News Article | April 20, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS -- Risks from firearms actually come from both ends of the barrel, according to an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis study. Individuals at firing ranges are exposed to very high amounts of lead from shooting firearms, and exposure is as high at outdoor firing ranges as it is at indoor ranges. These findings are based on a comprehensive literature review led by Gabriel Filippelli, professor of earth sciences in the School of Science at IUPUI, and his team. "I am particularly concerned about children, who can be exposed by using the firing ranges themselves or through the fine lead-laden dust adhering to clothes and skin that Mom or Dad brings home," Filippelli said. "It is important to have a frank reassessment of the overall protections for individuals who utilize firing ranges, be that for occupational or recreational purposes." Recreational users of firing ranges typically do not use protection against lead and exhibit dangerously high levels in their blood. Protections employed by law enforcement, the military and others who work at firing ranges are outdated, according to Filippelli. "The main exposure culprit appears to be the lead used in the primer of bullets," Filippelli said. "The fine dust generated from this primer blows back onto the shooter, where it is inhaled or adheres to clothing and skin. A secondary exposure source is likely the fragmentation of bullets as they leave the end of the barrel." One of the health impacts of lead exposure is poor judgment and lower impulsivity control, Filippelli said. "These are not desirable characteristics in people whose job it is to 'serve and protect,' and therefore we should be doing a better job of protecting the health of our law enforcement and military than current occupational guidelines provide." The authors provided safety recommendations including conducting a careful reexamination of the allowable lead levels in individuals who frequent firing ranges for occupational reasons, developing better education around lead-exposure risks for recreational users, and continuing the push to find lead-free substitutes for bullets and primer. "Lead Exposure at Firing Ranges -- A Review" was published online April 4 in the peer-reviewed, open access journal Environmental Health. First author Mark Laidlaw is an IUPUI graduate now at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Study authors along with Filippelli and Laidlaw are Howard Mielke, Brian Gulson and Andrew S. Ball.
News Article | March 15, 2017
A research performed by the scientists at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University reveals that B-vitamin supplements may come in handy to reduce the effects of air pollution. B-vitamin supplements are described as vitamins, which are water soluble and play an essential role in cell metabolism. This study shows the benefits of B vitamins and how it can be effective in decreasing the harmful effects of air pollution on the epigenome. It also showcases how the health is harmed due to the epigenetic effects of air pollution. Reports reveal about the ways through which an individual can safeguard against the adverse the effects of air pollution by taking certain preventive measures. "Our study launches a line of research for developing preventive interventions to minimize the adverse effects of air pollution on potential mechanistic markers. Because of the central role of epigenetic modifications in mediating environmental effects, our findings could very possibly be extended to other toxicants and environmental diseases," said Andrea Baccarelli, Chairman at the Environmental Health Sciences in Mailman School. During the study, the investigators administered one B-vitamin supplement or placebo daily to the participants of the research. The volunteers who took part in this study were between 18 and 60 years and all of them were healthy. All were non-smokers and were not taking any medication before the research was conducted. The results which were obtained from the measurements that were taken before the intake of the supplement, as well as after, revealed that the median plasma absorption increased among the people who took the B vitamins. It also increased the levels of folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. The people who received the placebo for the duration of four weeks had almost the same median plasma absorption. All the measurement was taken at the same time during the day. The ambient components were taken from an area situated next to the populated street in Toronto where at least 1000 automobiles passed through every hour. These components were transported through an oxygen mask and the samples of blood were gathered and measured by making use of an Infinium Human Methylation 450K BeadChip. Baccarelli states that regulating emission control is the most essential part of prevention. Unfortunately, rules are not that strict in other major cities of the world. Further study is needed to record the effects of B vitamins on the adverse conditions rising from air pollution. These studies may lead to the usage of B-vitamin supplements in controlling the harmful aspects of air pollution. The study has been published in the journal PNAS © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | April 19, 2017
From the beginning, Trump has pitted agency heads against their departments—Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency, Ryan Zinke at the Interior Department, and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. But subtly, Trump is also diminishing the role of science and technology, simply by not hiring anyone at all. Specifically, the White House has significantly reduced staff at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a vibrant policy and research hub that flourished under the Obama administration. Out of roughly 114 former OSTP positions, Trump has left more than 70 unfilled since his inauguration. This is according to a list of current OSTP staff that Motherboard acquired using a Freedom of Information Act request. It was last updated by OSTP record-keeping on March 27, 2017. The new roster, when compared to President Obama's own staff listing, reveals that most of the previous administration's employees there have vacated—though the impetus for their departures is tricky to determine. Trump's inability to fill these positions has insiders worried about his capacity for making informed decisions related to artificial intelligence, STEM education, digital innovation, and other issues. Notably absent are chief technology officer, a host of policy advisors to the Technology & Innovation Division, everyone with "climate" in their title, and executive director for the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The office's budget and administration division was left untouched. "There's real value in having this office around and functioning. We can point to all sorts of policy reports that we've done over the last few years [and] this stuff isn't stagnant," Dan Hammer, who served as senior policy advisor in the OSTP's Office of the Chief Technology Officer under President Obama, told me. When Congress established the office in 1976 under President Ford, its intent was to strengthen the president's policymaking, as far as science and technology were concerned, with sound science and analysis. During Obama's tenure, OSTP experts prepared America for the realities of artificial intelligence, the technology of future cities, and imminent cybersecurity threats. Still, a modest amount of turnover is expected. Some OSTP staff, such as fellows, are temporarily hired from nonprofits or academia. As of March 1, 2016, OSTP had 117 employees, including 19 fellows. It's not uncommon for these staff to plan for their departures a year before their terms are scheduled to end. Potentially, they were among the first to leave when Trump came into office. There's little doubt, however, that Trump has his own plans for science and technology leadership. His son-in-law, senior advisor Jared Kushner, will spearhead the new White House Office of American Innovation, whose mission is similar to that of the OSTP's Technology & Innovation Division. Trump also hired Michael Kratsios, former chief of staff at Thiel Capital, to be his deputy chief technology officer. The political neophyte and Peter Thiel confidant will also serve as deputy assistant to the president for technology initiatives. Another OSTP staffer, Stephanie Xu, was recently hired under the title of "Confidential Assistant." It's unclear what this role will entail. Xu isn't listed in the FOIA documents that Motherboard received, but we were able to confirm her employment there. According to her LinkedIn page, Xu formerly worked as a deputy finance director for the Republican National Committee. The president hasn't indicated that he intends to fill the vacant positions or create new ones. Historically, this is somewhat unprecedented. Under Obama, OSTP roles were allegedly staffed out within months. But Trump has been slow to hire across the board, which some attribute to "an overworked White House personnel office." White House sources told the New York Times that OSTP staff are no longer privy to daily briefings. In an interview with Recode, one person described the office, which is hardly ever consulted anymore, as "disempowered." We also learned that existing staff have absorbed much of their former colleagues' excess workload. Based on the information we received from our FOIA request, below are the current and former OSTP employees, along with their titles. Chief of Staff Cristin Dorgelo Senior Advisor to the Director Jeff Smith Assistant Director, Federal Research and Development Kei Koizumi Assistant Director, Legislative Affairs Donna Pignatelli Communications Director and Senior Policy Analyst Kristin Lee Senior Communications Advisor Chris Vaccaro Senior Policy Advisor, Public Engagement Fae Jencks Policy Advisor to the Chief of Staff Erin Szulman Executive Assistant Billie McGrane U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith Deputy Chief Technology Officer Ed Felten Deputy Chief Technology Officer Corinna Zarek Deputy Chief Technology Officer Alexander Macgillivray Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil Senior Policy Advisor Evan Cooke Senior Policy Advisor Renee Gregory Senior Policy Advisor Dan Hammer Senior Policy Advisor Lynn Overmann Senior Policy Advisor Jason Schultz Senior Policy Advisor, Digital Government Emily Tavoulareas Senior Policy Advisor Aden Van Noppen Senior Policy Advisor Laura Weidman-Powers Senior Policy Advisor, Innovation and IP Nancy Weiss Senior Policy Advisor, Health and Health IT Claudia Williams Policy Advisor Read Holman Policy Advisor Kristen Honey Policy Advisor Kelly Jin Policy Advisor Terah Lyons Special Assistant and Policy Advisor Matthew McAllister Special Assistant and Policy Advisor Suhas Subramanyam Associate Director Vacant Principal Assistant Director for Environment & Energy Tamara Dickinson Assistant Director, Clean Energy and Transportation Austin Brown Assistant Director, Climate Adaptation and Ecosystems Laura Petes Assistant Director, Climate Resilience and Information Amy Luers Assistant Director, Climate Resilience and Land Use Rich Pouyat Assistant Director, Climate Science Donald Wuebbles Assistant Director, Environmental Health Bruce Rodan Executive Director, Arctic Executive Steering Committee Mark Brzezinski Senior Policy Advisor Fabien Laurier Senior Policy Advisor, Energy Elaine Ulrich Executive Secretary and Policy Advisor, Arctic Executive Steering Commitee Renee Crain Wagner National Ocean Council Fellow Matthew Lurie Associate Director Vacant Principal Assistant Director for National Security & International Affairs Steve Fetter Assistant Director, Cybersecurity Strategy Gregory Shannon Assistant Director, Global Security Matt Heavner Assistant Director, International Science and Technology Mahlet Mesfin Senior Policy Advisor, National Security, Space, and Aviation Fred Kennedy Associate Director Vacant Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation Tom Kalil Assistant Director, Behavioral Science Maya Shankar Assistant Director, Biological Innovation Robbie Barbero Assistant Director, Education and Telecommunications Innovation Aadil Ginwala Assistant Director, Entrepreneurship Douglas Rand Assistant Director, Innovation for Growth Jennifer Erickson Assistant Director, Learning and Innovation Kumar Garg Assistant Director, Open Innovation Christofer Nelson Senior Policy Advisor, Advanced Manufacturing/Fellow Megan Brewster Senior Policy Advisor, Small Business Innovation Nate Segal Senior Policy Advisor, Tech Inclusion Ruthe Farmer Senior Policy Advisor Ayo Babajide Senior Policy Advisor Beadsie Woo Senior Advisor, Innovation Policy Daniel Correa Senior Advisor, Making Andrew Coy Policy Advisor Erik Martin Policy Advisor Lusine Galoyan PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL OF ADVISORS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Assistant Director, Cybersecurity Tim Polk Assistant Director, Research Infrastructure Tof Carim Policy Analyst for Medical and Forensic Sciences Eleanor Celeste Assistant Director, Intelligence Allison Curran Natalie Senior Policy Advisor Natalie Evans Harris Acting Division Lead Chris Fall Assistant Director, Polar Sciences Martin Jeffries Assistant Director, Civil and Commercial Space Benjamin Roberts Staff Director for Energy and Environment Robert Strickling USGEO Program Director Timothy Stryker Assistant Director, Broadening Participation Wanda Ward Acting Division Lead Lloyd Whitman SINSI Fellow Becky Kreutter Senior Policy Advisor, Counterterrorism and WMD Maureen Kraner Acting Division Lead Meredith Drosback Program Support Specialist Jennifer Michael Executive Director, NSTC Afua Bruce Executive Director, USGCRP Mike Kuperberg Senior Policy Advisor for Biological Threat Defense JP Chretien Director, NITRD Bryan Biegel Special Assistant and Policy Advisor Alexander Kamrud Assistant Director, Biosecurity and Emerging Technologies Gerald Epstein White House Leadership Development Fellow Kenneth Wright Acting Division Lead Deerin Babb-Brott Assistant Director, Natural Disaster Resilience Jaqueline Meszaros Director, NNCO Lisa Friedersdorf Policy Analyst Steven Baldovsky Acting Legislative Advisor Linda Bunn Mary Administrative Security Specialist Mary Burgess-Gregg Administrative Specialist Donna Coleman IT Specialist George Cravaritis Administrative Operations Officer Dawn Epperson Budget Analyst Penny Guy Administrative Specialist Daw Mielke Operations Manager Stacy Murphy Administrative Officer Diana Zunker Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Initiatives and Deputy US CTO Michael Kratsios Deputy General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor for Oceans and the Environment Jennifer Lee General Counsel Rachael Leonard Acting Director Ted Wackler Assistant Director, Special Programs Mark Leblanc Confidential Assistant Stephanie Xu Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Deputy Chief Technology Officer Corinna Zarek left her position at the Office of Science and Technology Policy on March 30, 2017, after this list was provided to us. Zarek's departure was known by then, according to Alex Howard, Deputy Director at the Sunlight Foundation.
News Article | April 17, 2017
A horrified world watched the agonizing deaths of civilian men, women, and children in Syria writhing in pain as first responders frantically hosed off the cruel nerve toxin, sarin, from the bodies of victims suffering and dying while clutched in the arms of their loved ones. Such brutality is intolerable to a civilized world, and the gruesome scene provoked the President of the United States to launch a missile strike, blasting the Syrian airbase where the planes carrying the banned chemical warfare agent had lifted off. But what few in the general public realize are the life-long health consequences the survivors of sarin attacks will likely endure. It seems likely that sarin attack victims in Syria will suffer permanent effects. This prognosis is based on decades of research on rats and mice, and the fate of veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War who were exposed to low-levels of sarin gas and who continue to suffer serious health effects 26 years later. Operation Desert Storm has slipped into a historical footnote in the public mind after a ceaseless succession of Middle East wars over the quarter of a century since that 1990 battle, but thousands of service men and women who fought there are still suffering and fighting for their health, stricken by a life-changing disorder called Gulf War Illness. The precise causes of GWI are still not fully understood, but the leading hypothesis is that exposure to sarin and similar agents likely caused the complicated damaging effects on the body suffered in GWI. “At least 100,000 Operation Desert Storm Gulf War veterans were exposed to low level sarin nerve gas when a weapons depot at Khamisiyah, Iraq, containing rockets with sarin treated warheads was destroyed in March of 1991,” says Dr. Kimberly Sullivan, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health. “More recently, it has been documented that a smaller number of veterans from the more recent Operation Iraqi Freedom deployments were also exposed to nerve agents from old chemical munition stocks that were turned into improvised explosive devices,” she says. Gulf War Illness afflicted as many as 200,000 to 250,000 US veterans of the nearly 700,000 US personnel deployed to the region in the1990-1991 Gulf War, as well as veterans from other countries who served there; an astonishingly high rate of “casualties.” GWI presents a bewildering array of debilitating symptoms, including chronic fatigue, widespread pain, cognitive and memory problems, skin rashes, gastrointestinal and respiratory difficulties, that can persist for decades. The VA now refers to the illness as “Chronic multisymptom illness,” to reflect the plethora of comorbidities victims suffer, and to dispel the early skepticism that surrounded the initial term of “Gulf War Syndrome” and later GWI. Sarin and most other nerve agents used in chemical warfare (VX, soman, cyclosarin and others) work by disrupting operation of synapses in the body that use the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It is important to note that sarin is an organophosphate--a volatile one--but that organophosphates with lower potency than sarin have long been used as insecticides: chlorpyrifos (Dursban) is but one example. Sarin and these insecticides inhibit enzymes that rapidly break down acetylcholine after it is released from a synapse to terminate the signal. The rapid breakdown of acetylcholine after it is released stops the signaling action and permits another signal to be transmitted to another neuron, muscle, or gland. If acetylcholine is not instantaneously removed by these enzymes (acetylcholinesterases), the synapses continue to blast away, sending the body into an unimaginably painful paralysis. The only possible point of reference we may have is experiencing an excruciating muscle cramp, but amplified horrendously to muscles throughout the entire body while being choked to death. What is often overlooked is that acetylcholine has many other functions in the body, and individuals who survive the lethal effects of sarin gas will still suffer the consequences of disrupting acetylcholine signaling throughout the body, including many effects on non-neuronal cells in the brain and cells outside the nervous system. For example, Dr. Sullivan explains that “Years of research with exposed GW veterans and others (including pesticide applicators and agricultural workers) . . . have shown that these chemicals can activate the immune cells of the brain called microglia resulting in chronic neuroinflammation and release of chemical messengers called cytokines which can cause all of the symptoms of Gulf War Illness.” As with exposure to other toxins—lead in paint and drinking water or mercury contamination of seafood for example—even very low level exposures can cause serious illness that can last a life-time . On June 27, 1994 a Japanese terrorist group, Aum Shinrikyo, released sarin in Matsumoto, poisoning some 600 people; 58 of whom were admitted to hospitals, and seven victims died. On March 20, 1995, the same fanatical religious group launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system causing over 5000 casualties, including 54 deaths. But follow-up studies on the survivors have found a wide range of serious disorders, including reduced brain volume, diminished mental function , eye problems , chronic fatigue, abnormalities in chromosomes of blood cells, damage to nerves outside the brain (peripheral nervous system), problems with balance, abnormal brain wave responses, diminished heart function, not to mention chronic depression, insomnia, and other severe psychological effects, which might also be related to posttraumatic disorder. Even extremely low-level exposure is sufficient to cause such serious and persistent medical problems, as seen by studying the health of subway workers and first responders three to seven years after the attack in Tokyo. The toxic effects of low-level sarin (and insecticide exposure) are even more dire for children, because disrupting development and growth of the brain and body in early life can leave a permanent scar that results in diminished IQ, learning and memory impairment, and other disabilities. This issue remains a strong concern of the EPA and the FDA from the standpoint of children being exposed to pesticide residues in food, and this is now the concern of the civilized world who watched those innocent children who survived, but who will be maimed for the rest of their lives.
News Article | March 6, 2017
One of the biggest raw sewage spills in terms of magnitude into the Tijuana River, was reported in Greater San Diego earlier in February. Around 143 million gallons of sewage was spilled into the river along the beaches in San Diego, down to Tijuana in Mexico. The spillage reportedly started on Feb. 6 as gallons of sewage seeped into the Pacific Ocean. It is believed that the spill started in Mexico and the matter is being investigated. A bi-national investigation about the raw sewage spill into the Pacific Ocean is being carried out by officials in the U.S. and Mexico. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which is conducting the investigation, the sewage was initially noticed in the beaches of San Diego, California, down through Tijuana Mexico. The IBWC is a joint government agency and is charged with the duty of settling water treaties between Mexico and California. The IBWC is looking into what caused the spill and early reports from officials at the Imperial Beach reveal that the sewage was due to a broken pipe. The spill apparently occurred due to a rupture in the sewage collector pipe, which was located near Mexico's Tijuana and Alamar rivers' junction. The Tijuana River drains into the Pacific Ocean, but on the U.S. border side. "We need to make sure the commission receives timely and accurate information when there are sewage spills in one country that affect the other," noted Edward Drusina, the IBWC Commissioner. With such a massive sewage spill - said to be one of the biggest ever - the residents of the Imperial Beach are concerned about the prolonged stench due to the sewage. "This is the worst spill we've had in over a decade," said Serge Dedina, The Imperial Beach Mayor in an interview to FOX5. He also pointed out that if the spill would have had any link with sewage or any kind of disorder, the concerned department may have been approached for help or some solution. According to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, the massive spill which lasted for 17 days, was a result of the "rehabilitation of major sewage collector." The officials from IBWC have not been able to affirm the volume and duration of the spill. The inquiry is anticipated to last a month and the IBWC will likely share the results of the investigation by April 1. According to the San Diego Department of Environmental Health, the shoreline from the international border to the north end of Silver strand will stay closed till the investigations give a clean chit to the water being safe for human contact. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | April 18, 2017
The MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences (CEHS), an interdisciplinary research center, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), invites MIT junior faculty and research staff with principal investigator privileges to submit applications for funding of pilot projects related to environmental health, to support either basic or translational research. Please see the NIEHS strategic plan to gain understanding of the types of projects center plans to fund. Preference is given to projects that address the NIEHS Strategic Goals. The center anticipates funding of $25,000 (direct costs) for each project. The center encourages junior faculty to apply, especially those who are involved in interdisciplinary environmental health collaborations, for example between engineers and scientists. Projects can be anywhere on the spectrum between basic sciences and clinical translation. In all cases, the trajectory to human application must be clear and feasible. Translational Pilot Projects will be evaluated separately from those in the basic sciences. These projects are funded through the generosity of Vilma and Lionel Kinney, and are named in honor of Theron G. Randolph, a pioneer in the fields of environmental and natural products medicine. Applicants should submit a four-page research plan that outlines the specific aims and research strategy (i.e. significant, innovation, and approach). In the project title, please add a parenthesis indicating (Basic Research) or (Translational Research). Applications should also include a detailed budget form (Form Page 4), budget justification, and a biographical sketch using the NIH PHS398 forms. Please note that travel for scientific conferences/meetings are not allowed with these funds. Questions regarding the application process or proposal ideas should be directed to Professor Bevin P. Engelward, deputy director. Deadline for this call is May 31 with an anticipated start date of July 1. Completed applications should be submitted via email to: Amanda Tat, administrative officer of the CEHS.
News Article | April 17, 2017
April 12, 2017 -- B vitamins can mitigate the impact of fine particle pollution on cardiovascular disease, according to new research conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Healthy non-smokers who took vitamin B supplements nearly reversed any negative effects on their cardiovascular and immune systems, weakening the effects of air pollution on heart rate by 150 percent, total white blood count by 139 percent, and lymphocyte count by 106 percent. This is the first clinical trial to evaluate whether B vitamin supplements change the biologic and physiologic responses to ambient air pollution exposure. The study initiates a course of research for developing preventive pharmacological interventions using B vitamins to contain the health effects of air pollution. The findings are published online in the Nature Publishing Group journal, Scientific Reports. Ambient fine particulate pollution contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths annually worldwide, predominantly through acute effects on the cardiovascular system. Particulate matter pollution is the most frequent trigger for myocardial infarction at the population level. "Ambient PM2.5 pollution is one of the most common air pollutants and has a negative effect on cardiac function and the immune system," said Jia Zhong, PhD, principal investigator, and postdoctoral research officer in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia's Mailman School. "For the first time, our trial provides evidence that B-vitamin supplementation might attenuate the acute effects of PM2.5 on cardiac dysfunction and inflammatory markers." The paper builds on research published in March that found B vitamins reduce the negative effects of air pollution as measured by epigenetic markers. In the new study, researchers recruited ten healthy, 18 to 60-year-old, non-smoking volunteers who were not on any form of B vitamin supplements or other medication. All volunteers received a placebo for four weeks preceding a two-hour exposure experiment to concentrated ambient PM2.5 (250 μ g/m3), after which they were administered B vitamin supplements for four weeks before the next two-hour exposure experiment to PM2.5. A particle-free two-hour exposure was included to provide baseline data. The controlled exposure experiments were conducted from July 2013 to February 2014 at the same time of day and adjusted for season, temperature, and humidity. "Our results showed that a two-hour exposure to concentrated ambient PM2.5 had substantial physiologic impacts on heart rate, heart rate variability, and white blood counts. Further, we demonstrated that these effects are nearly reversed with four-week B-vitamin supplementation," noted Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, chair and Leon Hess Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. Because the researchers studied healthy adults from lightly polluted urban environment, they caution that their findings might not be generalizable to populations that are at higher risk for pollution-induced cardiovascular effects, including children, older adults, individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, and individuals residing in heavily polluted areas. "With ambient PM2.5 levels far exceeding air quality standards in many large urban areas worldwide, pollution regulation remains the backbone of public health protection against its cardiovascular health effects. Studies like ours cannot diminish--nor be used to underemphasize--the urgent need to lower air pollution levels to--at a minimum--meet the air quality standards set forth in the United States and other countries. However, residual risk remains for those who are sensitive, and high exposures are, unfortunately, the rule still in many megacities throughout the world," said Dr. Baccarelli. The study, conducted with colleagues at Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in Sweden, China, Singapore, and Canada, was supported by NIH grants (R21ES021895, R01ES021733, R01ES020836, R01ES021357, T32ES007142, P30ES000002) and by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants (RD-834798, RD-832416). The authors declare no competing financial interests. Founded in 1922, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP (formerly the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs) and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit http://www. .
News Article | April 13, 2017
B vitamins can mitigate the impact of fine particle pollution on cardiovascular disease, according to new research conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Healthy non-smokers who took vitamin B supplements nearly reversed any negative effects on their cardiovascular and immune systems, weakening the effects of air pollution on heart rate by 150 percent, total white blood count by 139 percent, and lymphocyte count by 106 percent. This is the first clinical trial to evaluate whether B vitamin supplements change the biologic and physiologic responses to ambient air pollution exposure. The study initiates a course of research for developing preventive pharmacological interventions using B vitamins to contain the health effects of air pollution. The findings are published online in the Nature Publishing Group journal, Scientific Reports. Ambient fine particulate pollution contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths annually worldwide, predominantly through acute effects on the cardiovascular system. Particulate matter pollution is the most frequent trigger for myocardial infarction at the population level. "Ambient PM2.5 pollution is one of the most common air pollutants and has a negative effect on cardiac function and the immune system," said Jia Zhong, PhD, principal investigator, and postdoctoral research officer in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia's Mailman School. "For the first time, our trial provides evidence that B-vitamin supplementation might attenuate the acute effects of PM2.5 on cardiac dysfunction and inflammatory markers." The paper builds on research published in March that found B vitamins reduce the negative effects of air pollution as measured by epigenetic markers. In the new study, researchers recruited ten healthy, 18 to 60-year-old, non-smoking volunteers who were not on any form of B vitamin supplements or other medication. All volunteers received a placebo for four weeks preceding a two-hour exposure experiment to concentrated ambient PM2.5 (250 μ g/m3), after which they were administered B vitamin supplements for four weeks before the next two-hour exposure experiment to PM2.5. A particle-free two-hour exposure was included to provide baseline data. The controlled exposure experiments were conducted from July 2013 to February 2014 at the same time of day and adjusted for season, temperature, and humidity. "Our results showed that a two-hour exposure to concentrated ambient PM2.5 had substantial physiologic impacts on heart rate, heart rate variability, and white blood counts. Further, we demonstrated that these effects are nearly reversed with four-week B-vitamin supplementation," noted Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D., chair and Leon Hess Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. Because the researchers studied healthy adults from lightly polluted urban environment, they caution that their findings might not be generalizable to populations that are at higher risk for pollution-induced cardiovascular effects, including children, older adults, individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, and individuals residing in heavily polluted areas. "With ambient PM2.5 levels far exceeding air quality standards in many large urban areas worldwide, pollution regulation remains the backbone of public health protection against its cardiovascular health effects. Studies like ours cannot diminish--nor be used to underemphasize--the urgent need to lower air pollution levels to--at a minimum--meet the air quality standards set forth in the United States and other countries. However, residual risk remains for those who are sensitive, and high exposures are, unfortunately, the rule still in many megacities throughout the world," said Baccarelli.
News Article | May 5, 2017
Supplements containing arsenic have been banned in the European Union since 1999 and in North America since 2013. In many countries they are still added to poultry feed to prevent parasitic infection and promote weight gain. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, scientists have now demonstrated that the danger to human health may be greater than previously thought because the metabolic breakdown of these compounds in chickens occurs via intermediates that are significantly more toxic than the initial additives. Roxarsone (3-nitro-4-hydroxyphenylarsonic acid, "Rox") is a common feed supplement that is only slightly toxic to those animals that have been tested. However, we do not yet have enough knowledge about which arsenic-containing metabolites are found in treated chickens and what risks these pose to human health. The toxicity of arsenic-containing species depends strongly on the type of compound and can vary by orders of magnitude. In a study of 1600 chickens under controlled feeding, a team headed by Bin Hu at Wuhan University in China and X. Chris Le at the University of Alberta in Canada analyzed liver samples from birds treated with Rox. Previously, these researchers found a number of different arsenic-containing species in chicken livers, breast meat, and waste. By using various mass spectrometric and chromatographic methods, they have now been able to identify three additional compounds. These compounds are Rox derivatives that have an additional methyl group (-CH3) on their arsenic atom. The three methylated compounds make up about 42 % of the total arsenic compounds found in the chicken livers. What causes this methylation? The researchers are pointing to the enzyme arsenic methyltransferase (As3MT), which is also involved in the human metabolism of arsenic. However, this enzyme only methylates trivalent arsenic, whereas Rox and its derivatives contain arsenic in its pentavalent form. Tests with reduced versions of Rox have shown that the process of breaking down Rox occurs via trivalent intermediates. Tests with cell cultures have shown that these species are 300 to 30,000 times as toxic as Rox derivatives with pentavalent arsenic. It remains to be determined whether and at what concentrations these highly toxic intermediates occur in treated chickens. In the poultry industry, Rox supplementation is usually halted five days before slaughter. Liver samples taken after this interval still contained residues of arsenic compounds at a concentration that--at least if the chicken liver is consumed--could be alarming. The researchers recommend an assessment of the extent of human exposure to various arsenic compounds to determine whether feed containing arsenic is not more problematic for human health than previously thought. Dr. Chris Le is Distinguished University Professor and Director of the Analytical and Environmental Toxicology Division at the University of Alberta. He is Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Academy of Science) and Canada Research Chair in Bio-analytical Technology and Environmental Health.