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Our 53rd Year

Our Environment/Our Health By The Associated Press

Pollution Plays Havoc Around the Earth

Bees As Pollution Monitors

In the Puget Sound area near Seattle, 64 beekeepers have been doing double duty. As well as collecting honey, they have been gathering information about the quality of the environment. By keeping track of the survival of bee eggs and larvae, trapping pollen and collecting bees as they return to the hives, the beekeepers have helped researchers develop a profile of exposure estimates to several environmental pollutants: arsenic, cadmium, and fluoride.

Bees are near perfect as environmental monitors, the scientists from the University of Montana and Pacific Northwest Laboratory point out in the journal, Science. Bees have a low tolerance to many toxic chemicals, and every product of their activities pollen, wax, and honey can be easily contaminated. Furthermore, bees may be contaminated by the air in flight, by the pollen they carry, and by the food they eat.

After measuring the content of the three pollutants in bees and in their products, the research team has produced diagrams similar to topographical maps which indicate degrees of environmental contamination in the Seattle area. The resulting diagrams are similar to maps of the distribution of these pollutants derived from soil samples. Furthermore, mortality among the bees themselves is an alarming indication of poor environmental quality. Over 64 percent of colonies had low viability of offspring, and four in 10 had more than a 75 percent loss of eggs and larvae. The researchers suggest wider use of bees as an early warning system for pollution.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Researchers in Switzerland announced that much of the rain falling on Europe contains such high levels of pesticides that rainwater would be illegal if it were supplied as drinking water.’ The European Union has set a drinking water standard of 100 nanograms per litre for any individual pesticide. Stephan Milner at the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology reported finding one sample of rain containing 4,000 nanograms per litre of 2,4-dinitrophenol, a common pesticide. Muller had previously studied samples of rain from 41 storms over Europe and found the weed-killer Atrazine at levels exceeding 100 nanograms per litre in nine of them.

References: Pearce, F. and Mackenzie, D., “It’s raining pesticides; the water falling from our skies is unfit to drink,” New Scientist, 3 April 1999, P. 23

Scientists Link Popular Pesticide to Parkinson’s

New research using rats suggests that long term exposure to a widely used pesticide kills brain cells and triggers debilitating- physical symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists say the experiment’s results strongly indicate what scientists have suspected for several years: that the most common form of Parkinson’s disease might result from toxins in the environment

The study, published in an issue of Nature Neuroscience, does not prove that the pesticide, rotenone, used in the test causes Parkinson’s in humans. But scientists who reviewed,the experiment said the results are powerful and should reinvigorate the search for environmental toxins that may contribute to Parkinson’s, the most common neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s.

“This is more evidence that a class of compounds may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s,” said William Langston, director of the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California, who was not involved in the study. “It is not direct evidence that rotenone causes Parkinson’s. The whole puzzle hasn’t come together.”

Rotenone is a very common organic product made from extracts of tropical plants. It is used as a garden insecticide to control chewing insects, as a dust on cattle and as a dog and sheep dip, in addition to its use to kill unwanted fish in reservoirs.

People most frequently would be exposed to rotenone by ingesting residue in food or by handling the compound.

More than a million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s. Muscle control ebbs as brain cells in a region called the substantia nigra produce less dopamine, a hormone vital to normal nerve function. The illness is marked by small tremors, such as facial tics and shaking hands. Advanced symptoms include a shuffling gait, speech difficulties and muscle weakness.

There is no cure, and current drug and surgical therapies tend to lose effectiveness over time. New therapies involving transplants of stem cells, the body’s master cells from which all tissues grow, have been slowed by federal funding restrictions.

In the experiment conducted at Emory University in Atlanta, neurologists implanted tiny pumps in the rats to continuously administer low doses of rotenone through the jugular vein for as long as five-weeks.

Examination revealed that large numbers of dopamine-producing cells in the rat’s brains had died or were damaged. In addition, the cells showed fibrous protein deposits that closely resemble Lewy bodies, deposits found in brain cells of Parkinson’s patients.

– The Associated Press

Salmon Farm Polluters

To the Editor:

Re: “Virus Is Killing Thousands of Salmon” (New York Times news article, Sept. 7, 2001): A crucial part of the Maine salmon industry story is that fish farms have been polluting Maine’s coastal waters for more than a decade in violation of federal environmental law.

Over the years, salmon farms have released into the ocean a toxic chemical used to kill parasites; thousands of tons of concentrated fish waste; blood from slaughtered salmon; excess feed, which contains pigment to artificially color the salmon’s flesh pink and can contain ingredients like antibiotics and waste.

Now, you report, the multinational corporations that grow salmon want federal handouts when their fish die of disease. They have it backwards. The corporations should compensate the people of Maine for fouling the environment for so long.

– David A. Nicholas
Reprinted from The New York Times

Reducing the Pesticide Risk

In a perfect world, all the produce we buy would be pesticide-free. In reality, that’s not always possible. Beyond buying organic, there are four steps you can take to help protect you and your family from dangerous chemicals.

  1. Wash thoroughly. Washing produce can remove at least 29 percent and as much as 98 percent of residues, depending on the type. Because some pesticides are oil-based, washing produce with a mild soap can further reduce the residues.
  2. Buy what’s in season. Imported produce is often sprayed with pesticides before shipping. If it’s October and you buy apples, you’re pretty safe, but if you find summer fruits like peaches in February, it’s a good bet they’re imported.
  3. Make sure it’s certified. Look for the logo of a local or national certification agency. This seal will ensure that the standards of that organic farming organization were followed.
  4. Avoid the most contaminated foods. For instance, strawberries, cherries, peaches, green and red peppers, and spinach are more likely to be contaminated with pesticides than blueberries, oranges, broccoli, and asparagus. Buying organic produce is another way to avoid contaminants.

– Natural Health