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Friday Finds: Death by a Thousand Doses

Low chemical doses may have big health effects

Low chemical doses may have big health effects
A recent finding that tiny doses of certain hormone-altering chemicals can lead to harmful health effects could lead to a paradigm shift in the way that regulators evaluate a chemical’s harmfulness, reports Environmental Health News. Traditionally, toxicologists and regulators have evaluated the toxicity of a chemical by following the common adage, “The dose makes the poison,” which means that some chemicals can be harmful at high doses but perfectly fine at lower doses. However, this latest research has flipped that theory on its head by finding that some chemicals, especially those with hormonal properties like bisphenol A (BPA), can actually have a more harmful effect on people at low, rather than high, doses. Considering that BPA is found in everything from baby bottles to soup cans, the new study has implications not only for scientists and regulators, but for the people who are exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis.

Arctic oil spill cleanup methods go to the dogs
Norwegian researchers are experimenting with using dogs to sniff out oil spills in the harsh Arctic environment, reports the UK Guardian. So far the super-sniffing dogs, a dachshund and two border colliers, have been able to detect the scent of oil up to three miles downwind of a spill. Though impressive, the oil sniffing dogs experiment has largely been derided as a last ditch option for cleaning up oil in an area where “we do not have adequate science and technology…particularly in ice,” said Marilyn Heiman, a director of PEW’s US Arctic Program. Though Shell doesn’t plan to deploy oil-sniffing dogs to the Arctic anytime soon, its existing “plan” to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic if one were to occur is scarily inadequate and is based on very unrealistic assumptions, says Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe, who added, “The fact is, there simply is no way to adequately respond to an oil spill in the Beaufort Sea—it is too remote, icy, stormy, dark, and foggy. Shell’s plan needs to acknowledge the difficulties of the region, not assume them away.” 

Coastal U.S. cities could be swept away by rising sea levels
A new report predicts that the entire American coastline is at risk of flooding to due rising sea levels caused by global warming, reports the New York Times. Of course, climate scientists have known for years that sea level rise is accelerating, now to about a foot per century, but this newest report really brings the issue home by allowing people to search by ZIP code to see if their community will be flooded. For example, a quick search of Earthjustice’s headquarters in San Francisco shows that the city, which has many billions of dollars of residential development on some of the state’s lowest-lying coastal area land, has a 27 percent chance of a 100-year flood by as early as 2030. And other areas like Louisiana and the Chesapeake Bay region have actually been sinking as the oceans rise, making them even more susceptible to big floods. Unfortunately, though insurance agencies were smart enough to get out of the flood insurance business years ago, the government is still subsidizing risky coastal development. Fo example, in Washington State Earthjustice is trying to prevent the U.S. government from issuing federally backed insurance policies for new development in risky flood-prone areas around Puget Sound. As Benjamin H. Strauss, one of the authors of the paper, told the NYT, “Sea level rise is like an invisible tsunami, building force while we do almost nothing.” Perhaps it’s time to do something.

Wildlife take the bullet on lead
Environmentalists want to get the lead out of hunting and fishing gear, reports California Watch. Lead, a harmful neurotoxin that’s unsafe at pretty much any level, has already been eliminated from many household items like paints and motor vehicle gasoline (though not gasoline for general aviation). But despite its harmful properties, it’s still used in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle. Once a leaded bullet gets lodged in an animal, tiny lead fragments can travel from the original wound to other parts of the body, which puts wildlife and humans who are eating the meat at risk of lead poisoning. According to several studies, lead poisoning has been implicated in deaths of the endangered California condor, a large terrestrial bird in North America that almost bit the bullet in the late 1980s. Carcasses of turkey vultures, ravens and even a mountain lion have also been found to contain lead poisoning.