TAG: "Environmental health"

UC Davis names Future of Nursing Scholars recipient


New scholarship program will increase the number of doctorally prepared nurses.

Sarah Brown Blake, UC Davis

Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing graduate student Sarah Brown Blake is among the 16 nurses who are the first recipients of the Future of Nursing Scholars program awards. This new multifunder scholarship program, spearheaded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), is aimed at increasing the number of doctorally prepared nurses. Brown Blake’s scholarship is funded by RWJF and was awarded by UC Davis.

Brown Blake intends to focus her doctoral research on exploring environmental health disparities. She is particularly concerned about issues related to clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and the impact of water contamination on the health of rural and agricultural communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Brown Blake completed the interprofessional and innovative Master of Science — Leadership in Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership Graduate Degree Program at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis in spring 2014. Prior to that, Brown Blake was a public health nurse with the Arlington County Health Department in Arlington, Virginia, where she specialized in maternal, child and adolescent health.

“I am tremendously grateful to receive this scholarship and other support from the RWJF. I have no doubt that this opportunity will significantly impact my career as a future researcher, educator and nurse leader,” Brown Blake said.

The Future of Nursing Scholars program provides grants to schools of nursing so that they can provide scholarships to doctoral students who commit to completing the program in three years. Brown Blake will receive an award of $75,000, as well as mentoring and leadership development over the course of the Doctor of Philosophy program.

“We are honored to be included as one of the first nursing schools to receive the Future of Nursing Scholars grants, especially as a new school that this year graduated our first Doctors of Philosophy,” said Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing and dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. “Being a part of the Future for Nursing: Campaign for Action has brought home to me the importance of increasing the number of doctorally prepared nurses in the nation. This effort goes a long way toward promoting that goal. It’s a wonderful way to create community among doctoral scholars who will be our future leaders.”

In addition to RWJF, Independence Blue Cross Foundation, United Health Foundation, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and the Rhode Island Foundation are supporting the Future of Nursing Scholars grants to schools of nursing this year.

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Three UC schools receive grants to prepare doctoral nurses

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Antibacterial soap exposes hospital workers to high triclosan levels


UCSF-led study finds exposure to hormone disruptor from soap exceeds that from toothpaste.

Handwashing with antibacterial soap exposes hospital workers to significant and potentially unsafe levels of triclosan, a widely used chemical currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a study led by researchers from UC San Francisco.

Triclosan, a synthetic antibacterial agent, is found in thousands of consumer products, including soaps, cosmetics, acne creams and some brands of toothpaste. The FDA is reviewing its safety based on a growing body of research indicating that it can interfere with the action of hormones, potentially causing developmental problems in fetuses and newborns, among other health concerns.

In the current study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers analyzed urine samples from two groups of 38 doctors and nurses – three-fourths of them women – at two hospitals, identified as Hospital 1 and Hospital 2. Hospital 1 used an antibacterial soap containing 0.3 percent triclosan, while Hospital 2 used plain soap and water.

Workers at Hospital 1 had significantly higher levels of triclosan in their urine than workers at Hospital 2.

The scientists also asked the study participants if they used a popular commercial toothpaste containing triclosan. While those who did had higher triclosan levels than those who did not, the researchers found that washing with antibacterial soap accounted for even higher triclosan levels than did brushing with the toothpaste.

“Antimicrobial soaps can carry unknown risks, and triclosan is of particular concern,” said co-investigator Paul Blanc, M.D., a professor of medicine at UCSF who holds the Endowed Chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. “Our study shows that people absorb this chemical at work and at home, depending on the products that they use.”

Blanc recommended that “if non-triclosan-containing soaps are available, use the alternative. This is based on the precautionary principle – that is, if you don’t know for certain that something is unsafe, it’s better to err on the side of caution.”

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Auto-rickshaw helps monitor India’s deadly air pollution


Berkeley Lab’s research in India will help develop global strategies for air pollution.

What exactly is the relationship between exposure to air pollution and its effect on human health? How much cleaner would the air have to be to reduce the health burden of dirty air? Can cities be designed so as to minimize the flow of air pollution?

There is still a lot that scientists don’t know about air pollution, but the severe pollution common in much of India offers scientists an opportunity to better understand its causes and effects. The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Josh Apte is developing some unique approaches to studying air pollution in India and hopes to apply what he learns to developing global strategies for combating it.

Although India uses the same air monitoring techniques that are standard throughout the world to measure ambient air pollution in major cities, such techniques don’t give residents or scientists enough actionable information, in Apte’s judgment. “A big limitation with ambient monitoring is it doesn’t tell you what people actually breathe,” he said. “It gives you some indication of the overall level of air pollution in a city, but it doesn’t tell you where the hot spots are, and it doesn’t tell you the locations where people are getting the bulk of air pollution exposure.”

Air pollution is the number five risk factor for premature death in India, causing three times as many deaths as AIDS and malaria combined. “One thing we can say with quite a bit of certainty is that air pollution is a major risk for premature death in India,” Apte said. “Air pollution now kills more people than poor water and sanitation, which historically has been a major cause of death in India.”

Specifically, the pollutant that is most harmful to human health is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, for particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. These particles are not visible to the naked eye and can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers an annual average concentration in excess of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 to be a health concern, whereas average annual levels in India are on the order of 50 to 150 micrograms per cubic meter, according to Apte.

The primary sources of PM2.5 in India are similar to those of other countries—vehicle tailpipes, power plants and certain industrial processes. Indian cities and rural areas also have significant unregulated sources, including brick kilns, diesel backup generators, trash burning and wood-burning cookstoves.

To better measure the types and levels of pollutants that people are breathing, Apte hired an auto-rickshaw and drove it around the roads and highways of New Delhi for four months. The vehicle was outfitted with sensors placed at face height to more precisely measure what a person would inhale. He took two- to three-hour trips every day during the morning and evening rush hours.

Apte, Berkeley Lab researcher Thomas Kirchstetter, and a group of international collaborators collected more than 200 hours of real-time measurements of three types of pollutants: PM2.5, black carbon and ultrafine particles. “The levels of air pollution are truly astounding,” he said. “These are some of the highest levels of air pollution that have ever been measured in traffic anywhere in the world.”

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DDT linked to slow metabolism, obesity and diabetes


Study shows developmental exposure to DDT can affect female offspring.

Exposure of pregnant mice to the pesticide DDT is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and related conditions in female offspring later in life, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis.

The study, published online today (July 30) in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

DDT was banned in the United States in the 1970s but continues to be used for malaria control in countries including India and South Africa.

Scientists gave mice doses of DDT comparable to exposures of people living in malaria-infested regions where it is regularly sprayed, as well as of pregnant mothers of U.S. adults who are now in their 50s.

“The women and men this study is most applicable to in the United States are currently at the age when they’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, because these are diseases of middle- to late adulthood,” said lead author Michele La Merrill, assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis.

The scientists found that exposure to DDT before birth slowed the metabolism of female mice and lowered their tolerance of cold temperature. This increased their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and its host of related conditions.

“As mammals, we have to regulate our body temperature in order to live,” La Merrill said. “We found that DDT reduced female mice’s ability to generate heat. If you’re not generating as much heat as the next guy, instead of burning calories, you’re storing them.”

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Marine bacteria are natural source of chemical fire retardants


UC San Diego findings ‘very surprising and a tad alarming.’

Bradley Moore (left), UC San Diego

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have discovered a widely distributed group of marine bacteria that produce compounds nearly identical to toxic manmade fire retardants.

Among the chemicals produced by the ocean-dwelling microbes, which have been found in habitats as diverse as sea grasses, marine sediments and corals, is a potent endocrine disruptor that mimics the human body’s most active thyroid hormone.

The study is published in today’s (June 29) online issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

“We find it very surprising and a tad alarming that flame retardant-like chemicals are biologically synthesized by common bacteria in the marine environment,” said senior author Bradley Moore, Ph.D., a professor at the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

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Few obstetricians counsel patients on environmental toxics


UCSF study finds most agree exposures can be reduced, but only half take patients’ histories.

Naomi Stotland, UC San Francisco

In the first national survey of U.S. obstetricians’ attitudes towards counseling pregnant patients about environmental health hazards, nearly 80 percent agreed that physicians have a role to play in helping patients reduce their exposures, but only a small minority use their limited time with patients to discuss how they might avoid exposure to toxics, according to a UC San Francisco-led study.

Only 1 in 5 of the 2,500 physicians surveyed said they routinely asked about these exposures, and just 1 in 15 said they had received training on the harmful reproductive effects of toxic chemicals that are ubiquitous in the bodies of pregnant women in the United States.

The doctors surveyed said they didn’t know enough or were too uncertain of the evidence to feel comfortable making firm recommendations to pregnant women. They also said their patients often have more pressing and immediate health concerns, such as poor diet, sedentary lifestyles, obesity and chronic medical conditions like diabetes. In focus groups, physicians said they were afraid of scaring their patients about the chemicals found in the workplace and in thousands of household and industrial products, since it’s almost impossible to avoid being exposed to them.

While acknowledging that the problem can seem overwhelming, the authors said there are still things that doctors can do to help patients, even those who may have little control over their living and working environments and cannot afford luxuries like organic food.

“Many environmental exposures are unavoidable,” said Naomi Stotland, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF, a physician at one of UCSF’s partner hospitals, San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, and the study’s lead author. “So, we counsel women on the substances that we know are most likely to cause harm, while providing them with practical ways of reducing their exposures.”

The authors said that if physicians had better training and evidence-based guidelines, they could be more proactive, without fear of unduly alarming their patients. Previous studies have shown that women want to know about the adverse effects of the chemicals they’re exposed to and that they can react productively to this information.

“We have good scientific evidence demonstrating that pregnant women are exposed to toxic chemicals, and there’s a link between these exposures and adverse health outcomes in children,” said Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D., M.P.H., who directs the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF and is the study’s senior author. “But physicians are not offering this information to their patients.”

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Study finds association between pesticides, autism


Maternal exposure to agricultural pesticides tied to increased risk of autism in offspring.

Janie Shelton, UC Davis

Pregnant women who lived in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay, a study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute has found. The associations were stronger when the exposures occurred during the second and third trimesters of the women’s pregnancies.

The large, multisite California-based study examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during the study participants’ pregnancies and later diagnoses of autism and developmental delay in their offspring. It is published online today (June 22) in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“This study validates the results of earlier research that has reported associations between having a child with autism and prenatal exposure to agricultural chemicals in California,” said lead study author Janie F. Shelton, a UC Davis graduate student who now consults with the United Nations. “While we still must investigate whether certain subgroups are more vulnerable to exposures to these compounds than others, the message is very clear: Women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible.”

California is the top agricultural producing state in the nation, grossing $38 billion in revenue from farm crops in 2010. Statewide, approximately 200 million pounds of active pesticides are applied each year, most of it in the Central Valley, north to the Sacramento Valley and south to the Imperial Valley on the California-Mexico border. While pesticides are critical for the modern agriculture industry, certain commonly used pesticides are neurotoxic and may pose threats to brain development during gestation, potentially resulting in developmental delay or autism.

The study was conducted by examining commercial pesticide application using the California Pesticide Use Report and linking the data to the residential addresses of approximately 1,000 participants in the Northern California-based Childhood Risk of Autism from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. The study includes families with children between 2 and 5 diagnosed with autism or developmental delay or with typical development. It is led by principal investigator Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a MIND Institute researcher and professor and vice chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis. The majority of study participants live in the Sacramento Valley, Central Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

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Hazardous flame retardants found in preschool, child care settings


Young children potentially exposed to harmful chemicals at child care centers, study finds.

A new study of preschools and day care centers finds that flame retardants are prevalent indoors, potentially exposing young children to chemicals known to be hazardous.

The study, published online today (May 15) in the journal Chemosphere, was led by researchers at UC Berkeley and funded by the California Air Resources Board. Although many infants and young children spend up to 50 hours per week in day care, the study authors noted that this paper represents the first systematic review of flame retardants in early child care settings.

The researchers covered 40 child care centers serving 1,764 children in Monterey and Alameda counties. The facilities were located in a mix of urban, rural and agricultural areas. The researchers collected air and floor dust samples when the children were present, and tested for 14 different PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and four non-PBDE flame retardants, including tris phosphate compounds.

The study found both PBDEs and tris phosphate compounds in 100 percent of the dust samples collected. Median levels of PBDEs were somewhat lower than those found in homes in other studies, but median levels of chlorinated tris were similar to or higher than household levels found in other studies.

“These findings underscore how widespread these materials are in indoor environments,” said study lead author Asa Bradman, associate director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley. “A growing body of research has found links between flame retardants and a range of human health effects, including neurodevelopmental delays in children. Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, so we should be particularly careful to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals.”

While flame retardants were commonplace in dust, the good news is that levels of the chemicals were generally low in air samples.

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Public health prep


Freshman thrives in research program.

Working with HERMOSA (Health & Environmental Research on Makeup Of Salinas Adolescents) helped build UC Berkeley freshman Maritza Cardenas' passion for research. (Photo by Robert Durell)

For Maritza Cardenas, life as a Berkeley freshman is exciting, and more than a little daunting. She is majoring in molecular and cellular biology, and plans to go to medical school. But there’s a minor hurdle: Freshman chemistry is the first laboratory class she’s ever had.

Growing up in the central California agricultural town of Salinas, Maritza didn’t get as much science prep as most of her fellow Cal classmates.

“I wasn’t very exposed to the idea of science in high school, but as I was applying to college and seeing how competitive it was, there was always this word ‘research.’ I think one of my main drives was being part of research — even though I really didn’t have a clear sense of what it meant.”

She got her chance to learn what it meant the summer after high school as one of 16 Salinas teens participating in a two-year program that trained them in public health and biomedical research while at the same time focusing on a potential health hazard to young women in the community.

The project, funded by UC’s California Breast Cancer Research Program, taught the students to design and carry out public health research and how to best reach out to their community to gather data and inform people about health risks. The teens also collected and prepared material for laboratory analysis.

The training focuses on potential dangers posed by chemicals known as endocrine disrupters, found in shampoos, face creams and other personal care products. Endocrine disrupters interfere with normal hormonal function, and are thought to pose a particular threat during the teen years when hormone-driven development accelerates.

The project, called HERMOSA (Health & Environmental Research on Makeup Of Salinas Adolescents), is a collaboration between Berkeley’s School of Public Health and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, a network of clinics providing primary health care to low-income and agricultural communities in Monterey County.

The team effort drew on a Salinas-based youth council developed by the public health school’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, or CERCH, where teens gain leadership experience and focus on environmental health issues of particular concern to the community. Public health school professor Kim Harley is a co-director of HERMOSA.

Kimberly Parra, the project’s other co-director and herself a Berkeley grad, praises Maritza’s discipline and persistence, but singles out one trait that she thinks has mattered most:

“The No.1 quality — the reason Maritza has been able to flourish — is that she really cares about her community and she’s very confident that she can influence it. She’s very humble at the same time.”

Growing up in Salinas, Maritza says her family was on Medi-Cal.

“We were receiving a lot of assistance. Being in that position, and seeing that it’s a big part of Salinas, I’m hoping to return home after medical school and start a clinic there.

“I see myself as the kind of doctor who has relationships with patients. I feel like I could be the kind of health provider that can educate patients, focusing on prevention, helping them help themselves.”

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Indian company licenses Berkeley Lab invention for arsenic-free water


Technology could help save millions of lives in India and Bangladesh.

When Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) scientist Ashok Gadgil set out to solve an insidious public health problem afflicting South Asia, arsenic contamination of groundwater, he knew the hard part would not just be inventing the technology but also ensuring a way to sustain its long-term use on a large scale.

“A lot of technologies to remove arsenic on the community- and household- scale have been donated. But if you go to these villages it’s like a technology graveyard,” said Gadgil, who heads the Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division and is also a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley. “One study found that more than 90 percent failed within six months, and then were abandoned to rust in the field.”

So Gadgil and his lab came up with ECAR, Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation, which binds arsenic using iron dissolved in water. Their innovation was twofold. They created a technology that is exceptionally effective, inexpensive and easy to maintain. And just as importantly, from the start they conceptualized a business model for implementing the technology in a way that creates incentives for its longevity.  Now Indian company Luminous Water Technologies has licensed ECAR and plans to bring it to arsenic-affected villages throughout India and Bangladesh.

“Technology alone is not enough. It has to fit within a sustainable system based on partnerships with local entities,” said Susan Amrose, who has worked on ECAR since 2008 as the lead project scientist in Gadgil’s lab. “Other technologies have failed because there is no system of incentives or money or knowledge to keep them running. The key difference with ECAR is that it was designed to fit within a local system aimed at achieving successful social placement — so a flow of funds pays for ongoing operation, maintenance and social marketing, without turning it into privatized water.”

Arsenic-contaminated groundwater can be found all over the world, including in the United States, but the problem is particularly acute in South Asia, where tens of millions of people in India and Bangladesh get their drinking water from tube wells highly contaminated with arsenic, almost all of it occurring naturally. Arsenic poisoning, or arsenicosis, can cause painful lesions, diabetes, cancer and blood vessel diseases that often lead to gangrene, amputation and premature death.

Amrose has seen the devastation first-hand in her travels to affected villages. “Over time you’ll see people get worse and worse,” she said. “There was one man who in 2009 had lost his right pinkie finger by amputation due to arsenic. In 2011 he lost his right hand, and in 2013 lost his entire arm. Earlier this year he committed suicide. In some areas, you’ll see a lot of people with black spots on their palms, an external sign of arsenicosis. And a lot of things you won’t see. People will be linked with arsenic and ostracized, or young people unable to marry because their family lives in an area that has arsenic.”

One of the aims of Gadgil’s lab is to reduce the time lag between invention and commercialization from 18 years, the current norm, to 10 years. “We’re actually quite on target with ECAR,” Amrose said.

They started work on the concept in 2005. They’re now preparing a 10,000 liter-per-day trial over 15 months. “As we get to larger-scale field trials we’re intent on conducting them with our field partners,” Amrose said. “By working on a common goal, we get to effectively transfer the technology know-how, while they guide us towards what needs to be done to effectively scale up.”

Luminous Water Technologies was founded by an Indian serial entrepreneur, Rakesh Malhotra, with the aim of providing clean drinking water and commercializing new technologies in the drinking water market. Luminous’ current focus is on reverse osmosis systems, and they were looking to diversify in other water technologies when they identified ECAR for licensing.

“Arsenic poisoning is an endemic problem in India and Bangladesh and is seen as a silent killer,” said Luminous Managing Director RS Rajan. “It is Dr. Gadgil’s conviction and perseverance which has been a key motivating factor in Luminous opting for this technology. Luminous Water, with its reach across India and longstanding business record, will work towards commercializing this technology along with Berkeley Lab and create a sustainable module to provide solutions to impacted communities.”

ECAR works by using electricity to quickly dissolve iron in water. This forms a type of rust that readily binds to arsenic; the rust can then be separated from the water through filtration or settling. For the remaining waste Gadgil’s lab is now working on partnerships with cement and concrete companies to do research on embedding the sludge in concrete.

“We find in early tests that it’s very well stabilized, and the arsenic is not getting back into the environment,” Amrose said. “We expect and hope this form of sludge management will be viable and pass environmental approvals for market scale-up. Until then Luminous will dispose of the waste according to prevailing pollution control guidelines.”

ECAR is envisaged to operate as a village-owned micro utility in the villages where it is installed. Luminous would operate and maintain the utility and sell the water, with concurrent support for social marketing and education.

Last year ECAR was awarded a UC Proof of Concept Program Commercialization Gap Grant to see if it could be used to remediate arsenic-contaminated groundwater in California. Rural communities in California are often too poor to afford commonly available arsenic remediation techniques, and most techniques are only cost effective on larger scales, such as the city water supply system. As a result, many California residents drink water with dangerous levels of arsenic every day. The burden falls disproportionately on minorities and residents of lower socioeconomic status, particularly migrant farming communities and Native American communities.

ECAR has yet to be proven in California groundwater, which is known to contain a different composition of interfering ions from that in South Asia. This grant funds a proof-of-concept demonstration of ECAR in California to reduce entry risk for potential licensees.

The ECAR effort was initiated at Berkeley Lab with internal seed funds (from Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding) in 2005. It is being further developed in part with funding from the Development Impact Lab at UC Berkeley. ECAR technology is available for licensing in the United States. For more on Gadgil’s arsenic removal research visit arsenic.lbl.gov.

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Researchers ID more pesticides linked to Parkinson’s


They also find gene that increases risk.

Pesticides and Parkinson'sStudies have shown that certain pesticides can increase people’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Now, UCLA researchers have found that the strength of that risk depends on an individual’s genetic makeup, which, in the most pesticide-exposed populations, could increase a person’s chance of developing the debilitating disease two- to six-fold.

In an earlier study, published January 2013 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the UCLA team discovered a link between Parkinson’s and the pesticide benomyl, a fungicide that has been banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That study found that benomyl prevents the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) from converting aldehydes — organic compounds that are highly toxic to dopamine cells in the brain — into less toxic agents, thereby contributing to the risk of Parkinson’s.

For the current study, UCLA researchers tested a number of additional pesticides and found 11 that also inhibit ALDH and increase the risk of Parkinson’s — and at levels much lower than they are currently being used, said the study’s lead author, Jeff Bronstein, a professor of neurology and director of the movement disorders program at UCLA.

Bronstein said the team also found that people with a common genetic variant of the ALDH2 gene are particularly sensitive to the effects of ALDH-inhibiting pesticides and are two to six times more likely to develop Parkinson’s when exposed to these pesticides than those without the variant.

The results of the new epidemiological study appear Feb. 5 in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“We were very surprised that so many pesticides inhibited ALDH and at quite low concentrations — concentrations that were way below what was needed for the pesticides to do their job,” Bronstein said. “These pesticides are pretty ubiquitous and can be found on our food supply. They are used in parks and golf courses and in pest control inside buildings and homes. So this significantly broadens the number of people at risk.”

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Made in China for us: Air pollution as well as exports


UC Irvine study finds blowback causes extra day per year of ozone smog in LA.

Air pollution chartChinese air pollution blowing across the Pacific Ocean is often caused by the manufacturing of goods for export to the U.S. and Europe, according to findings by UC Irvine and other researchers published today (Jan. 20) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is the first to quantify how much of the pollution reaching the American West Coast is from the production in China of cellphones, televisions and other consumer items imported here and elsewhere.

“We’ve outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us,” said UC Irvine Earth system scientist Steve Davis, a co-author. “Given the complaints about how Chinese pollution is corrupting other countries’ air, this paper shows that there may be plenty of blame to go around.”

Los Angeles experiences at least one extra day a year of smog that exceeds federal ozone limits because of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emitted by Chinese factories making goods for export, the analysis found. On other days, as much as a quarter of the sulfate pollution on the U.S. West Coast is tied to Chinese exports. All the contaminants tracked in the study are key ingredients in unhealthy smog and soot.

China is not responsible for the lion’s share of pollution in the U.S. Cars, trucks and refineries pump out far more. But powerful global winds known as “westerlies” can push airborne chemicals across the ocean in days, particularly during the spring, causing dangerous spikes in contaminants. Dust, ozone and carbon can accumulate in valleys and basins in California and other Western states.

Black carbon is a particular problem: Rain doesn’t easily wash it out of the atmosphere, so it persists across long distances. Like other air pollutants, it’s been linked to a litany of health problems, from increased asthma to cancer, emphysema, and heart and lung disease.

The study authors suggest the findings could be used to more effectively negotiate clean-air treaties. China’s huge ramp-up of industrial activity in recent years, combined with poor pollution controls, has unleashed often fierce international debates.

“When you buy a product at Wal-Mart,” noted Davis, an assistant professor, “it has to be manufactured somewhere. The product doesn’t contain the pollution, but creating it caused the pollution.”

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