Polls Show Bipartisan Support for Stronger Protection from Toxic Chemicals
A nationwide poll and four separate statewide polls found similar strong support for bolstering protections against toxic chemicals. By overwhelming bipartisan margins, Americans support strengthening the 35-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), according to new polls released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Coalition and the Ecology Center.
“Americans of all stripes have real concerns about the toxic chemicals we are exposed to every day and the serious health problems they cause,” said Daniel Rosenberg, director of NRDC’s toxic chemicals reform project. “Protecting us from chemicals linked to cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and other health problems should be a top priority for Congress. This really can’t wait.”
NRDC and the Safer Chemical Healthy Families coalition strongly support the Safe Chemicals Act, S. 847, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. The bill updates TSCA by requiring manufacturers to show that their chemicals are safe in order to sell them. It also streamlines the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to limit uses of a chemical that may harm public health or the environment.
“As the Senate moves closer to a vote on the Safe Chemicals Act, Senators should keep in mind that the partisan divisions that wrack Congress do not reflect the views or desires of the American people,” said Andy Igrejas, campaign director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.
A nationwide poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (POS) for NRDC found:
- Nearly 74 percent of those polled think the threat posed to people’s health by the exposure to toxic chemicals is serious, with 34 percent saying they think the threat is “very serious.”
- 68 percent of respondents support stricter regulation of chemicals used and produced in the United States, with support across all demographic sub-groups, including those typically opposed to government regulation, such as self-described conservatives (54 percent) and tea party supporters (51 percent).
- Description of a proposal that would require the chemical industry to prove that its products are safe and give EPA greater authority to restrict some or all uses of chemicals that may harm health or the environment garnered support from 77 percent of respondents.
“Even when we presented robust arguments on both sides of the issue, those we polled continued to side with supporters of reform,” said Lori Weigel, a partner at polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, who conducted the national poll for NRDC.
POS and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) also conducted a poll in New Mexico that found:
- 76 percent of respondents consider chemical exposure a serious health threat in day-to-day life. 74 percent of respondents support the legislation described that would increase EPA authority and require that the chemical industry prove its products are safe–including 81percent of women and 78 percent of Latino respondents.
Meanwhile, separate polls conducted by The Mellman Group for the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Coalition in Nevada and Missouri found:
- 62 percent of respondents in Missouri support stricter regulation of chemicals, and 64 percent support the provisions of legislation to strengthen the current law
- In Nevada, 61 percent of respondents support stricter regulation while 64 percent support the provisions of the legislation.
“There is a rare depth of public support for tackling the issue of toxic chemicals that crosses party lines,” said Mark Mellman of the Mellman Group, who conducted statewide polling on the issue in Nevada, Missouri this month and Montana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2011.
Finally, a Michigan poll conducted by POS with Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research for Ecology Center in Michigan found 74 percent of respondents supportive of legislation described to increase EPA’s authority to regulate chemicals and require chemical companies to prove that their products are safe. The poll also found 61 percent of respondents were extremely or very concerned about the health impacts from toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes, and 32 percent were somewhat concerned. A mere 6 percent were not concerned.
"The findings of this poll demonstrate that Michiganders support a change in the way our nation deals with toxic chemicals," said Rebecca Meuninck, campaign director of the Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health. "Michigan residents are concerned about the impacts toxic chemicals have on their health and the health of the Great Lakes."
Further information about the polls can be found below:
Missouri and Nevada Polls (along with results from OH, WI, PA and MT conducted by the Mellman group for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families in 2011)
About the polls: For the national poll, Public Opinion Strategies conducted a telephone survey of 800 registered voters nationwide. The survey, conducted June 25 through June 27, 2012, has an overall margin of error of +/-3.46 percent nationwide.
In New Mexico, POS and FM3 surveyed 503 likely voters, between June 28 through July 1, 2012 and has a margin of error of +/-4.38 percent.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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