If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Archive for May, 2009

Captain Charles Moore on the “plastic soup” engulfing the world’s oceans and how plastic harms the human body

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009


Capt. Charles Moore showing Pacific Ocean water filled with plastic (Matt Kramer/Algalita Marine)

Capt. Charles Moore showing Pacific Ocean water filled with plastic (Matt Kramer/Algalita Marine)

How can we halt the pollution of our oceans with plastic garbage? And how can we stop the production of plastics which are contaminating not only the seas but also our bodies? In this fascinating episode, Dr. Caldicott speaks with Captain Charles Moore, who founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in 1994. In 1995, Moore launched his purpose-designed, aluminum-hulled research vessel, Alguita, in Hobart, Tasmania. On his return voyage from a yacht race in 1997, Moore veered from the usual sea route and saw an ocean he had never known. “There were shampoo caps and soap bottles and plastic bags and fishing floats as far as I could see. Here I was in the middle of the ocean, and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic.” Ever since discovering this enormous plastic oceanic gyre the size of Africa, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Moore has dedicated his time and resources to understanding and remediating the ocean’s plastic load. This program addresses the enormous problem of plastic in the ocean, and also expands on the issue of how chemicals used to make plastic are damaging the human body, a topic first discussed in our recent program with Dr. Maricel Maffini. Have a look at this in-depth color graphic describing the garbage patch. And see this excellent color transparency about how the plastic gyre is created.

Capt. Moore, an ocean researcher, sea captain, racing sailor and surfer, describes how the floating plastic debris is damaging and killing many life forms, and is now found on one-quarter of the planet’s surface area, a total of 10 million square miles of ocean plastic litter. Moore has written about plastic particulate pollution for scientific journals and has developed protocols for monitoring beach and plastic pollution. See his articles A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre and A Comparison of Neustonic Plastic and Zooplankton Abundance in Southern California’s Coastal Waters.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch (eastern and western gyres)

Great Pacific Garbage Patch (eastern and western gyres)

After Moore tells how he first came upon the vortex, he talks about how the ocean circulates the plastic trash, which now covers 10 million square miles. See this graphic of the approximate location of the trash vortex, and how deep underwater the trash goes. In 2006, the UN Environment Program figured that each square mile of ocean includes 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Moore stated in another interview that “Except for the small amount that’s been incinerated – and it’s a very small amount – every bit of plastic ever made still exists.” See this chart showing how plastic production is growing at alarming rates. In this program, you will learn how plastic in the ocean never disappears, and that even when it breaks down into tiny particles, it is still extremely destructive. Moore describes how fish, birds and other marine life are killed by the plastic debris.

Moore informs Dr. Caldicott where the litter originates on land. He describes how sea traffic is increasing by leaps and bounds, increasing the stress on the oceans. Globalization, competition and consumerism are vastly and exponentially increasing the amount of plastic worldwide. Dr. Caldicott asks Moore about the carbon footprint of ships. See the press release EPA Urged to Reduce Global Warming Pollution from Ships and read Oceana’s report Shipping Impacts on Climate: A Source with Solutions. Capt. Moore talks about the unenforced treaty to halt marine pollution, and the outlook for the future of the oceans. No subsequent generation will swim in the ocean without encountering plastic, Moore says.

Moore mentions how plastic absorbs huge quantities of other oil-based chemicals. He describes the plastic pellets called nurdles which absorb up to 1,000,000 times their weight in pollutants, attracting chemicals such as DDT and hydrocarbons, and becoming part of the food chain. Moore refers to the work of Dr. Hideshige Takada of Tokyo University, author of the study Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium of Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment. Takada is now mapping the location of beached plastic pellets from oceans around the world through his group International Pellet Watch. See the diagram of how plastic pellets are transported and ingested by sea creatures. Moore describes how a plastic spill in the ocean is far more catastrophic than an oil spill. See Plastics ‘poisoning world’s seas’.

Moore refers to the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and says we have to rethink how everything is designed if we are ever to stop damaging our planet with toxic chemicals and disposable products. Dr. Caldicott says that as with nuclear waste, the only sane solution to the plastic problem is to stop making it. Recycling is not a viable solution. Read Plastics: Your Formidable Enemy - Questioning exposure, recycling, biodegradability, alternatives which also talks about ocean plastic and the human health aspects of plastic.

Recovered ocean plastic

Recovered ocean plastic

This program does not explore whether efforts should be made to remove and recycle the ocean plastic, and whether such capture-and-recycling efforts would further harm ocean life. To read more about the pros and cons of the recycling idea, see the articles Feds want to survey, possibly clean up vast garbage pit in Pacific and Mission to Break up Pacific Island of Rubbish Twice the Size of Texas and So we’ve got this trash-filled gyre, right? Can we fix it? and Media Catches the Boat to Pacific Garbage Patch and Ocean garbage mess and possible solutions and Can’t we just scoop up the trash? Eliminating the use of plastic bags can definitely reduce the ocean plastic problem. Read about one determined anti-plastic activist in A Woman, a Village and a War on Plastic Bags.

Why do people litter? Eighty percent of the ocean plastic originates on land (some of which occurs when nurdle pellets are spilled off trucks, but much of the trash starts with individuals littering). Read a U.S. study of littering behavior in Southern states and an Australian study about how to prevent littering. Also see this Litter Facts page.

Later in the show, Dr. Caldicott and Capt. Moore talk about phthalates, bisphenol-A and other toxic components in plastic, and how these chemicals are damaging human health from the womb to old age, disrupting hormone function and causing disease. See a handy table of plastics and their health effects, and visit the website Our Stolen Future for the latest on endocrine disruption research.

Moore describes how plastic is not inert, and releases chemicals at every stage. Moore mentions the work of Dr. Frederick vom Saal who contends that bisphenol-A is responsible for the epidemic of diabetes and obesity. See Diabetes and Obesity are Related to Plastics in Food and Beverage Containers. Also see An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment.

Americans go through 5 million disposable polyethylene bottles a day, Moore notes. Read the May 25 article Elevated BPA levels in people drinking out of plastic bottles, study finds which describes a 70% increase in bisphenol-A in urine among those drinking from plastic bottles. Read the study here. Moore says that Americans now have 100 -200 chemicals in their body – a large “body burden” of toxins that were unknown to science before the 1950’s. He says we have a huge challenge ahead of us to rid ourselves of these contaminants, especially when faced with a “growth economy.” Bioplastics (from corn, soy, potato, etc.) present their own problems as described in Rejecting the toxic plague: War on plastic.

In the oceans, Moore says, the ratio of plastic to plankton is increasing, and now averages a whopping 46 to 1. The plastic debris is creating oceanic deserts with very little plankton, and plankton is also being reduced by global warming. Plankton is the building block of all ocean life. See Decline in oceans’ phytoplankton alarms scientists: Experts pondering whether reduction of marine plant life is linked to warming of the seas and Warmer Seas Will Wipe Out Plankton, Source of Ocean Life.

For more on the big picture on the world’s oceans, read Altered Oceans, a five-part Los Angeles Times series which includes the article, Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas. To learn about the threat of overfishing, see the report Hungry Oceans: What Happens When the Prey is Gone?. Also read about the study, Ocean acidification impairs olfactory discrimination and homing ability of a marine fish and the report Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. And read the article Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH: The coming centuries may see more ocean acidification than the past 300 million years. And visit the Web site of the Ocean Acidification Network. Climate change is also bringing a jellyfish plague. Read Beautiful, but Deadly: Jellyfish Blooms Appear to be on the Rise. Is Global Warming Causing an Ocean Swarming?.

Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, with more beached plastic particles than sand (Algalita Marine)

Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, with more beached plastic particles than sand (Algalita Marine)

For more on the problem of ocean plastic, see the Greenpeace report Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans and the new Sierra magazine article Message in a Bottle. Also read Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic…Are We? and Why plastic is the scourge of sea life and The world’s rubbish dump: a garbage tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan. Visit Greenpeace’s Disposal Oceans? page. Watch videos about ocean plastic on the Plastic Soup website. For more about the work of Captain Charles Moore, read Conversation: Captain Charles Moore Talks Trash and Plastic Soup: Where Trash Lives Forever. Watch Moore’s 7-minute presentation at the 2009 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, “Capt. Charles Moore on the seas of plastic.”

As Dr. Caldicott states on this episode, we must become scientifically literate to lead the planet toward survival. Be sure to listen to this program to inform yourself.

Maude Barlow on the urgent global water situation and water as a basic human right; and Dr. Caldicott’s speech on nuclear radiation

Monday, May 11th, 2009



This week’s guest,
Maude Barlow, is a Canadian author and activist. Holding seven honorary doctorates, she is the national chairperson of
The Council of Canadians, a progressive citizens’ advocacy organization with members and chapters across Canada. In October 2008, she was named Senior Advisor on Water Issues by the President of
the 63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. Barlow founded the Blue Planet Project “to protect the world’s fresh water from the growing threats of trade and privatization”. She is the author of 16 books including her latest title Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water as well as Blue Gold: The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World’s Water. In 2005, she won the Right Livelihood Award (the alternative Nobel Prize).

Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow

In this interview, Barlow discusses with
Dr. Caldicott the water crisis and mismanagement occurring in different parts of the world, particularly the fights in both the Third World and the First World against the privatization of water by large corporations. Barlow’s activism is focused on establishing the right to water as a basic human right in all societies, which she says all nation-states and the United Nations should mandate. She spoke in March at the Fifth World Water Forum, the proceedings of which can be accessed here. Read Blue Planet’s Preliminary Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council RE: Decision 2/104: Human Rights and Access to Water. Also see A UN Convention on the Right to Water: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.

Barlow explains how the world is running out of fresh water, and how we are creating deserts in many parts of the world because of the way we exploit the land and waste and pollute the water. She underlines that two billion people live in water-stressed areas. The poor do not have access to safe water, and Barlow describes how every 8 seconds, a child dies of a water-borne disease. Dirty water kills more children annually than AIDS and accidents combined. Groups like Global Water are working to create safe water supplies and sanitation in the developing world. For more on the big picture around water, see the reports World Water Development Report: Water in a Changing World and Climate Change and Water. Also read the article River systems worldwide are losing water due to global warming.

Dr. Caldicott asks Barlow to comment on global warming and overpopulation, before they move on to talk about the enormous impact of water privatization. Dr. Caldicott says she is “shocked to my back teeth” that corporations would move into countries, buy the water supplies and then expect people to buy the water back. Barlow talks about the brutal battles around the world against companies such as the French transnational Suez Environment, which tried to privatize Argentina’s water, and how citizens have been victorious in some of these fights to protect their access to water. The U.S. firm Bechtel attempted to privatize the water in Bolivia as outlined in Bechtel vs. Bolivia: The People Win An International Trade Battle. Also see the report Bechtel’s Dry Run: Iraqis Suffer Water Crisis about how profit is the only motive Bechtel has for controlling Iraq’s water. In the U.S., Atlanta abandoned water privatization as described in No Silver Bullet: Water Privatization in Atlanta, Georgia – a Cautionary Tale. The World Bank, as well as Kofi Annan of the United Nations, to their discredit, have advocated water privatization.

For more background, see Public Citizen’s Water for All Campaign Web site and their pages Water Privatization Overview and ABCs of Water Privatization. Also see the report Water Privatization Fiascos: Broken Promises and Social Turmoil and read the article Is the Water Privatization Trend Ending? Water privatization also results in job loss. Read the May 20 press release, New Food & Water Watch Study Reveals Privatized Water Systems Result in Job Losses and read the study here.

Barlow and Dr. Caldicott mention bottled water. Making the disposable bottles, and transporting them, requires a great deal of energy (which contributes to global warming). Their production also generates toxic waste. Discarded bottles may become part of ocean plastic gyres. Barlow says that several municipalities in Canada are banning bottled water. As discussed on last week’s interview with biologist Maricel Maffini, many plastic water bottles contain potent hormone disruptors and carcinogens.

See Dr. Peter Gleick’s blog about water issues, including entries on potential water wars, the amount of plastic bottles we use, conserving water, water to grow beef, etc. Dr. Gleick is the president of the Pacific Institute, which focuses much attention on water and sustainability.

Rainwater collection, Dr. Caldicott and Barlow agree, is an essential component of water conservation. HarvestH2O.com, “The online rainwater harvesting community,” is devoted to education around this issue. See the May 7 article Harvesting the Rain: An Old Idea Takes on New Life. Rainwater may contain some pollutants but not pharmaceuticals. See Drugs found in drinking water. Barlow notes that some societies, such as rural India, are following centuries-old traditions of water conservation and should serve as role models for the more industrialized world which sees water as an unlimited resource. Since the 1950’s, Barlow says, the human population has increased three-fold, but our water use has increased seven-fold. As societies become more “sophisticated” and industrialized, and emulate the consumer-driven culture of the U.S., they use much more water.

The water crisis today also involves the world’s oceans, and Barlow recommends the new book, Sea Sick, by Alanna Mitchell. She says we must stop thinking of the oceans as a giant waste dump. Barlow explains in depth why desalination is mostly a bad idea, and why more energy-saving and sustainable practices should be put into place to conserve water.

Barlow lays down the five principles of water use and conservation that must be implemented around the world. All the solutions to the water crisis must follow these guidelines. She quotes Martin Luther King Jr. who said that “legislation may not change the heart but it will restrain the heartless.” Read the June 3 article Another Water World Is Possible: Managing World Water which links to Barlow’s 10 recommended foundations for a well-managed water commons. Read the new report written by Barlow, Our Water Commons, Towards a New Freshwater Narrative.

Providing inspiration, Barlow explains how we can restore ecoystems, and actually bring back rain and fresh water. She and Dr. Caldicott agree on the importance of trees in mitigating climate change. How we handle the water crisis, Barlow says, is crucial in dealing with global warming. She says “we must put water and nature in the center. Everything we have and are is from nature, and if we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves.”

* * * *

The last third of today’s episode is an excerpt from a lecture given by
Dr. Caldicott in April 2009 at Middlebury College, Vermont, in which she talks about the medical effects of nuclear radiation. In explaining the looming threat posed by nuclear power plants such as Vermont Yankee, she says that most politicians are scientifically illiterate. They do not comprehend the effects of radiation or the causes of global warming. For example, many elected officials think increasing CO2 from the present 387 parts per million (which many scientists says is already beyong the tipping point toward catastrophic climate change) to 550 PPM is acceptable, but in reality such an increase would surely doom the planet. The group Safe Power Vermont wants to shut down Vermont Yankee. In 2007, one of the plant’s cooling towers, supported by rotting wood, collapsed, and water that should be cooling the reactor core spewed out of the broken plant (see photo by anonymous photographer below). Read the May 14 news article, Residents Forceful: Shut Yankee Nuclear Plant Down.

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant:  the 2007 cooling tower collapse

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant: the 2007 cooling tower collapse

Dr. Caldicott teaches the audience what would happen if Vermont Yankee, near the Massachusetts border, or the Indian Point reactor, 30 miles from New York City, were to melt down, inducing widespread pandemonium, radiation sickness, and death. She mentions a 2004 report, Chernobyl on the Hudson? The Health And Economic Impacts Of A Terrorist Attack At The Indian Point Nuclear Plant, essential reading about a hypothetical meltdown. If the San Onofre plant, north of San Diego, were to melt down, the same dire effects would engulf much of Southern California. As indicated by this aerial photo, San Onofre could easily be flooded and damaged by the projected 30-foot sea level rise from global warming which could spell disaster for all coastal nuclear plants. A meltdown at any of the 100-odd U.S. nuclear reactors could impact millions of people. This speech also reveals what happened to the 600,000 soldiers who were brought in to clean up after the Chernobyl accident, and Dr. Caldicott explains what percentage of Europe is still radioactive, as suggested by this map showing cesium distribution. See How Chernobyl Could Happen Here about the danger of a U.S. plant accident. She gives examples of how a terrorist or other saboteur could easily melt down a nuclear power plant. And plutonium can be stolen from the plants to make nuclear weapons - read about how a New Generation of Nuclear Power Stations ‘Risk Terrorist Anarchy’. Dr. Caldicott makes it clear how atomic energy plants are really “nuclear bombs” in our midst as they could be intentionally melted down to kill hundreds of thousands of people, “cancer factories” because of the cancers caused by both routine radiation releases and accidents, and “bomb factories” since the material processed in the plants is used to make nuclear weapons.

Dr. Maricel Maffini on how ubiquitous hormone-mimicking chemicals are creating a public health emergency

Monday, May 4th, 2009


The components in some plastic water bottles are now strongly linked to<br />
breast cancer

The components in some plastic water bottles are now strongly linked to breast cancer

Dr. Maricel Maffini is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Her research interests are in the field of carcinogenesis and developmental biology, and she has made a number of important observations in the field of breast cancer.

In this interview with
Dr. Caldicott, biologist Maffini explains the association between exposures to environmental estrogen-mimics during fetal life like bisphenol-A (BPA), a component in plastic, and breast cancer risk in adulthood. Dr. Caldicott asks Dr. Maffini about the the tremendous increase in breast cancer rates. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, which published the report State of the Evidence 2008:
The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment
, “breast cancer incidence rates in the United States increased by more than 40 percent between 1973 and 1998.” In discussing BPAs and their relationship to cancer, Dr. Maffini explains the toxic nature of products containing BPAs: water bottles, canned food containers, Coca-Cola bottles, DVDs, eyeglasses, protective dental substances, and the plastic pipes that transport tap water. She says that all plastics, even those without BPA, release some estrogenic compounds. Read the May 22 news article Drinking from Plastic Bottles ‘Increases Exposure to Gender-Bending Chemical’ and read the new study Use of Polycarbonate Bottles and Urinary Bisphenol A Concentrations.

The program explores bisphenol-A in great depth. Dr. Maffini points to two studies published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association linking BPA to heart disease and diabetes, plus high concentrations of certain liver enzymes, Bisphenol A and Risk of Metabolic Disorders and Association of Urinary Bisphenol-A Concentration With Medical Disorders and Laboratory Abnormalities in Adults. Dr. Maffini’s lab has also found a strong correlation between BPA and autism, hyperactivity and even obesity, and she describes in detail what happened in test situations.

The discoveries Dr. Maffini and her colleagues have made started with finding that the plastic tubing used in laboratories made breast cancer cells in controlled experiments “proliferate like mad.” Dr. Maffini refers to the 2004 Centers for Disease Control study showing BPA contamination in 93% of the population. She explains how children and women are particularly infiltrated with BPA. Read High BPA levels found in hospitalized, premature infants. And see the six-page brochure Hormone Disruptors and Women’s Health: Reasons for Concern.

Dr. Maricel Maffini

Dr. Maricel Maffini

Dr. Caldicott asks Dr. Maffini to comment on how girls are reaching puberty at a much earlier age now, with chemicals a suspected cause. The Breast Cancer Fund commissioned a study,
The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls:
What We Know, What We Need to Know
, overseen by biologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream.

Two of the most important points on today’s program are that even minute amounts of many hormone mimickers cause damage, and that the synergistic effect of chemicals in combination is often much stronger than one chemical alone. The Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Maffini says, does not correctly test chemicals in the amounts that would do the most damage, and does not study how chemicals become exponentially more harmful when blended together. And the Food and Drug Administration does not consider BPA harmful, but their findings may be compromised. Read To ban or not to ban: Bisphenol-A in food is OK with FDA but not with some scientists. Also see Growing controversy swirls around research article key to FDA’s decision on bisphenol A safety and Plastics industry behind FDA research on bisphenol A, study finds.

The air we breathe may also include BPAs. Be sure to examine Clearing the Air – Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s report about how air fresheners are laced with hormone-mimicking chemicals. For more on BPA, be sure to read Chemical Fallout, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Scripps Howard Award-winning series on bisphenol-A, which includes the articles BPA leaches from “microwave safe” products and Few companies seeking substitutes to
bisphenol A, study finds

Dr. Maffini and Dr. Caldicott explore the hormonal effects of other plastic components, including phthlates (which are also hormone disruptors), as well as chemicals like DDT, still used on produce imported to the U.S.; plus Teflon, Styrofoam, parabens (in nearly all sunscreens, skin lotions and shampoos) and pesticides. See the report Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumors. Dr. Caldicott declares that “we live in a cocktail of estrogen mimickers.”

The bisphenol-A lining in canned food containers is even more likely to migrate when exposed to acidic foods like tomatoes

The bisphenol-A lining in canned food containers is even more likely to migrate when exposed to acidic foods like tomatoes

Today’s show also touches on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used in flame retar-dants, which have been found in people and animals all over the world. Read an abstract of the study, Brominated flame retar-dants in polar bears. Read about the study released last month on the prevalence of flame retardants in all U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes and read the full report here.

Plastics in many forms are causing havoc around the world, and do not biodegrade. Read Where Plastics Goes to Kill. In past interviews,
Dr. Maffini has recommended not microwaving food in plastic containers. Microwave ovens themselves have been found to damage the colloidal structure of food and water, which in turn weakens the human body, according to some studies.

Babies, young children, and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to hormone-mimicking chemicals, and Dr. Maffini says that pregnant mothers should be warned to avoid all the sources of exposure she mentions on the program, just as they are told to not smoke or drink while pregnant. She points to success stories in the fight against hormone-mimicking chemicals like how Suffolk County on Long Island recently banned BPAs, and how removing the toxic lining in canned food in Japan caused a big drop in blood levels of BPA among college students in studies conducted over seven years. New development: read the May 14 article Chicago Bans Sale of Baby Bottles, Sippy Cups With BPA.

Dr. Caldicott concludes near the end of the program that the volume of chemicals linked to chronic diseases has produced a major public health emergency. Of the 80,000 chemicals in use today, only a fraction have been tested for carcinogenicity and other toxicity. Listen to find out much more about how “we have saturated our environment with untested toxins,” as
Dr. Caldicott says, and what you can do to protect yourself and your community from these unnecessary chemicals.