities around the country that are living in a toxic environment. Rural North Carolina is another community that has seen its leaders fail to protect the most disadvantaged citizens, in this case, from the toxic pollution associated with the many hog farms in the region. African American and Native American communities in this region have been dealing with the toxic conditions for decades, since North Carolina saw a boom in the number of concentrated animal feeding operations, commonly known as CAFOs, in the 1980s and 1990s.
Unknown
These feeding operations, that allow hog farmers to produce thousands of hogs for slaughter on a single farm, also produce millions of tons of waste, pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and debilitating odors that damage the health and well-being of the minority families that overwhelmingly makeup the neighborhoods that surround them. As an example of how impactful these CAFOs can be, one 80,000-head facility produced 1.5 times the amount of waste generated by the City of Philadelphia in a single year. Yet, these hog producers lack all of the chemical and mechanical filtration systems that are required to treat human sewage. Instead, waste from these operations end up in unlined and untreated lagoons that leach into groundwater and can even rupture and spill their contents into surrounding landscapes and waterways. In addition, the noxious odors that are generated by CAFOs have also been found to cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, and even high blood pressure among individuals living nearby.
Because the development of this type of farming happened so fast in North Carolina, lawmakers have failed to keep up in implementing the necessary policies and regulations to protect the health of its citizens and environment. Particularly troubling is that despite the fact that CAFOs result in localized health problems, state and local health agencies do not have any authority in regulating them. Instead, natural resource agencies, whose mission is not to protect human health, are left with the responsibility.
While some progress has been made in recent years to improve technology, nearby residents are still struggling with horrible living conditions. This has resulted in a recent complaint filed by the University of North Carolina and Earthjustice in 2014 with the state’s Environmental Protection Agency. The complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which says that recipients of federal funds must prevent harm to communities or individuals based on race. Negotiations between community groups and regulators fell apart when regulators invited pork industry representatives to participate in negotiations. This left many community members with the impression that state leaders cared less about the health of its disadvantaged citizens, and instead was looking out for the interests of the pork industry. And much like the U.S. EPA failed to act in order to protect the citizens of Flint, they have also yet to intervene and do an investigation to improve the situation in North Carolina and other regions plagued by the negative effects of CAFOs.
This is just one of many examples of environmental injustice that shows us that if there is pollution generated from industry, or in this case, from the production of our food, it is overwhelmingly impacting the most disadvantaged in our society. We need to make the connection between the atrocities that are occurring in Flint, with the similar injustices that are experienced in North Carolina and all across the country and we need to call on our leaders to do a better job of promoting clean and healthy communities for all its citizens.
To learn more about the effects of hog farming, check out this paper by Environmental Health Perspectives

Categories
Backyard Talk

Fracking Under Fire in North Carolina

North Carolina communities have gained a temporary reprieve from the threat of fracking. Last week, Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens ruled that North Carolina is not allowed to approve any applications for hydraulic fracturing until the state Supreme Court determines whether or not the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission was formed constitutionally.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Areas of N.C. at risk from fracking. http://rafiusa.org/issues/landowner-rights-and-fracking/fracking-map-in-nc/

Legislators appointed the majority of the commission’s members when it was formed – an action that falls under the authority of the governor, not lawmakers. According to Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the decision “essentially puts a de facto moratorium on permitting activities in North Carolina until the case is heard in June or July.”

N.C. governor Pat McCrory has challenged the formation of this and other commissions, claiming the appointment of commission members by lawmakers rather than the executive branch violates the constitutional requirement for separation of powers. According to Vick, this is one of the most surprising aspects of the case – that it was brought by a governor who has not been an outspoken opponent of hydraulic fracturing. Environmental groups have also challenged the Commission’s legality. The Southern Environmental Law Center brought a case on behalf of a Lee County landowner alleging the commission was formed unconstitutionally, and that it cannot legally process or approve any applications for fracking installations.

So far, the Commission has set fracking regulations but has not approved any drilling units in the state. It remains to be seen whether the forthcoming decision will keep things that way, but delay can often serve as a powerful tool in preventing harmful environmental actions. Vick thinks the case may very well be successful, and that any rules made by an unconstitutional commission could be “declared null and void.” Though we will have to wait until later in the summer for a decision, Vick says the BREL is “very pleased.”

Though the ultimate decision will rest in the legal realm, it is on-the-ground organizing that has made a major difference. Vick points out  that “the organizing and activism and resistance that held [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fracking] off this long was what gave time for an opportunity to present itself for a legal hook.” According to Vick, any victories must be attributed to the hard work done by citizens across the state.

Though N.C. citizens may consider this a victory, the resistance to fracking is far from over. Says Vick, “It’s not a time to sit back and take a break – it’s time to push even harder.”

[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]