Luke Cole mourned; 'Food, Inc.' released; Herbicides & pancreatic cancer; and more....

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.

June 11, 2009

Luke Cole remembered & celebrated

Luke ColeLuke was "one of the pioneers in the field of environmental justice," notes the San Francisco Chronicle, "filing lawsuits for poor plaintiffs or people of color whose communities were being ravaged by corporate polluters." He died in a car accident on June 6 while on sabbatical in Uganda. He was 46. The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) issued this statement on the loss of its founder: "Luke was a visionary leader who helped define the role of law and lawyers in the environmental justice movement. With the inspiration and support of his mentor, Ralph Abascal of California Rural Legal Assistance, he founded CRPE soon after his graduation from Harvard Law School. Luke saw that as a legal field, environmental justice could be a bridge between the traditional environmental movement and the traditional civil rights movement. Although he worked hard to bring lawyers into the environmental justice movement, he was always mindful of the secondary role they should play. Luke recognized that in the end, environmental racism is a political problem, not a legal one, and therefore that the ultimate end is to empower disempowered communities. In his view, no legal strategy was adequate unless it met the test of three questions: Will it educate? Will it build the movement? Will it address the root of the problem? Luke came from privilege, and he often laughed about being called a “limousine liberal,” but in his life and his work he walked the walk. He used his education, his race and gender privilege, his “macho law brain,” his charisma, and his heart to help those who did not have a voice influence the decisions that affect their lives and health. His “from the ground up” philosophy of environmental justice advocacy has influenced an entire field of legal practice and scholarship, as well as built lasting relationships with the communities with which we work. While we feel his loss deeply, CRPE is committed to continuing his work and ensuring that his vision of justice and equity is realized."

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'Food, Inc.' opening June 12 in NY, SF & LA

On June 12, the makers of An Inconvenient Truth are releasing Food, Inc. -- an unflinching exposé of America’s industrial food, “a riveting cautionary tale,” says the Los Angeles Times. Food, Inc. reveals how a handful of corporations control our nation’s food supply while cashing in on the myth that our food comes from idyllic, community-scale farms. According to food reporter Michael Pollan, “Food, Inc. is the most important and powerful film about our food system in a generation.” For months, the documentary has been showing in festivals, word-of-mouth screenings, and in government officials’ offices -- including one “uncomfortable” screening with USDA head, Tom Vilsack. It will show in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York on Friday, and roll out to fifty-plus cities in the weeks thereafter. Pesticide Action Network is one of 20 social change organizations engaged by the filmmakers to link outraged moviegoers to opportunities for action -- others include United Farm Workers, Humane Society, and Organic Consumers Association. PAN has also contributed a chapter on pesticides and farmworker exposure to the film’s companion book, Food, Inc.: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer – And What You Can Do About It. The movie touches on issues ranging from its primary focus on Monsanto and other agribusiness’s government influence and control over what we eat, to food safety, and farmer and food-worker exploitation. Monsanto refused to be interviewed in the film but has since found it necessary to post a webpage defending itself and big ag from the film’s depiction. “We’re thrilled to be a part of this film’s work in the world,” notes PAN’s Executive Director, Kathryn Gilje, “It is a perfectly timed organizing tool with great potential for catalyzing change in our nation’s food system.” The NY Times reviewed Food, Inc. on June 3.

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Two herbicides linked to pancreatic cancer

Pesticide useA study published in the International Journal of Cancer links two herbicides with pancreatic cancer, an infrequent but almost always fatal disease. "Previous studies have reported excess risks of pancreatic cancer with organochlorines such as DDT," but researchers from the National Cancer Institute say they are the first to link the disease to the agricultural chemicals pendimethalin and EPTC, following up on earlier epidemiological studies showing that some weed killers might increase risk for pancreatic cancer. Gabriella Andreotti and her team reviewed a sample of 57,000 licensed pesticide applicators and 32,000 spouses living in Iowa or North Carolina when they joined the ongoing U.S. Agricultural Health Study, begun in 1994. The researchers suspect that a person "can harbor the carcinogen nitrosamine as a trace impurity and both weed killers are able to form related N-nitroso compounds," according to a description of the study in Science News. "Nitrosamines and related compounds are suspected human carcinogens affecting tissues including the pancreas." According to Pesticide Action Network's pesticideinfo.org, pendimethalin is a possible carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor, sold in "weed and feed" products such as Scott's Hyponex and under brand names including Accotab, Go-Go-San, Herbadox, Magic Carpet, Penoxalin, Prowl, Sipaxol, Stomp and Way-Up. EPTC is a PAN Bad Actor pesticide of moderate acute toxicity that is both a cholinesterase inhibitor and a reproductive toxin. EPTC is sold under brand names including Eptam and Powerplay (both from Drexel), Doubleplay (Syngenta), and Eradicane (Gowan).

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Study launched to find causes of autism

"An ambitious hunt for clues to the causes of autism began on Tuesday, June 9, as a call went out for women willing to be monitored throughout new pregnancies and during their babies' early years," reports the Sacramento Bee. Kaiser Permanente and the medical schools at Drexel in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and the University of California, Davis, are collaborating over the next four years with 1,200 women "who already have a child with an autism spectrum disorder and plan to expand their families." "Doctors hope that by keeping close track of new pregnancies, as well as the first three years of the babies' lives, they could learn whether anything from diet to home cleaning supplies might play a role in autism." Mothers will be asked "to keep diaries during their pregnancies, and provide biological samples ranging from blood to hair to breast milk." After children are born, "researchers will visit their homes, taking dust samples and using questionnaires to monitor pesticides, flame retardants and other household chemicals the child might come in contact with. Researchers suspect a complex mix of genetics and environment may be behind the upsurge in autism spectrum disorders, which are now diagnosed in about one of every 150 children," according to the Bee. The $16 million-plus Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI) "focuses on women who already have given birth to one autistic child because they are likelier to have another.... In Northern California, the EARLI study will be enrolling women who live within a two-hour drive of Sacramento or the Bay Area."

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Pesticide may be source of melamine in baby formula

Baby with milk bottle"Infant formulas purchased from stores in Canada show widespread tainting with traces of melamine, a toxic constituent of plastics and other materials," reports Science News. "In China, the fraudulent use of melamine as a protein replacement in infant formulas resulted in the poisoning of more than 1,200 babies last year, six of whom died. Canada’s widespread contamination, however, appears unintentional and to stem from a very different source." Health Canada chemists "have yet to identify the source of the pollutant they’ve just turned up in 71 of 94 samples of infant formula. In a report of their findings, however, just published online ahead of print in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Sheryl Tittlemier and her colleagues do finger one key suspect: the insecticide cyromazine. It’s legal for use on food crops and animal forage — and melamine is one of its breakdown products." Cyromazine is on PAN's list of Bad Actor Pesticides due to its high toxicity as a ground water contaminant. Concentrations of melamine found in formulas by Health Canada suggest that "a baby’s likely intake of the kidney-toxic chemical would only come to about 1 percent of the allowable intake."

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Sugar for termites

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University "have discovered a novel way to make pest insects more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections by blocking part of the immune defenses," MIT announced this week. The findings by professor Ram Sasisekharan and his colleagues are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "'Dr. Sasisekharan's basic studies on innate immunity in insects have enabled him to devise a strategy to defeat them,' said Pamela Marino of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which partially supported the work. 'The findings may lead to the development of new pesticides that pose a far lesser threat to human health than the chemical pesticides commonly used now.'" The researches looked at proteins that certain termites and other insects embed in their nests. The proteins "act as a first line of defense against pathogenic bacteria and fungus," triggering an immune response in the insects. The team then "found that a sugar called GDL (glucono delta-lactone), a naturally occurring derivative of glucose, disables the proteins and makes the insects more vulnerable to infection.... Since this defense mechanism is only employed by certain insect species such as termites, locusts and cockroaches, GDL is harmless to beneficial insects such as ants, as well as other animals and plants." GDL is used as a food preservative and is cheap and biodegradable. Sasisekharan suggests that the sugar could be incorporated in building materials or paint, or sprayed.

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