Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New York Times Drops Kucinich and Gravel from the Race

by Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive
August 13, 2007

Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel continue to get the shaft from the mainstream media.

It’s as if these two genuine peace candidates aren’t even in the race the way they are neglected.

They can win debates, but the next day in the news coverage they barely get a mention.

And when the topic of Iraq comes up, their views get short shrift.

Case in point: Last Sunday’s New York Times.

The lead story on the front page of the Times was headlined “Democratic Field Says Leaving Iraq May Take Years.”

Well, that’s not what the whole field says.

Oh, the Times did say there was an exception: A subhed read: “With One Exception, Even Critics of War Plan Gradual Exit.”

And who was that one exception? Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

The article, which went on for two dozen paragraphs, never even mentioned Gravel’s name or Kucinich’s name, the two Democratic candidates who have been the most outspoken all along on the Iraq War.

Anyone reading the story wouldn’t even have known that Gravel or Kucinich was in the race, or if you did, you’d have to assume that they had changed their minds on pulling out of Iraq. Which they haven’t.

Not only is this a prime case of inaccurate reporting.

It’s also a perfect exhibit of how the leading media outlets in this country take it upon themselves to narrow the field before the voters have a chance to cast their ballots.

©2007 The Progressive Magazine

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Losing Patience

by The New York Times
August 21, 2007

Dirk Kempthorne’s arrival in Washington as secretary of the interior raised hope among conservationists that he would moderate the Bush administration’s aggressive search for oil and gas in some of the country’s most environmentally sensitive lands. This has not happened. The Bureau of Land Management, which issues drilling leases and permits, seems to moving as recklessly as it did under Mr. Kempthorne’s predecessor, Gale Norton, and even the administration’s natural allies have finally had enough.

Last Friday, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership sued the Interior Department to protest the recent authorization of 2,000 new oil and gas wells, along with 1,000 miles of roads and another 1,000 miles of pipeline in a wildlife-rich area of south-central Wyoming known as the Atlantic Rim. The suit accuses the bureau of multiple violations of federal law, including the requirement that it fully assess less destructive alternatives. It also notes that the bureau itself conceded that under its plan the “natural setting would be converted to an industrialized setting” with severe adverse impacts on mule deer, elk and pronghorn antelope.

The partnership has previously protested leases in sensitive areas of Montana, Utah and other Western states and registered dismay with the administration on a range of environmental issues. This is its first lawsuit against the government, and one it did not undertake lightly — in part because it is not a litigious group and partly because the hunters and anglers who make up the bulk of its membership tend to be largely Republican.

That the partnership is now going to court shows how distasteful the administration’s public lands policies have become and how little they have changed since Vice President Dick Cheney, in his notorious energy report, ordered up a full-court press for domestic oil and gas resources regardless of the environmental consequences. Like other conservation groups, the partnership has never disputed the need to develop supplies of natural gas, nor has it objected to responsible development undertaken at a measured pace with due regard for other values, including the protection of wildlife.

What drove the partnership over the edge and into court was the sheer one-sidedness of the administration’s approach, as well as its reckless disregard for the law, and if that does not get Mr. Kempthorne’s attention, nothing will.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

NPR Touts Nuclear Energy

August 22, 2007

An August 15 NPR Morning Edition segment touted the benefits of nuclear power, suggesting it was gaining popularity with many environmentalists who once opposed it.

The segment was an interview with Fortune magazine editor David Whitford, who has written a series of articles about the debate over nuclear power. The piece was introduced by NPR anchor John Ydstie, who asserted that "with fossil fuel carbon emissions in the environmental bull's-eye, nuclear power is starting to shake off its bad reputation." Whitford elaborated on the claim that nuclear power's image is improving: "There are many environmentalists now who began their careers opposed to nuclear power who are now reconsidering nuclear power in the face of global warming."

But Whitford cited just one such environmentalist, Stewart Brand, describing him simply as the creator of the 60s and 70's publication, the Whole Earth Catalogue, and calling him "sort of the original off-the-grid environmentalist." In fact, Brand is currently a businessman, a co-founder and leader of the corporate consulting group Global Business Network (GBN). GBN numbers, among the 192 clients named on its website, more than a dozen corporations and governmental agencies involved in the production or promotion of nuclear energy: General Electric, Bechtel, Duke Power, Siemens-Westinghouse, Fluor, Electric Power Research Institute, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Électricité de France, Iberdrola, Vattenfall, Sydkraft (now E.ON Sweden) and Sandia National Labratories. Some of these, including GE, Bechtel, Duke Power and Westinghouse, are receiving government subsidies to develop the next generation of nuclear power plants, according to a Department of Energy report. Brand's financial links with the industry went unmentioned in the NPR segment.

Brand is one of a small number of former nuclear critics who have become prominent nuclear advocates (Alternet, 03/16/07). But it is a stretch to suggest, as Whitford does, that a handful of former nuclear foes with no current ties to leading environmental groups--and often with financial links to the nuclear industry--constitute "some division within the movement."

In fact, leading environmental groups including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council all agree that nuclear power, with its huge safety, security and cost issues, is not the solution to climate change. A 2005 letter released by Public Citizen and signed by nearly 300 groups opposed congressional subsidies for the nuclear industry:

As national and local environmental, consumer and safe energy organizations, we have serious and substantive concerns about nuclear energy. While we are committed to tackling the challenge of global warming, we flatly reject the argument that increased investment in nuclear capacity is an acceptable or necessary solution.

Instead of a story about a growing fervor for nuclear power among some environmentalists, the story is really one about a growing fervor to resurrect nuclear power among corporate and political elites, aided by a handful of mainly environmentalists-for-hire.

This kind of one-sided coverage is characteristic of NPR's recent reporting on the nuclear industry. In the six stories NPR has broadcast over the past 90 days about the future of nuclear power production in the U.S., NPR's sources included only three opponents of nuclear power plants, versus eights sources touting the safety, environmental friendliness and financial benefits of nuclear energy. Moreover, only one of the three opponents was an expert on the topic, while NPR cast seven of the eight sources speaking in favor of nuclear power as authorities. This period saw an accident at the largest power plant in the world—in Japan (NPR's All Things Considered, 7/19/07)—which was the subject of three additional NPR stories--yet, even in this coverage, no experts critical of nuclear power were cited.

One factor that is relevant to NPR's cheerleading for nuclear power is its own financial links to the industry. According to NPR's website, between 1993 and 2005, the public radio service received between $250,000 and $500,000 from Constellation Energy, which belongs to Nustart Energy, a 10-company consortium pushing for new nuclear power plant construction. During the same period, another nuclear operator, Sempra Energy, donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to NPR. This potential conflict of interest was not disclosed in the August 15 segment, or in any other of NPR's recent largely industry-friendly reports. (NPR has in the past insisted that the corporate "underwriting" money it receives has no bearing on its coverage--a defense that would seem to undercut the rationale for NPR's existence as a noncommercial broadcaster.)

In his interview with Whitford, NPR's Ydstie asked the Fortune editor, "What are the forces that are aligning that make the industry optimistic that there's going to be a revival?" Whitford didn't mention one-sided reporting that fails to disclose its financial ties to the industry as factors that help the industry "shake off its bad reputation" and clear the ground for a nuclear revival.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rove’s Science of Dirty Tricks

by Amy Goodman
August 14, 2007

Karl Rove’s resignation as deputy White House chief of staff cements the political future of the waning Bush administration. George W. will have little to do except wield his veto pen; he doesn’t need the steadying hand of Rove for that, or his strategic insight. As Rove joins the ranks of discredited politicians who resign “in order to spend more time with family,” a retrospective of his dirty tricks might be in order. Much is attributed to Rove, dubbed “Bush’s Brain” by Texas journalists Wayne Slater and James Moore—yet very little sticks to the man. Bearing in mind that we presume innocence until guilt is proved, read on:

—In 1970, College Republican Rove stole letterhead from the Illinois Democratic campaign of Alan Dixon and used it to invite hundreds of people to Dixon’s headquarters opening, promising “free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing,” disrupting the event.

—In 1973, Rove ran for chair of the College Republicans. He challenged the front-runner’s delegates, throwing the national convention into disarray, after which both he and his opponent, Robert Edgeworth, claimed victory. The dispute was resolved when Rove was selected through the direct order of the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who at the time was none other than George H.W. Bush.

—In 1986, while working for Texas Republican gubernatorial hopeful William Clements, Rove claimed that Rove’s personal office had been bugged, most likely by the campaign of incumbent Democratic Gov. Mark White. Nothing was proved, but the negative press, weeks before the election, helped Rove’s man win a narrow victory. FBI agent Greg Rampton removed the bug, disrupting any attempt to properly investigate who planted it.

—When Rove was an adviser for George W. Bush’s 1994 race for governor of Texas against Democratic incumbent Ann Richards, a persistent whisper campaign in conservative East Texas wrongly suggested that Richards was a lesbian. According to Texas journalist Lou Dubose: “No one ever traced the character assassination to Rove. Yet no one doubts that Rove was behind it. It’s a process on which he holds a patent. Identify your opponent’s strength, and attack it so relentlessly that it becomes a liability. Richards was admired because she promised and delivered a ‘government that looked more like the people of the state.’ That included the appointment of blacks, Hispanics and gays and lesbians. Rove made that asset a liability.”

—After John McCain thumped George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary, with 48 percent of the vote to Bush’s 30 percent, a massive smear campaign was launched in South Carolina, a key battleground. TV attack ads from third groups and anonymous fliers circulated, variously suggesting that McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam had left him mentally scarred with an uncontrollable temper, that his wife, Cindy, abused drugs, and that he had an African-American “love child.” In fact, the McCains adopted their daughter Bridget from a Bangladesh orphanage run by Mother Teresa.

—According to the investigation of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Rove played a central role in the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, in retaliation for the accusation by her husband, Joe Wilson, that the Bush administration falsely claimed Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Niger.

—Rove has ignored subpoenas to testify before Congress about the Justice Department scandal stemming from the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. He skipped a hearing on improper use of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts by White House staffers that allowed them to skirt the Presidential Records Act. Rove claims he enjoys executive privilege, which travels with him as he leaves the White House.

These are but some of the dirty tricks attributed to Karl Rove. We are to believe that Rove, born Christmas Day, 1950, is retiring to write books. Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and populist firebrand Jim Hightower describes Rove’s departure as “a rat jumping off a sinking ship.” But arch-Rove watcher Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News knows better. He notes that Rove and his wife have built a house in the Florida Panhandle—the “Republican Riviera”—and that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will be 59 in 2012, a ripe age for a run for the White House. Regardless, the art and science of the political dirty tricks, learned by Rove in the Nixon years and perfected by him in the George W. Bush White House, will be with us for years to come.

Denis Moynihan provided research assistance on today’s column.

© 2007 Amy Goodman

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pollution Causes 40% of World Deaths

by Topher Sanders
The Ithaca Journal
August 13, 2007

Pollution of the earth's air, water and soil is the cause of 40 percent of the world's deaths, a Cornell University researcher has concluded.

David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agricultural sciences, formed the conclusion after examining the findings of more than 120 published papers on the connections between population, malnutrition and pollution.

“This confirms a major concern that many people had been expressing,” Pimentel said. “And it is increasing.”

Pimentel was able to do the research with the help of graduate students. The group's findings will be published in December in the journal of Human Ecology.

Pimentel was initially drawn to the research by the world's malnourishment problems.

“We looked at what the World Health Organization is reporting which is that almost 60 percent of the world's population is malnourished,” he said. “This relates to disease in that people who are malnourished are more susceptible to a whole array of different diseases.”

Only 20 percent of the world's population was malnourished in 1950.

Eighty percent of the world's infectious diseases trace back to water pollution, Pimentel said.

“That's more important in developing nations,” he said. “In India, which has 1.1 billion people, only 8 cities have full water treatment, that means that 95 percent of their sewage is going into rivers and lakes without treatment and then the people are utilizing this water for their drinking, washing and so forth. So you can see why that is an important means of transmission of diseases.”

Solving the problem is a two step process, Pimentel said.

“We need to reduce environmental pollution, which is something we can control,” he said. “And we ought to do something about the world population problem which is far more difficult. We add a quarter of a million people to the Earth every 24 hours. The more people, the more pollution, the more diseases and so forth.”

Copyright ©2007 The Ithaca Journal

US Tumbles Down the World Ratings List for Life Expectancy

by The Guardian
August 13, 2007

A combination of expensive health insurance and an ever-increasing rate of obesity appear to be behind a startling fall by the US in the world rankings of life expectancy.

Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, America has dropped from 11th to 42nd place in 20 years, according to official US figures.

Dr Christopher Murray, head of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said: "Something's wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries."

The lack of health care available to many Americans - 45 million have no health insurance - is set to be one of the biggest issues in next year's presidential election campaign. The Democratic contenders all promise universal health care.

The decline reflects the disparity in wealth.The life expectancy of African Americans is 73.3 compared with 77.9 for whites. For African-American males, it is even shorter: 69.8.

Jim McDermott, a Democratic Congressman, said: "Health care coverage is the single biggest domestic crisis facing America. It threatens all but the wealthiest Americans. "If you aren't part of the richest 1%, then you know you are living one phone call, accident or illness away from financial ruin because of a medical crisis."

Obesity is frequently cited as among the causes of lower life expectancy. Almost a third of US adults are obese, according to the National Centre for Health Statistics, which compared US life expectancy with the rest of the world.

Paul Terry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, said: "The US has the resources that allow people to get fat and lazy."

The drop is also due to improved health care, nutrition and lifestyle elsewhere in the world. Countries with longer life expectancy include most of Europe, Japan, Singapore and Jordan.

The US also has a higher infant mortality rate than many other countries: 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The worst life expectancy figures are in Africa, with Swaziland at the bottom, at 34.1 years.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

An Interview With Mike Gravel

by Amanda Griscom Little
Grist and Outside
August 7, 2007

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

In his "Rock" campaign ad, Mike Gravel silently stares into the camera, throws a stone into a lake, and walks off into the distance. It's disconcerting, off-the-wall, and low-budget -- just like his presidential campaign.

As a senator from Alaska during the '70s, Gravel was best-known for fighting nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the Vietnam War. In his current campaign, to the extent that he's known at all, it's for playing gadfly at Democratic candidate debates. In the environmental arena, he's got some big ideas -- an international carbon-tax scheme, a hydrogen-powered energy system, a notion that society needs to end its obsession with growth -- but little in the way of practical plans.

Will his quixotic presidential campaign cause as many ripples as his rock? I called him up at his campaign headquarters in Alexandria, Va., to try and find out.

For more info on his platform and record, check out Grist's Gravel fact sheet.

question What sets your green platform apart from the other candidates'?

answer First off, I am prepared to impose a carbon tax, at the barrel of oil and at the lump of coal. [Chris] Dodd has talked about a tax on carbon, but the difference is I approach the problem as a global problem -- climate change, energy, the whole thing. By putting a tax on carbon in the United States, we can offer our leadership to the rest of the world and say, OK, you put a carbon tax on your people, and then we'll pool all this money together and we'll use it to integrate the global scientific and engineering communities to get us off of carbon within a decade. Nobody would be permitted to join this international effort unless they put a carbon tax on their people also.

question What do you see as the advantage of a carbon tax over a cap-and-trade program?

answer The cap-and-trade wouldn't necessarily lower emissions. Let's say I've got a coal-fired plant and it pollutes. All I've got to do is go give some money to somebody who builds a new plant that pollutes less. I get to buy permission to pollute. When you're capping and trading, you're not focusing on a solution; you're just giving somebody a break based upon something that somebody else is doing.

question Some say a carbon tax would be political suicide because voters don't like to be taxed. Your thoughts?

answer I back it in any case.

In a recent debate we were asked a question: What would you do to reduce the price of gasoline? The candidates all mealymouthed around. My answer before the country was that I would not do anything. The best way to solve the energy problem is to let prices rise so that alternative energies can become more economic.

One of the things we can do is take electricity from windmills, run it through water, and have hydrogen. What is now possible is that we can turn around and have hydrogen liquid. And by altering the technology of our existing cars and gas stations, they can be used to run on and distribute hydrogen liquid. Oh, it blows you away. This can probably be done within five years.

question Shift the energy system to hydrogen in five years?

answer You're not making hydrogen fuel cells, that technology is not on the table yet. You're making liquid fuel from hydrogen. Now, first off, I would [raise] CAFE standards immediately, say that within three to five years you're going to have the same standard as Europe. End of story. Forget the automobile industry. Meanwhile, we can just manufacture the hell out of windmills and then turn around and produce all this hydrogen.

question Does coal play a role in your vision for a clean-energy future?

answer You've got to do away with coal. What you can do is outlaw these coal-fired plants and turn them into hydrogen power plants.

question Do you believe nuclear power has a role in America's energy future?

answer I was the one who started the nuclear [power] critique back in 1969, and we were able to cap [the number of plants in the U.S.] at 150, which have now been ratcheted back to about 105. The nuclear industry is trying to crank it back up again, and a couple of significant environmentalists have bought into that. I have not. If we can have large electrical base-load plants fed by hydrogen, then we don't have to have the nuclear.

Now if we were to make a breakthrough in nuclear fusion, that would dwarf everything else.

question How much of the energy system would you shift to liquid hydrogen?

answer As much as we can.

question Do you have a specific target?

answer I'm not an engineer, I'm not a scientist. But I'm told it's not a big deal to tweak gas stations so that you can come up with a truck, dump the liquid hydrogen in there, and pump it in your car. So we shift everything over to liquid hydrogen and there's no more pollution. The trick is, you've got to produce the electricity to be able to put it through the water to create hydrogen, and you do that with windmills. The technology of windmills is totally replicable. And so now you can put those all over the place where you've got wind, and then later on you can take down those windmills and have another way of doing it.

question I've heard that you have a plan to electrify the entire transportation system of the United States.

answer Yes, I want to superimpose an electric maglev [train] system throughout the country similar to the one that currently runs between the airport and the city of Shanghai. These maglevs can travel 300 miles an hour. Imagine if we could move trucks across this country on electricity at that speed, with no environmental pollution -- what that would mean?

There are a couple of companies that have sent me studies that show they can do this right across Manhattan or in downtown Washington, D.C., and it is just awesomely interesting. But you have to have a national commitment to do this, and I don't see that commitment from the Democrats or the Republicans.

question What's your position on biofuels? What role does ethanol play in our energy future?

answer What I know about the corn deal, it takes more energy to produce a gallon of biofuel from corn than it does to just use conventional fuel, so that's a negative. Secondly, we have to realize that when we're growing this stuff, we may be displacing the whole distribution of food throughout the world.

question How about the idea that we could derive fuels from highly fibrous plants?

answer Like switchgrass? I don't know enough about that. I'm more excited by the liquid hydrogen.

question Many people argue that the U.S. should not commit to any global greenhouse-gas reduction targets that don't involve China and India. Do you agree, and how would you bring them to the table in a post-Kyoto agreement?

answer First, I would just get the Kyoto agreement [ratified] and get it out of the way.

question The Kyoto targets are phasing out soon, so how would you approach a post-Kyoto agreement?

answer Accelerate the goals. I've read that a number of the European countries are ahead of their Kyoto targets, which really says something. We need to get closer to China and India both to collaborate on technology development -- they're way ahead of us in some areas -- and to help them, because you cannot deny them the opportunity to have our standard of living. If we don't do this in a very clever way, we will doom the Earth to environmental destruction. Period.

question After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?

answer Growth.

question Urban growth? Population growth?

answer It's more complex than that. Our total economy is based upon growth, growth, growth. Well, there comes a time when you destroy so you can have growth.

I want to change our system of revenue from an income tax to a sales tax. That would change this country from a consuming nation to a savings nation. If we begin to look upon growth from a savings point of view, we could do more in the short run with respect to global warming. Our country right now spends more than we earn, and we're on our way to bankruptcy.

question What environmental achievement are you most proud of?

answer Starting the nuclear [power] critique. And my work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s. The environmentalists were very much opposed to it. I maintained then, and I still do, that it was a more environmentally sound way to transport oil than the leaky tankers under Panamanian registry and Nigerian registry who were coming into the East Coast of the United States.

question Who is your environmental hero?

answer I'm very fond of my friend Ralph Nader. I think that he is very strong in that area.

question Can you tell us about a memorable wilderness or outdoor adventure you've had?

answer Coming from Alaska, I'm very much into the beauty of nature. I don't hunt or fish, and I'm not a camera buff, but I just love to luxuriate in the wilderness. I've done a lot of hiking in my state. The most significant thing I did was climb the Chilkoot Trail with my family.

Also, while I was in the Senate, the head of the Sierra Club in Alaska taught me how to handle a raft in whitewater. At the time, I was opposing some of the Sierra Club's stuff and I was supporting some of their stuff, and so I accused him of trying to kill me, because that would have solved his problem. But we still are friends today.

question If you could spend a week in one park or natural area of the United States, where would it be?

answer Zion National Park.

question What have you done personally to lighten your environmental footprint? Give us a snapshot of your lifestyle -- where you live and how you travel.

answer We drive a Camry -- we're a one-car family -- but often I use the subway. I also use the train and the bus. My wife read that the bus has the least environmental impact of all public transport. The worst, of course, is the private jet that my fellow candidates all run around on.

My wife and I live in an apartment in Rosslyn, Va., on the 14th floor. We're renters, we don't have enough wherewithal to be able to own something like that -- I didn't get out of the Senate any better [financially] than I went in. Obviously, I've got the ability to go and become wealthy, but that's not what has moved me through my life.

question If George Bush were a plant or an animal, what kind of plant or animal would he be?

answer Oh, my God. [Pause.] I can't think of a plant or an animal that I have that much disrespect for. Does that answer your question?

Stop and think of all the human beings that have died and suffered because of that S.O.B. I personally believe that impeachment is too light a sentence. These people should be pursued criminally.

You know, when you're sworn in to be president, you and the outgoing president have to ride in the car together to the swearing-in. When Hoover and Roosevelt rode in the same car to Roosevelt's swearing-in, they never said a word to each other. And I've got to tell you, when I'm sworn in, the same will go for me and George W. Bush.

©2007 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Obesity's Hidden Trigger

by Emily Main
The Green Guide
July/August 2007 Issue

If you've ever suspected that there's a reason you can't burn off those last five pounds, you may be on to something. Recent studies on certain hormone-disrupting and environmentally persistent compounds are leading researchers to believe there's a plausible link between these ubiquitous chemicals and our ever-expanding waistlines.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion of the world's nearly 7 billion citizens are overweight, 300 million of whom are defined as clinically obese. "People want to blame 40-ounce Cokes--and that's important--but there's reason to believe there are other things in play," says Richard Stahlhut, M.D., M.P.H., preventive medicine resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Stahlhut and his colleagues wondered if a group of hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates (pronounced "thay-lates"), found in a wide array of everyday products, might be adding to this epidemic. Analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Stahlhut and his colleagues compared six phthalate metabolites (phthalates processed by the body) found in men's urine samples to their corresponding waist circumferences. Two of the phthalates targeted were DEHP, used in synthetic fragrances and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products (i.e. floor tiles, shower curtains and hospital IV bags), as well as DBP, used in nail polishes, floor finishes and paints.

The results, published online last March in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), revealed that American men with abdominal obesity or insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) were more likely to have high levels of the metabolites in their urine than men without those problems. Stahlhut is quick to point out that there's no definitive link proving that excessive phthalate exposure causes obesity, but the study does suggest a possible connection. "[These results are] what you would expect if phthalates are lowering testosterone levels," Stahlhut says, and "low testosterone in adult men, from whatever cause, is known to cause abdominal obesity and insulin resistance." Past research has demonstrated the effects of phthalates on testosterone; a 2006 Danish study of infant boys found that those exposed to phthalates via breast milk had lower testosterone levels and abnormal reproductive development.

Fredrick vom Saal, Ph.D., a developmental biologist at the University of Missouri, is currently studying the obesity-inducing effects on pregnant mice of BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical found in #7 polycarbonate bottles, dental sealants and can linings. Presenting preliminary results at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting last February, he discovered that these mice, which had been fed very low doses of BPA, had offspring that exhibited abnormal growth later in life. While it's not clear that BPA is linked to obesity, says vom Saal, "we do know that it makes animals bigger. It doesn't categorize them as obese, but obesity is a very particular aspect of growth."

In yet another study in press online at Environmental Science & Technology, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tested cord blood taken from newborns for ten environmentally persistent perfluorochemicals (PFCs), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used in the manufacture of non-stick pans and in microwave popcorn bags, and the now-banned perfluorooctanoic sulfonate (PFOS). High levels of both were associated with low birth weight, itself a risk factor for obesity later in life. "We do know, in the case of animals, that some of these chemicals have effects later in life," says Lynn Goldman, M.D., one of the study's lead authors.

While all these links are preliminary, the studies point to "where folks need to focus effort," says Stahlhut. "There's some exposure or combination of exposures that everybody thinks is okay but isn't."

Fortunately, awareness is being raised. In California, a ban on phthalates in children's toys reached the senate floor before defeat and Maine's legislature is considering a bill that would bar the sale of any children's product containing BPA or phthalates. Until such legislation reaches your state, "People have to protect themselves," says Stahlhut. Vom Saal's research points out that BPA is harmful even before children are born, so such laws may not offer the highest level of protection. "This is a very, very complex problem, and it will take many years to get to the bottom of it," Stahlhut adds. "The organic approach--avoiding complex chemicals you don't really need, and otherwise being 'zen' about it--may be a reasonable strategy."

What You Can Do

* Exercise regularly.

* Eat less fat. PFOA and PFOS don't build up in fat, says Goldman, but many PFCs do. "As a general precaution, eating less fat and less animal fat is a good idea," she advises.

* Purchase cookware without non-stick features, and avoid microwave popcorn: PFOA released from bags accounts for over 20 percent of the chemical measured in Americans' blood.

* Choose phthalate-free products: See Moisturizers and Flooring product reports ( and When pregnant, ask ahead about your hospital's policy on PVC in medical devices.

* See the Baby Bottle and Plastic Containers product reports for non-polycarbonate bottles at

* Avoid canned products that may be packaged in cans lined with BPA. See "The Bisphenol-A Debate: A Suspect Chemical in Plastic Bottles and Cans," and "A Survey of Bisphenol-A in U.S. Canned Foods".

© 2007 National Geographic Society

How To Handle Vinyl

by Danielle Masterson
The Green Guide
July 27, 2007

"Reduce, reuse, recycle" may be a good mantra, but when it comes to plastics, the three R's may not always be enough. While #1 PET and #2 HDPE plastics are commonly recycled, #3 PVC plastics (or vinyl) can be difficult, if not altogether impossible, to recycle.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is present in countless household products like shower curtains, tiles, bags and toys, not to mention piping and automobile interiors. Sadly, PVC is among the most eco-unfriendly plastics and some varieties can release brain-damaing lead and hormone-disrupting phthalates while in use at home. Its disposal is particularly problematic given that, if incinerated, it will release carcinogenic dioxin and other contaminants into the environment (your sanitation department or garbage hauler can tell you if your garbage is incinerated). Yet when it comes to recycling vinyl, you have to wonder if recycling doesn't just postpone its ultimate disposal, putting the burden on someone else's shoulders.

Recycling Woes

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plastics accounted for 11.8 percent of municipal solid waste in 2005. Whereas some plastics like PET bottles were recycled at a rate of 34.1 percent, the rate for PVC was less than 1 percent per year. When you consider that the U.S. produced 16 billion pounds of PVC in 2004, the amount landfilled is staggering.

"We don't recommend landfilling PVC because many PVC products contain chemicals that are heavy metals that leach into groundwater over time," says Anne Rabe of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. "Further problems can occur if there is a large fire at a landfill, which can cause PVC to release dioxins into the air."

Allen Blakey of the Vinyl Institute disputes these claims. "Landfilling PVC is safe," he says, citing a 1999 study published in Plastics, Rubber and Composites, which found some leaching of phthalates and organotins but not of heavy metals.

While the Vinyl Institute claims that all types of vinyl products can be recycled, very few recycling centers exist to accept these materials, which begs the question: Why aren't facilities springing up to meet the needs of PVC recycling?

"Like anything else, recycling PVC is more challenging at the post-consumer end," Blakey says, noting that the trade association for the large-diameter PVC pipe industry has a takeback program for old pipes, recycling them to make new pipes. "Recycling something like a vinyl shower curtain would be difficult because it would be hard to get a critical mass of it." For example, at Transworld Plastics in Williamsville, N.Y., post-consumer vinyl is recycled into rigid PVC and then sent to manufacturers that can make use of it. But in order for Transworld to accept vinyl from residential recycling programs, it must be collected in quantities of 20,000 to 40,000 pounds.

Rabe notes additional recycling dilemmas: "PVC can contaminate whole loads of higher grade plastics, downgrading their quality." If the plastic melts, notes Mike Schade, CHEJ's PVC campaign coordinator, dangerous additives, such as cadmium, can contaminate other recyclable plastics. "One PVC bottle can contaminate a recycling load of 100,000 recyclable bottles," Shade says.

What You Can Do

Rather than recycling or tossing PVC items, like old vinyl curtains and floor tiles, in the trash, Schade recommends disposing of them in hazardous waste landfill sites. Call your sanitation department or state environmental agency to see where you might dispose of hazardous material.

CHEJ also suggests returning PVC products and packaging to retailers and manufacturers. "We recommend consumers contact manufacturers and let them know that PVC is an unacceptably toxic material and that it should not be used in production," says Rabe. "As consumers, they can also send that message by not purchasing products packaged or made from PVC." Look for the number 3 in the recycling symbol or the letter "V."

This is becoming an easier task already. Rabe points out that there are a number of PVC alternatives already on the market. For example, Ikea now sells non-PVC shower curtains exclusively.

Some manufacturers have already heard the calls for a halt to PVC use in production. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has successfully worked with Victoria's Secret and Microsoft to eliminate PVC from their packaging and is currently in talks with Target, Sears and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has already committed to eliminating PVC in its private-label-product packaging in two years.

Is My PVC Pipe Dangerous? by Samuel Frank
Who is Going To Recycle My Toaster? by Samuel Frank

© 2007 National Geographic Society