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Concerned scientists offer to help government with oversight of toxic chemicals

Janelle Weaver, Contributor

We’re surrounded by harmful chemicals, but how much do we really know about their effect on the body? Federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), could be doing more to determine the health risk posed by environmental compounds, scientists argue in a journal commentary.

Patricia Hunt, a reproductive biologist at Washington State University, and her collaborators present these concerns in the March 4 issue of Science. In their letter, they offer to the US government the expertise of eight professional societies that represent the fields of human genetics, reproductive medicine, developmental biology and endocrinology, among others.

“It grew out of increasing frustration on the part of several of my colleagues and I about how the review process seems to handle academic research,” Hunt explains. FDA and EPA committees are not capturing the full body of evidence about the potential hazards of common substances because they rely primarily on toxicology studies to assess the safety of these compounds and devise regulatory guidelines, she says. “A lot of really good and strong research gets tossed aside in part because there isn’t the right expertise on those panels.”

Complex chemicals

Many scientists are most troubled by endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the female sex hormone estrogen. Exposure to everyday levels of BPA found in water bottles and other plastic containers can cause severe developmental and genetic abnormalities in animals, studies by Hunt and others have shown. “This [research] is going to provide an enormous amount of insight into what BPA actually does, and it’s going to be a complement to the long-standing practice of very careful, thorough toxicological studies,” says Scott Hawley, a geneticist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and former president of the Genetics Society of America.

But for the time being, “government review practices are inadequate for chemicals with hormone-like actions,” the researchers assert in the article. In particular, toxicology studies may neglect long-term and dose-specific outcomes, says Kelly Mayo, an endocrinologist at Northwestern University and president of the Endocrine Society. “They’re compounds that can have effects sometimes at very low doses, yet have no apparent effects at very high doses,” he says.

Professional help

Scientific associations can supply information about how toxins affect biological processes in model organisms and attempt to relate the data to humans, Hawley says. “This is an interesting challenge that the members of our societies are ideally equipped to handle.”

The research organizations propose to help federal agencies evaluate chemicals and develop new testing procedures. “We felt that we had something to contribute and wanted to make sure that the appropriate regulatory agencies felt free to call on us for our assistance,” Hawley says.

Welcome Aboard Janelle Weaver!

We would like to welcome aboard our new guest columnist Janelle Weaver. She has contributed to Nature News, TechMediaNetwork, New Scientist, and Scientific American Mind. Janelle Weaver is a freelance science writer who recently graduated from the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz. Before becoming a writer, she was trained as a neuroscientist at Stanford University, where she received her PhD. She then used her neuroscience training to evaluate research manuscripts and coordinate peer review at the journal PLoS Biology.

Eventually, she discovered that she liked interviewing scientists and writing about their work more than rejecting thousands of manuscripts each year. She participated in science writing internships at the Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford News Service, followed by a stint at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Now she lives in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

We can guarantee that the topics she covers will be quite interesting and informational.

Treating Cancer Based On Its Genome

The cost of gene sequencing has gone down at an incredible rate and will only continue. A new approach by doctors is to sequence the genes in a patients’ individual cancerous tumor. Within the past couple of years scientists have sequenced the first cancer genome, and now physicians are using “whole genome analysis” to better treat their patients.

With new tools available the DNA in patients’ healthy cells and cancerous cells can be compared for differences. This ability will allow physicians to offer more personalized drugs and therapies to individual patients with particular types of cancer.

Motor Vehicles and Carbon Emissions - A General Overview

The motor vehicles that operate in the world today account for a significant percentage of carbon emissions released by man. Of course, the U.S. accounts for half of all global warming linked to cars worldwide. In 2004 carbon dioxide emissions from personal vehicles in the United States equaled 314 million metric tons. That’s a significant number. The U.S. is responsible for half of all the emissions and pollution from cars in the world!

The are many reasons why our cars and trucks are responsible for a major portion of air pollution. In America we are known for having our big SUV’s monster trucks, gas guzzling sports cars, etc. We consume an incredible amount of fuel, and up until recently we haven’t done much to curb our consumption.

In 2004 U.S. cars and light trucks drove 2.6 trillion miles. Which is the equivalent of 10 MILLION TRIPS from the earth to the moon! The average fuel economy of those cars were 19.6 miles per gallon (now fuel economy has gone up to the low 20s). The gasoline in our cars has about 5.3 pounds of carbon per gallon. Annually we are each responsible for putting 1.5 tons of carbon in the air from the exhaust from the fuel in our cars and trucks.

From our cars and trucks we are raising the temperature of the atmosphere, killing animals, causing cancer, respiratory problems, and a lot more. Thankfully things are starting to turn around (slowly).

Originally a few companies decided to introduce electric cars to a small segment of the market back in the early 90s. These cars had a short run and in total, the numbers of cars sold was tiny. The majority of these cars looked ugly/weak, had no power, cost a ton, and had a horrible driving range. It was argued that the car companies which released electric cars at the time were doing it more for publicity than to actual produce a good product it wished to sell. Car companies knew that oil was still in and the small niche of people who wanted cleaner cars didn’t represent a major portion of the market of car buyers, by any means. So a few companies put out their electric cars in small numbers (50-100k) ended the electric car models, and that was it.

Not much else happened in terms of advancement as a whole industry for clean cars in the 90s. There were technological improvements of course, but no company saw the “Green Car” market as being profitable so they had no reason to produce a car with a high fuel economy.

In The early 2000s things began to change. Oil prices went up through the roof (now oil prices are just unbelievable) and many more average people started realizing just how important it is to curb and reduce emissions, stop pollution, and hopefully save the earth.

Let’s move on to what has changed the market. We are presented with the Toyota Prius. This car has a fuel economy of about 45 miles per gallon, one of the highest fuel economy vehicles you can buy for a standard sedan. This car is a hybrid. It efficiently consumes gasoline and uses electricity generated by the motor to also move the vehicle. This combination of using electricity and gasoline to power a car is a lot more efficient than using gasoline to run a car alone.

There are now many cars on the market that come in Hybrid Models, and Hybrid Exclusive Models. In fact, by Christmas this year Cadillac is releasing a hybrid Escalade SUV. The Escalade is known for complete luxury and horrible fuel economy. The hybrid Escalade will offer about 22 miles per gallon, compared to the 12 - 14 miles per gallon previous model.

Besides personal automobiles, Volvo has begun testing Hybrid Garbage Trucks. These trucks run on Diesel Engines (Which is a lot cleaner than they used to be) and Lithium-ion battery packs. The trucks use electric motors to power them when they accelerate up to 12mph. After that, the diesel motors kick in. These trucks are expected to have 30% less carbon emissions than their non-hybrid equivalents and may be put out in full production if trials go well this year.

Electric cars were also seen as weak too. Technology now offers us Lithium-ion batteries that can store huge amounts of power. Thus, there are specialized companies developing electric cars that were unimaginable just a decade ago.

There’s a company called Tesla Motors based in California, that is designing a sports car called the “Tesla Roadster”. This car looks amazing and has the power of a sports car. It can go over 200 miles on a single 3 hours charge, and it can accelerate from 0 to 60mph in about 4 seconds. The car costs an arm and a leg but major advancements from sports cars like these usually find their way into the common consumer marketplace. It’s also at least 1/4th the price to charge the electric car than to pay the price of gas for an equivalent fuel consuming model.

We have discussed electric motors, hybrid motor cars and trucks, and now I’m presenting you with the final design that will increase fuel economy to cars and trucks that should ultimately help reduce emissions put in the atmosphere by a major amount.

Companies (Ford, Toyota, GM to name a few) are developing hybrid electric cars. Which combine all three sources of power to increase the fuel economy of cars to 100-200 miles per gallon / charge. The car works by running on gasoline (smaller fuel tanks as well), it gets charged, and it also stores and uses energy produced from a hybrid drive system. All three systems work together to compliment each other and offer a huge driving range for the vehicle. 1000 Miles Per charge/fill up are what the manufacturers are aiming for. These cars and crossovers will be released in about 2 years and should make their way into trucks in about 6 years.

In conclusion, motor vehicles have been a huge source of pollution for America and the world for the last hundred years. The major car companies and governments are finally starting to see profits and necessity in curbing emission limits and delivering consumers better solutions. Eventually gasoline will be cut out of the equation but for now hybrid and hybrid electric engines will gain traction.


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