Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – August 16, 2016

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By: Melissa Pegues, PhD

Photo source: Hu et al, 2016, under ACS AuthorChoice License

Public Health

Researchers find unsafe levels of industrial chemicals in drinking water of 6 million Americans.

A recent study by University of California Berkeley and Harvard University scientists found unsafe levels of firefighting chemicals in drinking water throughout the U.S. Over 36,000 samples collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were analyzed for levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Levels were detectable with 194 water supplies, but levels exceeded the EPA’s recommended safety limit in 66 of those water supplies. Those 66 water supplies were found across 14 states and affect up to 6 million people.

PFAS are use in a wide variety of products that include food wrappers, clothing, non-stick coating on pans, and firefighting foam. The study’s lead author, Xindi Hu, stated that “virtually all Americans are exposed to these compounds”. The chemicals are also commonly found at airports and military bases where firefighting foam is used in large volumes during training exercises and can then wash into surface and ground waters. They are also found at industrial plants that use them in manufacturing. They have been used for decades and persist once they are in the environment. Hu added, “They never break down. Once they are released in to the environment, they are there”.

The chemicals have been associated with a variety of health problems that include cancer, hormonal changes, thyroid problems, and high cholesterol. The federal government does not currently regulate PFASs, but they are on the EPA’s list of unregulated contaminants. Although it is difficult for the EPA to issue new regulations for contaminants, the agency has issued health advisories for these substances that urge utilities around the country to follow more stringent guidelines. Some communities have reacted to this advisory with one Alabama community declaring its tap water unfit to drink until officials could install a high-powered filter. Other communities in New Hampshire are receiving bottled water until the problem is addressed. (Brady Dennis, The Washington Post)

Global Health

A study takes the globe’s blood pressure and finds a dramatic rise

A recent study has found that greater than 30 percent of the global population now suffer from high blood pressure. Researchers at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine looked at numerous studies of individuals to determine rates of high blood pressure. The group led by Dr. Jiang He focused on people over the age of 20 and gathered data from 90 countries to assess the change in rates of hypertension between 2000 and 2010. The group found that there has been a dramatic increase in hypertension rates in low- and middle-income countries with an increase from 24% to 32%. Dr. He stated that “definitely it’s an epidemic”. Dr. Andrew Moran of Columbia University gave a cautionary interpretation of the study results citing that the current study inferred rates of hypertension from many countries, rather that collecting direct measurements. However, the trends from this study correlate with increases in obesity in low- and middle-income countries, further supporting the results of this new study. Additionally, the study did find a decrease in hypertension rates in high-income countries.

High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, can contribute to heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and stroke. Hypertension is currently the leading preventable cause of death world wide, and the World Health Organization is striving to reduce rates of non-communicable diseases. The increase in hypertension rates are thought to be associated with urbanization in low- and middle- income countries. Urban diets tend to be high in fat and sodium, and when coupled with high stress and low physical activity are thought to lead to hypertension. Although there are drugs available to effectively treat high blood pressure, many people in less wealthy nations may not have access to health care or be able to afford the cost of medications. Lifestyle changes have been demonstrated to reduce hypertension rates. Moran commented that “it’s probably more realistic to focus on improving diets of people in rapidly urbanizing developing world by encouraging lower calorie intake as well as reducing salt in people’s diets”. (Richard Harris, NPR)

Polio

Polio eradication faces setback as Nigeria records first cases in two years

Nigeria has faced a major setback to the eradication of polio with its first cases of wild poliovirus in more than two years. In July, two children were found paralyzed by polio in the Gwoza district of the Nigerian state of Borno. In response to these new cases, health officials have stated that they will begin emergency-vaccination campaigns.

Polio causes paralysis in approximately 1 in every 200 infections. Although once feared worldwide, efforts to eradicate the disease, such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, have reduced the number of cases by 99%. Because wild poliovirus cannot survive outside the human body, it is possible to eradicate the disease. Stopping the virus before it spreads further from Nigeria is crucial to the success of eradication efforts and will require millions of dose of vaccine and the coordination of several countries and numerous health organizations. The first of six vaccine campaigns will target children in the state of Borno. Further vaccination campaigns will extend to reach children across northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.

Eradication efforts have been hampered by violent attacks by Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, that has targeted the northeastern states of Nigeria. Global Polio Eradication Initiative spokesperson, Oliver Rosenbauer, said that “clearly cases were missed” and that “It was to be expected that there would be problems with the quality of surveillance”. Although there will be setbacks and more cases are likely, Nigeria and the rest of the world can eradicate poliovirus eventually. Nigeria now joins Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only other countries that have never interrupted the spread of polio. However, significant gains have been made in battling the virus in recent years. (Ewen Callaway, Nature)

 

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

August 16, 2016 at 10:09 am

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