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You now have another good reason to avoid bottled water. An investigation on brands from around the world determined that the water is often contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic.

The new study, conducted by journalism organization Orb Media and researchers at the State University of New York at Fredonia, has already prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.

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Mike Mozart / Flickr

The agrochemical and seed giant Monsanto, one of the world's most controversial corporations, is attempting to take down a World Health Organization (WHO) agency that in 2015 linked the Monsanto product glyphosate to an increased risk of cancer in humans. That year, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that the widely used herbicide is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

The decision was a major blow to Monsanto as its most popular product, Roundup, is glyphosate-based. Following the IARC's decision, the European Union began to consider banning the product altogether, potentially depriving Monsanto of a significant stream of revenue. Monsanto, which is seeking the EU's renewal of the chemical's license for the next 10 years, is now also fighting a high-profile court case attempting to bring IARC's 2015 decision—as well as the agency itself—under scrutiny.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The World Health Organization urges cleaner sanitation practices after new data reveals that at least two billion people do not have access to clean water.

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By Nadia Prupis

More than 90 percent of people on the planet live in places where air pollution levels are dangerously high, and millions of people are dying as a result of the exposure, according to new research from the World Health Organization (WHO) released Tuesday.

A polluted Christmas Day at Anyang Normal University, China.V.T. Polywoda / Flickr

Using an air quality model based on satellite data and other ground and air monitors in 3,000 locations, the WHO found that fully 92 percent of people worldwide live in regions where the pollution exceeds the organization's safety limits.

"To date, air pollution—both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor)—is the biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually," the report states. "Air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, and affects economies and people's quality of life; it is a public health emergency."

The organization created an interactive map showing where in the world, both in rural and urban areas, the air is contaminated by toxins that can seep into the lungs and cause cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, among other illnesses.

Screenshot of WHO's interactive map of global ambient air pollution.World Health Organization

The majority of those locations are in developing counties, largely in the regions of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, with "vulnerable populations" at a particularly high risk, the report states. More than 6 million people die every year due to exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to an International Energy Agency study released in June.

"Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations—women, children and the older adults," said WHO assistant director general Dr. Flavia Bustreo. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."

Much of the pollution is human-caused, created through household waste and fuel burning, inefficient transportation, industrial activities and coal-fired power plants, the report states. Particulate matter that emanate from those activities like black carbon, sulphates, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, and mineral dust and water can penetrate and coat the lungs and cause health issues with even short-term exposure. (Other air pollution can have natural causes, such as dust in the air in regions near deserts.)

Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director of the Department of Public Health, Environment, and Social Determinants of Health, said the new data confirms there is no time to waste to address toxins in the atmosphere.

"Fast action to tackle air pollution can't come soon enough," Neira said. "Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions."

The new data follows recent studies linking air pollution to everything from Alzheimer's to economic slowdowns. In the U.S., air pollution is especially high in minority and low-income communities, which a study published in Social Science Research last year referred to as "sacrifice zones."

Increasing and improving studies of dangerous air pollution, particularly in low-income areas, is "crucial" to curtailing its toxic impacts, the WHO said. And strengthening the capacity of developing cities to "monitor their air quality with standardized methods, reliable and good quality instrumentation, is key," the report concludes.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Dr. Kurt Straif, a section head with the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), appeared in an interview with euronews defending the agency's assessment that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans.

"Our evaluation was a review of all the published scientific literature on glyphosate and this was done by the world's best experts on the topic that in addition don't have any conflicts of interest that could bias their assessment," Straif said.

"They concluded that, yes, glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans based on three strings of evidence, that is clear evidence of cancer in experimental animals, limited evidence for cancer for humans from real-world exposures, of exposed farmers, and also strong evidence that it can damage the genes from any kind of other toxicological studies."

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Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto's blockbuster product, Roundup, and is also found in herbicides manufactured by Syngenta and Dow.

In March 2015, the IARC concluded that glyphosate is a "probable human carcinogen," touching off an international row on the health and safety of the widely applied herbicide. However, this past May, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a different regulatory body from the WHO issued a joint report concluding that the ingredient is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet." Unsurprisingly, the different opinions about the controversial herbicide were "welcomed" by Phil Miller, Monsanto's vice president for global regulatory and government affairs.

During the euronews interview, Straif explained why the conclusions from the IARC and the FAO/WHO about the weedkiller seem to be contradictory.

"Our classification of the cancer hazards of glyphosate still stand," he said. "We are the authority to classify cancer substances worldwide for the WHO, and it was then this other panel that looked at a very narrow angle of exposure from daily food, and then came up with the conclusion on how much of that may be safe or not."

Basically, the IARC assessment focussed on "hazard" while the other looked at "risk." David Eastmond, a toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside, explained to Wired how the terms are different: "If you have people gawking at sharks swimming around a tank in an aquarium, the sharks are a hazard, but they pose little risk. If you have a surfer on the beach with a shark, now that shark is both a hazard and a risk."

During the interview, the euronews host asked Straif which body of the WHO she should trust as a "consumer, as a farmer, as an occasional beer drinker, as somebody who likes to sit in parks that have been treated with glyphosate."

He replied, "I think it's important to understand the literature that our assessment that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans still stands, and then you have to look at the other assessments for the specific scenarios, and that is not my authority to comment on these evaluations."

Straif also hinted at possible conflicts of interest from the FAO/WHO report. When the euronews host asked the senior scientist if he was "disturbed" by credible reports of the FAO/WHO scientists allegedly receiving payoffs by Monsanto for a favorable glyphosate review, Straif replied, "It is an important topic that needs important scrutiny, yes."

Following the release of the FAO/WHO report, Greenpeace EU as well as food-industry watchdog group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) questioned whether the evaluation was muddied by industry ties.

Will Monsanto have to face the music about its weedkiller? Roundup cancer lawsuits have been mounting against the company, as EcoWatch reported last week, the agribusiness giant has not been able to legally run away from the growing thorn.

In court documents obtained by EcoWatch, at least one court from Hawaii and two from California have rejected Monsanto's attempts to dismiss the respective lawsuits.

For instance, last week, U.S District Judge Michael Seabright denied Monsanto's request to dismiss a lawsuit by Christine and Kenneth Sheppard, former owners of Dragons Lair Kona Coffee Farm in Hawaii.

The Sheppards claim that Monsanto falsely masked the carcinogenic risks of glyphosate and is responsible for causing Christine Sheppard's cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

As detailed by Courthouse News Service, one reason Seabright decided to reject Monsanto's dismissal considers the 2015 designation [of Roundup as a probable carcinogen] by the WHO.

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