Rachel’s Democracy & Health News, October 12, 2006
Title: “Some Chemicals are More Harmful Than Anyone Ever Suspected”
Author: Peter Montague
Student Researchers: Kristen Kebler and Michael Januleski
Faculty Evaluator: Gary Evans, M.D.
Research suggests that, contrary to previous belief, our behavior and our environmental conditions may program sections of our children’s DNA. New evidence about how genes interact with the environment suggests that many industrial chemicals may be more ominously dangerous than previously thought. It is increasingly clear that the effects of toxic exposure may be passed on through generations, in ways that are still not fully understood. “This introduces the concept of responsibility into genetics and inheritance,” said Dr. Moshe Szyf, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal, “This may revolutionize medicine. You aren’t eating and exercising just for yourself, but for your lineage.”1
The new field of genetic research, called epigenetics, involves what scientists are referring to as a “second genetic code” which influences how genes act in the body. If DNA is the hardware of inheritance, the epigenetic system is the software. The epigenetic system determines which genes get turned “off” or “on” and how much of a certain protein they produce.
It is this switching system that allows the genetic material in each cell to influence the creation of proteins—which ones are manufactured, in what sequence, and how many. Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies. The chemicals and hormones in our bodies are proteins. They determine, in large part, how we look, how we feel, even how we act.1
Now, it seems that this chemical switching system may also act in reverse. In most cases, epigenetic changes (changes to DNA from current environmental conditions) are not passed from parents to their offspring. Scientists are still not sure how—but genes seem to be “wiped clean” after a sperm fertilizes an egg. Based on the recent data, however, researchers are intrigued by the notion that some of the genetic changes influenced by our diet, our behaviors, or our environment, may be passed on from generation to generation.
On average, 1,800 new chemicals are registered with the federal government each year and about 750 of these find their way into products, all with hardly any testing for health or environmental effects. The bad news about chemical contamination is steadily mounting, while the number of new chemicals is steadily increasing. Many critics of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are renewing their admonitions that government agencies practice the “precautionary principle”—the rule of “do no harm first” in the approval of new drugs and chemicals.
In 2005, the European Union responded to this situation by trying to enact a new law called Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), which requires that chemicals be tested before they are sold—not after. As they say in Europe, “No data, no market.” At the same time, US and European chemical industries—and the White House—began working overtime to subvert the European effort to enact REACH. Their efforts failed, however, and the REACH act was adopted by the European Union in December, 2006.2 Chemical companies throughout the US and Europe are still struggling with how they will respond to the new requirements.
1. Anne McIlroy, “Chemicals and Stress Cause Gene Changes That Can Be Inherited,” Globe & Mail, March 11, 2006. See http://www.precaution.org/lib/06/prn_code_2.060311.htm.
2. “European Parliament OKs World’s Toughest Law on Toxic Chemicals,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 14, 2006.
UPDATE BY PETER MONTAGUE
Basically this story tells us that environmental influences (like our mother’s diet and her exposure to toxic chemicals) are far more important to us than anyone suspected just a decade ago.
It turns out that environmental influences shape us from the moment of conception onward, and the earliest months and years of life are the most important ones. It is called “fetal programming” and it means our first environment (the womb) can determine what sorts of diseases will afflict us later in life. Furthermore, some of these early influences can be inherited by our offspring and even by their offspring. So your personal pattern of disease may have been set by your grandmother’s diet, or by her exposure to toxicants.
These findings imply that keeping toxic industrial chemicals out of the environment is far more urgent than anyone has previously thought. With more than 1,000 chemicals presently entering commercial channels each year with almost no health or safety testing, this is not welcome news.
In May 2007, a group of two hundred scientists from five continents issued strongly worded consensus statement (the “Faroes Statement”) saying that early exposure to common chemicals leaves babies more likely to develop serious diseases later in life, including diabetes,
attention deficits, certain cancers, thyroid disorders, and obesity, among others.
Notably, the scientists urged governments not to wait for more scientific certainty but to take precautionary action now to protect fetuses and children from toxic exposures.
Most of the mainstream press continued to tiptoe around this story, with a few important exceptions, until May 2007 when the Faroes statement blew the story open. Now that it is out in the open, we’ll have to see if the mainstream press has what it takes to explain the far-reaching ramifications of these findings.
The best source of information on this topic (and many others) is http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org. Search for “epigenetics,” “fetal programming,” or “gene expression.”
e concerns, warns Parry, over how the Pentagon judges “threats” and who falls under the category of “those who would harm us.” A Pentagon official said the Counterintelligence Field Activity’s TALON program has amassed files on antiwar protesters.
In the view of some civil libertarians, a form of martial law already exists in the U.S. and has been in place since shortly after the September 11 attacks when Bush issued Military Order Number One, which empowered him to detain any noncitizen as an international terrorist or enemy combatant. Today that order extends to U.S. citizens as well.
Farrell ends her article with the conclusion that while much speculation has been generated by KBR’s contract to build huge detention centers within the U.S., “The truth is, we won’t know the real purpose of these centers unless ‘contingency plans are needed.’ And by then, it will be too late.”
UPDATE BY PETER DALE SCOTT
The contract of the Halliburton subsidiary KBR to build immigrant detention facilities is part of a longer-term Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of “all removable aliens” and “potential terrorists.” In the 1980s Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld discussed similar emergency detention powers as part of a super-secret program of planning for what was euphemistically called “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of a nuclear disaster. At the time, Cheney was a Wyoming congressman, while Rumsfeld, who had been defense secretary under President Ford, was a businessman and CEO of the drug company G.D. Searle.
These men planned for suspension of the Constitution, not just after nuclear attack, but for any “national security emergency,” which they defined in Executive Order 12656 of 1988 as: “Any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” Clearly September 11 would meet this definition, and did, for COG was instituted on that day. As the Washington Post later explained, the order “dispatched a shadow government of about 100 senior civilian managers to live and work secretly outside Washington, activating for the first time long-standing plans.”
What these managers in this shadow government worked on has never been reported. But it is significant that the group that prepared ENDGAME was, as the Homeland Security document puts it, “chartered in September 2001.” For ENDGAME’s goal of a capacious detention capability is remarkably similar to Oliver North’s controversial Rex-84 “readiness exercise” for COG in 1984. This called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to round up and detain 400,000 imaginary “refugees,” in the context of “uncontrolled population movements” over the Mexican border into the United States.
UPDATE BY MAUREEN FARRELL
When the story about Kellogg, Brown and Root’s contract for emergency detention centers broke, immigration was not the hot button issue it is today. Given this, the language in Halliburton’s press release, stating that the centers would be built in the event of an “emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S.,” raised eyebrows, especially among those familiar with Rex-84 and other Reagan-era initiatives. FEMA’s former plans ‘for the detention of at least 21 million American Negroes in assembly centers or relocation camps’ added to the distrust, and the second stated reason for the KBR contract, “to support the rapid development of new programs,” sent imaginations reeling.
While few in the mainstream media made the connection between KBR’s contract and previous programs, Fox News eventually addressed this issue, pooh-poohing concerns as the province of “conspiracy theories” and “unfounded” fears. My article attempted to sift through the speculation, focusing on verifiable information found in declassified and leaked documents which proved that, in addition to drawing up contingency plans for martial law, the government has conducted military readiness exercises designed to round up and detain both illegal aliens and U.S. citizens.
How concerned should Americans be? Recent reports are conflicting and confusing:
* In May, 2006, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began “Operation Return to Sender,” which involved catching illegal immigrants and deporting them. In June, however, President Bush vowed that there would soon be “new infrastructures” including detention centers designed to put an end to such “catch and release” practices.
* Though Bush said he was “working with Congress to increase the number of detention facilities along our borders,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he first learned about the KBR contract through newspaper reports.
* Fox News recently quoted Pepperdine University professor Doug Kmiec, who deemed detention camp concerns “more paranoia than reality” and added that KBR’s contract is most likely “something related to (Hurricane) Katrina” or “a bird flu outbreak that could spur a mass quarantine of Americans.” The president’s stated desire for the U.S. military to take a more active role during natural disasters and to enforce quarantines in the event of a bird flu outbreak, however, have been roundly denounced.
Concern over an all-powerful federal government is not paranoia, but active citizenship. As Thomas Jefferson explained, “even under the best forms of government, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” From John Adams’s Alien and Sedition Acts to FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans, the land of the free has held many contradictions and ironies. Interestingly enough, Halliburton was at the center of another historical controversy, when Lyndon Johnson’s ties to a little-known company named Kellogg, Brown and Root caused a congressional commotion—particularly after the Halliburton subsidiary won enough wartime contracts to become one of the first protested symbols of the military-industrial complex. Back then they were known as the “Vietnam builders.” The question, of course, is what they’ll be known as next.
“ Reagan Aides and the Secret Government,” Miami Herald, July 5, 1987, http://fpiarticle.blogspot.com/2005/12/front-page-miami-herald-july-5-1987.html
“Foundations are in place for martial law in the US,” July 27, 2002, Sydney Morning Herald, smh.com.au/articles/2002/07/27/ 1027497418339.html
“Halliburton Deals Recall Vietnam-Era Controversy: Cheney’s Ties to Company Reminiscent of LBJ’s Relationships,” NPR, Dec. 24, 2003, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1569483
“Critics Fear Emergency Centers Could Be Used for Immigration Round-Ups,” Fox News, June 7, 2006,http://www.foxnews.com/ story/0,2933,198456,00.html
“U.S. officials nab 2,100 illegal immigrants in 3 weeks,” USA Today, June 14, 2006,http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-06-14-immigration-arrests_x.htm