Week starting 3/26/12

Food and Drug Administration denies petition to ban use of chemical bisphenol A from food, drink containers. The federal agency said the science does not show an immediate cause for such action. However, the FDA cautioned that this ruling does not declare bisphenol A, or BPA, as safe. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin.

Puberty before age 10: A new ‘normal.’ For many parents of early-developing girls, “normal” is a crazy-making word, especially when uttered by a doctor; it implies that the patient, or patient’s mother, should quit being neurotic and accept that not much can be done. But even if it’s the new normal, why is it happening? New York Times [Registration Required]

Big advances in testing chemicals. Advances in computing are dramatically changing the field of chemical testing. And one day there may be far less need for scientists to use laboratory animals to test chemicals for health and safety. Living On Earth

Illegal ocean dumping persists despite DOJ crackdown. Over the past 10 years, a Justice Department report shows, the Vessel Pollution Program has triggered more than $200 million in fines and 17 years in prison for ship officers and executives for deliberately dumping waste overboard and trying to hide their crimes. Center for Public Integrity

Engineering humans: A new solution to climate change? So far, conventional solutions to global warming – new government policies and changes in individual behavior – haven’t delivered. There may be another route to avoid the potentially disastrous effects of climate change: We can deliberately alter ourselves, three researchers suggest. LiveScience

Biosecurity advisory board reverses decision on engineered bird flu papers. Two scientific papers that describe experiments with a virulent and contagious bird flu virus should be published in uncensored form, a committee of scientists advising the federal government said Friday. Washington Post [Registration Required]

Bees and insecticides: Subtle poison. Evidence is growing that commonly used pesticides, even when employed carefully, are bad for bees. Dying bees are a problem, and not just for apiarists. Bees pollinate many of the world’s crops—a service estimated to be worth $15 billion a year in America alone. Economist

US FDA: Big Tobacco must tell you what you’re smoking. US health regulators said on Friday that tobacco companies must report how much formaldehyde, nicotine or any of 18 other harmful chemicals are in their products. Reuters

Fukushima’s radioactivity found in California kelp. Levels spiked, then disappeared. Kelp off Southern California was contaminated with short-lived radioisotopes a month after Japan’s Fukushima accident, a sign that the spilled radiation reached the state’s coastline, according to a new scientific study. Environmental Health News

New high in US autism rates inspires renewed debate. About one in 88 children in the United States has autism or a related disorder, the highest estimate to date and one that is sure to revive a national argument over how the condition is caused, diagnosed and treated. Environmental factors may account for 62 percent of autism risk, according to a 2011 study. Reuters

New pesticides linked to bee population collapse. Worldwide declines in bee colonies, threatening much of global agriculture, may be caused by a new generation of nerve-agent pesticides, two new scientific studies strongly suggest. London Independent, United Kingdom.

Chicken feathers carry drugs. Chicken feathers processed at high temperatures become “feather meal” that finds use as fertilizer and animal feed. But the feathers retain a slew of pharmaceutical compounds, and not just drugs used to treat chickens, a new study finds. The meal may be a conduit for antimicrobial resistance, the researchers suggest. Chemical & Engineering News

How much BPA exposure is dangerous? The FDA has until Saturday to decide whether to ban the plastic additive BPA from food packaging. Some scientists think BPA poses a risk to consumers because it can act like estrogen in the body. But recent studies by government scientists suggest the risk, if any, is minimal. Morning Edition, NPR.

Coal train traffic increase could be bad news for health. There are now six new export terminals proposed to be built along the Northwest coast. The goal? To bring American coal to Asia, via train and ship. If more coal is exported, that could mean more trains coming through towns, and that has some concerned about people’s health. Boise State Public Radio, Idaho.

Plan to merge labs for biofuel research criticized. A plan by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to merge its energy labs into a major new research facility in Richmond where scientists would work to develop biofuels through genetic engineering came under fire Wednesday by activists who fear that dangerous new microbes would be created there. San Francisco Chronicle, California.

Radioactive iodine in Philadelphia water tied to thyroid patients. Government officials have now confirmed what they strongly suspected a year ago: The radioactive iodine-131 in some of the region’s waterways, also found in minute amounts in Philadelphia’s drinking water, is coming from thyroid patients. Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania. [Registration Required]

California’s water is stressed, with no easy fix, prestigious panel agrees. A comprehensive new study on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s environmental problems concludes there is no easy fix, only hard choices, if California wants to restore fish species and still satisfy its water demands. Sacramento Bee, California.

Southwest Airlines’ Weight Loss Program  In 2010, Southwest Airlines saved more than 570,000 gallons of fuel and reduced emissions by approximately 5,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent through the use of electric, rather than petroleum-powered GSE. The reductions and others were the result of a program entitled Evolve, the new Southwest interior, part of the bigger picture of corporate responsibility at the company.

Minnesota setting health standards for emerging contaminants. Federal and state regulators have already placed limits on many contaminants found in drinking water, such as lead. But health officials are now turning their attention to other chemicals in the water supply that are not widely known, including those in fragrances, drugs and bug spray. Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota.

Churches step up environmental activism. With a Bible in one hand and a protest sign in the other, many religious activists are now moving in lockstep with the environmental movement in the fight against oil and gas drilling. Washington Times, District of Columbia.

Why isn’t California regulating fracking? Gov. Jerry Brown says there’s very little hydraulic fracturing happening in California. It is happening, and routinely. But it’s tough for local communities to get information because the state doesn’t keep track of it. Sacramento News and Review, California.

Interior proposes opening Atlantic for oil and gas surveys. The Obama administration today announced a plan to allow companies to survey the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas and other resources, an important first step in deciding whether, and where, to allow drilling. Greenwire

Reports link heat waves, deluges to climate change. Scientists are increasingly confident that the uptick in heat waves and heavier rainfall is linked to human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, posing a heightened risk to the world’s population, according to two reports issued in the past week. Washington Post [Registration Required]

Farming needs ‘climate-smart’ revolution, says report. Major changes are needed in agriculture and food consumption around the world if future generations are to be adequately fed, a major report warns. Farming must intensify sustainably, cut waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farms, it says. BBC

This season’s ticking bomb. Warmer temperatures are leading some experts to warn that tick activity is starting earlier than usual this year, putting more people at risk. Often hard to diagnose and tricky to treat, tick-borne illnesses — led by Lyme disease — can have serious and long-term complications. Wall Street Journal [Subscription Required]

Antibiotics may make you fat. The trillions of bacteria that colonise our guts are in jeopardy. Overusing antibiotics has not only led to the development of dangerous superbugs, but has changed the bacteria that live inside us. Now evidence suggests that new gut floras may be responsible for our expanding waistlines. New Scientist

Sacramento and SoCal: How to do sustainable communities right  Last Thursday, the implementation of SB 375 hit another milestone with the Air Resources Board’s (ARB) review of two more Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS)—from Southern California and Sacramento. ARB members heard staff presentations on the two plans, asked questions of the regional agency directors, and heard stakeholder reactions.

Kimberly-Clark to Launch Bamboo Toilet Paper -  Kimberly-Clark’s U.K. line of Andrex toilet tissue will launch Andrex Eco, made with 90 percent recycled fiber and 10 percent bamboo, the company said.  All packaging for the Eco tissue is sourced from 100 percent recycled content, and can be recycled, including the core, plastic packaging, and packaging used during distribution to retailers, the company said.

Sustainable livestock vow not just hot air. Australia’s 55,000 cattle and sheep producers have pledged to consumers to all be farming sustainably by 2020. They aim to convince urban Australians that red meat production is environmentally, socially and ethically sustainable. The project has won the backing of some notable environmentalists and chefs. The Australian, Australia.

Social media turn up heat on food industry. Americans spend the smallest share of their income on groceries of any country. But as activist groups continue to pull back the curtain on the techniques that make this cheap food possible, Americans are raising their eyebrows and voicing their concerns to surprisingly powerful effect. Chicago Tribune, Illinois.

Enhancing Sustainability through Responsible Supplier Partnerships  In most environmental preferable purchasing (EPP) programs, the policies primarily focus on the end product because that is easier to see, manipulate and control. However, even the “greenest” product is not really environmentally friendly if it is manufactured in a facility that wastes water and energy, transported in gas-guzzling vehicles and over-packaged as if expecting to be dropped from a 10-story building.

Sprawling cities pressure environment, planning. Expanding cities threaten to eat up a swath of land the size of France, Germany and Spain combined in less than 20 years, putting the world under even more environmental pressure, experts said at a climate conference on Tuesday. Reuters

Capsule helps decontaminate milk, water and other fluids. Water, milk and other fluids can be purified of radioactive substances with absorbant nanoparticles, according to a new study. Arsenic, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals can also be removed with the technology. San Diego North County Times, California.

Birds adjusting slowly to climate change. A new study based on the National Audubon Society’s North American Christmas Bird Count finds birds have taken decades to adjust their ranges northward in response to warming winters. Associated Press

Global warming close to becoming irreversible - scientists. The world is close to reaching tipping points that will make it irreversibly hotter, making this decade critical in efforts to contain global warming, scientists warned on Monday. Reuters

Common toothpaste additive triclosan to be deemed toxic to environment. The Canadian government is set to declare a bacteria killer found in many toothpastes, mouthwashes and anti-bacterial soaps as toxic to the environment, a move which could see the use of the chemical curtailed sharply. Postmedia News

Packaging on the pounds. Bisphenol A, a controversial chemical used to harden plastics, is contributing to the global obesity epidemic, according to new research by biologist Frederick vom Saal. The claims come as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to rule this week—after four years of study—on whether to ban BPA from food packaging. The Daily

3 firms Win Contest to Help Kaiser Design Greener Hospital - Kaiser’s “Small Hospital, Big Idea” design contest—the first effort in the health care industry to open-source innovation—has yielded winning concepts from three companies that specialize in sustainable architecture.  Contest winners Aditazz, Mazzetti Nash Lipsey Burch and Perkins+Will, whose selection was announced this morning, will now help the health care giant design a small, 100-bed hospital—mostly likely in Southern California—with a net-zero environmental impact and a target date for ground-breaking within the next five to eight years.

Zimride reinvents the carpool with Facebook - Hitchhiking is so yesterday. A San Francisco-based startup called Zimride is using the power of social media to connect drivers with people needing rides—saving people money, helping the environment and sometimes helping its customers make new friends.  “Zimriding is really fun,” says John Zimmer, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer.“We’ve had people who have met a girlfriend or boyfriend, or found a new job.”

Food security focus fuels new worries over crop chemicals. Scientists, environmentalists and farm advocates are pressing the question about whether rewards of the trend toward using more and more crop chemicals are worth the risks, as the agricultural industry strives to ramp up production to feed the world’s growing population. Reuters

Dirty crude means dirty air in California. California’s long-running campaign to reduce air pollution has indirectly helped create a new problem: its oil refineries now produce more greenhouse gas emissions than refineries anywhere else in the country. New America Media

‘Pink slime’ maker suspends some plant operations. The company that makes “pink slime” suspended operations Monday at three of four plants where the beef ingredient is made, saying officials would work to address recent public concern about the product. Associated Press

2 more reasons to eliminate BPA: Obesity and diabetes - A group of chemicals that carry the moniker of “gender benders” may be causing increased rates of obesity and diabetes, according to a new report out of the U.K.  The gender benders in question include chemicals that have been at the center of other campaigns or companies’ efforts to remove then from products: bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and some industrial chemicals that have been banned but are persistent in the environment and can still contaminate food.

Qantas to Run Flights on Converted Cooking Oil Biofuel Mix - Qantas said it will operate Australia’s first commercial flights powered by a blend of converted cooking oil and conventional jet fuel starting April 13, on a Sydney-Adelaide return service operated by an Airbus A330.  The aircraft – which can carry about 300 passengers – will use the 50-50 mix in one of its two engines. Qantas engineers will monitor the engine running on standard aviation gas against the biofuel, Adelaide Now said.

Link builds between weather extremes and warming. Extreme weather events over the past decade have increased and were “very likely” caused by manmade global warming, a study in the journal Nature Climate Change said on Sunday. Extreme weather events were devastating in their impacts and affected nearly all regions of the globe. Reuters

Global temperatures could rise 5 degrees by 2050. As the United States simmers through its hottest March on record - with more than 6,000 record high temperatures already set this month - a new study released Sunday shows that average global temperatures could climb 2.5 to 5.4 degrees by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. USA Today

For Pennsylvania’s doctors, a gag order on fracking chemicals. Under a new law, doctors in Pennsylvania can access information about chemicals used in natural gas extraction—but they won’t be able to share it with their patients. Mother Jones

Edinburgh scientists find gene clue for flu mystery. Scientists have discovered a gene which may make some people more susceptible to flu. It may explain why apparently healthy people have needed intensive care after contracting swine flu, while others were unaware they had been infected. BBC

Heritable epigenetics. A study on four classes of chemicals—plastics, pesticides, dioxins, and hydrocarbons—has confirmed that exposure of a fetus to man-made chemicals in the womb can result in heritable changes in gene expression, even to offspring generations later that were not directly exposed to the chemicals. Chemical & Engineering News

Counting the cost of cotton. The demand for cotton is a heavy burden for the planet. About 2,600 litres of water are needed to grow the cotton for one T-shirt. Cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop, degrading the soil and drinking water, and placing many farmers in debt. Inter Press Service

Mecca’s Misery: Neighbors feel trapped. In early 2010, Angelina and Leon Guillen moved into their new house and started to smell something new in the Mecca air, something “unbearable.” It was foul and fecal-smelling — and so intense it would be difficult to breathe at times, she said. Palm Springs Desert Sun, California. [related stories]

Mercury - a hazard in the oceans and on the land. Mercury vapour enters the body through the air. It destroys kidneys, brain and eyes. Sources of mercury exposure vary from fish to gold mining to light bulbs. Close to 40% of the total mercury used in the world is being used by artisanal miners, who don’t know how to use it. Australia ABC News, Australia.

Environmentalists take aim at toxic lead in ammunition. Using a canoe or her 10-foot-Zodiac boat, Martha Jordan has scooped up hundreds of sick or dead trumpeter and tundra swans from Judson Lake in northwestern Washington state, the site of one of the worst known cases of lead poisoning among wildlife. A petition filed last week seeks to get the lead out of hunting ammo. McClatchy Newspapers