Category: Public health

Colorado GMO Labeling Law Heading for Signature-Gathering Phase

GMORightToKnowColorado Ballot Initiative #48, the “Colorado Right to Know Act,” would require food manufacturers to include the words “Produced with Genetic Engineering” on the packaging of any products that contain genetically-modified organisms. If foods containing these organisms and are not properly labeled, they will be considered “misbranded.”

Federal law currently does not require foods containing genetically-modified ingredients to be labeled, so consumers unaware whether their food contains these organisms and unable to make an informed choice about consuming them.

The measure survived a Colorado Supreme Court challenge by biotech, pesticide and conventional grocery interests, which disputed the title, the “Colorado Right to Know Act,” as unfair, inaccurate, confusing and misleading.

Proponents of the measure will not start collecting signatures to get the measure on the November, 2014 ballot. If it passes, the law will go into effect on July 1, 2016, and would not apply to food or drink for animals, chewing gum, alcoholic beverages, restaurant or food freshly-prepared for consumption or medically-prescribed foods.

Supporters will need 86,105 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Help out, donate or keep up with the progress of the campaign for the Colorado Right to Know Act at RightToKnowColorado.org.

Colorado Ballot Initiative Puts Rights of People Over Corporate Rights

corporate_logo_flag_new-500x333Think businesses have too many rights over citizens? Then attend a free informational session Tuesday, April 29 in Grand Junction about the groundbreaking Ballot Initiative #75, the “Right to Local Self-Government,” also known as the “Colorado Community Rights Amendment.” Initiative #75 would amend Colorado’s constitution to make the rights of people superior to corporate rights. It is now moving to the petitioning stage, and if it passes, will give local communities “the power to enact local laws establishing, defining, altering, or eliminating the rights, powers, and duties of corporations and other business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community.” Initiative #75 would bar the state from forcing unwanted for-profit corporate projects onto unwilling communities. It would let communities have the final say in whether they want to allow pursuits like hazardous waste dumps, factory farms, fracking, GMO crops, etc., near houses, schools, playgrounds, etc. Communities would be able to make these decisions freely, without the threat of lawsuits by the state or by corporations or their lobbying groups..

What: Informational session on Ballot Initiative #75
When: Tuesday, April 29 at 6:00 p.m.
Where: Mesa County Public Library, Central branch (5th St. and Grand Ave.)
Who: By the ballot initiative’s main listed proponent, Cliff Willmeng, a registered nurse from Lafayette, CO.

Over Half of Weld County’s Winter Air Pollution Comes from Drilling Rigs

Weld, County, Colorado

Weld, County, Colorado

A team of atmospheric scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado (CU) found that drilling operations for oil and natural gas in Weld County, Colorado was the “dominant wintertime source” of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air pollution emissions in that area. VOCs contribute to the formation of ozone, a constituent of photochemical smog. The researchers tested the air at a site 2.5 miles east of downtown Erie, Colorado.

In 2011, at the time of the study, Weld County had over 15,000 active gas wells. Two years later, it had 19,000. The study, titled “Source Signature of Volatile Organic Compounds from Oil and Natural Gas Operations in NOrtheastern Colorado,” was published in Environmental Science and Technology in January, 2013.

The study’s lead author, Jessica Gilman, Ph.D., said, “Average levels of propane [in the air in Weld County] were higher than the range of values reported for 28 U.S. cities. For example, they were four to nine times higher than in Houston, Texas, and Pasadena, California.”

The CU-NOAA study also found that air pollution from oil and gas emissions have a “chemical signature” that clearly differentiates them from other air pollution sources, like vehicular exhaust.

The study found that more than half of ozone-forming pollutants in Erie come from drilling activity.

Colorado Health Department Investigating Spike in Fetal Abnormalities in Heavily-Drilled Garfield County

Cross-posted from DeSmogBlog.com

Garfield County drilling rig (Photo: Garfield County government)

Garfield County drilling rig (Photo: Garfield County government)

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has called in an epidemiologist to investigate a recent spike in fetal abnormalities in Garfield County on Colorado’s western slope. Stacey Gavrell, Director of Community Relations for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said area prenatal care providers reported an increase in fetal abnormalities to the hospital, which then notified CDPHE. So far neither the hospital nor the state have released information about the numbers of cases reported, over what span of time, or the amount of the increase.

Gavrell said it is too early to speculate on the causes of the spike in abnormalities.

The report comes on the heels of the February, 2014 publication in Environmental Health Perspectives of a study that found an association between the density of natural gas wells within a ten mile radius of expectant mothers’ homes and the prevalence of fetal anomalies such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects in their infants.

The study examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time in rural Colorado, and specifically controlled for confounding factors that also emit air pollution, including traffic and other heavy industries. The abnormalities in infants in the study are associated with exposure to air pollutants like those emitted from natural gas wells, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen dioxide.

map of current drilling activity in the Garfield County area shows the number and concentration of active wells along the busy I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, one of the areas of interest in CDPHE’s investigation.

The Activism Behind CVS’s Cigarette Announcement

CVS touts its apparent new-found interest in people's health

CVS touts its apparent new-found interest in people’s health

CVS Drugstores announced this week that they are finally acting on information the rest of us have known for fifty years: they’re going to stop selling cigarettes because they are addictive and deadly. On February 5, 2014 CVS announced that it would end cigarette sales at its 7,600 stores nationwide by October 1. What CVS didn’t mention was the grassroots efforts behind this move, including the relentless driving force of a human being, Dr. Terence A. Gerace, who carried out an almost four year-long, single-focus, one-man campaign to push CVS to stop selling cigarettes. Dr. Gerace started his campaign in earnest on May 20, 2010. Over the years it has included a web site containing a log and description of every single one of the days he personally stood protesting in front of a busy CVS store in a prominent part of Washington, D.C., a “CVS Sells Poison” Facebook page, a “CVS Sells Poison” YouTube song and video, almost 170 days of personal protest in all kinds of weather at the Washington, D.C. store and some imaginative, hand-made iterations of what Terry though CVS ads could look like if the chain finally went cigarette-free. To his credit, though, Dr. Gerace has turned down offers of publicity for himself now that CVS has finally agreed to stop selling cigarettes, saying the focus should be on the change, and for that he deserves a gold medal.

Some communities understand that it is wrong for pharmacies, which market themselves as interested in peoples’ health, to sell cigarettes. A few enlightened U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Richmond, California, Boston and about 80 other cities in Massachusetts now have ordinances banning pharmacies from selling cigarettes. Canada prohibits pharmacies from selling cigarettes and so does the United Kingdom. In Europe, pharmacies do not sell cigarettes.

For decades the tobacco industry has protected the big national chain drug stores against lawsuits brought by people who were sickened by cigarettes bought at their stores through contracts that indemnify the stores against such legal action. After all, the pharmacies know they are selling a deadly product but keep doing it, to the cigarette makers’ great financial advantage. CVS had many such protective contracts with cigarette companies. To see the contracts tobacco companies held with any drug chain, just go to the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library online and enter the search term “indemnify and hold harmless” along with the name of any major drug store chain you like to shop at, like Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, etc. They’re all there, demonstrating that these stores know they are selling a deadly product and choose to do it anyway.

Now that CVS has decided to stop selling cigarettes, the only question left in people’s minds is no longer which national chain drug store will be the first to stop selling cigarettes. It’s which one will be the last.

Study Links Natural Gas Drilling to Congenital Heart Defects in Babies

"Drill, baby, drill?"

“Drill, baby, drill?”

A newly-published study specific to Colorado (pdf) links the rate of congenital heart defects in babies to how close they live to natural gas wells. The study, published January 28, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time — 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado. Researchers discovered an association between the density and proximity of methane (“natural gas”) wells within a ten mile radius of the mothers’ residences and the prevalence of heart defects, low birth weight and small-for-gestational age in newborns. Congenital heart defects are often associated with maternal exposure to toxins during gestation from sources like maternal smoking, alcohol abuse, exposure to solvents, benzene, toluene and petroleum-based solvents. Low birth weight and pre-term births are associated with exposure to air pollutants including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, all of which are emitted during natural gas production. The authors restricted their study to people living in rural areas and towns in Colorado with populations under 50,000 to reduce the potential for exposure to other sources of pollution, like heavy traffic and pollution from other industries. The researchers compared results with births among mothers who live in control areas that do not have natural gas drilling nearby.

Source: Lisa M. Mckenzie, Ruixin Guo, Roxana Z. Witter, David A. Savitz, Lee S. Newman and John L. Adgate, Witter, Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado, Environmental Health Perspectives, 28 January 2014

Philip Morris on the First Surgeon Generals Report in 1964

George Weissman was Chairman and CEO of Philip Morris 1964

George Weissman was Chairman and CEO of Philip Morris 1964

January, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health in 1964. The report was America’s first widely publicized, official recognition that cigarette smoking causes cancer and other serious diseases.

How did the tobacco industry react to that first report?

Barely three weeks after the Surgeon General issued the first Report on Smoking and Health to the public on January 11, 1964, George Weissman, President of the Philip Morris Tobacco Company (PM), sent this 3-page, confidential memo to Joseph Cullman III, PM’s Chair and Chief Executive Officer, on January 29, 1964. The memo reveals PM’s internal reaction to the report.

Weissman refers to the Surgeon General’s Report as a “propaganda blast” and launches into a list of ideas about how the industry can counteract it.  He suggests that the industry “take the initiative in securing a mild federal labeling act to thwart the efforts of the various states” to require health warning labels on cigarettes.

Weissman also suggests the industry work clandestinely to make fun of the Surgeon General’s health concerns, saying:

“While it should not be done in the industry’s name, someone ought to be contacting all the cartoonists, television gag writers, satirical reviews, etc., to apply the light touch to this question…”

The Grand Valley Canals Double Message

The beautiful banks of the Grand Valley Canals have beckoned locals for recreation for generations.

The beautiful banks of the Grand Valley Canals have beckoned locals for recreation for generations.

Updated September 8, 2016 – Author’s note: On September 5, 2016, The Daily Sentinel published a front page story about the possibility of opening up the Orchard Mesa canal banks to public recreational use. The story quoted former Colorado State Representative Tim Foster, now President of Colorado Mesa University, who called landowners’ claims that they fear legal liability from opening the canals to public recreation a “red herring.” Here’s the quote:

[Colorado Mesa University President] Tim Foster…served as a Colorado state representative between 1988 and 1996 and helped carry a bill in the early 1990s that would transfer liability of canal banks to the state, paving the way to combine trails with canals. The law was passed to help complete the current High Line Canal Trail in Denver that spans more than 70 miles, though that ditch doesn’t usually contain much water.

“The bill gave them protections from liability,” Foster said. “The liability argument is a complete red herring. Me and Tillie (Bishop) carried it, and it gives them immunity. At the end of the day, these guys got stuck on not letting anybody on the canals.”

 

Grand Junction, Colorado area citizens can often be seen walking dogs, running, biking and even cross-country skiing on the beautiful banks of the Grand Valley’s irrigation canals. The maintenance roads along the canals offer expansive vistas, blissful quiet and a feeling of safety for recreators because of the absence of motor vehicles. Newer subdivisions across the valley even have concrete pathways leading straight up onto the canal banks, beckoning residents to take peaceful walks there.

But at the same time signs posted along the canal roads warn that they are “No Trespassing” zones.

So, which is it? Are the canal roads off limits, or is it okay for the public to walk, run or bike on them?

The answer is both, and neither.

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese Working to Kill Riverfront Trails System

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, who oversees the county’s human services and food assistance programs

Mesa County’s Riverfront Project is a 25+ year project to clean up the Colorado riverfront and create scenic bike and foot trails along the river from Palisade to Fruita. Many volunteers, donors, grants and partnerships have made remarkable progress on the project, and the trails have become a shining star attraction of our area. Views from the existing trails are stunning. New businesses are starting to spring up along the existing trails and further enhance them, like the Botanical Gardens and the new Edgewater Brewery and Pub near the Watson Island section. Tourists and residents alike prize the wildlife, scenic beauty and the huge contribution the trail system makes to this area’s quality of life. But the Mesa County Commissioners, and in particular, Commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman, are trying to end to the Riverfront Project by gutting all county funding for it.

A Freethinker Halloween

With the rates of obesity and diabetes skyrocketing nationally and the number of kids going hungry in Mesa County at an all time high, it was difficult to think of spending money on candy this Halloween. Last year 54 trick or treaters came to our door, so the candy expenditure on Halloween these days is not insignificant.

Last Halloween I did a test to gauge kids’ interest in candy. I held out two identical bowls to all of our trick or treaters. One had some pretty decent candy in it (chocolate bars and such), and the other was filled with small party favors, like toy cars, sticky frogs, cheap necklaces, etc. (The cost of the party favors was about equal to the cost of the candy, by the way.) The kids preferred the toys to the candy by a ratio of about 3:1. That told me candy wasn’t such a big deal to kids after all.

FDA Drags Feet on Regulating Menthol in Cigarettes

MentholJoe

In the 1980s, R.J. Reynolds used one version of “Joe Camel” to market menthol cigarettes to African Americans (left), and another version (inset, right) to market to caucasian populations.

It’s own Tobacco Products Advisory Scientific Committee (TPASC) concluded in 2011 that menthol cigarettes increase hazards to human health, but even now — fully two and a half years later — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still dragging its feet in acting on the information. Yielding to pressure from tobacco companies, on September 4, FDA (pdf) delayed deciding what to do about menthol for yet another two months, asking for more public comment. A scientific study commissioned by FDA and published in March of 2011 (pdf) found that cigarette companies add menthol at trace or “subliminal” levels to all cigarettes to manipulate the sensory perception of smoke. FDA’s scientific advisory committee studied the relationships between menthol cigarettes and public health, and concluded that menthol cannot be considered simply a flavoring additive in cigarettes because it has distinct pharmacological actions. It reduces the harshness of smoke and irritation from nicotine — both characteristics that make it easier for kids to start smoking. Menthol also may make it harder for some people to quit, and the evidence suggested use of menthol cigarettes can lower responsiveness to medications. TPSAC concluded that there are no public health benefits of menthol compared to non-menthol cigarettes. TPSAC also found use of menthol cigarettes is highest among minorities, teenagers and low-income populations, and particularly heavy among African-Americans. Cigarette companies have long disproportionately marketed menthol cigarettes to African Americans. A Stanford University School of Medicine study found cigarette companies market mentholated cigarettes in a predatory manner designed to lure African Americans into becoming smokers. They advertise menthol cigarettes more heavily in areas with higher African American populations, and lower the price of menthol cigarettes in stores located near high schools with large African American student populations.

Female Politicians Fight Republican War on Women

Ohio State Senator Nina Turner has introduced a bill that would require men seeking prescription drugs for the treatment of erectile dysfunction to submit to a mental and physical exams to assure they have appropriate medical reasons for obtaining the drug, and they would also have to get tested for HIV. Rep. Turner says the legislature should show the same concern about men’s reproductive health as they do women’s reproductive health. The bill is part of a growing national backlash against a wave of Republican-enacted bills that restrict women’s access to reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortions. Other female legislators across the U.S. have introduced bills that focus on men’s reproductive systems, too. Oklahoma Senator Constance Johnson introduced an amendment to the state’s “Personhood” bill that would make it illegal for men to ejaculate outside of a woman’s vagina, saying such an act “shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.” Illinois House Representative Kelly Cassidy introduced an amendment to a forced ultrasound bill that would order men to watch a graphic video depicting Viagra’s side effects before they could obtain a prescription for the drug. A bill filed by Virginia State Senator Janet Howell would require men to submit to rectal exams before getting a Viagra prescription. In Georgia, a state representative introduced a bill sharply limiting men’s ability to get a vasectomy.

 

Source: Huffington Post, June 28, 2013

R.J. Reynolds Puts Cigarette “Pilferage in Perspective”

Equation from RJR documents shows retailers could make more money if they let cigarettes be stolen than by preventing theft by locking them up.

Equation on page -9000 of RJR marketing document shows retailers could make more money if they let cigarettes be stolen than by preventing theft by locking them up.

In September, 1985 ,R. J. Reynolds created a sales presentation about shoplifting called “Pilferage in Perspective,” to try and talk retailers out of the “knee jerk reaction” of moving their cigarettes out of reach of customers in response to high rates of pilferage. The document shows how, in most cases, retailers could make a bigger profit if they let their cigarettes be stolen, due to the industry-paid “placement,” “merchandising” or “slotting fees.” Tobacco companies paid these fees, which were often sizable, to retailers in exchange for placing self-service cigarette displays in specific locations in stores like  in front of the cash register, below counter level or adjacent to displays containing candy and toys. The displays were often required to be kept in locations that made it difficult for clerks to oversee them and limit shoplifting from them. Many clerks expressed profound frustration with the arrangement, since they were often held responsible for  stolen merchandise. The RJR document contains equations that demonstrate for retailers how their slotting fees more than offset their loss from theft.  

BP’s Deepwater Horizon Cover-Up

Studies have found oil/Corexit® residue accelerates the absorption of toxins into the skin. The results aren’t visible under normal light (top), but the contamination into the skin appear as fluorescent spots under UV light (bottom). Photo Credit: James H “Rip” Kirby III, Surfrider Foundation

Studies have found oil/Corexit® residue accelerates the absorption of toxins into the skin. The results aren’t visible under normal light (top), but contamination that has worked its way into the skin appears as fluorescent spots under UV light (bottom). Photo Credit: James H “Rip” Kirby III, Surfrider Foundation

Newsweek magazine published a scathing expose’ this week about BP’s behind-the-scenes efforts to limit what the public saw and understood about the company’s disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill.  BP assured thousands of fishermen, on-shore residents and workers they hired to help with spill cleanup operations that the proprietary oil dispersant they used called “Corexit” was as safe as dish soap, but people exposed to the Corexit/oil mixture subsequently fell ill with a range symptoms that mimic Gulf War Syndrome, including muscle spasms that rendered their hands unusable, neurological problems like short term memory loss, painful skin inflammation and breathing problems. A Government Accountability Project (GAP) investigation done after the fact found BP purposely withheld manufacturer’s safety manuals for Corexit from the fishermen and other workers. In interviews after the disaster, cleanup workers said BP had threatened to fire any workers who complained about the lack of protective clothing and respirators. Airplanes spraying Corexit also indiscriminately sprayed the substance over the fishing boats BP hired to help contain the spill, exposing the fishermen to multiple doses of the chemicals. Nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Pollution published a study that found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when mixed with Corexit than it would otherwise be if left alone.  GAP representatives asked BP to pay for the medical treatment of victims of Corexit-and-crude poisoning but BP has refused. BP’s cover up demonstrates the huge amount of power corporations wield and the inability or unwillingness of governments to restrict that power. Eleven people were killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but no one has yet faced any criminal charges. What’s worse, the BP spill and its after-effects haven’t prompted any changes in public policy towards big corporations and their activities. It’s as though the U.S. government has gleaned no wisdom at all from the disaster and BP’s subsequent actions.

Source: Newsweek, “What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know about the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill,” April 22, 2013 (Accompanying photo is from the University of South Florida study “Findings of Persistency of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Residual Tar Product Sourced from Crude Oil Released During the Deepwater Horizon M252 Spill of National Significance,” [PDF], April 14, 2012)

To the GOP: If Gun Control Doesn’t Work, Try This Instead

Op-Ed

Camden County, New Jersey gun buyback program brought in 1,137 firearms. Photo credit Tim Hawk, South Jersey Times

Camden County, New Jersey gun buyback program brought in 1,137 firearms. Photo credit Tim Hawk, South Jersey Times

Laws to regulate guns just don’t work. At least that’s what many prominent Republicans say.  In the mean time, the U.S. is awash in guns, judging from the piles of them turned in at buyback programs across the country. While it is unclear whether these programs actually reduce gun deaths, they do prove one thing: Americans have more guns than they know what to do with. Add to this emerging technology that, when gun nuts perfect it, will allow people to manufacture guns using 3-D printers, and we may be so deep in trouble we’ll never dig out. This distribution method will make it completely impossible for government to regulate who gets a gun and who doesn’t. Gun owners and pro-gun legislators repeatedly tout the portion of the Second Amendment that talks about their right to bear arms, but universally ignore the part indicating gun owners are expected to be part of a “well-regulated militia.” All these factors point to one conclusion: the time may  have already passed when we could realistically regulate guns to any desired effect.

So now what?