Roundup Linked to Antibiotic Resistance

A recent study from University of Canterbury in New Zealand shows that glyphosate (Roundup) and other commonly used herbicides can make bacteria quickly adapt and resist antibiotics like ampicillin and tetracycline. Glyphosate, 2,4-D (dioxin) and dicamba (recently approved by the FDA) appear to disable the antibiotics and trigger bacterial resistance to them.

Researchers tested E. coli and Salmonella, two of the most deadly and widespread bacteria in the world, and consistently replicated their results

The dosage required to induce antibiotic resistance was small, comparable to the concentration found in household use or agriculture, but higher than the concentration of incidental residue found in food. However researchers cautioned that people could easily reach this threshold by consuming large quantities of food with small amounts of residue, through children and pets exposed to weed killers used on lawns or via livestock pastured in spray drift zones.

Growing antibiotic resistance is already increasing the death rate from untreatable infectious disease. Epidemiologists estimate drug resistant bacteria kill roughly 23,000 Americans annually.

Given established links between glyphosate, dioxin, dicamba and cancer, this new evidence linking them to antibiotic resistance will only increase global pressure for them to be banned.

Source:  Study Says Pesticides Spur Antibiotic Resistance

Zero Waste: Closer Than You Think

zero waste

The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time

by Paul Connett (Chelsea Green 2013)

Book Review

The Zero Waste Solution is about 100% waste recovery and reuse, the new gold standard in recycling. Paul Connett’s new book summarizes the state of play of the zero waste movement in local communities around the world. His detailed descriptions of existing programs and technologies provide powerful ammunition for local activists trying to pressure city and town governments to be more environmentally responsible.

According to Connett, we have had the technological capability to recycle 80-90% of our waste stream since the mid eighties. What has held us back has been an artificial corporate-centered view that maximizes profit for waste management companies, the contractors who build and operate incinerators and soft drink bottling companies.

Waste management companies and incinerator contractors have powerful lobbies, as will as cozy relationships with many community councils. Connett also documents the little known role of the Business Environmental Action Coalition (BEACC) in lobbying major cities to provide curbside recycling for glass and aluminum cans. Following the first Earth Day in 1970, BEACC, whose members included Coca-Cola, the Aluminum Association and 7 Up, feared the introduction of producer-focused waste reduction laws (e.g. mandatory deposit/return programs). They viewed limited curbside recycling as a way to head this off.

History of the Zero Waste Movement

The zero waste movement first got its start in Berkeley California in the 1980s and in Canberra Australia in the 1990s. At present, California and Italy are at the forefront in terms of community participation. By 1996, 300 California communities had achieved 50% trash diversion (from landfills and incinerators). San Francisco reached 80% diversion in October 2012 and expects to reach 100% by 2020. More than 200 Italian communities have achieved 70% diversion, with some small towns reaching more than 80%.

Not only is zero waste recovery better for the environment and human health*, but it’s far more economical than traditional waste management. Recycling and reusing resources always saves money. Loss of revenue, stemming from the 2008 economic downturn, has forced many corporations to focus on more efficient resource use. Japanese companies are the clear leader here, with nearly 2800 producing zero landfill waste. A surprising number of Fortune 500 companies (including Anheuser Bush, Apple, Hewlett Packard, Pillsbury Xerox, Ricoh electronics) have also committed to zero waste.

The Twelve Master Categories of Discards

Zero waste experts divide the waste stream into 12 reusable fractions:
1. Reusable goods – repairable appliances, demolition debris and reusable clothing, furniture and household items.
2. Metals
3. Glass
4. Paper
5. Plastic polymers (including plastic bags)
6. Textiles (including non-reusable clothing)
7. Chemicals, including reusable solvents, paints, oil and lubricants.
8. Wood from non-reusable lumber and furniture (can be made into wood chips)
9. Plant debris
10. Putresibles – kitchen waste, manure
11. Soils – from barren or developed land
12. Ceramics, rock, porcelain, concrete and non-reusable brick

At present, more than 90% of the waste stream can easily be recovered for resale. The non-recoverable fraction consists mainly of hazardous materials such as batteries, electronic equipment, mercury-laden fluorescent bulbs and disposable diapers. Many zero waste advocates want to implement extended producer responsibility (EPR) to deal with hazardous waste. Under EPR, the manufacturer is expected to come up with a non-toxic alternative or to accept the product back for safe disposal.

Of the 12 recoverable fractions, kitchen waste, which comprises 33-40% of the waste stream, is the easiest to resell (as compost). Connett contrasts communities in Italy that merely encourage backyard composting, with Seattle and other cities that offer curbside collection of kitchen waste. The latter has proven far more cost effective, largely because backyard composting isn’t an option for the hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, which generate most of it.

Zero Waste Creates Jobs

In view of the immense cost savings, I was surprised to learn that job creation is another important benefit of a zero waste approach. Rising land, energy and transportation costs make landfills and incinerators so expensive that zero waste programs are always cheaper, despite employing more people.
*Recycling reduces the burden of climate change by eliminating methane production (one of the most damaging greenhouse gasses) from decaying landfills and carbon emissions given off by waste incineration. Both landfills and incinerators pose major health hazards. Landfills leak toxic substances into the water table. Incinerators produce dioxin, which is linked to cancer, birth defects, and immune and neurodevelopmental problems.

Below Pete Seeger performing my all time favorite folk song “Garbage (Garbage, Garbage, Garbage) Garbage”

NZ’s Dioxin Legacy: Lies and Cover-up

dioxin

The the long battle to get the New Zealand government to acknowledge the major health problems of dioxin-exposed New Plymouth residents (see my last post) first began in 1973. Instead of attempting to understand and address residents’ health problems, the New Zealand government, an Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) partner though share holdings and subsidies, became the first clients of New Zealand’s first public relations firm (Consultus).

Records show that Consultus was first hired to ensure the ongoing availability and use of 2,4,5-T. A 1981 case study from the international journal PR News – about Consultus’ first PR campaign – is entitled  Countering an Activist Campaign to Have a Product Banned from Use. This “media management” response seems to be very typical of New Zealand’s approach to toxic waste management. In the words of one IWD survivor, the goal is to “delay and deny until we die.”

In the mid to late nineties, local activist Andrew Gibbs helped found a new research group, the Paritutu Dioxin Investigation Network. When his de facto partner, a long term resident of Paritutu (the suburb closest to IWD) developed chronic fatigue syndrome and unexplained anemia, her family and friends informed him of the reproductive and immune problems other Paritutu families were experiencing.

Gibbs, alarmed by 1985 Paritutu studies showing dioxin residues comparable to Vietnamese regions sprayed with Agent Orange, tried to get the government to do blood tests on his partner and other Paritutu residents. It would turn out that both National and Labour governments were far more interested in managing public opinion about dioxin.

The Government Gives in to Grassroots Pressure

In 2001, Minister of Health Annette King finally agreed to test the serum levels of 100 Paritutu survivors. When many were found to have elevated dioxin levels, the Labour-led government responded by setting up a Ministry of Health unit to manage “financial risks” related to potential government liability.

Spin, Cover-up, and Statistical Manipulation

They subsequently commissioned a 2004-2005 study by Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) to “analyze” Taranaki District Health Board cancer and birth defect records. The researchers subjected the data to some bizarre statistical manipulations to produce the conclusion the government was looking for, i.e. that high rates of cancer and birth defects in Paritutu and Motorua households were unrelated to dioxin exposure.

For example, they deliberately re-targeted the study design to focus on residents living in Paritutu between 1974-87, who were known to have lower exposure levels based production changes between 1969 and 1973 that reduced dioxin contamination. They also altered 2005 data to make it appear that ongoing exposure occurred between 1974-87, as well as using inaccurate half-life figures to skew pre-1974 results. Finally they excluded high rates of diagnosed cancer between 1970-74 as being too close to the period of toxic exposure, which they misrepresented as occurring between 1962-87, when it actually occurred between 1960-73. See (*) below for actual data.

When these statistical manipulations were challenged in a 2006 TV3 documentary entitled “Let us Spray,” the government and their risk management unit dismissed the bulk of the alleged misrepresentations and blamed others on “typographical” errors.

New Zealand health officials also repeatedly ignored recommendations by ESR and the local ethics review board that they undertake a geo-spatial study of families with elevated dioxin levels. Gibbs eventually undertook his own study of all residents living within 500 meters of Ivon Watkins Dow between 1963-66. He achieved his primary goal – proving that a historical cohort could be identified – at a total cost of $1000. This was in contrast to the hundreds of millions of dollars the New Zealand government had paid Consultus, ESR, their “financial risk” management unit.

The Government Compromise: Free Health Checks

Gibbs continues to fight to get Dow and the New Zealand government to acknowledge the health problems of Paritutu and Motorua residents who worked at or lived adjacent to IWD prior to 1969. In 2008, the government finally granted Paritutu survivors three free health checks (primary care isn’t covered under New Zealand’s National Health Service).

Gibbs dismisses the government move as a PR ploy. Mainly because it circumvents the issue of intergenerational effects (i.e. birth defects in subsequent generations). A 2006 study showed that New Zealand veterans and their offspring suffered DNA damage as a result of dioxin (Agent Orange) exposure in Vietnam.

The Cover-up that Cost More Than the Truth

The question yet to be answered is why the New Zealand government was so determined to cover all this up. Why spend millions of dollars on PR consultants, a “financial risk” management unit, flawed research and a vexatious Broadcast Standards Authority (BSA) complaint – when it would have cost far less to treat the health problems of 500 New Plymouth households.

Gibbs believes an official government admission of dioxin-related health problems would open them to liability – both from New Zealand veterans and Vietnamese civilians exposed to Agent Orange. Because the New Zealand government was a shareholder, as well as subsidizing 2,4,5-T production from 1969 on, they are co-liable with IWD.

***

*A look at the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) 2002 data reveals a large increase in neural tube birth defects in Moturoa and Paritutu residents between 1965 and 1972. It also reveals that New Plymouth rates of hydrocephaly, hypospadias, spina bifida and anencephaly recorded at New Plymouth Maternity Hospital between 1965 and 1971 were respectively 3.2 times, 3.8 times, 4.2 times and 9.7 times the crude rates found in offspring of US Vietnam veterans:

“The 1966-1972 rate of still-births was 1 in 7 versus the expected N.Z rate of 1.1 still-birth in 100 births. The 1966-72 rate of linked NTD (neural tube development) defects was 1 in 10.5 vs the N.Z range of 1 NTD in 222 to 1 NTD in 400. The 1966-72 rate of birth defect cases was *1 in 7 versus the N.Z expected rate of 1 case in 50 births  This conservative rate is based on the 2002 TDHB review of addresses for only 17 of 167 birth defect cases 1965-70 so does not include the other 150 defects or three defects reported by Zone A mothers.” (from link and PDF).

The TDHB data also reveals a significant increase in 1976-85 cancer rates living within 500 meters of IWD in 1963-1966:

“From a Study of 165 Paritutu Zone A 1963-1966 residents living within a 500 metres of Ivon Watkins Building 03 plant:

“1976-85 rate of 0-64 year age group cancer mortality was 4.5 times expected. Five deaths where 1.1 was expected based on mean of 1976 and 1985 NZ census rates. Four of the 5 deaths were in 1981 and 1982. Two in five NZ 1976-85 cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. All five Zone A cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. Two 1981 cancer deaths were parents aged 35 and 48 of 1969 and 1970 miscarriage and still-birth cases. There were 13 deaths 1976-85 for Zone A 1963-66 residents with 13.4 all cause deaths expected, 5 were cancer deaths with 2.9 expected and there were 3 lung cancer mortalities where less than 1 was expected (link).”

For more background and historical documents, go to Paritutu Inside the Spin: How the New Zealand Government Rewrote History

photo credit: pixiduc via photopin cc

New Zealand’s Love Canal

ivon watkins dow

(Note: this post should be of particular concern to Americans, as Dow is trying to get the USDA to approve a dioxin-related toxin, 2,4-D, as a weedkiller)

“I have long dreamed of buying an island owned by no nation and of establishing the world headquarters of the Dow company on truly neutral ground of such an island, beholden to no nation or society.” Dow chairman Carl Gerstacker 1972 (Exporting Environmentalism).

It’s fairly common for the US and other European countries to ask New Zealand, owing to our lax environmental regulations, to manufacture and or test hazardous substances that are too controversial in their own countries. The issue is of special concern to me as a New Plymouth resident. I have numerous friends and former patients who have had their health and lives ruined by the government’s refusal to oversee or regulate the activities of Dow AgroSciences (formerly known as Ivon Watkins Dow).*

IWD produced extremely hazardous dioxin-related compounds between 1948 and 1987. After World War II, chlorinated hydrocarbons (aka organochlorines), such as 2,3,7,8 TCDD (dioxin), 2,4,5-T and 2,4 D  were developed as herbicides (weed killers). Dioxin, also known as Agent Orange, was extensively sprayed during the Vietnam War to expose guerrilla positions by defoliating the jungles. The damaging health effects of these compounds were noted in many returning GIs and Vietnamese civilians and their children and grandchildren.

As early as 1957, the New Zealand Royal Society cautioned that these toxins needed to be thoroughly investigated, owing to the potential hazard they posed to human health. The warning went unheeded. In the 1950s and 1960s, New Zealanders experienced the highest per capita exposure to DDT and related pesticides and 2,4,5-T. This appears to be a major culprit in the doubling of New Zealand’s cancer rate between 1960 and 2012 – and the halving of Kiwi sperm counts between 1987 and 2007. This drop is the most dramatic in the developed world. Neither Australia nor the US have experienced a comparable decline in sperm counts.

All kinds of alarm bells should have been going off, given the staggering increase in birth defects in families downwind of IWD. Between 1965-1971, one out of thirty newborns at New Plymouth’s Maternity Hospital had birth defects. These included a strikingly high proportion of the neural tube defects commonly associated with dioxin exposure, such as anencephaly (the absence of a brain), hydrocephalus and spina bifida.

Cancer, Infertility and Toxic Breast Milk

Meanwhile New Zealand’s overall birth defect rate was one of the highest in the world. During the 60s and 70s, everyone ingesting New Zealand meat and dairy products accumulated substantial blood and fatty tissue concentrations of dioxin, owing to the massive amount of 2,4,5-T Kiwi farmers used to clear gorse and scrub. In 1961, the US banned New Zealand beef exports, owing to excessive residues of chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, and BHC.

Even more alarming, a 1972-73 study of Dunedin infants published in the Lancet revealed that breast milk (which also accumulates dioxin) was less healthy than formula. In a survey of 1000 children, those breastfed four weeks or longer were twice as likely to suffer from allergies or asthma in later childhood.

The US Bans 2,4,5-T

In 1969, IWD upgraded their 2,4,5-T plant’s “rudimentary” emission controls to reduce dioxin levels in their air emissions and the herbicide they produced. From 1973 on, after the US banned 2,4,5-T in all food crops except rice, the NZ government required IWD to treat their herbicide with a solvent that reduced dioxin levels even further.  Both national and regional agencies were charged with monitoring the dioxin content of IWD’s incinerator emissions. However according to available records, monitoring was limited and sporadic.

Cancer Rates Climb

Meanwhile overseas studies continued to link dioxin exposure to many of the same health problems New Plymouth residents were describing. In addition to birth defects, miscarriages, crib deaths and chronic childhood illnesses, downwind families were experiencing unprecedented levels of brain and spinal tumors, sarcomas, lymphomas, prostate and respiratory cancers and multiple sclerosis, as well as neurodevelopmental (mainly autism, Asperger’s disorder, mental retardation and ADHD) problems in their kids

IWD Shuts Down Dioxin Production in 1987

Finally in 1987, in response to massive local pressure and scores of studies documenting dioxin-related health problems, Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) shut down all 2,4,5-T production. It’s of note this occurred without Dow or the New Zealand government acknowledging any negative health effects from dioxin exposure. Former IWD employees and residents in close proximity to IWD were left with a legacy of chronic health problems – and nowhere to turn for help.

*While Ivon Watkins (incorporated in 1944) prided itself on research and development geared towards New Zealand conditions, several major international chemical firms had substantial financial interest in the company including Monsanto (USA), the American Chemical Paint Company (USA), Geigy (Switzerland), Cela (Germany) and the Union Carbide Corporation (USA). Solidifying such connections, the company became Ivon Watkins-Dow Ltd (IWD) in 1964 after Dow Chemicals USA bought a 50% interest (Sewell 1978 – see http://www.dioxinnz.com/pdf-NZ-RAD/RAD-Thesis-BWC.pdf).

For more background and historical documents, go to Paritutu Inside the Spin: How the New Zealand Government Rewrote History

To be continued.

photo credit: PhillipC via photopin cc