Monsanto Mouthpieces: House Science Committee, EPA, EU-EFSA

EXPERT BLOG › JENNIFER SASS 

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to testify in Congress to defend the reputation and integrity  of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization. It has been the target of an orchestrated attack campaign from Monsanto Co. and other corporate giants whose toxic products are being linked to cancer.

In Spring, 2015, IARC convened a Working Group of 17 cancer science experts from 11 countries to review the evidence, and they concluded that glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, “probably” causes cancer in humans (Group 2A, Volume 112). In immediate response, Monsanto and the agrochemical industry launched a ferocious anti-IARC campaign that IARC Director Dr. Christopher Wild described as, “unprecedented, coordinated efforts to undermine the evaluation, the program and the organization”. The goals of Monsanto’s anti-IARC propaganda campaign are to:

  • support glyphosate registration and approval worldwide;
  • defend itself against litigation claims by farmers that were once Monsanto customers and are now cancer patients;
  • prevent labeling of glyphosate-containing products as containing a carcinogen in the State of California.

The House Congressional Hearing was titled: In Defense of Scientific Integrity: Examining the IARC Monograph Programme and Glyphosate Review (Feb 6, 2018).  The House Science Committee in recent years has become known for holding hearings to advance the chemical industry’s agenda of attacking government chemical assessment programs. The full three-hour show trial  can be viewed on the Committee website, along with the testimony of all four witnesses  – three aligned with Monsanto, and my lone testimony defending the process and conclusions of the IARC Working Group.

You can watch a short video summary.

The industry-led criticisms of the IARC Monographs are part of a documented public relations campaign described by Dr. Jonathan Samet, a prestigious medical professor and frequent Chair of National Academies committees, as, “…archetypical of strategies for creating ‘doubt’ about scientific evidence that has policy implications. Such strategies can be traced to the ‘playbook’ of the tobacco industry for discrediting findings related to active and passive smoking.” (Samet 2015)

It seems that these tobacco industry strategies have also captured the pesticide regulatory agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Both the US EPA Pesticide Office and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have classified glyphosate as not linked to cancer, breaking with long-standing practice of aligning with the IARC cancer hazard assessments. To quote an internal Monsanto memo, “[Monsanto Regulatory Affairs] is not aware of a situation where a regulatory body took a different position than IARC”. (Monsanto memo, Feb 23, 2015).

So, why are the US and EU pesticide regulatory agencies so closely aligned with the perspective of the big agrochemical companies?  We may never know the full story, but we know this much:

  • There has been a disturbing level of communication and collaboration over a number of years between Monsanto employees and senior EPA Pesticide Office official Jess Rowland, who headed up the EPA pesticide Cancer Assessment Review Committee. Monsanto internal emails in late 2015 specifically identify that Rowland, “will be retiring from EPA in 5-6 [months] and could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.” Rowland has retired from EPA, but concerns of collusion sparked an investigation by the EPA Inspector General that is  ongoing.
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessment of glyphosate was essentially drafted from Monsanto documents. The European Parliament hosted a public hearing and launched an investigation of conflicts of interest at all levels regarding whether the European Commission followed its own regulations when approving glyphosate for another five years.  That investigation is also ongoing.

The Science Committee’s hearing and the associated campaign against IARC have featured a series of misleading or made-up claims that target IARC’s glyphosate assessment, while promoting an alternate approach – which has largely been adopted by both the EPA Pesticide Office and EFSA — in which evidence of cancer or other health harms is disregarded.

Industry’s methods are aggressively promoted by corporate chemical trade organizations that include Monsanto among its members; the International Life Sciences Institute(representing food manufacturers); CropLife America International (representing Agrochemical manufacturers); and, the American Chemistry Council (representing chemical manufacturers) that was dubbed The Cancer Lobby by NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Setting the Record Straight on False Science

I’ve blogged in the past about how the EPA Pesticide Office’s and EFSA’s cancer assessments differ from IARC, and also how the EPA Pesticide Office veered from the Agency’s own Cancer Guidelines in coming to its conclusions. Below I untangle some of the most oft-spouted false or manipulative claims of the chemical industry, using the IARC and EPA glyphosate assessments as a case study.

False: IARC is an extreme organization that says everything causes cancer

The Truth:  only about 20% of substances examined by IARC have been classified as known or probable human carcinogens

To date the IARC Monographs have evaluated over 1,000 chemicals or other agents, all with at least enough cancer data to support a nomination for consideration. Yet, only 120 are classified as known human carcinogens (Group 1) and only about 80, including glyphosate, as probable human carcinogens (Group 2A). About half have too little data to classify at all (Group 3), which is a terrible gap in our chemical regulatory process given that many of them are used in workplaces and in commercial products.

Some examples are below:

Group 1 Known to be carcinogenic to humans 120 agents asbestos, benzene, diesel exhaust, formaldehyde, tobacco smoke, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), outdoor air pollution, TCE
Group 2A Probably carcinogenic to humans 81 agents glyphosate, malathion, DDT, methylene chloride, polybrominated biphenyls, perchloroethylene
Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans 299 agents 1-bromopropane, acrylonitrile, carbon black, carbon tetrachloride, parathion, multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT-7),
Group 3 Not classifiable, inadequate evidence 502 agents prednisone, caffeine, methotrexate, aniline, isopropyl alcohol, single-walled carbon nanotubes
Group 4 Probably not carcinogenic 1 agent Caprolactam (used in some plastics)

False: Two Monsanto-sponsored review articles prove glyphosate is safe

The Truth:  The review articles available at the time of IARC’s review did not report enough study details to be independently verified – had the detailed data been available, it may have strengthened the link with cancer

The centerpiece of the industry-manufactured criticism of IARC is that it allegedly disregarded two Monsanto-sponsored review articles, Greim et al 2015 and  Kier and Kirkland 2013. In both cases, however, the publications  didn’t provide sufficient details of the underlying studies “for independent evaluation of the conclusions reached by the Monsanto scientist and other authors,” according to IARC. IARC only considers publicly available information, and no other information or study details were available to the Working Group or the public.

Greim et al (2015) deserves special mention because the study details in the review article have since been made available to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), so we now know that there are many more tumors in the animal studies than the authors reported, making the link to cancer even stronger. These are the data sets that the Republican majority witness, industry consultant Dr. Tarone claims in his Hearing testimony were not reviewed by IARC, and which he alleges would have exonerated glyphosate. But rather than exonerating glyphosate, an analysis of those data conducted by Dr. Christopher Portier identifies an excessively high number of malignant lymphomas and hemangiosarcomas in male mice (see report, p. 37, Table 15).

Dr. Helmut Greim is himself of questionable scientific integrity. Dr. Greim chaired a ‘scientific panel’ funded by carmakers to counter the 2012 IARC determination that diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen. Dr. Greim’s panel conducted studies on monkeys – reported as ‘Monkeygate’ –  exposing them in a chamber to diesel exhaust. However, the studies were rigged because the cars in the chambers were using the “cheating” device that reduced emissions. The study was never published, but the events were reported in the NY Times. Reuters reported that the German government said such studies are unjustifiable.

False Claim: The recently published update of the National Cancer Institute’s Agricultural Health Study does not show a link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and therefore IARC is wrong

The Truth: The AHS update and other epidemiology studies show a link with cancer

The IARC Working Group identified epidemiologic studies from the US, Canada and Sweden that reported an elevated risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NLH), a type of blood cancer, associated with exposure to glyphosate, even after adjusting for exposure to other pesticides (see IARC Monograph on glyphosate, p.75-76).

However, the Agricultural Health Study (Ag Health Study), which was included in the IARC Working Group assessment, did not show an excess NHL risk among the study subjects. This study has been ongoing since 1993 by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. It tracks pesticide exposures and health status for almost 90 thousand farmers and their spouses (called a prospective cohort study). The incremental results for many pesticides have been published in dozens of studies.

Lost or buried in much of the reporting of the Ag Health Study is that the 2017 study did find some evidence of a possible association between glyphosate and another type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The possible link with this type of leukemia should be very concerning to the public and particularly to pesticide applicators, because AML is a very serious fast-growing blood cancer, with only about one-quarter of the people that have it surviving longer than 5 years. The  authors warn, “Given the prevalence of use of this herbicide worldwide, expeditious efforts to replicate these findings are warranted.”

Also published since IARC’s assessment is a 2016 Monsanto-sponsored systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies, including the Ag Health Study, which specifically identifies a statistically significant risk of NHL from glyphosate exposure (Chang and Delzell 2016), strengthening the IARC assessment conclusions from a year earlier.

With the epidemiology studies identified in the 2015 IARC review linking glyphosate-based products to blood cancer, the 2016 Monsanto-sponsored systematic review and meta-analysis of studies identifying a link to blood cancer, and the 2017 Ag Health Study report of a possible association with another blood cancer type, there is compelling evidence that glyphosate-based products used out in the fields under real-world conditions pose an elevated risk of blood cancers.

False: The dose makes the poison, so things at low doses are safe even if they are toxic at high doses

The Truth: This statement – a favorite of chemical industry consultants and lobbyists — is about 500 years out of date

The chemical industry mantra is that the dose makes the poison, so that any consideration of hazard without its “context” – by which the industry means the exposure or dose – is outdated. This was the main – actually, the only – thrust of the Hearing witness Dr. Tim Pastoor, who retired from agrochemical giant Syngenta in 2015. This wisdom traces back to Paracelsus, a 16th Century physician, alchemist, and astrologer, who – consistent with medical understanding at the time – treated his syphilis patients with enough mercury to kill some of them, and drained the blood of others.

While the dose is certainly an important part of characterizing the potential risk posed by a substance, additional factors like genetics, co-exposures to other toxic substances, diet and lifestyle effects, health status, age at exposure, and duration or pattern of exposure can all have a strong, or even dominant impact on whether cancer or other adverse effects occur. For example, exposure to mercury or lead for even a short duration may cause severe neurological impacts to children, but have less or even no obvious effects on adults.  A 2017 National Academies report emphasizes the importance of these factors when evaluating low-dose toxicity of chemicals.

False Claim: Tumors in rodents in the high-dose treatment group shouldn’t count as evidence of cancer risk

The Truth: Tumors in the high dose group predict cancer risks at lower doses 

Laboratory studies in animals are conducted over a wide range of doses, often including high doses far above what the average person is exposed to, in order to have enough statistical power to detect an effect in a small number of animals. For example, if we are testing a chemical at a dose that causes cancer in 1-in-a-thousand people – a very high rate of cancer — we would need at least one thousand rodents at that dose just to see one rodent with tumors. For ethical, practical, and economic reasons, most of the glyphosate tests conducted by Monsanto used about 50 rodents per dose, which is standard practice. So, it is routine practice to have a high-dose treatment group, and then extrapolate from risks at the high dose down to lesser risks at lower doses. According to EPA’ own Cancer Guidelines, tumors at all doses should be considered relevant. (EPA 2005, p. 41).

EPA’s last assessment of glyphosate failed review by the independent expert Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), with the Panel  pointing out that EPA’s numerous ways of discounting tumors in the test animals (see details in my March 28, 2017 blog) was “flawed” and that it had failed to follow its own Cancer Guidelines in numerous critical ways (for example, see SAP March 2016 report, pages 18-21). The majority of SAP members also disagreed with EPA’s classification of glyphosate as ‘not likely’ a carcinogen, and felt that there was enough evidence of cancer risks to “suggest human carcinogenic potential of glyphosate…” (SAP March 2016 report, pages 16-17).

In its most recent revised draft assessment, EPA’s Pesticide Office has still not addressed the Science Advisory Panel’s concerns.  The draft ignores most of the concerns raised by the Panel, and instead simply repeats the mantra that it is following a systematic review process for determining which studies to assess and rely upon.  But nobody has seen or had an opportunity to review or comment on the Pesticide Office’s review methods.  It is a black box in which, it appears, EPA is still relying upon the same approach that ran afoul of the Science Advisory Panel and violates the Agency’s own Cancer Guidelines, including improperly discounting cancer evidence.

False Claim: EPA followed international standards and best practices for study evaluation and data integration (systematic review)

The Truth: EPA and EFSA followed the agrochemical industry recommendations, which led to disregarding evidence that glyphosate may cause cancer

The EPA Pesticide Office and the European EFSA that approves pesticides for food crops both followed Monsanto’s methods for discarding and downplaying evidence of tumors in glyphosate studies (detailed in my blog, March 28, 2017). While EFSA developed their assessment from a draft provided to them by Monsanto directly, the EPA Pesticide Office says that it is using a systematic review process of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). This office, known as the Toxics Office, is now under the management of Nancy Beck, a chemical industry lobbyist prior to her recent political appointment at EPA.  Dr. Beck’s previous foray into developing risk assessment guidelines was a failure, as evidenced by the National Academies conclusion that the draft government-wide risk assessment bulletin which she authored while at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was “fundamentally flawed” and the unprecedented recommendation for its withdrawal (NAS 2007).

The OCSPP review method used for the glyphosate assessment has not been subjected to public and stakeholder scrutiny, or peer review. Further, it veers from the recommendations of the National Academies and best practices of the EPA chemical testing program, Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) in a number of critical ways, all of which are promoted by the chemical industry, and favor industry outcomes including:

  • preferentially relying on Guideline studies, which are conducted by the regulated industry to support the approval of its products; and,
  • preferentially relying on studies following so-called Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), which are required by industry product-testing labs to prevent malfeasance and misconduct.

An internal EPA memo indicates that the Pesticide Office failed to follow EPA Cancer Guidelines, and had it done so its assessment, and conclusions, might look more like IARC’s  (ORD memo, Dec 14, 2015).

The problem with relying on Guideline (validated protocol) studies is that they are meant for chemical manufacturers to support the review and approval of their products. For that reason, they are most often designed to identify only major toxic effects (apical effects). However, a focus on only major health endpoints will not be predictive or indicate early-warnings of potential toxicity that may lead to other major adverse health outcomes.  Guideline studies don’t necessarily use modern methods for evaluating chemicals and aren’t designed to grapple with the problems of low-dose exposures, endocrine or hormonal effects, behavioral or learning effects, immunotoxicity, cardiotoxicity, or pre-adverse ‘upstream’ effects like reduced sperm count or reduced anogenital distance which are predictors of infertility.

Dr. James Bus – previously a chemist for Dow Chemical —  in testimony before the House Science Committee on behalf of the chemical industry,  said high quality studies were ones that adhered to ‘Good Laboratory Practices’, i.e. GLP standards. The GLP standards have been required for industry test labs since the 1970s after flagrant violations and fraud were identified (Industrial Bio-Test laboratory was shut down and its directors were imprisoned as a result of the investigations).  The chemical industry has used its considerable powers of alchemy to transform the restrictions imposed to prevent rampant fraud into a badge of honor and good housekeeping seal of approval.  The industry likes to promote so-called “GLP studies” as higher quality and more reliable, because it favors the industry’s own studies over those of independent scientists in academia and government who aren’t subject to the same standards. Since those independent sources are also more likely to identify concerns over the safety of chemicals, whether or not the studies are “GLP” is a useful way of excluding studies that pose the greatest threat to the industry.  However, while GLP standards are useful for ensuring that commercial laboratories don’t commit outright fraud, they are not a reliable indicator of whether a particular study is of low or high quality. A 2014 National Academies of Sciences report noted that GLP guidelines fail to prevent flawed, unreliable or biased-by-design studies (pages 62-63). The same report praised the EPA IRISprogram systematic review methods which are not weighted to favor either GLP or Guideline studies.

Bad Science Also Bad for Health

Chemical corporations and their Cancer Lobby trade groups have been shown many times to defend their toxic products using manipulative tactics, false scientific information and phony front groups (see Chicago Tribune series on defending toxic flame retardants in household furniture and other consumer products, for example). As Nicholas Kristof states in his NY Times column, “The larger issue is whether the federal government should be a watchdog for public health, or a lap dog for industry.” That is, when regulated agencies are captured by the economic interests they are supposed to regulate, public health is sacrificed.

IARC Monographs are considered essential for informing cancer prevention strategies and effective public health decision-making around the world.  Fundamentally, the recent Congressional Hearing and the larger public debate, which is mostly being fueled by Monsanto’s high-powered public relations and product defense campaign — is about the ability of a public health agency to call a carcinogen a carcinogen, even if the carcinogen makes a huge amount of money for a powerful corporation.

The predictable next step after the House Science Committee Hearing is an effort during the budget and appropriations negotiations this spring and summer to cut off U.S. funding for IARC and other public-funded chemical assessment programs. Of course, even without government chemical hazard assessment programs, the cancers will still occur – with their obvious terrible toll on individuals, families, health care costs, and the economy – but the tumors won’t be counted, and the causes won’t be tracked, making successful prevention more difficult.

We must continue to resist the endless lobby campaign of Monsanto and the chemical industry and protect government scientists and chemical assessment programs, to let them do the important work of generating credible publicly-available chemical hazard assessments on glyphosate, and all the other chemicals to which we are routinely exposed in our food, our drinking water, in household products, in building materials and through so many other every day routes of exposure.  Our health depends on it.

Brazil’s fundamental pesticide law under attack

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  • In 2008, Brazil became the largest pesticide consumer in the world – the dual result of booming industrial agribusiness and ineffective environmental regulation.
  • In 1989, the country established one of the then toughest pesticide laws in the world (7,802/1989), which included the precautionary principle in its pesticide evaluation and registration standards. However, limited staffing and budget has made the law very difficult to implement and enforce.
  • With its increasing power after 2000, the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, has worked to overthrow that law, an effort thwarted to date but more likely to succeed under the Temer administration and the current ruralista-dominated Congress.
  • Lax pesticide use regulation and education have major health and environmental consequences. Farmers often use pesticides without proper safety gear, while children are often in the fields when spraying occurs. Some experts blame pesticides partly for Brazil’s high cancer rate – cancer is the nation’s second leading cause of death.
Applying pesticides in the field. Brazil is the world’s biggest user of chemical pesticide. Photo by prodbdf on flickr

Pesticides are flourishing on fertile economic ground in Brazil, thanks to the large government subsidies and low taxes granted to the companies manufacturing them, the negligible costs for national registration of active chemical ingredients, and virtually nonexistent pesticide use oversight.

These and other incentives – plus explosive agribusiness growth – resulted in Brazil achieving a dubious record in 2008, when it became the largest pesticide consumer in the world, according to a Kleffmann Group study commissioned by the National Association of Plant Defense (ANDEF), representing Brazil’s pesticide manufacturers. (Oddly, a negative press response to the study caused ANDEF to deny its own findings  for years.)

Number one or not, the national statistics are eye opening. ACCording to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, and other data, chemical pesticide active ingredient sales grew countrywide by 313 percent between 2000 and 2014, rising from 162,461 tons to 508,566 tons. São Paulo, Mato Grosso and Paraná became the major trading states over that periodBut even once small pesticide consumers, like Amazonas, Amapá and Acre, saw exponential growth, with use soaring by 1,941 percent, 942 percent, and 500 percent, respectively, in sales per ton between 2005 and 2012 in these Amazon states.

Brazilian pesticide consumption and related products (2000 – 2014). Vertical axis: 1,000 tons of active ingredient; horizontal axis: year. Chart courtesy of IBAMA. Data consolidation provided by the registrant companies of technical products, pesticides and the like, according to article 41 of Decree nº 4,074/2002. Updated April 2016

Pesticide use driven by government policy

Pesticides were first imported to Brazil in the 1960s, but it was in 1975, with creation of the National Development Plan (PND) that commercialization grew significantly. Under the PND, farmers were obliged to purchase pesticides to obtain rural credit.

Consumption gained momentum in the first decade of the 21st century, when the bancada ruralista, Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby, significantly increased the number of seats it held in Congress, which led to subsidies and tax breaks favorable to pesticide makers.

The explosive growth of pesticide consumption went hand in hand with the increase in agriculture exports. According to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), in 1975 the production of cereals, legumes and oilseeds in the country amounted to just 39.4 million tons. In 2014 that grew to 194.5 million tons of grains grown on 56.7 million hectares (218.2 million square miles), and in 2017 to 240.6 million tons on 61.1 million hectares (235.2 million square miles).

Two major commodities, soybeans and corn – both which require high pesticide use – represented much of that growth. In 2000, the value of all grains produced in Brazil was US$ 6.5 billion; of this, soybeans and corn accounted for US$ 4.6 billion. In 2016, the total value of grains rose to US$ 54.8 billion, of which US$ 44.9 billion came from soy and corn.

“Brazilian agriculture has been consolidated through the expansion of crops turned to commodities or agrofuels that demand intensive use of pesticides,” concludes a study, Geography of the Use of Agrochemicals in Brazil and Connections with the European Union, by Larissa Mies Bombardi, at the Agrarian Geography Laboratory at the University of São Paulo.

“Brazil consumes about 20 percent of all pesticides sold commercially worldwide,” that study concludes. “There are [currently] 504 pesticides allowed for use in Brazil, and of these, 30 percent are banned in the European Union – some more than a decade ago.”

Large scale crop spraying. Photo by Trish Steel licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

The glyphosate example

Brazil’s high pesticide usage has potential consequences for human health and the environment. For example, one of the most consumed herbicides in the country is Monsanto’s globally controversial glyphosate which has been linked to numerous health problems, and one of whose inert ingredients has been shown to cause cell death.

A technical opinion requested by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office and issued in May 2015 by Brazilian researchers Sonia Hess and Rubens Nodari, performed an “extensive review of international scientific literature” regarding glyphosate. Among their conclusions is that the herbicide has an endocrine disrupting effect on human liver cells and, in the concentration of parts per trillion (ppt), induces the proliferation of human cells of breast cancer.

And yet, glyphosate regulation remains lax in Brazil, where the herbicide is allowed in application at up to 500 milligrams per liter. The European Union (EU) limits the maximum amount of glyphosate to 0.1 milligrams per liter, or 5,000 times less. Likewise, with soybean spraying, Brazil allows 200 times greater glyphosate residue; 10 milligrams per kilogram residue is acceptable in Brazil, against 0.05 milligrams per kilogram in the EU.

Social movements and environmental organizations march in Brasilia as part of the Permanent Campaign against Agrochemicals and for Life. Photo by Marcello Casal Jr/ABr licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license

Brazil’s fundamental pesticide law under attack

Despite the dominance achieved by industrial agribusiness in Brazil during the 21st Century, and the record high use of chemical pesticides there, the bancadaruralista – in alliance with the pesticide industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) – desires much more deregulation.

According to experts interviewed for this article, the agribusiness sector has been working steadily for nearly three decades to dismantle legislation currently controlling chemical pesticide registration and use in Brazil.

At the heart of this crusade is an effort to eliminate the country’s landmark, foundational pesticide regulatory act (7,802/1989), which reads in part:

Pesticides, their components and the like can only be produced, exported, imported, sold and consumed if previously registered with a federal agency, in accordance with the guidelines and requirements of the federal agencies responsible for the health, environment and agriculture sectors.

According to the law, ANVISA (Brazil’s health protection agency), IBAMA, and MAPA are responsible for implementing the pesticide registration process. The two agencies carry out hazard assessments, determining potential harm to humans and the environment; while MAPA analyzes agronomic performance and registers products.

Under the rules, the hazard assessment performed by the two agencies is stringent, with pesticides categorized by intrinsic toxicity. Products must be automatically banned, regardless of dose, if classified as carcinogenic (cancer-causing), teratogenic (harmful to embryo or fetus), capable of producing cellular changes, hormonal disorders or reproductive harm.

“The 1989 law was perhaps the most advanced in the world at the time,” Victor Pelaez told Mongabay. He is a professor of economics and coordinator of the Observatory on the Pesticides Industry at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR). Long before the European Union instituted similar regulations in 2011, Brazil’s law 7,802 “already incorporated the precautionary principle,” which many nations, including the U.S. have yet to embrace. “That is, it recognized the tremendous high risk of not controlling excessive hazards to human health.”

Unfortunately for Brazil’s environment and its people, law 7,802 had a critical flaw. It failed to provide the needed mechanisms and staff for implementation. The legislation never worked properly because of the “impracticability of such [strict] control, given the scarce supervision resources [granted to] the public bodies,” Pelaez said.

The slowness of pesticide registration has, as a result, long frustrated the pesticide industry, which wants its products quickly approved, while the lack of regulatory staffing and oversight has frustrated environmentalists wanting careful analysis of pesticides.

Monsanto Lasso herbcide to be sprayed on food crops showing proper protective gear. Photo courtesy of the USDA

The drive to deregulate

Since law 7,802 was passed in 1989, dozens of bills have been introduced in congress by the ruralists, and pushed by pesticide industry lobbyists, to eliminate its strict regulatory framework. The primary push, unsuccessful so far, has been to remove ANVISA and IBAMA from the chemical pesticide registration process.

Another goal of the ruralists and pesticide makers has been to abolish the nation’s current stringent pesticide hazard analysis requirement – a particular scientific method used by the two agencies to evaluate biocide toxicity – and to replace it with a less strict risk assessment requirement.

To appreciate motivations for this proposed change, it is important to understand the vast technical difference between “hazard analysis” and “risk assessment.”

Hazard analysis (which in Brazil incorporates the precautionary principle) fully rejects for registration any toxic agents that have been studied extensively and found to possess “significant hazards” of causing disease or doing environmental harm.

Risk assessment, on the other hand, is the probability that a hazard will occur and do harm when a product is used; an evaluation that encompasses much more uncertainty and allows more leeway in pesticide approval. Risk assessments are preferred by the ruralists and the pesticide industry who want more freedom in the selection and application of bio toxins.

Aerial spraying can be particularly hazardous to public health depending on application and winds. Photo credit: Don McCullough on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

Typical of the bills pressed by the ruralists is PLS 526 of 1999, a measure meant to exclude ANVISA and IBAMA from the pesticide registration process. PLS 526 was authored by Blairo Maggi, then known as “The Soy King” for being Brazil’s biggest soy grower. Today Maggi is Brazil’s influential minister of agriculture.

That bill, however, languished in the Chamber of Deputies and then was rejiggered as PL 6299/2002, which also went nowhere during the Lula and Dilma administrations.

Thwarted by the multi-decade delay, the ruralists last year saw a new chance to move ahead with deregulation, working through the more sympathetic Temer administration. Agribusiness sought a fast track workaround to legislation: MAPA sent a draft of an MP, a Provisional Measure equivalent to a presidential executive order, to the Executive’s Chief of Staff for review in March, 2017. As with PL 6299, the MP proposed the exclusion of ANVISA and IBAMA from the pesticides licensing process.

However, the pesticide deregulation MP (which if approved by the president, would take effect immediately), met with widespread criticism in the press, and has since disappeared from view. According to Jacimara Machado, IBAMA’s director of environmental quality, the agency kept waiting for the Chief of Staff “to discuss the MP’s draft,” but nothing happened.

Unfazed, the ruralists are preparing another maneuver for 2018, according to Cleber Folgado, a member of the National Forum and the Bahia Forum Against Pesticides, coordinated by Brazil’s State Public Ministry. In September, “[T]he bancada ruralista and the Temer government negotiated a new bill draft that would replace PL 6299/2002,” Folgado told Mongabay.

As scientific evidence grows regarding the potential health impacts of Monsanto’s pesticides, a global movement has risen against the company. Photo credit: msdonnalee on VisualHunt / CC BY

The new bill synthesizes eighteen measures related to PL 6299, all which advance pesticide deregulation. The new PL would establish an “agricultural governing body” to handle the evaluation and approval of pesticide registration, with that entity’s review based not on hazard analysis, but on less stringent risk assessments, and also focused more on pesticide crop effectiveness. ANVISA and IBAMA would have no say in the registration process and likely serve only as enforcers of the body’s decisions. In part it reads:

The agriculture governing body will be able to define criteria and establish priority in the analysis of registrations or post-registration claims, based on the need for greater control of agricultural pests…. The health and the environmental agencies will adopt the priorities duly established by the agriculture body.

If the ruralists, Congress, and Maggi’s MAPA achieve their goal, the new measure would probably allow an unprecedented number of biocides to be registered and to quickly enter the market, maybe including substances already banned in Brazil.

Under the weaker risk assessment process, for instance, pesticides with known carcinogenic potential could no longer be rejected out of hand; instead, they could be registered with the understanding that they should be used in an established and proper manner to reduce the risk of their effects – even though Brazil lacks the regulatory staff to oversee the use risk reduction process.

The MAPA draft justifies the easing of pesticide regulations in this manner:

In a literal interpretation of the law, the regulator bodies [IBAMA and ANVISA] have understood that it is enough that the product presents those intrinsic [hazardous] characteristics to not be registered, regardless of the levels to which humans are exposed. It would be the same as, by making an analogy, every car was to be forbidden from being produced and marketed by its characteristic of being dangerous, i.e., of causing accidents.

The MAPA draft adds: “Prohibiting the use of a substance without considering the exposure levels does not protect the health of the population more than when it is applied correctly, within the limits set by a thorough risk assessment.”

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi defended the proposed measure on television last July, stating simply: “What we are trying to do is make bureaucratic processes faster.”

A cartoon confronts the paradox of pesticide regulatory measures: while protective gear may keep people safe, it doesn’t safeguard wildlife and the environment. Image by healthfulQuest on flickr

A critique of deregulation

UFPR’s Pelaez refutes MAPA’s and Maggi’s deregulation arguments: “In a country without a monitoring structure and communication resources on the intrinsic danger of pesticides, approving them in the name of a risk assessment is a setback and practically a crime.”

Palaez notes that Brazil’s pesticide registration process is in dire need of funds, and he compares the Brazilian procedure unfavorably with that in the United States: “The U.S. government, as a way of enabling an assessment process compatible with the demands of the regulated sector, charges up to US$ 630,000 [to pesticide companies] for the registration of a new active [pesticide] ingredient. This [helps] finance the high costs of toxicological analysis of registration applications submitted by manufacturing companies. In Brazil, the maximum amount charged is around US$ 3,000,” so the industry contributes little money to quicken the registration process.

The difference between the two nations doesn’t end there. While an American license lasts just 15 years, in Brazil a registration never expires – a potentially dangerous situation because new research may uncover formerly unknown health and environmental hazards. Currently, new study evidence can trigger a pesticide re-evaluation in Brazil, although that reanalysis could take years, as in the case of glyphosate which remains in use, despite recent findings of its harmful effects.

The Ministry of Agriculture did not respond to Mongabay’s interview request. ANVISA’s communication office, when contacted by Mongabay, responded that they would “not comment on speculations” regarding potential pesticide regulation changes.

IBAMA’s Machado said that the agency is not against using risk assessment as a tool, but added it would need time to make such changes: “We need to create a structure, do studies, analyze different scenarios and establish procedures, not to mention staff training. None of this is ready.”

Tractor and spraying equipment. Photo by Maasaak licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Agencies under staffed and under pressure

For years, ANVISA, part of the Ministry of Health, has operated under intense political pressure from the ruralist lobby. In 2012, Luis Claudio Meirelles, then ANVISA’s general manager, was dismissed after denouncing irregularities in the approval of pesticides that were under analysis.

The same year, Eduardo Daher of ANDEF, the pesticide industry association, gave an interview to the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in which he attacked the regulatory agency: “ANVISA… tries to manage [everything] from breast prosthesis to… pastry. It plays God. The government is not able to coordinate it; it is politically oriented and ideologically manipulated.”

At a congressional hearing, Kátia Abreu, a senator for Tocantins state, a ruralist, and a former minister of Agriculture, denounced the “slowness” of the agency in approving and releasing pesticides for use: “Thousands of Brazilians who earn a minimum wage need to eat food [treated] with pesticides because it is the only way to make food cheaper.… ANVISA plays a backward role for the country, to the detriment of agriculture.”

Analysts point out that there is a good reason for ANVISA’s “slowness.” In 2012, the government provided the agency with just 20 technicians in its pesticide registration area, even though 1,500 products awaited evaluation.

IBAMA isn’t any better staffed: the chemical and biological substances analysis department, which evaluates not only pesticides but also dispersants, oil, fuels, and other substances, currently has 37 employees, while 2,000 registration applications are pending.

“Without operational capacity, we take five years, on average, to begin evaluating a product, while the assessment itself takes [on average] five months,” said IBAMA’s Machado. “Manufacturers complain about the delay. But while we release an average of ten products per week, 30 new applications enter the agency,” over the same period. In comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has roughly 850 technicians assigned to evaluation, registration and monitoring of pesticides alone.

In January of 2017, MAPA celebrated an “historic record”: 277 new pesticides were registered in 2016 (of which 161 were generic). The previous year 182 licenses were approved, 43 of them generic.

A generic pesticide combines, in addition to its active ingredient, other chemicals for varying purposes, facilitating the absorption of poisons, for example. Importantly, neither hazard analys nor risk assessment currently evaluates the synergistic effects of pesticides – the interaction of all ingredients, producing a greater effect than each separately.

Spraying pesticides. Brazil’s 1989 pesticide law is one of the toughest in the world, except that it lacks the tools for staffing and timely implementation. Photo by AlcheaNemesis

“Sells like soda”

While MAPA officially advocates for the safe use of highly toxic pesticides, assuring they’re applied under controlled conditions – moderating dose, levels of exposure, safety equipment, and more – the reality out in the field is far different, say experts.

Farmers are often unaware of the dangers of the chemicals they use, alone and in combination. “Instead of applying one pesticide at a time, many farmers combine an herbicide, a pesticide, and an acaricide [pesticides that kill members of the arachnid subclass Acari, which includes ticks and mites], for example, and make a single application on crops to save on aerial spraying,” said Forum Against Pesticides’ Folgado. These “so-called toxic syrups (caldas tóxicas, in Portuguese) increase the toxicity of biocides and [have become] a public health problem in Brazil. They are not evaluated by ANVISA or any other body.”

Lacking proper state oversight and training, small scale farmers also often adopt unhealthy practices, as shown in a documentary entitled The insecure use of pesticides, by Pedro Abreu, a Ph.D. student in collective health at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the State University of Campinas, and Herling Alonzo, professor of environmental health and toxicology at the same institution.

One case documented in the film deals with a man who regularly used Monsanto’s Roundup on his crops ­– an herbicide whose active ingredient is glyphosate. The man applied the poison without any self protection, while wearing shorts and slippers; he died of cancer, though his death can’t be directly linked to Roundup.

Improper spraying gear. Many experts believe that a sharp rise in cancers in Brazil may be due to pesticides and other environmental toxins. Photo by Bt Brinjal on flickr

The film registered other examples of improper use, in which, for example, one farmer stored pesticides in his family’s living space, while another purchased them without an agronomist’s recommendation or instruction. José Reis, a family farmer from Lavras, Minas Gerais, told Abreu: The store “used to ask [for] a letter [of prescription], but not anymore, now [pesticides] sell just like soda.”

Emerson Abreu, a young farmer, added: buying pesticides is “the same thing as picking up groceries on a supermarket shelf.”

In a recent seminar at Fiocruz Minas Gerais state, a research institution specializing in biological sciences and based in Rio de Janeiro, with branches in nine other states, Eliane Novato, a researcher at the department of biochemistry and immunology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), said that “The impact [of pesticides] on health is often complicated to measure [in the field] because there are several factors that go into the relationship [to] ‘exposure-damage.’ High concentrations of toxic product for a short time have an immediate [health] effect, but low concentrations for a long time have a late, cumulative effect that is difficult to assess.”

She notes that it is not uncommon to find children accompanying their parents into sprayed plantation fields, and yet the risk of regular exposure by children to agricultural pesticides is rarely considered.

And yet, data published by the National System of Toxic-Pharmacological Information (Sinitox), linked to the Ministry of Health and Fiocruz, showed that 25.3 percent of pesticide poisonings reported between 1999 and 2015 occurred in children nine years old or younger, or 50,969 intoxications out of 201,832 cases. Of the children’s subgroup, 160 deaths occurred in the same period.

Sinitox breaks down pesticide poisoning into three subgroups, agricultural pesticides, domestic-use pesticides, veterinary products and rodenticides. In 2015, for example, more than 33 percent of all pesticide poisonings occurred in children up to nine years old ­– 2,196 out of 6,591 cases. Of the children’s subgroup, 259 cases were caused by agricultural pesticides, 945 by household pesticides (insecticides, gardening products, repellents etc.), 379 by veterinary products and 613 by rodenticides. It’s important to realize that the Sinitox numbers are incomplete because they cover primarily acute cases, in just 18 of the 26 Brazilian states.

The safe application of pesticides is critical to protecting public health, but experts argue that Brazil offers little oversight of use training and education. Photo by Eric Akaoka Flickr Creative Commons

Sonia Hess, a Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) chemistry professor, told Mongabay that cancer is already the second leading cause of death in Brazil, surpassed only by cardiovascular diseases. The number of deaths has increased 31 percent since 2000 and totaled 223,400 Brazilians annually by 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). How many of these cases are related to exposure to carcinogenic chemical pesticides is uncertain, though researchers are concerned.

“Unfortunately, there is always a long period between scientific evidence of health harm and the ban of these substances,” said Hess. “Remember thalidomide,” an approved drug that resulted in severe birth defects. “DDT is banned in more than 40 countries, including Brazil and the U.S.,” she added, but recognizing its environmental impacts and outlawing it required years.

“For those who study the subject, there is no question that cancer is an environmental epidemic resulting from exposure to toxic substances present in the water, air, food, cosmetics, [and more]… But the reaction to the problem runs counter to the power of the chemical industry, which controls governments around the world. We will continue to count the sick and the dead until the disaster becomes so evident that some reaction can be successful,” leading to more proactive regulation, Hess concluded.

WHAT A PEST Bedbugs ‘increase your risk of allergic reactions and deadly asthma attacks’ even after they are gone

By Andrea Downey, Digital Health Reporter

BEDBUGS are a nasty pest that no one wants in their house.

But even when they are gone they leave traces behind that can cause allergic reactions and even asthma attacks, new research suggest.

Not only do the creepy crawlies bite you while you’re sleeping, they also poop in your bed.

It’s that poop that causes problems long after pest control has been.

The poo is loaded with histamine, a chemical found naturally in your body during allergic reactions.

It is histamine that causes your runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and trouble breathing.

The chemical can also cause nasty rashes to appear on your skin and is particularly dangerous for those with underlying lung conditions like asthma because it causes an inflammatory response in your airways.

This can trigger potentially deadly asthma attacks if people are exposed to the chemical.

According to a new study from North Carolina State University histamine levels in bedbug infested homes were at least 20 times higher than in homes that were bug free.

And the levels continue to pose a problem for months after the bedbugs have been booted out.

In homes that were treated for the pests ,which involves circulating air as hot as 50C through the home, levels remained high.

“The intimate association of bed bugs with humans and the spatial distribution and persistence of histamine in homes suggest that histamine may represent an emergent indoor environmental contaminant whose impact on human health should be investigated,” the authors wrote.

“Bed bugs have become a major social, economic, and health problem since their global resurgence in the early 2000s.


BEAT THE BLOOD SUCKERS How to get rid of bed bugs, what causes an infestation and how to treat bites 


“Infestations can reach exceedingly high levels, especially among the elderly and in disadvantaged communities, where interventions may be unaffordable.

“While bed bug bites have been recognised as a dermatological concern that can be exacerbated and lead to secondary infections, bed bugs have not been implicated as disease vectors or allergen producers.

“The results of this study demonstrate that the presence of bed bugs strongly correlates with histamine levels in homes, and thus may adversely affect the health of residents through exposure to exogenous histamine.”

Experts tested 30 apartments in North Carolina as part of the study, some of which were currently infested, some had never been affected and some were treated for bedbugs recently.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

KEN MIDKIFF: Does Roundup cause cancer? Monsanto’s keeping it a secret

By: KEN MIDKIFF

When I was a pre-teenager, my summer job was that of a post-emergent weed killer. What that involved was walking in the hot sun through seemingly endless soybean fields and chopping buttonweed, cockleburr and foxtail plants. Given the rotation of crops, soybean fields were usually preceded by corn, so what I mostly chopped was “volunteer corn.” The only respite was when the fields were too wet and muddy to walk through. Threatening clouds were a welcome sight.

For my lonely and hot work, I was paid a dollar an hour. So not only were the farmers who hired in violation of child labor laws, chances are they were also in violation of minimum wage laws. To my childhood wallet, that meant eight dollars per day or $40 per week.

But, for what I consider piles of money, I was not a carcinogen. Walking those endless field chopping down undesirable plants did not involve causing cancer.

Enter glyphosate. Otherwise known by the Monsanto-branded name as Roundup. It is a pre-emergent herbicide, killing all plant seeds that have not been genetically modified to withstand its killing ways. The main crop that it is applied to is soybeans. Roundup took the place of all those rural pre-teenagers who walked down rows of soybeans chopping out corn and other non-soybean plants.

 

A farmer friend who detests Genetically modified organisms wanted nothing to do with Roundup-ready soybean seeds, so the set out to locate soybean seeds that were not ready for glyphosate. After weeks of searching, he finally succeeded, but he learned that most farm retail outlets sold only Roundup-ready soybean seeds.

What is at risk now is not only health-related matters, but continuous U.S. funding for the World Health Organization , specifically its International Agency for Research on Cancer. The IARC, after reviewing many research studies, concluded that glyphosate causes an increase in breast cancer.

 

Other studies contradicted that conclusion, contending that IARC “cherrypicked,” by only reviewing studies that supported the conclusion that was reached.

 

The threat to remove U.S. funding for IARC is not an idle one. The chair of the U.S. House committee that oversees such things — the House Science Committee — is headed up by Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas. Smith’s committee recently held a hearing on this issue, and heard from, among others, a representative from the pesticide industry. Those opposed to listing glyphosate as a carcinogen apparently persuaded a majority of the House Science Committee. (As best as I can tell, the job of the House Science Committee is to badmouth science and dismiss scientific findings.) A Monsanto spokesman (note the gender) expressed pleasure.

 

So, does Roundup cause increased levels of breast cancer? The answer to that depends on whether one believes the WHO/IARC or a spokesman for the pesticide industry.

 

 

Ken Midkiff

Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

 

Bed Bugs Found To Poop Chemical Making Humans Sick

BY 

Bed bugs are more dangerous to human health than previously thought. Besides their nasty bites, the feces of these tiny parasites could trigger a severe allergic reaction even after they are exterminated.

This lasting effect is due to raised levels of an organic compound present in the insect’s poop known as histamine. Those who regularly pop allergy pills are certainly familiar with the name.

The chemical is not all that bad. In fact, it is naturally produced by the human body as a response to harmful pathogens or to repair damaged cells.

Histamine exposure, however, is an entirely different story. Upon skin contact or inhalation, it can cause a variety of health problems ranging from rashes to respiratory disorders.

Such findings were uncovered by a group of researchers at North Carolina State University as they investigated pest-free and infested homes.

In a paper published Feb. 12 in Plos One, they report that histamine levels are significantly higher in infested homes and persistent in pest-free ones, with elevated levels lasting for months.

The groundbreaking study was conducted in an apartment complex in Raleigh with a chronic bed bug infestation.

Dust samples were collected from specific units prior heat treatment of the facility. Three months after the blood-sucking insects were eliminated by increasing indoor temperature to 50 degrees Celsius, researchers obtained another set of samples.

Histamine levels in the two sample groups were then compared with a third’s coming from nearby homes which have been declared pest-free for a minimum of three years.

Based on lab results, the researchers concluded that heat treatment may eliminate bed bugs but not the histamine they produce. Apparently, the chemical has the ability to withstand raised temperatures as evidenced by increased levels even when the apartments were already pest-free for months.

According to one of the researchers Zachary DeVries, heat treatment should be coupled with meticulous cleaning to minimize the amount of dust, which carries bed bug feces.

“We’ll also further investigate the effects of histamine in an indoor environment, including chronic exposure to histamine at low levels,” he says in a report.

The bed bugs excrete poop that is naturally rich in histamine content to mark locations they deem as suitable for aggregation. This explains why bed bugs tend to gather in a specific spot when they invade a home. Among their favorite choices is the bedroom, where they can easily feed on the blood of sleeping humans.

A previous research published in the Wiley Online Library two years ago also found histamine in cuticles shed by the insects after enjoying a blood meal.

HEALTH OFFICIALS WARN OF PESTICIDE-TAINTED CACTUS

Officials warn to not eat nopales packaged under certain names.

Posted: Feb. 16, 2018 6:28 AM
Updated: Feb. 16, 2018 9:21 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California officials are warning people not to eat the Mexican cactus known as nopales sold at certain stores over concerns they may be tainted with unapproved pesticides.

The Department of Public Health said Wednesday that routine samples last month found contaminated nopal cactus pads at six markets and distribution centers across the state.

Products packaged under the names Mexpogroup Fresh Produce, Aramburo or Los Tres Huastecos should be thrown away. Officials say most tainted nopales have been removed from store shelves and destroyed. But it is possible that some may have been sold to other retail locations in California, Nevada and Oregon.

No illnesses have been reported. Officials warn the pesticides can potentially cause poisoning, neurotoxicity and permanent nerve damage.

Bed bugs are even worse than you thought

Bedbugs don't only bite, they excrete histamines.

GETTY Bedbugs don’t only bite, they excrete histamines.

Bed bugs aren’t just content with biting you while you sleep – they also poop waste that is loaded with histamines in your bed, a new study reveals.

Led by entomologists and health experts at North Carolina State University, Histamine as an emergent indoor contaminant states that “histamine is a known food contaminant, mainly of fish and alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine”. Histamine is a chemical our bodies push out in a response to allergens, and can trigger itchiness, watery eyes, sneezing, headaches, and asthma attacks.

The researchers found that histamine levels in infested homes were at least 20 times higher than levels in bed bug-free homes.

The study states that “bed bugs had all but disappeared from developed areas of the world by the 1960s, but have resurged globally since the early 2000s”. In New Zealand, bed bugs are on the rise in Wellington.

However, it gets worse. Much worse.

While heat treatments might remove the offending insects from infested homes, histamine levels were not only still detectable, but also remained high, months afterwards. The researchers suggest that the hot air creates a storm that spreads the histamine-laced bug waste from mattresses, contaminating the rest of the house.

“The results of this study demonstrate that the presence of bed bugs strongly correlates with histamine levels in homes,” the study concludes, “and thus may adversely affect the health of residents through exposure to exogenous histamine.”

The authors also call for  “future investigations” into how the mites can impact negatively on human’s health.

Other viruses cause Zika-like damage to fetuses, study finds

By Susan Scutti, CNN

(CNN)In 2016, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the Zika virus caused birth defects in babies born to women who had been infected while pregnant. This was the first mosquito-borne disease known to cause birth defects.

Since then, images of babies with underdeveloped heads, born to pregnant women infected with Zika virus, have touched hearts around the world.
Now, a study suggests that two viruses that are related to Zika can cause similar birth defects.
West Nile and Powassan viruses caused fetal death in infected pregnant mice, the researchers say.
“All of these viruses are spread by insects, and all of these viruses are currently spreading in the Americas,” said Dr. Jonathan Miner, senior author of the study and an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

 

“Powassan and West Nile virus are flaviviruses, in the same family as Zika virus,” he said. These viruses are transmitted by infected ticks and mosquitoes.
Miner and his colleagues decided to experiment on an assortment of four viruses plus Zika to “determine whether certain traits of these viruses may be unique to one family or another,” Miner said.

Damage to fetuses

Miner and his colleagues studied the effects of four emerging viruses that are spread by either mosquitoes or ticks: West Nile, Powassan, chikungunya and Mayaro. Found in Brazil, chikungunya and Mayaro can cause arthritis and are classified as “alphaviruses,” a category separate from flaviviruses.
The researchers injected each one of a group of wild female mice with one of the four viruses during the sixth day of their pregnancies. One week later, the researchers examined all the rodent fetuses and placentas.
Signs of viral infection were seen in all the placentas and fetuses. However, West Nile virus levels were 23 to 1,500 times higher than levels of the other viruses within the placentas.
In the fetuses, West Nile levels surpassed the other viruses by even more: 3,000- to 16,000-fold.
Through a microscope, the researchers also saw severe damage in the brain tissue of the West Nile-infected fetuses. By comparison, the brain tissue of chikungunya-infected fetuses appeared healthy.
No fetal deaths occurred in mothers infected with chikungunya or Mayaro, but the same could not be said of the mice infected with the flaviviruses.
“We found that West Nile virus caused injury to the fetal brain and intrauterine growth restriction, and that both West Nile virus and Powassan virus led to fetal death in mice. This is similar to what has been observed after congenital Zika virus infection in mice,” Miner said. Nearly half of the fetuses of mice infected with West Nile or Powassan died within 12 days of infection.
“We cannot say for certain whether these infections would lead to a birth defect in mice,” he said. “However, what we found is consistent with what we and other scientists have observed with congenital Zika virus infection in mice.”
Mice are by no stretch of the imagination human, as the researchers acknowledge.
Could West Nile or Powassan virus penetrate the placenta and infect a human fetus?

Human tissue experiments

Carolyn Coyne, co-author of the new study and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said the researchers’ next series of experiments were based on the fact that “a virus must first cross the placenta, which forms the sole barrier between maternal and fetal blood,” to reach a human fetus.
So the team infected explants — tissues kept alive in a nutrient medium — from human mothers and human fetuses with either chikungunya, Mayaro, West Nile, Powassan or Zika virus.
All three flaviviruses (Zika, West Nile and Powassan) efficiently replicated in the human placental tissue, while the alphaviruses (chikungunya and Mayaro) were unable to multiply in the same way.
This suggests that all three flaviviruses “could possibly breach the placental barrier to reach the fetus in humans,” Coyne said. “Some of these viruses may be teratogenic, which means that they can induce harm to a developing fetus.”
Microcephaly, in which a baby’s head does not develop properly, is not the only outcome of a Zika virus infection in a pregnant human mother, Miner noted. “There are many outcomes of Zika virus infection including pregnancy loss, intrauterine growth restriction, blindness, brain calcifications and other problems.”
Dr. Paul E. Jarris, chief medical officer at the nonprofit March of Dimes, called the study “very helpful.”
“It’s, of course, not conclusive with regards to humans, and so I think we have to keep that in mind — not to overstate what it says,” added Jarris, who was not involved in the research.
Jarris noted that along with these experiments, the researchers asked whether the Zika virus had been unnoticed but causing birth defects all along — or had the virus recently mutated, and that’s why abnormalities occurred in recent years?
Analysis based on previous research suggests that the Zika virus, first identified more than half a century ago, has been slightly increasing rates of birth defects since its discovery, the authors of the new study found.
It is the Aedes species mosquito that infects humans with the Zika virus. According to the World Health Organization, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus causes Guillain-Barré syndrome in humans and microcephaly in children born to infected mothers. The virus could be associated with other neurological complications as well.
“We need to do more research here,” Jarris said. He added that mosquitoes and ticks are just “bad actors; I think we need to be concerned about them in any case.” The same mosquito that spreads Zika spreads dengue, and “dengue can be a deadly disease,” he said. “Yet one more reason that you need to avoid mosquito bites and tick bites as well as get rid of standing water in your backyard and take other precautions to keep mosquitoes from breeding.”
Durland Fish, professor emeritus of epidemiology (microbial diseases) at the Yale School of Public Health, said this is an “interesting study with enough significance” to demand human study follow-up. Fish was not involved with the research.
Although what happens in a mouse experiments does not always lead to the same result in humans, Fish said, by comparing several viruses in a mice model, scientists can learn about the “innate qualities of the viruses themselves.”
More research would lead to more knowledge, but much is already known about these flaviviruses.

West Nile and Powassan

Scientists first isolated the virus that takes its name from the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937. Commonly, it is found in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America and West Asia, according to the WHO.
The virus is transmitted between birds and Culex mosquitoes, which can infect humans, horses and other mammals.
Outbreak sites of West Nile virus can be found along major bird migratory routes. Originally, infections were seen only in Africa, parts of Europe, the Middle East, West Asia and Australia. Once introduced into the United States in 1999, though, West Nile virus became widely established from Canada to Venezuela.
Most people infected by West Nile never know it happened: About 80% of the thousands infected each year in the US do not develop symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, one in five infected people develops a fever and other symptoms, including headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most of these patients will recover completely.
And one in 150 West Nile-infected people — about 1,000 people a year in the US — develop life-threatening brain infections such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord). In some cases, these infections cause neurological problems for life. Rare though it may be, some patients will die.
West Nile’s less-traveled cousin, Powassan, is both dangerous and on the rise in the United States. Powassan virus takes its name from the town in Ontario where it was first identified in 1958. Over the past decade, there have been only 100 cases reported in the US.
Spread by ticks that feed on deer, raccoons, foxes and weasels, this North American virus can be found in midwestern Canada as well as in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region of the US. Additional rare cases have been reported in far eastern Russia, where it is spread by a cattle tick.
Like West Nile, Powassan infections often go unnoticed by those infected, according to the CDC.
Those who experience symptoms may suffer from fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures or memory loss, while half of the patients who develop symptoms will also experience long-term neurologic problems such as headaches or memory loss.nPatients with severe illnesses caused by Powassan often need to receive respiratory support in a hospital, intravenous fluids or medications to reduce swelling in the brain.
If both West Nile and Powassan infections have occurred in the United States, why haven’t we seen these viruses causing birth defects or miscarriages?
“It is possible that there has been a low incidence of pregnancy complications associated with these viruses that has gone overlooked,” Coyne said. Or the complications may not be obvious at birth; for instance, they may be “developmental delays that did not present for several years after birth,” she said. “It is unlikely that they would ever be linked with an infection that occurred in utero.”
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And if these viruses caused a pregnancy loss, that also would be difficult to notice and tie to an infection, since miscarriage rates are high and causes are “generally unknown,” Coyne said.
Fish said that, for now, people shouldn’t be too concerned by these two virus cousins. West Nile and Powassan viruses are relatively rare, though “incidence may increase, and they could become more important,” he said.
“These disease threats are out there, and because of globalization and environmental change, there will most certainly be more,” Fish said. “We should be much better prepared for such ‘natural’ epidemics, as they probably pose a more serious threat to human health than bioterrorism.”

Dear Tulane, U Nasty. A letter to the Administration and Student Body about hygiene.

Dear Tulane, U Nasty.

A letter to the Administration and Student Body about hygiene.

Simran Rajani

Recent uproar over Tulane’s Only the Audacious fundraising campaign has made waves on campus for two reasons: firstly, because the results of our sexual climate survey warrant far more attention than any shiny new buildings. And second, because what existing facilities we have, live in, and learn in, are frankly… nasty. Before we get crazy pouring money into more of the new, how about we get some of the old back in working order?
 
Dear President Fitz and Tulane Administration,
 
The student body is concerned about the unhygienic nature of our residents halls.
 
We believe that moldy bathrooms, bed bugs, and cockroach infestations should not be another “normal” aspect of dorm life, especially given the price tag of living on campus.
 
The Rival has taken it upon itself to survey as many students as possible about their experiences relating to hygiene in campus facilities. Aside from one positive response, all 85 were negative– more that 20 being the length of a standard paragraph. Students’ anonymity will be protected unless permission was attained.
 
Freshman Sara Good was asked to move out of her room the weekend before returning from winter break due to a bedbug infestation. When she finally came back to a, “bedbug free,” but messy room, her belongings had been clearly mishandled. A couple weeks later, she and her roommate faced another infestation of bed bugs. Despite the hassle of a mid semester move, she had no choice but to move out again. Meanwhile, some of Sara’s belongings were lost during the second fumigation process. Though she is slowly recovering from this debacle, she is not alone. She tells us that she still feels “traumatized and extremely paranoid about bed bugs and any bug bites”. Further, she feels that,
 
“The way administration treated the situation made me think they did not take it seriously enough. Students’ health, well-being, and success is on the line. Bed bug bites can cause low grade fevers and fatigue.”
 
Bed bugs are the first huge problem that these buildings have, and the simple fact remains that one experience like this is one to many. Administration, what can be done about this problem, and what will you do?
 
Next: Bruff. While we’re fortunate to have a wide variety of food available to us, some of the sanitary issues reported concerning Bruff are too serious to ignore. For instance, one anonymous student told of her shock when she took a bite out of a, “chicken sandwich that was completely raw.” Another response read, “the back corner of Bruff has an ant infestation.” Other complaints of moldy tomatoes and living insects in Bruff food were appalling. This is something that needs to be immediately addressed by the administration. With the Tulane Commons under construction– something we Tulane students are very excited about and thankful for– we hope to see an improvement in cafeteria hygiene, but we can’t wait for the new Bruff to open its doors for a more hygienic cafeteria experience .
 
Dorm bathrooms are another area of concern. Josephine Louise hall, known as JOLO or J.L. and one of the oldest buildings/residential halls on campus, was reported to be especially problematic. One girl in JOLO reports, “the showers in Josephine Louise hall are very old and unmaintained. There is mold, they’re never clean, and there is barely any water pressure. It’s like standing under a tap with drops of water falling out of it.” Another wrote, “the showers in JL were not cleaned over winter break.” There’s more where that came from. But why? These students are paying above the market value of nearby houses to live there.
 
And JL is not alone. Sam Recile affirms that there has been, “a nearly continuous infestation of latrine flies (Fannia scalaris) in the Monroe Hall fifth floor male bathroom, along with two backed up sinks filled with sediment and filth.” Another respondent reports, “urine and other fluids cover the halls of Sharp.” “The Monroe 8 bathroom has mold growing in it,” said another. Worst of all, and confirmed by other members of the same dormitory who would like to remain anonymous, one student reports, “literal shit rained from the ceilings in our bathroom. It took them a week to clean it all up.”
 
These conditions are unacceptable and unsafe. Please help us. Students should not feel that they have to walk to LBC to use the bathroom or Riley for a decent shower. Hire more cleaning staff, renovate old dorms… whatever it takes.
 
We are asking that a portion of funds from the Be Audacious campaign be dedicated to fixing these issues so we can live on a safer, cleaner campus.
 
Thank you for your consideration,
 
Tulane’s student body
 
And to the Tulane Student body itself…
 
It’s about time we take some responsibility for this issue as well. Some complaints included, “There’s been a used tampon in the Butler stairwell since September 19th,” and “There’s been puke in the MO4 showers for 4 weeks.” These complaints are not the fault of the administration. I mean, why the hell would anyone take out a tampon in the stairwell in the first place? We can prevent that. Puke in the toilets, not on the floor. Clean up your own messes. Stop shotgunning beers in the bathrooms with your floor-friends. It’s time that, in the light of this topic, we learn to respect our space for ourselves and others.
 
Be responsible for your own messes, or don’t make them at all. We can help do this together.
 
Roll Wave.
 
-The Rival

District sues landlord Sanford Capital over poor housing conditions. Again.


A memorial to a murder victim sits outside an apartment building on G Street in southeast D. C. that has a reputation as a drug den, on Dec. 2, 2016. The District is now suing the former owner of the complex, Sanford Capital, to recoup rent payments made by tenants who the city alleges lived in poor conditions. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
 February 15 at 12:56 PM 
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) has filed a pair of new lawsuits alleging poor housing conditions at buildings formerly owned by Sanford Capital, a company with an extensive network of apartments for low-income people that has drawn scrutiny for squalid conditions.

The new litigation, citing the city’s consumer protection laws, seeks to recoup rent paid by tenants who lived at Sanford properties on Franklin Street NE and G Street SE. The lawsuits allege that property managers failed to respond to rodent and bedbug infestations, flooding and criminal squatters in vacant units, as well as broken heating systems in winter and sewage backups on G Street.

Racine’s office has previously sued Sanford Capital over what lawyers called deplorable conditions at two other properties in southeast D.C.

“Under District law, landlords have the duty to provide tenants with safe, secure and habitable housing,” Racine said in a statement. “Landlords who fail to adhere to these legal obligations cannot dodge liability by simply selling their properties.

An investigation by The Washington Post last year found a pattern of similar conditions at 19 complexes linked to Sanford Capital, which receives millions from the city annually through taxpayer-funded housing vouchers.

“These tenants made the difficult decision to continue residing at the property despite the hazardous and dangerous conditions caused by the defendants’ failure to maintain the property because these tenants lacked the means to move to another location,” the attorney general’s office says in both lawsuits.

Aubrey Carter Nowell, a principal of Sanford, did not respond to an email seeking comment on the latest allegations.

Housing inspectors reviewed both properties last year as part of a full sweep of Sanford buildings ordered by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) following investigative reports in The Post and the Washington City Paper about poor housing conditions at Sanford. Bowser called the company out by name in her State of the District address last year.

During that sweep, inspectors found more than 1,000 violations of the housing code that carried the potential for more than $500,000 in fines. Sanford contested the violations in court. A spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said the agency has since levied nearly $268,000 and the company has paid $158,000 of that balance.

The lawsuits say Sanford Capital failed to abate 86 of 93 violations noted at the Franklin Street apartments and at least 57 of 94 serious violations at G Street.