10 May 2011

On this week’s program, we’ll begin with some updates, following topics such as children’s health and nuclear power that we’ve covered recently.  Then we’ll be talking with Dave Garcia of the Sierra Club, which is leading a campaign against something called “fracking” as a way of extracting natural gas from the ground in an especially environmentally unfriendly way.

Listen to the Program

Update: Environment and Health

Two weeks ago we talked with author Dan Farber about his book, Changing Planet: Changing Health, about how climate change can worsen health crises.  This week, we were concerned to read in the online news source, MedPage Today, that “Environmental Illness in Kids [Already] Costs Billions.  An article by Emily Walker published May 5 explains that a new analysis has found:

Childhood diseases thought to be linked to environmental causes cost the nation nearly $77 billion in medical costs and lost productivity in 2008 alone…Building on a 2002 analysis, investigators estimated how much of a role environmental factors play in causing such conditions as childhood cancers, asthma, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and then attached a dollar figure to the medical treatment and lost productivity expected to occur because of the preventable disease or disorder. The study was published in the May issue of Health Affairs, which is devoted entirely to examining the link between the environment and health — an issue that often gets short shrift in health policy and medical circles, although a recent congressional hearing focused on disease clusters and their environmental causes.

 The researchers are  Leonardo Trasande, MD, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and Yinghua Liu, MD, of the National Children’s Study New York–Northern New Jersey Center.  They write: “Our principal finding is that chemical factors in the environment continue to contribute greatly to childhood morbidity and to healthcare costs.” Their list of diseases thought to be caused at least in part by the environment include lead poisoning, methylmercury poisoning, childhood cancer, asthma, intellectual disability, ADHD, and autism.

[Cerebral palsy was included in the 2002 analysis, but it was removed for the new study because of “limited data supporting the role of chemical factors.”]

The […most expensive] environmentally-caused disease is lead poisoning, which, Trasande said at a press briefing, cost the nation $60 billion in 2008. About 10% of that cost was for medical care, but 90% is attributable to lost economic productivity from “reduced cognitive potential” resulting from preventable exposure to lead during childhood[….] Lead exposure in childhood — which has greatly declined since the 1978 passage of a law banning use of lead-based paint in homes — has been linked to permanent brain damage and life-long problems with attention and impulsivity control and has also been linked to criminal activity later in life, they wrote.

Methylmercury poisoning — which can lead to brain and spinal cord damage — accounted for $5 billion in lost productivity in 2008, the study authors said. The leading source of mercury in the environment is coal-fired power plants, but people can also ingest it by eating contaminated fish, and, in some few cases, from eating animals that were fed grain coated in a preservative that contained methylmercury.

 Trasande and Liu said more than $5 billion in productivity costs were lost in 2008 because of intellectual disabilities caused by environmental factors. A number of studies have drawn a link between air pollution and IQ, including a 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics that found children who were exposed to high levels of a pervasive air pollutant in the womb had significantly lower full-scale and verbal IQ scores at age 5. Another $5 billion was lost because of ADHD that could ultimately be attributed to chemical factors in the environment.

Meanwhile, asthma cost more than $3 billion in medical costs, such as trips to the hospital and doctors’ visits, in 2008, and another $4 billion in lost productivity as parents had to take off work to care for sick kids.The prevalence of asthma is increasing, which baffles public health experts, because two known triggers — secondhand cigarette smoke and air pollution — have decreased in recent years as a result of anti-smoking and clean air laws.

Trasande and Liu also looked at the costs of autism.  “While we don’t know the specific component environmental factors that contribute to autism, there are a number of reports documenting the role of environmental factors, in specific, chemical factors [that contribute to autism],” Trasande told MedPage Today. Trasande said it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact health effects any of the thousands of chemicals that humans are exposed to in daily life. Manufacturers of new compounds are not required to prove their chemicals won’t make people sick.

A National Institute of Science report estimated that 28% of developmental disabilities may be caused by environmental factors — that is, they are not caused by genetics alone. Or, as the saying goes, “Genes might load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger,” Trasande said.

Avoiding chemicals is impossible, but parents can attempt to lessen their children’s exposure by monitoring what they eat and airing out rooms when new electronics and furniture are installed.  “That ‘new’ smell is actually a chemical smell,” Trasande explained.

In addition, doctors — most of whom likely never received environmental health training — can ask patients about foods they eat, their living conditions, and past exposure to toxins. Ob/gyns can also inform newly pregnant woman that, although they should be getting omega-3 fatty acids, they should avoid fish such as mackerel and some types of tuna that might contain high levels of mercury. Trasande said he hopes his study will show that environmentally-caused diseases carry a huge financial burden — a dollar figure he hopes will be used in comparisons with the costs of making regulatory changes in the energy industry to prevent pollution. “This analysis re-emphasizes for policymakers the implications of failing to prevent toxic chemical exposures not only for the health of children but also for the health of our economy,” Trasante and Liu concluded.

You can read the full article and other related stories at


 That story is only part of the growing awareness of dangers to children, and in some cases, we are teaching our children well. From Time online comes an interesting story about “renegade” Girl Scouts who are fighting against the use of Palm Oil in Girl Scout Cookies and who are fighting to preserve endangered organgutans  Borneo.  Tara Kelly explains:

Because of palm oil, a key ingredient, those delicious and addictive treats may not be as innocent as they seem. Not only is the ingredient linked to child labor in Indonesia, but it also allegedly contributes to rainforest deforestation. But now two renegade girl scouts are lobbying the Girl Scouts of America to remove the ingredient from the cookies.

Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, who are high school sophomores [in Ann Arbor, Michigan], stopped selling Girl Scout cookies in 2007 after they began working on a public service project to bring attention to the plight of endangered orangutans in Borneo [due to deforestation]. To ramp up their efforts have teamed up with Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to make the change a reality.  So far, RAN set up an online form for those interested to send a letter to Girl Scouts of America CEO Kathy Cloninger to pressure the organization to stop using palm oil.  RAN also helped Tomtishen and Vorva make a merit badge available to Girl Scouts across the nation. It’s not endorsed by the Girl Scouts of America, Tomtishen said. The RAN partnership comes after a meeting between the two scouts and the organization, which resulted in no action.

Although Cloninger has yet to comment, Michelle Tomkins, a spokesperson from the organization, has said its hands are tied. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring unhealthy trans-fats to be listed on the Nutrition Facts labels on food products. Two official Girl Scouts bakers worked to make its cookies healthier in light of the changes, said Tomkins. “In order to rid cookies of trans-fats, you had to find another alternative.” That alternative is palm oil. And despite Tomkins admiration for the girls’ efforts, she said the two bakers the organization uses have no plans to change the recipe. But Tompkins didn’t rule out a possible switch in ingredients. “We have little say if not no say in the recipes used by the bakers.”

You can read more online


Update: Restarting the Nuclear Industry

Back in March, we talked with activist Harvey Wasserman of Nuke Free dot org, about his concerns,  including the fact that despite the nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, the Obama administration has not backed down on its plans to supply $37 billion in loans for new nuclear plant construction here at home, including  plants using the General Electric/Westinghouse/Toshiba/Mitsubishi design that failed in Fukushima Daiichi. Back in 1979, with David Nash and many others, Harvey helped to organize No Nukes Concerts in Madison Square Garden.  Recently, Nash and David Crosby performed in Newark, Ohio, and Harvey wrote this review:

When a concert starts off eight miles high, only the great can keep it there. That’s what David Crosby & Graham Nash did the other night in Newark, Ohio. The wind beneath their wings was an outstanding foursome of virtuoso musicians. The result was a three-hour love fest that should not be missed.

Crosby/Nash are transcendently talented buddies who come with a set list nicely balanced between the old, the mellow, the rockin’, the oddball and the new.[…  Along the way both Graham and David took some welcome shots at the powers that be. General Electric’s lack of tax bill was enshrined in the edgy “They Want It All,” a sharp, well-reasoned attack on corporate power. “Don’t Dig Here” spoke to the insanity of creating nuclear waste that can kill forever. “Military Madness” gave the brass a kick in the ass.

Some don’t like politics mixed with their music. But these guys have paid their dues and know where of they speak. By way of disclosure, I’ve worked with Graham since 1978 in the “No Nukes” campaign to prevent nightmares like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. He is savvy, knowledgeable and dedicated.

Most recently [Harvey reports to having]  “conspired” with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne to help stop billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear plants. The fight continues, partly through the www.nukefree.org website, where you can help tip the balance in a fate-of-the-Earth campaign against $36 billion in radioactive handouts. See us now and call/write your Senators & Reps early and often!!!

This memorable show is a tribute to some warm, wonderfully talented electric poets and troubadours who clearly treasure the magic they’ve been spreading for more than four decades. That somehow it keeps getting better is reason for great celebration and heart.

Check out the nukefree.org/ site for even more information on how we can oppose the new efforts on the part of the nuclear industry and our government to build nukes in the name of oil independency.


Fracking and the Environment: Our Conversation with Dave Garcia

 “Tower of Power” tells us, “there is only so much oil in the ground.”  Global responses to our energy crisis vary widely.  Some of us are arguing for a change in fuel consumption habits and on discontinuing our reliance on carbon-based and nuclear fuels.  Others seem to be determined to wring every last ounce of petroleum product from our endangered planet.  For example, in an Exxon/Mobil ad currently showing on TV a spokesperson smugly explains that human ingenuity has discovered new ways to extract natural gas that, he says, is quote “trapped” underground, apparently just awaiting liberation from oil companies.  One of extraction methods  is something called “fracking,”  and here in the studio with us is Dave Garcia of the Sierra Club Yahi Group to tell us what it is and why it’s a bad idea.

  • Please tell us about “fracking.”  What is it?  How does it work?
  • What are some of the dangers of fracking?
    • How can it affect groundwater supplies?
    • Could it actually tip off an earthquake?
  • What is the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in protecting us and the environment from fracking?  Are they doing the job?
  • Fracking seems like a hugely complex and costly process.  Are the energy companies that desperate?
  • The Exxon/Mobil ad that we referred to talks about “clean” natural gas.  Is it actually “clean”?
  • You and the Sierra Club both have alternative visions of the future.  Please share some of your ideas about, say:
    • Solar and wind
    • Changing our oil consumption habits
  • You’ve been showing a film called “Gasland” around the area.  What’s in it and how can people see it?  (May 15, Pageant, noon-2)
  • What activities do and others have planned in the northstate area to publicize the dangers of fracking?
    • What are timetables and deadlines people should know about?
    • How can people get more involved in your effort?





1. Industrial Disease        5:50        Dire Straits        Love Over Gold#2. Teach Your Children        3:02        Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young        Four Way Street3. Nuclear Infected (Album Version)        2:16        Alice Cooper        Flush The Fashion#4 Only So Much Oil In The Ground (LP Version)        3:50        Tower of Power

Urban Renewal

$5. Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)        5:11        Neil Young        Ragged Glory

6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary        The Very Best of

Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Oil Spill Summer        2:47        Butt        Horse

8. The Road to Utopia        4:54        Utopia        Adventures In Utopia