UPDATE no. 59
Dear member of INCHES,
In this update:
In Edmonton a conference on children’s environmental health was held. Health Canada, the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada presented a symposium on child health and environment. The symposium featured six expert presentations on child health and the environment from global, national and local perspectives. Approximately 120 participants representing 45 organizations attended the event. This was a unique opportunity for researchers, policy makers and practitioners from government, industry, academia, health care, and non-government organizations to learn about and discuss the issue of child health and the environment. The symposium report and webcasts of the speaker presentations and discussion session from the Child Health and Environment Symposium – An Alberta Primer event can be downloaded from the following website.
WHO: 13 million people die annually from preventable environmental causes Filthy drinking water, mosquitoes and other avoidable menaces kill 13 million people a year, the World Health Organization writes in a 104-page report called "Preventing Disease through Healthy Environments." While 24 percent of the diseases affecting the general population result from exposure to threats in the environment, the figure rises to more than 33 percent for children, it said.
Children account for 94 percent of deaths from diarrhea, one of the biggest childhood killers, resulting largely from unsafe water. Forty percent of the people who die annually from malaria are children, the report said. It said the disease could be curbed by keeping housing away
from mosquito breeding areas.
The U.N. agency states the study broke new ground because it developed a "hit list" of environmental causes of disease that could best be tackled by a coordinated approach to reduce threats.
"The four main diseases influenced by poor environments are diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, various forms of unintentional injuries and malaria," the report said.
It recommended promoting better management of water resources including safer household storage, the use of cleaner fuels, better built housing and more careful use of poisons in the home and workplace.
Many road traffic injuries resulted largely from poor design of urban areas and transport systems, it said. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which leads to a gradual loss of lung function, often results from exposure to workplace dusts and fumes and other forms of indoor and outdoor air pollution.
"Preventing environmental risk could save as many as 4 million lives a year, mostly in developing countries," the report said.
"We call on ministries of health, environment and other partners to work together to ensure that these environmental and public health gains become a reality," said Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO's Department for Public Health and Environment.
WHO said the report was based on systematic review of scientific literature as well as surveys of more than 100 experts worldwide. The report can be downloaded at the WHO website.
The CHEST training modules
The CHEST project that INCHES initiated and which was partly funded by the EU commission under DG SANCO has finalised it’s training modules on children’s environmental health. In addition to the 11 modules that were initiatied by the World Health Organisation another 13 modules were produced. Also 11 case studies have been produced. All this material is meant to be used for training health care providers ranging from pediatricians to public health officers, including nurses and primary health care workers. Each module consists of 30 to 60 powerpoint slides including extensive notes and reference material.
It is foreseen that training institutes will use this material to support their training programmes and courses. Qualified trainers should be involved in using this training material as they will be able to understand the contents and will have the training skills. Please contact the INCHES headoffice for more information.
2006 Annual Conference PowerPoint Presentations Now Available
PDF versions of PowerPoint presentations from the Global Health Council's 2006 Annual Conference are now available online.
Quick Links to Presentations
- Panel Sessions
- Policy Series @ Conference
- Sessions by Interest Area
Bacteria may break down popular flame retardant to produce toxics
By removing bromine atoms from the large Deca PBDE flame retardant used in computers and televisions, microbes may be able to transform it into banned compounds.
Research published on ES&T's ASAP website (DOI: 10.1021/es052508d
<http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es052508d> ) documents that microbes can break down the large molecules of the widely used Deca PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) flame retardant. The paper raises concerns about the Deca flame retardant's safety by showing that various bacteria can work in concert to remove the bromine atoms from the Deca compound to produce the smaller PBDE compounds that have been banned in the EU and discontinued in the U.S.
The paper is the first to identify species of bacteria capable of breaking down the main constituent of the Deca flame retardant formulation, Deca-BDE, which contains 10 bromine atoms. The study builds on previous research showing that the Deca flame retardant could be transformed during sewage treatment in anaerobic environments, which contain no oxygen.
The Deca mixture is found in electronic products such as computers and televisions, and it is the only PBDE formulation currently in use. Because of the Deca-BDE molecule's large size, it is considered relatively inert, but the smaller PBDE compounds, or congeners, that have been banned and discontinued are persistent and bioaccumulative. The levels of these compounds have been rising throughout the world, especially in North America, and their neurotoxic effects are similar to those of PCBs, which they resemble chemically.
Some of the smaller PBDE compounds are associated with tumors and thyroid hormone imbalances, and some have been shown to impact developing rodent brains and impair male hormones. The PBDE compounds with 5 bromine atoms , which are considered the most toxic, recently have been found to alter the development of male gonads in rats.
In the new paper, Lisa Alvarez-Cohen and her colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, describe research they conducted with bacteria known to be able to break down large molecules containing chlorine. Sulfurospirillum multivorans are able to break down trichloroethylene, and the different species of Dehalococcoides used in the experiments can attack dioxins and vinyl chloride. The new study firmly establishes that the Dehalococcoides bacteria can break down brominated compounds, says Lorenz Adrian, who is with the Technical University of Berlin's Institute for Biotechnology and who first showed that the bacteria could attack dioxins.
Alvarez-Cohen's team documented the S. multivorans bacteria's ability to decompose the Deca-BDE molecules into smaller PBDE compounds containing 8 and 9 bromine atoms.
The Dehalococcoides bacteria could not attack the large Deca-BDE molecules, but they could break down PBDE compounds containing 8 bromines to produce PBDE compounds with 6, 5, and 4 bromines. The breakdown products included BDE-99, which contains 5 bromines and is often found to bioaccumulate in people and animals. Although these tests took place in a laboratory, Alvarez-Cohen says that "it is highly likely that we'll see this kind of sequential transformation in the environment."
Other researchers agree. "We saw this same type of sequential breakdown [by bacteria] with PCBs," points out Linda Birnbaum, director of the experimental toxicology division at the U.S. EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory. The research raises the question of whether "continued production and use of the Deca may lead to ongoing exposure of wildlife and people to the lower brominated congeners for which we have toxicity concerns," she adds.
Andreas Gerecke, a project leader in the analytical chemistry department of Switzerland's National Materials Science & Technology Laboratory (EMPA), was the first scientist to report that Deca-BDE was being broken down in sewage treatment plants. He says he thinks that it is likely that microbes are breaking down the Deca-BDE molecule in oxygen-free environments such as contaminated underwater sediments. However, he points out that the rates documented in the paper are quite slow.
Alvarez-Cohen acknowledges that this is true but says that she is currently involved in studies with additional bacteria showing "much [more rapid] rates of degradation."
However, scientists from the Bromine Science and Environmentalal Forum, an industry group, point out that "no degradation was found without TCE being added as a fuel, along with other substrates. Since TCE is not normally present in the environment at high concentrations (it oxidizes to another substance), the environmental relevance of this study is questionable; i.e., the conditions under which degradation was forced to occur are not likely to be found in the environment."
Even so, scientists interviewed for this article agree that the paper's findings are significant. "High levels of Deca-BDE have been detected in aquatic sediments and anaerobic environments such as Baltimore Harbor," points out Heather Stapleton, an assistant professor of environmental sciences and policy at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. Deca-BDE is also "detected at elevated levels in sewage sludge [and] biosolids, which can be home to multiple strains of bacteria. Considering that land application of biosolids and soil amendment is an increasing practice, [this new paper's findings warrant] further investigation."
New conferences and trainings
The 4th Annual Conference Children’s Health and the Environment - October 21, 2006
8:00a.m.-6:30p.m. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. USA
For updates on conference go to: www.health-e-kids.org
The Conference on Children’s Environmental Health is organized annually by the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment. The center is affiliated with the George Washington University Medical Center and the Children’s National Medical Center. The 2006 4th Annual Conference is jointly sponsored by The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the
Environment, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region III and the Children’s National Medical Center of Washington, DC.
First Training Course in Environmental Diplomacy, which will be held in Geneva from 26 August 2006 through 10 September 2006.
The objective of this joint UNEP/UNITAR/University of Geneva programme is to teach the skills necessary to participate in international negotiations in environment, sustainable development and related fields to present or future diplomats, negotiators, policy and decision makers in governments, regional intergovernmental bodies, local authorities, the private sector, NGOs, trade unions and UN bodies. Practical information about the
Environmental Diplomacy Training Course and modalities for application are included in the attached brochure. The deadline for application is 31 May 2006.
A number of hard copies of the brochure are available at UNEP Regional Office for Europe (contact: Ms. Virginie Combaz, e-mail: email@example.com, telephone: +41 22/817 81 55).
Invitation to the 6th International Conference on Urban Air Quality, Cyprus, 27-29 March 2007
On behalf of the Organising Committee you are invited to participate in the next International Conference on Urban Air Quality. The conference will be held in Cyprus and is being organised by the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Cyprus jointly with ACCENT, COST 728, Cyprus International Institute for the Environment and Public Health in Association with Harvard School of Public Health.
Please visit www.urbanairquality.org for more details on the first announcement
Conference on ‘Vulnerability of the Fetus and Infant to Ambient Pollutants and Reduced Food Intake in Pregnancy’ took place in Krakow, Poland,June 2.3, 2006
The purpose of the Conference was to assess the weight of evidence and assemble
new achievements on the effects of prenatal and early postnatal exposure to
ambient and indoor pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, particulate
matter, and environmental tobacco smoke on fetal/child growth, neurobehavioral
development, and childhood health status. Another purpose of this Conference
was to assess fetal responses to the changes in intrauterine environment
caused by reduced food intake around the time of conception and during pregnancy. Conference proceedings will be available at the end of this year.