Category Archives: Noteworthy

High Facebook ‘likes’ stress out recipients

Last week we noted that researchers in Denmark found that folks who ditch Facebook are happier after they do.

And now research from Sonia Lupien, professor at the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychiatry and Scientific Director of the university’s affiliated Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal Research Center, gives us an idea why that’s so.

From Newswise:

Facebook can have positive and negative effects on teens levels of a stress hormone, say researchers at the University of Montreal and the Institut universitaire de santé mentale de Montréal. Led by Professor Sonia Lupien, the team found that having more than 300 Facebook friends increased teens’ levels of cortisol. On the other hand, teens who act in ways that support their Facebook friends – for example, by liking what they posted or sending them words of encouragement – decreased their levels of cortisol. Their findings were published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Lupien and her colleagues recruited 88 participants aged 12-17 years who were asked about their frequency of use of Facebook, their number of friends on the social media site, their self-promoting behaviour, and finally, the supporting behaviour they displayed toward their friends. Along with these four measures, the team collected cortisol samples of the participating adolescents. The samples were taken four times a day for three days.

Stress levels measured in adolescents from cortisol samples are obviously not entirely due to the popular social media site. “While other important external factors are also responsible, we estimated that the isolated effect of Facebook on cortisol was around eight percent,” Lupien said. “We were able to show that beyond 300 Facebook friends, adolescents showed higher cortisol levels; we can therefore imagine that those who have 1,000 or 2,000 friends on Facebook may be subjected to even greater stress.”

Other studies have shown that high morning cortisol levels at 13 years increase the risk of suffering from depression at 16 years by 37%. While none of the adolescents suffered from depression at the time of the study, Lupien could not conclude that they were free from an increased risk of developing it. “We did not observe depression in our participants. However, adolescents who present high stress hormone levels do not become depressed immediately; it can occur later on,” Lupien said. “Some studies have shown that it may take 11 years before the onset of severe depression in children who consistently had high cortisol levels.”

The study is one of the first in the emerging field of cyberpsychology to focus on the effects of Facebook on well-being. “The preliminary nature of our findings will require refined measurement of Facebook behaviors in relation to physiological functioning and we will need to undertake future studies to determine whether these effects exist in younger children and adults,” Lupien said. “Developmental analysis could also reveal whether virtual stress is indeed ‘getting over the screen and under the skin’ to modulate neurobiological processes related to adaptation.”

The study, “Facebook behaviors associated with diurnal cortisol in adolescents: Is befriending stressful?,” was published in Psychoneuroendocrinology and would cost a nonsubscriber $35.95, with the proceeds going to the rapacious Elsevier.

Facebook defaces our lives, stealing happiness

esnl has never been on Facebook for the simple reason that we loathe the notion of commercialized friendships.

And now we find there was a solid foundation for our concern, as documented by researchers from Denmark’s Happiness Research Institute0, who compared moods in two groups: One which continued using Facebook as usual, the other which gave it up for a week. The results were stunning.

From RT America:

Facebook blues: People feel happier after ditching social media

Program notes:

A new study by the Happiness Research Institute, a Danish think tank, found that people’s moods and emotions are linked to how often they use social media sites like Facebook. People who took breaks from the site felt better about their lives. Alexey Yaroshevsky has the details.

And it wasn’t just stress.

Here’s a summary of other findings from the report, The Facebook Experiment: Does Social Media Affect The Quality of Our Lives? [PDF]:


California’s public schools, triply segregated

And those hit hardest by the problems are the state’s growing population of Latino youth.

We begin with a video report from RT America:

CA schools highly segregated against Latino students – report

Program notes:

A report from UCLA found that Latinos are more segregated in California schools today than in the 1970s. RT’s Simone Del Rosario takes a look at the report and speaks with one of its authors, Professor Gary Orfield, about the findings and how this happened.

Contrary to the RT interviewer’s statement, the report was released last year by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandating public desegregation.

Here are the highlights:

  • California has had an extremely dramatic increase in the segregation of Latinos, who on average attended schools that were 54 percent white in 1970, but now attend schools that are 84 percent nonwhite.
  • In 1993, black and Latino students were in schools with 52% and 58% poor children, respectively, and no racial/ethnic group attended schools of overwhelming poverty, on average; by 2012, blacks, on average, attended a school that was two-thirds poor children and Latinos a school more than 70% poor.
  • Black and Latino students attend schools that on average have more than two-thirds poor students, while whites and Asians typically attend schools with a majority of middle-class students.
  • The typical black student in California today attends a school with more than 2.5 times as many Latinos as blacks, thus making them a minority within a school dominated by another disadvantaged group.
  • Latino and African-African-American students are isolated in schools with lower graduation rates, less availability of college preparatory courses, the overuse of suspensions and the number of experienced teachers.  By contrast, almost half of Asian American students and about 40% of white students attend schools that rank in the top 20% of Academic Performance Index test scores.
  • The most segregated of the state’s twenty largest school districts are Los Angeles Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Bernardino Unified and Fontana Unified (near San Bernardino). School districts that are among the most integrated and diverse are in the Sacramento area and Clovis, in the Fresno area.
  • The authors point to these less segregated school districts in California, and stress their value to policymakers seeking models for other communities.  The report details a half-century of desegregation research showing the major costs of segregation and the variety of benefits of schools that are attended by all races.

The full report is here [PDF].

And to conclude, one graphic from the report that highlights the dramatic changes in the public school student population in the Golden State:

BLOG CA schools

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.

A California germ warfare test revelation

And in comes in the form of a military training film, Naval Concepts of Chemical and Biological Warfare, a 1952 Department of Defense Film Production [National Archives and Records Administration Catalogue  428.MN.9170A], declassified last month, 15 years after the initial request by

Via talkingsticktv:

Declassified U.S. Navy Film – Naval Concepts of Biological and Chemical Warfare

From The Living Weapon, an episode of the PBS American Experience series, comes more about those California tests by the Special Operations Division of the secret U.S. chemical and biological warfare headquarters at Camp Detrick near Frederick, Maryland:

Ira Baldwin, Camp Detrick’s scientific director during World War II, left his position after the Allied victory in 1945 and returned to teaching at the University of Wisconsin. He continued to advise the government on issues concerning biological weapons, however, particularly the threat that might be posed by enemy spies releasing biological agents in American cities. In an October 1948 report, Baldwin posited that the U.S. was “particularly vulnerable to this type of attack.” But in order to determine the precise nature of these vulnerabilities, secret field tests would have to be done to ascertain the vulnerability of targets of potential interest to the enemy. The Army’s Chemical Corps, which ran Camp Detrick, agreed with Baldwin’s assessment and set up a Special Operations Division at Camp Detrick to carry out the tests. Its first target was to be the Pentagon.

In August 1949, the Special Operations Division operatives infiltrated the world’s largest office building and sprayed bacteria into the Pentagon’s air handling system, which then spread them throughout the structure.

The operatives moved to larger scale testing, releasing clouds containing supposedly harmless bacteria from Navy ships off Norfolk, Virginia, in April 1950, and the San Francisco coast in September 1950. The San Francisco experiments showed exposure among almost all of the city’s 800,000 residents. Had the bacteria released been anthrax bacteria or some other virulent pathogen, the number of casualties would have been immense.

More on the testing from Discover magazine’s Rebecca Kreston:

Over a period of six days in September 1950, members of the US Navy sprayed clouds of Serratia from giant hoses aboard a Navy minesweeper drifting two miles along the San Francisco coastline, a bacterial fog quickly enveloped and disguised by the region’s own mist. By monitoring the air at 43 scattered sites throughout the region, the Navy found Serratia bacteria blown throughout San Francisco and extending to the adjacent communities of Albany, Berkeley, Daly City, Colma, Oakland, San Leandro, and Sausalito.

In this regard, the experiment was a success: the San Francisco Bay was identified as a highly susceptible site for a germ warfare attack and a quantifiable range for the airborne dispersal of microbes was established. A 1951 military report on the experiment summarized the findings: “It was noted that a successful BW [biological warfare] attack on this area can be launched from the sea, and that effective dosages can be produced over relatively large areas”

It was estimated that the city’s 800,000 residents had each received a heavy dose of Serratia, inhaling millions of bacteria throughout the testing period. In its report, the military further concluded “that Serratia marcescens is so rarely a cause of illness, and the illness resulting is predominantly so trivial, that its use as a simulant should be continued, even over populated areas”

The specific bacterium used was Serratia marcescens, and there were casualties from the Northern California test, as Bernadette Pansey of the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2004:

Army tests showed that the bacterial cloud had exposed hundreds of thousands of people in a broad swath of Bay Area communities including Sausalito, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, San Leandro, San Francisco, Daly City and Colma, according to reports that later were declassified. Soon after the spraying, 11 people came down with hard-to-treat infections at the old Stanford University Hospital in San Francisco. By November, one man had died. Edward Nevin, 75, a retired Pacific Gas and Electric Co. worker recovering from a prostate operation, had succumbed to an infection with Serratia marcescens that attacked his heart valves.

The outbreak was so unusual that the Stanford doctors wrote it up for a medical journal. But the medics and Nevin’s relatives didn’t find out about the Army experiment for nearly 26 years, when a series of secret military experiments came to light.

The Chronicle’s David Perlman, who reported on the revelations in 1976, found no evidence that the Army had alerted health authorities before it blanketed the region with bacteria. As the news surfaced, doctors started wondering whether the Army experiment that seeded the Bay Area with serratia two decades earlier might be responsible for heart valve infections then cropping up as well as serious infections seen among intravenous drug users in the ’60s and ’70s, said Dr. Lee Riley, a professor of infectious disease at UC Berkeley.

The Bay Area got off lightly compared to members of U.S. armed forces, who were subjected to at least 500 secret tests with agents that included anthrax and deadly nerve gases.

Quote of the day: Regulatory capture enshrined

TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the trade agreement now in the final negotiations between the European Union, the U.S., and Canada, is yet another pact designed to ensure the supremacy of corporate power and nation states and the individual.

As with NAFTA, the pact would include secret tribunals [prettified semantically as ISDS, or Investor-State Dispute Settlement], which would allow corporations and banksters to sue governments threatening their anticipated profits through laws and regulations designed to, say, protect the climate or insure fair prices for health care and drugs.

Another feature of the pact also raises alarm and gives us our quote of the day.

From TTIP, a box of tricks for corporate criminals [PDF], a new report from Corporate Europe Observatory [emphasis added]:

‘Regulatory Cooperation’  would require existing and future laws and regulation to not ‘get in the way’ of transatlantic trade. Corporations would enjoy a privileged inside track, allowing them to co-write legislation and push back against proposed climate or other public interest policies.

The corporate power-grab that is regulatory cooperation has far reaching implications for both the climate, and the democratic process. Regulatory cooperation comes from two of the world’s most powerful corporate lobby groups, BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce, giving industry the opportunity, as they put it, to “essentially ‘co-write’  regulation”.

The US Chamber of Commerce even described regulatory cooperation with satisfaction as the“gift that keeps on giving”.

Any rules that threatened the bottom line of business – for example strict energy efficiency standards, or financial rules on dirty energy – could be strangled by business lobbies before they are even debated by parliaments or the public.

Pacific Northwest coastal methane rises

Sonar image of bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast. The base of the column is 1/3 of a mile (515 meters) deep and the top of the plume is at 1/10 of a mile (180 meters) depth. Brendan Philip / UW

Sonar image of bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast. The base of the column is 1/3 of a mile (515 meters) deep and the top of the plume is at 1/10 of a mile (180 meters) depth. Brendan Philip / UW

Some very sobering news hinting at a developing major acceleration in global climate change comes from the University of Washington news service, reporting that plumes of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, are erupting from the Pacific seabed:

Warming ocean temperatures a third of a mile below the surface, in a dark ocean in areas with little marine life, might attract scant attention. But this is precisely the depth where frozen pockets of methane ‘ice’ transition from a dormant solid to a powerful greenhouse gas.

New University of Washington research suggests that subsurface warming could be causing more methane gas to bubble up off the Washington and Oregon coast.

The study, to appear in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, shows that of 168 bubble plumes observed within the past decade a disproportionate number were seen at a critical depth for the stability of methane hydrates.

“We see an unusually high number of bubble plumes at the depth where methane hydrate would decompose if seawater has warmed,” said lead author H. Paul Johnson, a UW professor of oceanography. “So it is not likely to be just emitted from the sediments; this appears to be coming from the decomposition of methane that has been frozen for thousands of years.”

Methane has contributed to sudden swings in Earth’s climate in the past. It is unknown what role it might contribute to contemporary climate change, although recent studies have reported warming-related methane emissions in Arctic permafrost and off the Atlantic coast.

Of the 168 methane plumes in the new study, some 14 were located at the transition depth – more plumes per unit area than on surrounding parts of the Washington and Oregon seafloor.

If methane bubbles rise all the way to the surface, they enter the atmosphere and act as a powerful greenhouse gas. But most of the deep-sea methane seems to get consumed during the journey up. Marine microbes convert the methane into carbon dioxide, producing lower-oxygen, more-acidic conditions in the deeper offshore water, which eventually wells up along the coast and surges into coastal waterways.

“Current environmental changes in Washington and Oregon are already impacting local biology and fisheries, and these changes would be amplified by the further release of methane,” Johnson said.

Another potential consequence, he said, is the destabilization of seafloor slopes where frozen methane acts as the glue that holds the steep sediment slopes in place.

Methane deposits are abundant on the continental margin of the Pacific Northwest coast. A 2014 study from the UW documented that the ocean in the region is warming at a depth of 500 meters (0.3 miles), by water that formed decades ago in a global warming hotspot off Siberia and then traveled with ocean currents east across the Pacific Ocean. That previous paper calculated that warming at this depth would theoretically destabilize methane deposits on the Cascadia subduction zone, which runs from northern California to Vancouver Island.

At the cold temperatures and high pressures present on the continental margin, methane gas in seafloor sediments forms a crystal lattice structure with water. The resulting icelike solid, called methane hydrate, is unstable and sensitive to changes in temperature. When the ocean warms, the hydrate crystals dissociate and methane gas leaks into the sediment. Some of that gas escapes from the sediment pores as a gas.

Continue reading after the jump. . . Continue reading