Thursday, May 24, 2018

Update: EPA Throws Journalists Out Of PFAS Conference - Why?


Source: EPA



The week began with an update (a blog post) regarding the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to hold 'a conference' to explore the dangers of PerFluoroOctanoic Acid (PFOA) and PerFluoroOctaneSulfonic Acide (PFOS).  This conference was in response to the breaking news last week that the White House was suppressing a health report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which was about to be released regarding the safety of the chemicals above.  The levels of the PerFluoroAlkyl compounds which were found in various geographical areas were disturbing as uncovered by Politico news.  Below is the disturbing update regarding the conference at the EPA -- which began with quite a hiccup to say the least -- or was it a hiccup?



Day 1 of PFAS Conference at EPA




As I just stated, the two day conference which was held at the EPA started roughly to say the least.  According to early reports by 'Politico Energy' the following disturbing event occurred at the beginning of the conference:



MAKE SOME ROOM — PFAS SUMMIT ENTERS DAY 2: It's the second and final day of EPA's summit on dangerous chemicals cropping up in drinking water supplies around the country. Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler will deliver opening remarks, but the rest of today's agenda is pretty vague, mostly listing "open discussions" among the state regulators, federal officials and other participants.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday that he would take the first step toward regulating PFOA and PFOS. Today's proceedings will be closed to the press, an agency spokesman tells ME. EPA initially tried to bar reporters from most of Tuesday's proceedings, before reversing itself a few hours later, but the outcry over that move overshadowed much of the event (more on that below).
'NOBODY EVER ASKED US': Ahead of today's meeting, Pro's Annie Snider and Emily Holden confirmed that a controversial — and still unreleased — HHS chemical safety assessment will find that the contaminants can be dangerous at much lower exposures than EPA has previously said were safe. "Nobody ever asked us to change the numbers," Patrick Breysse, the head of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry within HHS, told POLITICO. Breysse, who worked on the study, said the agencies involved were "getting close to finalizing it in January," but paused its release to come up with a better communications strategy to describe its findings. At the time, as POLITICO reported last week, a White House official worried of a "public relations nightmare" if the study were made public and asked EPA to intervene. While speaking on a panel at EPA's summit Tuesday, Breysse said the minimum risk levels reported last week for PFOA, PFOS and two other similar chemicals will remain the same when the assessment is released "soon."
Following up: Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told reporters she is "not totally pleased" with EPA's response to the blocked release of a health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis and would be following up with agency later this week after a national summit on the issue. "I think the health study that HHS put forward needs to be released," she said. "I want to have the full information and I want to find out what kind of levels are acceptable and then remediate the problems." And does she think Pruitt can adequately respond to her concerns? "Time will tell, honestly," she said.
— Separately, Sen. Tom Udall demanded to know why EPA tried to bar reporters from Tuesday's session — a decision that was eventually reversed a few hours later. Udall sent a letter to Administrator Scott Pruitt to express concern over EPA's "disturbing treatment" of journalists. "This intimidation of journalists seeking to cover a federal official presiding over important policy-making is un-American and unacceptable," Udall wrote, calling on Pruitt to apologize to reporters.
But EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the agency in a statement, noting an Associated Press reporter who had been physically removed from EPA headquarters, "showed up" after being told ahead of time the event was at capacity. "When we were made aware of the incident, we displaced stakeholders to the overflow room who flew to Washington for this meeting so that every member of the press could have a seat," he said.



Which was after the evening reporting by news agencies which resulted in a tweet by Senator Tom Udall shown below:






Here is the 6 and 1/2 minute video below from CNN:





Wow.  Read more about the event (barring of news) from two additional news sources -- Politico and Reason Blog.  According to reporting on the website 'Reason' the conference was proposed based on chemical levels reported earlier by Politico as shown below:



The Summit is being held on the heels of the revelation in Politico that the EPA is apparently suppressing a new report on the safety of PFAS from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. That report suggested that the EPA's safe level of exposure at 70 parts per trillion is about six times too high. Most of the concerns about exposure to PFAS are based on a large number of epidemiological studies that detect fairly subtle health effects. Subtle, however, does not mean no effects.


Wow.  That was only on the first day of the conference.



Day 2 of PFAS Conference at EPA




After the press being thrown out of the EPA hosted conference on the first day, the EPA took a few heavy hits from congressional leaders and the press -- and rightfully so.  One would think that the possibility of throwing the press out of the conference on the second day would be not possible.  But, leave it to the Pruitt Administration to have the gull to attempt the ejection of the free press from the conference again as reported by Politico:



EPA staff Wednesday morning barred POLITICO and reporters from at least two other publications from entering a national summit on toxic chemicals, a day after a partial media blackout at the same event brought criticism from congressional Democrats and a pledge by the White House to investigate the incident.
The agency on Tuesday had allowed a select group of reporters to cover the first hour of the summit's introductory remarks, including comments by Administrator Scott Pruitt, but then escorted press out. EPA reversed its decision to ban media after news coverage of the policy and reports from the Associated Press that one of its journalists was forcibly ejected from the building by a security guard. Reporters were invited back for Tuesday afternoon.
But on Wednesday, the agency again said no reporters would be allowed to attend.
The event, where attendees are discussing whether and how to regulate a class of chemicals linked to immune disorders and certain cancers, included federal and state officials, health groups and industry interests on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it is limited to the agencies that handle chemical oversight and state regulators, according to an EPA statement.



This was such an outrageous action that Politico's Editor even made a statement on behalf of the press about the restriction of access to the conference:



"The summit was focused on an important public health crisis that has affected drinking water supplies across the country, and chemicals that are present in the bloodstreams of nearly all Americans," she said. "We believe it is important that the news media have access to the entirety of this discussion to keep the public informed with fact-driven, accountability coverage of this important issue — we would much rather be writing about the agency's efforts to address this health problem than about reporters being excluded."



Even more congressional leaders took to their twitter accounts.  Senator Tom Carper of the Environmental and Public Works Committee posted on twitter:



"I can’t believe I have to say this two days in a row, but @EPA works for the American people," Carper wrote. "Unfortunately, it’s clear that this EPA is more concerned with protecting the EPA chemical summit from the public than it is with protecting the public from harmful chemicals."



I am really amazed at the obvious lack of understanding of the current Administration that the government works for the people of the United States.  Their actions are funded by tax-payer money.  The actions of the EPA over the last couple of days have called on the Society of Environmental Journalists to take action and send a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt which is shown below:



May 23, 2018
Scott Pruitt, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Mail Code: 1101A
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Washington, DC 20460
via e-mail: Pruitt.scott@Epa.gov
Dear Administrator Pruitt:
The Society of Environmental Journalists strenuously objects to the Environmental Protection Agency’s selective barring of news reporters from your “National Leadership Summit” on per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, and to the EPA physically forcing an Associated Press reporter from the premises.
It beggars understanding that the EPA would prevent any reporters from covering a topic of such intense nationwide interest and concern. But these are just the latest additions to your pattern of antagonism toward the press, and disregard for the public’s right to know what EPA is or is not doing to protect their health and the environment.
This meeting, organized well in advance to gather input on a critical public health policy initiative, as a matter of course should have admitted news reporters in order to inform the public about what occurred. But as recently as a couple weeks ago, your staff was informing reporters that there would be no room for the press at this invitation-only event, because there was not enough space in the room selected for it.
This is patently ridiculous. Surely, larger rooms were available at the EPA headquarters or in a nearby federal building or hotel.
Evidently your staff relented at some point on May 22 and agreed to admit reporters for some news organizations. But not all: The Associated Press, CNN and E&E News, all highly respected news outlets serving enormous national audiences, were turned away at the door.
A female AP reporter has recounted that when, in response to being barred, she asked to speak with a public affairs staffer, guards instead laid hands on her and removed her from the building by force. This is completely unacceptable.
The livestream of the May 22 event provided by EPA - which has been offered as some sort of alternative to on-the-scene coverage - turned out to be highly selective as well, with most of the summit’s morning session held without being broadcast online.
Finally, though you allowed press coverage the afternoon of the summit’s first day, your agency once again excluded at least some reporters on the session’s second day, May 23.
While informing the public via news media is just good policy, holding the meeting open to the public is also legally required under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 USC § 1-16) and the Government in the Sunshine Act (5 U.S.C. §552b). According to your own agency’s press release, the summit included representatives from more than 40 states, tribes and territories, 20 federal agencies, congressional staff, industry groups and non-governmental organizations, and the agency intends to use information from the summit to help it develop a management plan. There is no justification for secrecy here.
On behalf of SEJ’s 1,400 members and all other journalists covering the EPA, we urge you to:
• Repudiate this hostile approach to dealing with the press and public.
• Consistently open up important meetings, announcements and events to the public and press.
• Never discriminate against a news outlet based on the content or editorial slant of its coverage.
• Make arrangements to accommodate rather than restrict access by the press and public — and to answer their questions.
• Withdraw your objections to the publication by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of a draft assessment of water contamination by these chemicals. According to news reports, that study is still being withheld from the public.
Your failure to release this report, along with the difficulties inflicted on reporters trying to cover the summit, inhibit public understanding of how the EPA is regulating water quality and constitutes an abuse of the free press and the public’s right to know. We emphatically urge you to end these practices immediately.


The behavior described (the actions of the EPA officials toward the press) are unprofessional and violate unwritten rules and regulations within the government.  Since when does any EPA official have the right to handle another personal in a physical capacity.  The EPA official could be brought up on charges of assault.  At the very least, the EPA official should have called a security official.  But the above removal of a person in the press are just another reminder that this administration believes that they exist outside or above the law -- which is very unfortunate.



Conclusion...




I would hope that after the unfortunate events, the nation can move on and learn from the events of the past.  The current Administration at the EPA needs a strict reminder from congress regarding the behavior toward the public.  Each public official should remember that ultimately the tax-payer is deciding their course in the future.  Based on the actions over the last few days, the EPA seems to have been taken over and funded exclusively by the Private sector.



The blatant disregard for the public should make any citizen sick to their stomach.  After all, the fall-out of the decisions being discussed and made result in resources which we need for every day living.  No person should have to drink or be exposed to contaminated water just because the federal regulating agency (i.e. EPA) is unwilling to do their job.  Further more, disease needs not be spread due to a lack enforcement on government, state, and local facilities.




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Monday, May 21, 2018

Update: Congress asks Federal Agencies about Dangerous Chemicals -- PFOA and PFOS


Source: SlidePlayer



Last week, I wrote a blog about an emerging controversy surrounding a report about the two dangerous chemicals -- PerfluoroOctanoic Acid (PFOA) and PerfluoroOctaneSulfonic Acid (PFOS) which has been suppressed by the Administration.  As a result of learning about that report and the suppression by the Trump Administration, Congress informed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that an explanation is needed about this critical issue.  Why is this critical?  Do you like turning the tap on to get 'clean' drinking water? If the answer is yes, then the emerging information will be of critical importance to you.



This morning, emails which were obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) shows the initial problems with the emerging issue.  The following introduction to the information obtained by the EDF was emailed out this morning by 'Politico Energy' - shown below:



PRUITT'S CHEMICALS PROBLEM GETS BIGGER: Several major chemical companies have told federal regulators they planned to have hundreds of pounds of hot-button chemicals dumped daily into rivers that an environmental group warns could be used as drinking water sources. The Environmental Defense Fund obtained documents showing that chemicals companies estimated that paper mills making pizza boxes and other food packaging would be discharging as much as 225 pounds of the chemicals into nearby waterways each day. Companies such as Chemours and Daikin America submitted those estimates to the Food and Drug Administration to support applications to sell chemicals related to PFOA, which is linked with thyroid disease and certain cancers, for use in food packaging. The FDA has approved applications from six companies in recent years and the dumping could now be taking place at paper mills across the country.
But here's the catch: EDF says discharges of the PFOA-related chemicals are likely unregulated, and there is no public information about which plants are using these chemicals and which waterways they're being discharged into. That means that drinking water utilities that draw their water just downstream might not know to treat for the contaminants, and state regulators wouldn't know to set limits for the chemicals in the permits they issue the mills. EDF estimates that in many major waterways with pulp mills along them, like the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, those discharges would put concentrations of the chemicals well above EPA's health advisory level for PFOA. "If you're not told that these chemicals are used in the facility, you don't know to set a limit, you don't know to do testing," said Tom Neltner, EDF's chemicals policy director.
The revelations come as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faces fierce questions from lawmakers on his top lieutenant's efforts to block a health study produced by HHS that was poised to find that PFAS chemicals can pose a danger at lower levels than EPA has previously said were safe. On Friday, three Republicans, including a member of House GOP leadership and a key ally of President Donald Trump, joined with 10 Democrats to demand that Pruitt release the study and explain the brouhaha. A planned leadership summit on PFAS chemicals kicks off Tuesday at EPA's headquarters.




The information obtained by the EDF tells a different story than just suppressing a 'report about dangerous chemicals.'   Dumping cancer causing chemicals into potential water sources should set off 'red alarms' at the EPA.  Just look at the response so far -- not much concern after receiving e-mails about dumping large amounts (high concentrations) of dangerous chemicals into water sources. 



The other disturbing news contained in the excerpt has to do with 'who is in charge?' of the water sources.  As noted in the excerpt above, the EPA did nothing in response to the information obtained/sent by the corporations regarding the discharging of high concentrations of chemicals into water sources.  In the event that is the case, who can local water districts turn to in order to ensure that the water coming into a source is safe.



Luckily, congress is reaching out and asking questions on our behalf.  Don't be afraid to reach out to your local politician (elected senator) and express concern for this issue.  Providing safe access to water should be each politician's top priority as a public health issue.  Each of us deserve safe drinking water.  As I find more information out regarding this issue, I will keep providing more updates on the important matter.



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Friday, May 18, 2018

Congress Asks Defense Department and Environmental Protection Agency about Dangerous Chemicals


Source: Wikipedia


Over the last few decades, a war has been ongoing between environmental justice advocate groups and industry groups regarding chemical safety in society.  I say society for the simple reason that the implications of such work propagate through every avenue of our lives.  From the safety of the chemicals used in the products which we purchase along with the different points in the supply chain.  The obvious disregard for the environment is the cost for a profit for industry shareholders.  Less regulation is great for profit.  At least that is what the message is from the top (White House) down (to society).  A recent example of this has emerged and is in need of attention within the government.  This has caused some uneasiness from politicians in congress.



White House Obstructs Disseminating Science




Last Monday, began (for me) opening my email and finding the following excerpt from 'Politico Energy' shown below:



WHITE HOUSE INTERVENED IN CHEMICAL ASSESSMENT: The White House sought to block a draft Health and Human Services assessment related to the release of toxic chemicals, calling on political staffers at EPA to look into the issue after the administration concluded the report’s findings would cause a “public relations nightmare,” new emails obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists show. Pro’s Annie Snider reports on the internal EPA emails that show the unreleased assessment concluded that the chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS, pose a danger to human health at far lower contamination levels than EPA previously said was safe. The study, if finalized, could increase the cost of cleanups at sites like military bases and chemical manufacturing plants, as the chemicals have long been used in products like Teflon and firefighting foam, and could force communities across the country to pour money into cleaning up their tainted water supplies.
What the emails say: On Jan. 30, James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the White House Office of Management and Budget, forwarded an email from another White House aide about the forthcoming HHS assessment to EPA’s top financial officer. “The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” that forwarded email, whose author is not identified, reads. “The impact to EPA and DoD is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.” EPA’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, confirmed to Annie that he spoke with his counterpart at HHS, as well as with the head of the agency producing the report, arguing it is important that the government speak with a single voice on the topic. More than three months later, the draft assessment remains unpublished. HHS' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment. Read more here.
Related doc: Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters sent this letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week, raising concerns with the DoD’s response to water contaminated from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances at and around defense installations across Michigan. “Communities in Michigan are not at fault for the release of these harmful contaminants, and it is imperative that the Department do whatever is necessary to address the public health and environmental risks associated with exposure to these chemicals,” they write.


Two chemical members of the PerFluoroAlkyl class of chemicals which are discussed in the excerpt above are shown below:



1) PerFluoroOctanoic Acid (PFOA):







2) PerFluoroOctaneSulfonic Acid (PFOS)







For the purpose of the present post which is to call your attention to the intent of the Administration to bury the dangers uncovered in the report, I will be brief of the chemistry of the class of chemicals shown above.  The class of chemicals which encompasses both types of molecules are called PerFluorinated Alkyl substances.  I will write a post in the near future discussing more in depth of the danger posed by the class of chemicals.



The present take home message regarding the danger of these compounds is due to their resilient properties.  Chemicals with these properties are heavily resistant to water, oil, and grease.  For this reason alone, the chemicals are widely used in food packaging and cookware.  Also, the chemicals are widely found in clothes, furniture, and as fire retardants.  The properties of these chemicals make them very difficult to break down in biological species which cause bioaccumulation as a result.  Further progression of the accumulation can cause certain diseases.



More can be read about these chemicals on the Environmental Protection Agencies website -- located here.  The fact that the chemicals are harmful is not under debate.  Although, the exact concentration might be debatable by certain organizations.  Which makes the present report useful in adding information to the debate.  As pointed out below, the report was funded by the tax-payer (you and I), therefore, we should be able to see the contents of the report.  Congress has reacted appropriately (at least a couple of members of congress have acted) to steer the report into the public eyes as shown below.



Congressional Action Is Necessary




We would hope that our elected politicians have our best interest in mind when it comes to the discussion of chemical safety.  After all, chemical safety impacts all of us -- although, in some cases, not equally.  On a larger scale, we all are equally impacted (city, state), therefore, congress should instruct the appropriate agencies to turn over the results of the report -- regardless of the findings.



First, on Monday, the concern of the two senators from Michigan (Senator Stabenow and Senator Peters) was sent in letter form to the Department of Defense and is shown below:



The Honorable James Mattis
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 22202

Dear Secretary Mattis:

We write to express our concerns with the Department of Defense’s response to addressing groundwater and surface water contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at and around defense installations across Michigan.  Expedited action is needed to address these contaminants that pose a threat to human health and the environment.
PFAS are chemicals used in firefighting foams at military bases around the country with impacts to human health that are not well understood. Studies have associated PFAS exposure to cancer, as well as thyroid, kidney, reproductive, and heart issues.  In the Fiscal Year 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress included $310 million for environmental remediation at Base Realignment and Closure bases, $54 million above from the previous fiscal year.  The bill report specifies that this additional funding should be used to address PFAS contaminated sites.  In addition, the Army Guard base maintenance account also received $40 million more than the previous fiscal year’s level, which can be used for investigating and remediating PFAS contamination.
In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established new lifetime health advisories for two types of PFAS – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – to assist federal, state, tribal and local officials with protecting public health when these chemicals are present in the drinking water.  In addition, the State of Michigan’s cleanup criteria for groundwater protective of drinking water was established on January 10, 2018.  Furthermore, the State of Michigan has Water Quality Standards that apply to both surface waters and to groundwater venting to surface waters. Michigan regulations specify that water quality standards shall be met in all waters of the state, and that these standards sufficiently protect both human and aquatic health.
PFOA and PFOS have been discovered in and around multiple active and decommissioned military installations across Michigan, including: Wurtsmith; Camp Grayling; KI Sawyer; Selfridge; Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center; Escanaba Defense Fuel Supply Point; Battle Creek; Grand Ledge; and Kincheloe.  The State of Michigan has estimated that it will cost upwards of $335 million to investigate and address initial remediation actions at sites near the bases at which the contamination originated.
It is imperative that the Department of Defense comply with Michigan’s water quality standards and cleanup criteria and stop the movement of contamination from military installations into groundwater and surface waters.  While we appreciate the challenges of addressing emerging contaminants such as PFAS, as well as the costs the military faces in addressing environmental contamination at bases throughout the United States, we are concerned about the pace at which the Department is proceeding to address contamination across Michigan.  In addition, it has come to our attention that the Department may be considering changing its policy on compliance with individual state drinking and surface water standards for some contaminants, including PFAS.  We would have great concern if in fact the Department or any of the individual branches were considering this action.  Communities in Michigan are not at fault for the release of these harmful contaminants, and it is imperative that the Department do whatever is necessary to address the public health and environmental risks associated with exposure to these chemicals.
We look forward to receiving your response on the Department’s near- and long-term plans to address these public health and environmental problems in Michigan.   In addition, we would also ask that you provide additional clarity on whether the Department is considering changing its policy on compliance with state drinking and surface water standards for PFOA and PFOS.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests.




If any improvement on chemical safety can occur on the military side the outcome to the environment overall would be enormous.  Why?  The military employs large corporations through government contracts worth billions of dollars per year.  Typically, these contracts are about technology which requires large industrial space to construct along with large amounts of chemical waste.



Although, the department of defense can only do a certain amount of regulating corporations which carry out large contracts for the military.  The largest regulatory agency in this regard is the Environmental Protection Agency which possesses the power to regulate the practices of these corporations.  Any destructive practices can be regulated by the EPA and should be.



Of course, at any given point in time, the EPA has a director which is promoting the agenda of the White House.  Even though this is not supposed to be the case.  Congress recently reminded the EPA in the form of a letter that chemical safety is paramount as shown below:



Administrator Pruitt,
I'm writing today to request that you immediately cease your efforts to suppress a report prepared by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) regarding the health effects of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).  This report should be immediately released to the taxpayers who funded the study and rely on its results to maintain their health. 
My constituents in New York's Hudson Valley are directly affected by the findings of this report, as PFOS was discovered in significant quantities in the water supply of the City of Newburgh in my district.  In 2016, it was discovered that runoff from Stewart Air National Guard Base contaminated the groundwater that eventually flowed into the municipal water supply. 
Since the contamination was detected, the State of New York offered free blood testing to affected residents.  The testing found that PFOS levels in the blood of Newburgh residents are higher than the national average.  I was successful in passing legislation into law to require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a five-year study into the long-term health effects of PFOS exposure.  But as that study is conducted, my constituents and I have great interest in the results of the ATSDR report. 
The people I represent are understandably concerned about their health since the contamination was detected.  Given that this report can shed light on the health impacts of exposure to PFOS, it must be released immediately.  In addition to being the right thing to do, it is your legal responsibility to release this report to the American people.  I look forward to a prompt reply. 
Sincerely, 
Senator Sean Patrick Maloney 



The two letters above serve as appropriate forms of action by congressional appointees to a serious situation.  Our health is at risk.  Cover ups are not appropriate.  Just because the results are not what the public might like does not give the government the authority to keep them hidden.



Conclusion...




Chemical safety has got to be elevated in importance.   Especially, given the state of technological development and our ability to deal with chemical threats and chemical design.  Instead of covering up reports, the reports should be made public to initiate a discussion on producing a solution.   A few legislators and leaders in the chemical industry worry that the results might be distorted.  So what.  Scientific results are what they are.  Release them immediately.



With that being said, coming up with alternative chemicals or solutions should be where the conversation is headed.  Aside from stemming the current environmental and health impact of the damage currently done along with decades of use of these chemicals.  Where we go from here will define what we learned from the past.  Hopefully, the direction will be toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendlier solution.  Otherwise, the planet is in big trouble in the future.




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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Parameters: What is the 'mission' of the National Institute for Aging?




All of us will age whether we like it or not.  What can we do if anything to prevent the process of aging?  Or more appropriately, what can be done to slow down the process of aging?  Below is a brief post with a video that highlights work being conducted (research and development) to better understand the process of aging in human beings.



The government has an initiative specifically looking at the process of aging.  The initiative is actually research which is performed at the National Institute of Aging.  Most people are unaware that the government has such a facility solely devoted to the process of aging.  Here is a video below taken from an article from the National Institute of Aging website introducing the mission:






Click here to access the web page on which the video above is hosted on.  Additionally, at the bottom of the article, there are social media links which I have posted below on this page:



1) What is the National Institute on Aging? Learn about the leader in federal research on aging, as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia. https://youtu.be/qMm5renQibo

2) What major advances have we seen in aging & Alzheimer’s research? Find out in this video about the National Institute on Aging at NIH, leading the federal government for research on aging and Alzheimer’s. https://youtu.be/qMm5renQibo

3) Watch this video to learn about research advances supported and conducted by the National Institute on Aging at NIH. https://youtu.be/qMm5renQibo

4) Understanding how we age and what we can do to be as healthy as possible as we grow older is important. Find out in this video how the National Institute on Aging is educating and training the next generation of scientists in aging and dementia research. https://youtu.be/qMm5renQibo

5) The National Institute on Aging at NIH leads the federal effort to study Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Watch this video to learn how research is uncovering effective ways to treat and prevent these disorders. https://youtu.be/qMm5renQibo





Conclusion... 


In the event that the public is unaware that the government does perform research on aging along with a whole host of other areas of medicine.  My last post was on the initiative -- "All of Us" -- which is the largest clinical study aimed at understanding the variability between different populations along with between genders.  All of these initiatives along with other basic research funding initiatives (outside of government -- academia, private sector, etc.) make the vast amount of research results cover a wide range of aspects of life.  Stay tuned for more results and highlights to come.





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How Do Chemists Discover New Drugs? A Brief Introduction!



Friday, May 11, 2018

"All Of Us" - The Best Medical Knowledge Update Effort - Please Join!





How does the medical community collect medical knowledge?  Through research efforts at University hospitals?  Through research efforts at private medical facilities?  Do these different entities share information freely among one another?  The answer to the last question is "no" unfortunately.  Although, groundbreaking results are shared through publishing in medical journals which disseminate the knowledge to the world at large.  What am I getting at?



There is a lack of 'collective information' on the present state of 'medicine' -- which might sound rather strange at first pass to the reader (you).  If a person stops to think about how information is gathered to advance science (in general) then the problem might just present itself in a better light with regard to the lack of dissemination of knowledge within the medical community.  Even reading that there is a lack of knowledge in the medical community might raise alarm in readers minds -- which is good -- considering the proposed change by the National Institutes of Health.  First, lets look at drug discovery briefly.


How are drugs discovered?




As I wrote about in a previous post, the process of drug discovery begins at the university stage. Basic research begins at the university with funding provided by the National Science Foundation along with the National Institutes of Health -- two large government funding agencies.  Of course, there are a whole host of other possible funding sources, but the top two are undoubtedly the NSF and the NIH.  During this research and discovery period, scientists are looking for basic targets that are associated with diseases or other biological functions.



If a discovery is made, then that target -- site on a protein or other biological surface might be passed onto the biotech or chemical industry to develop drugs (pharmaceutical) or chemicals (pesticides -- chemical industry) -- to name a couple of routes.  The take home message is that research done at this stage is purely discovery and not necessarily money driven.  Unlike the research which is conducted in industry settings which must yield profits or be discontinued.



The cost of such research in industry is large.  Why?  Because, as I stated in a previous blog -- the total cost of bringing a drug to market (i.e. pharmacy shelf) is around 20 billion dollars -- yes, "$20,000,000,000.00"-- which is very expensive.  The development of a drug target into an actual treatment is costly from a research standpoint.  Not to mention, the legal paperwork, the marketing, and other regulatory paperwork that is involved in the process.  Even with assistance from government funding agencies like the NIH and the NSF, the cost of bringing a drug to the pharmacy counter is costly.



As a result of this cost, information (data) regarding the drug trials (clinical trials) is secretive and held by the drug manufacturer.  Even though the drug was ultimately produced with money from the tax-payers, the information is proprietary.  Most drug companies tend to keep such information very close and secretive.  This results in the information on patient variability or patient participation that is kept secret and not for government or public researchers to access.  Such information would be extremely beneficial to public researchers and should be made public for mining or searching.



Overall, patient information in research settings and medical practice settings are kept secret from the world.  The results/information is very important and should be available since the information shows the differences in patient variability.  Differences in treatment and differences in outcomes.  What if that information was made available to incorporate into public research?  How much better off would the medical community be?


Personalized Medicine



There is a tremendous amount of variation that is present throughout the human population.  Each of us have similarities but many differences too.  The practice of medicine has relied on the sharing of information throughout the world.  A great deal of that sharing has been either through participation at conferences or through the dissemination of knowledge/results in medical/science journals which publish research results.  Additionally, a small amount of advances have been carried by the media.  The media could do a large amount more but unfortunately, research results do not always attract viewer attention compared to salacious scandals involving politicians and corporations.



What if we paid more attention to the results of medicine?


How can the public get involved in the effort to do so?


Especially, given the lack of understanding in participation?



After all, patients hear about clinical trials which are underway through their respective physicians or by learning about the possibility of participation via the internet.  Of course, that takes a tremendous amount of effort (not really) on each human part.  The main obstacle toward achieving greater solutions in medicine is sharing medical files.



At present, each of us go to the doctor to be examined and treated for an ailment (problem).  A medical file (medical folder) is created at the doctor's office with the medical history and the medical issue along with the recommended treatment (as prescribed by the physician) him/herself.  That medical information is not 'shared' with researchers around the world.  Which is a large issue.  Why? The motivation for change can be stated as the following:


Imagine all of the medical files that are kept at all of the different doctors offices around the world which are not being shared.  In order to share them, each patient needs to sign a 'release form' to whichever physician or agency he/she would like to share their medical history with.  This means that there is a tremendous (huge, enormous) amount of medical history about the citizens of the world that is kept 'private' and not accessible to the research community.  That information could be extremely useful to understand the different types (of variability) of diseases which exist in the human population.  Until that medical history is shared, then medicine will rely on the few cases which are shared (which is very little compared to the human population).



What if the ability to share each of our personal medical information was possible?  What if the government had access to a million medical files?  Imagine the amount of information that could be obtained?  The opportunity just arose with the unveiling of the initiative called "All of Us" by the National Institutes of Health.  Here is the mission statement (brief) on the webpage linked:



The All of Us Research Program is a historic effort to gather data from one million or more people living in the United States to accelerate research and improve health. By taking into account individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and biology, researchers will uncover paths toward delivering precision medicine.



Below is a video which serves to motivate the reason why the "All Of Us" project is important:






See?  A testimonial video is shown below of the personal impact that 'personalized medicine' has had on a silicon valley investor - Eric Dishman:





Here is another description from Indian University shown below:





Imagine if researchers had the enormous amount of medical files that are reported to be possible by the "All of Us" initiative by the National Institutes of Health?  All of the patient information which displays the variability (differences) between 1 million patients.  Plus, the similarities in disease type and treatment would be known too.  Which would help researchers understand to a greater extent what works and what does not for a given disease (or type of disease).  Everyone wins when we understand the differences between various citizens walking the Earth.



Conclusion...



The photo at the beginning of the blog post shows two horizontal lines indicating two different paths of treatment.  In the first path (the top) is a single pill which is given to four different patients.  There is a large red 'X' indicating that precision medicine does not aim to continue to give 'one treatment' to everyone and expect a 'good outcome.'  Whereas in the second (lower) horizontal treatment path, the same 'pill' is shown to be blocked en route to the patient by a strand of DNA.  Further, the original path is split into four different treatment paths for four different patients.   This indicates that the treatment which was previously thought to treat four different people is insufficient.  Upon accessing greater knowledge regarding variability in the patient population, the one treatment path turns into four different treatment paths for four different people.  As indicated a patient might get the same pill, whereas, another might get half of the same pill.  Yet another (a third) patient might get a totally different treatment.  We do not know without understanding the differences which exist between us.


Are you convinced yet?


What can you do to participate?


Sign up to share your medical history and participate in the well-being of the world by upgrading the medical community's knowledge by shedding light on the exact differences between patient populations (gender, race, ethnicity, etc.).  By understanding the differences among us, we arrive more quickly at more precise and effective treatments for each of us.



Related Blog Posts:


NIH Director Updates Congress On Research Progress


Dr. Francis Collins and Bill Gates Discuss Global Health And Genomics


How Much Do New Drugs Cost To Bring To The Pharmacy Counter?


Is Disease Or Treatment Different In Women?


Unraveling The Resistance Of Antibiotics!


How Do Chemists Discover New Drugs? A Brief Introduction!













Monday, May 7, 2018

Thoughts: Carrion Crows In Japan Can Teach Us A Lesson In Evolution





The path of least resistance is usually taken by each of us regardless of the task at hand.  More easily stated, each of us try to exert the minimal amount of effort to get the maximum amount of payout of a given task.  Why work hard -- when the same can be accomplished with a smaller amount of effort?  This seems to be the 'mantra' to which humans have evolved to over time.  Some argue that life today is easier for us compared to times earlier in history.  We (humans) are not alone in this evolutionary path.  Turns out that the Carrion Crows in Japan (and other areas in the eastern world) have evolved to minimize their efforts in a survival task as well.



In a recent article on the website "Aeon" titled "Evolving Streets Smarts" the author tells of the evolution of birds in cities.  An evolutionary path in which resources might be more difficult to come by at first sight.  Although, once found, Carrion Crows have learned how to minimize their efforts to get food as described in the following excerpt:



It was here that, in 1975, the local carrion crows (Corvus corone) discovered how to use cars as nutcrackers. The crows have a predilection for the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia) that grows abundantly in the city. The pretty nuts (a bit smaller than commercial walnuts, and with a handsome heart-shaped interior) are too tough for the crows to crack with their beaks, so for time immemorial they have been dropping them from the air onto rocks to open them. Everywhere in the city, you find parking lots strewn with the empty nutshells: the crows either drop them in flight or carry them to the tops of adjoining buildings and then throw them over the edge onto the asphalt below.
But all this flying up and down is tiring, and sometimes the nuts need to be dropped repeatedly before they split. So, at some point, these crows came up with a better idea. They would drop nuts among the wheels of slow-driving cars, and pick up the flesh after the car had passed. The behaviour started at the Kadan driving school, where there are plenty of slow-moving cars, was copied by other crows, and so spread to other places in the city where slow-moving giant nutcrackers were common, such as near sharp bends in the road, and at intersections. At such places, rather than dropping the nuts from above, the crows would station themselves by the roadside and place them more accurately on the road. Since then, the fad has also turned up in other cities in Japan.
In 1995, the zoologist Yoshiaki Nihei then at Tohoku University in Sendai made a detailed study of the behaviour. He observed how the crows would wait near a traffic light, wait for it to turn red, then step in front of the cars, place their nuts, and hop back to the curb to wait for the light to change. When the traffic had passed, they would return to the road to retrieve their quarry. His work revealed the crows’ finesse in handling their ‘tool’. For example, the birds would sometimes move a walnut a few centimetres if it took too long for it to be hit by a wheel. In one case, he even saw how a crow would walk into the path of an oncoming car, forcing it to brake, and then quickly toss a nut in front of its wheels.



The behavior of the Carrion Crows is quite amazing.  Further, the behavior is indicative of the theory of Evolution.  Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on Evolution shown below:



Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations.[1][2] Evolutionary processes give rise to biodiversity at every level of biological organisation, including the levels of species, individual organisms, and molecules.[3]
Repeated formation of new species (speciation), change within species (anagenesis), and loss of species (extinction) throughout the evolutionary history of life on Earth are demonstrated by shared sets of morphological and biochemical traits, including shared DNA sequences.[4] These shared traits are more similar among species that share a more recent common ancestor, and can be used to reconstruct a biological "tree of life" based on evolutionary relationships (phylogenetics), using both existing species and fossils. The fossil record includes a progression from early biogenic graphite,[5] to microbial mat fossils,[6][7][8] to fossilised multicellular organisms. Existing patterns of biodiversity have been shaped both by speciation and by extinction.[9]
In the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin formulated the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, published in his book On the Origin of Species (1859). Evolution by natural selection is a process first demonstrated by the observation that often, more offspring are produced than can possibly survive. This is followed by three observable facts about living organisms: 1) traits vary among individuals with respect to morphology, physiology, and behaviour (phenotypic variation), 2) different traits confer different rates of survival and reproduction (differential fitness), and 3) traits can be passed from generation to generation (heritability of fitness).[10] Thus, in successive generations members of a population are replaced by progeny of parents better adapted to survive and reproduce in the biophysical environment in which natural selection takes place.



Observing the behavior of the carrion crows in the streets along with the definition of 'evolution' above, the following questions come to mind:


1) What inheritable traits have been passed on to ensure success in the streets of Japan?

2) What traits are based on 'modifications' to gene expression in real time -- i.e. epigenetic traits -- rather than changes in the gene code which is passed onto successive generations?


Thinking critically about the process of evolution is an all encompassing adventure which never fails to provide more than enough material to consider.  Just look around yourself and ask how has the present environment in which you find yourself in been affected by evolution?  That is a very broad question.  Although, there is plenty to consider.  From the extermination of 'pests' to the state of present day society -- technology, consumer engagement, and laws of the world.




Conclusion...



There are numerous examples of evolution around us.  Depending on how much time a person has to devote to considering various examples on different scales, the process of consideration could go on ad infinitum.  Scientists spend a large amount of time (sometimes their whole life) studying traits in species in hopes of understanding the process of evolution in greater detail.  As you proceed on with your day to day business, now you can rest assured that you will never be bored again.  Where ever you find yourself at, the possibility exists to think about the environment and evolution.  Can you see any blatant examples of evolution -- similar to those cited above for the species carrion crows -- in the immediate environment in which you find yourself in presently?  I am sure that you can if you try hard.  Give it a try and see.  You might surprise yourself.












Friday, May 4, 2018

Parameters: Uber CEO Thinks Of Your LIfe As "Bumps & Bruises" While Developing Autonomous Vehicles

Source: Seevibes



Around a year ago, I wrote a post regarding potential issues with 'self-driving' vehicles.  Then, as a follow up complimenting the advances in technology by Tesla, I recanted my initial objections and concerns.  Actually, I decided to see where the 'state of autonomous' vehicles were with that post (which can be accessed here).  Turns out that Tesla had done a decent job according to the video (less than 5 minutes) in that blog post.  Recent events have caused concern though with respect to the ability of our society to handle 'self-driving' vehicles.  An example is briefly shown below which provides further detail into the matter at hand: Are autonomous cars ready for us?



In a recent article in 'The New Yorker' titled "At Uber, a New C.E.O. Shifts Gears" the introduction of the new CEO of Uber -- Dara Khosrowshahi -- was profiled.  The article was very informative regarding the history of his ascent into the position of CEO of one of the fastest (or was) growing companies out of Silicon Valley.  Unfortunately, when the author turned to the subject of 'autonomous' vehicles, the CEO had a very troubling statement regarding the recent loss of life last March shown below:



On March 19th, Uber’s entire self-driving pilot program was put on hold after a test vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, killed a forty-nine-year-old woman named Elaine Herzberg. The next day, Arizona police released a video of the collision. The eerie nighttime footage showed the car gliding into Herzberg at around forty miles an hour as she walked across the street with her bike. The vehicle operator, who was visible in part of the video, glanced down for a few seconds, possibly at the dashboard iPad, and then looked up too late. The operator’s face twisted into an expression of shock. When I reached Khosrowshahi by phone shortly afterward, he seemed disheartened, and disarmed by the intense scrutiny that comes with his new job. He told me that the autonomous division had been working toward offering driverless-car service by the end of the year, and that there would inevitably be “bumps and bruises” along the way. “What happened last week was truly tragic,” he said. “We’ve clearly taken a very, very big step back.” He is closely reĂ«xamining Uber’s work in autonomous vehicles.


Each life is important.  For a CEO to remark that way regarding an accident that resulted in the loss of a life is terrible.  That person was a human -- 44 year old Elaine Herzberg.  Further, the video shows the exact reason why 'autonomous' cars will not be in fashion soon.  The reason being that the driver needs to still be ready to take control of the vehicle at any given time.  This translates to the average person as follows: Great, I will sit back and check my e-mail, send a few texts, etc....." -- NOT.  Take a look at the disturbing video of the accident below:





Do you agree? After viewing the video above of the tragic loss of life of a pedestrian, do you believe that the event equates to 'bumps & bruises' as described by the CEO of Uber in the recent 'New Yorker' article presented above?  Is Elaine Herzberg just 'bumps & bruises' for Uber or car manufacturers seeking to add this new feature?



Conclusion...



Self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles have a large amount of testing to be done before becoming mainstream on the highways of the United States.  Although, makers and testers of the features might say differently is not of concern.  What is of concern is to realize that by offering the ability to have the car/vehicle take control of the driving equates to the driver not paying attention at all.  Designers of autonomous features should assume that the driver will not participate at all.  Or at the very least consider what the driver's perception is when the feature -- autonomous driving -- is activated.  Car companies across the world would be better off engaging with the public and gathering comment on opinions and perspectives on this new feature.  The following questions might be of interest to automobile makers before offering this feature:



What does a 'driverless feature mode' mean to you?


What if the added clause is that "at any point in time the driver must be ready to assume full control of the vehicle while in 'driverless feature mode'"?


Answers to these questions along with the expectations of the customers from the designers standpoint and the consumer standpoint would greatly improve the deployment of the new feature in the future.  Regardless, tragedies such as the loss of life of 44 year old Elaine Herzberg is unacceptable and should be heavily weighed in the process of designing the new feature in the future.



Related Blog Posts:


Example Of Tesla's Self Driving Car Feature - Video - Amazing!


What Is The World Going To Be Like With Autonomous (Self Driving) Cars?