United Nations Experts Call Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals a ‘Global Threat’

Outlook on chemicals’ impact on human health reflects a shift since 2002, when scientists discounted concerns. The new report is an effort by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Health Organization, another arm of the UN, to give policymakers the latest information on chemicals, such as BPA, that alter the hormones of people and wildlife. The panel of 16 scientists from 10 nations found that endocrine-related diseases and disorders are increasing. There is “emerging evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes” and “mounting evidence” for effects on thyroids, brains and metabolism, the experts said. In 2002, the organizations called evidence linking the chemicals to human health problems “weak.” Environmental Health News

Scientists urge rich countries to halve their meat consumption to avoid severe environmental damage. A United Nations Environment Program report urged people to become “demitarians” who eat half as much meat as usual. The authors said the quest for ever-cheaper meat in the past few decades has translated into a massive expansion of intensively farmed livestock. That has diverted vast quantities of grain from human to animal consumption, and required intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and, according to the report, “caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health.” The lead author said “society must think about livestock and food choices much more, for the environment and health.” The Guardian

New Zealand will introduce “plain-packaging” legislation for tobacco products by year-end. That will mean cigarette packs with much larger pictorial health warnings and without the marketing images tobacco companies usually use on their products. The law “will remove the last remaining vestige of glamour from these deadly products,” a health ministry official said in announcing the plan. But enforcement won’t come until a challenge to a similar, ground-breaking Australian law is resolved. That law took effect in December but, as FairWarning reported in November, several countries led by Ukraine — with financial help from tobacco companies — are challenging the Australian legislation in complaints now before the World Trade Organization. The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News

Tobacco companies and anti-cancer activists alike criticize surcharges for smokers’ health insurance. Both sides take issue with part of the Affordable Care Act that allows insurers to charge smokers 50 percent more than non-smokers. Cigarette makers such as Altria say the policy amounts to discrimination against smokers. The American Cancer Society worries that the high surcharges could make health insurance unaffordable to cigarette smokers, who often are low income. “We’re anti-smoking, not anti-smoker,” said a society official. These critics have a shot at success because they can take the battle to individual states, which can bar health insurers from considering tobacco use in setting premiums. The Washington Post

Study links hearing loss to exposure to low levels of lead and cadmium. The research, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found the link even at levels of exposure below the workplace standards set by U.S. authorities. Although the study does not establish causality, the results square with earlier animal studies, along with the limited previous research involving humans, concerning the metals. Lead is banned from gasoline, paint and other products in many countries but still lingers in the environment. Cadmium is widely used in batteries and metal plating. People are exposed through diet, air pollution and smoking. Separately, other recent studies have linked lead exposure to dementia and other problems. Environmental Health NewsScientific American

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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