- Despite slim majority of nations on International Whaling Commission voting in favor of lifting commercial whaling ban, US stands firm against lifting ban.
- Beached whale in Seattle found to have plastics, towels, more in stomach.
- Up to 73 million sharks killed each year for their fins.
- Beluga whales found dead in remote Hudson Bay treated as toxic waste.
Kerosky, Munger, and Hildebrand. “Cetacean research and conservation: A summary of current efforts and future needs,” Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, October 21, 2008,
- The Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act introduced into Congress on December 2009.
- Childhood cancer is up by 26 percent, making cancer the greatest threat to children.
Ries, L.A.G., Eisner, M.P., Kosary, C.L., Hankey, B.F., Miller, B.A., Clegg, L., Edwards, B.K. (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1973-1999, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, 2002, http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1973_1999/child.pdf
- 1 in 5 men and 1 in 6 women worldwide will develop cancer before age 75.
Jacques Ferlay, International Agency for Research on Cancer, email to author, May 10, 2010
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men in the U.S. will develop cancer.
- Male fish across the country are developing eggs.
- Sperm counts in men are down 50% in last 50 years.
S. H. Swan, E. Elkin and L. Fenster, “Have Sperm Densities Declined? A Reanalysis of Global Trend Data,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 106:8 (1998), A370-A371, http://www.ehponline.org/docs/1997/105-11/swan.html
Eye of the Whale End Notes:
“Rotating almost imperceptibly—he began to sing again—
Creaks and moan—cries and whistles—animated the water with the pulsing power of song—“
The function of whale song: Whale song has long been thought to be similar to garden-variety bird song, used to woo females or compete with other males. But a recent paper concluded that males generally sang until joined by non-singing males and that the vast majority of their interactions were not competitive. The songs seem to unite males in some way and possibly allow males to coordinate with one another, possibly for “mutual assistance in mating.” Darling et al, “Humpback Whale Songs: Do They Organize Males During the Breeding Season?” Behaviour 143, 1051-1101.
“There was no doubt—the song was definitely diverging, shifting dramatically.”
Typically, humpback whale songs change slowly and gradually over the course of seasons or years. It would be highly unusual for a song to change rapidly, although it has been observed that songs from one population can migrate and be taught to other populations, as was recorded in the transmission of the song from the humpback population off Western Australia to the humpback population off Eastern Australia. “Such a revolutionary change is unprecedented in animal cultural vocal traditions and suggests that novelty may stimulate change in humpback whale songs.” (“Cultural Revolution in Whale Song,” by Michael J. Noad et al, Nature 408, 537 [30 November 2000]).”
Apollo’s concern that the song might die out comes from research by Katy Payne, Roger Payne, and Peter Tyack that new phrases in whale songs that are not adopted universally by the singers in a particular area are lost very quickly. However, “once all singers adopt them, they last a long time. This means that a male whale could measure the success of a new song variation just by listening to how many other males around him are singing it. If all the males adopt it, it’s a success and is going to last. (Among Whales, p.157)”
Chapter 1Page 12
“She thought of her colleagues who were trying to understand why the reefs here and around the world were dying faster than anyone had predicted.”
Recent studies have shown that coral reefs are dying more quickly than previously thought. While global warming is one of the leading suspected culprits, so is pollution and run-off. “The United Nations has found close to a third of the world’s corals have disappeared, and 60 percent are expected to be lost by 2030.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20169258/
“Then she realized—there was something wrong. . . The baby rolled off Echo’s rostrum and began to sink, listing to the side, not moving its flippers or tail flukes.”
A study done on the North Atlantic right whale (the only baleen whale on which reproductive dysfunction has been documented) showed five factors “as potential contributors to reproductive dysfunction. . . : 1) environmental contaminants/endocrine disruptors; 2) body condition/nutritional stress; 3) genetics; 4) infectious disease; and 5) marine biotoxins.” (Northeast Fisheries Science Center for Reference Document 01-16, Causes of Reproductive Failure in North Atlantic Right Whales: New Avenues of Research, Report of Workshop Held 26-28 April 2000 Falmouth, Massachusetts, by Randall R. Reeves, et al)
“Finally, her muscles responded to her command, and she turned to face Sliver, who was watching her closely. the mother was still supporting her baby on her back, helping the calf to breathe.
Elizabeth kicked her fins slowly, approaching. sliver’s body was still unthreatening. Her eye, although stressed, seemed to communicate something—was it understanding? Elizabeth had no time to waste, so she continued forward, realizing the danger she was in if she had misread Sliver.”
Rescuing Whales: Canadian scientist Jon Lien and his team have rescued more than one thousand humpbacks from entrapment in fishing nets and have never been hurt once. The whale will often find his eye and make an “eye-catch,” apparently determining whether this human is trying to help. In one experience, the fishing line had cut across the blowhole, and Dr. Lien realized that he would have to insert his hand into the nostril of the whale to remove it. The powerful muscles of the blowhole are able to shut tight enough to withstand the entrance of water at extraordinary depths. Should the whale have decided to close its nostril, it would have crushed all of the muscles in Dr. Lien’s hands and could also have dragged Dr. Lien underwater, drowning him. He chose to attempt the rescue and had to wrestle the rope out with all of his strength. While the whale flinched from the pain, it did not close its blowhole. In retelling this story, Roger Payne writes, “the overwhelming rule seems to be that whales are peaceful toward humans even though we have been killing them for centuries with every means we could devise…. we are on the threshold of a new connection between animals and people: an Age of Friendship during which a significant number of humans will extend a tentative hand to the rest of life. I expect that from this new approach extraordinary associations will develop.” (Among Whales, p. 215-17)
“The bump came like a shoulder in her side. It was no doubt the infamous bump-and-bite behavior, and the shark was circling back for the second half of the equation.”
Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare—78 attacks were reported worldwide in 2006 (International Shark Attack File). Aidan Martin was a shark researcher at the University of British Columbia. His study on what constitutes threatening and non-threatening shark behavior is fascinating and provides much useful information for understanding how to avoid an attack (R. Aidan Martin, A review of shark agonistic displays: comparison of display features and implications for shark-human interactions, Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology, 40: 1, 3-34, Online publication date: 1 March 2007)
“The only remaining market was for whale meat, and even there, demand had fallen over the past decade. Still, the whaling industry was actively working to expand the market by opening whale meat restaurants and getting whale meat into schools.”
“In East Asia, the consumption of whale meat is widespread only in Japan and in communities along the southeastern coastal region of South Korea and is openly and legally for sale there. . . . Japanese experts claim that supply of whale meat in Japan is not meeting demand.”
However, although the supply of whale meat has increased from 2450 tons in fiscal 2000 and 5560 tons in fiscal 2005, the consumption hasn’t increased as expected. The average whale meat consumption per person has actually dropped.
Although the government has tried to increase consumption of whale meat (especially the tons of frozen whale meat that is just sitting there) by offering it in school lunch programs and even starting their own whale meat shop and restaurant (actually run by the whale “research” Institute of Cetacean Research that whales on behalf of the Japanese government), consumption is down, and a recent survey found that 12% of Japanese people in their 20s even like whale meat. (The Whale Meat Market, June 2005, GJ Financial Consulting)
For more information see http://www.natturuverndarsamtok.is/myndir/Whale_meat_report.pdf.
For information on serving whale meat in schools, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22959881-30417,00.html.
“Kazumi took great pride in the fact that a few nations like Japan, Norway, Iceland, and some island nations had managed to continue whaling through various means. They took several thousand a year, but that was a fraction of the whales being taken before the ban. Japanese scientists had shown that whale populations had recovered significantly. Kazumi was certain there were plenty of whales to support whaling in large numbers, and he was leading an effort to overturn the out-of-date ban.”
There are now 8,000 humpbacks left worldwide, down from 100,000 just a few decades ago. (Chris Hawley, Associated Press, 5/24/1999 “Carribbean Whaler a Legend on Island”).
“Yet any vote at the International Whaling Commission was highly sensitive…”
The International Whaling Commission was set up in 1946 to promote and maintain whale stocks and to regulate whale product prices. The change in the mission of the IWC toward conservation began in the 1970s with the rise of the anti-whaling movement. In 1986, it adopted a five-year moratorium on commercial whaling, which has been extended until the present, although there have been considerable efforts on the part of some member nations to overturn the moratorium. Around the world a number of indigenous peoples continue to whale (primarily in Canada, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Indonesia, and the United States). Despite the moratorium, Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 and Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006. Japan has begun what it calls a “scientific” whaling program, which it argues allows it to evaluate the health of the whale population and the feasibility of commercial whaling. Japan, Norway, and Iceland have led the pro-whaling effort to end the moratorium and bring back commercial whaling.
“Fortunately, Kazumi and his allies had found a way to bring in new island nations that were supportive of his goals.”
For more information on Japanese aid to small Caribbean nations and its possible influence on their voting at the International Whaling Commission, see “An Introduction to Whaling Issues” in Caribbean Currents, Volume 8, no 2, April 2000, which is published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov/earlink1/currents/carib82.pdf).
“It had been over two decades since America and other culturalimperialists had forced the rest of the world to stop commercialwhaling. Kazumi took great pride in the fact that a few nations likeJapan, Norway, Iceland, and some island nations had managed tocontinue whaling through various means.”
On December 21, 2007, at the request of the United States, which is currently chair of the International Whaling Commission, Japan decided to suspend humpback whaling hunts for one to two years “to support [the U.S.’s] effort as the chairman to normalize the IWC, [Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka] Machimura said.” (Associated Press, December 21, 2007, by Carl Freire)
Chapter 4Page 35
“The sound of Echo’s song filled the room. The night before, she had listened to the song over and over again, trying to memorize the phrases and individual units. Now she kept rewinding and listening to one particular pair of upward sweeping sounds: “w-OP-w-OP.”
. . . “It’s a social sound—a contact call”, Elizabeth explained.”
When I began researching the novel, very little was known about whale social sounds—sounds that are used in the course of social behavior to communicate between whales. One of the sounds that we were conjecturing was a mother-calf contact call. During the course of writing the book, researchers at Humpback Whale Acoustic Research Collaboration (HARC) located at the University of Queensland in Australia identified thirty-four different social sounds. One was indeed a mother-calf contact call, and it was identical to the one that we were using in the novel: w-OP. (Dunlop, R.A., Noad, M. J., Cato, D.H. and Stokes, D. 2007. The social vocalization repertoire of east Australian migrating humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, in press). Rebecca Dunlop, the lead author on this paper, was an invaluable advisor for the novel and for explaining the latest discoveries and limits of our knowledge about the role of social sounds in whale communication. She also informed me that we have discovered social sounds in whale song, as hypothesized in this novel, although she personally expressed her disagreement with my suggestion in the novel that these social sounds in the songs might actually be carrying semantic meaning.
“Even SETI—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—had expressed interest in her research.”
This was inspired by marine biologist Brenda McCowan, who did work with SETI on her whale communication research. See Sean F. Hanser, Laurance Doyle, Jon Jenkins, Brenda McCowan, 2002. Information Theory Applied to Animal Communication Systems and Its Possible Application to SETI Bioastronomy7
“As they approached the twenty-seven-foot double-ender whaleboat, Elizabeth could see the hunt that was unfolding.”
There has been much controversy about the humpback whaling in Bequia. While not considered aboriginal whaling, the whalers argue that it is part of their traditions and culture. After returning from working on a Yankee whaling boat and marrying a captain’s daughter, William Wallace, Jr. built the first shore-based whaling station in Bequia in 1875. Currently, the whalers are allowed to catch three humpbacks a year by the International Whaling Commission (Paragraph 13 of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [ICRW]). Schedule Paragraph 14 states that it is forbidden to kill calves or females with calves and many whalers claim that whenever a juvenile is killed it has always “taken its last drink,” in other words, was no longer nursing. However, historical and recent data suggests that taking the mother and calf together has always been a primary strategy, learned from the Yankee whalers, and continued to this day. The description of the mother coming up under her calf and trying to free her from the harpoon is based on a story of an actual mother and calf pair that was told to me by Balis Olivierre (sp?) one of the young whalers and fisherman in Bequia.
It is also worth noting that while in Yankee whale boats, the helmsman (often the captain) would switch places with the harpooner to “dispatch” the whale with the killing lance, the tradition among some of the Bequia whalers was for the whaleboat captain to both strike (harpoon) and kill the whale as described in this chapter. The description of the whale intestines as “a fleet of balloons come to grief” comes from Frederic A. Fenger’s Alone in the Caribbean as quoted by Nathalie F.R. Ward in Blows, Mon, Blows! Dr. Ward’s book is an extremely vivid and comprehensive ethnography of Bequia whaling practices.
Dr. Ward came to Bequia as a young marine biologist to study the humpback whales, and she discovered that she needed to know the whalers and understand their practices in order to do her research. She developed a friendship with one of the whalers, Athneal Ollivierre, who she taught how to read the unique markings on the flukes through playing the memory game “concentration” with matching photos. He promised never to kill the particular whales that she had taught him to identify. Dr. Ward spends half the year in Wood’s Hole and half the year in Bequia, where she runs a non-profit working group .on whale and dolphin conservation in the Caribbean (The Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Network: for more information, contact: N. Ward. Box 5 St. Vincent and the Grenadines. W.I. Fax: 508-548-3317). Another good resource is “The origins and character of ‘aboriginal subsistence’ whaling: a global review” by Randalll R. Reeves, published in the Mammal Review, Volume 32, No 2, pp 71-106, which has a good discussion of Caribbean whaling practices.
“What is this—the Love Canal?”
In the 1950s, a municipal and industrial chemical dumpsite was covered over with earth and about 100 homes and a school were built on the site. In 1978, the chemicals began percolating to the surface, literally covering the ground with toxic waste, causing miscarriages, birth defects, and leukemia. The global disaster we are facing now is not contamination from one specific spill (as in the Love Canal tragedy). We are dealing with much greater contamination. We can’t just pack up and move from this contamination. It is everywhere.
At the time I wrote this chapter, the Japanese whaling fleet had just announced that they were going to start whaling humpbacks, a decision they reversed. This explanation from wikipedia: “Japan had planned to kill 50 humpback whales in the 2007/08 season under its JARPA II research program in the Antarctic Ocean, starting in November 2007. The announcement sparked global protests. After a visit to Tokyo by the chairman of the IWC, asking the Japanese for their co-operation in sorting out the differences between pro- and anti-whaling nations on the Commission, the Japanese whaling fleet agreed that no humpback whales would be caught for the two years it would take for the IWC to reach a formal agreement.” (For more information see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7156288.stm) For more information about Japanese whaling practices and photos see http://archive.greenpeace.org/oceans/whales/gallery.htm. For the Japanese whaling industry and researchers’ side of the story see: www.icrwhale.org/QandAjapanresearch.htm
“She recalled a story Professor Maddings had told her about a pilot whale who had grieved the death of a dolphin that was his companion for many years.”
This observation from the 1960s was told to me by Roger Payne, who had heard about it from Harry Harper. Apparently, the pilot whale and the dolphin had been together and done shows together for many years. When the dolphin died, the pilot whale tried to prevent the trainers from removing the body and then refused to perform for 36 hours during which time it’s breathing rate was reduced and its pupils were wide. It is well known that elephants grieve their dead and even caress the bones of their dead with their trunks long after they have died.
“. . . and we are on ‘sharkwatch’ at the lighthouse on the Farallon Islands.”
Marine biologist Scott Davis was my guide into the extraordinary world of white sharks, where I could see first hand that so many of the fears about sharks are undeserved. Instead, I found a vulnerable apex predator that only on rare occasions attacks humans and that needs our greatest protection. Scott has quite a lot of experience tagging white sharks and was involved in the research that demonstrated that they migrate thousands of miles each year back to the same feeding grounds. Scott is currently the resident naturalist for eco-tour operator Great White Adventures, and it was extraordinary to get to cage dive with the sharks out in the frigid waters off the Farallones. It was a stunning and inhospitable world—inhospitable, that is, if you are a human rather than a shark. Scott is a superb photographer, and I’ve included several of his images of sharks on my website. A great resource about shark research at the Farallones is The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey (http://www.amazon.com/Devils-Teeth-Obsession-Survival-Americas/dp/0805080112/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247878456&sr=8-1). Another great resource to the Farallon Islands is Peter White’s Farallon Islands: Sentinels of the Golden Gate (http://www.amazon.com/Farallon-Islands-Sentinels-Golden-Gate/dp/0942087100/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247878601&sr=1-1).
Last year, sharks killed approximately seven people; most of these attacks were probably cases of mistaken identity. On the other hand, humans last year killed over 100 million sharks, bringing some species to the brink of extinction. The number of sharks killed by commercial and sport fisherman estimated between 100 and 200 million: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/ZooGoer/2006/2/sharks.cfm. White sharks in particular are a “slow growing, late-maturing species with such small broods and such low fecundity rate” that their chance of survival is slim if they continue to be hunted down and killed. From a chapter entitled “Can We Save the Great White Shark?” in Great White Shark by Richard Ellis and John E. McCosker (p. 241).
“In the cruel practice of ‘finning’, just their fins are cut off for shark fin soup and the rest of the carcass is thrown back into the water to slowly die.”
The number of sharks killed for their fins is estimated to be between 38 and 73 million: http://www.pewoceanscience.org/press/sharkfins/
Apollo listened—he could hear the clicking and sonar blasts of a pod of killer whales hunting nearby—six or seven perhaps—from their sounds— Killer whales are one of one of the most intelligent and magnificent marine mammals. They are also threatened like so many species in the oceans, and recent studies are showing that as an apex predator they are concentrating extremely high levels of toxic chemicals (http://pubs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/rp/rppdf/f05-244.pdf). While many people prefer to call killer whales orcas, but in fact their name is well deserved, especially for “transient” populations who hunt marine mammals. (“Resident” populations of killer whales generally eat fish and “offshore” populations also eat fish, sharks, and sea turtles) Transient killer whales are skillful social hunters who must daily consume 3-4% of the their body weight (often over six tonnes for adult males). There diet consists of seals, sea lions, and great whales. They primarily attack whale calves, but it is not unheard of for them to attack adult whales. In one study 17% of all humpbacks had “predatory scarring,” presumably from killer whales [Naessig and Lanyon Wildlife Research 31 (2) 163-170] and one killer whale that was killed in the Bering Sea had the tongue and baleen plates of a gray whale in its stomach [Zenkovich (1954-260), quoted in Journal of Mammalogy, Vol 53, No. 4, page 898]. One particularly amazing example of the social hunting of killer whales was the way a pod of killer whales cooperated with human whalers in the town of Eden in southeast Australia in which the spoils of the hunt where shared between the humans and the killer whales [http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/killers/clode.html].
“Here in California, all bedding and furniture must use flame retardants. We are the third largest supplier in this annual market of $2.4 billion dollars.”
Toxic flame retardants are showing up everywhere from mother’s breast milk to killer whales. Dr. Devra Davis first explained this problem to me as I was working on the novel, “Toxic flame retardants are showing up in breast milk in American women at levels that are ten times higher than in others. The industry is trying to get regulatory agencies to require the use of such chemicals in plastics-to keep our cell phones safe from burning when held over candles (no I am not making this up), even though there is no evidence this would be of any public health value and lots of reasons for concerns, including association with weird illnesses in cats, acceleration of breast cancer cell growth experimentally, and damage to hormones.”
Chapter 52—Ginsburg Lecture
For more information about plastics in the ocean, see www.algalita.org and www.projectkaisei.org. Conservatively, plastic polymers outnumber surface plankton 6:1 in some parts of the gyre. This is based on old Algalita data, more recent data suggests the numbers are higher. For an interesting article, see Dan Haifley of the O'Neill Sea Odyssey's posting at http://www.ecocruz.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=314:dan-haifley-our-ocean-backyard-stemming-the-plastic-tide&catid=1:latest&Itemid=98. Recently, I went to a Mayors Summit for California coastal mayors who are trying to ban single-use plastic bags. Representatives from Ocean Conservancy and Oceana presented the following staggering statistics:
•Up to 90% of floating marine debris is plastic
• 6.4 million tons of litter enter the world’s oceans each year, as many as 8 million pieces of litter every day
•We use a million plastics bags every minute globally, 300 per person every year
• Only 1-4% bags are recycled globally
•It does not biodegrade and is everywhere
• Average of 13,000 pieces of plastic floating on or near the surface of every square kilometer of ocean
• Plastics are now prevalent at all depths of the ocean
•Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas and has 47 times more plastic than plankton (dry weight)
• Plastics contain many known toxicants, such as phthalates, bisphenol-A, lead, antimony, and flame retardants
• Plastics can act a sponge for persistent organic pollutants, concentrating them up to a million times compared with surrounding seawater
Table of “good” and bad plastics
Another very good article on plastic is in Time Magazine: The Perils of Plastic by Bryan Walsh, April 12, 2010
“In addition, when tests are conducted, they are only done on one chemical at a time. We are exposed to great chemical cocktails that compound and exacerbate our reactions. Scientists are starting to discover that there can be interaction effects that can dramatically increase the danger.”
Pete Myers explained this fact that multiple chemicals assaulting the body at the same time can weaken our bodies ability to address any one of the chemicals. For more information on this topic, see Our Stolen Future [http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/].
“We are starting to discover that many of these synthetic chemicals play havoc with our physiology and that of other animals. They disrupt the endocrine or hormonal systems that regulate everything from our mood to our development to our physiology to our fertility.”
Mercury levels at eight national parks and DDT levels at three national parks “exceeded health thresholds for fish-eating wildlife.” To make matters worse, “airborne contaminants are causing male fish to develop female organs in some parks.” This contamination is coming from both overseas (traveling global air currents) and locally (from legal use of pesticides). (National Geographic News, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/747745.html, Pollution Prevalent in U.S. West’s National Parks, by Matthew Brown, AP)
“Chlorinated hydrocarbons [and other contaminants that mimic environmental estrogens] accumulate to very high concentrations in the blubber of whales and seals due to their position at the top of the food chain. Such compounds have been suggested as contributing to marine mammal mortality and reproductive failure.” (Sea Grant, http://www.whoi.edu/seagrant/education/focalpoints/endocrine.html, Endocrine Disruption in Wildlife Populations, April 1988)
“We share 97% of our DNA with chimpanzees and 60% of our DNA with something as distant as a fruit fly. Common sense would tell us that what affects them will eventually affect us.”
The exact percentage has ranged slightly and perhaps we might need to change this to 96% in a future printing, according to the latest research. I had the privilege of working on a book with famed primatologist Frans De Waal, entitled Our Inner Ape, which is an extraordinary book about our similarities in so many ways to chimps and bonobos (an equally close great ape relative). For a popular article on the current state of the research on genetic similarity between humans and apes that quotes Frans and that studied one of the monkey’s in his research center, see http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/0831_050831_chimp_genes.html
“Eating organic and other precautions are important, but they are not enough.”
What can you do? Here are some suggestions that we’ve gathered and adapted from the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group.
Educate yourself about endocrine disruptors, and educate your family and friends. Share the novel and other important books like Our Stolen Future (www.ourstolenfuture.org) with others.
Buy organic food whenever possible and eat as low on the food chain as possible since pesticides concentrate as animals eat other animals.
Avoid using pesticides in your home or yard, or on your pet -- use baits or traps instead, keepin your home especially clean to prevent ant or roach infestations.
Find out if pesticides are used in your child's school or day care center and campaign for non-toxic alternatives.
Avoid fatty foods such as cheese and meat whenever possible.
Eat small, low mercury fish and check out the safe fish eating guide put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_whatsnew.aspx) .
Use cast iron or enameled cast iron instead of nonstick.
Do not give young children soft plastic teethers or toys, since these leach potential endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Avoid heating food in plastic containers, or storing fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap.
Support efforts to get strong government regulation of and increased research on endocrine disrupting chemicals. they need to enact legislation toward at least three goals: To begin “biomonitoring,” looking at what is in our bodies and what exposures are causing it—like the toxins in breast milk; we need to adapt a precautionary principle like Europe has done—where we assume chemicals are dangerous until proven safe rather than the other way around; and finally, we need to move beyond mere regulation, which is not working, to encouraging green chemistry, where the goal is to develop both functional and safe/biologically benign chemicals.
“We have spread these chemicals so far and wide that there is no longer any hope that one person can avoid exposure through food and lifestyle choices.”
A six-year federal study “found evidence of 70 contaminants in 20 national parks and monuments” throughout the United States. The substances ranged from mercury, PCBs, and even banned insecticides such as dieldrin and DDT. Those substances can cause health problems in humans including “nervous system damage, dampened immune system response, and lowered reproduction success.” (National Geographic News, February 27, 2008, by Matthew Brown)
“A recent study of umbilical cord blood found over 413 toxic industrial chemicals and on average more than 200 different chemicals per child.”
This study was done by the Environmental Working Group. These were not particularly “polluted” children; the fact is all of our children are being born “pre-polluted” because they absorb the chemicals from their parents and in utero. A very powerful video about this research and the larger issue of toxins in our children can be found at http://www.ewg.org/kid-safe-chemicals-act-blog/kid-safe-chemicals-act/. It also offers many important facts about the Kid Safe Chemical Act. We already have deeply disturbing animal studies that these transgenerational chemicals can influence reproductive and other health markers. For one example, see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080524075256.htm or the actual study at Rebecca M. Steinberg, Deena M. Walker, Thomas E. Juenger, Michael J. Woller, and Andrea C. Gore. Effects of Perinatal Polychlorinated Biphenyls on Adult Female Rat Reproduction: Development, Reproductive Physiology, and Second Generational Effects. Biology of Reproduction. 2008; 78:1091-1101. Published online in BOR-Papers In Press 27 February 2008; DOI: http://www.biolreprod.org/cgi/content/abstract/78/6/1091
“Since World War II, approximately 80,000 chemicals have been invented and thousands of these have been produced in quantities in excess of millions of pounds per year. Only a small percentage of these chemicals have ever been tested to discover their effects on animals and humans.”
This staggering fact was first explained to me by John Peterson Myers in a talk he gave at the American Holistic Medical Association meeting. Most of the statistics in Dr. Ginsburg’s talk come from Dr. Myers talk, and I only had room for a few of the startling and disturbing facts that he presented. 80,000 is actually a conservative estimate of the number of chemicals invented, with estimates going as high as a 100,000 or 120,000. The problem is that many chemical companies are quite “proprietary” about their chemical invention and production. “The Pollution Within” by David Ewing Duncan in National Geographic, which is a good overview of the issues through the authors own blood sample, indicates that “only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. have been tested for toxicity,” but does not give a citation. It’s a great article and well worth checking out: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/10/toxic-people/duncan-text.html. Duncan quotes Leo Trasande, a pediatrician and environmental health specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who calls this “an uncontrolled experiment on America’s children.” They also have an interactive graphic that will tell you where some of the chemicals in your home are found: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/10/toxic-people/multimedia-interactive. An extremely useful and very informative resource on protecting your home and your family can be found at http://www.webmd.com/health-ehome-9/default.htm. It was created by Christopher Gavigan (one of our Real Life Heroes), head of Healthy Child, Healthy World, with WebMD and takes you room-by-room on a guided tour of where toxins show up in most homes.
“Dr. Ginsburg showed a collection of pictures of fish with enormous, bulbous tumors, frogs with too many legs, alligators with tiny penises, and seagulls with deformed beaks, explaining the exposures that may have caused each of these problems.”
The stories of these animal deformities can be found in various research studies (pictures are harder to find—but were necessary for a novel!), but perhaps the best single source for learning more about these deformities and the pollutants that caused them is Our Stolen Future [http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/].
“Dr. Ginsburg,” the man interrupted again, “so far, you are talking just about fish and birds. How do we know that the dangers are the same for humans?”
I asked Pete Myers how he responds to this question, and he replied, “I respond with the example of DES. Animal experiments with DES have been remarkably valuable at predicting human health effects. There are 3 decades of data from people and animals showing this. And now we have information showing that bisphenol A behaves like DES. It’s not surprising… they are structurally very similar as molecules and they both mimic estrogen. An absolutely vital point is that not all people nor all animals respond in the same way. This is one place where inherited genetics comes into play. For example, work on organophosphate pesticides shows that there can be as much as a 40-fold difference in sensitivity.”
““This,” Dr. Ginsburg explained gravely, “is an extreme case of hypospadius—where the urethral hole of the penis is not in the correct place. Here you can see the rather large hole is at the base of the scrotum, almost like a vagina…. Hypospadius has tripled in the last thirty years to one in every hundred births; undescended testes have doubled; and testicular cancer is also rising.”
These statistics come from Howard Snyder III, M.D., Professor of Urology in Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who sent me pictures and statistics on these disturbing issue. A good reference from the CDC on the rising incidence of hypospadias is: Paulozzi LJ. International trends in rates of hypospadias and cryptorchidism. Environ Health Perspect 1999; 107:297-302.
“The sample of cord blood in this child contained 271 industrial chemicals that did not exist 100 years ago.”
The study that found the chemicals in chord blood was done by the Environmental Working Group although there have been many other blood tests that have found similar chemicals in other blood samples. “Of the 287 total detected in the umbilical cord blood, scientists know that 134 of these cause cancer, 158 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, 186 cause infertility and 151 cause birth defects or abnormal development. Here's the worst part: The dangers of exposure to this complex mix of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins has never been studied.” For more information on these tests and the larger issue, see http://www.ewg.org/node/25920 and http://archive.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden1/es.php and for a very powerful video: http://www.ewg.org/kid-safe-chemicals-act-blog/kid-safe-chemicals-act/.
“Just as worrisome as these individual conditions is the overall decline in the birth of boys. North of the Artic circle, where many of these chemicals end up, twice as many girls as boys are being born. Much closer to home, in the heavily polluted town of Sarnia, Canada, three girls are now born for every one boy. The town only discovered this startling fact because they had so many girls’ softball teams and so few boys’. A recent study has found an unexpected drop in the number of boys throughout much of the northern hemisphere. The number of missing boys in the U.S. and Japan alone is estimated at over 250,000.”
For a general article on these facts, see http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSCOL66726420070416 or http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/toxic-chemicals-blamed-for-the-disappearance-of-arctic-boys-402077.html. For the study that was lead authored by Dr. Devra Davis and published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which is part of the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Governments, see http://www.ehponline.org/members/2007/9540/abstract.html. For another great overview of the issues here, see Dr. Debra Davis’s chapter “Save the Males” in her book When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution, which was a National Book Award finalist, and is movingly written, since Dr. Davis has seen first hand the effects of toxins, growing up in a highly polluted town. http://www.devradavis.com/books.php Dr. Davis was an incredibly helpful advisor and graciously read my novel and made suggestions to make sure the science was as accurate and clear as possible.
Many of these chemicals look a lot like estrogen—the female hormone—to our endocrine system. For a good popular article see Nicholas Kristof’s piece in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/opinion/28kristof.html) and for something a little more humorous you can see him on The Colbert Report (http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/232640/july-01-2009/nicholas-kristof). Kristof reported that 82-100% of the male smallmouth bass in the Potomac River (the same water Washington, D.C. drinks) now are carrying eggs (http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/pdf/endocrine.pdf). Three good sources explaining endocrine disruption are http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/home.php, a good Q & A at http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/qendoc.asp, and of course wikipedia, although as an open source document, the chemical industry can edit as well as scientists in this controversial topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endocrine_disruptor. According to wikipedia: “All people are exposed to chemicals with estrogenic effects in their everyday life, because endocrine disrupting chemicals are found in low doses in literally thousands of products. Chemicals commonly detected in people include DDT, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's), Bisphenol A, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE's), and a variety of Phthalates.” The Endocrine Society, the association of endocrinologists, recently issues their scientific statement on endocrine disruption: http://www.endo-society.org/journals/scientificstatements/. Another great list of resources is available at the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (Tedx.org): http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/endocrine.resources.php.
“That water bottle and these on the screen are made out of a plastic that utilizes a chemical called Bisphenol A. It is also used in PVC pipe and to coat children’s teeth so they don’t get cavities. Seven billion pounds of this plastic chemical are produced and put into our environment every year, a little over a pound for each person on the planet. Exposing pregnant rats to tiny amounts of these plastic-making compounds resulted in their babies having precancerous lesions in their breasts when they reached puberty.”
Research by Ana M. Soto, professor of anatomy and cellular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, published Dec. 6 in the online edition of Reproductive Toxicology (DOI: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2006.10.002) describes exposure of pregnant rats to bisphenol A at 2.5 to 1,000 µg per kg of body weight per day. At the equivalent of puberty for the pups (50 days old), about 25% of their mammary ducts had precancerous lesions, some three to four times higher than unexposed controls. Wikipedia
“This is nothing less than a revolution in our scientific understanding of toxins and public health. We once believed that ‘the solution to pollution was dilution.’ In other words, if you kept your exposure under a supposedly safe level, there was no problem. We now see that this is not the case.”
There have been at least two major paradigm shifts in our thinking about toxins: First, our entire understanding of toxicology and medicine—and federal regulation—is based on the belief that the ‘dose makes the poison.’ Arsenic, for example, at high doses has been used as a poison for centuries, but we now know that at moderately low levels it also causes a host of diseases, and at even lower doses it high jacks gene expression in ways that undermine how your immune system fights tumors. Secondly, we used to think that toxins used brute force to attack the body. We now know that what they often do is hijack our genes and cause them to malfunction. Genes are not just the DNA that we get from our parents; genes are like chemical manufacturing machines that control the body’s entire functioning throughout our life.
“Minute quantities can alter the expression of our genes and cause lasting health problems.”
How can anything so small make a difference? It’s about the molecules. One in a billion is just one drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but in each of those drops are 132 billion molecules of the contaminant. As Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group points out, pharmaceuticals like Prozac and Viagra that have very powerful physiological effects often do so in even smaller doses.
“There are many reasons that the design of certain studies hides the true dangers, which I don’t have time to go into, but let me show you one slide that I think will present the problem of relying on companies who have billions of dollars at stake to conduct their own health research. There have been 180 animal studies of Bisphenol A at levels beneath FDA/EPA safety standards.” She clicked on the next slide. It showed that in the studies funded by government, 14 found no effect and 153 found an effect. Then she switched to the next slide. It showed the studies funded by industry: 13 found no effect and 0 found an effect.”
Again from a slide in John Peterson Myers slide presentation. An analysis of the literature on bisphenol A leachate low-dose effects by vom Saal and Hughes published in August 2005 seems to have found a suggestive correlation between the source of funding and the conclusion drawn. Industry funded studies tend to find no significant effects while government funded studies tend to find significant effects. (vom Saal FS, Hughes C (August 2005). "An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment". Environ. Health Perspect. 113 (8): 926–33. PMID 16079060. PMC: 1280330.) In a stunning example of fact being more frightening than fiction, or at least confirming the depiction of the villains in the novel, the Washington Post reported in May 2009 that the manufacturers of food and beverage containers and some of their biggest customers were trying to devise a public relations and lobbying strategy to block government BPA bans. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/30/AR2009053002121.html
“Maddings looked down at DL-406. DL was for Delphinapterus leucas, the beluga’s Latin name.”
This chapter was inspired by and is largely informed by the work of Pierre Beland and his marvelous book, Beluga: A Farewell to Whales. Pierre is a senior research scientist at with St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology, who also kindly reviewed this chapter for accuracy. I am also indebted to Our Stolen Future for pointing me to Dr. Beland.
“The PCBs in the whale’s body were over five hundred parts per million.”
PCB toxicity is defined as 50 parts of contaminant per million parts of animal. Test have revealed up to 400ppm in killer whales, 3,200ppm in beluga whales, and 6,800ppm in bottlenose dolphins. As Dr. Roger Payne put it, these animals are “swimming toxic dump sites.” (BBC News, February 28, 2005, by Molly Bentley)
“I just read a study that said sperm counts are down fifty percent in the last sixty years.”
The original study that sparked the controversy about falling sperm count was published by R. Sharpe and N. Skakkebaek, “Are Oestrogens Involved in Falling Sperm Counts and Disorders of the Male Reproductive Tract?” published in Lancet 341:1392-95 (1993). In 1997, the National Institutes of Health released the following press release based on the work of researcher who were skeptical of the earlier work. “After an extensive review of data from 61 published studies, three California researchers have concluded that a decline in average sperm density reported in the U.S. and other Western countries may be even greater than previously estimated.
Their analysis of data collected from 1938 to 1990 indicates that sperm densities in the United States have exhibited an average annual decrease of 1.5 million sperm per milliliter of collected sample, or about 1.5 percent per year, while those in European countries have declined at about twice that rate (3.1 percent per year).
The study was conducted by epidemiologists Shanna Swan, Eric Elkin and Laura Fenster of the California Department of Health Services. It appears in the November issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the monthly scientific journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.” Shanna H. Swan, Eric Elkin and Laura Fenster
Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 106, No. 8 (Aug., 1998), pp. A370-A371, which is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, a part of the NIH. http://www.ehponline.org/docs/1997/105-11/swan.html
“. . . sperm counts are down fifty percent in the last sixty years.”
One study showed that mothers who ate a lot of beef during pregnancy had sons with a sperm count “about 25% below normal and had three times the normal risk of fertility problems.” This may be caused by use of anabolic steroids used to fatten cattle, pesticides and/or other environmental contaminants. (Los Angeles Times, Mom’s Beef Puts Son’s Sperm Count at Stake, March 28, 2007, by Thomas H. Maugh II
"[Frank] began to review the tissue diagnosis on the first page, outlining everything that the pathologist had found. Then he flipped to the conclusion on the second page. He felt his face fall. Lymphoblastic lymphoma/acute lymphoblastic leukemia."
"Childhood cancer now strikes about 9,000 kids under the age of 15 yearly, with about 1.500 deaths. . . . From 1975 to 2000, childhood cancer increased b 32 percent.
(Chicago Tribune, June 17, 2003, by Samuel S. Epstein and Quentin D. Young)
“It was a dead frog. She stooped down and turned it over with her finger. It had a double pair of back legs, the extra set growing out of its stomach. Its mouth hung agape. She looked closer. Something in its mouth was shiny, reflecting the low sun. With her forefinger she opened its mouth. On the frog’s tongue, an eye stared back at her.”
This is in many ways one of the most shocking and disturbing deformities described in the novel. I am sorry to say that this is a combination of documented. Pete Myers, along with his coauthors famed endocrine disruption researcher Theo Colburn and science journalist Dianne Dumanski write, “Alarming deformities are also showing up in frogs all across Minnesota, as well as in Wisconsin, South Dakota, California, Vermont, Kansas, Missouri, and the St. Lawrence River Valley in Quebec. Since the first report in August 1995, researchers in Minnesota have found grotesquely deformed frogs at more than one hundred sites. One animal had four legs sprouting from its stomach; another a leg growing out of its neck. The most bizarre, perhaps, was a frog with an eye inside its mouth.” Our Stolen Future, p. 256. These deformities were described after a discussion of the increase in birth defects among the children of farm workers who apply pesticides and also the children of families who live in agricultural regions where (chlorophenoxy) fungicides and herbicides are most heavily used. The study found that babies that were conceived in the springtime—the time when herbicides are applied—are at greatest risk.
“One of my colleagues just found the highest levels of heavy metal and persistent organic pollutants in free-ranging wildlife near the Gilbert Islands.”
I had an amazing, eye-opening late night meal with Iain, and heard heart-breaking tales of our oceans from his five-year voyage aboard the Odyssey, gathering the first ever baseline data on synthetic contaminants throughout the world’s oceans. The fact about chromium in the Gilbert Islands comes from his and Roger Payne’s expedition. For more information, see http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=254809&ac. For more information on the voyages of the Odyssey and to support Iain and Roger’s important non-prof
it, which is fighting on behalf of whales and the health of the oceans, see http://www.oceanalliance.org/OdysseyVoyage.html.
“You’ve heard of arsenic, right? Probably as a poison that’s been used in countless murder mysteries—that’s at a high dose. Well, at a lower level, it undermines how your body fights tumors.”
Pete Myers explained the ways different levels of toxins can have different effects on the body from lethal to compromising our body’s immune response, to effecting gene expression in our bodies and even in our descendents. His slide show covers this in detail, and he cites the research of Kaltreider et al 2001 about , http://www.ehponline.org/docs/2001/109p245-251kaltreider/abstract.html%20. For an excellent discussion of this issue, see Pete’s discussion of arsenic as an endocrine disruptor on his site, Our Stolen Future. http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/newscience/oncompounds/2001kaltreideretal.htm
“One [rat] was extremely thin, and the other was grossly obese, four times the size of the other. “These rats have consumed the same number of calories and have had identical activity levels, but this rat”—Pete pointed to the obese one—“was given one part per billion of a chemical called BPA right after birth.””
The actual research was actually done on mice, not rats. This startling effect of BPA and endocrine disruptors on body weight was explained to me by Pete Myers and Devra Davis, citing the research by Newbold, R.R., Padilla-Banks, E., Snyder, R.J. and Jefferson, W.N. (2005) Developmental exposure to estrogenic compounds and obesity. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol, 73, 478-80 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15959888?ordinalpos=19&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum) and Newbold, R.R., Padilla-Banks, E., Snyder, R.J., Phillips, T.M. and Jefferson, W.N. (2007) Developmental exposure to endocrine disruptors and the obesity epidemic. Reprod Toxicol, 23, 290-6. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17321108?ordinalpos=12&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum) Newbold, R.R., Padilla-Banks, E., Jefferson, W.N. and Heindel, J.J. (2008) Effects of endocrine disruptors on obesity. Int J Androl, 31, 201-8. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18315718?ordinalpos=3&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum) Dr. Devra Davis explained to me, “At 1 part per billion exposed right after birth it caused grotesque obesity in adulthood; At 1000 parts per billion it causes dramatic weight loss—as well as cancer. Similarly in mouse studies, pthalates at a level 1000-fold below the supposedly “safe” level caused hypersensitivity in the immune system. Japanese scientists who conducted this experiment believe that this might be one explanation for the incredible rise in highly allergic reactions. These chemicals are actually resetting our immune system. But these same pthalates (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility) at a higher dose (100-fold) below the safe level don’t show the same reaction and at even higher doses you get a suppression of the immune system. In short, different doses can have opposite effects.”http://www.ehponline.org/podcasts/newbold_podcast_transcript.txt for a podcast with the lead scientist, Dr. Retha Newbold.
Dr. Newbold described this image, "This is a picture of a control untreated and treated obese mouse."
“[These tadpoles] are swimming in water contaminated with a pesticide. They seem largely unaffected, but look what happens when they are stressed.”
Rick A. Relyea and Nathan Mills 2001. Predator-induced stress makes the pesticide carbaryl more deadly to gray treefrog tadpoles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (http://www.pnas.org/content/98/5/2491.full.pdf)
“I decided to test a theory about mushrooms being the earth’s mechanism for regenerating itself, so I sprinkled mushroom spores.”
This extraordinary use of mushrooms was explained to me by Paul Stamets, who conducted this “mycoremdiation” experiment during the Cosco Busan oil spill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosco_Busan_oil_spill). He describes the experiment below. For more information, see his superb book, Mycelium Running (http://www.fungi.com/books/stamets.html)
Costco Busan Mycoremdiation
Mycelium produces extracellular enzymes and acids that break down recalcitrant molecules such as lignin and cellulose, the two primary components of woody plants. Lignin peroxidases dismantle the long chains of hydrogen and carbon, converting wood into simpler forms, on the path to decomposition. By circumstance, these same enzymes are superb at breaking apart hydrocarbons, the base structure common to oils, petroleum products, pesticides, PCBs, and many other pollutants.
For the past four years I have been working with Battelle Laboratories, a non-profit foundation, whose mission is to use science to improve environmental health. Battelle is a major player in the bioremediation industry, and widely used by the United States and other governments in finding solutions to toxic wastes. The marine science laboratory of Battelle, Sequim, Washington became interested, as their mandate is to improve the health of the marine ecosystem. Under the stewardship of Dr. Jack Word, we began a series of experiments employing the strains from my mushroom gene library, many of which were secured through collecting specimens while hiking in the old growth forests of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. We now have applied for a patent utilizing mycelial mats for bioremediation, a process we have termed "mycoremediation".
After several years, and redundant experiments to prove to naysayers that our data was valid, we have made some astonishing discoveries. (I am continually bemused that humans "discover" what nature has known all along.) The first significant study showed that a strain of Oyster mushrooms could break down heavy oil. A trial project at a vehicle storage center controlled by the Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) enlisted the techniques from several, competing bioremediation groups. The soil was blackened with oil and reeked of aromatic hydrocarbons. We inoculated one berm of soil approximately 8 feet x 30 feet x 3 feet high with mushroom spawn while other technicians employed a variety of methods, ranging from bacteria to chemical agents. After 4 weeks, the tarps were pulled back from each test pile. The first piles employing the other techniques were unremarkable. Then the tarp was pulled from our pile, and gasps of astonishment and laughter welled up from the observers. The hydrocarbon-laden pile was bursting with mushrooms! Oyster mushrooms up to 12 inches in diameter had formed across the pile. Analyses showed that more than 95% of many of the PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) were destroyed, reduced to non-toxic components, and the mushrooms were also free of any petroleum products.
After 8 weeks, the mushrooms had rotted away, and then came another startling revelation. As the mushrooms rotted, flies were attracted. (Sciarid, Phorid and other "fungus gnats" commonly seek out mushrooms, engorged themselves with spores, and spread the spores to other habitats). The flies became a magnet for other insects, which in turn brought in birds. Apparently the birds brought in seeds. Soon ours was an oasis, the only pile teeming with life! We think we have found what is called a "keystone" organism, one that facilitates, cascade of other biological processes that contribute to habitat remediation. Critics, who were in favor of using plants (as in "phytoremediation") and/or bacteria, reluctantly became de facto advocates of our process since the mushrooms opened the door for this natural sequencing.
Native peoples worldwide have viewed fungi as spiritual allies. They are not only the guardians of the forest. They are the guardians of our future.
The roots of mushrooms, called mycelium, produce enzymes that unlock wood fibers, which are composed of strings of carbon-hydrogen molecules in the form of cellulose and lignin. Similarly oil and most petroleum products are held together by these same molecular bonds. The mushroom mycelium breaks these bonds, and then re-constructs the oil into carbohydrates, fungal sugars, that make up the mushroom's physical structures."
“Life is simply the balance of destruction and restoration.”
I am indebted to Kenny Ausubel, co-founder of Bioneers (http://www.bioneers.org/), who gave a deeply moving and inspiring talk at the American Holistic Medical Association that I had the pleasure of hearing.
“Geographic Information Systems allowed scientists to map data, often using satellite images.”
The discussion on GIS was largely informed by my friend Heather Kuiper, DrPH, who was also one of the primary inspirations for writing this novel. Heather introduced me to the dangers of endocrine disruption and was there on a rainy day when the idea of the novel first arose and countless times thereafter. Old friends are invaluable in their knowledge of who we once were and the distance we’ve come. They are treasure chests of shared memories, but Heather is also that rarest of old friends: one whose friendship is not based on the past but on the future and the world we together want to help create.
“Ketamine had been a convenient and effective drug for his purposes. The anesthetic had shut down Elizabeth’s cerebral cortex and all conscious thought while allowing her to continue breathing.”
ER Doc and friend Loren Rauch confirmed that the ketamine would not have injured Elizabeth’s baby.
“Between 1946 and 1970, the military in their postwar invincibility and shortsightedness, had dumped almost 50,000 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste near the Farallones. In another stroke of genius, a 10,000-ton aircraft carrier once used for nuclear target practice had also been dumped in these waters.”
See http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/farallon/radwaste.html for information from the US Geological Survey about hazardous waste around the Farallon Islands.
“Sometimes they go fast but it can take ten, even thirty minutes or more.”
There has been much debate about the cruelty of the killing of whales using explosive harpoons and one particularly contentious issue is how long it takes the whales to die.
The International Whaling Commission, the global organization that was set up to regulate whaling and ultimately banned commercial whaling reports the following statistics:
Number and proportion of total whales killed instantaneously; time-to-death for each animal not killed instantly:
• Time to death for minke whales caught by the fleet with harpoon canon (N = 122 reports): 34 whales (28%) were killed within 1 minute. 80 whales (66%) died within 5 minutes. The average time to death was 6 minutes. The largest time to death reported was 30 minutes.
• Time to death for minke whales caught by the collective hunt (N = 44 reports): 1 minke whale was killed in less than one minute, while 5 (11%) died in less than 5 minutes. The average time to death was 21 minutes. The largest time to death was 90 minutes.
• Combined average time to death for minke whales in Greenland (N = 166 reports): 10 minutes.
• Fin whales (N = 10 reports of times to death): The minimum time to death reported for fin whales was 3 minutes. 5 (50%) died within 5 minutes. The average time to death was 26 minutes. The larg-est time to death was 120 minutes.
For more information, see www.iwcoffice.org/_documents/commission/IWC58docs/58-WKM&AWI3.pdf
(average time to death--six minutes but longest time to death was 90 minutes for Minke. For Fin, larger whales minimum was 3 minutes, average was 26 minutes, longest was 120 minutes. I am indebted to Heathcote Williams’s Whale Nation for some of the details on whaling. For more information, see the following fact sheet from the Humane Society about whale killing practices, www.hsus.org/web-files/PDF/SWNW_HumaneKllngFctsht.pdf
While I was writing this book a cow and calf swam up the Sacramento River. Frances Gulland, head veterinarian of the Marine Mammal Center, was one of the team that helped them get back into the ocean. She has been instrumental in helping me with the facts in this book and has graciously agreed to share some of the pictures that she took of the cow and calf.
You can see the large wound on the whale here. Photo take May 16, 2007
You can see the deterioration of the whales condition since May 16. This photo was take on May 25.
The whale were each darted with antibiotics. The cow was given three darts and the calf one dart. Each dart had 57cc of antibiotics.
The whales finally swim under the bridge and back out to see on May 27.
This next series of pictures shows the calf doing chin slaps once back in the bay. He did these chin slaps for 10 full minutes.
“Apollo “spy- hopped,” raising his head vertically out of the water,and then began swimming back down the river with the CoastGuard boat trailing behind as an escort.”
After a humpback whale was freed by divers from crab lines near the Farallon Islands, it “nudged its rescuers and flapped around in what marine experts said was a rare and remarkable encounter. . . When the whale realized it was free, it began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers. [One of the divers] said it swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one. While some have interpreted this as the whale saying “Thank you,” others disagree. Frances Gulland, an advisor to this novel and cetacean veterinarian saw the rescue and thinks the actions of the whale after its rescue may have been due to physical causes from its entrapment. Cetacean-human interaction stories are always anecdotal and each viewer must form their own opinion. (San Francisco Chronicle, Daring rescue of whale off Farallones, December 14, 2005, by Peter Fimrite)
“Every man in this room is half the man his grandfather was.”
Quote “Every man in this room is half the man his grandfather was,” courtesy of University of Florida researcher Louis Guilette. Skakkebaek’s findings and Guilette’s quote reported in the Newsweek article entitled “The Estrogen Complex” (March 21, 1994, p. 76) See notes to Chapter 61 for more information about the decline in male sperm counts.
“Today’s epidemics include hormone- related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer . . . As we stop putting these endocrine disruptors and other toxins into our environment, we will be able to save millions of men, women, and children from untold amounts of suffering.”
”According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, their most recent statistics show that 1 in 5 men and 1 in 6 women will get cancer before age 75. (International Agency for Research on Cancer, May 10, 2010 email, Jacques Ferlay)
“Senator, as women, we are equally if not more affected by environmental pollution. As just one example, no matter what we eat or where we live, our breast milk will pass on to our children a frightening array of toxins.”
The fact that our children are being born “pre-polluted” and that mother’s milks is not so highly contaminated is to me perhaps the most troubling of all my findings. That something as precious and perfectly evolved as breast milk should now be a mixed blessing for babies is deeply disturbing. It is truly an outrage that mother’s now have to worry about whether persistent organic pollutants are accompanying this nourishment and their love into their child’s body. There is no avoiding the fact that breast milk draws from a woman’s fat stores and that she will be sharing her toxic body burden with her child. However, there remain an enormous number of benefits to breastfeeding, including much interesting research that suggests that breast milk actually protects our children from disease and improves their immune system. And feeding a child formula does not necessarily guarantee that they avoid endocrine disruptors, even if parents avoid bottles that contain Bisphenol A (BPA). Perhaps the most beautiful and powerful piece I have read on this subject was written by the gifted scientist and poet Sandra Steingraber. It is entitled: "Why the Precautionary Principle? A Meditation on Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and the Breasts of Mothers:”
“Those of you who know me know that when I talk on these topics I usually speak out of two identities: biologist and cancer activist. My diagnosis with bladder cancer at age 20 makes more urgent my scientific research. Conversely, my Ph.D. in ecology informs my understanding of how and why I became a cancer patient in the first place: bladder cancer is considered a quintessential environmental disease. Links between environment and public health became the topic of my third book, LIVING DOWNSTREAM, but since I have been given the task of speaking about the effect of toxic materials on future generations, I'm going to speak out of another one of my identities -- that of a mother.
I'm a very new mother. I gave birth in September 1998 to my daughter and first child. So, I'm going to speak very intimately and in the present tense. You know it's a very powerful thing for a person with a cancer history to have a child. It's a very long commitment for those of us unaccustomed to looking far into the future. My daughter's name is Faith.
I'm also learning what all parents must learn, which is a new kind of love. It's a love that's more than an emotion or a feeling. It's a deep physical craving like hunger or thirst. It's the realization that you would lay down your life for this eight-pound person without a second thought. You would pick up arms for them. You would empty your bank account. It's love without boundaries and were this kind of love directed at another adult, it would be considered totally inappropriate. A kind of fatal attraction. Maybe, when directed at babies, we should call this "natal attraction."
I say this to remind us all what is at stake. If we would die or kill for our children, wouldn't we do anything within our power to keep toxics out of their food supply? Especially if we knew, in fact, there were alternatives to these toxics?
Of all human food, breast milk is now the most contaminated. Because it is one rung up on the food chain higher than the foods we adults eat, the trace amounts of toxic residues carried into mothers' bodies become even more concentrated in the milk their breasts produce. To be specific, it's about 10 to 100 times more contaminated with dioxins than the next highest level of stuff on the human food chain, which are animal-derived fats in dairy, meat, eggs, and fish. This is why a breast-fed infant receives its so-called "safe" lifetime limit of dioxin in the first six months of drinking breast milk. Study after study also shows that the concentration of carcinogens in human breast milk declines steadily as nursing continues. Thus the protective effect of breast feeding on the mother appears to be a direct result of downloading a lifelong burden of carcinogens from her breasts into the tiny body of her infant.
When it comes to the production, use, and disposal of PVC [polyvinyl chloride plastic], the breasts of breast-feeding mothers are the tailpipe. Representatives from the vinyl industry emphasize how common a material PVC is, and they are correct. It is found in medical products, toys, food packaging, and vinyl siding. What they don't say is that sooner or later all of these products are tossed into the trash, and here in New England, we tend to shovel our trash into incinerators. Incinerators are de facto laboratories for dioxin manufacture, and PVC is the main ingredient in this process. The dioxin created by the burning of PVC drifts from the stacks of these incinerators, attaches to dust particles in the atmosphere, and eventually sifts down to Earth as either dry deposition or in rain drops. This deposition then coats crops and other plants, which are eaten by cows, chickens, and hogs. Or, alternatively, it's rained into rivers and lakes and insinuates itself into the flesh of fish. As a breast-feeding mother, I take these molecules into my body and distill them in my breast tissue. This is done through a process through which fat globules from throughout my whole body are mobilized and carried into the breast lobes, where, under the direction of a pituitary hormone called prolactin, they are made into human milk. Then, under the direction of another pituitary hormone called oxytocin, this milk springs from the grape-like lobes and flows down long tubules into the nipple, which is a kind of sieve, and into the back of the throat of the breast-feeding infant. My daughter.
So, this, then, is the connection. This milk, my milk, contains dioxins from old vinyl siding, discarded window blinds, junked toys, and used I.V. bags. Plastic parts of buildings that were burned down accidentally are also housed in my breasts. These are indisputable facts. They are facts that we scientists are not arguing about. What we do spend a lot of time debating is what exactly are the health effects on the generation of children that my daughter belongs to. We don't know with certainty because these kids have not reached the age at which a lot of diseases possibly linked to dioxin exposure would manifest themselves. Unlike mice and rats, we have long generational times. We do know with certainty that childhood cancers are on the rise, and indeed they are rising faster than adult cancers. We don't have any official explanation for that yet.
Let me tell you something else I've learned about breast feeding. It's an ecstatic experience. The same hormone (oxytocin) that allows milk to flow from the back of the chest wall into the nipple also controls female orgasm. This so-called let-down reflex makes the breast feel very warm and full and fizzy, as if it were a shaken-up Coke bottle. That's not unpleasant. Moreover, the mouths of infants -- their gums, tongues, and palates -- are perfectly designed to receive this milk. A newborn's mouth and a woman's nipple are like partners in a tango. The most expensive breast pump -- and I have a $500 one -- can only extract about half of the volume that a newborn baby can because such machines cannot possibly imitate the intimate and exquisite tonguing, sucking, and gumming motion that infants use to extract milk from the nipple, which is not unpleasant either.
Through this ecstatic dance, the breast-fed infant receives not just calories, but antibodies. Indeed the immune system is developed through the process of breast feeding, which is why breast-fed infants have fewer bouts of infectious diseases than bottle-fed babies. In fact, the milk produced in the first few days after birth is almost all immunological in function. This early milk is not white at all but clear and sticky and is called colostrum. Then, from colostrum you move to what's called transitional milk, which is very fatty and looks like liquid butter. Presumably then, transitional milk is even more contaminated than mature milk, which comes in at about two weeks post-partum. Interestingly, breast milk is so completely digested that the feces of breast-fed babies doesn't even smell bad. It has the odor of warm yogurt and the color of French mustard. By contrast, the excretions of babies fed on formula are notoriously unpleasant.
What is the price for the many benefits of breast milk? We don't yet know. However, one recent Dutch study found that schoolchildren who were breast fed as babies had three times the level of PCBs in their blood as compared to children who had been exclusively formula fed. PCBs are probably carcinogens. Why should there be any price for breast feeding? It should be a zero-risk activity.
If there was ever a need to invoke the Precautionary Principle -- the idea that we must protect human life from possible toxic danger well in advance of scientific proof about that danger -- it is here, deep inside the chest walls of nursing mothers where capillaries carry fat globules into the milk-producing lobes of the mammary gland. Not only do we know little about the long-term health effects of dioxin and PCB exposure in newborns, we haven't even identified all the thousands of constituent elements in breast milk that these contaminants might act on. For example, in 1997 researchers described 130 different sugars unique to human milk. Called oligosaccharides, these sugars are not digested but function instead to protect the infant from infection by binding tightly to intestinal pathogens. Additionally, they appear to serve as a source of sialic acid, which is essential to brain development.
Most recently, Swedish researchers discovered powerful anti-cancer proteins in breast milk. Activated by stomach acids, they appear to enhance cell suicide in defective cells, which is one way our own bodies protect us from developing cancer.
So, this is my conclusion. Breast feeding is a sacred act. It is a holy thing. To talk about breast feeding versus bottle feeding, to weigh the known risks of infectious diseases against the possible risks of childhood or adult cancers is an obscene argument. Those of us who are advocates for women and children and those of us who are parents of any kind need to become advocates for uncontaminated breast milk. A woman's body is the first environment. If there are toxic materials from PVC in the breasts of women, then it becomes our moral imperative to solve the problem. If alternatives to PVC exist, then it becomes morally imperative that we embrace the alternatives and make them a reality.
This essay is excerpted from a full-length book just published by Island Press: PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH & THE ENVIRONMENT: IMPLEMENTING THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE.
“From 1975 to 2000, childhood cancers increased by 32 percent, making
cancer the greatest health threat to children. Acute childhood lymphocytic leukemia is up 57 percent; brain cancer, 50 percent; kidney cancer, 48 percent; and bone cancer, 29 percent.”