Category Archives: Cancer

Cosmetic chemicals linked to cancer, obesity

One of our ongoing concerns here at esnl has been the flooding of the environment of daily living with a host of chemicals about which we known comparatively little.

First, these chemicals used in our foods, clothing, and cosmetics, and our our lawns, furniture, and cookware [to name just a few of their applications] have received little testing, and virtually known in the way they interact with each other both within and without that complex ecosystem that is the human body. [Consider, for instance, the growing knowledge about the role the microbes dwelling within out guts may directly impact our moods.]

A special concern has been with the class of chemicals that mimic the actions of the endocrine system, that network of glands performing key roles in regulating the mechanisms of both body and mind.

Today’s post focuses on new revelations about two groups of endocrine-disrupting compounds.

Parabens linked to breast cancer

Parabens, short for parahydroxybenzoates, are chemicals widely used as preservatives in cosmetics, including sunscreens and shampoos.

But there’s a problem.

Parabens, you see, mimic the action of estrogen, and that’s particularly bad news for women, because parabens have now been conclusively linked to increased risk of breast cancer.

The chemicals had long been suspected of a role in breast cancer, as Medscape reported three years ago:

[R]esearchers in the United Kingdom examined 160 breast-tissue samples obtained from 40 patients who had undergone a mastectomy for primary breast cancer. They found that 99% of samples had traces of at least 1 paraben, and that 60% had traces of 5 different parabens.

Importantly, 7 of the women reported never having used underarm products. This suggests that the parabens originated from another source, note the authors.

The source of the parabens measured in this and in previous studies cannot be identified; it is also not clear if the paraben traces come from long-term accumulation, current exposure, or a combination of both.

But the link has grown much stronger, as Robert Sanders of the UC Berkeley News Center reports:

“Although parabens are known to mimic the growth effects of estrogens on breast cancer cells, some consider their effect too weak to cause harm,” said lead investigator Dale Leitman, a gynecologist and molecular biologist at UC Berkeley and an adjunct associate professor of nutritional sciences and toxicology. “But this might not be true when parabens are combined with other agents that regulate cell growth.”

Existing chemical safety tests, which measure the effects of chemicals on human cells, look only at parabens in isolation, he said. They fail to take into account that parabens could interact with other types of signaling molecules in the cells to increase breast cancer risk.

To better reflect what goes on in real life, Leitman and his colleagues looked at breast cancer cells expressing two types of receptors: estrogen receptors and HER2. Approximately 25 percent of breast cancers produce an abundance of HER2, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. HER2-positive tumors tend to grow and spread more aggressively than other types of breast cancer.

The researchers activated the HER2 receptors in breast cancer cells with a growth factor called heregulin that is naturally made in breast cells, while exposing the cells to parabens. Not only did the parabens trigger the estrogen receptors by turning on genes that caused the cells to proliferate, the effect was significant. The parabens in the HER2-activated cells were able to stimulate breast cancer cell growth at concentrations 100 times lower than in cells that were deprived of heregulin.

The study demonstrates that parabens may be more potent at lower doses than previous studies have suggested, which may spur scientists and regulators to rethink the potential impacts of parabens on the development of breast cancer, particularly on HER2 and estrogen receptor positive breast cells.

The findings also raises questions about current safety testing methods that may not predict the true potency of parabens and their effects on human health.

“While this study focused on parabens, it’s also possible that the potency of other estrogen mimics have been underestimated by current testing approaches,” said co-author Chris Vulpe, a toxicologist formerly at UC Berkeley but now at the Center for Environmental and Human Toxicology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Their study is posted online here [PDF]

Triphenyl phosphates, or is your nail polish making you fat?

Another widely used endocrine disruptor has also become the focus on new concern, as Treehugger reports:

A compound used as a plasticizer and furniture fire retardant, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), which has been linked to hormone and reproductive irregularities, obesity, and other health issues, is also found in some nail polishes. And while painted nails may not seem like an easy pathway to exposure for potentially toxic chemicals (as opposed to ingesting or inhaling the substances), a recent study from researchers at Duke University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) indicates otherwise, and suggests that TPHP directly enters the body during and after the polish is applied.

TPHP has been used as a replacement fire retardant compound in furniture, especially foams, following the phaseout of the previous generation of fire retardant compounds, the polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) group. However, recent studies have found troubling links to increased health risks, especially hormone-related issues, with exposure to TPHP as well, and because it’s an ingredient in a common beauty product, nail polish, and is not always disclosed on the label, painting your nails with certain brands of polish can carry a health risk with it.

The new study, Nailed, conducted by Dr. Johanna Congleton, a senior scientist at EWG, and Dr. Heather Stapleton, associate professor at Duke University, first tested 10 nail polishes for the existence of TPHP, none of which disclosed the chemical on their labels, and found it in 8 out of the 10. EWG has a listing of more than 3,000 nail polishes and treatments in its Skin Deep database, of which 49% list TPHP on their ingredients, but this recent finding of undisclosed TPHP in polishes suggests that it may be in more personal care products than was originally thought.

So next time you hear corporations and their scientific front men [yes, they are usually males] proclaim the safety of their latest nostrum, bear in mind all their other past proclamations about the safety of cigarets, leaded gasoline, DDT. . .well, you get the idea.

Nuclear woes both at home and abroad

We’ll start with abroad, via the Japan Times:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday that radiation levels of up to 9.4 sieverts per hour have been detected outside a reactor containment vessel at the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

People exposed to the maximum radiation dose for some 45 minutes will die. Tepco expects decontamination work to take at least one month.

Sept. 4-25 checks found the extremely high radiation levels at a cell that accommodates a pipe connected to the containment vessel of reactor 2 at the plant, which was devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Tepco said.

And now at home, with an 21 October CBS St. Louis report on alarming developments in the northern metropolitan area suburbs of Hazelwood and Florrisant, Missouri:

Officials are concerned after an unusual amount of cancer cases have popped up in a community outside of St. Louis. CBS News met with seven individuals from the same St. Louis suburb, all of whom have cancer or a lost a child or parent to it.

“You’ll never forget the moment they tell you, ‘We found lesions on your lung and your liver,’” Mary Osckso, who has stage 4 lung cancer, told CBS News.

Radioactive waste was discovered beneath the topsoil of the neighborhood park, which is now padlocked as construction crews work to remove it.


“What you see is an environmental health disaster unfolding slowly over decades,” county health director Dr. Faisal Kahn told CBS News.

And a parallel video report from CBS Nightly News:

Suspicious cancer surge in St. Louis area

Program note:

Residents of North County, near St. Louis, are joining a class action lawsuit over the high rate of cancer in their towns which they say is related to radioactive waste in topsoil samples. Vinita Nair has the story.

Finally, a related St. Louis area development from the 13 October St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

More than 40 years ago, radioactive waste was dumped at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. The decades since have been filled with legal and political moves that have not gotten the site cleaned up.

Now a growing number of residents want to know how dangerous it is to live and work in the area as a fire burns underground in the adjoining Bridgeton Landfill. More than 500 people showed up at a Bridgeton church on Thursday for a meeting organized by residents. The monthly meetings held for the last two years typically attract no more than 50.

The surge in public interest comes after state reports showed the fire is moving toward the nuclear waste, and radioactive materials can be found in soil, groundwater and trees outside the perimeter of the landfill.

More on that fire here.

Bring home the bacon, bring home the cancer

The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm has delivered bad now for the bacon lovers among our readers: They’ve now included that tasty delight — along with ham and other processed meats — in the same cancer risk category as tobacco and asbestos.

And that’s bad news for America’s most famous devotee of a certain porcine product:

That said, here’s the announcement [PDF]from the International Agency for Research on Cancer:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.

Red meat

After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.

This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

Processed meat

Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

Meat consumption and its effects

The consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100% of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat.

The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” says Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The IARC Working Group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. The most influential evidence came from large prospective cohort studies conducted over the past 20 years.

Public health

“These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat ,” says Dr Christopher Wild, Director of IARC. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”

Deep capture: A case of corporate body-shaping

Researchers Trenton G. Smith, senior lecturer in the Department of
Economics at New Zealand’s University of Otago and Corvinus University of Budapest professor of mathematics Attila Tasnádi begin their 2014 paper The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate [PDF] with a quote from Edward L. Bernays’ [previously] 1928 book Propaganda:

In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if everyone went around pricing, and chemically testing before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would become hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought  to  its  attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.

And to capture our minds, the surest route is through capture of the media largely responsible for shaping our choices, a process we’ve seen firsthand in the course of a half-century of journalism.

It is a process of excluding or deriding all options not beneficial to the economic interests of the thought-shaper — a thought-shaper legally bound as a fiduciary to act in the interests of maximizing investor profit.

And if those interest conflict with the best interests of consumers, environmental neighbors, and the health of democratic governance, well, then the hell with them.

The neoliberal nightmare

Let’s begin with the opening paragraphs of seminal book:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Note those words “smoothly functioning.” And where do you hear those same words so frequently applied? Well, how about when we employ them to discuss machines, those quintessentially precisely built and functioning devices for producing quantifiable outputs from quantifiable inputs.

In such a mechanistic vision of human society, any resistance or friction is to be either engineered out of the machine [tuned] or directly eliminated or replaced.

It is no wonder, then, that a group of Italian Futurists, so enamored of the machine, war and bloodshed were among the earliest followers of fascism.

And since nothing’s more machinelike — regimented — than a regiment, here’s how, once in power, Italy’s fascists greeted Germany’s fascist leader, via British Pathé:

Italians Goosestep For Hitler [1938]

In a fascist society, mind-shaping is overt — as in the case of Hitler’s loyal acolyte Joseph Goebbels, Der Führer’s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and relentless — and relentless.

But in 21st Century America, propaganda, which equally relentless, is more subtle.

Consider Bernays again, first a chief state propagandist for Woodrow Wilson in World Wat I, then a public relations [genteel-speak for propagandist] sought out by leading corporations.

Bernays knew well how to get people to kill and injure themselves in the interest of corporate profit. Consider this from the Museum of Public Relations:

George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company and an eccentric businessman, recognized that an important part of his market was not being tapped into. Hill believed that cigarette sales would soar if he could entice more women to smoke in public.

In 1928 Hill hired Bernays to expand the sales of his Lucky Strike cigarettes. Recognizing that women were still riding high on the suffrage movement, Bernays used this as the basis for his new campaign. He consulted Dr. A.A. Brill, a psychoanalyst, to find the psychological basis for womens smoking. Dr. Brill determined that cigarettes which were usually equated with men, represented torches of freedom for women. The event caused a national stir and stories appeared in newspapers throughout the country. Though not doing away with the taboo completely, Bernays’s efforts had a lasting effect on women smoking.

His hook? Cigarettes in his campaign were transformed from smelly, unhealthy fire hazards into “torches of freedom.” As another lung cancer-pusher later advertised, “You’ve come a long way baby.”

While pressure from public health officials, most notably several courageous Surgeons General eventually led to sharp curbs on cigarette advertising, intensified by those infamous kiddie-aimed Joe Camel cartoon ads.

BLOG Joe camel

As a Stanford University web site notes:

From the campaign’s inception, young people were primary targets. The first Joe Camel ad in the United States was released to celebrate Camel’s 75th “birthday” and was based on a French advertisement for Camel filters from 1974. The original French Joe Camel was reported to be a “smash” because “it’s about as young as you can get, and aims right at the young adult smoker Camel needs to attract”. (The term “young adult smoker” is industry jargon for the youngest spectrum of customers legally targeted through cigarette ads.)

Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirmed that Joe Camel is attractive to children. Indeed, a 1991 article published in JAMA reveals that the Old Joe Camel advertisements “are far more successful at marketing Camel cigarettes to children than to adults” based on kids’ ability to recall the character and find him appealing. More shocking still is another JAMA publication from 1991 which revealed that 91.3% of 6-year-old children were able to correctly match Old Joe with a picture of a cigarette, nearly the same number of children as were able to match Mickey Mouse with the Disney Channel logo.

But cigarette packs didn’t start to carry warning labels until Baby Boomers’ parents began to died from lung cancer, emphysema, and a host of other afflictions clearly traceable to tobacco. It took that awareness, coupled with rising anger in the medical community, to overcome the endless flow of dollars into the pockets of politicians and the coffers of advertising agencies.

But another killer, obesity, can also be directly linked to corporate greed, and a relentless campaign by corporations and their investors has stalled or gutted serious efforts to meaningfully inform us about the dangers of what we take into our body, once again through our mouths.

While brings us back to Trenton Smith and his concepts of deep capture.

What follows, via Systemic Justice Videos, is a talk he delivered at Harvard Law School, and its well worth your attention:

Trent Smith on Deep Capture and Obesity

Program notes:

In the fall of 2014, Trent Smith delivered a talk titled “The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate” at Harvard Law School.

Are consumers susceptible to manipulation by large corporations? Or are consumers basically rational, able to decide for themselves what to buy and how to live? This lecture will argue that these seemingly contradictory views of the American consumer are not mutually exclusive, and in fact follow directly from economic models of imperfect information. Examples of U.S. food industry practices, both historical and in the ongoing public debate over the causes of the obesity epidemic, serve to illustrate a broader phenomenon: when large industrial producers take steps to limit the information available to consumers, a market breakdown can occur in which low-quality products dominate the market. As a result, consumer welfare and–in the case of food–public health suffers. This would seem to represent a clear instance of the phenomenon known as “deep capture,” in which powerful commercial interests attempt to influence conventional wisdoms that might affect industry profits.

Antioxidants linked to malignant metastasis

From the University of Texas Southwestern:

A team of scientists at the Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) has made a discovery that suggests cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells, raising concerns about the use of dietary antioxidants by patients with cancer. The studies were conducted in specialized mice that had been transplanted with melanoma cells from patients. Prior studies had shown that the metastasis of human melanoma cells in these mice is predictive of their metastasis in patients.

Metastasis, the process by which cancer cells disseminate from their primary site to other parts of the body, leads to the death of most cancer patients. The CRI team found that when antioxidants were administered to the mice, the cancer spread more quickly than in mice that did not get antioxidants. The study was published online today in Nature.

It has long been known that the spread of cancer cells from one part of the body to another is an inefficient process in which the vast majority of cancer cells that enter the blood fail to survive.

“We discovered that metastasizing melanoma cells experience very high levels of oxidative stress, which leads to the death of most metastasizing cells,” said Dr. Sean Morrison, CRI Director and Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Administration of antioxidants to the mice allowed more of the metastasizing melanoma cells to survive, increasing metastatic disease burden.”

“The idea that antioxidants are good for you has been so strong that there have been clinical trials done in which cancer patients were administered antioxidants,” added Dr. Morrison, who is also a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “Some of those trials had to be stopped because the patients getting the antioxidants were dying faster. Our data suggest the reason for this: cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells do.”

Read the rest, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Plastics alarm: Planetary poisoning for profit

Forget climate change and nuclear war.

What may ultimately wipe out the humans as well as much of the rest of the animal kingdom may be much closer to hand.

What is this menace, you ask?

In a word, plastics, a subject we’ve been following for the last six years.

Yep, those petroleum byproducts so beloved for their role in making our lives so much easier have a dark side.

The latest research shows plastics cause cancer, reduce male sperm counts, alter the development of male genitalia, cause prostate problems, trigger earlier menopause, lay the groundwork for developing diabetes and high blood pressure, cause some forms of hyperactivity, trigger the development of moobs [enlarged male breasts] at the onset of puberty, and trigger low birthweights among girls, and, later, childhood obesity.

And we suspect those problems are just the tip of the iceberg.

One key to the problems associated with plastics is that when consumed into the body, they can mimic the chemicals secreted by the endocrine system [think estrogen and testosterone for starter], which is turn play key roles in regulating everything from our sexual development to our psychological states. Plastics, in short, function as what biologists call endocrine disruptors.

Yep, and its not just humans who are impacted by our ever-increasing reliance of plastics in everything from baby bottles and toys to microwave food containers, clothing, cosmetics, and so much more. Indeed, our consumption of plastics doubles every eleven years, and many of the most commonly used forms can’t be recycled, at least economically — leaving the planet awash in plastic refuse.

If it were just Homo sapiens paying the price for our addiction, one might tkae the neoliberal argument and say, hey, we deserve what we get.

But what about the myriad other species inhabited this small sphere were call Earth?

By now everyone should know that our habit of treating the world’s oceans as giant toilets has resulted in massive agglomerations [gyres] of plastic floating on the waves. But those are just the smallest percentage of plastics in the Seven Seas.

And what are those plastics doing once immersed in the world’s oceans? Read the rest after the jump [and do read on for some stunning findings]: Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, toxins, water, nukes

We begin with an outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Ecuador city declares chikungunya ‘state of emergency’

The northwestern Ecuadorian city of Esmeraldas has declared a state of emergency due to the spread of chikungunya, according to a Globedia report (computer translated).

Esmeraldas mayor, Lenin Lara, declared the state of emergency to allocate resources to combat the spread of the mosquito borne viral disease.

Since the first autochthonous transmission of chikungunya reported was reported in the country in December, Ecuador has seen in excess of 200 cases, with approximately half being reported from the city of Esmeraldas, which borders Colombia.

Another epidemic via Outbreak News Today:

Dengue fever in the Americas: 100,000 cases through February

Brazil has reported the most cases in the Americas with 72,254 of the 106,465 suspected and confirmed cases, or 68 percent.

Following Brazil in case burden is Colombia, which has seen 11,242 cases to date. Paraguay and Peru have reported in excess of 1,000 cases this year.

Central America and Mexico account for more than 17,500 cases with Mexico (6391), Nicaragua (3823) and Honduras (4302) seeing the most.

From the Associated Press, a connection:

UNICEF warns lack of toilets in Pakistan tied to stunting

More than 40 million people in Pakistan do not have access to a toilet, forcing them to defecate in the open, which in turn is a major contributor to stunting in the country, a top UNICEF official said.

“There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. And open defecation has significant health and nutritional consequences,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director at UNICEF. She recently spoke to The Associated Press during a trip to Pakistan to draw attention to the problem.

“Open defecation is a major contributor to stunting and that’s why we’ve got to do all we can to stop it,” she said.

Pakistan is the third-largest country when it comes to people going to the bathroom in the open, behind India and Indonesia. The problem can spread disease and lead to intestinal infections, which can contribute to stunting in young children, she said.

And from BBC News, a canine diagnostician:

Frankie the dog ‘sniffs out thyroid cancer’

A dog has been used to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who had not yet been diagnosed, US researchers say. Tests on 34 patients showed an 88% success rate in finding tumours.

The team, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, said the animal had an “unbelievable” sense of smell.

Cancer Research UK said using dogs would be impractical, but discovering the chemicals the dogs can smell could lead to new tests.

From the Guardian, accelerating:

Global warming ‘set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years’

  • By 2020 the average temperature rise per decade will be 0.25C in the northern hemisphere, more than double the 900 years preceding the 20th century

People need to brace themselves for accelerating climate change that could alter the way we live even over short time scales, scientists have warned.

New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 – a level not seen for at least 1,000 years.

The analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen climate simulation models from around the world, looked at the rate of change in 40-year long time spans.

Lead scientist Dr Steve Smith, from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said: “We focused on changes over 40-year periods, which is similar to the lifetime of houses and human-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

“In the near term, we’re going to have to adapt to these changes.”

And from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Republican insanity:

In Florida, officials ban term climate change

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Homeland Security News Wire adds a complication:

Sea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

The findings of the study are published online in the journal Earth’s Future.

While the New York Times discovers greener ag in the heartland:

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil

Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice.

“The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences.

Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

From the Guardian, a call to clear the air:

‘Environmental racism’: Bronx activists decry Fresh Direct’s impact on air quality

Whites and minorities in the US breathe different quality air, with the latter exposed to 38% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. And it is decisions like the one to place trucking operations for Fresh Direct in the Bronx, says activist group South Bronx Unite, that exacerbate the problem

A comprehensive 2006 study carried out by NYU researchers found a direct correlation between the air pollution (diesel fumes in particular) in [Danny] Chervoni’s neighborhood and the high rates of asthma among residents. The densely populated area – there are over 90,000 people living within 2.2 sq miles – is surrounded by four major highways funneling commercial and other traffic in and out of Manhattan. And the waterfront, where as a child Chervoni and his friends used to swim in the river and pick fruit from the apple and pear trees, is now home to several fossil fuel plants, a 5,000-ton-a-day waste transfer station, a sewage treatment facility, a FedEx hub and a Wall Street Journal/New York Post printing and distribution center.

One of the key recommendations of the NYU study was to curb pollution from truck exhaust. So when state and local officials proposed in 2012 to subsidize the relocation of Fresh Direct, a major trucking business, to one of the few remaining vacant lots on the waterfront – a move that would add an estimated 1,000 more truck trips through the neighborhood every day – a variety of community groups decided enough was enough. They joined together to form South Bronx Unite, and they’ve been fighting the proposal ever since.

The group contends that the levels of pollution their community is being subjected to is “environmental racism”. It is a claim echoed by many low-income communities of color around the country, whom research has shown are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries – specifically trash incinerators, landfills and fossil fuel power plants.

From the Guardian, more water woes ahead:

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

  • Last week drought in São Paulo was so bad, residents tried drilling through basement floors for groundwater. As reservoirs dry up across the world, a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. Rationing and a battle to control supplies will follow

Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Mainichi:

Radiation decontamination volunteers not supported by national gov’t

At least 30,000 volunteer workers have been involved in forays into areas in Fukushima Prefecture that fall under direct management of the national government due to high level of radiation, it has been learned from volunteer organizations.

These volunteer workers, who are not given any support by the national government for the management of their radiation levels, have engaged in decontamination work such as cutting grass over 2,500 times, efforts supposed be carried out by the government.

While the national government introduces volunteers to work in areas of relatively low radiation that are being decontaminated by municipal governments, it has little awareness of volunteer work in areas under its own direct jurisdiction.

From JapanToday, a continuing conflict:

Fukushima residents torn over nuclear waste storage plan

Norio Kimura lost his wife, father and 7-year-old daughter Yuna in the March 2011 tsunami.

Now, he fears he may lose his land, too, as Japan’s government wants to build a sprawling radioactive waste storage site in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Like many here, Kimura is angry the government is set to park 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the nuclear accident on his former doorstep. Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years.

“I can’t believe they’re going to dump their trash here after all we’ve been put through,” said Kimura, 49, standing near the weathered planks on a shrub-covered hill that represent all that’s left of his home.

From the Asahi Shimbun, piling up:

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Radioactive debris continues to stack up at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

With nowhere to put it, refuse and debris contaminated with radioactive materials continue to pile up at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant here.

A total of 258,300 cubic meters of radioactive debris was produced from the March 2011 accident to the end of this January in the plant, where decommissioning work is under way.

The amount is equivalent to the capacity of about 650 25-meter-long swimming pools.

NHK WORLD covers a delay:

Public housing for Fukushima facing delays

Construction of public housing in Fukushima Prefecture is facing significant delays. The housing is meant for those forced to leave their homes after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear accident.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to build around 2,700 units for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. 4,900 are planned for those affected by the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

But only 44 percent of the units for quake and tsunami victims were ready for occupancy at the end of February. Only 5 percent has been completed for the nuclear evacuees.

And from the Mainichi, a symbolic move:

Evacuated Fukushima town to remove ironic nuclear signboards

The town of Futaba, which has been evacuated since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, decided Monday to remove street signboards propagating the positive aspects of nuclear power.

The signboards in desolated streets carry slogans promoting atomic energy, including one reading, “Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future.” Town officials said they will be removed because they have become decrepit.

The town authority on the same day submitted to the municipal assembly the fiscal 2015 draft budget earmarking some 4.1 million yen for the removal. If the budget is approved, the removal will begin from as early as in August, the officials said.