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Population, health & pollution - Oct 19

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Are Boys An Endangered Species?

Francesca Lyman, MSN Health & Fitness
Why half as many boys as girls are being born in places around the world.
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Half as many boys as girls are being born in some places around the world-and pollution is the prime suspect.

Among the Chippewas of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community living on the shores of the St. Clair River outside Sarnia, Ontario, tribal leaders were puzzling over a variety of health problems-from asthma to cancer to miscarriages-plaguing their families. The Aamjiwnaang-the name means “at the spawning stream”-were shaken when they realized that there was a dramatic disproportion of girls to boys among them.

Jim Brophy, director of the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers’ Sarnia branch, remembers the look of shock on their faces when they suddenly made the connection. “It was like a deep family secret getting out,” Brophy recalls. “They had enough girls for three baseball teams, but not enough boys for even one boy team.”

Since then, the Chippewas of Aamjiwnaang’s 850 band members-who live near a cluster of chemical plants known as Chemical Valley-have worried that the air and water around them contribute to the drop in the number of their male children, as well as a host of grim diseases associated with toxic chemicals.

And now, in a number of villages at the northernmost reaches of the Arctic Circle-seemingly remote from any hazardous chemicals-scientists have found a similar syndrome: populations spawning twice as many girls as boys. Based on preliminary data released in September 2007, researchers are blaming high levels of man-made chemicals that have made their way up the food chain, through fish and other marine species, and into indigenous seafood diets.

...Population biologist Christopher Wills offers another concern connected with the greater fragility of males: It isn’t just that males are being born in lesser numbers, but that their lives are being foreshortened, especially in places hit hard by pollution.

“Just look at the life expectancy for men in Russia-it’s age 73 for women, but age 59 for men,’ says Wills. “This may turn out to be the real elephant in the bedroom.”

Francesca Lyman is the author of several environmental books, including The Greenhouse Trap and Inside the Dzanga-Sangha Rain Forest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan, MSNBC Online, This Old House, and Horizon Air magazines.
(no date. ? October 2007)


Mother fears 'stinky neighborhood' caused son's cancer

MaryAnne Fox, CNN
HOUSTON, Texas -- Six-year-old Valentin Marroquin went from being apparently healthy one moment to battling leukemia the next. As his mother Rosario Marroquin started searching for answers, she kept coming back to their Houston, Texas, neighborhood, and the stench that often envelopes it.

"We're the stinky neighborhood," she said. "But we've gotten so used to it that we don't know that's just how we smell."

The Marroquin family lives in the Manchester area of Houston, next to the Houston ship channel, the largest petrochemical complex in the United States. Day after day, oil refineries and petrochemical companies pump hazardous pollutants, including known cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and 1-3 butadiene, into the air.

... No one can say for certain that Valentin's illness was caused by the air he breathed, but earlier this year, the University of Texas released a study showing that children who live within two miles of the ship channel have a 56 percent greater chance of getting leukemia than kids living elsewhere.

It's the first study showing an association between the channel's air quality and childhood leukemia. The health risks from the shipping canal are not limited to cancer. The chemicals in the air can cause other serious health problems, such as respiratory diseases and birth defects.
(19 October 2007)


Dioxin pollution leads to more baby girls: study

Jonathan Spicer, Reuters
More girls than boys are born in some Canadian communities because airborne pollutants called dioxins can alter normal sex ratios, even if the source of the pollution is many kilometers away, researchers say.

Dioxin exposure has been shown elsewhere to lead to both higher cancer rates and the birth of more females.

Researchers at the IntrAmericas Centre for Environment and Health say their findings, released this month, confirm the phenomenon in Canada.

The study also reveals the health risks of living within 25 km (15.5 miles) of sources of pollution -- a greater distance than previously thought, they said.

Normally, 51 percent of births are boys and 49 percent are girls. But the ratio was reversed -- with as few as 46 males born for every 54 females -- in Canadian cities and towns where parents were exposed to pollutants from sources such as oil refineries, paper mills and metal smelters, according to the study.
(18 October 2007)


China's surplus of sons: A geopolitical time bomb

Michael Fragoso, Christian Science Monitor
Ending its one-child policy could ease instability
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The Olympics are around the corner. Just as qualifying athletes are training hard for the big event, China seeks to put its best foot forward in response to critics at home and abroad.

Among the criticisms is a quiet but serious challenge: the artificially high number of Chinese men compared with Chinese women. China should act expeditiously to correct the social and legal pressures that have converged to create this problem.

"Son preference" is a deep-seated, widespread problem in many cultures. In many parts of the world, having a son is integral to one's future financial and social wellbeing. Recent articles have tried to shed light on the problem in India - putting much blame on the ultrasound machines women use to determine the sex of their unborn children in order to decide whether they should abort a female fetus.

In China, however, the problem takes on a frightfully larger scope when "son preference" meets the notorious One Child policy. When the government only allows one child, it puts immense pressure on Chinese parents to determine the sex of their child in the womb, and terminate the pregnancy if it is a girl.

The unintended consequences of this government policy are staggering. The proportion of male births to female births (the "sex ratio") is not merely unusual, but alarming.
(19 October 2007)


Harbor seals may help determine effect on humans of eating toxic fish

Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle
Harbor seals in San Francisco Bay are so contaminated with chemicals such as flame retardants and the pesticide DDT that scientists are studying whether the pollutants hurt the pups' chances of survival, data that can add to knowledge about the contaminants' effects on humans.

About 500 harbor seals that rest on the bay's beaches eat the same kinds of fish caught by local anglers, and the seals live in waters shared by swimmers, surfers and kayakers. What happens to these marine mammals could offer clues as to how pollution from sewage and dirty rain runoff can affect other mammals, including sea lions, otters and even people, scientists say.
(19 October 2007)

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