Archive for March, 2008

Shipyard Workers Organize to Stop 21st Century Slavery

March 14, 2008

Shipyard Workers Organize to Stop 21st Century Slavery

By Minnesota Workday
Source: Workdayminnesota.org

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PASCAGOULA, Miss. – More than 100 workers, carrying signs reading “I Am A Man,” walked off the job at a Mississippi shipyard last week to protest conditions of slavery. Their struggle for justice comes 40 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., marched with striking Memphis sanitation workers carrying the same signs.

 

The shipyard workers — who are from India — have filed a class action suit against Signal International, a marine fabrication company; recruiters in India and the United States; and a New Orleans immigration lawyer, Malvern Burnett; accusing them of forced labor, human trafficking, fraud and civil rights violations.

 

The suit charges that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, more than 500 Indian men “were trafficked into the United States through the federal government’s H-2B guestworker program to provide labor and services . . . Plaintiffs were subjected to forced labor as welders, pipefitters, shipfitters, and other marine fabrication workers at Signal operations in Pascagoula, Mississippi and Orange, Texas.”

 

At the walkout last Thursday, the workers symbolically threw their hardhats over the fence as they left the shipyard, media reported, and sang the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

 

Saket Soni of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, who served as an interpreter for the workers, said they talk of living “like pigs in a cage” in a company-run “work camp.”

 

One of the workers, Sabulal Vijayan, tried to organize his fellow workers last year and was fired. He then attempted suicide.

 

The exploitation began in 2006 when recruiters in New Orleans and Bombay, together with Signal, a Northrop Grumman subcontractor, used the post-Katrina labor shortage in the Gulf Coast to create a trafficking racket within the guest worker program that President Bush wants to expand, the Workers Center said in a news release. Workers paid up to $20,000 to get jobs in the United States.

 

“They promised us green cards and permanent residency, and instead gave us 10-month visas and made us live like animals in company trailers, 24 to a room,” Vijayan said. “We were trapped between an ocean of debt at home and constant threats of deportation from our bosses in Mississippi.”

 

When the workers began to organize last year, Signal sent armed guards to detain and fire the organizers, the Workers Center said.

 

The lawsuit, filed by the Louisiana Justice Institute, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, charges violations of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act; the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”); the Civil Rights Act of 1866; the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871; and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

 

“The U.S. State Department calls it ‘a repulsive crime’ when recruiters and employers in other parts of the world bind guest workers with crushing debts and threats of deportation,” said Soni. “This is precisely what is happening on the Gulf Coast.”

 

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctions to prevent future exploitation of workers. While the court action moves forward, the workers pledge to continue more demonstrations to call attention to the treatment of workers on the Gulf Coast.

 

This report is adapted from information on http://www.Sajaforum.org,  the blog of the South Asian journalists association, and http://www.Sepiamutiny.com.

Report finds Miller Light, Cadbury and other brands have toxic risks

March 14, 2008

March 11, 2008  For Immediate Release

For more information contact:
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748
Ian Illuminato, 202-222-0735

Report finds Miller Light, Cadbury and other brands have toxic risks

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Untested nanotechnology is being used in more than 100 food products, food packaging and contact materials currently on the shelf, without warning or new FDA testing, according to a report released today by Friends of the Earth.

The report, Out of the Laboratory and onto Our Plates: Nanotechnology in Food and Agriculture, found nanomaterials in popular products and packaging including Miller Light beer, Cadbury Chocolate packaging and ToddlerHealth, a nutritional drink powder for infants sold extensively at health food stores including WholeFoods.

“Nanotech food was put on our plates without FDA testing for consumer safety,” said Ian Illuminato, Friends of the Earth Health and Environment Campaigner. “Consumers have a right to know if they are taste-testing a dangerous new technology.”

Existing regulations require no new testing or labeling for nanomaterials when they are created from existing approved chemicals, despite major differences in potential toxicity. The report reveals toxicity risks of nanomaterials such as organ damage and decreased immune system response.

“Nanotechnology can be very dangerous when used in food,” said report co-author Dr Rye Senjen. “Early scientific evidence indicates that some nanomaterials produce free radicals which destroy or mutate DNA and can cause damage to the liver and kidneys.”

Report co-author Georgia Miller, Friends of the Earth Australia Nanotechnology Project Coordinator, said many of the world’s largest food companies, including Heinz, Nestle, Unilever and Kraft are currently using and testing nanotechnology for food processing and packaging. Without increased federal oversight, these companies could begin sale of these products whenever they choose.

“There is no legal requirement for manufacturers to label their products that contain nanomaterials, or to conduct new safety tests,” said Miller. “This gives manufacturers the ability to force-feed untested technology to consumers without their consent.”

Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, is now used to manufacture nutritional supplements, flavor and colors additives, food packaging, cling wrap and containers, and chemicals used in agriculture.

Friends of the Earth calls on the FDA to stop the sale of all nano food, packaging, and agricultural chemicals until strong scientific regulations are enacted to ensure consumer safety and until ingredients are labeled,” said Illuminato.

The report, released internationally today in the U.S., Europe and Australia, details more than a hundred nano food, food packaging and food contact products now on sale internationally. The Australian government has already welcomed the report and announced that it will begin exploring regulation of nano food and nano agriculture as a result of the report.

The full report can be found at www.foe.org.

Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of an influential, international network of grassroots groups in 70 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has been at the forefront of high-profile efforts to create a more healthy, just world. One of its current campaigns focuses on combating the spread of nanotechnology without regulation and oversight.

http://action.foe.org/pressRelease.jsp?press_release_KEY=343

Is Cheney Betting On Economic Collapse?

March 12, 2008

The Veep’s Curious Investment Portfolio

Is Cheney Betting On Economic Collapse?

By MIKE WHITNEY

Wouldn’t you like to know where Dick Cheney puts his money? Then you’d know whether his “deficits don’t matter” claim is just baloney or not.

Well, as it turns out, Kiplinger Magazine ran an article based on Cheney’s financial disclosure statement and, sure enough, found out that the VP is lying to the American people for the umpteenth time. Deficits do matter and Cheney has invested his money accordingly.

The article is called “Cheney’s betting on bad news” and provides an account of where Cheney has socked away more than $25 million. While the figures may be estimates, the investments are not. According to Tom Blackburn of the Palm Beach Post, Cheney has invested heavily in “a fund that specializes in short-term municipal bonds, a tax-exempt money market fund and an inflation protected securities fund. The first two hold up if interest rates rise with inflation. The third is protected against inflation.”

Cheney has dumped another (estimated) $10 to $25 million in a European bond fund which tells us that he is counting on a steadily weakening dollar. So, while working class Americans are loosing ground to inflation and rising energy costs, Darth Cheney will be enhancing his wealth in “Old Europe”. As Blackburn sagely notes, “Not all bad news’ is bad for everybody.”

This should put to rest once and for all the foolish notion that the “Bush Economic Plan” is anything more than a scam aimed at looting the public till. The whole deal is intended to shift the nation’s wealth from one class to another. It’s also clear that Bush-Cheney couldn’t have carried this off without the tacit approval of the thieves at the Federal Reserve who engineered the low-interest rate boondoggle to put the American people to sleep while they picked their pockets.

Reasonable people can dispute that Bush is “intentionally” skewering the dollar with his lavish tax cuts, but how does that explain Cheney’s portfolio?

It doesn’t. And, one thing we can say with metaphysical certainty is that the miserly Cheney would never plunk his money into an investment that wasn’t a sure thing. If Cheney is counting on the dollar tanking and interest rates going up, then, by Gawd, that’s what’ll happen.

The Bush-Cheney team has racked up another $3 trillion in debt in just 6 years. The US national debt now stands at $8.4 trillion dollars while the trade deficit has ballooned to $800 billion nearly 7% of GDP.

This is lunacy. No country, however powerful, can maintain these staggering numbers. The country is in hock up to its neck and has to borrow $2.5 billion per day just to stay above water. Presently, the Fed is expanding the money supply and buying back its own treasuries to hide the hemorrhaging from the public. Its utter madness.

Last month the trade deficit climbed to $70 billion. More importantly, foreign central banks only purchased a meager $47 billion in treasuries to shore up our ravenous appetite for cheap junk from China.

Do the math! They’re not investing in America anymore. They are decreasing their stockpiles of dollars. We’re sinking fast and Cheney and his pals are manning the lifeboats while the public is diverted with gay marriage amendments and “American Celebrity”.

The American manufacturing sector has been hollowed out by cutthroat corporations who’ve abandoned their country to make a fast-buck in China or Mexico. The $3 trillion housing (equity) bubble is quickly loosing air while the anemic dollar continues to sag. All the signs indicate that the economy is slowing at the same time that energy prices continue to rise.

This is the onset of stagflation; the dreaded combo of a slowing economy and inflation.

Did Americans really think they’d be spared the same type of economic colonization that has been applied throughout the developing world under the rubric of “neoliberalism”?

Well, think again. The American economy is barrel-rolling towards earth and there are only enough parachutes for Cheney and the gang.

The country has lost 3 million jobs from outsourcing since Bush took office; more than 200,000 of those are the high-paying, high-tech jobs that are the life’s-blood of every economy.

Consider this from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) June edition of Foreign Affairs, the Bible of globalists and plutocrats:

“Between 2000 and 2003 alone, foreign firms built 60,000manufacturing plants in China. European chemical companies, Japanese carmakers, and US industrial conglomerates are all building factories in China to supply export markets around the world. Similarly, banks, insurance companies, professional-service firms, and IT companies are building R&D and service centers in India to support employees, customers, and production worldwide.” (“The Globally integrated Enterprise” Samuel Palmisano, Foreign Affairs page 130)

“60,000 manufacturing plants” in 3 years?!?

“Banks, insurance companies, professional-service firms, and IT companies”?

No job is safe. American elites and corporate tycoons are loading the boats and heading for foreign shores. The only thing they’re leaving behind is the insurmountable debt that will be shackled to our children into perpetuity and the carefully arranged levers of a modern police-surveillance state.

Welcome to Bush’s 21st Century gulag; third world luxury in a Guantanamo-type setting.

Take another look at Cheney’s investment strategy; it tells the whole ugly story. Interest rates are going up, the middle class is going down, and the poor dollar is headed for the dumpster. The country is not simply teetering on the brink of financial collapse; it is being thrust headfirst by the blackguards in office and their satrapies at Federal Reserve.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com

Carnage in Gaza: To blame the victims for this killing spree defies both morality and sense

March 12, 2008

Carnage in Gaza: To blame the victims for this killing spree defies both morality and sense

 

By S Milne

 

Global Research, March 5, 2008

Guardian

 

Washington’s covert attempts to overturn an election result lie behind the crisis in Gaza, as leaked papers show

The attempt by western politicians and media to present this week’s carnage in the Gaza Strip as a legitimate act of Israeli self-defence – or at best the latest phase of a wearisome conflict between two somehow equivalent sides – has reached Alice-in-Wonderland proportions. Since Israel’s deputy defence minister, Matan Vilnai, issued his chilling warning last week that Palestinians faced a “holocaust” if they continued to fire home-made rockets into Israel, the balance sheet of suffering has become ever clearer. More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli forces in the past week, of whom one in five were children and more than half were civilians, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. During the same period, three Israelis were killed, two of whom were soldiers taking part in the attacks.

So what was the response of the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, to this horrific killing spree? It was to blame the “numerous civilian casualties” on the week’s “significant rise” in Palestinian rocket attacks “and the Israeli response”, condemn the firing of rockets as “terrorist acts” and defend Israel’s right to self-defence “in accordance with international law”. But of course it has been nothing of the kind – any more than has been Israel’s 40-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, its continued expansion of settlements or its refusal to allow the return of expelled refugees.

Nor is the past week’s one-sided burden of casualties and misery anything new, but the gap is certainly getting wider. After the election of Hamas two years ago, Israel – backed by the US and the European Union – imposed a punitive economic blockade, which has hardened over the past months into a full-scale siege of the Gaza Strip, including fuel, electricity and essential supplies. Since January’s mass breakout across the Egyptian border signalled that collective punishment wouldn’t work, Israel has opted for military escalation. What that means on the ground can be seen from the fact that at the height of the intifada, from 2000 to 2005, four Palestinians were killed for every Israeli; in 2006 it was 30; last year the ratio was 40 to one. In the three months since the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, 323 Palestinians have been killed compared with seven Israelis, two of whom were civilians.

But the US and Europe’s response is to blame the principal victims for a crisis it has underwritten at every stage. In interviews with Palestinian leaders over the past few days, BBC presenters have insisted that Palestinian rockets have been the “starting point” of the violence, as if the occupation itself did not exist. In the West Bank, from which no rockets are currently fired and where the US-backed administration of Mahmoud Abbas maintains a ceasefire, there have been 480 Israeli military attacks over the past three months and 26 Palestinians killed. By contrast, the rockets from Gaza which are supposed to be the justification for the latest Israeli onslaught have killed a total of 14 people over seven years.

Like any other people, the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation – or to self-defence – whether they choose to exercise it or not. In spite of Israel’s disengagement in 2005, Gaza remains occupied territory, both legally and in reality. It is the world’s largest open-air prison, with land, sea and air access controlled by Israel, which carries out military operations at will. Palestinians may differ about the tactics of resistance, but the dominant view (if not that of Abbas) has long been that without some armed pressure, their negotiating hand will inevitably be weaker. And while it might be objected that the rockets are indiscriminate, that is not an easy argument for Israel to make, given its appalling record of civilian casualties in both the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

The truth is that Hamas’s control of Gaza is the direct result of the US refusal to accept the Palestinians’ democratic choice in 2006 and its covert attempt to overthrow the elected administration by force through its Fatah placeman Muhammad Dahlan. As confirmed by secret documents leaked to the US magazine Vanity Fair – and also passed to the Guardian – George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Elliott Abrams, the US deputy national security adviser (of Iran-Contra fame), funnelled cash, weapons and instructions to Dahlan, partly through Arab intermediaries such as Jordan and Egypt, in an effort to provoke a Palestinian civil war. As evidence of the military buildup emerged, Hamas moved to forestall the US plan with its own takeover of Gaza last June. David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser the following month, argues: “What happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”

Yesterday, Rice attempted to defend the failed US attempt to reverse the results of the Palestinian elections by pointing to Iran’s support for Hamas. Meanwhile, Israel’s attacks on Gaza are expected to resume once she has left the region, even if no one believes they will stop the rockets. Some in the Israeli government hope that they can nevertheless weaken Hamas as a prelude to pushing Gaza into Egypt’s unwilling arms; others hope to bring Abbas and his entourage back to Gaza after they have crushed Hamas, perhaps with a transitional international force to save the Palestinian president’s face.

Neither looks a serious option, not least because Hamas cannot be crushed by force, even with the bloodbath that some envisage. The third, commonsense option, backed by 64% of Israelis, is to take up Hamas’s offer – repeated by its leader Khalid Mish’al at the weekend – and negotiate a truce. It’s a move that now attracts not only left-leaning Israeli politicians such as Yossi Beilin, but also a growing number of rightwing establishment figures, including Ariel Sharon’s former security adviser Giora Eiland, the former Mossad boss Efraim Halevy, and the ex-defence minister Shaul Mofaz.

The US, however, is resolutely opposed to negotiating with what it has long branded a terrorist organisation – or allowing anyone else to do so, including other Palestinians. As the leaked American papers confirm, Rice effectively instructed Abbas to “collapse” the joint Hamas-Fatah national unity government agreed in Mecca early last year, a decision carried out after Hamas’s pre-emptive takeover. But for the Palestinians, national unity is an absolute necessity if they are to have any chance of escaping a world of walled cantons, checkpoints, ethnically segregated roads, dispossession and humiliation.

What else can Israel do to stop the rockets, its supporters ask. The answer could not be more obvious: end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and negotiate a just settlement for the Palestinian refugees, ethnically cleansed 60 years ago – who, with their families, make up the majority of Gaza’s 1.5 million people. All the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, accept that as the basis for a permanent settlement or indefinite end of armed conflict. In the meantime, agree a truce, exchange prisoners and lift the blockade. Israelis increasingly seem to get it – but the grim reality appears to be that a lot more blood is going to have to flow before it’s accepted in Washington.

s.milne@guardian.co.uk

AP probe finds drugs in drinking water

March 12, 2008
By JEFF DONN, MARTHA MENDOZA and JUSTIN PRITCHARD, Associated Press Writers Sun Mar 9, 5:03 PM ET

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

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To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public “doesn’t know how to interpret the information” and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

“We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation’s 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

_Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city’s watersheds.

_Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

_Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

_A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco‘s drinking water.

_The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

_Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.

The federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven’t: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City‘s Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

The AP’s investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation’s water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city’s water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that “New York City’s drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system” — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water.

Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.

The AP also contacted 52 small water providers — one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas — that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP’s questions, also citing post-9/11 issues.

Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren’t in the clear either, experts say.

The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City‘s upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas.

He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. “Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail,” Aufdenkampe said.

Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don’t necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry’s main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.

Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe — even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.

For example, in Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.

In the United States, the problem isn’t confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation’s water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs.

Perhaps it’s because Americans have been taking drugs — and flushing them unmetabolized or unused — in growing amounts. Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co.

“People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that’s not the case,” said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States.

Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.

One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.

Another issue: There’s evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.

Human waste isn’t the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.

Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity — sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8 percent, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years, according to an analysis of data from the Animal Health Institute.

Ask the pharmaceutical industry whether the contamination of water supplies is a problem, and officials will tell you no. “Based on what we now know, I would say we find there’s little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health,” said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

But at a conference last summer, Mary Buzby — director of environmental technology for drug maker Merck & Co. Inc. — said: “There’s no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they’re at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms.”

Recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.

Also, pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life — such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show.

Some scientists stress that the research is extremely limited, and there are too many unknowns. They say, though, that the documented health problems in wildlife are disconcerting.

“It brings a question to people’s minds that if the fish were affected … might there be a potential problem for humans?” EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson told the AP. “It could be that the fish are just exquisitely sensitive because of their physiology or something. We haven’t gotten far enough along.”

With limited research funds, said Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a greater emphasis should be put on studying the effects of drugs in water.

“I think it’s a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health,” said Snyder. “They need to just accept that these things are everywhere — every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It’s time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental.”

To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection. Grumbles acknowledged that just late last year the agency developed three new methods to “detect and quantify pharmaceuticals” in wastewater. “We realize that we have a limited amount of data on the concentrations,” he said. “We’re going to be able to learn a lot more.”

While Grumbles said the EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. Nitroglycerin can be used as a drug for heart problems, but the key reason it’s being considered is its widespread use in making explosives.

So much is unknown. Many independent scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans. Confidence about human safety is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts.

There’s growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs — or combinations of drugs — may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day.

Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very ill might be more sensitive.

Many concerns about chronic low-level exposure focus on certain drug classes: chemotherapy that can act as a powerful poison; hormones that can hamper reproduction or development; medicines for depression and epilepsy that can damage the brain or change behavior; antibiotics that can allow human germs to mutate into more dangerous forms; pain relievers and blood-pressure diuretics.

For several decades, federal environmental officials and nonprofit watchdog environmental groups have focused on regulated contaminants — pesticides, lead, PCBs — which are present in higher concentrations and clearly pose a health risk.

However, some experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body.

“These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That’s what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects,” says zoologist John Sumpter at Brunel University in London, who has studied trace hormones, heart medicine and other drugs.

And while drugs are tested to be safe for humans, the timeframe is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses. That’s why — aside from therapeutic doses of fluoride injected into potable water supplies — pharmaceuticals are prescribed to people who need them, not delivered to everyone in their drinking water.

“We know we are being exposed to other people’s drugs through our drinking water, and that can’t be good,” says Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany.

____

The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate (at) ap.org

Moses was stoned when he set Ten Commandments, researcher claims

March 6, 2008

Moses was stoned when he set Ten Commandments, researcher claims

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday March 05 2008. It was last updated at 15:59 on March 05 2008.
Charlton Heston as Moses in the 1955 film The Ten Commandments

Charlton Heston as Moses in the 1955 film The Ten Commandments. Photograph: AP

We all know that Moses was high on Mount Sinai when God spoke to him, but were the Ten Commandments a result of divine inspiration alone?

An Israeli researcher is claiming in a study published this week the prophet may have been stoned when he set the Ten Commandments in stone.

According to Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, psychedelic drugs formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times.

Writing in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy, he says concoctions based on the bark of the acacia tree, frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, contain the same molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca is prepared.

“The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an altered state of awareness,” writes Shanon. “In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings.”

References in the Bible where people “see” sounds, is another “classic phenomenon”, he said, citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to “see” music.

Speaking about his article on Israeli public radio, he added: “As far as Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either. Or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics.”

Moses was probably also on mind-altering drugs when he saw the “burning bush”, suggested Shanon, who admitted to dabbling with such substances.

Speaking of his own experience of ayahuasca during a religious ceremony in Brazil’s Amazon forest in 1991, he said: “I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations.”

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