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#872 -- Mr. Bush''s Second Crusade, 14-Sep-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #872

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, September 14, 2006............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Mr. Bush's Second Crusade
  The President is relentlessly dismantling the scientific
  capabilities of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- a plan with
  "long-term consequences," says the agency's chief financial officer.
Can Chemicals in Our Homes Cause Deformities?
  Growing numbers of boys are being born with malformed genitals. Are
  chemicals in our homes to blame?
Green Building Movement Under Attack by Industry Groups
  The same forces that corrupted the urban renewal process in the
  1970s -- big-money developers -- are now trying to corrupt the "green
  building" movement. They are pouring millions of dollars in cash and
  staff time into controlling -- and changing -- the very definition of
  "green building."
In Baltimore -- and Some Other Places -- Life Is Short
  A Harvard study has found "longevity gaps" as big as 30 years.
  Asian women in Bergen County, N.J., a suburb of New York City, have a
  life expectancy of 91 years, while Native Americans on or near
  reservations in South Dakota live an average of 58 years.
Study: Humans Responsible for Rougher Hurricanes
  "The human induced build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
  appears to be the primary force behind increased hurricane activity,"
  said oceanographer Robert Correll of the American Meteorological
  Society.
Harvard Professor E.O. Wilson Reaches Out to Faith-based Groups
  The Harvard professor sees science and religion as allies
  for averting the mass extinction of species now under way.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #872, Sept. 14, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

MR. BUSH'S SECOND CRUSADE

By Peter Montague

At an airport the other day, every six minutes like clockwork an
authoritative voice emanated from on high, reminding us that the
global terror threat stands at "orange alert." As we waited like sheep
to be searched for hair gel and lanolin, some of us were led away and
body-searched behind the screen while the rest of us averted our eyes
and packed closer together, trying to blend in.

It was near the anniversary of Sept. 11, so the Commander-in-Chief was
making the rounds to lay wreaths and provide reassurances, and the
total-immersion airport TV offered up a cavalcade of frightening
images suggesting that we may never be safe again until we track down
every last enemy of freedom and interrogate them creatively. We
particularly marvel at the newest unauthorized U.S. practice of
locking suspects in cages measuring four feet by four feet by 20
inches so they can neither sit nor stand for a week at a time, as
reported by the New York Times June 17. And we were amazed to learn
recently that Guantanamo is now 25% powered by wind energy, so that
if we poke electric cables into the eyes of Muslim prisoners, as has
been recently alleged, perhaps some of us can at least feel good
about ourselves for using alternative energy.

These reported interrogation techniques, if true, seem certain to
prolong the Global War on Terror -- which the President some time ago
had already declared to be a war without end -- by creating the next
generation of implacable foes who will then need to be resisted with
mighty swords, restrained, and themselves creatively interrogated far
into the future. Perhaps it's best to look at it as a sustained jobs
program, not really different from the Cold War but with a creative
Texas twist.

From our airport experience you could only conclude that we've got a
big job ahead -- the CIA has now identified people who hate freedom in
80 countries, and no doubt some of these will become good candidates
for creative interrogation -- so we'd best get to it and stay focused,
was the message. Mr. Bush wants to be remembered as a wartime
President, and there's little doubt he'll get his wish. Extraordinary
renditions of this President's creative innovations will no doubt be
recounted forever-after to wide-eyed children in Texas Sunday schools.

Meanwhile all across the country, out of sight of the TV monitors, the
Commander-in-Chief has a second crusade under way, striking a blow
against godless science. He is working hard to go down in history as
the President who finally had the guts to eliminate -- or at least
cripple -- science within the federal agency that President Nixon set
up to protect God's creation, our U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA).

In a series of decisions during his two terms in office, the Commander
has steadily diminished and discredited the scientific bona fides of
EPA. This can only mean that the agency is growing less able to do its
job of protecting us and the rest of Creation from corporate
marauders. As anyone knows who has read the two-part series we ran
last month, destruction of the natural environment has reached full
orange alert -- the loss of species alone has now reached apocalyptic
proportions -- so diminishing government's scientific capability can
only accelerate us toward ecological collapse. Clearly, many of the
President's supporters relish the thought because to them it foretells
the Second Coming of Christ. And who knows? They may be right. In some
versions of the Good Book it is written that "Blood will flow like
mighty rivers" when Jesus returns to Earth to personally exterminate
vast hordes of humanity. This would include the 1.6 billion
Christians who have not been "born again" and have not taken Jesus as
their personal savior; 1.3 billion Muslims; 900 million Hindus; 850
million secularists, atheists and agnostics; 360 million Buddhists;
245 million indigenous people; 225 million believers in various
traditional Chinese religions; 23 million Sikhs; 14 million Jews; 6
million Bahais; 5 million Jainists; 4 million Shintos; 3 million
followers of Cao Dai; 2.4 million Tenrikyos; 1 million neopagans;
800,000 Unitarian Universalists; 700,000 Rastafarians; 600,000
Scientologists; and 150,000 Zoroastrians.

It is written that, on the day He returns to Earth, the Prince of
Peace is planning to personally slaughter every one of these 5.5
billion infidels and then dispatch their souls to hell where they will
suffer unspeakable tortures for the rest of eternity -- this according
to the President's most faithful followers and ardent supporters who
are working hard to impose these religious values on the rest of us.
Among some of these plain folk, perhaps, the torture of a few luckless
Muslims at Guantanamo or high in the heavens aboard a CIA-chartered
jet pales to insignificance when compared to Jesus's glorious final
solution for cleansing the Earth. But I digress.

Just a few days ago, the whistle-blower group representing federal
scientists, managers and workers, Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER), leaked a memo from Lyons Gray, chief
financial officer (CFO) of EPA. The memo tells all EPA higher-ups that
the 2008 budget will include substantial new "disinvestments" in EPA's
scientific capabilities -- disinvestments that are expected to have
"long-term consequences" for the agency, Mr. Gray's memo said. Those
consequences will be Mr. Bush's second legacy.

Here are a few of the changes that the agency has undergone while the
Global War on Terror has deflected our attention:

** Closure of scientific laboratories and research centers. By 2011,
the agency's staff of 2000 scientists will have been cut 20%. During
that same 5-year period, 9000 new chemicals will have entered
commercial channels,[1] almost entirely untested for health or
environmental effects.

** The executive director of PEER, Jeff Ruch, summarized the plan
this way: "The Bush administration is trying to spin this lobotomy as
a diet plan for a trimmer, shapelier EPA," Ruch added. "In fact, it is
a plan to cut and run from historic standards of environmental
protection under the guise of deficit management."

PEER is not the only group aware of the destruction of scientific
capacity at EPA.

** In April, EPA's own Science Advisory Board -- a panel of outside
reviewers of EPA's scientific work -- concluded that EPA is no longer
funding a credible public health research program.

** A Government Accountability Office study also released in April
concluded that EPA lacks safeguards to "evaluate or manage potential
conflicts of interest" in corporate research agreements.

** PEER noted in October, 2005 that the American Chemistry Council
(ACC, formerly the Chemical Manufacturer's Association) is now EPA's
main research partner. PEER noted that, "A classic example of recent
EPA/corporate joint ventures is the 2004 agreement reached with the
ACC to fund the now-canceled CHEERS experiment in which parents
would have received payments and gifts in return for spraying
pesticides and other chemicals in the rooms primarily occupied by
their infant children." EPA and ACC were surprised at public
opposition to testing pesticides on children, since testing drugs on
children without informed consent is a booming business.

PEER also noted that, "In internal agency surveys, EPA scientists
maintain that corporations are influencing the agency's research
agenda through financial inducements. As one EPA scientist wrote,
'Many of us in the labs feel like we work for contracts.'"

In March of this year PEER executive director Jeff Ruch testified
before Congress that, "There appears to be a deliberate policy of
marginalizing EPA science on issue after issue, so that the agency is
becoming increasingly irrelevant to emerging environmental threats,"
Ruch testified, pointing to internal surveys showing a growing
pessimism by agency scientists about the direction of EPA. "EPA's
public health research agenda has been neutered," he testified.

Unfortunately, EPA has placed its own scientists under a gag order,
so they cannot tell their own story.

Last month, PEER pointed out that EPA's own Office of Inspector
General -- an internal investigative arm within EPA itself --
recently reported that:

** "EPA does not have the data to support its positions on the state
of the environment or to measure the success of its programs";

** "EPA's information systems have incomplete and untimely data"; and

** EPA lacks a "clear identification and prioritization of the most
important scientific questions to be addressed."

"Right now, EPA is flying blind," concluded PEER Executive Director
Jeff Ruch, noting that the agency is spending millions on a public
relations campaign to burnish the "corporate image" of its science
program even as it cuts research support. "EPA scientists describe a
deliberate attempt by its current leaders to 'dumb down' the agency
and marginalize research so it cannot be applied to any topic of
controversy," he said.

Ruch pointed out that

** Investment in EPA science has steadily decreased to the point where
the chair of EPA's Scientific Advisory Board believes that the agency
no longer fields a coherent scientific research program;

** Suppression of politically inconvenient scientific findings and
rewrites of technical reports for non-scientific reasons have become
commonplace.

** EPA is slashing its network of technical research libraries.

This last point is important because it undercuts EPA's ability to
enforce the laws Congress has told it to enforce.

Late last month, PEER leaked an internal EPA memo saying,

** Prosecution of polluters by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency "will be compromised" due to the loss of "timely, correct and
accessible" information from the agency's closure of its network of
technical libraries. EPA enforcement staff currently rely upon the
libraries to obtain technical information to support pollution
prosecutions and to track the business histories of regulated
industries.

The memo, prepared in mid-August by the enforcement arm of EPA, called
the Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OECA), agency staff detailed
concerns about the effects of EPA's plans to close many of its
libraries, box up the collections and eliminate or sharply reduce
library services. Each year, EPA's libraries handle more than 134,000
research requests from its own scientific and enforcement staff. The
memo states:

"If OECA is involved in a civil or criminal litigation and the judge
asks for documentation, we can currently rely upon a library to locate
the information and have it produced to a court house in a timely
manner. Under the cuts called for in the plan, timeliness for such
services is not addressed."

"Cutting $2 million in library services in an EPA budget totaling
nearly $8 billion is the epitome of a penny wise-pound foolish
economy," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "From research to
regulation to enforcement, EPA is an information-dependent operation
which needs libraries and librarians to function properly," he said.

But who needs EPA anyway? The states and tribes do.

According to the memo by EPA CFO Lyons Gray, leaked by PEER just a
few days ago, the EPA's 2008 budget preparations include reducing the
"regulatory burden" on state and tribes and reducing federal oversight
of state and tribal regulatory agencies.

The assumption is that state environmental agencies can run their own
show better without EPA setting basic standards of performance. But it
plainly isn't so.

Take New Jersey. New Jersey is the wealthiest state in the Union. It
has a well-educated population who regularly tell pollsters they care
about the environment only slightly less than they care about jobs. If
any state should be able to field a group of environmental
professionals to clamp down on -- or at the very least, keep track of
-- the corporate polluters, it would be New Jersey. Yet after 35 years
of effort, this remains the most polluted state in the Union and the
state Department of Environmental Protection was revealed last month
to be near total paralysis, if not complete collapse. More next
week.

==============

[1] Marianne Lavelle, "EPA's Amnesty Has Become a Mixed Blessing," The
National Law Journal February 24, 1997, pgs. A1, A18. And see David
Roe and others, Toxic Ignorance; The Continuing Absence of Basic
Health Testing for Top-Selling Chemicals in the United States (New
York: Environmental Defense Fund, 1997).

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Independent (UK), Sept. 12, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

CAN CHEMICALS IN OUR HOMES CAUSE DEFORMITIES?

By Hannah Duguid

At 16 weeks pregnant, Isobel Lockwood had an ultrasound and was told
she was carrying a baby girl. Soon afterwards, DNA taken from the
foetus during an amniocentesis showed it was a boy. The doctor, who'd
never made such a mistake before, was astonished but thought nothing
further of it.

When Isobel eventually gave birth, the reason for the mix-up became
clear. Her son's penis was tiny and split down the middle.

The immediate diagnosis was hypospadias -- a birth abnormality where
the hole in the penis lies underneath the shaft, or in more severe
cases, at the base of the penis or underneath the scrotum. In some
cases the penis is very bent and will grow back on itself, in the
shape of a doughnut. In severe cases, it is difficult to identify a
penis at all.

At best the problem is largely cosmetic and can be rectified in a
single operation. At worst (and with modern surgery these cases are
rare), boys are left infertile and unable to have sex.

Of every 150 to 200 boys born in this country, one will have
hypospadias -- and doctors believe that cases have doubled over the
past 25 years. It happens during the first three or four months of
pregnancy and is a result of incomplete masculinisation.

Basically, we all begin life in the womb as female, but with
hypospadias something disrupts the hormonal changes a foetus goes
through to become male. What that "something" might be turns out to be
fairly chilling.

Research in Denmark points to a group of chemicals -- phthalates -
found in objects and everyday products all around us. They are in
plastic, carpets, fabric, make-up, food packaging, perfume, cosmetics,
milk, vegetables, pesticides and sun cream. Known as endocrine
disrupters, it is believed they upset the delicate balance of hormones
during the early stages of pregnancy.

Related to this is the general crisis in male fertility in the West.
One in six boys born today will have a low sperm-count. Hypospadias
sufferers are part of a much wider problem which has seen male
fertility drastically decline over the past 50 years.

Professor Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council's Human
Reproductive Sciences Unit suggests that there's a link between
incidents of hypospadias, undescended testes, low sperm-count and
testicular cancers. "We don't yet know the exact cause of these
problems, but they are all inter-related. It seems that the increase
in these abnormalities is to do with environmental and lifestyle
factors. It is something that has only happened recently," Sharpe
says.

Aivar Bracka, a consultant genito-urethral plastic surgeon at Russells
Hall Hospital in Dudley, operates on hundreds of cases of hypospadias
every year. "I would be surprised if there wasn't an environmental
cause for it. It is difficult to explain any other way. In particular,
it explains cases of identical twins where one is born with
hypospadias and the other isn't. This means that genetics doesn't
account for everything."

Hereditary factors do, however, play a part in some cases. It is not
unusual for more than one male in a family to have hypospadias. If the
father and grandfather has it, there is a one in three chance that the
next male in line will have it.

But mostly, it happens out of the blue. "I had no idea what
hypospadias was," says Sue Phipps, mother of identical twins Henry and
Charlie, 11, both born with the condition. "I didn't notice
immediately as I had not had boys before. The nurse pointed it out.
Both of them had their hole half-way down the underneath of their
penis, and both had a hooded foreskin. They had to sit on the toilet
to pee, or it went everywhere.

"We were told they would need one operation, but after a series of
operations their penises were a mess. The pain was so severe they were
on morphine. Going to the loo was dreadful for them; Henry urinated
from three holes and Charlie from five."

A traumatic two years culminated in Sue Phipps threatening to sue the
surgeon. One of the problems when local plastic surgeons operate on
hypospadias patients is that they are not sufficiently experienced in
the delicate technique required and end up making the problem worse -
one-third of cases operated on by Bracka are repair jobs.

Once referred to Russells Hall Hospital, the boys needed just one
"salvage" operation to give them a penis that looked normal and
worked. Both were able to get erections.

But Phipps does not yet know whether her boys will be fertile. There
is a small but significant chance that they won't be. Studies have
shown that boys with hypospadias tend to have a slightly lower sperm-
count. The twins' testicles are normal, though. One in 10 boys with
hypospadias is also born with undescended testicles. If one testicle
descends there is, again, a small but significant increase of
infertility. If both fail to descend, that likelihood shoots up to 80
per cent.

The other reason hypospadias sufferers may struggle to have children
is if their abnormality makes it difficult to have sex. A penis with a
270-degree bend can be surgically corrected, but if it is not
penetration is almost impossible -- as is normal ejaculation if the
hole is at the base of the penis. Ham-fisted surgery leaves the
urethra "baggy", causing weak ejaculation where sperm dribbles rather
than shoots out.

A penis that doesn't look or behave like everybody else's is upsetting
for a boy, too. Their penises tends to be smaller than usual and,
apart from embarrassment with potential sexual encounters, there is
"locker room syndrome", when boys face the rough judgements of their
peers.

Peter Cuckow, consultant paediatric urologist at Great Ormond Street
Hospital and the Institute of Urology, says: "People are much more
critical of their anatomy now, which means operations take place that
wouldn't have years ago. I have known families where all the men had
hypospadias but the older generations had not had operations because
all that was wrong was that their penis looked strange. It still
worked, so it wasn't a problem."

Isobel Lockwood says: "I am most worried about how to talk to my son
about his penis. I don't want there to be any shame about it, but
there's no point pretending nothing's wrong. You want them to be the
same. But I do worry about what will happen when he reaches puberty."

Sometimes it is fathers who find it difficult to cope. "I suppose it's
because they see it as their manhood," says Dionne Smith, 38. "When my
boys went into hospital to have their operation, my ex-partner told
his friends that the boys were on holiday. I didn't like that. I told
him it wasn't a disease -- or anything to be afraid of."

What is important is that for most boys born with hypospadias, one or
two operations when they're very young will correct the condition. It
is also true that surgeons expect to see more cases in the future -
and unless something changes there is nothing we can really do about
it.

Support group: www.hypospadias.co.uk Some names have been changed

Phthalates: what you need to know

What are phthalates?

Phthalates (pronounced "thal-ates") are a group of chemical liquids
used as "plasticisers" -- substances that modify the physical
properties of materials. Resembling vegetable oil, odourless, they
belong to a family of workhorse chemicals that have been in use for 50
years. They are created by the simple reaction of alcohols with
phthalic anhydride and the elimination of water.

How do they work?

They are most commonly used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC), thus
creating a soft and flexible texture.

What are they used for?

Items such as footwear, electrical cables and stationery, as well as
medical devices such as tubing and blood bags. The larger-molecule
variety is what gives flexibility to some vinyl flooring and
children's toys. The smaller-molecule type serves as a fixative for
perfumes to slow evaporation and help the scent to linger. Nail
varnishes, adhesives and safety glass gain more supple textures thanks
to phthalates.

The European Parliament will be finalising legislation this autumn on
the use of toxic chemicals in household products. Greenpeace, which is
locking horns with the chemical industry lobby over this issue, is
working to ensure that the legislation is strong enough to make a
difference.

The environmental campaign group wants to see the use of phthalates, a
group of chemicals that may be responsible for disrupting hormones
during pregnancy, restricted and safer ones used. It also wants the
chemical content of products to be clearly stated on labels so that
consumers know what to avoid.

Sarah Shoaka of Greenpeace says: "These chemicals are so widespread.
We're using ourselves as an experiment and by the time we know the
results, it will be too late."

Whether Greenpeace can succeed against the might of the chemicals
industry remains to be seen -- and no one knows for certain that, even
if they do, the rise in conditions such as hypospadias can be
reversed. But it does seem clear that some lifestyle and environmental
factors must be addressed.

For a list of products to avoid, see
www.greenpeace.org.uk/products/toxics

At 16 weeks pregnant, Isobel Lockwood had an ultrasound and was told
she was carrying a baby girl. Soon afterwards, DNA taken from the
foetus during an amniocentesis showed it was a boy. The doctor, who'd
never made such a mistake before, was astonished but thought nothing
further of it.

When Isobel eventually gave birth, the reason for the mix-up became
clear. Her son's penis was tiny and split down the middle.

The immediate diagnosis was hypospadias -- a birth abnormality where
the hole in the penis lies underneath the shaft, or in more severe
cases, at the base of the penis or underneath the scrotum. In some
cases the penis is very bent and will grow back on itself, in the
shape of a doughnut. In severe cases, it is difficult to identify a
penis at all.

At best the problem is largely cosmetic and can be rectified in a
single operation. At worst (and with modern surgery these cases are
rare), boys are left infertile and unable to have sex.

Of every 150 to 200 boys born in this country, one will have
hypospadias -- and doctors believe that cases have doubled over the
past 25 years. It happens during the first three or four months of
pregnancy and is a result of incomplete masculinisation.

Basically, we all begin life in the womb as female, but with
hypospadias something disrupts the hormonal changes a foetus goes
through to become male. What that "something" might be turns out to be
fairly chilling.

Research in Denmark points to a group of chemicals -- phthalates -
found in objects and everyday products all around us. They are in
plastic, carpets, fabric, make-up, food packaging, perfume, cosmetics,
milk, vegetables, pesticides and sun cream. Known as endocrine
disrupters, it is believed they upset the delicate balance of hormones
during the early stages of pregnancy.

Related to this is the general crisis in male fertility in the West.
One in six boys born today will have a low sperm-count. Hypospadias
sufferers are part of a much wider problem which has seen male
fertility drastically decline over the past 50 years.

Professor Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council's Human
Reproductive Sciences Unit suggests that there's a link between
incidents of hypospadias, undescended testes, low sperm-count and
testicular cancers. "We don't yet know the exact cause of these
problems, but they are all inter-related. It seems that the increase
in these abnormalities is to do with environmental and lifestyle
factors. It is something that has only happened recently," Sharpe
says.

Aivar Bracka, a consultant genito-urethral plastic surgeon at Russells
Hall Hospital in Dudley, operates on hundreds of cases of hypospadias
every year. "I would be surprised if there wasn't an environmental
cause for it. It is difficult to explain any other way. In particular,
it explains cases of identical twins where one is born with
hypospadias and the other isn't. This means that genetics doesn't
account for everything."

Hereditary factors do, however, play a part in some cases. It is not
unusual for more than one male in a family to have hypospadias. If the
father and grandfather has it, there is a one in three chance that the
next male in line will have it.

But mostly, it happens out of the blue. "I had no idea what
hypospadias was," says Sue Phipps, mother of identical twins Henry and
Charlie, 11, both born with the condition. "I didn't notice
immediately as I had not had boys before. The nurse pointed it out.
Both of them had their hole half-way down the underneath of their
penis, and both had a hooded foreskin. They had to sit on the toilet
to pee, or it went everywhere.

"We were told they would need one operation, but after a series of
operations their penises were a mess. The pain was so severe they were
on morphine. Going to the loo was dreadful for them; Henry urinated
from three holes and Charlie from five."

A traumatic two years culminated in Sue Phipps threatening to sue the
surgeon. One of the problems when local plastic surgeons operate on
hypospadias patients is that they are not sufficiently experienced in
the delicate technique required and end up making the problem worse -
one-third of cases operated on by Bracka are repair jobs.

Once referred to Russells Hall Hospital, the boys needed just one
"salvage" operation to give them a penis that looked normal and
worked. Both were able to get erections.

But Phipps does not yet know whether her boys will be fertile. There
is a small but significant chance that they won't be. Studies have
shown that boys with hypospadias tend to have a slightly lower sperm-
count. The twins' testicles are normal, though. One in 10 boys with
hypospadias is also born with undescended testicles. If one testicle
descends there is, again, a small but significant increase of
infertility. If both fail to descend, that likelihood shoots up to 80
per cent. The other reason hypospadias sufferers may struggle to have
children is if their abnormality makes it difficult to have sex. A
penis with a 270-degree bend can be surgically corrected, but if it is
not penetration is almost impossible -- as is normal ejaculation if
the hole is at the base of the penis. Ham-fisted surgery leaves the
urethra "baggy", causing weak ejaculation where sperm dribbles rather
than shoots out.

A penis that doesn't look or behave like everybody else's is upsetting
for a boy, too. Their penises tends to be smaller than usual and,
apart from embarrassment with potential sexual encounters, there is
"locker room syndrome", when boys face the rough judgements of their
peers.

Peter Cuckow, consultant paediatric urologist at Great Ormond Street
Hospital and the Institute of Urology, says: "People are much more
critical of their anatomy now, which means operations take place that
wouldn't have years ago. I have known families where all the men had
hypospadias but the older generations had not had operations because
all that was wrong was that their penis looked strange. It still
worked, so it wasn't a problem."

Isobel Lockwood says: "I am most worried about how to talk to my son
about his penis. I don't want there to be any shame about it, but
there's no point pretending nothing's wrong. You want them to be the
same. But I do worry about what will happen when he reaches puberty."

Sometimes it is fathers who find it difficult to cope. "I suppose it's
because they see it as their manhood," says Dionne Smith, 38. "When my
boys went into hospital to have their operation, my ex-partner told
his friends that the boys were on holiday. I didn't like that. I told
him it wasn't a disease -- or anything to be afraid of."

What is important is that for most boys born with hypospadias, one or
two operations when they're very young will correct the condition. It
is also true that surgeons expect to see more cases in the future -
and unless something changes there is nothing we can really do about
it.

Support group: www.hypospadias.co.uk Some names have been changed

Phthalates: what you need to know

What are phthalates?

Phthalates (pronounced "thal-ates") are a group of chemical liquids
used as "plasticisers" -- substances that modify the physical
properties of materials. Resembling vegetable oil, odourless, they
belong to a family of workhorse chemicals that have been in use for 50
years. They are created by the simple reaction of alcohols with
phthalic anhydride and the elimination of water.

How do they work?

They are most commonly used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC), thus
creating a soft and flexible texture.

What are they used for?

Items such as footwear, electrical cables and stationery, as well as
medical devices such as tubing and blood bags. The larger-molecule
variety is what gives flexibility to some vinyl flooring and
children's toys. The smaller-molecule type serves as a fixative for
perfumes to slow evaporation and help the scent to linger. Nail
varnishes, adhesives and safety glass gain more supple textures thanks
to phthalates.

The European Parliament will be finalising legislation this autumn on
the use of toxic chemicals in household products. Greenpeace, which is
locking horns with the chemical industry lobby over this issue, is
working to ensure that the legislation is strong enough to make a
difference.

The environmental campaign group wants to see the use of phthalates, a
group of chemicals that may be responsible for disrupting hormones
during pregnancy, restricted and safer ones used. It also wants the
chemical content of products to be clearly stated on labels so that
consumers know what to avoid.

Sarah Shoaka of Greenpeace says: "These chemicals are so widespread.
We're using ourselves as an experiment and by the time we know the
results, it will be too late."

Whether Greenpeace can succeed against the might of the chemicals
industry remains to be seen -- and no one knows for certain that, even
if they do, the rise in conditions such as hypospadias can be
reversed. But it does seem clear that some lifestyle and environmental
factors must be addressed.

For a list of products to avoid, see
www.greenpeace.org.uk/products/toxics

Copyright 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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From: Healthy Building Network, Sept. 13, 2006
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OUR GENERATION'S URBAN RENEWAL?

By Bill Walsh

Four months after the death of New York's urban visionary Jane Jacobs
(May 4, 1916 -- April 25, 2006)[1], I found myself jockeying for
position on the Cross Bronx Expressway stretch of Interstate 95.[2]
By the time of her death, Jacobs was revered; and the philosophy of
urban renewal she opposed was reviled. But I-95's monotonous
lacerations through cities from Boston to Washington, DC remain
monuments to the limits of Jacobs' contemporary influence. I wondered:
how will history judge the structures that will define our
generation's green building legacy?

Urban Renewal, like the Green Building movement, was inspired and
catalyzed by some of the best and brightest design professionals of
its generation. Their persuasive vision promised to link financial
success and social well-being within a pleasing aesthetic.

But something went wrong.

A big part of what went wrong is that those with the most to gain or
lose financially had the greatest incentives and resources to wrest
control of the movement from the merely civic-minded. Even though most
projects were subject to public scrutiny and debate, the big moneyed
interests routinely prevailed over the protests and counterproposals
of architects, planners, community organizations and advocates working
in the public interest.

Similar forces threaten the Green Building movement today. Deep
pocketed product manufacturers understand the promise of a "green"
marketing advantage conferred upon their product by a LEED credit, and
the peril of not having a "green" product in today's market.
Consequently they are pouring millions of dollars in cash and paid
staff hours into controlling -- and changing -- the very definition of
"green building."

According to the plastics and chemical industries, there is no plastic
that is not a green building product. According to the timber
industry, all wood is "good wood." Last year trade associations
representing the two industries unleashed an unrelenting attack on
LEED at both the state and federal level. They continue to threaten
LEED's assimilation into governmental green building standards unless
and until their products receive favorable treatment within the
Materials and Resources section.

It is in this context that the USGBC Board has directed the
membership to consider a proposal this fall that would meet timber
industry demands and award a LEED credit to the greenwash wood
certification label known as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative
(SFI). The Board's move is opposed not only by virtually all public
interest groups dedicated to forest protection, but also by wood
product manufacturers who have dedicated themselves to the consensus-
based Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Hundreds of environmental and health advocacy groups also urge
reductions in the use of PVC building materials due to the plastic's
unique association with human carcinogens, heavy metals and phthalate
plasticizers. Most leading green building tools and experts[3] -- our
era's Jane Jacobs -- encourage reduced PVC use, contradicting the
USGBC leadership's decision to remove a proposed PVC reduction credit
from an early draft of LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors). The USGBC
created a task force to study the issue. Their final report is also
due this fall.

One doesn't need 20-20 hindsight to see the connection. Will the next
generation see in our buildings the early expression of green building
ideals and ideas? Or will they see in the vinyl and endangered (by
then extinct?) hardwoods another monument to big money's desecration
of big ideas? The response of the active membership of the USGBC to
the course being set by its elected board and professional staff will
mark a turning point in the history of this movement.

HEALTHY BUILDING NEWS SOURCES

[1] Renowned author of arguably the most influential book on American
urban planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, see htt
p://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-Bronx_Expressway

[3] See, e.g. (not a comprehensive list): Michael Braungart,
McDdonough Braungart Design Chemistry; Che Wall, Australian Green
Building Council; Jason McLennan, AIA, CEO Cascadia Region Green
Building Council; Robin Guenther, FAIA; and the Green Guide for
Health Care.

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From: Baltimore Sun, Sept. 12, 2006
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CITY COMES UP SHORT ON LONGEVITY

Life expectancy in Baltimore ranks near the bottom nationwide

By Frank D. Roylance and Chris Emery

Baltimoreans face the lowest life expectancy of almost any
jurisdiction in America, according to a new study by the Harvard
School of Public Health.

City residents can expect to live 68.6 years on average, the study
found. That is worse than in all but a handful of counties in South
Dakota that include impoverished Indian reservations, and there has
been little improvement since a study published in 1997.

Longevity in Baltimore is much lower than in affluent Montgomery
County, where it was 81.3 years, eighth-highest in the nation and
trailing seven Colorado counties only fractionally.

Similar disparities persist in many of the nation's high-risk urban
settings even when the effects of high rates of homicide and HIV/AIDS
are removed, the study found. And the problem does not appear to lie
among the very young or the very old.

Instead, the researchers say, the disparities are best explained by
chronic health problems among those ages 15 to 59, including
cardiovascular and lung disease, diabetes, the effects of smoking and
alcohol use, and injuries, all of which are well-understood and
preventable.

That would not come as news to John Adams, 57, a longtime security
guard at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center who was forced to retire
three years ago because of arthritis.

"City life is tough," he said during lunch yesterday at Northeast
Market. "Here in the city, truth be told, black men don't live very
long."

His eldest brother, 61, recently had a stroke. Drugs, violence and
AIDS, he said, threaten black men from their teens into their 30s. "If
you can make it past then," he said, "you can live to be real old."

Norma Jackson, who said only that she was in her 70s, observed that
older people seemed to be living longer but that young people seem to
die more often.

"It's the times," she said. "They don't take care of themselves. They
drink too much. They're doing drugs. There are gangs."

Joshua M. Sharfstein, Baltimore's health commissioner, said the city
"is not where we want it to be." Despite recent gains against HIV,
venereal disease and homicides, he said, the city has "very serious
health needs."

"The intermediate ages face special risk in Baltimore, and the safety
net systems to care for them need to be strengthened," he said. "It's
an age group that traditionally gets less support from both government
and the nonprofit world, which is naturally inclined to look at kids
and the elderly."

The Harvard study "does sharpen the focus on the need to look at the
great number of people in the middle," Sharfstein said. "It's a pretty
interesting finding."

When the first Harvard study appeared in 1997, Dr. Peter Beilenson,
then the city health commissioner, acknowledged serious public health
problems. He also said the city was being compared unfairly with
cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta and Newark, N.J., that,
unlike Baltimore, are part of larger counties with more affluent
suburbs.

The new peer-reviewed study was published today in the online journal
PLoS Medicine. (PloS stands for Public Library of Science.)

The lead author is Christopher J.L. Murray of the Harvard School of
Public Health. Others are from Harvard and the University of
California, San Francisco. Their work was sponsored by the federal
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Association of Schools
of Public Health and the National Institute on Aging.

The researchers gathered and derived population, age, race and gender
data from the 1980 and 1990 censuses. More recent data through 2001
were acquired from the National Center for Health Statistics. The
reports' longevity averages are from 1999, the most recent available.
Other data came from surveys by the CDC and the World Health
Organization.

The study is a follow-up to a similar one in 1997, and the Baltimore
statistics show few gains. Life expectancy for Baltimore men, which
fell from 64.6 years to 63.2 years between 1980 and 1990, recovered
only part of that loss by 1999, rising to 63.8 years.

For women in the city, life expectancy was essentially unchanged at
73.4 years.

In Montgomery County, women live an average of 83 years, almost four
years longer than men.

"I think it's lifestyle," said Fred Shapiro, 74, a resident of Leisure
World retirement community in Rockville. Shapiro ate breakfast at the
Panera restaurant in nearby Aspen Hill Shopping Center yesterday with
several of his tennis partners after rain washed out their usual
Monday matches.

He credits the county's greater longevity to better education,
economic status and community resources.

"There is an availability of a lot of different facilities, both
intellectual and physical," he said.

Richard Helfrich, the county's deputy health officer, said in a
statement that "despite the good news, we remain committed to
improving the long-term health of our residents."

"This includes addressing disparities that still exist among different
ethnic groups in such areas such as infant mortality, cancer and
access to health care services," he said.

Nationally, Baltimore ranked seventh from the bottom, behind the South
Dakota counties. In the 1997 report, the city was third from the
bottom.

Washington, D.C., finished 49th from the bottom (out of 2,072 counties
or county equivalents), with an average life expectancy of 72 years.
Montgomery County was eighth from the top, behind seven affluent
counties in Colorado ski country.

The methodology that Beilenson complained about nine years ago hasn't
changed, Murray said. It's the way the localities report their data to
the states.

That puts Baltimore at a disadvantage in the rankings, he said, but
also illuminates the disparities in life expectancy.

"It's just remarkable how bad levels of mortality are in these
counties at the bottom," he said.

The Harvard study found "longevity gaps" as big as 30 years. Asian
women in Bergen County, N.J., a suburb of New York City, have a life
expectancy of 91 years, while Native Americans on or near reservations
in South Dakota live an average of 58 years.

Among the striking disparities are that the longest-lived Americans
can expect to live at least as long as the longevity champions in
places such as Iceland and Japan. But other places rank closer to
Third World countries.

The 15.4-year gap in life expectancy between Asian men and urban black
men in America parallels the gulf between long-lived Icelandic men and
those in Belarus and Uzbekistan.

The 12.8-year difference in longevity between Asian women and black
women living in the rural South compares with the gap between women in
Japan and those in Fiji, Nicaragua and Lebanon.

Among other findings:

** The longevity gap between black men in high-risk urban areas and
other groups widened significantly during the late 1980s and early
1990s, mostly because of high HIV and homicide rates.

** Life expectancies for blacks in high-risk urban environments are
comparable to those in Russia and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2001, a black
15-year-old was more than three times more likely to die before age 60
than an Asian-American was.

** One of the largest gains in life expectancy has been among the
group the researchers called "Black Middle America" -- African-
Americans who live outside high-risk urban communities or the
Mississippi Valley and the Deep South.

** Men have been closing the longevity gap with women in almost all of
the groups.

Murray said one explanation might be tobacco consumption, which is
falling faster among men than among women.

"In any given place, higher income groups have better health," Murray
said.

But not always. Low-income whites living in the Northern Plains lived
four years longer, on average, than low-income whites in the
Mississippi Valley.

Sharfstein noted a "huge gap" in Baltimore, both in providing health
insurance and in supporting community health centers that offer
primary health care.

"In Massachusetts or in D.C., there are funding streams to help care
for the uninsured. In Maryland there just aren't. It has the effect of
reducing access to health care," he said.

He said the city is preparing to start programs that can improve
primary care for people with cardiovascular disease.

"Our goal is to identify the programs that can be implemented in
Baltimore and then develop a consensus that they need to be funded" at
the city, state and private level, he said.

Narrowing the longevity gap is "a simple, pragmatic issue," Murray
said. In addition to shortening lives, chronic illnesses increase
health care costs for employers and taxpayers.

"It's both the right thing to do for our fellow citizens and the right
thing to do from a straightforward economic perspective," he said.

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From: Contra Costa Times (California), Sept. 11, 2006
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STUDY: MAN RESPONSIBLE FOR ROUGHER HURRICANES

By Betsy Mason

Livermore, Calif. -- The results are in -- mankind is largely
responsible for the rise in hurricane intensity in recent years.

A new study being released today, and led by Lawrence Livermore
Laboratory, found man's unmistakable fingerprint on the pattern of
increasingly powerful hurricanes in both the Atlantic and Pacific
oceans.

"The human induced build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
appears to be the primary force behind increased hurricane activity,"
said oceanographer Robert Correll of the American Meteorological
Society.

A growing number of studies during the last year has convincingly
shown that hurricanes have become more destructive during the last
three decades, and that this is due to rising sea-surface
temperatures.

And now, a team of 19 climate scientists from 10 different
institutions led by Livermore Lab's Benjamin Santer, has closed the
loop. The study used computer-generated climate models to reveal that
natural climate fluctuations, also known as climate noise, cannot
account for the upswing in ocean temperature.

"This clearly shows that the observed increases in ocean temperatures
in these Atlantic and Pacific hurricane breeding grounds simply can't
be explained without positing a large human affect," Santer said.
"Climate noise alone just won't cut it."

Most climate scientists agree that man has contributed to global
warming through emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse
gases. But the specific nature and causes of the warming varies in
different parts of the globe. Some spots may have heated up naturally
without help from carbon emissions while others may have gotten a
bigger boost from man.

Previous studies have looked at the average warming over large parts
of the globe, such as entire oceans. But Santer's team used virtually
every climate model developed so far in the world, 22 in all, to
analyze all of the possible causes behind the heating up of the sea
surface in the specific parts of the oceans where hurricanes are born.

Livermore Lab keeps an archive of the results from the world's climate
models, so the raw materials for the study were already at Santer's
fingertips.

"We're sitting on top of a wealth of information," he said. "It's like
a scientific gold mine."

The team compared results from models that tried to recreate the
actual sea-surface temperatures using only natural forces such as the
sun and volcanic eruptions, with results from the same models when
human greenhouse gas emissions were included.

The results from the experiments that used only natural forces didn't
come close to reality. But when human, or anthropogenic, influence was
included, the results closely matched the actual temperatures recorded
over the last century.

"We found that the dominant cause for the modeled sea-surface
temperature changes in these (hurricane formation) regions was
anthropogenic increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases,"
said co-author Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric
Research in Boulder, Colo.

The team estimated there is a very good chance that as much as two-
thirds of the temperature increase can be attributed to man. The
research appears today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences.

While it is impossible to pin Hurricane Katrina, or any other single
event, on carbon emissions and the warming oceans, it is clear that
boosting the temperature makes powerful hurricanes more likely, Santer
said.

The ocean temperature in the hurricane nurseries has gone up less than
one degree over the last century, but the number of category 4 and 5
hurricanes has nearly doubled over the last three decades.

This doesn't bode well for the future, said team member Michael
Wehner, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. He
is using the same models to project ocean temperatures into the
future.

Wehner looked at several possible scenarios including continued
unabated carbon emissions as well as drastically curbed emissions.

Even if we had stopped emitting greenhouse gases yesterday, it will
still get warmer in the future because it takes time for the carbon to
affect temperatures, he said.

"It's safe to say that even the conservative estimates of the 21st
century will see significantly larger increases in the temperature in
this region that we examined than we've already seen," he said. "You
ain't seen nothing yet."

The worst-case scenario of undiminished future carbon emissions, which
predict ocean temperatures will rise as much as nine degrees by the
end of the century, could be catastrophic, Wehner said.

"The results give me cause for concern," Santer said. " We can't stick
our heads in the sand here."

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From: Planet Ark, Sept. 4, 2006
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HARVARD PROFESSOR E.O. WILSON REACHES OUT TO FAITH-BASED GROUPS

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK -- Scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author E.O. Wilson is
out to save life on Earth -- literally -- and as a secular humanist
has decided to enlist people of religious faith in his mission.

The Harvard professor sees science and religion as potential allies
for averting the mass extinction of the species being caused by man,
as he argues in his latest book, "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life
on Earth" (W.W. Norton), due out on Tuesday.

Asked whether he could unite two groups with clashing world views,
Wilson immediately responded, "I know I can."

Among people of religious faith, "There is a potentially powerful
commitment to conservation -- saving the creation -- once the
connection is made and once the scientists are willing to form an
alliance," Wilson told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"There are two world views in conflict -- religious and secular -- but
yet they can meet in friendship on one of the most important issues of
this century," he said.

Wilson, 77, wrote "The Creation" in the form of a series of letters to
an imaginary South Baptist minister -- just the opposite of preaching
to the converted.

While the scientist believes in evolution, the evangelical Christian
interprets the Bible as the literal word of God.

"I may be wrong, you may be wrong. We may both be partly right,"
Wilson writes.

"Does this difference in worldview separate us in all things? It does
not," he goes on, drawing on his former experience as a Southern
Baptist to find common ground.

Wilson, who won Pulitzers for general non-fiction in 1979 and 1991,
documents how human activity has accelerated the mass extinction of
species and says habitat preservation is most urgent. He writes that
the world's 25 most endangered hotspots could be saved with a one-time
payment of US$30 billion, a relative pittance compared to the wealth
that nature generates for man.

In the Reuters interview, Wilson called the religious community in the
United States a "powerful majority." The Southern Baptist Convention
says on its Web site it has 16 million members in 42,000 churches.

Wilson is no longer one, having drifted away from religion in his
youth. Wilson considers himself neither atheist nor agnostic but a
"provisional deist."

"I'm willing to accept the possibility that there is some kind of
intelligent force beyond our current understanding," he said.

As such he said he gets a "uniformly warm response" from Southern
Baptists ministers, and sees mainstream public opinion as getting
greener.

"The public opinion in the United States has become pastel green, and
the green seems to be deepening," he said. "This could be just foolish
optimism, but we could be approaching the turning point."

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  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
  Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
  often considered separately or not at all.

  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
  because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
  health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
  rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
  workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
  intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
  therefore ruled by the few.  

  In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
  gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
  might be done about it?"

  As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
  please Email them to us at dhn@rachel.org.
  
  Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
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  subject.

  Editors:
  Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
  Tim Montague   -   tim@rachel.org
  
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